Weekly Recap: Things starting to take shape

There is basically only one Derby prep left and you’re being generous if you call the Coolmore Lexington (G2) a prep as it has had little significance on the trail in the 21st century.  The two major preps of the weekend, the Blue Grass (G1) and Arkansas Derby (G2) were won by horses who put in solid efforts but left you few reasons to think they could be draped in roses in less than three weeks.  Let’s take a look at some of the graded races from the weekend:

Blue Grass:

What looked like 11 fringe players on the Derby trail went to the post and after the field had finished the 9 furlong journey, they still looked like fringe players.  General Quarters bounced back from a poor effort in the Tampa Bay Derby where he encountered some trouble along the way.  He is a versatile animal in that he has run well on conventional dirt and synthetics and seems to have developed some tactical speed.  He allowed Eibar Coa to put him just off the pace and that enabled him to capitalize when the other pacesetters faltered. 

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIuy-uS2gxo to watch the Blue Grass

Arkansas Derby:

The most significant question that had to be answered in the Arkansas Derby was whether Old Fashioned could relax in the early stages and get the distance of 9 furlongs.  He was taken straight to the front by Oaklawn riding champion Terry Thompson and he set fast fractions while free-wheeling up the backstretch.  When he was confronted at the top of the stretch by eventual winner Papa Clem the gray son of Unbridled’s Song dug in gamely and fought all the way to the wire.  Unfortunately, we’ve likely seen the last of Old Fashioned as he was injured during the Ark Derby and underwent surgery on Sunday.  As for the winner, Papa Clem is clearly a useful horse and it seems in the end that his trainer’s decision to send him to Oaklawn right after the Louisiana Derby to get acclimated was a great one.  He posted  fast final time but was clearly helped by a good trip behind the hot early pace.  He will likely be overbet in the Ky Derby a la Lawyer Ron and Gayego, recent Ark Derby winners. 

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne85UqwB7vU to watch the Arkansas Derby

Jenny Wiley:

The highlight of the Blue Grass undercard was undoubtedly the $200,000 Jenny Wiley (G2) which featured the return of 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf champion Forever Together.  She failed to disappoint as even a glacial early pace couldn’t derail the fleet-footed gray mare.  She rocketed down the center of the turf course and made a clear statement that she is still at the top of her game and is the overwhelming leader of the division.  The performance of Rutherienne was quite encouraging as she fought on gamely and was narrowly defeated.  She would be best served by trainer Christophe Clement choosing a campaign that avoids Forever Together, at least until a potential date in November.

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU7_9k4f6kg to watch the Jenny Wiley

When sitting back and reflecting on the weekend, while dabbling in the Sunday Santa Anita card, it was easy to partake in a bit of California dreaming.  I’ve been quick to dismiss Pioneerof the Nile as a synthetic wonder-horse, however, even the harshest of critics would have to be a bit moved by the efforts of I Want Revenge and Papa Clem on conventional dirt.  Clearly the surface questions abound, and that puts bettors in a tough position as the ‘Pioneer may only have one spin over the CD oval prior to May 2.

We’ll know more a week from now regarding whether Dunkirk will get into the Derby and his chances at the moment look strong.  There will be a few announcements this week regarding who’s in and who’s out but if I had to bet on it, Dunkirk is likely in the gate.

I’ll be back Tuesday to preview what looks like it might be a rain-free week in NY that should feature uninterrupted turf racing.  That plus the Lexington, Bed O’ Roses, and the Charles Town Classic will highlight next weekend’s racing.

Commentator is expected to make his 2009 debut in the Charles Town Classic, so let’s take a look at his greatest performance:

See you Tuesday!

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