INTEREST AMPS UP FOR FLORIDA DERBY SHOWDOWN
The racing world awaits the multi-story lined showdown April 2 in the $1 million Florida Derby between the two undefeated favorites for the Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita-based Nyquist, champion two-year-old male of 2015 trained by Doug O’Neill, and Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Mohaymen, winner of the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth at his home track of Gulfstream Park, site of the Florida Derby.
One with a vested interest is Steve Rothblum, a trainer in his own right for 30 years and an integral part of Team O’Neill’s success during his nine-year run with them. Call him an advisor, racing manager, it doesn’t really matter to Rothblum, who took time Sunday morning to scope the Florida Derby, which, for all intents and purposes, looks like a match race on paper.
“It has all the ingredients to create major fan interest, for sure,” said Rothblum, whose business card reads, ‘Team O’Neill: Steve Rothblum.’
“It’s an East-West rivalry and it’s great for racing, it’s fantastic, two unbeaten three-year-olds hooking up.
“We’re taking a little the worst of it having to ship down to a race track Mohaymen has already won on going two turns a couple times, so he has a definite advantage.
“But as far as the race unfolds, I believe we’re going to be in front of him, and if you’ve watched Nyquist run at all, he just doesn’t like horses to go by him. That’s just him.
“If and when he does get beat, it’s going to be by a horse that’s going six-wide that he doesn’t catch in his sights. It will be interesting to see when Mohaymen comes to him, if he can get by him.
“That’s the whole race. You’ll find out who’s who.”
GOTTA LOVE CUPID’S REBEL VICTORY
Despite briefly losing focus in mid-stretch, Cupid quickly gathered himself together and went on to an impressive length-and-quarter victory under Martin Garcia in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, thrusting himself into the top echelon of Triple Crown contenders.
“There were people on the outside rail and it’s a sharp turn,” Bob Baffert said Sunday morning at Santa Anita, defining the incident involving the promising gray son of Tapit, who broke his maiden by 5 ¼ lengths at Santa Anita Feb. 7.
“I think it was a combination of both that caused him to duck in. (American) Pharoah did it last year, Victor (Espinoza) told me, because the crowd’s right there, and the turn is narrow.
“Fans are yelling and they’re lined up all the way to the end. Cupid just saw them for a few seconds, but he was so quick on his feet he got right back on track.
“It was a strong performance, and he galloped out strong, too.”
While Baffert did not commit to Cupid’s next race, the Blue Grass Stakes or the Arkansas Derby would seem likely options. Each is a Grade I, $1 million race at 1 1/8 miles, the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 9 and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 16.
FINISH LINES: Undefeated champion Songbird is scheduled to work at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday for the Grade I, $500,000 Santa Anita Oaks on April 9, Jerry Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward said. Ward also reported that Tara’s Tango came out of Saturday’s one-length victory over 9-10 favorite Taris in the Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes in good order and will be nominated to the Grade I, $600,000 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park April 15. “We’ll take a look at that,” Ward said . . . Carla Gaines has previously unbeaten California-bred Smokey Image ticketed for the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 despite his disappointing fifth-place finish in the San Felipe Stakes March 12. “He was a little off in his grain,” the trainer said, “but he scoped clean and his blood count was good, so it’s pretty puzzling.” . . . Trainer David Hofmans had no word Sunday morning on where Santa Anita Handicap Melatoninwould run next . . . Stellar Wind, champion older filly or mare of 2015, is set to have her first workout this week since finishing an eventful second by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last Oct. 30, trainer John Sadler said . . . Rafael Bejarano rides Agustina de Aragon and Martin Garcia pilots Handfull in next Sunday’s March Madness Starter Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Handfull, a seven-year-old mare and winner of 14 of 33 career starts, won the race last year for Hollendorfer, who plans to enter Glory in next Saturday’s Grade II Santa Ana for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf in quest of her first stakes victory . . . Brice Blanc (Flamboyant), Victor Espinoza (California Chrome), Mario Gutierrez (Frank Conversation) and Flavien Prat (Hoppertunity) will be MIA at Santa Anita this week for their engagements in Dubai next Saturday . . . Ross Fenstermaker, trainer of the great Precisionist for Fred W. Hooper, was a visitor to Clockers’ Corner Sunday. Now 76 and 60 percent paralyzed on his left side from an aneurism that struck in 2006, Fenstermaker resides in nearby Monrovia and enjoyed visiting with old friends and associates on a glorious Southern California morning.
Source: Santa Anita Park