San Vicente Outcome Encouraging for Top Two Finishers

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Lord Nelson after winning the San Vicente Stakes.
Photo: Benoit Photography

While Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Texas Red ran second in his 3-year-old debut, finishing a neck behind Peachtree Stable’s Lord Nelson in the $200,250 San Vicente Stakes Feb. 1 at Santa Anita Park, I suppose the connections of the top two finishers are largely pleased.

In cutting Texas Red back to one turn for his seasonal debut in a race that doesn’t carry qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the seven-furlong San Vicente clearly was a prep race for the son of dual classic winner Afleet Alex. Still, Texas Red passed four horses in the stretch to just miss winning.

“It’s a little disappointing, you know, ’cause it’s so close to winning, but the long-term goal is well within reach,” said trainer Keith Desormeaux, who plans to ship Texas Red to Fair Grounds for the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 21 and return for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 4.

Meanwhile Lord Nelson and Rafael Bejarano held on for the victory. The win, Lord Nelson's third in five starts, marked the son of Pulpit’s second stakes win and first graded stakes win. A concern is the two races he lost came at two turns: a fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs and a fourth in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.

Still, it seems like the breeding is there to handle two turns. Trainer Bob Baffert said he thought he’d seen improvement in the works before the San Vicente and then Lord Nelson backed that up with a victory. Perhaps added maturity and experience will help him go longer?

Lord Nelson is from the second-last crop of the late A.P. Indy sire Pulpit. Last year grandsons of Pulpit captured the three Triple Crown races as California Chrome, by the California-based sire Lucky Pulpit, won the Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I); while Tonalist, by leading sire Tapit, won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Lucky Pulpit and Tapit are both sons of Pulpit.

Lord Nelson is the first starter for the Seeking the Gold mare African Jade, who is a daughter of 2001 Overbrook Spinster Stakes (gr. I) winner Miss Linda, a champion in Argentina. Miss Linda is a full sister to Argentine grade I winner and champion miler Mr. Nancho and a half sister to Argentine grade II winner Miss Mary.

By the way, surely it can't be much longer until the talented Bejarano lands his first Triple Crown race win? To date the best classic finishes for the five-time Breeders' Cup winner are a second aboard Andromeda's Hero and a third on Sunriver in the 2005 and 2006 Belmont.

Triple Crown Trainers Nearly Shut Out: I suppose when many trainers dream of winning a Triple Crown race, the coda of those happy visions includes a full stable of 3-year-olds in the years after the breakthrough triumph. That hasn’t been the case for last year’s classic-winning trainers.

Art Sherman and Christophe Clement, who each scored their breakthrough Triple Crown race wins in 2014, have just one horse between the two of them nominated to this year’s Triple Crown races.

Sherman, who saddled Perry Martin and Steve Coburn’s California Chrome to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, does not have a single horse nominated. Clement, who sent out Belmont winner Tonalist for Robert S. Evans, has just one horse nominated in Donegal Racing’s Brother O’Connell.

Still a maiden, Brother O’Connell made three turf starts last year at Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park, registering a runner-up finish in his final start of the season.

Take Charge Brandi on Oaks Path: After champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi won her 3-year-old debut in the Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 31 at Oaklawn Park, owner Willis Horton hinted that the Derby could be in her future. While Take Charge Brandi is one of 11 fillies nominated to the Triple Crown races, trainer D. Wayne Lukas emphasized that she is being pointed to the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).

Take Charge Brandi runnig in the Martha Washington Stakes.
Photo: Coady Photography

That is consistent with what Lukas told me last month for a Blood-Horse magazine feature on fillies in the Derby. Lukas has started four fillies in the Derby, including 1988 winner Winning Colors, but he’s leaning toward the Oaks with Take Charge Brandi.

“As you get to the spring, you can evaluate your horse, the fields, and who’s going where; but right now we’re pointing to the Oaks and will probably stick with that,” Lukas said.

Don’t forget that because of the current Derby points system, if Horton and Lukas were to change their minds and try the Derby, that decision would have to be made in time to start Take Charge Brandi against males in one of the points races. There are no points races exclusive to fillies in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system used to determine the Derby field if more than 20 horses are entered.

Points Races: The final weekend of January saw no Road to the Kentucky Derby points races. Good news: That will be the final such weekend through its April 11 conclusion.

This weekend features a pair of points races Feb. 7 in the $250,000 Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct and the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park. Both races award points to the top four placers: 10-4-2-1.

Expected to enter the 1 1/16-mile Withers is Zayat Stables’ El Kabeir, who will try for a third straight graded stakes win after closing 2014 with a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill and opening this year with a win in the Jerome Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct. Expected to make his 2015 debut in the Robert B. Lewis is Kaleem Shah’s undefeated Dortmund, who closed out his juvenile year with a win in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I).

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