After weeks of minor prep races involving mostly second-rate Kentucky Derby prospects, the major 2013 prep schedule gets underway with the first two 50-point matchups featuring four of this week's Dirty Dozen prospects.
The two critical races on Saturday, Feb. 23 are the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds and the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Leading the way in the Risen Star is Chad Brown's Normandy Invasion while Todd Pletcher's Violence heads the field in the Fountain of Youth.
Normandy Invasion, who closed at 15-1 in Pool 1 of the Future Wager, will be making his 2013 debut. The bay colt finished his three-race 2012 campaign with a game second to Overanalyze in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct.
Among his competitors in the Grade II Risen Star is Oxbow, the runaway winner of the Lecomte Stakes over the track back in January. The son of Awesome Again won that race by over 11-lengths in gate to wire fashion for his first stakes victory. Oxbow ended Pool 1 at odds of 26-1.
Another key player in the Risen Star is Palace Malice. Lumped into the mutuel field at 8-5 in the Future Wager, Palace Malice is short on experience but long on talent.
The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Curlin broke his maiden last August at Saratoga and then finished second in a seven-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park in mid-January. This will be his first start around two turns, something Palace Malice should appreciate after three straight sprints.
Bob Baffert brings in Code West from Santa Anita where the colt ran second to stablemate Super Ninety Nine on Jan. 31. This ridgling has never been off the board in five career starts. Nevertheless, he's been in the winner's circle just one time. The public wasn't too high on him in Pool 1 as Code West was sent home at 56-1.
Three local horses could pose problems for the favorites as Mylute, Departing and Golden Soul all have credentials to pull off the upset.
Mylute, 123-1 in Pool 1, won his last start over the track by 10 3/4-lengths. He also finished a very respectable third to Goldencents in the Delta Downs Jackpot, a race the jockey moved his mount way too early.
Departing won at Fair Grounds by 4 1/2-lengths earlier this month running the 1 mile and 70 yards in the same 1:44 1/5 that Mylute needed to complete his victory.
Golden Soul, the second-place finisher to Oxbow in the Lecomte, returns to the track to seek revenge on his rival. The extra distance should help but the quality of the Risen Star certainly overpowers the type of runners that hit the track in the Lecomte.
Selections - 1) Palace Malice 2) Normandy Invasion 3) Mylute
THE RETURN OF VIOLENCE
A much smaller field is expected for Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes in Florida.
Violence makes his fourth career start at his fourth different track. He is 2- for-2 in stakes attempts with his last coming on the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park in the CashCall Futurity. He wound up the third betting choice among the single entrants in Pool 1.
The $600,000 purchase has not dazzled in any of his victories winning by no more than two-lengths each time. However, his tenacity for crossing the wire first cannot be questioned.
Still, if there's ever a time to wager against the expected heavy favorite this might be it. A pair of winners on the Jan. 19 card at Gulfstream Park return for the second time this year.
Elmutahid went gate to the wire to win by 4 1/4-lengths in a nine-furlong event while Majestic Hussar also went gate to wire defeating Palace Malice at seven- furlongs in the opener. Both races were run on sloppy, sealed tracks which might have aided them in winning on the front end.
Another colt likely to take some action is Orb. This homebred also has a victory at Gulfstream Park but coming from behind to win a race run at 1 1/8- miles will be different than doing it at 1 1/16 with the shorter stretch.
Moreover, it seemed as if trainer Shug McGaughey would rather have run Orb in a non-winners of two allowance race (if one had come up) rather than test the big boys in the Fountain of Youth.
Selections - 1) Majestic Hussar 2) Violence 3) Orb
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Verrazano - Pletcher decides on Tampa Bay Derby on 3/9
2) Normandy Invasion - 2013 debut is this weekend
3) Flashback - A date against Goldencents is nearing
4) Violence - Gearing up for first start of year
5) Itsmyluckyday - Will meet tougher in Florida Derby
6) Overanalyze - Overlooked in Pool 1 - Gotham is next
7) Shanghai Bobby - Worked out first time since Holy Bull
8) Goldencents - San Felipe versus Flashback is next
9) Revolutionary - Will have one more start before Derby
10) Uncaptured - Returned last week with a bullet work
11) Palace Malice - Risen Star will be first stakes test
12) Orb - Ready to do battle in Fountain of Youth