Two major stakes races on Mar. 27 on the trail to the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby offered 100 points to the winners.
KNOWN AGENDA posted a mild upset in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream for owner/breeders St. Elias Racing and trainer Todd Pletcher. The son of Curlin from the Byron (GB) mare Byrama (GB) got the jump on heavily-favoured GREATEST HONOUR and charged to a 23 3/4 length win over Mark Casse trainer Soup and Sandwich with Greatest Honour third.
The winner posted a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure according to Daily Racing Form. The colt is 2-for-2 since adding blinkers and 3-for-6 in his career.
Known Agenda, who had captured a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance by 11 lengths Feb. 26 at Gulfstream, settled in fifth while saving ground as Nova Rags set the pace, pressed by Soup and Sandwich, around the first turn and along the backstretch, producing fractions of :23.43 and :47.73 seconds for the first half mile. Nova Rags and Soup and Sandwich continued to lead the 11-horse field into the homestretch turn, where Ortiz found room to slip Known Agenda off the rail and made a three-wide move around Nova Rags and Soup and Sandwich.
Greatest Honour, coming off wins in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes, was riding the rail down the backstretch and by the time he shifted outwards to rally, the winner was long gone. “I thought we were okay on the turn there and he just didn’t kick on the way I thought he would,” Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said. “I thought he ran fine. I think the winner ran a huge race.”
McGaughey said that Greatest Honour will be pointed toward a start in the Kentucky Derby, for which he has 80 qualifying points.
“As of right now, yeah. We just have to see how he is,” he said. “He belongs, as long as he’s okay.”
At Turfway Park in Florence, KY, LIKE THE KING (Palace Malice – Like a Queen), owned by M Racing, surged in deep stretch under jockey Drayden Van Dyke to win Saturday’s 50th running of the $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (Grade III) on Tapeta surface.
Ontario-bred GRETZKY THE GREAT, a favourite for the Aug. 22 Queen’s Plate, faded to seventh and another Canadian-bred, SMILEY SOBOTKA, ended up 10th.
Trained by Wesley Ward, Like the King received 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby for his victory in the 1 1/8-mile race over the synthetic Tapeta surface.
Like the King was relegated to seventh in the early stages of the race as Moonlite Strike opened up a two-length advantage on the field into the first turn through opening quarter-mile fractions of :22.93 and :46.81. On the backstretch, Moonlite Strike continued to lead but received pace pressure from Gretzky the Great through a six-furlong time of 1:11.65. Meanwhile, Like the King began his rally to the front. By the quarter-mile pole, the colt made his charge to the lead and took clear advantage in the last 1/16th of a mile to win by one length.
“I got together with my agent (Gary Stevens) and Wesley and we decided to change up the tactics a bit today,” Van Dyke said. “We went back and watched some replays of this horse and thought he doesn’t really like to be up in the race. It ended up working out well for us. With moving my tack to Kentucky, this is a huge confidence booster going into the Keeneland meet.”
“We spaced out some of his races and I think it’s helped because he’s a big, rangy colt,” Ward said. “He’s always showed an affinity for grass and that’s why we kept him on the Tapeta surface this winter with this race in mind. I’m glad this came through and worked out with Gary (Stevens). Now that he became an agent for Drayden, it’s special to partner to win this race. Growing up I always idolized Gary and it was a good combination to get us to this win today. We were in the Derby once before but had post 20 and Mr. Tabor wanted to scratch. Now that we’re here again it’s very exciting.”
The top four finishers received points on a 100-40-20-10 scale for the May 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI). Like the King was the 7-1 fourth-choice in the betting and paid $16, $7.60 and $5.60. Sainthood with Gerardo Corrales, paid $9.40 and $6.60. Hockey Dad, with Rafael Bejarano in the irons, returned $6.20.