Stardom Bound camp backs up a little

ARCADIA, Calif. -- After both Pioneerof the Nile and Stardom Bound scored measured victories in their 3-year-old debuts at Santa Anita on Saturday, it seemed as though they were headed to a showdown in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4. And while that still may happen, Bobby Frankel, the current trainer of Stardom Bound, tapped the brakes a little Monday, saying he was "leaning toward" running Stardom Bound next in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks on March 7.

Asked if that was in addition to the Santa Anita Derby, or instead of the Santa Anita Derby, Frankel said, "Let's take it one race at a time."

Michael Iavarone, the co-president of the IEAH Stables partnership that bought Stardom Bound at auction after her championship-clinching victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, on Saturday said he wanted to wait and run next in the Santa Anita Derby. Frankel said he would have to talk things over with Iavarone, who left for a cruise this week.

Interest is high on the West Coast for a showdown between these two, who have emerged as the two leading California-based candidates for the May 2 Kentucky Derby. Pioneerof the Nile followed up his victory in December in the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park with a powerful late run in the Robert Lewis on Saturday. One hour earlier, Stardom Bound, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, took the Las Virgenes Stakes, her fourth straight victory.

Their Beyer Speed Figures were muted, with Pioneerof the Nile getting a 94, and Stardom Bound a mere 84.

Those two races were part of an important round of two-turn Derby preps on Saturday. All had formful winners. At Fair Grounds, Friesan Fire took the Risen Star Stakes for his second straight victory at that track. He got a Beyer Figure of 96. And at Aqueduct, Haynesfield romped in the Whirlaway Stakes.

"I'm interested in seeing what adjustable figure he gets," trainer Steve Asmussen said, referring to Haynesfield initially getting a 101, which was later downgraded to a 93, for his win in the Damon Runyon Stakes last year. Haynesfield was credited with a 90 in the Whirlaway.

While plans are being penciled in for Stardom Bound, they were written in ink for Pioneerof the Nile. Bob Baffert, his trainer, on Monday said Pioneerof the Nile would make his next start in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 14, then go to the Santa Anita Derby.

Based on that schedule, Pioneerof the Nile would not race on dirt until arriving at Churchill Downs.

"I'm going to leave him here," Baffert said following the Lewis. "He likes it here, he trains well here. I can't force him to like the dirt. But I think he's going to like it, the way he moves over it, and the way he ran at Hollywood. That's more of a dirt course anyway."

Baffert said the Lewis convinced him Pioneerof the Nile "can win the Kentucky Derby if he keeps moving forward."

Papa Clem, who finished second in the Lewis, is likely to head to Fair Grounds for the Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby on March 14, trainer Gary Stute said Monday.

"It's the same day as the San Felipe, but it's worth $600,000, and the one here is worth $200,000," Stute said. "I would think if he ran one-two in the Louisiana Derby, he'd have enough money to get into the Kentucky Derby."

The Derby field is restricted to 20 runners. One spot is allocated to the winner of a race in Great Britain. If more than 19 horses are vying for the remaining spots, the tiebreaker is earnings in graded stakes races.

I Want Revenge, who was third in the Lewis, came out of the race well and is under consideration for several races, both at Santa Anita and out of town, owner David Lanzman said Monday. In chronological order, the first race mentioned by Lanzman was the Grade 3, $200,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 28, though he said later races in Arkansas and New York were also possible.

At Fair Grounds, trainer Larry Jones said "everything seems real good" with Friesan Fire. Jones said Friesan Fire would run next in the Louisiana Derby.

"We're finally getting him to go when we say go," Jones said. "He's still learning. We're trying to find a happy medium to where he's happy and I'm happy."

Flying Pegasus, second in the Risen Star, has the Louisiana Derby as his "first option," trainer Ralph Nicks said Monday. Nicks said the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 14 was also a possibility. "Or," Nicks said, "if he needs more time, we could wait until the Illinois Derby," which is at Hawthorne on April 4.

Giant Oak, who had a nightmarish trip in the Risen Star, "came out of the race in good shape, thank god," trainer Chris Block said Monday.

"Anything could have happened with that kind of trip," he said.

Block said Giant Oak will come back in either the Louisiana Derby or the Rebel.

Haynesfield will remain at Aqueduct for the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes on March 7, Asmussen said.

"It's not the time to get too smart yet," Asmussen said.