Cedartown, a 4-year-old colt trained by Mike Stidham, missed the promise of competing as a 3-year-old on the road potentially to Triple Crown races.
“He is lightly raced at his age because he didn't race as a 2-year-old,” said Stidham of Cedartown, who was purchased as a 2-year-old for $620,000 by Godolphin LLC. “He was a late developer. We gave him a lot of time getting him to the races, and then we raced him as he matured.”
Cedartown appears to have been making up for lost time. Although he has just seven starts, he has won four and finished second in the other three. He will enter the Grade III, $150,000 Mineshaft Stakes, for 4-year-olds and up, as the 8-5 favorite Saturday on Louisiana Derby Preview Day at the Fair Grounds.
The $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap on the turf also will be contested Saturday. The feature races are the Risen Star Stakes for 3-year-old colts and Rachel Alexandra for 3-year-old fillies. The Risen Star is a $400,000 purse; the Rachel Alexandra is $200,000.
“I haven't even looked to see if (Cedartown) was a late foal,” Stidham said “But it was more just his development. He's a big growthy type of a horse, like a big kid growing into himself. He's like a good athlete playing football and baseball who just keeps getting better.”
The Player, trained by William “Buff” Bradley, is the 5-2 second choice, and Scuba, trained by Brendan Walsh, is the third favorite at 6-1.
Cedartown, a son of Candy Ride, is coming off a victory in the Louisiana Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 13 with jockey Joe Bravo aboard. Although Cedartown will be running in his first graded stakes race, Stidham said he's not surprised he is the favorite because of his previous performance.
Cedartown has won three consecutive races and four of his past five. Stidham said Cedartown really started coming on last summer, when he finished second in an allowance race in Delaware to Dr Blarney, who had won a stakes race but was eligible because he'd only raced in state-bred stakes.
“(Cedartown is) a very talented individual,” Stidham said, “but this is a graded stakes company, so that's another step up the ladder.”
Stidham is hoping the Mineshaft provides Cedartown's big break.
“Our short-term goal is to make it through this race and into the (Grade II, $400,000) New Orleans Handicap,” Stidham said. “He's done everything that we hoped, and being patient with him paid off.”
Scuba finished second in the Louisiana Stakes and The Player fourth. The Player has four wins, three seconds and a third in 12 career starts.
In the Fair Grounds Handicap, for 4-year-olds and up on the tuf, Mr. Misunderstood, trained by Brad Cox, is the 3-1 favorite among 12 horses. Synchrony, also trained by Sidham, is the 9-2 second favorite, and Galton, trained by Michael Maker, is the 5-1 third favorite.
Mr. Misunderstood has won his past four races and five of the past six, including the Super Derby on Sept. 9. He is coming off a 1¾-length win in the Woodchopper Stakes on Dec. 30 at the Fair Grounds and back-to-back victories in the Jefferson Cup on Sept. 30 and the Commonwealth Stakes on Nov. 11, both at Churchill.
Perhaps most important, Mr. Misunderstood has won all eight of his races on the turf, including five in a row since August, and has won all four of his races at the Fair Grounds. Cox, however, said the Fair Grounds Handicap will be a big step for Mr. Misunderstood, a 4-year-old gelding.
“He hasn't faced the talent or depth he's going to face on Saturday,” Cox said. “The first time against older horses tend to be deep water, and this will be the deepest he's been in.”
Synchrony, a 5-year-old son of Tapit with A.P. Indy and Storm Cat in his pedigree, hasn't raced since May 27, finishing second in the Red Bank at Monmouth.
Galton, a 7-year-old gelding, finished 1½ lengths behind Tower of Texas in second place in the Col. E.R. Bradley Stakes on Jan. 13 at the Fair Grounds.