Has Paddy Gallagher engineered AGGIE to compete at the G.I level after his San Pasqual (G.II) score? Did ‘EMPIRE soar to meet the expectations of Cam Gambolatti in a mild upset in the Hal’s Hope? Did ‘ROSE do enough to convince Bob Baffert should schedule at least one early May day trip?
The highest grade race of the weekend was the San Pasqual S.(G.II), a race that was run as a sweepstakes for the first time after 73 renewals as a handicap. AGGIE ENGINEER was ultra-impressive under the patient handling of Joe Talamo, stalking moderate fractions from third early and exploding through the lane. Paddy Gallagher’s training and perhaps the synthetic/dirt angle resulted in this explosive effort. AGGIE ENGINEER won his first graded stakes after dictating a slow pace in the Native Diver H. (G.III) last month.
AGGIE is a 5y.o. gelding at the peak of his structural maturity, finally doing what his MR. PROSPECTOR stallion line is best at. On dirt, it is not often that a horse runs faster the last ½ of the race than the first. After sprinting home the final 2 ½ furlongs in :29.39, AGGIE ENGINEER figures to be very tough in the San Antonio S. (G.II) on February 6. The Santa Anita Handicap in early March is a very real possibility.
SOARING EMPIRE is considered by Kentucky Derby winning trainer Cam Gambolati as the second-best horse he’s ever trained, behind the inimitable Horse of the Year SPEND A BUCK. Truth be known, Gambolati has not had anything close to a legitimate G.I performer since 1985. However, the son of EMPIRE MAKER out of the winning A.P. INDY dam FLYING PASSAGE, may just develop into that kind of horse. His 2nd dam CHIC SHIRINE won the G.I Ashland in 1987 and her full sister was 1991 Champion Older Female QUEENA.
In the Hal’s Hope S. (G.III), SOARING EMPIRE and Jose Lezcano were much closer to a moderate pace (:24.21, :46.56) than I expected. Javier Castellano, aboard RULE, decided to take back instead of engaging BC Dirt Mile runner-up MORNING LINE in his usual pace setting/pressing style. SOARING EMPIRE persevered to the wire in a rather unspectacular final time of 1:35.99.
Unlike the San Pasqual, the Hal’s Hope was run significantly slower late (:49.43) than the initial ½ mile (:46.56) was negotiated. I feel this win was more a case of MORNING LINE bouncing off his tremendous Dirt Mile effort while Todd Pletcher and Castellano were experimented with RULE, rather than ‘EMPIRE soaring forward. No horses in this division, including MORNING LINE and RULE, should be deterred from taking him on in similar spots because of this win.
I'll prefer to wait on this well bred 4y.o. colt until he goes two turns again...will it be the Donn H. (G.I)?
On Sunday at Santa Anita MAY DAY ROSE won, as her 1-20 odds suggested she would. Unfortunately for bettors, the Santa Ysabel S. (G.III) field was reduced to a laughable three fillies because ZAZU and PLUM PRETTY were declared. Rafael Bejarano had the filly in a drive to maintain her advantage down the lane. He stated that the Bob Baffert trainee, a tiring 4th in TURBULENT DESCENT’s Hollywood Starlet (G.I) win on Cushion Track, once again found the stretch run taxing. Her performance may have been adversely affected by missing a.m. work, showing only one moderate ½ mile spin in the 35 days since she last raced.
On dirt, with more predictable a.m. preparation and a recent racing advantage, MAY DAY ROSE will give local leader TURBULENT DESCENT all she can handle when they meet in the February 5th Las Virgenes S. (G.I). This showdown will determine whether Mike Puype’s ‘DESCENT will extend her unbeaten streak and ascend to the top of the Kentucky Oaks (G.I) contenders.
Have a great week.