• A round-up of the main prep races – plus ante-post prices generally available in Britain
By Nicholas Godfrey
12-1 Nadal (Bob Baffert/Joel Rosario)
Santa Anita: (Feb 9): San Vicente Stakes G2, $200,000, 7f, dirt
Likely target: Rebel Stakes (March 14)
Highly regarded Nadal confirmed the promise of a flashy maiden victory just three weeks previously with a hard-fought three-quarter-length success over a stubborn foe in Ginobili. It says a lot for the winner’s reputation that he was sent off odds-on favourite for this G2 event against a field featuring Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm The Court, who stayed on for fourth place over this inadequate trip.
Nadal’s victory is probably more impressive than it looks on paper, given that he was harried all the way round and forced into a swift pace by the runner-up, who was still in there fighting as they entered the final furlong.
Either way, as a result means the Baffert ranks are massing towards the top end of the Kentucky Derby market, where the five-time winning trainer has three of the top four.
Bob Baffert (trainer): “I trained him light for this, so this is my serious work. I thought he was gonna get beat. He got to gut it out today, so he’s got a good foundation now. This should set him up pretty good and I think we’ll go to the Rebel.”
16-1 Sole Volante (Patrick Biancone/Luca Panici)
Tampa Bay Downs (Feb 8): Sam F Davis Stakes G3, $250,000, 1m½f, dirt
Likely target: Tampa Bay Derby (March 7)
The sound you could hear over Tampa was possibly that of a bubble bursting as hitherto unbeaten Independence Hall (gave 4lb) was brushed aside in the stretch by Sole Volante, who scored by 2½ lengths from the odds-on favourite after being settled well off a fast pace until after halfway.
The runner-up’s tongue tie reportedly came loose in the post-parade; he is now on the 25-1 mark with British bookmakers. Third-placed Ajaaweed was over 11 lengths away.
Originally bought for just $20,000 by trainer Patrick Biancone as a birthday present for his daughter Andie, Sole Volante was having his second run on dirt after fading in minor stakes company over shorter a month ago at Gulfstream. He had previously won a couple of turf.
The victory represented a quick return on investment for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, who bought a majority share after his previous outing.
Patrick Biancone (trainer): “We love him a lot. He’s fantastic on the turf but in America, the life is the dirt, so I ran him in a sprint race on the dirt at Gulfstream just to see if he could handle it and let him take some kickback. What he did today was really good.”
33-1 No Parole (Tom Amoss/James Graham)
Delta Downs (Feb 8): Premier Night Prince Stakes, $100,000, 1m, dirt
Likely target: unconfirmed
Louisiana-bred No Parole hasn’t been facing much opposition – or maybe he has just been making them look like chumps. Having won his first two starts at Fair Grounds by a combined 27½ lengths, he took the step up to stakes company – albeit minor stakes, restricted to state-breds – around two turns in his stride going wire-to-wire in another 6½-length verdict.
Tom Amoss (trainer): “I think we have to try one of the Triple Crown preps. Everything he does is effortless. Nothing against the Louisiana-bred programme – we love it – but I told [owner] Maggi [Moss] about three weeks before we ran him that this isn’t just a good Louisiana-bred; this is a very good horse.”
50-1 Fore Left (Doug O’Neill/William Buick)
Meydan (Feb 6): UAE 2,000 Guineas G3, $250,000, 1m, dirt
Sire: Twirling Candy
Likely target: Al Bastikiya (March 7) and/or UAE Derby (March 28)
While the Dubai trail to the Kentucky Derby has never been the most productive but there was plenty to like about this victory on Meydan debut for Fore Left, who broker alertly from a wide gate before making all and easily holding Zabardast.
Whether any extra distance will suit such a speedy type is open to question; doubtless, such issues will be tested (albeit against ordinary enough locals) in the remaining legs of the UAE ‘Triple Crown’ before he goes home to America. Either way, Reddam Racing’s son of Twirling Candy became the earliest ever US-trained winner at the Dubai Carnival.
William Buick (jockey): “He set good fractions, got a little bit of a breather on the turn and then kicked again. He’s just a very game, honest horse who stuck on very well. He’s got a lot of speed and stayed the mile. It was a huge performance from the horse to get where he did, from where he did and in the manner he did. He got there within himself and put himself in a position after three furlongs to control the race, but it took a good horse to do it and that’s what he is.”