• Prep race news from Santa Anita, Aqueduct and Tampa Bay – plus latest prices generally available with British-based bookmakers
By Nicholas Godfrey
12-1 (price for the Kentucky Derby) Concert Tour (Bob Baffert/Joel Rosario)
Santa Anita (Feb 6): San Vicente Stakes G2 $200,000, 7f, dirt
Sire: Street Sense
Owner: Gary and Mary West
Likely target: unspecified
Both Bob Baffert-trained principals emerge with credit after a pulsating renewal of this G2 event, in which Concert Tour kept his unbeaten record after his recent maiden victory at the same venue to maintain high rank in Kentucky Derby betting.
However, the 3-5 favourite had a tough battle to overcome stablemate Freedom Fighter, who shot to the lead from the inside gate, held off a pace rival and then made Concert Tour (rated in third of five) work all the way to the line before the latter prevailed by a half-length to give Baffert his 11th success in the race.
Given that the runner-up hadn’t run since August 1, it was a praiseworthy effort from the son of Violence. Freedom Fighter is 25-1 for Churchill Downs; both first and second will be asked to stretch out around two turns next time.
Bob Baffert: “I learned a lot about him (Concert Tour), how he wants to run and maybe he doesn’t need blinkers. He’s pretty sharp. That’s why we have these races. Now they go to where I can stretch them out. This horse has two races under his belt, but those were two really good horses.
“Freedom Fighter just broke like a rocket ship – he’s really fast and been doing really well. Rosario was trying to teach this horse how to rate a little bit and I thought they were going to get into a speed duel. I think it was a good race for both of them.
“I think the timing is perfect. I think from here you can take that big jump that you want to take – he’s going to have to really step it up now but now he’s ready for it.
“He’ll be nominated everywhere, we will see how he comes out of it. He’s pretty keyed up well. He showed his heart and determination. I knew the other horse was going to give him a run for his money and he did. He’s going to improve off of that also.”
Withers: Risk Taking saves best until last
20-1 Risk Taking (Chad Brown/Eric Cancel)
Aqueduct (Feb 6): Withers Stakes G3 $250,000, 1m1f, dirt
Sire: Medaglia D’Oro
Owner: Klaravich Stables
Likely target: Wood Memorial (Aqueduct, Apr 3)
Blinkers seem to have worked the oracle for Risk Taking, who stepped up from his course-and-distance maiden success in December to win going away in this latest leg on the New York route to Churchill Downs.
Closing from midpack, the winner was doing all his best work late on. The 19-10 favourite had to ridden four wide to deliver his challenge before scoring by 3¾ lengths from late-running Overlook; he’s now two-for-two with headgear, having been beaten on his first two outings. Jerome Stakes winner Capo Kane was swallowed up late after getting an easy lead and had to settle for third.
Chad Brown (trainer): “He’s a horse that always showed a lot in his morning drills as a two-year-old and I was quite surprised that he didn’t run better in his first two starts so we blinkered him up and he got his confidence under him and he really broke through in that maiden victory.
“We’ll nominate him to everything but my first reaction would be not to take him out of New York. I would not cut the horse back in distance from here to the Derby under any circumstances. The most logical spot would be to train him up to the Wood.”
Sam F. Davis: two turns no worry as the Candy Man can
33-1 Candy Man Rocket (Bill Mott/Junior Alvarado)
Tampa Bay Downs (Feb 6): Sam F. Davis Stakes G3 $250,000, 1m½f, dirt
Sire: Candy Ride
Owner: Frank Fletcher Racing Operations
Likely target: Tampa Bay Derby (March 6)
After a nine-length maiden win at Gulfstream Park a month ago, Candy Man Rocket moved up in distance to lead home a one-two for trainer Bill Mott in this trial for the Tampa Bay Derby.
The son of Candy Ride took control on the far turn and looked set for a comfortable victory, only to idle in front a bit and allow his stable companion Nova Rags to close to within a length after a nice ground-saving trip.
Riley Mott (Bill Mott’s son and assistant): “Obviously he has some tactical speed, and he put Junior in a great spot. He got into a real nice comfort zone down the backside and Junior let him out a notch going to the three-eighths pole, and at that point there wasn’t a whole lot coming from behind. He hit the front a little bit early, which was concerning – he’s still inexperienced, and sometimes when they get to the front too early, they tend to wander. Junior kept him to the task and he really ran on well and passed the two-turn test.”
Kentucky Derby betting
William Hill: 10 Essential Quality, 12 Concert Tour, Life Is Good, 14 Caddo River, 16 Prevalence, 20 Jackie’s Warrior, Medina Spirit, Risk Taking, 25 Greatest Honour, Keepmeinmind, Midnight Bourbon, 33 bar.