Bandini outclasses Blue Grass field

He rises in Derby picture

`Limit' is six back in 2nd

Horse Racing

April 17, 2005|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bellamy Road has company.

After his 17 1/2 -length romp last weekend in the Wood Memorial Stakes, the colt owned by George Steinbrenner looked to be a shoo-in as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. After the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes yesterday at Keeneland, Bandini may challenge for that distinction.

The colt who likes to bite his competition scored an impressive, six-length victory in the toughest race of the year so far for 3-year-olds. Bandini didn't win in the runaway fashion that Bellamy Road did, but he won with a speedy break, a measured run down the backstretch, a sweeping charge around the final turn and a driving finish - all desirable qualities for the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.

The colt's performance prompted John Velazquez, his jockey, to declare: "If he comes back the same and puts his mind to it, I think we've got the best horse."

Like many of the Kentucky Derby contenders, Bandini is a late-developing horse who's had to grow up quickly. He didn't win his first race until January. He recently battled a foot bruise. And he has, apparently, overcome his desire to bite other horses.

He tried to bite High Fly around the first turn in the Fountain of Youth Stakes last month at Gulfstream Park. High Fly won that race and, despite his antics, Bandini finished second.

Since then, Todd Pletcher, Bandini's trainer, has galloped the colt with other horses during morning training so he could learn manners in company. Bandini responded in the Blue Grass with exemplary behavior.

"He's not a particularly mean horse," Pletcher said. "He's just a high-spirited horse."

In front of a record crowd of 33,621 on a spectacular spring afternoon, Bandini broke from the outside 7 post and settled behind the speedy Spanish Chestnut and the undefeated High Limit. Using Bandini's tractable speed, Velazquez avoided what the Bandini camp had feared most: being fanned wide around the first turn.

Bandini tracked the leaders down the backstretch and then, around the far turn, launched a wide drive that left no doubt about his superiority. He powered past the leaders just before turning for home. As insurance against Bandini losing focus, Velazquez used the whip repeatedly.

Bandini, 3-1 in the betting, cruised home six lengths the best in 1 minute, 50.16 seconds for the 1 1/8 miles. High Limit, the 5-2 favorite, claimed second, and Closing Argument, a 12-1 long shot, rallied for third. Sun King (3-1), Consolidator (3-1), Spanish Chestnut (25-1) and Mr Sword (13-1) completed the order of finish.

Bandini paid $8 to win. The exacta returned $34.80, the trifecta $217.80 and the superfecta $662.20.

Ramon Dominguez, the Maryland jockey aboard High Limit, said he was pleased with the colt's effort. It was High Limit's first loss in four races. Until Spanish Chestnut out-broke him, High Limit had never raced behind a horse.

"I can make no excuses," Dominguez said. "The other horse ran a strong race. We were just second best."

Nick Zito, trainer of Sun King, questioned Edgar Prado's ride after the colt broke last from the 6 post and raced wide.

"I told him to make a left turn and try to save some ground and we'll take our chances," Zito said. "He never saved an inch of ground. He said he couldn't get over. I don't know. He was the widest of all the horses."

Still, Zito said Sun King would likely join his five-horse armada in the Kentucky Derby. Andromeda's Hero, by finishing third in the Arkansas Derby, joined his stable mates as likely starters at Churchill Downs. Zito's other Derby horses are Bellamy Road, High Fly and Noble Causeway.

NOTES: Maryland-based Gators N Bears finished second behind Clock Stopper in the $400,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes, a Grade II stakes at seven furlongs. ... The Canadian-bred Soaring Free captured the $100,000 Shakertown Stakes.

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