D’Amato on Desert Dawn, other Derby week horses

For the Southern California-based Phi D’Amato barn, Kentucky Derby week was busy and productive on multiple fronts.

At Churchill Downs, D’Amato had three starters on last Friday’s Kentucky Oaks program – including Desert Dawn in the featured event – plus one more on the Kentucky Derby undercard. That quartet did not produce a win, but with a runner-up and two third-place finishes, it was a raiding party that returned $254,750 in purse earnings.

Meanwhile at Santa Anita, the D’Amato barn added two stakes wins with Island of Love in the $100,500 Senorita (G3) on Saturday and Elm Drive in the $101,900 Angels Flight a day later.

“Overall, I was happy with how things went,” D’Amato told Horse Racing Nation Wednesday. “Except for Ain’t Easy (ninth in the Eight Belles), I thought they all showed up. I was very proud of their performances.”

In this latest Hrn Barn Tour, D’Amato shares what could be next for all of last week’s stakes runners.

Desert Dawn. Dispatched as the longest shot on the board at 50-1 in the Kentucky Oaks, she rallied for third while beaten 2 1/2 lengths by the winner Secret Oath.

Last year, the daughter of Cupid was sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She shipped to Churchill Downs after a win in last month’s Santa Anita Oaks (G2).

“She is back at Santa Anita and went to the track today. She came out of the race in really good shape,” D’Amato said. “We’ll see what to do next, but we’ve got options.”

Those options for Desert Dawn are either the $500,000 Acorn (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 11 or the $200,000 Summertime Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita a day later, he added.

“I’m just going to kind of play it by ear, see how she does and try to decide among those races,” D’Amato said.

Bred in Arizona by owner-breeder H and E Ranch, Desert Dawn is now Grade 1-placed with a record of 8: 2-0-3 and earnings of $492,150.

Balnikhov. The Irish-bred sophomore was a multiple winner in Europe before being privately purchased and sent to D’Amato’s Santa Anita stable this winter. The gelding by Adaay was second in the April 2 Singletary Stakes in his US bow before being sent to Churchill Downs and finishing second to Stolen Base in the American Turf (G2).

“That was a nice performance at Churchill Downs. He also came out of the race well and trained today,” D’Amato said.

The chart for the American Turf notes Balnikhov was “squeezed” at the start and “rank to place early.” He found himself last of 10 after a half mile, but uncorked a rally to grab the lead at the eighth pole before being overhauled late by the winner.

“He broke a step slow and got into a little trouble early. I think that compromised his chances having to do too much,” D’Amato said. “But he showed a brilliant turn of foot against some top-notch 3-year-olds. He showed he’s a fit with the best in the country.”

Balnikhov’s next major goal will be the Del Mar Derby (G2) this summer. D’Amato said he likely would have “one or two starts” before that race.

Balnikhov is campaigned by Little Red Feather, Madaket Stables and Old Bones Racing Stable.

Ain’t Easy. In the Eight Belles (G2) noted above, Ain’t Easy was hustled to stay near the pace for a half mile before dropping anchor and finishing last of nine. Last year’s Chandelier (G2) winner, who had to be scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies a month later, was third in both the Santa Ysabel (G3) and Santa Anita Oaks (G2) this year before shipping to Churchill Downs.

“She was the only one I was really disappointed in, based on how good she had trained,” D’Amato said. “She just really didn’t pick up her feet. She got slammed at the start, but I thought more than that it was the really sticky track there that day. She didn’t like it at all. She was swapping leads back and forth, which is not typical of her. I think she likes to hear her feet rattle.”

He said next up would be a start either on a fast main track, or “I’m even contemplating trying to give her a shot on the grass. I’m going to kind of weigh our options.”

A $400,000 auction purchase by Into Mischief, Ain’t Easy has a record 5: 2-0-2 and earnings of $227,000 for owners Old Bones Racing Stable, Michael Lombardi and Joey Platts.

Gregorian Chant. Sent east for the 5 1/2-furlong Turf Sprint Stakes (G2) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard, the 5-year-old gelding rallied from near the back of the pack to get third. The multiple stakes winner exited a win in an allowance claimer off a five-month layoff at Santa Anita in his seasonal bow March 25.

D’Amato said the English-bred son of Gregorian, who is campaigned by Old Bones Racing, Slam Dunk Racing and Michael Nentwig, will target either the $400,000 Jaipur (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard or the $100,000 Daytona (G3) on May 29 at Santa Anita.

Last year, late-running Gregorian Chant tried the six-furlong Jaipur and finished off the board when pressing the pace under Luis Saez.

Elm Drive. Sidelined since last October’s Chandelier, and aided by the scratch of morning-line favorite Eda, she returned a sharp front-running winner in Sunday’s Angels Flight for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs at Santa Anita.

“She came out in excellent shape, and I was very happy with the effort,” D’Amato said. “No doubt the scratch of Eda helped her chances making her comeback, but it looks like she got a lot of confidence out of that and a lot of fitness.”

Next up could be a trip to Belmont Park for the $150,000 Victory Ride (G3) at Belmont Park going seven furlongs on July 9 or possibly the $200,000 Great Lady M Stakes against older going 6 1/2 furlongs at Los Alamitos on July 4.

“Asking me today, I would say we’re probably leaning towards the Victory Ride,” D’Amato said.

The daughter of Mohaymen has a record of 5: 3-0-0, which includes a win in last year’s Sorrento Stakes (G2), and earnings of $195,640 for owner Little Red Feather Racing.

Island of Love. The Irish-bred 3-year-old filly by Kodiac made two starts in Italy before arriving in the US this winter for owner R Unicorn Stable. Making her third US start on Saturday, she rolled to an impressive 2 1/4-length win in the Señorita Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita.

In two prior US starts, Island of Love was second in the Jan. 30 Lady of Shamrock and fourth in the China Doll five weeks later, both at Santa Anita.

“The other day in the Señorita was the first time she had a nice, clean, clear trip,” D’Amato said. “She had been stuck on the inside and bottled up in her previous races, and when it came time to run she could never get clear. But the other day, Juan (Hernandez) rode a great race and gave her every chance to win. I thought she looked very impressive down the lane.

D’Amato added Island of Love could wheel back in the $100,000 Honeymoon (G3) going 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita on May 29.

“If she’s doing well,” he said. “If not, we’ll wait until Del Mar.”

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