Author: Michele MacDonald

The centuries old saying that ‘March comes in like a lion’ seems particularly apropos for American racing as the first two days of the month that peaks globally with the Dubai World Cup yielded some rough wildness in the form of high profile disappointments and another major injury defection. Just as we were getting used to the idea that Racing Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas could make his first ever journey to Dubai at age 83 with Calumet Farm’s Bravazo aimed at the world’s richest race came word that the colt would undergo surgery on his left knee and be sidelined until the summer. “He had a long, hard campaign, so this might not be all bad,” Lukas said philosophically about the 4yo son of Awesome Again, who has placed in six Grade One races in 17 starts.

“He’ll get a little break. He’ll be back by the first of June and that gives him a chance to have a real good summer and fall campaign.” The problem with Bravazo, who was immediately sent to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington after exhibiting soreness in the wake of a gallop at Oaklawn Park, followed the tragic fatal breakdown of Battle of Midway at Santa Anita Park. Winner of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Battle of Midway loomed as possibly America’s best chance in the Dubai World Cup prior to his death, which was one of a shocking 20 equine fatalities reported at Santa Anita during training or racing from December 26 through March 2.

Unusually heavy rainfall has drenched the California track this season, and officials are examining potential issues with water sweeping racing surface materials away from the centre of the track toward the rail. Meanwhile, with final plans still to be made, America’s Dubai World Cup challengers now appear to be led by the versatile turf and dirt Grade One winner Yoshida, late running Seeking the Soul, Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Gunnevera and possibly Audible, winner of last year’s Florida Derby. While America’s older horse contingent is perhaps not as strong as in previous years, with many stars already retired to stud, the 2019 3yos are just beginning to sort themselves out on the track.

So far, with Bob Baffert’s biggest stars still to make seasonal debuts as the trainer juggles workouts with rain at Santa Anita, there have been more questions than answers. Juddmonte Farms’ highly regarded homebred Hidden Scroll, who thrashed maiden competition by 14 lengths on January 26 at Gulfstream Park, returned in the eagerly anticipated Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 2 only to get carried away early in a speed duel with the race’s biggest longshot, Gladiator King. After flying through rapid early fractions, Hidden Scroll tired to finish fourth. Code of Honor, who had been fourth in his seasonal debut and had only a maiden win in his victory column, rolled to the lead in the stretch and held off fast-closing Bourbon War, another with no Stakes wins to his credit, for a three-quarters of a length triumph in 1:43.85 for the 1 1/16 miles.

The Fountain of Youth had been promoted as the most promising Kentucky Derby prep so far this year, but the result left the division as open as ever beyond Baffert’s powerful undefeated duo of champion Game Winner and Grade One winner Improbable. In addition to the less than anticipated effort by Hidden Scroll, Grade Two winner and twice Grade One placed Signalman also failed to give his best, weakening to seventh in the Fountain of Youth field of 11 after making a mild move going into the stretch.

In this day when owners and trainers prefer not to race 2yos as much as in the past, horses have less seasoning and form is still very much evolving, as 2018’s Champion Juvenile Filly Jaywalk also demonstrated on the Fountain of Youth program. Sent off as the strong favourite against six rivals in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes, a prep for the Kentucky Oaks, Jaywalk rated off mild fractions but then backed up to be fourth as longshot Jeltrin stormed to a head win over pace setting Cookie Dough. “She just needed the race, that’s all,” trainer John Servis said after Jaywalk’s defeat by more than 5 ½ lengths at the one mile distance.

“It’s a stepping stone, and that’s what we were using it as. I thought she could win anyway and she didn’t, but that’s all right. She came out of it good and we’re going to move forward. She’ll be ready in May for the Oaks, I can tell you that.” Jaywalk is currently ranked third by qualifying points for the 14 positions available in the Kentucky Oaks. In the Derby division, trainer Bill Mott, who won the inaugural Dubai World Cup with Cigar, said he wished that Hidden Scroll would not have run so hard early under jockey Joel Rosario in the Fountain of Youth, which was only his second time in competition. “He wound up going pretty quick.

I was kind of hoping we might be able to lay in behind Gladiator King and, as it was, we were up heads apart the first part, through fractions of :22.80 and :45.69. I was kind of hoping to be tucked in behind him, but it didn’t work out that way. “I would have loved to have gone in :46 and three and maybe we would have had a little more to finish up with. He was wrapped up in basically kind of a speed duel with a horse he shouldn’t have been. Anyway, that’s history. We’ll turn the page,” Mott said. Hidden Scroll earned five qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, but clearly will need more if Juddmonte decides to forge ahead.

The big Derby points winners, Code of Honor and Bourbon War, now stand second and fourth, respectively, among the early contenders for the 20 starting positions in the Run for the Roses, and Signalman is seventh. Shug McGaughey, who trains Code of Honor for Lane’s End Farm owner William S. Farish, indicated the Florida Derby could be next for the son of Noble Mission, Frankel’s Group One winning full-brother who stands at Lane’s End. McGaughey followed this same prep route with his 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb. After Code of Honor disappointed with a fourth place finish in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream on January 5, McGaughey said he had to ask more of the white splashed chestnut in his training at Payson Park so that he could be competitive in the Fountain of Youth and the bigger Stakes ahead.

“He was doing good with what we were putting into him, so we kept doing it and we felt like he was going to come down here and run well,” McGaughey said in the winner’s circle. “We saved some ground going around the first turn, after starting in post one, and … we had the set up with the quick pace.” Code of Honor flashed some talent last year, finishing second to Complexity in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes after stumbling badly at the start. He had been entered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which was won by Game Winner, but was scratched on race day after incurring a fever. If he can continue improving, Code of Honor will be a colorful Derby story, not only because he is by Frankel’s brother and running on dirt but also because no one wanted to buy him when he was offered as a yearling at the 2017 Keeneland September sale. A late May foal out of the Dixie Union mare Reunited, Code of Honor was listed as a $70,000 RNA.

Michele MacDonald
Award Winning International Journalist

US Classic Contenders Scramble for Points Bravazo Sidelined