Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Nysos, a colt ineligible for the Kentucky Derby, looks like the best of this year's 3-year-olds after a weekend of racing that found reigning Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and early Derby favorite Fiereness come up empty in his 2024 debut.
Nysos blew away all rivals in Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, but can't compete in the Run for the Roses because his trainer, Bob Baffert, been banned by Churchill Downs.
Fierceness struggled home third in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, likely shedding his Derby favorite role as Hades grabbed the win.
Meanwhile, upsets in Derby preps at Aqueduct and Oaklawn Park further roiled the picture for Kentucky Derby 150. See the separate international roundup for global horse racing results.
There's lots more action, too, but we shall start with ...
The Road to the Roses
Nysos, a Nyquist colt, entered the Grade III Robert B. Lewis undefeated and untested in two previous starts and strolled back to his barn afterward still undefeated and still untested.
Given his cue on the turn for home by jockey Flavien Prat, Nysos quickly left six rivals wondering where he'd gone. He eventually won by 7 1/2 lengths with another Baffert horse, Wine Me Up, edging pacesetter Scatify for third.
"I love the fact that he has speed and he proved he can do two turn," Baffert said of Nysos. He has a great mind. He is a really good colt. You can just sit there and push the button anytime. It makes it so much easier for the riders, but I still get a little nervous."
The 20 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points Nysos could have earned, and the 10 for Wine Me Up, were forfeited. Under terms dictated by Churchill Downs, no horse officially trained by Baffert at the end of January can participate in the Derby or earn points, no matter how good or how many races they win.
In Florida, Fierceness had every chance at the top of the stretch as he kicked off his Derby preparations in the Grade III Holy Bull.
The City of Light colt took a short-lived lead, but when he was asked for more by jockey John Velazquez, there was no response. Hades, an Awesome Slew gelding, quickly regained the lead he'd held through most of the race, refused to quit and ran on to win by 2 lengths.
Fierceness' trainer, Todd Pletcher, noted his colt was bumped around at the start -- a tough thing for him but not unusual in the Kentucky Derby. Still, he allowed, he was "disappointed in the outcome. ... We know he's better than that."
Arkansas continues to be plagued with nasty weather, but at least this weekend the precipitation came in liquid form.
Still, the rain left the Oaklawn Park track muddy for Saturday's $800,000 Grade III Southwest Stakes and clouded the result as a pair of longshots, Mystik Dan and Just Steel, got home first and second with the favorite, Carbone, fading to finish seventh.
The $250,000 Grade III Withers at Aqueduct was more of an open audition. The 1 1/8-mile event had a somewhat less-accomplished field than the day's other heats and the track was muddy in New York, too.
Still, it was a 9-1 surprise when Pennsylvania-bred Uncle Heavy chased down El Grando O in the final strides to win by a nose with the favorite, Lightline, another 2 1/2 lengths back in third.
Saturday's $125,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park was just 7 furlongs and on the fringes of the Triple Crown preps. It was even fringier when long shots Frankie's Empire and Le Dom Bro finished 1-2 with the favorite, Legalize, faded to get home last of seven.
The Path to the Oaks
In the 3-year-old filly division:
Band of Gold won Saturday's $250,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park by 3 3/4 lengths.
R Harper Rose was easy winner in the $125,000 Grade III Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park against open company.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Las Virgenes at Santa Anita was pushed back a week because of torrential rain in the area.
Comparative had to fight for the lead in Friday's $250,000 Grade III Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and then had to hold off late-running Ice Orchid to win by 1/2 length.
First World War won Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Kitten's Joy Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park by 1/2 length.
Goliad was victorious by 3 lengths in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita.
Never Explain won a three-was photo in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III San Marcos at Santa Anita was postponed because of heavy rain.
Filly & Mare Turf
Belabell led all the way to a 1-length victory in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Megahertz Stakes at Santa Anita.
Life's an Audible captured Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park.
Walkathon led from the first jumps in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and won by 1 1/2 lengths.
Skelly sprinted off to his seventh straight win in Saturday's $150,000 King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park, leading all the way and winning by 3 1/4 lengths.
Super Chow led all the way in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Toboggan Stakes on a muddy Aqueduct track.
Surly Furious took Saturday's $125,000 Forego Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather by 1 1/4 lengths from Arrest Me Red.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Alva Starr rolled to a front-running, 3 1/2-length score in Saturday's $150,000 American Beauty Stakes on a muddy Oaklawn Park track.
Three Witches pressed the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita, went by the leader when asked by jockey Prat and won by 2 1/2 lengths.