We’re already taking the first steps down the roads to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks! This past weekend saw two prep races with spectacular performances.
Every year the racing world turns to the spring classics as inevitably as the Earth towards the sun — but before we can don our Derby hats and pour a mint julep, there are months of prep races to help amp up the excitement. With two exciting prep performances taking place this past weekend on opposite coasts, the 2017 Kentucky Derby and Oaks trail is already off to an exciting start.
Unique Bella in Grade II Las Virgenes Stakes
Jockey Mike Smith and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer aren’t strangers to the Las Virgenes Stakes winner’s circle at Santa Anita Park — they won this race last year with Songbird. Unique Bella loped home over eight lengths in the lead under a hand ride by Smith, who simply let the filly dictate how she wanted to run this race. The Las Virgenes was Unique Bella’s two-turn debut.
Hollendorfer has stated that he wishes to keep the Tapit daughter in the filly races despite pressure to test her against the colts. Whichever route Unique Bella’s connections decide to take, this is certainly one horse to watch in the coming months.
Irish War Cry in Grade II Holy Bull Stakes
Across the country at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, everyone expected to see Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Classic Empire similarly take the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes as an early favorite for the Triple Crown trail. However, it would be Irish War Cry, a son of Curlin, who led wire to wire to upset the favorite and add a brand-new dimension of intrigue to the Derby prep season:
Classic Empire and Irish War Cry both reportedly came out of the Holy Bull in good shape, so we’re interested to see if this is a rivalry that deepens further in upcoming starts — or if the colts will take different routes to get to Louisville in May. Anything can happen in horse racing, of course, but this is shaping up to be an exciting season already.
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