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TrackNotes: Pointing Toward The Derby

"Hey Lefty, how's the ol' ham hock today?"

"Doin' good Skip. Ready to go."

After two batters, Lefty starts windmilling his shoulder and shaking his arm, and the Skipper begins to think maybe Lefty was lying to him. But, hey, he's a competitor!

But Bolt d'Oro, or any other horse for that matter, can't talk, so trainer Mick Ruis did his yakkin' for him. Bolt' will never be called on to testify.

Repeating the mantra he threw out between the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November and Saturday's San Felipe Stakes (Grade II, 8.5 furlongs, dirt, $400,000), Ruis said Bolt' (1-1) wasn't 100 percent for the prep for the Santa Anita Derby.

"Eighty percent, I'd say. Yeah, I'll say he was about 80 percent," Ruis said after the winner's circle photo snap.

If you believe that, and no good horseplayers will, that means he's a monster. Add the 20 percent and he'll be invincible, right?

The son of Medaglia d'Oro and the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot got the 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points that goes to the winner, but he didn't win the race. Another top Derby contender, Bob Baffert's McKinzie (3-2), won but was disqualified to second after a magnificent battle from the turn to the wire. Then his rider, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, took another bashing Monday.

Lombo, setting a quickish pace, dragged McKinzie along with him once they got sorted out while Bolt d'Oro stalked a few lengths back. On the turn, Bolt' made a great move three wide to introduce himself to the festivities, and the top two then bon voyaged the rest.

On the very corner of the turn, Javier Castellano aggressively cornered Bolt' through the curve and in doing so nearly threw McKinzie into the rail, or worse. Just like any other officiating replay, the stewards said they couldn't definitively tell if there was a foul there. Gee. Zuz.

Now locked together, the two dueled the entire stretch, but Bolt' just could not edge McKinzie. Intermittently whipping left handed on the rail to keep McKinzie from crashing into it, they drifted out a bit and made what I though was minimal contact with Bolt' more than once.

Twice in the stretch, Bolt' had run into McKinzie's right rump, throwing him off balance. As if to say "Oh YEAH?" Smith strongly tried to take more real estate for himself to protect them from the rail and moved outward. It was like the guy throwing the second punch getting the unsportsmanlike flag.

After the race, Smith was not happy. And I agree with him.

"That last hit, where he hit me in the (butt), he turned me out," Smith said. "I was just trying to ride my own race, and he was on top of me. At the quarter pole, after the quarter pole, and through the lane, he hit me and turned me out. I mean, he's got the whole racetrack and he's on top of me on the fence."

On television, Smith said "(Castellano) must have had a real good story."

Baffert was direct. "That's some shit," Baffert said. "I'm shocked, after the way he hit us at the top of the stretch. I don't know what they're looking at, but apparently (Castellano) talked them into it."

After the scolding in front of the whole class Saturday, Smith took a yardstick to the knuckles Monday and was suspended for three racing days starting March 18.

The amazing part is how subtle the whole episode was, except for the first bump, on the turn. Castellano was absolutely tormenting Smith and McKinzie, clearly trying to intimidate them into submission. If Smith drifted out, babyface J.J. also drifted in, and got away with it. Castellano knew he wasn't going to win and, tough as nails, took the law into his own hands.

If you don't believe me, ask Calvin Borel, who took serious issue after a bonehead move by Castellano - who threw the first punch here - nearly got horses and riders killed in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Marathon.

Don't cry for any of them, however. Health willing, both will be in the gate on May 5. Secretariat, in 1973, was the last horse to win the Gotham and the Kentucky Derby.

I don't even try for the Academy Awards, but for the Derby, it's not only more enjoyable but kind of mandatory, wagering and all, to have seen all of the 20 entries before the big day. Saturday was a big day for that.

It started out badly, as my primary wagering platform would not even come up. All I could get was that little computer blob puppet with Xs for eyes. All I could see was dollar signs - my dollars - flashing in front of my eyes and into the cybersphere. There might be hope as today they say it's "maintenance." Good thing I have three accounts.

In the Grade III Gotham (Grade III, one mile, dirt, $300,000) at Aqueduct, Enticed (3-1), another son of Medaglia d'Oro and the Mineshaft mare It's Tricky, looks potentially enticing for Churchill Downs as jock Junior Alvarado was gearing him down late in a nearly three-length win over 35-1 Old Time Revival.

Enticed, not enjoying the easiest of trips, stayed with it and took control in the final furlong and breezed to the wire. The big angle with him is Medaglia d'Oro and Mineshaft in his lineage. He should be able to run all day.

You can look at Free Drop Billy, who ditched the Fountain of Youth last week to run here, two ways. He ran wide most of the way and rallied from eighth to finish third, seven lengths back. He'll have to prove something next time, but this shows grit. On the other hand, race analyst Andy Sterling shouted during the runout, "Free Drop Billy? Ffftt, get him off the (Triple Crown) rails!"

Quip turned in a powerhouse, professional performance to win the Tampa Bay Derby (Grade II, 8.5 furlongs, dirt, $400,000) at 19-1 over Flameaway (6-1). Always in it, Florent Geroux had his hands full in controlling the beautiful colt. Shadowing 8-5 favorite World of Trouble all the way from the second turn, Quip then took on Place horse Flameaway before the eighth pole and dashed away powerfully, getting his length margin of victory right at the wire.

The next two Derby points qualifiers will be Saturday's Rebel Stakes from Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas and the lesser Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park, Florence, Kentucky.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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