From the coast to coast, stakes racing action for 3-year-old thoroughbreds on the Kentucky Derby trail kicks off in a big way Saturday with the Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park, the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields and the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
On Monday, Oaklawn Park will host the Smarty Jones Stakes. Santa Anita will feature the San Pedro Stakes and Aqueduct hosts the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes.
Let’s take a look at the Sham, California Derby and Pasco Stakes.
Tapizar heads a field of five 3-year-old thoroughbreds as the 8-5 morning line favorite of the $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park.
Tapizar comes into the race off of an impressive 10 ½ -length maiden win at Churchill Downs on November 27. Tapizar’s 98 Brisnet Speed Figure is the highest of all the horses in the field. He’s been working out nicely at Santa Anita and should be competitive in the Sham.
However, the horse I’m most interested in and my pick is Uncle Sam who is the 5-2 morning line second choice.
Trainer Bob Baffert knows how to prepare horses for stakes races and moves Uncle Sam up into stakes competition off of a 2 ¾ -length maiden win December 27 at Santa Anita. Baffert has won the Sham twice with Wild and Wise (2001) and Bob and John (2008).
I like his pedigree and if Uncle Sam lives up to his breeding he has the potential to be a factor in the Sham and on the Derby trail.
In what appears to be a pretty evenly matched group of horses, Positive Response heads a field of 12 as the lukewarm 5-2 morning line favorite of the $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
Positive Response comes into the race off of an easy 6-length romp in the 8-furlong Gold Rush Stakes on December 11 at Golden Gate Fields.
Positive Response has good early speed and if he can get a clean break to take the lead he should be competitive. A bullet work out January 2, followed by another sharp work January 9, and Positive Response should be ready to run another good race.
Three long shots I like are Zayda (20-1), The Great Caper (20-1), and Mazarron (12-1).
In his last race, despite going two-wide on the first turn and four-wide on the far turn, Zayda closed strongly to finally break his maiden by 2 ¼ - lengths on his third attempt.
Zayda may be quickly improving has his trainer Blaine Wright is wheeling him back off of 14 days rest. He has a nice pedigree and if Zayda can stay closer to the pace early on he may be able to upset at a nice price.
The Great Caper has only been off the board once in four starts and he comes into the Derby with a narrow victory in an allowance race on December 10 at Golden Gate Fields.
The Great Caper has never ran in a route race but with Albert The Great, Go For Gin, Cape Town, Seeking The Gold and Roberto in his first three generations, he has the breeding to get the 8 ½ furlongs of the California Derby.
Only time will tell if he can be competitive.
Steadied early in his second start, Mazarron made a nice move three lengths off the lead to break his maiden by 2 ¼ -lengths October 28 at the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meet. His split of 1:39.35 for the mile makes him competitive with most of the other horses entered in this field.
Mazarron is ranked second with a 126.6 Brisnet Prime Power and one of my favorite angles is to find a long shot in the top three Prime Power ranking. I’m willing to overlook his last race on the turf where, after stalking in third place, Marzarron was outclassed by speedball Comma To The Top who set blistering fractions in the Generous Stakes (G3).
Manicero heads a field of 10 as the lukewarm 5-2 morning line favorite of the $75,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
With three wins and a third-place finish in four starts, Manicero comes into the Pasco off of an 8 ¼ - length romp in the 7-furlong Jack Price Juvenile Stakes at Calder and a one-length victory in the 6-furlong Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Manicero has been working out good and should be competitive in the Pasco.
Depeche Chat (6-1) has not raced in 49 days but if he repeats his maiden-winning performance, he has a good shot at winning the Pasco.
Depeche Chat broke his maiden on November 27 in a 7-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs in a time of 1:23.95 which is almost a full two seconds faster than Manicero’s time of 1:25.77 in the Jack Price Juvenile Stakes.
En route to victory, Depeche Chat defeated a very nice colt named ArchArchArch who came back in his next race to win the 6-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes at the Fair Grounds.
Like Manicero, Depeche Chat is a descendant of the Northern Dancer sire line and since 1999, two horses from that sire line have won the Pasco: Honey Honey Honey (2008) and Barkley Sound (2007).
Wildcat Heir, the sire of Depeche Chat, is the 2010 Champion Second Crop Sire in North America and he is the leading General Second Crop Sire in Florida.
Two long shots I like are Read The Contract (5-1) and Mas Trueno (8-1).
Read The Contract steps up into stakes competition and comes into the Pasco off of an easy 6-length romp in a maiden win November 26 at Aqueduct.
His 102 Brisnet Speed Figure is the highest of all the starters in the field and his come home time of 1:10.35 for 6-furlongs is also tops.
With Read The Footnotes as his sire and Glitterman as his damsire, Read The Contract should have plenty of speed to be competitive in the Pasco.
Previously trained by John Servis and stepping up into stakes competition for the first time, Mas Trueno now hails from the stable of William Phipps who brings him into the race off of a 2-length maiden win November 21 at Philadelphia Park.
Of all the horses in the Pasco, I like the breeding of Mas Trueno the most but the 7-furlongs may be too short for him. However his sire, Afleet Alex, and his damsire, Tabasco Cat, were champion sprinters and routers.
Only time will tell if Mas Trueno can live up to that breeding.