Racing’s “bye week” starts with a retirement

Word came out late Friday afternoon that Eskendereya, who only two weeks ago was considered one of the heaviest Kentucky Derby favorites in years, has been retired.  Click here to read the full article by the Bloodhorse.

What has happened during those two weeks?  Derby contenders continued to prep for the big day and among the other casualties prior to the Run for the Roses was Endorsement, the Sunland Derby winner who looked to be peaking at the right time.  Little did WinStar Farm, who own Endorsement, and trainer Todd Pletcher, who trained Eskendereya, know that these two injuries would be minor side notes in the greatest weekend of their lives.

As ironic as life can be, Pletcher and WinStar wound up in exactly the place they yearned for all spring at 6:30 PM EDT, atop the podium at Churchill Downs celebrating a Kentucky Derby victory.  They weren’t there with the horses they thought would get them there, but with a steady, well-built colt named Super Saver, who had been giving every indication in the morning that he was sitting on a big race.

The following comments were made by Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form in the lead-up to Kentucky Derby 136:

“A couple of Eskendereya’s stablemates, Super Saver and Mission Impazible, have certainly looked sharper and been flashier in recent mornings.”

“Super Saver was the only Derby contender to train prior to the break and he was really on the muscle when breaking off to begin his gallop, going at better than a two-minute clip for nearly a quarter of a mile before coming to hand and leveling off into a very relaxed gait.”  (courtesy of drf.com)

If there’s anyone in the game who is better at assessing a horse in the morning than Welsch, I’ve yet to come across their work.  Of course, we all know what happened last Saturday afternoon as Calvin Borel piloted this son of Maria’s Mon to a rail-skimming trip that earned the Louisiana native his 3rd Kentucky Derby in four years.  In looking back, Super Saver had clearly been prepared for the Derby with a great deal of confidence by trainer Todd Pletcher as having sufficient graded earnings was never a care.

After he won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill last fall, Super Saver was in position to enter the Derby starting gate, even with just a couple of moderate efforts to begin his three year-old campaign.  The cagey veteran Calvin Borel gave him the type of ride in the Arkansas Derby that he believed would teach this headstrong, seemingly unratable colt to relax early and make one run.  A fortuitous post position draw, rain, and the presence of the Derby’s winningest jockey in the 21st Century was the perfect recipe for glory in Derby 136.

Super Saver is now headed to the Preakness where he’ll meet a field that has been in flux for the last few days and will continue to be up until Wednesday’s draw.  Is Super Saver the type of horse who can win the Preakness even though it’s not at his favorite track and might not be run on a wet track?  Absolutely.  He has been conditioned perfectly to come back in two weeks and run a big race and the colts who he beat at Churchill hardly seem like they’ll be able to bridge the gap.  Click here for past performances for Preakness contenders at drf.com.

That brings us to this weekend in racing, which I playfully referred to as a “bye week” as we’ll certainly revisit the Preakness throughout next week.  There are three graded stakes on the calendar today as the re-positioned Dwyer at Belmont Park replaces the Peter Pan, which was put on hiatus by NYRA.  Drosselmeyer, owned by WinStar Farm, was being pointed to the Preakness until Super Saver won the Derby, so he re-surfaces here.  He’s like to be favored but meets a field that should provide a serious challenge as Drosselmeyer’s two races at Fair Grounds were far from inspiring.  The Lone Star Derby features a small and largely talentless field but is another race where the favorites have chinks in their armor.  Finally, the Mervyn LeRoy at Hollywood features the return of Rail Trip, the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup winner, who is poised to become the pre-eminent force in the handicap division on the West Coast.  Here are my picks:

DWYER

#1 CARNIVORE is back on short notice for trainer Joe Delozier after finishing a competitive second behind a graded stakes caliber runner at Pimlico.  His trip that afternoon was quite poor as he was pounded from both sides at the start of that event and then made a huge early move down the backstretch.  The tougher company probably won’t hurt him too badly as this is not the toughest Grade II you’ll find and this guy’s dam loved Big Sandy.  Provided jockey Ramon Dominguez can position him just off of Remand, the expected pacesetter, this son of Giant’s Causeway will be in position to get a great stalking trip.  His price is certainly going to be appetizing and he seems like a logical alternative to a questionable favorite and uninspiring fringe players.

LONE STAR DERBY

In years past the Lone Star Derby served as a Belmont prep and occasionally the first in the summer series of lower scale Derbies (Ohio, West Virginia, Iowa, Super, Pennsylvania).  Any competitor in this group will have to move forward considerably to stamp himself a legitimate graded stakes horse.  In terms of race dynamics here, #6 CRIDER is definitely the one to beat as he exits a 2nd place finish against N1X company at Oaklawn where he moved prematurely into a slow pace before getting collared late by a closer who enjoyed a perfect trip.  His style makes him a great fit as #1 WANDO REDD and #5 HENSHIN HERO seem poised to mix it up early in this 8.5 furlong affair.  If the race comes back to him whatsoever, Crider will end up with the top prize.

MERVYN LEROY

Even though a heavy favorite returning off a very long layoff is usually the type that you try to beat, #6 RAIL TRIP appears to be just plain better than his rivals in this event.  Trainer Ron Ellis has long hit at a high percentage and his record with horses coming off 180+ day layoffs running on synthetic surfaces is strong.  He’s hit at a rate of 17% with an ROI of $2.03 with those types over the last five years and the expected pace scenario in here will be in his favor.  #5 TRES BORRACHOS appears as if he’ll be sent to the lead by jockey Victor Espinoza and Rafael Bejarano should station Rail Trip right off the pace.  He looks like a prohibitive favorite and a horse you can single with confidence in Pick 3s that could pad your bankroll for the late Pick 4.

There’s only one graded stake nationwide on Mother’s Day but we’re inching closer to Preakness day and the 2nd jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.  With Rail Trip taking center stage on this Saturday, here’s a look at his biggest career triumph, the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup:

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