With early Triple Crown nominations in the books, Calder Casino & Race Course-based horsemen are preparing their nominees to take the next steps on the road to the Triple Crown with the hopes of winning one, if not all of the prestigious races.
The 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby will be held at Churchill Downs on May 3 and is the first of the three races in the Triple Crown. The 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes will be held on May 17 at Pimlico Race Course and the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes will be held on June 7 at Belmont Park. For the second year in a row, horses must earn enough points based on finishing first, second, third, or fourth in designated Kentucky Derby prep races that offer points as a reward in order to make it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate, with the tiebreaker being earnings in non-restricted stakes races.
Casiguapo, a 3-year-old colt owned by All American Horses and trained by Mario Morales, is the only horse based at Calder who has already accumulated points for the Derby. He currently ranks sixteenth on the Kentucky Derby points standings with five points and has $271,050 in earnings in non-restricted stakes races.
“I believe he is a good horse, as good as the others,” said Morales. “He is a strong, nice-looking horse and he does everything right. He is very intelligent.”
Morales said that Casiguapo’s next start will be in the 1 1/16-mile Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 22, which offers up to 50 points.
“The Fountain of Youth tells the truth,” said Morales. “After this race he’ll continue his normal training and from there we’ll see where he will run, but we have to run this race first to see how he runs and where he finishes.”
Casiguapo has been on the road to the Kentucky Derby from the start. He started his career with a third-place finish in a stake at Calder before breaking his maiden at Calder. He came second in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga Race Course before earning his first point for the Derby with a fourth-place finish in the 1-mile Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. He closed out his 2-year-old season with a second place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes, earning four points.
In his 3-year-old debut, Casiguapo raced in a 6-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park on February 2 and finished fifth. Morales writes the race off.
“The last race you don’t have to count,” said Morales. “We put blinkers on him and he was too nervous with the blinkers. He needed that race.”
Morales said that Casiguapo will be without blinkers for the Fountain of Youth.
Two more Calder-based horses that are preparing to run in the Fountain of Youth are the Jacks of Better Farm, Inc.-owned and Stanley Gold-trained pair of 3-year-old colts, C. Zee and Best Plan Yet.
“Hopes and dreams,” said Gold regarding their nominations. “If you don’t do the early nomination and you decide you have a horse good enough, it costs a lot of money to nominate late.”
Early nominations for the Triple Crown, which were due by January 25, cost $600 per horse to nominate, while the price for late nominations is $6,000 and can be made through March 22. Horses that are not nominated early or late can still be made eligible with a supplemental nomination fee that tops at $200,000.
The Fountain of Youth will be C. Zee’s first time going around two turns. C. Zee made his career debut at Calder as a 2-year-old where he was disqualified from second to third and then broke his maiden at Gulfstream three months later. He kicked off his 3-year-old season with a second-place finish in the 6-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream on January 4. He became graded stakes placed one start ago in the 7-furlong Grade III Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream on February 1, where he again finished second.
Gold said that he is hopeful for C. Zee’s two-turn debut.
“The father only ran twice – both times with two turns and he won them both from off the pace,” said Gold. “They were both on the turf, but he was a distance horse, the mare was also a distance horse. He rates, he does what you want but he has speed so there’s no question in my mind he’ll go long. I just have to get him ready to go long for his next race.”
Best Plan Yet already has a lot of two-turn experience gained while running his entire 2-year-old season at Calder, mostly in stakes. After finishing fourth in his career debut in the stakes where Casiguapo ran third, Best Plan Yet came second in the first leg of the Florida Stallion Stakes Series. He then broke his maiden before finishing second in the second leg of the series. He was immediately successful going two turns, winning the 1 mile-70 yard Foolish Pleasure Stakes and the final leg of the series at 1 1/16-miles back-to-back.
He finished ninth in his 3-year-old debut in the 1-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1 and most recently ran fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Grade I Holy Bull Stakes on January 25 in his return to the two-turn distance.
“He’s getting noticeably more focused, noticeably more aggressive, and he’s doing good,” said Gold. “He didn’t run that bad the last time. He only got beat by 1 ½ lengths for second; he could have easily been second. He didn’t have the best trip and he had to steady in the turn and then he had to steady again and he still kept trying. I’m happy with him.”
Gold said that while both horses may run in the Fountain of Youth, the 1 1/16-mile Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 8 is a possibility if they do not go in the Fountain of Youth together.
Also set to run in the Fountain of Youth is Tashir, a 3-year-old colt owned by Miroslava Dorochenko and trained by Gennadi Dorochenko.
“Everybody dreams of a Triple Crown horse, but I know one thing; this horse has a lot of potential,” said Dorochenko.
Tashir first broke his maiden at Delaware Park as a 2-year-old before fourth and third-place finishes in stakes at Delaware. He then finished second and sixth in allowance races at Keeneland. Tashir made his 3-year-old debut at Calder, capturing a 9 ½-length score in a 7-furlong allowance race on January 17. He made his first graded stakes appearance on February 1 in the Hutcheson with C. Zee and finished sixth.
“He had a bad trip, muddy track, everything,” said Dorochenko. “His father (Afleet Alex) had a bad trip, he lost the Kentucky Derby then won both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. He was the one horse who was starting to pick it up. This was a little bit too short, too fast. Seven furlongs is a very tough distance.”
The Dorochenko’s also have Russian Humor nominated for the Triple Crown. The 3-year-old colt has yet to break his maiden in eight career starts. He came second in his career debut at Delaware at 2-years-old before fifth-place finishes in stakes at Delaware and Mountaineer Park. At 3-years-old, he has finished seventh and fifth at Calder and ninth and eighth at Gulfstream while trying to break his maiden. He finished fourth in his most recent attempt at Calder on February 8.
“We have a little bit of time, of course,” said Dorochenko. “Maybe he has a chance you never know. He changed a lot, but he is still growing. You can’t push him too much or train him too hard because he’s still like a baby.”