There is a reason prep races are deemed what they are as they exist for the primary reason of working out the kinks and honing the abilities of would-be Kentucky Derby contenders.
Though they achieved their feats in different fashions, Stay Thirsty and Dialed In each got a little of what they needed out of this past weekend if both are to be major factors come May.
Instead of just being known as champion Uncle Mo's stablemate, Stay Thirsty can now be called a graded stakes winner in the wake of his 31/4-length victory in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday.
The overall quality of the Gotham may have been questionable and the race did kind of fall apart in front of Stay Thirsty. Still, considering the son of Bernardini hadn't run since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6, the fact he was able to pick up an additional $150,000 in graded earnings while shaking off the rust is to be commended.
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The way Stay Thirsty came in a bit during his stretch run shows he has more maturing to do, but being a late developer is kind of in his blood. He's going to have to get faster if he is to hang with some of his top classmates.
Dialed In was beaten by a half length by his 4-year-old stablemate Equestrio in a 11⁄8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on Sunday, but trainer Nick Zito may have gotten some of the foundation he was seeking for the son of Mineshaft.
As highly regarded as Dialed In is off his win in the Grade III Holy Bull on Jan. 30, one must remember the colt was making just the third start of his career Sunday, and it was his first effort around two turns.
The fact he was able to rate between horses and keep coming on despite a pedestrian pace should serve as a key lesson for Dialed In — especially if he returns in the Grade I Florida Derby as expected.
"It's horse racing; he's going to have horses next to him in the Derby, so he's got to learn that," jockey Julien Leparoux said. "The horse on the outside made me be patient, that's all. It was a good race."
1. Uncle Mo: Covered four furlongs in 48.80 at Palm Meadows Training Center on Sunday in his final major move prior to his expected seasonal bow in either the 1-mile Timely Writer Stakes or Grade II Tampa Bay Derby this Saturday. "We're happy with either race, but I'm pretty confident (the Timely Writer) will fill," owner Mike Repole said last week. "He's fit, he's ready."
2. Soldat: If he makes it to the Florida Derby and continues on to May, the Kentucky Derby will mark his ninth career start. For all the talk of trainers taking conservative routes in recent years, seasoning still counts for something as eight of the last 10 Derby winners have had six or more starts to their credit prior to their run for the roses. The two who didn't were 2008 victor Big Brown (three starts prior to Derby) and 2006 hero Barbaro (five starts).
3. Dialed In: Can't kill him too much for getting beat by his older stablemate in a race where the opening half went in 492⁄5. Bottom line is he needed to run somewhere before the Florida Derby and he got some needed experience out of Sunday's outing.
4. Brethren: Put in a strong final tune-up for the Tampa Bay Derby, drilling five furlongs in 1:01.20 at Palm Meadows on Sunday. Jockey Ramon Dominguez might find himself with a decision to make in the coming weeks as he guided Stay Thirsty to his win in the Gotham Stakes and is scheduled to pilot Brethren again Saturday.
5. Mucho Macho Man: Impressive winner of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes was back on the workout tab this past Saturday, covering four furlongs in 48.50 at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Kathy Ritvo confirmed he would be pointed to the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 26. "I think the (11⁄8-mile) distance will be good for him," Ritvo said. "I think he likes the track and definitely the two turns."
6. Jaycito: Uncle Mo's 2011 debut will be the most anticipated one next weekend, but this son of Victory Gallop deserves some attention when he makes his first start of the year in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 12. Trainer Bob Baffert has been thrilled with the way he has trained, including a five-furlong move in 59.80 at Santa Anita on Sunday.
7. Stay Thirsty: Either the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 3 or the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 16 will be next for the colt.
8. To Honor and Serve: All three of his wins have come from on or close to the lead, so it will be interesting to see how ratable he is should he return for the Florida Derby.
9. Santiva: Worked four furlongs in 51.90 at Palm Meadows Training Center on Saturday. The Louisiana Derby or Grade I Blue Grass Stakes on April 16 at Keeneland could be next.
10. Gourmet Dinner: Will likely have his final pre-Kentucky Derby prep in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 9.
11. Anthony's Cross: Worked five furlongs in 1:01.00 at Hollywood Park on Sunday in advance of a possible start in the Santa Anita Derby.
12. Rogue Romance: Put in a good workout on Saturday, covering four furlongs in 48.60 at Gulfstream. Trainer Ken McPeek said the Grade II Louisiana Derby is on tap for the son of Smarty Jones.
The next dozen: Wilkinson, The Factor, Silver Medallion, Archarcharch, J P's Gusto, Astrology, Flashpoint, Toby's Corner, Sway Away, Sweet Ducky, Comma to the Top, Machen.
Alicia Wincze Hughes