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Posted by Brian Mulligan on 3/3/2010 3:19:17 PM

Triple Crown activity takes the form of the Gotham in Aqueduct, the Palm Beach at Gulfstream and the re-scheduled Sham at Anita this week but the definitive preps are still down the road. 

The Sham, downgraded to a Grade 3, is a $150,000 9-furlong fixture named for the 1973 Santa Anita Derby hero that had the misfortune of being in the same crop as arguably the best horse ever, Secretariat.

That son of Pretense had speed, was best as a stalker and retired with distinction of running 2nd in all 3 Triple Crown races to Big Red.

Over the years the Sham has been won by some nice horses but rarely the superstar. Last year The Pamplemousse made it three in a row with his Sham win going wire to wire with a 107 Beyer figure but has not been seen since.

Whoever wins this year’s fixture will be having a coming out party, as the 10 possible reported candidates are so far long on potential and short on accomplishments. 

Let’s look to the 10-pack that are aiming for this race with improvement on the agenda. Kettle River has a different style than his speedball sire Congaree but he is going in the right direction and coming off a clever 90 Beyer taking a N1X fray over the surface.

Alphie’s Bet is bred to run all day long but is stepping into his first race vs. winners.

Straightomidnight rates an upset glance as his trainer A. C. Avila moves the colt back to the synthetic after he stopped on grass. Avila is 29% with that kind of move in the last year or so.

Nextdoorneighbor is coming to the race sharp. The recent graduate posted a best of 31 1:10 3/5 bullet work on Feb. 15 and gets his class from his dam, a Grade 3 winner and over $600K earner.

The rebel with a cause in the field is Outlaw Man, who has been improving since a poor debut and will try to parlay a nose maiden breaking win to a breakout race.

It’s good to be King, but no so good to be El Mirage King, who just broke his maiden down the Anita hillside at 5-1. He will be up against tit.

Setsuko will be ridden by leading pilot Rafael Bejarano and the longer this guy goes, the better. By BC Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, he looks like the type of runner that will thrive with a lot of pace up front, has two siblings that banked 6 figures and is out of a stakes winning dam that is kin to double Graded winner and near $550,000 earner Souvenir Copy.

The Program has a running style similar to Sham’s and has been solid since being sent long. He was far from disgraced in a Grade 1 last year and is in the right hands of Bob Baffert.

It’s hard to see Viva Macho as winner as he is still a maiden while Wolf Tail won a stakes at 2 and could show speed as he is stretching out.

When the gates spring, look for Wolf Tail to track The Program early through moderate splits with Nextdoorneighbor getting a perfect garden trip.

At the top of the lane, Bejarano will ask Setsuko the question and he will respond by drawing away in visually yet deceptive fashion.

The $250,000 mile and a sixteenth Gotham will likely have a short but sweet field and Awesome Act will be making his conventional track debut. Too late in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, he has some late foot but needs plenty of help up front.

The other ‘A’, Afleet Again, has a nice stalk and pounce style, ran well in his last in the $100K Whirlaway and seems to move up in the off going.

We have all heard of Derby Fever, well now we can speak of I’ve Got the Fever, a recent maiden winner that controlled the pace and the outcome on the inner strip recently. He will be getting the acid test. The hungry fans will be all over Nacho Friend, a fresh Kelly Breen charge that freaked in his shore debut in the off going and proved it was not a fluke with a good fourth in the Grade 2 Sanford. He trained fast in Florida with this race in mind.

Peppi Knows will be a handful as he has legit speed, doesn’t need the lead to win, just beat Afleet Again and proved he fits with a second in the Grade 2 Remsen. Three Day Rush ran well in his first route try despite being trouble and has every right to improve.

Funny Cide fans can root for another Empire bred in the grinding Shrimp Dancer, but this runner has not shown the killer instinct yet.

Wow Wow Wow has speed, speed, speed and is trained by the man who has as many Kentucky Derby winners as anyone, D. Wayne Lukas while Grateful Dead fans have a vehicle in the horse owned by Steel Your Face Stable, Yawanna Twist. Unbeaten in 2 starts,

Twist is by a sprint sire, but his dam won 8 times including 4 routes.

Trained by Richard Dutrow, who did wonders with Big Brown, Twist must be respected.

Likely outsider Turf Melody, a rank sixth in his last race, appears to be up against it.

Peppi Knows looms the horse to beat while the now horse just might be Yawanna Twist.

The Palm Beach is a 9-furlong turf fray that probably will not have a big say in the spring picture but runners that should be watched are the game Bim Bam, the long-fused Call Shot, minor stakes winner Dean’s Kitten, Risen Star hero Discreetly Mine, well-handled Family Foundation and Lost Aptitude, who was 2nd a head two back in the Tropical Park Derby.

Any hero of the Palm Beach will need to obviously transfer the ability to the conventional strip to succeed in May.



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