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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

The most highly-anticipated season debut of a 3-year-old in recent memory will come Saturday at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., when Repole Stable’s undefeated, 2-year-old Eclipse champion Uncle Mo sets off on the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown trail in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes going one mile around one turn against five rivals his own age.

Regular jockey John Velazquez will be back aboard Uncle Mo for trainer Todd Pletcher in his first start since romping home a 4 ¼ lengths winner of the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on November 6. The $220,000 Keeneland September purchase by Indian Charlie had won his debut at Saratoga by 14 ¼ lengths in late August and the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park by 4 ¾ lengths in his first two starts.

The Timely Writer goes as the eighth race on an outstanding 11-race Gulfstream program that will also include the Grade II, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap for older horses at one mile, featuring a rematch between Ol Memorial Stable’s Soaring Empire and Luis Olivares’ Tackleberry, and the Grade III, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Uncle Mo will likely go off at odds of 1-to-5 or even less against his seemingly overmatched rivals with J.W. Singer LLC’s Rocking Out the most dangerous foe with jockey Julien Leparoux aboard for trainer Rick Dutrow. The son of Include won his debut by 4 ¼ lengths at Aqueduct going six furlongs on November 27 and then ran well to finish third in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on February 13 as the 11-to-10 favorite.

The complete Timely Writer Stakes field, in post position order, is: Uncle Mo (jockey: John Velazquez); Gallant Dreams (Javier Castellano); Madman Diaries (Jeffrey Sanchez); Rocking Out (Julien Leparoux); Schoolyard Cat (Ryan Curatolo); and Rattlesnake Bridge (Jose Lezcano).

If excellence in this year’s Triple Crown events is to emanate from the April 9 Santa Anita Derby, a West Coast 3-year-old likely needs to take a large step forward in Saturday’s Grade II, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

Grade I winners Jaycito and Comma to the Top are among 10 entrants in the 74th running of the mile-and-one-sixteenth competition that serves as the last major stepping-stone to the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, a race whose starters have accounted for 36 Triple Crown victories including 15 in the Kentucky Derby.

During the past 10 years, four San Felipe winners have gone on to capture the Santa Anita Derby including Pioneerof the Nile (2009) and Sidney’s Candy (2010) to underscore the connection, but just who might make that leap this year remains highly problematical.
The Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds on February 12 was supposed to anoint Tapizar as the West Coast’s leading Derby contender, but the 3-10 favorite fizzled as 8-1 longshot Anthony’s Cross nosed out 7-1 Riveting Reason.

So into the breach steps the San Felipe as the race that might establish a more coherent West Coast pecking order. Jaycito is expected to be the center of attention in the San Felipe. The son of Victory Gallop has exhibited a ton of talent, but his manners have been lacking at times. After gamely taking the measure of J P’s Gusto and Riveting Reason in last October’s Norfolk Stakes, Jaycito became the 5-1 third choice in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. In the Juvenile, he trailed the field of 10 early and ran up on heels going into the Clubhouse turn. With jockey Mike Smith having difficulty handling Jaycito, the bay colt suddenly veered toward the outer rail. “Jaycito recovered well enough to finish seventh, but he was still 16 lengths behind victorious Uncle Mo, the solid early choice for the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

Jaycito was subsequently transferred to the barn of three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert. According to Baffert, Jaycito has been well behaved while working for his return on Saturday. “It will be interesting,” said Baffert. “We’ll learn a lot about Jaycito.” Martin Garcia, who was aboard in Jaycito’s first two starts, will be back atop the colt who has earned $210,000 from a 1-2-0 record in four races.

Comma to the Top had an active 2-year-old season that included six wins, including a 1 ¾-length victory over J P’s Gusto in the Grade I Hollywood Futurity on December 18. But Comma to the Top faltered badly in his only start this year. As the 1-2 favorite in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 12, he checked in fourth, 4 ¼ lengths behind the winner, Silver Medallion.

The complete field for the San Felipe Stakes, in post position order, is: Albergatti (jockey: Garrett Gomez, weight: 118); Runflatout (Joel Rosario, 118); Surrey Star (Joe Talamo, 118); Awesome Patriot (Rafael Bejarano, 118); Comma to the Top (Corey Nakatani, 123); Premier Pegasus (Alonso Quinonez, 118); Bench Points (David Flores, 118); Jakesam (Patrick Valenzuela, 118); Jaycito (Martin Garcia, 123); and Quail Hill (Martin Pedroza, 118).

The San Felipe will share the Saturday spotlight at Santa Anita with the star-studded Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes. The Grade I, $300,000 event at 1 1/8 miles has a lineup of seven fillies and mares, including Switch and Always a Princess, both of whom are already dual graded stakes winners this season.

Saturday’s Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla., drew a field of 10, including last year’s 2-year-old Champion Uncle Mo. That horse, however, was entered by trainer Todd Pletcher only as a precaution in case Saturday’s Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park did not attract enough competitors for the race to be run. With six entrants, though, the Timely Writer is a go, and Uncle Mo is now expected to scratch, causing favoritism in the mile-and-one-sixteenth Tampa Bay Derby to fall to another Pletcher trainee, the undefeated Brethren.

A half-brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Brethren captured the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 12. The son of Distorted Humor will once again be ridden by Ramon Dominguez, who won the 2010 Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding jockey.”I was very pleased with the fact that, especially going the two turns for the first time, he got in contention and always his ears were kind of forward just waiting for company,” said Dominguez of his ride aboard Brethren in the Sam F. Davis. “He just did it very, very nicely.”As was the case in the Sam F. Davis, Brethren will once again start from the extreme outside post position in the Tampa Bay Derby. For the Davis, Brethren broke from post 10. In the Tampa Bay Derby, Brethren will likely break from post 9 following the anticipated scratch of Uncle Mo.Horses entered for the Tampa Bay Derby, in post position order, are: Striding Ahead (jockey: Alex Solis, morning line odds: 10-1); Economic Summit (Jockey TBA, 8-1); Beamer (Leandro Goncalvez, 10-1); Uncle Mo (John Velazquez, 3-5); Too Experience (Daniel Centeno, 8-1); Crimson Knight (Ronnie Allen Jr., 30-1); Free Entry (Alan Garcia, 7-2); Moonhanger (Carlos Marquez, 20-1); Watch Me Go (Luis Garcia, 20-1); and Brethren (Ramon Dominguez, 1-1).

The 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, has been pronounced in foal to Curlin, the 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year, according to Stonestreet Stables, which campaigned both horses during their racing careers.

The mating took place on February 21 at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky. If all goes well, Rachel Alexandra is expected to deliver her highly anticipated first foal sometime around February 1 of next year.