(Dak Attack headlines the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park)
Well, we are off and racing.
The Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby and many other fantastic races will fully kick into high gear on Saturday, when some of the best horses, and most optimistic owners and trainers start to get up for what will sure to be another outstanding year of Thoroughbred action.
Dak Attack, who is our Winter book bet to win this year’s Kentucky Derby, will make his 2018 debut and his first start since the summer of 2017 in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. For many, including me, this will hold much more significance and drama that the much ballyhooed Pegasus World Cup, slated for later in the month.
Out West, at Santa Anita, McKenize — who is a perfect 2-for-2 after bing moved up by the stewards at Los Alamitos Racecourse in a controversial disqualification of his stablemate Solomini in the Cash Call Futurity — will try to gain some qualification points towards the 2018 Run for the Roses in the G3 Sham Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.
And, they are just the tip of the shadow row of all the pomp, circumstance, headlines, storylines and odds lines that will start to dominate each and every weekend for the first quarter of 2018.
Here is a closer look at some of this Saturday’s key races.
At Gulfstream Park:
(Dak Attack)
Undefeated Dak Attack is scheduled to make a highly anticipated return to action in Saturday’s $100,000 Mucho Macho Man, the first stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds on Gulfstream Park’s Road to the March 31 Florida Derby (G1).

Trained by Dale Romans for Albaugh Family Stable and Brereton Jones, the son of Ghostzapper hasn’t raced since Aug. 20 after impressively winning the first two starts of his career.

“He had a little shin issue,” Romans said. “We had to back off with him, but he’s back at the top of his game now.”

Dak Attack, a $625,000 yearling purchase at the 2016 Keeneland September sale, debuted at Churchill Downs June 15 with a sharp 1 ¼-length victory at 5 ½ furlongs that became all the noteworthy when runner-up  Sporting Chance went on to break his maiden and win the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga. Dak Attack came back to capture the seven-furlong Ellis Park Juvenile by three lengths Aug. 20 before going to the sidelines.

“They paid more than $600,000 for him, so he’s always had big hype,” Romans said. “He’s always been the perfect horse. He does everything right; he’s smart; good physically, He’s got good pedigree; he has the whole package.”
            
Jockey Robby Albarado has the return mount for the one-turn mile stakes.

“It’s a good start back for him,” Romans said. “He hasn’t gone farther than six furlongs yet, so it’s a good race to get him started.”

Cairoli Racing Stable’s Santiamen is also scheduled to seek his third victory without a loss in the Mucho Macho Man. Trained by Antonio Sano, who also entered Forever Taken, the 3-year-old colt will be making his first start beyond six furlongs after rallying from off the pace in his first two starts.

By Dialed In, the sire of Sano-trained Pegasus World Cup Invitational contender Gunnevera, Santiamen graduated ‘handily’ by 6 ¾ lengths at 5 ½ furlongs in his debut at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 24. The Florida-bred colt came back to win a six-furlong optional claiming allowance Dec. 21 at Gulfstream Park, rallying from fifth to score by a half-length.

“In his last race he threw a shoe,” Sano said. “He’s been training very good and I think the distance is going to be good for my horse.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. is scheduled to ride Santiamen for the first time.

Secure Investments’ Forever Taken, who is scheduled to be ridden by Jesus Rios, finished fourth after a rougt start last time out in the Smooth Air, a one-turn mile stakes at Gulfstream Dec. 9.

“He ran a good race in his last race. I think the distance will be good for him,” Sano said.

Red Oak Stable’s Bal Harbour and Black Cloud Stable’s Whereshetoldmetogo, who finished 1-2, respectively, in the Smooth Air, are slated for a return in the Mucho Macho Man.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Bal Harbour came off a three-month layoff following a victory in the Sapling at Monmouth, to overcome bumping at the start to catch Whereshetoldmetogo by a neck.

John Velazquez has been named to ride the son of First Samurai.

Pletcher also entered Coltandmississippi, who finished fifth in the Smooth Air after capturing an optional claiming allowance by six lengths at Gulfstream Park West. Luis Saez has the mount.

Anthony Pecoraro-trained Whereshetoldmetogo won the First State Dash at Delaware Park in September. Tyler Gaffalione has the return mount.

Lane’s End Racing’s Mask, an impressive debut winner at Belmont Oct. 20, is set for a return in the Mucho Macho Man. In his first race the Chad Brown-trained son of Tapit scored by three lengths his 6 ½-furlong debut over the Pletcher-trained Navistar, who came back to break his maiden at Gulfstream Park in December.

Javier Castellano has the return mount aboard the $685,000 yearling purchase.
Baru, Inc.’s Handsome Franco, a graded-stakes winner in Puerto Rico who finished off the board in the Smooth Air, rounds out the field. Trainer Alexis Cordero-Lopez named Juan Diaz to ride the son of Curlin.
 

Bal Harbour Seeks 3rd Straight Stakes Win in Mucho Macho Man
             
Red Oak Stable’s Bal Harbour is slated to seek his third straight stakes victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park.

The Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old colt captured the Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park Dec. 9, following up a triumph in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth three months earlier.

“It was a big performance. He closed well off the layoff and he’s trained well since then,” Pletcher said. “I feel good about the way he’s coming into it.”

Like the Smooth Air, the mile Mucho Macho Man will be run around one turn. His win in the mile Sapling came around two turns. In each instance, the son of First Samurai rated off the pace before closing tenaciously in the stretch.

“I think we’ll probably try him around two turns again. He was able to win the Sapling around two turns,” Pletcher said. “He’s been effective around one and two turns. He’s a pretty game, hard-trying horse.”

Bal Harbor broke his maiden at Gulfstream in June before venturing to Saratoga, where he finished fifth in the six-furlong Sanford (G3) and fourth in the Saratoga Special (G3).
“I thought he ran well but I thought he wanted more distance, that’s why we’re happy to get him stretched out,” said Pletcher, whose trainee went on to win the Sapling and Smooth Air.

Pletcher is also slated to saddle Coltandmississippi, who finished fifth in the Smooth Air after experiencing a rocky start.

“He drew the ‘1’ hole last time and I think that compromised his chances. I don’t think he got the position he wanted,” Pletcher said. “He was a little green. We’re adding blinkers for this, and that should make the difference.”

John Velazquez is slated to ride Bal Harbour, while Luis Saez has the assignment on Teresa Viola Racing Stables and St. Elias Stable’s Coltandmississippi.

Cicatrix Looking to Sparkle in Saturday’s Glitter Woman

Bill Witman’s Cicatrix is set to make her stakes debut in Saturday’s $75,000 Glitter Woman at Gulfstream Park after sparkling in her racing debut at Churchill Downs Nov. 16.

“Her first race was a real impressive race. I was actually looking for an allowance to go in and ended up in this spot,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “She’s ready to go. The filly’s doing good and I’m happy with her.”

Debuting for a trainer who has built a reputation for being patient with his young horses, Cicatrix took the lead shortly after the start of her six-furlong debut and drew off to score by 7 ½ lengths under Julien Leparoux.

“I expected her to run good but she ran even bigger than what we thought. We’ve always liked her. She’s looked good on the track and worked good on the track,” Wilkes said. “She drew bad that day, right on the inside. You just don’t know what to expect from a first-timer. They went in 23 (seconds) that day, and they’re going to go faster here. We’ll see how it plays out. I’ll leave it up to Julien.”

The six-furlong Glitter Woman drew a field of nine 3-year-old fillies, including Elevenses, a 10 ¼-length debut winner at Aqueduct Nov. 22, and Others Will Follow, a 10 ½-length debut winner at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 25,

Secure Investments’ Empire Power seeks to step out of the shadow of stablemate Santiamen in Saturday’s, $75,000 Limehouse, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds, at Gulfstream Park. The Antonio Sano-trained 3-year-old colt set the pace before yielding grudgingly to Santiamen, coming up a half-length short in the Dec. 21 six-furlong optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream.

Santiamen, undefeated in two starts, is scheduled to run in Saturday’s one-mile Mucho Macho Man.
           
“Empire Power ran a big race and is training very good,” Sano said. “For him, he will stay at six furlongs.”

The son of Bodemeister is scheduled to face five rivals in the Limehouse.

(Trainer Tom Proctor has Contributing in the Pan Zareta)
At Fairgrounds:
A field of 11 fillies and mares will assemble for the Saturday, January 6th featured event at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the $50,000 Pan Zareta Stakes, which is run at a distance of 5½ furlongs over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

Of the 11 contestants, eight of them last ran in the Dec. 2 Richie Scherer Memorial Stakes which was run in split divisions, including the top three from the second division. The winner of said division was Rapid Rhythm who breaks from post four under Shaun Bridgmohan and is a perfect 6-for-6 over the Fair Grounds lawn. Owned by Robert S. Evans, the 6-year-old daughter of Successful Appeal finished a half-length ahead of fellow Pan Zareta aspirants Contributing and Miss Gossip (Ire) in the Richie Scherer Memorial which was her first victory since a win in the Mardi Gras Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 28. Rapid Rhythm’s other four wins over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course were also at the 5½-furlong distance and came in the Battle of New Orleans Stakes on Dec. 3, 2016, an allowance event on Mar. 10, 2016, a $30,000 claiming race on Feb. 9 and a maiden race on Mar. 5, 2015, which was won at first asking.

The second-place finisher of the Richie Scherer Memorial was Contributing, who races for the Tom Proctor barn and will be in search of her first stakes triumph. The Heider Family Stables LLC-owned daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was beaten only a half-length behind Rapid Rhythm and will be attempting to turn the tables on her. While that performance was her sole start on the Stall-Wilson Turf Course, she has quite a bit of experience over the Pan Zareta’s 5½-furlong distance and has run over it six times. Three of those six times resulted in trips to the winner’s circle and include a maiden victory at Laurel Park at first asking in Oct. 2016, an allowance win at Delaware Park on Jun. 3 and another triumph over the Laurel Park lawn two starts ago against allowance optional claiming company. She will break from post seven under Florent Geroux.

Winchester Racing’s Miss Gossip (Ire) finished third beaten a half-length behind Rapid Rhythm and Contributing in the Richie Scherer Memorial. The 5-year-old daughter of Big Bad Bob (Ire) kicked of her career in her native Ireland where she broke her maiden over the turf at Leopardstown third time out before shipping across the pond two starts later. Trained by Andrew McKeever, her first start in the United States was a narrow second in an Arlington Park allowance race in May of last year, however she did not score her first victory in this country until February of last year where she won an allowance race over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course. Following that win, she scored another allowance victory over the Keeneland lawn on Apr. 21 before trying stakes company in Churchill Downs’ Unbridled Sidney Stakes, where she was fourth as the lukewarm favorite. She will break from the two-hole and will be guided by Brian Hernandez, Jr.

Perhaps the biggest competition to the Richie Scherer Memorial top three is Nobody’s Fault, who will be out for revenge following a lack luster effort in that race where she was a distant tenth as the lukewarm favorite. Owned by Lothenbach Stables Inc., the 5-year-old daughter of Blame last found the winner’s circle in last year’s Unbridled Sidney Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 13, which also is her lone stakes triumph to date. She kicked off her career with a pair of victories over the Arlington Park turf when under the care of trainer Chris Block. She broke her maiden on Aug. 9, 2015 at first asking and then fired coming off an 11-month layoff over the Chicago oval in an allowance race. After such an effort, she gave graded stakes company a try in Arlington Park’s Gr. III Pucker Up, but finished 12th and last behind Noble Beauty. She will break from post six under Mitchell Murrill.

(Jockey Joe Bravo is having a terrific meet at The Fair Grounds, and will ride One Last Shot)

The remainder of the Pan Zareta field includes Clairenation (post one, Corey Lanerie, 12-1), Luvin Bullies (post three, Jose Valdivia, Jr., 10-1), One Last Shot (post five, Joe Bravo, 10-1), Aiken To Be (post eight, Marcelino Pedroza, 15-1), Triple Chelsea (post nine, Adam Beschizza, 10-1), Excessivespending (post ten, Miguel Mena, 8-1) and Nite Delite (post 11, Gabriel Saez, 8-1).

Also eligible entrants for the Pan Zareta include Elandess (post 12, Jack Gilligan, 12-1), Go Kart (Ire) (post 13, James Graham, 12-1), Miss Hollywood (post 14, Gabriel Saez, 8-1) and Our Lucky Break (post 15, Jose Riquelme, 12-1).

(Trainer Bob Baffert will send out two favorites in the Sham Stakes)

At Santa Anita:

This is the BRISNET.com breakdown on the Sham Stakes this Saturday:
With the postponement of the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day due to winter weather, Santa Anita Park’s $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) will be the first Kentucky Derby points race of 2018 when it is run on Saturday.

The one-mile contest attracted a field of seven newly turned sophomores, including undefeated McKinzie.

The Bob Baffert trainee returns to the track over which he captured his maiden debut on October 28 by 5 1/2 lengths. McKinzie earned a 100 BRIS Speed rating for the easy score, and duplicated that effort and number when finishing second in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) on December 9. Though three parts of a length behind Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up Solomini on the wire of the Futurity, McKinzie was awarded the win via disqualification of his stablemate to bring his record to a perfect two-for-two.

The bay son of Street Sense cuts back to a mile off the 1 1/16-mile Futurity, and keeps jockey Mike Smith in the irons as he goes for his first win of the year.

Fellow Baffert trainee Mourinho will be getting blinkers added in an effort to help the bay colt return to the winner’s circle in this spot. The Super Saver sophomore broke his maiden by 4 1/2 lengths first out going six furlongs on September 30 at Santa Anita, then filled the second spot in the Speakeasy Stakes just two weeks later.

Given a slightly longer break, the Kentucky-bred returned November 11 at Del Mar in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3), where he finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Greyvitos, who closed out 2017 with a 2 1/4-length score in the Remington Springboard Mile on December 17.

Mourinho had Drayden Van Dyke holding the reins for his maiden win and the Bob Hope, and that rider stays aboard for this contest.

My Boy Jack will be trying the main track in this spot for the first time since running sixth in his maiden debut at Santa Anita last June. The Keith Desormeaux charge moved to the turf for his last five outings, stringing together a trio of runner-up efforts, including the September 3 Del Mar Juvenile Turf, before breaking through with a first victory in the Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita on October 9.

That was good enough for the Creative Cause colt to get in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) last out back at Del Mar, and he rallied to be seventh despite jockey Kent Desormeaux losing the whip. My Boy Jack was only beat three lengths that day and will try to transfer his form to the dirt here with Desormeaux retaining the mount.

Shivermetimbers earned his first career score by a head in a one-mile maiden last out on November 23 at Del Mar. It was the third start for the Jerry Hollendorfer pupil following a pair of third-place runs sprinting at Santa Anita, one of which came in McKinzie’s maiden. The dark bay son of Shanghai Bobby faces winners and gets Flavien Prat aboard for the first time in this spot.

City Plan is a well-beaten winner from the barn of trainer Eoin Harty. The Street Sense colt was defeated 17 lengths when sixth in his maiden bow at Del Mar last August 20, returned 2 1/2 weeks later to earn a head score in a Los Alamitos maiden going a mile, then was no factor when 26 lengths behind in seventh in the FrontRunner Stakes (G1) three weeks after that. The bay colt tried Golden Gate Fields’ synthetic Tapeta next out on December 2 and recorded a three-quarter length victory under returning rider Tyler Conner.

Here is Happy is another who could either upset this contest or get beat by double-digit lengths. The Craig Lewis trainee took his debut against maiden claimers at Del Mar in late August, then was fifth in the Barretts Juvenile Stakes behind Grade 2 hero Run Away at Los Alamitos in September. Here is Happy returned to be third in the Speakeasy, beaten two lengths by Mourinho, but then was last of six in the Bob Hope most recently. Joe Talamo has been aboard for all of the Tale of Ekati colt’s starts and stays in the irons here.

Completing the Sham field is All Out Blitz, who broke his maiden by a nose in his third try most recently at Los Alamitos. The Simon Callaghan pupil was fifth in his racing debut at Santa Anita and then third in a similar maiden at Del Mar a month later. Tyler Baze has the call.

SPAWR HAS PROMISING MAIDEN FOR GRADE II SANTA YNEZ

It might be uncharacteristic for Bill Spawr to enter a maiden in a Grade II race, but this maiden is just two noses from being a winner.

She is Midnight Bisou, a daughter of champion sprinter Midnight Lute, set to run in next Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes for three-year-old fillies at seven furlongs.

“The next jump she would have been in front,” Spawr said of her surging loss at Santa Anita going six furlongs last Oct. 27, and another nose setback after being bumped at the start running seven furlongs at Del Mar Nov. 18.

“She showed promise right from the start, and seven-eighths should be right in her wheelhouse,” Spawr said.

Also probable for the Santa Ynez are Allianna, Artistic Diva, Just a Smidge, Steph Being Steph, War Heroine, Win the War and Yesterday’s News.

Just a Smidge worked four furlongs Monday for Bob Baffert in a bullet 47.40, fastest of 33 drills at the distance, the average time of which was 49.30.

FREE ROSE FLOWERING FOR SAN GABRIEL STAKES

Free Rose makes his first start in seven months Saturday in the Grade II San Gabriel Stakes for four year olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

“He was almost ready to run before the Del Mar meet, but he came down with colic, had to go to the clinic, and we gave him 90 days after that,” trainer Richard Baltas said of the five-year-old Munnings gelding who last raced June 3, finishing fourth, beaten only two lengths, in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile.

Santa Anita newcomer Rajiv Maragh has the San Gabriel mount on Free Rose, who worked four furlongs Monday with Maragh aboard in 48.60. Also working Monday for the San Gabriel was the French-bred Itsinthepost, going four furlongs on the training track for Jeff Mullins in 49.80.

Other probables for what looms a full field in the San Gabriel include Bolo, Flamboyant, He Will, Isotherm, Monster Bea, Seattle Serenade, Tequila Joe and Win the Space.

Isotherm worked five furlongs Sunday for trainer Phil D’Amato in a minute flat under Flavien Prat, who rides in the San Gabriel.