Bandini came through with a fabulous stretch run yesterday and won the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes in Lexington, Ky., giving trainer Todd Pletcher a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby.
The long-striding Bandini stormed into the lead with three-16ths of a mile to go and put away more celebrated 3-year-old stars High Limit, Sun King, and Consolidator on a picture-perfect day at Keeneland.
In the strongest Derby prep race of the season, and before a record crowd of 33,621, Bandini delivered a huge effort when it was needed most. Pletcher, who led all trainers with 35 nominees to the Triple Crown races, was in danger of missing the May 7 Derby unless Bandini boosted his graded stakes earnings.
Did he ever. The son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus earned $465,000 with his victory in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, moving into the top 10 money-earners. If more than 20 horses are entered in the Derby, graded stakes earnings determine the field.
Bandini, ridden by John Velazquez, finished 6 lengths ahead of favorite High Limit, who lost for the first time in four starts.
In winning for the third time in five career starts, Bandini covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.16.
Closing Argument was third, followed by trainer Nick Zito's Sun King, Consolidator, Spanish Chestnut, and Mr Sword.
Comely Stakes -- Acey Deucey continued her emergence within the 3-year-old filly ranks with a rousing victory in the $150,000 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct in New York. The New York-bred has won two of her last three, including the Dearly Precious Stakes at Aqueduct in February at 24-1. The price was much shorter in the 1-mile Comely, where Acey Deucey passed the test in her first run beyond 7 furlongs.
The added distance proved crucial, giving jockey Diane Nelson time to find clear running room. Acey Deucey, clocked in 1:35.95 on the fast track, gave trainer John Morrison his first graded stakes victory.
Acey Deucey earned $90,000 for owner Jeffrey Tucker.
Arkansas Derby -- Afleet Alex proved he could win after going two turns, passing the field in the final quarter-mile and charging to an 8-length victory in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. Afleet Alex pulled up at the quarter-pole in his last outing, the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes in mid-March, and trainers said he was suffering from a lung infection. By the time he reached the same spot in yesterday's 1 1/8-mile race, he led by 3 lengths and was stretching the lead. . . .
Funny Cide, the gelding who captured the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, will likely make his season debut May 1 at Aqueduct. The target: the $75,000 King's Point Handicap, a race restricted to horses bred in New York.
The King's Point would be a prep for the main objective -- the Grade 1, $500,000 Pimlico Special at Pimlico May 20. After wintering in Florida, Funny Cide returned to Belmont Park last Monday to continue training for the upcoming campaign. Robin Smullen, the assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg, feels the 5-year-old is primed for a banner season.
"He is so strong right now," Smullen said. "Not just in how he is training, but how he looks. He is just massive." . . .
Italian scientists have reported cloning a horse for the second time, a new foal created from the DNA of a thoroughbred Arabian gelding that was twice world endurance champion.
The foal, named Pieraz-Cryozootech-Stallion, was born Feb. 25, weighed 93 pounds, and was pronounced "in excellent health" in a statement from scientists at the Laboratory of Reproductive Technology in the northern Italian city of Cremona, which claimed the cloning was only the second of a horse. The stallion was cloned from Pieraz, who was retired to a stable in the United States after winning world endurance championships in 1994 and 1996.