Now THAT was the weekend that horse racing needed! After a tough winter, spring officially arrived last Saturday, and with it came great racing action from Keeneland, Aqueduct, and Santa Anita Park. All three tracks hosted races of major importance on Saturday, and they did not disappoint, making it extremely difficult to pick just three stars this week. However, we did narrow it down to just three, but first, here are the honorable mentions:
This was a very unlikely horse to get the first star of the week. The turf sprint division is definitely not glamorous, but there is no question that the performance of the weekend came from this horse in the Shakertown Stakes (G2). After stumbling badly out of the gate, it was a miracle that jockey Paco Lopez even stayed on Imprimis after his nose nearly touched the turf. Somehow, Lopez stayed aboard and the horse settled nicely in mid-pack up the backside. Turning for home, the stalking Bound for Nowhere took the lead, looking as though he would win the race by several lengths. Imprimis had other ideas, though, as the late-charging sprinter flew home with a furious rally to run right by Bound for Nowhere close to the wire, winning by a neck. Let this race serve notice: Imprimis is set for a monster 2019.
2. Gift Box
The Santa Anita Handicap (G1) may have only had six horses this year, but Gift Box and McKinzie gave us a finish for the ages. Both horses sat in perfect positions up the backside, with Gift Box just off the pace-setting Prime Attraction and McKinzie close behind them in third. Turning for home, it was game on for the two favorites as they drew alongside each other. For the entire length of the stretch, the two horses battled nose and nose before producing a finish that was too close to call. In the end, Gift Box was able to just nose out McKinzie for the win. This is a “must-watch” replay, with major credit going to race caller Frank Mirahmadi for having the guts to call Gift Box a winner on the wire. Clearly, both of these horses will be the top dogs in California’s older male division all season long.
When it comes to the 3-year-old male division, the most impressive performance of the day came in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) when Roadster stormed home to win the race by a 1/2-length over Game Winner. This was a wild performance. At one point, it looked as though Roadster was dropping out of the race as the colt dropped nearly to last approaching the far turn. When jockey Mike Smith asked the horse for run, he responded with a massive move on the turn to ride up next to Game Winner. From there, he was able to out finish his stablemate, making Smith look like a genius for his ultra-patient ride. Moving forward, Bob Baffert certainly has two major contenders heading into the first Saturday in May.