Friends Lake goes off at 37-1, comes home winner in Florida

`Footnotes' fades to 4th

Tapit sixth in $1M race

Horse Racing

March 14, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Rick Violette, trainer of Florida Derby favorite Read the Footnotes, said during the week that it takes one race to discover another rising star on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Yesterday, the Florida Derby elevated Friends Lake to star status. Before the million-dollar race at Gulfstream Park, Friends Lake had the reputation of a rogue. Bettors wanted no part of the New York colt and sent him to post as a 37-1 long shot.

But his powerful, come-from-behind win in the year's first Grade I stakes for Kentucky Derby hopefuls transformed him into a leading candidate for the spring classics. Read the Footnotes, the even-money favorite, faded to fourth, and Tapit, the Maryland contender, was sixth.

Friends Lake paid $76.80 to win, the third-biggest payoff in 53 runnings of the Florida Derby. He became the first New York-bred to win the race that is a key producer of Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont winners. Thirty-seven Florida Derby alumni have captured 50 Triple Crown events.

John Kimmel, trainer of Friends Lake, said he plans on taking an unconventional route to the Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs. He plans on taking Friends Lake directly there, with no races in between.

"He's already showed us today he can run with the best," Kimmel said.

That strategy of bringing a fresh horse into the Derby usually fails. No horse has won the Derby without racing in April since Needles in 1956.

Kimmel said Friends Lake, a son of A.P. Indy and the three-time Grade I-winning mare Antespend, has shown him enough - during and, as important, before races - to warrant a nonstop ticket to Louisville. The key was reversing the behavior that foiled the colt in his last race, the Holy Bull Stakes two months ago at Gulfstream.

In the paddock before that race, said Richard Migliore, his jockey, "he was out of control, running people over, running through the hedges." In the starting gate, Migliore said, "he was just tied up in knots. It felt like I was sitting on a keg of dynamite."

Friends Lake was spent by the time he contested the Holy Bull. He finished third, 12 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Then Kimmel went to work.

He brought Friends Lake to the paddock three straight days. Two of the days, bands played at the nearby pavilion - Dave Mason and the Beach Boys. Friends Lake learned to tolerate the hoopla.

"He seemed to enjoy the Beach Boys," Kimmel said.

The colt balked at going into the starting gate yesterday, but once there and once running he couldn't have performed more professionally. He broke cleanly, settled on the rail, galloped along in sixth down the backstretch, swung wide around the final turn and overpowered the pacesetters down the homestretch.

Friends Lake passed Value Plus in the final strides for a three-quarters-length victory. Value Plus held on for second, and The Cliff's Edge rallied from eighth for third. Completing the order of finish were Read the Footnotes, Farnum Alley, Tapit, Smoocher, Sir Oscar, Frisky Spider and Notorious Rogue.

Friends Lake's time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1 minute, 51.38 seconds. The exacta returned $443, the trifecta $2,104.20 and the superfecta $6,008.

Value Plus, seeking his first win beyond seven furlongs, tired in the stretch, but earned kudos from Todd Pletcher, his trainer. Read the Footnotes also tired, and Violette, his trainer, said his worries were confirmed.

"Everybody wondered if the Fountain of Youth took too much effort off the bench," Violette said, referring to the colt's strenuous race Feb. 14 after a 2 1/2 -month layoff. "On his A game, he's supposed to win from where he was. The Fountain of Youth hit him at the eighth pole."

Michael Dickinson, the Maryland-based trainer of Tapit, said the colt coughed 10 times on his walk back to the barn, and a veterinarian found mucus in his lungs, indicative of an infection. That and a lack of fitness combined for the lackluster effort, Dickinson said.

Asked whether Tapit would remain on the Derby trail, Dickinson said: "We don't have a plan yet. We'll have to regroup."

Nick Zito was perhaps the happiest trainer of the bunch. He was thrilled with the closing charge of The Cliff's Edge, whom he said would relish the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky classic.

And he was even delighted with Eurosilver's second-place finish in the $150,000 Swale Stakes on the undercard. A highly regarded Derby hopeful pointed next to the Blue Grass Stakes, Eurosilver fell a neck short in his late effort to run down Wynn Dot Comma in the seven-furlong race.

Edgar Prado, the former Maryland riding star, piloted Wynn Dot Comma, earning his 5,000th victory.

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