Archive for March, 2010

Derby Countdown – March 30

March 30, 2010

Three preps were run in this country last weekend as the UAE Derby run in Dubai looks like it will not produce any starters in the Kentucky Derby.  The Louisiana Derby and Sunland Derby were both won by “new shooters” as Mission Impazible scored his first win since his debut victory at first asking last spring at Keeneland.  Endorsement stepped up off of a maiden win to take the Sunland Derby over Conveyance, who continues to look like a horse who will have serious trouble with ten furlongs.  The Lane’s End at Turfway did not feature an effort from any horse that makes you think they could contend in the Kentucky Derby, especially the winner Dean’s Kitten.  Beginning this weekend things really kick up a notch with the Wood Memorial, Illinois Derby, and Santa Anita Derby slated for Saturday.

#1 – Eskendereya

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Zayat Stables

Pedigree:  Giant’s Causeway x Aldebaran Light (Seattle Slew)

Previous Rank: 1st

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 22-1 (Pool 1), 5-1 (Pool 2), 5-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  A breakthrough performance in the Fountain of Youth made Eskendereya the clear leader of the 3YO division.  He stalked the pace set by Lost Aptitude, took over when that rival was finished, and kicked clear late to win by over eight lengths.  He has a tremendous pedigree for the Triple Crown as there’s nothing but upside with this colt.  According to a late announcement on Tuesday, he will be going to the Wood Memorial. 

What’s not to like?  Todd Pletcher’s record in the Kentucky Derby is the only real knock on this colt, at least until he runs on Saturday in the Wood Memorial.  There has to be some concern that he could leave a big race on the track at Aqueduct off of six weeks’ rest and be able to duplicate it in the Kentucky Derby.

#2 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

Pedigree:  Smart Strike x Private Feeling (Belong to Me)

Previous Rank: 2nd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 8-1 (Pool 1), 9-1 (Pool 2), 9/2 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3

What’s to like?  The Rebel was a very, very nice performance by this well-built son of Smart Strike as he showed agility, determination, and quality from start to finish.  He nearly went down on the backstretch after clipping heels with eventual runner-up Noble’s Promise, then rated kindly for jockey Garrett Gomez behind the lead and finished strongly to get up on the wire.  Trainer Bob Baffert said that he had taken it easy on this colt prior to the Rebel and that he really didn’t have him ready to fire his biggest shot.  Trainerspeak is often cheap, but doesn’t it have a bit more meaning coming from Baffert’s mouth?

What’s not to like?  Are you sure you know how good Lookin at Lucky is?  He has met almost every challenge and proven more than capable to win with adversity, with good trips, and with bad, so he’s certainly durable.  However, he has yet to run a race that makes you say, “If he runs back to that he wins the Derby.”

#3 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 3rd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 24-1 (Pool 1), 20-1 (Pool 2), 30-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Downs, 2/13, 1st

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  Rule contested a very strong pace in the Florida Derby and stayed on well despite being passed late.  He has gradually improved and is a solid animal and he’ll go into the Kentucky Derby off a six week layoff, which should be perfect given that he left a lot on the track at Gulfstream.

What’s not to like?  If Rule doesn’t rate in the Kentucky Derby he’s cooked.  Horses like Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy, and maybe even his stablemate Super Saver will put a great deal of pressure on the front end and if he attempts to go with them, survive, and stay on he’ll fail.  I was hoping to see a more relaxed horse on Saturday and we just didn’t see it.

#4 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 4th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 10-1 (Pool 2), 18-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Southwest, Oaklawn Park, 2/20, 2nd

Where to next?  Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10

What’s to like?  I’m not down on Dublin after his third-place finish in the Rebel.  He was victimized once again by a wide trip and a premature move towards the lead by jockey Corey Nakatani.  It would seem that he’s proven he’s at his best when able to sit back and make one run and a return to that style is probably going to do him a lot of good.  Many have predicted that he’ll top out distance-wise at 7-8 furlongs but his Rebel was not necessarily indicative of a horse who will struggle with 10 panels.

What’s not to like?  Critics are maintaining that Dublin is a one-run sprinter who flattened out after being in contention in the Rebel.  That is a consideration at this point and one has to wonder if he’s the type that’s going to be able to sit back and make one run in the Derby, a race that often goes to a horse with that type of style.

#5 – Awesome Act

Trainer: Jeremy Noseda

Owner: Mrs. Susan Roy & Vinery Stable

Pedigree:  Awesome Again x Houdini’s Honey (Mr. Prospector)

Previous Rank: 5th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2), 13-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct, 3/6, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Awesome Act showed no discomfort on dirt in the Gotham Stakes as he rated beautifully behind a fast pace, angled out at the quarter pole, took over and kicked clear to win by almost two lengths.  His pedigree suggested he would handle dirt as he had run exclusively on synthetics and turf prior to the Gotham.  He is being pointed to the Wood Memorial and looms another contender with no distance limitations, some talent, and very good connections on his side.

What’s not to like?  The quality of the Gotham field is very suspect and Awesome Act is going to potentially come into the Kentucky Derby with only two starts as a three year-old.  While that hasn’t been as much of an issue in the past few years, it is for a lightly raced horse from across the pond who didn’t debut until March 6.

6. Sidney’s Candy

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: 6th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 33-1 (Pool 2), 22-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3

What’s to like?  Sidney’s Candy was able to get away with pretty soft fractions in his first start around two turns but the simple fact that he handled the added ground makes it clear that he has some serious talent.  He has a pedigree that should enable him to go ten furlongs and being a speed horse going two turns on the synthetics is difficult.  While trainer John Sadler is not one of the California conditioners whose horses generally move up on dirt, this guy looks like the type that will based on running style and that makes him awfully intriguing.

What’s not to like?  Trainer John Sadler has blossomed into one of the best in California in recent years.  However, his success has not traveled with him when shipping out of town.  In fact, Sadler is 0 for his last 14 with horses moving from synthetic surfaces to dirt in stakes races, both graded and ungraded.  That has to be of at least some concern, right?

7. Odysseus

Trainer: Tom Albertrani

Owner: Padua Stables

Pedigree: Malibu Moon x Persimmon Hill (Conquistador Cielo)

Previous Rank: 7th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 25-1 (Pool 2), 18-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, 3/13, 1st

Where to Next? Blue Grass, Keeneland, 4/10

What’s to like?  Odysseus backed up his smashing N1X win at Tampa with a gritty, determined win in the Tampa Bay Derby.  He’s obviously a horse that doesn’t have push button acceleration and he needs to be ridden to his stride but it sure did look like he was done when the field reached the top of the stretch on Saturday.  He dug in gamely and was able to re-rally as the horses in front of him began to falter.  Whether the TB Derby was a race of any quality or not remains to be seen but he is at least a horse worth watching going forward.

What’s not to like?  I can’t be certain that the Tampa Bay Derby was any good.  While many are caught up in the hubbub of how Odysseus looked beaten then re-rallied, it did seem as if the race was served up to him as he started running again.  No one made a winning move in the stretch and it turned into an eyesore with the final three-sixteenths seeming to take an eternity.

8. Ice Box

Trainer: Nick Zito

Owner: Robert V. LaPenta

Pedigree: Pulpit x Spice Island (Tabasco Cat)

Previous Rank: 9th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2), 19-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20, 1st

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 3/27

What’s to like? Ice Box burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene with a dramatic last-to-first win in the Florida Derby.  He obviously has very little speed but does have a big late kick and can take advantage of a strong pace setup (as most good horses can).  He will be moving in the right direction late in Louisville and can grab a share if the pace boils over.

What’s not to like?  Ice Box was a beneficiary of circumstances in the Florida Derby.  Plain and simple the race came back to him and he was there to take advantage.  He is obviously improving but is going to need everything to break right for him to take the top prize on May 1.

9. Mission Impazible

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Twin Creeks Racing

Pedigree: Unbridled’s Song x Hold Your Peace (La Paz)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2), Field 9/2 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27, 1st

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like? It was widely held that Mission Impazible was a sprinter who trainer Todd Pletcher was forcing into route races.  He silenced me and the other critics with a win in the Louisiana Derby where he rated kindly behind the pace and finished well when asked.  He is clearly improving with experience and he seemingly has no serious distance limitations.

What’s not to like? The final three furlongs of the Louisiana Derby were excruciating.  A Little Warm nearly stayed the course and he’s a horse who looks like he’ll be at his best at 7-8 furlongs.  Mission Impazible was basically the last man standing in a war of attrition.  He’d have to improve considerably to factor in the decision in Louisville.

10. Endorsement

Trainer: Shannon Ritter

Owner: WinStar Farms, LLC

Pedigree: Distorted Humor x Charmed Gift (A.P. Indy)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2), Field 9/2 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Sunland Derby, Sunland, 3/27, 1st

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like? Imagine that, an impeccably bred colt owned by WinStar Farms now on the Derby trail.  It seems like there were about 12 of them when we turned the calendar to 2010.  This guy was not on the Derby radar back then but he is now after a sharp win in the Sunland Derby where he rated kindly, took over from pacesetter Conveyance and kicked well clear in track record time.  While it’s never a great idea to back recent maiden winners in graded stakes, and it’s obvious this guy lacks seasoning, he is a horse moving forward at the moment.

What’s not to like?  Whether this guy can handle the rapid advance class-wise that he’s undertaking is a serious question.  He broke his maiden just five weeks ago and he’s now less than five weeks from one of the most demanding races in this country.  He has the pedigree and is gradually gaining the experience but he will not go off anywhere near what would be fair odds for a horse with his paltry credentials.

Races this week: Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Illinois Derby

See you back next week with an update.  With 5 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last five Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2005 running:

Derby Countdown – March 23

March 23, 2010

There was only one Kentucky Derby prep run last weekend, the Florida Derby, and the result showed us how this division can be turned upside down countless times before May 1.  Ice Box was victorious at better than 20-1, narrowly edging Pleasant Prince, who was better than 25-1.  Post time favorite Rule ran a gallant race to finish third and appears as if he may still be unable to harness his early speed for ten furlongs.  Nonetheless, he’s a solid colt who may only need a modicum of improvement to be draped in roses.

#1 – Eskendereya

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Zayat Stables

Pedigree:  Giant’s Causeway x Aldebaran Light (Seattle Slew)

Previous Rank: 1st

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 22-1 (Pool 1), 5-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  A breakthrough performance in the Fountain of Youth made Eskendereya the clear leader of the 3YO division.  He stalked the pace set by Lost Aptitude, took over when that rival was finished, and kicked clear late to win by over eight lengths.  He has a tremendous pedigree for the Triple Crown as there’s nothing but upside with this colt.  According to a late announcement on Tuesday, he will be going to the Wood Memorial. 

What’s not to like?  The “switcharoo” that his connections pulled on Tuesday regarding where he’d make his final prep is not a cause for concern.  I guess it’s a tad disconcerting that he’ll have six weeks between the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial and if he fires a big shot in the Big Apple, will he be able to run back to it in four weeks?

#2 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

Pedigree:  Smart Strike x Private Feeling (Belong to Me)

Previous Rank: 2nd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 8-1 (Pool 1), 9-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3 or Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10

What’s to like?  The Rebel was a very, very nice performance by this well-built son of Smart Strike as he showed agility, determination, and quality from start to finish.  He nearly went down on the backstretch after clipping heels with eventual runner-up Noble’s Promise, then rated kindly for jockey Garrett Gomez behind the lead and finished strongly to get up on the wire.  Trainer Bob Baffert said that he had taken it easy on this colt prior to the Rebel and that he really didn’t have him ready to fire his biggest shot.  Trainerspeak is often cheap, but doesn’t it have a bit more meaning coming from Baffert’s mouth?

What’s not to like?  Are you sure you know how good Lookin at Lucky is?  He has met almost every challenge and proven more than capable to win with adversity, with good trips, and with bad, so he’s certainly durable.  However, he has yet to run a race that makes you say, “If he runs back to that he wins the Derby.”

#3 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 3rd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 24-1 (Pool 1), 20-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Downs, 2/13, 1st

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  Rule contested a very strong pace in the Florida Derby and stayed on well despite being passed late.  He has gradually improved and is a solid animal and he’ll go into the Kentucky Derby off a six week layoff, which should be perfect given that he left a lot on the track at Gulfstream.

What’s not to like?  If Rule doesn’t rate in the Kentucky Derby he’s cooked.  Horses like Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy, and maybe even his stablemate Super Saver will put a great deal of pressure on the front end and if he attempts to go with them, survive, and stay on he’ll fail.  I was hoping to see a more relaxed horse on Saturday and we just didn’t see it.

#4 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 4th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 10-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Southwest, Oaklawn Park, 2/20, 2nd

Where to next?  Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10

What’s to like?  I’m not down on Dublin after his third-place finish in the Rebel.  He was victimized once again by a wide trip and a premature move towards the lead by jockey Corey Nakatani.  It would seem that he’s proven he’s at his best when able to sit back and make one run and a return to that style is probably going to do him a lot of good.  Many have predicted that he’ll top out distance-wise at 7-8 furlongs but his Rebel was not necessarily indicative of a horse who will struggle with 10 panels.

What’s not to like?  Critics are maintaining that Dublin is a one-run sprinter who flattened out after being in contention in the Rebel.  That is a consideration at this point and one has to wonder if he’s the type that’s going to be able to sit back and make one run in the Derby, a race that often goes to a horse with that type of style.

#5 – Awesome Act

Trainer: Jeremy Noseda

Owner: Mrs. Susan Roy & Vinery Stable

Pedigree:  Awesome Again x Houdini’s Honey (Mr. Prospector)

Previous Rank: 5th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct, 3/6, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Awesome Act showed no discomfort on dirt in the Gotham Stakes as he rated beautifully behind a fast pace, angled out at the quarter pole, took over and kicked clear to win by almost two lengths.  His pedigree suggested he would handle dirt as he had run exclusively on synthetics and turf prior to the Gotham.  He is being pointed to the Wood Memorial and looms another contender with no distance limitations, some talent, and very good connections on his side.

What’s not to like?  The quality of the Gotham field is very suspect and Awesome Act is going to potentially come into the Kentucky Derby with only two starts as a three year-old.  While that hasn’t been as much of an issue in the past few years, it is for a lightly raced horse from across the pond who didn’t debut until March 6.

6. Sidney’s Candy

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: 6th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 33-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3

What’s to like?  Sidney’s Candy was able to get away with pretty soft fractions in his first start around two turns but the simple fact that he handled the added ground makes it clear that he has some serious talent.  He has a pedigree that should enable him to go ten furlongs and being a speed horse going two turns on the synthetics is difficult.  While trainer John Sadler is not one of the California conditioners whose horses generally move up on dirt, this guy looks like the type that will based on running style and that makes him awfully intriguing.

What’s not to like?  Trainer John Sadler has blossomed into one of the best in California in recent years.  However, his success has not traveled with him when shipping out of town.  In fact, Sadler is 0 for his last 14 with horses moving from synthetic surfaces to dirt in stakes races, both graded and ungraded.  That has to be of at least some concern, right?

7. Odysseus

Trainer: Tom Albertrani

Owner: Padua Stables

Pedigree: Malibu Moon x Persimmon Hill (Conquistador Cielo)

Previous Rank: 7th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 25-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, 3/13, 1st

Where to Next? Blue Grass, Keeneland, or Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn, 4/10

What’s to like?  Odysseus backed up his smashing N1X win at Tampa with a gritty, determined win in the Tampa Bay Derby.  He’s obviously a horse that doesn’t have push button acceleration and he needs to be ridden to his stride but it sure did look like he was done when the field reached the top of the stretch on Saturday.  He dug in gamely and was able to re-rally as the horses in front of him began to falter.  Whether the TB Derby was a race of any quality or not remains to be seen but he is at least a horse worth watching going forward.

What’s not to like?  I can’t be certain that the Tampa Bay Derby was any good.  While many are caught up in the hubbub of how Odysseus looked beaten then re-rallied, it did seem as if the race was served up to him as he started running again.  No one made a winning move in the stretch and it turned into an eyesore with the final three-sixteenths seeming to take an eternity.

8. Super Saver

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree:  Maria’s Mon x Supercharger (A.P. Indy)

Previous Rank: 8th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 24-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill, 11/28, 1st

Where to next?  Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10 or Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Depending on what you were looking for your answer may vary, but Super Saver’s 2010 debut was not the sharp effort you’d hope for from a serious contender.  He made the lead in the Tampa Bay Derby and looked to me moving well when confronted at the top of the stretch.  He dug in but that probably had more to do with the fact that none of his rivals were finishing at all and when the smoke cleared he was a narrowly beaten third as the favorite.  He probably gained quite a bit from the race and should be ready to move forward in his 2nd outing of the year.

What’s not to like?  I expected more from his 2010 debut.  It seemed as if he was quite a bit better than his rivals in the TB Derby and would be able to give up a conditioning edge based on his individual talent.  The fact that he lost doesn’t make me give up on him but I have doubts about whether he can stay the course in the Derby and move forward even enough to crack the superfecta.

9. Ice Box

Trainer: Nick Zito

Owner: Robert V. LaPenta

Pedigree: Pulpit x Spice Island (Tabasco Cat)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20, 1st

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 3/27

What’s to like? Ice Box burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene with a dramatic last-to-first win in the Florida Derby.  He obviously has very little speed but does have a big late kick and can take advantage of a strong pace setup (as most good horses can).  He will be moving in the right direction late in Louisville and can grab a share if the pace boils over.

What’s not to like?  Ice Box was a beneficiary of circumstances in the Florida Derby.  Plain and simple the race came back to him and he was there to take advantage.  He is obviously improving but is going to need everything to break right for him to take the top prize on May 1.

10. Discreetly Mine

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Mrs. Einar P. Robsham

Pedigree: Mineshaft x Pretty Discreet (Private Account)

Previous Rank: 10th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 37-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20, 1st

Where to Next? Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27

What’s to like? Many, including myself, believed that this son of Mineshaft had the look of a sprinter but trainer Todd Pletcher thought enough of him to try him in last month’s Risen Star at Fair Grounds.  A wire-to-wire win put this guy back in the discussion in terms of the Kentucky Derby, but don’t think he’s through with the questions about whether he can go 10 panels.  He was able to get away with an easy pace in the Risen Star and that certainly ensured he’d have plenty in the tank for the stretch drive.  If he has to work any harder early in the Louisiana Derby, he may be in some trouble.

What’s not to like?  This guy has two questions to answer.  The first is whether he can win without being able to set very moderate fractions.  The second is whether he can stay ten furlongs.  He can start to answer these questions in the Louisiana Derby, where he’ll meet 12 rivals in the now extended Fair Grounds staple.

Races this week: Lane’s End, Louisiana Derby, Sunland Derby

See you back next week with an update.  With 6 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last six Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2004 running:

Derby Countdown – March 16

March 16, 2010

We saw three Kentucky Derby preps run last weekend with the Eclipse Award winning 2YO of 2009 returning in style, an emerging speedballer in California winning, and a resilient colt proving he has a “never say die” attitude at Tampa.  Let’s take a look at the updated Top 10 in my Derby Countdown:

#1 – Eskendereya

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Zayat Stables

Pedigree:  Giant’s Causeway x Aldebaran Light (Seattle Slew)

Previous Rank: 1st

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 22-1 (Pool 1), 5-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  A breakthrough performance in the Fountain of Youth made Eskendereya the clear leader of the 3YO division.  He stalked the pace set by Lost Aptitude, took over when that rival was finished, and kicked clear late to win by over eight lengths.  He has a tremendous pedigree for the Triple Crown as there’s nothing but upside with this colt.  According to a late announcement on Tuesday, he will be going to the Wood Memorial. 

#2 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

Pedigree:  Smart Strike x Private Feeling (Belong to Me)

Previous Rank: 3rd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 8-1 (Pool 1), 9-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3 or Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3 or Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10

What’s to like?  The Rebel was a very, very nice performance by this well-built son of Smart Strike as he showed agility, determination, and quality from start to finish.  He nearly went down on the backstretch after clipping heels with eventual runner-up Noble’s Promise, then rated kindly for jockey Garrett Gomez behind the lead and finished strongly to get up on the wire.  Trainer Bob Baffert said that he had taken it easy on this colt prior to the Rebel and that he really didn’t have him ready to fire his biggest shot.  Trainerspeak is often cheap, but doesn’t it have a bit more meaning coming from Baffert’s mouth?

#3 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 4th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 24-1 (Pool 1), 20-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Downs, 2/13, 1st

Where to next?  Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20

What’s to like?  Rule has turned into a professional, classy racehorse as evidenced by his game wire-to-wire decisions in the Delta Jackpot and the Sam F. Davis.  While his last four triumphs have come on the lead, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez believe he’ll be successful rating.  If he goes to the Florida Derby, Velazquez will be replaced by Ramon Dominguez as he’ll opt to ride Eskendereya.  He should pose a stern challenge to his stablemate and the top dog in this Derby countdown if their paths cross in Hallandale this Saturday.

#4 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 2nd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 10-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Southwest, Oaklawn Park, 2/20, 2nd

Where to next?  Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10

What’s to like?  I’m not down on Dublin after his third-place finish in the Rebel.  He was victimized once again by a wide trip and a premature move towards the lead by jockey Corey Nakatani.  It would seem that he’s proven he’s at his best when able to sit back and make one run and a return to that style is probably going to do him a lot of good.  Many have predicted that he’ll top out distance-wise at 7-8 furlongs but his Rebel was not necessarily indicative of a horse who will struggle with 10 panels.

#5 – Awesome Act

Trainer: Jeremy Noseda

Owner: Mrs. Susan Roy & Vinery Stable

Pedigree:  Awesome Again x Houdini’s Honey (Mr. Prospector)

Previous Rank: 5th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct, 3/6, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Awesome Act showed no discomfort on dirt in the Gotham Stakes as he rated beautifully behind a fast pace, angled out at the quarter pole, took over and kicked clear to win by almost two lengths.  His pedigree suggested he would handle dirt as he had run exclusively on synthetics and turf prior to the Gotham.  He is being pointed to the Wood Memorial and looms another contender with no distance limitations, some talent, and very good connections on his side.

6. Sidney’s Candy

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 33-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3

What’s to like?  Sidney’s Candy was able to get away with pretty soft fractions in his first start around two turns but the simple fact that he handled the added ground makes it clear that he has some serious talent.  He has a pedigree that should enable him to go ten furlongs and being a speed horse going two turns on the synthetics is difficult.  While trainer John Sadler is not one of the California conditioners whose horses generally move up on dirt, this guy looks like the type that will based on running style and that makes him awfully intriguing.

7. Odysseus

Trainer: Tom Albertrani

Owner: Padua Stables

Pedigree: Malibu Moon x Persimmon Hill (Conquistador Cielo)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 25-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, 3/13, 1st

Where to Next? Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3 or Kentucky Derby, Churchill, 5/1

What’s to like?  Odysseus backed up his smashing N1X win at Tampa with a gritty, determined win in the Tampa Bay Derby.  He’s obviously a horse that doesn’t have push button acceleration and he needs to be ridden to his stride but it sure did look like he was done when the field reached the top of the stretch on Saturday.  He dug in gamely and was able to re-rally as the horses in front of him began to falter.  Whether the TB Derby was a race of any quality or not remains to be seen but he is at least a horse worth watching going forward.

8. Super Saver

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree:  Maria’s Mon x Supercharger (A.P. Indy)

Previous Rank: 6th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 24-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill, 11/28, 1st

Where to next?  Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10 or Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Depending on what you were looking for your answer may vary, but Super Saver’s 2010 debut was not the sharp effort you’d hope for from a serious contender.  He made the lead in the Tampa Bay Derby and looked to me moving well when confronted at the top of the stretch.  He dug in but that probably had more to do with the fact that none of his rivals were finishing at all and when the smoke cleared he was a narrowly beaten third as the favorite.  He probably gained quite a bit from the race and should be ready to move forward in his 2nd outing of the year.

9. Drosselmeyer

Trainer: William Mott

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree: Distorted Humor x Golden Ballet (Moscow Ballet)

Previous Rank: 8th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Allowance, Gulfstream, 1/31, 1st

Where to Next? Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27

What’s to like? It goes without saying that I was disappointed in his Risen Star effort last month at Fair Grounds.  He went in a solid favorite and came out of the race with tons of questions about what went wrong and if he’s any good at all.  Trainer Bill Mott will now have to re-set and get him back on track for the Louisiana Derby and possible excuses for the Risen Star stinker are a quick turnaround off of his 2010 debut (20 days) or a horribly slow pace that made it next to impossible for a late runner.  No matter what, he has to elevate his game in his next start or else he’s not going to the Kentucky Derby.

10. Discreetly Mine

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Mrs. Einar P. Robsham

Pedigree: Mineshaft x Pretty Discreet (Private Account)

Previous Rank: 9th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 37-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20

Where to Next? Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27

What’s to like? Many, including myself, believed that this son of Mineshaft had the look of a sprinter but trainer Todd Pletcher thought enough of him to try him in last month’s Risen Star at Fair Grounds.  A wire-to-wire win put this guy back in the discussion in terms of the Kentucky Derby, but don’t think he’s through with the questions about whether he can go 10 panels.  He was able to get away with an easy pace in the Risen Star and that certainly ensured he’d have plenty in the tank for the stretch drive.  If he has to work any harder early in the Louisiana Derby, he may be in some trouble.

Races this week: Florida Derby

See you back next week with an update.  With 7 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last seven Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2003 running:

The thirteen things we can learn from March 13…

March 15, 2010

In his play  Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare wrote of the title character’s impending misfortune, “Beware the Ides of March.”  Perhaps such a warning could have been given by trainer John Shirreffs to trainer Steve Asmussen before Zardana was to take on Rachel Alexandra in the inaugural running of the New Orleans Ladies on the eve of the eve of the Ides of March.  Shirreffs’ mare Zardana clearly improved in her first start on conventional dirt in America and she upset the reigning Horse of the Year under a clever ride by David Flores, the one-time jockey of 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Zenyatta.  What else did we learn on the thirteenth?  Here are thirteen thoughts:

1.) Please, folks, let’s remember that the Horse of the Year voting had to do with 2009.  Nothing about yesterday’s respective efforts by Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta should make you think the voters “got it wrong.”  Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 campaign was one for the ages and we can only hope she returns to that level soon, because she clearly wasn’t there yesterday.

2.) Zenyatta is so special and such a rarity in racing.  A horse that can seemingly hold her form for 2+ years and find a way to win time and again is truly spectacular.  Thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Moss for allowing us to watch this mare once again in 2010.

3.) Richard Grunder wasn’t the only one who thought Odysseus was done on the far turn of the Tampa Bay Derby.  After chasing the pace for the opening six furlongs it appeared as if the son of Malibu Moon was spent as he fell back to fourth.  He somehow managed to re-rally and win what looked like an impossible photo.  It’s unclear just how good Odysseus really is as the final  quarter of the Tampa Bay Derby was far from impressive, but he definitely has heart.

4.) Caracortado was bound to come back down to earth when he didn’t get the same trip he enjoyed in his prior two stakes wins.  He was asked to rally into a very slow pace with a nice horse in front of him and his inability to track him down doesn’t take away from his overall ability.  If you liked him before you shouldn’t be discouraged, but I won’t be betting on him on May 1.

5.) If you have a horse that you want to run big in one particular race, is there a better trainer than John Shirreffs?  You’re talking about a man who has won the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, trained two horses that defeated a reigning Horse of the Year, two consecutive Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winners and trained a mare to 15 consecutive victories.  This has all been accomplished in the last five years.

6.) The Rebel was the most competitive Derby prep we’ve seen so far.  Dublin was victimized by another poor ride, this time by Corey Nakatani, who inexplicably decided to make a bold middle move while racing four to five wide.  He probably regressed a bit coming back only three weeks after a taxing effort in the Southwest.  Lookin at Lucky, on the other hand, ran a superb race as he almost fell on the backstretch, held together, and finished strongly to get up by a nose.  Noble’s Promise also came back in fine fashion off a layoff in his 2010 debut.

7.) Was anyone hotter than Marty Wolfson at Gulfstream on Saturday?  After his mare Jessica is Back rolled home in the Ocala, his two entrants in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, You and I Forever and Motovato, finished 1-2.  He tried to continue the roll on Sunday in the Inside Information but his March 13 magic didn’t carry over.

8.) I will go on record saying that I think In Perpetuity is going to become a nice 3YO filly.  She won a scratch-decimated N1X at Gulfstream on Saturday afternoon by open lengths but it was her 2nd win on conventional dirt in as many starts and she looked like she’ll be able to go farther without a problem.

9.) Between Super Saver, Conveyance, and Sidney’s Candy, with a few others lurking out there, it seems like the Derby pace might be very strong this year.  Sidney’s Candy ran what can be considered an atypical race for the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita in his wire-to-wire win in the San Felipe.

10.) It was announced that 2009 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Life is Sweet was retired after she tied up again following a morning workout.  She was being pointed to the Dubai World Cup and those plans are obviously scrapped but her career was quite accomplished nonetheless.

11.) She may not take her game anywhere else, but Diva Delite sure did take to the quirky surface in Oldsmar as she won another stakes race at Tampa in the Florida Oaks.  She now has some black-type and that’s arguably the biggest prize for an extremely productive winter.

12.) No Such Word was a sharp winner of the Honeybee as she earned her second consecutive win around two turns in Hot Springs.  She’s a late bloomer but is rapidly improving and looms another contender who will spice up the Fantasy scheduled for April 2.

13.) It took until March 14, but we learned that there will be no showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom.  Don’t despair racing fans, provided Rachel stays in training there will be a matchup between these two.  When and where, who knows?

I’ll leave you with a video of Zenyatta earning her 15th consecutive win in the Santa Margarita:

Check back on Tuesday for the latest edition of my Derby Countdown!

5 Races, 75 Minutes…

March 13, 2010

Between 5:30 PM EST and 6:45 PM EST this afternoon there will be six meaningful stakes races across the country.  Of course, the highlights are Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra returning in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds and Zenyatta’s 2010 debut in the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita.  Let’s run down this 75 minute hour (and fifteen minutes) of power:

The fun starts at Tampa Bay Downs with the Tampa Bay Derby as Kentucky Jockey Club winner #6 SUPER SAVER makes his 2010 debut.  He is considered one of Todd Pletcher’s best chances for Kentucky Derby glory as he showed potential at Churchill and clearly handles the Twin Spires oval without issue.  He’s going to be met with a stern challenge from the upstart recent N1X winner #7 ODYSSEUS.  A $250,000 purchase at the OBS March Sale last year, this son of Malibu moon moved forward tremendously off of a maiden win at Gulfstream with the handy win over this quirky Tampa Downs oval.  If you’re looking for an upset, perhaps #5 SCHOOLYARD DREAMS, who made a big middle move in the Sam F. Davis last time out before weakening late.  I’ll go with Odysseus to post another breakthrough performance. 

The Honeybee is the local prep at Oaklawn for the Fantasy, which was a race won in 2009 by eventual Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.  A respectable field has gathered for this year’s running, headed by Martha Washington winner #2 DECELERATOR and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up #5 BEAUTICIAN.  What both of those two lack, in large part, is early speed as there is little to no zip in this race whatsoever.  I’ll go with #8 BELLA DIAMANTE, who had a tough trip in the Martha Washington and seems tractable enough to be kept close in the opening half-mile.

It’s the return of #2 RACHEL ALEXANDRA, who hasn’t run since last year’s Woodward at Saratoga when she held on by a desperate head.  It seems as if we’re getting conflicting reports on whether she is 100% but it seems ridiculous to think that Steve Asmussen would start this gal at anything but ready to go.  Her final workout earlier this week was strong and she’s not exactly facing a very tough group in here.  Expect jockey Calvin Borel to position this gal just off of #3 ZARDANA early and roll clear when ready.

Hey, I thought she was retired…nope, the undefeated super mare #8 ZENYATTA is back for 2010 and she’s making her debut against eight overmatched foes in the Santa Margarita Handicap.  She’ll be saddled with 127 lbs, which really should not pose a problem as nothing has stood in this superstar’s way.  She is headed for an April 9 showdown with Rachel Alexandra in the Apple Blossom next month and this looks like a perfect tune-up.  Expect her to run a typical big race at or around her morning line price of 1/9.  Trying to beat her today?  I wouldn’t, it’s just not happening in this spot.

The most intriguing of these five races in this 75 minute span might be the Rebel at Oaklawn as Eclipse Award winner #2 LOOKIN AT LUCKY makes his return to the races.  He’ll square off with #7 DUBLIN, a Grade I winner from 2009 himself, who ran a game 2nd in the Southwest last time out despite a tough trip.   He was away from the gate poorly and wound up racing terribly wide but still narrowly missed while unable to catch the free running frontrunner Conveyance.  If these two are to be upset, it could be #4 UH OH BANGO, who showed potential last year and is also making his 2010 debut.

Well, it’s clearly going to be an action packed day with Kentucky Derby preps, the queens of racing back at the track, the Magna 5 and terrific racing nationwide.  Who do you like?

Derby Countdown – March 9

March 9, 2010

Well it’s been a month and many of the top Kentucky Derby prospects have run, some have left the trail, and more have emerged.  Here’s my most recent Derby Countdown.  Each Tuesday leading up to the Kentucky Derby I’ll go through my Top 10 Kentucky Derby prospects, starting with this week.  Be sure to comment and post your Top 10. 

#1 – Eskendereya

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Zayat Stables

Pedigree:  Giant’s Causeway x Aldebaran Light (Seattle Slew)

Previous Rank: 2nd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 22-1 (Pool 1), 5-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20, 1st

Where to next?  Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20

What’s to like?  A breakthrough performance in the Fountain of Youth made Eskendereya the clear leader of the 3YO division.  He stalked the pace set by Lost Aptitude, took over when that rival was finished, and kicked clear late to win by over eight lengths.  He has a tremendous pedigree for the Triple Crown as there’s nothing but upside with this colt.  He’s headed to the Florida Derby where he might meet many of the same horses he already defeated and from there it’ll be six weeks to the Run for the Roses.

#2 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 10-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Southwest, Oaklawn Park, 2/20, 2nd

Where to next?  Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13

What’s to like?  Already a Grade I winner from 2009, Dublin made his 2010 debut in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park.  He raced wide the entire way after a tangled beginning and eventually finished a fast-closing second to the speedy Conveyance.  He looked like a colt who would relish more ground and trainer D. Wayne Lukas has been high on this son of Afleet Alex since the Saratoga meet in 2009.  He will face a stiff challenge in the Rebel with it scheduled to be the 2010 debut of Lookin at Lucky.

#3 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

Pedigree:  Smart Strike x Private Feeling (Belong to Me)

Previous Rank: 3rd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 8-1 (Pool 1), 9-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: CashCall Futurity, Hollywood Park, 12/19, 1st

Where to next?  Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13

What’s to like?  The Eclipse Award winning 2YO of 2009 has yet to make his 2010 debut but it will come this Saturday in the Rebel.  Trainer Bob Baffert has already shipped a horse into Oaklawn to win a 3YO stake race at this meet with the aforementioned Conveyance and it would seem that Lookin at Lucky is over whatever plagued him earlier this winter.  He will wear blinkers for the first time in the Rebel, one would guess to make him relax a bit more early.  While he’s the de facto leader of the division right now, the ground on which he’s perched is getting shaky.

#4 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 6th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 24-1 (Pool 1), 20-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Downs, 2/13, 1st

Where to next?  Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20 or Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Rule has turned into a professional, classy racehorse as evidenced by his game wire-to-wire decisions in the Delta Jackpot and the Sam F. Davis.  While his last four triumphs have come on the lead, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez believe he’ll be successful rating.  After the Davis Pletcher said that this son of Roman Ruler would be pointed to a Grade I and the possibilities right now are either the Florida Derby or Wood Memorial.  It’s safe to say he’ll be a major factor in either.

#5 – Awesome Act

Trainer: Jeremy Noseda

Owner: Mrs. Susan Roy & Vinery Stable

Pedigree:  Awesome Again x Houdini’s Honey (Mr. Prospector)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct, 3/6, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Awesome Act showed no discomfort on dirt in the Gotham Stakes as he rated beautifully behind a fast pace, angled out at the quarter pole, took over and kicked clear to win by almost two lengths.  His pedigree suggested he would handle dirt as he had run exclusively on synthetics and turf prior to the Gotham.  He is being pointed to the Wood Memorial and looms another contender with no distance limitations, some talent, and very good connections on his side.

6. Super Saver

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree:  Maria’s Mon x Supercharger (A.P. Indy)

Previous Rank: 8th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 24-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill, 11/28, 1st

Where to next?  Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, 3/13

What’s to like?  Super Saver will make his 2010 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby and take the two prep route that Carl Nafzger used for Street Sense (though it’s unclear if Super Saver will run in the Blue Grass).  He closed 2009 in style with a handy win in the Ky Jockey Club at Churchill and he obviously has some talent.  Whether he’s progressed in the 3+ months he’s been away from the races will be determined by the Oldsmar engagement.

7. Caracortado

Trainer: Mike Machowsky

Owner: Blahut Racing, Lo Hut Racing

Pedigree: Cat Dreams x Mons Venus (Maria’s Mon)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 19-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita, 2/13, 1st

Where to Next? San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13

What’s to like?  The 3YO leader on the West Coast is a Cal-bred gelding.  Say what?  That’s right, Caracortado (Spanish for scarface) asserted himself as the top dog out west when he rolled by the embattled pacesetters in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita last month.  With Lookin at Lucky headed to Oaklawn, this son of Cat Dreams will now be the favorite in the San Felipe, presumably his penultimate start before the Derby with the SA Derby in between.  How far will this guy go and how long will the dreams last?  Who knows, but don’t bother waking his most gratified connections.

8. Drosselmeyer

Trainer: William Mott

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree: Distorted Humor x Golden Ballet (Moscow Ballet)

Previous Rank: 1st

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Allowance, Gulfstream, 1/31, 1st

Where to Next? Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27

What’s to like? It goes without saying that I was disappointed in his Risen Star effort last month at Fair Grounds.  He went in a solid favorite and came out of the race with tons of questions about what went wrong and if he’s any good at all.  Trainer Bill Mott will now have to re-set and get him back on track for the Louisiana Derby and possible excuses for the Risen Star stinker are a quick turnaround off of his 2010 debut (20 days) or a horribly slow pace that made it next to impossible for a late runner.  No matter what, he has to elevate his game in his next start or else he’s not going to the Kentucky Derby.

9. Discreetly Mine

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Mrs. Einar P. Robsham

Pedigree: Mineshaft x Pretty Discreet (Private Account)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 37-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20

Where to Next? Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27

What’s to like? Many, including myself, believed that this son of Mineshaft had the look of a sprinter but trainer Todd Pletcher thought enough of him to try him in last month’s Risen Star at Fair Grounds.  A wire-to-wire win put this guy back in the discussion in terms of the Kentucky Derby, but don’t think he’s through with the questions about whether he can go 10 panels.  He was able to get away with an easy pace in the Risen Star and that certainly ensured he’d have plenty in the tank for the stretch drive.  If he has to work any harder early in the Louisiana Derby, he may be in some trouble.

10. Dave in Dixie

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Ike and Dawn Thrash

Pedigree: Dixie Union x Risk (Wavering Monarch)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 28-1 (Pool 1), 22-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita, 2/13, 2nd

Where to Next? San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13

What’s to like? At no point between his debut last year at Del Mar and his 2010 debut in the Robert Lewis was John Sadler shy about his thoughts on Dave in Dixie.  He believed he was a nice horse all along and his Lewis effort showed that it’s not all talk as he finished a fast-closing second behind #7 CARACORTADO.  He is now also being pointed to the San Felipe and his chances may be bolstered by the presence of his stablemate Sidney’s Candy.  That son of Candy Ride has plenty of speed and this son of Dixie Union would be best served by having an early target.  Here’s to hoping for a breakthrough performance.

Races this week: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday, Rebel, Oaklawn Park, Saturday, and San Felipe, Santa Anita Park, Saturday

See you back next week with an update.  With 8 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last eight Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2002 running:

March’s arrival means Derby drawing near

March 1, 2010

With the Sham at Santa Anita being cancelled on Saturday and re-scheduled for next Saturday (March 6) there was little that happened with regards to the Derby trail over the past weekend.  Next week we can look forward to the Sham and the Gotham at Aqueduct as far as the 3YOs go and the Santa Anita Handicap will headline a trio of Grade I stakes to be run at Santa Anita.  Let’s take a look at some of the stakes races from the weekend.

SABIN

The Sabin is most often used as a prep for the Rampart, which this year will be run as a part of the Florida Derby undercard on March 20.  The field was largely unspectacular but dual Gulfstream graded stakes winner from 2009 Justwhistledixie was considered the most likely to step forward in her return to conventional dirt.  She was sent off at 7/5 while Matchless Orinda, who hadn’t missed the exacta in five starts at Gulfstream coming into yesterday was bet down to 13-10.  However, the day belonged to Aurora Lights, a four year-old filly by Pulpit out of the Lord at War mare Lady Lochinvar.  She is a half to multiple graded stakes winner Master Command and yesterday’s Sabin was only her second start on conventional dirt.  She finished a competitive third in the Stage Door Betty at Calder in December and clearly moved forward on the cutback to a one-turn mile.  Already a multiple winner at 8.5 furlongs Aurora Lights looms a candidate for the Rampart, where she might meet Sweet Repent, who defeated her at Calder.

DAVONA DALE

The Davona Dale certainly lost some of its luster when Christine Daae was scratched but a breakthrough performance was posted nonetheless as Amen Hallelujah picked up her second graded stakes win of 2010.  She stalked a soft early pace from the inside under jockey Julien Leparoux and he remained ever confident around the far turn.  Once set down for the drive this daughter of Montbrook pulled away with ease and stopped the clock in 1:37.16, better than 3/5ths of a second faster than the older fillies and mares 30 minutes prior in the Sabin.  It remains to be seen whether this gal can go longer than a mile but she certainly looked like she wouldn’t struggle with it and her dam, Sara’s Success, was a multiple stakes winner going two turns.

THE VERY ONE

A rather strong storm rolled through southeast Florida as the field for The Very One was reaching the starting gate.  It was run during the storm and the conditions were certainly far from ideal.  One of the ladies who enjoyed the softer ground was Changing Skies, who scored in her US debut last fall at Belmont over a yielding course.  She became the second stakes winner from Bill Mott’s barn off a layoff in a week as he scored seven days prior with Courageous Cat in the Canadian Turf.  Changing Skies is yet to make a start in America over a firm course but all indications are that she should be fine with it and that makes her an intriguing player in the filly and mare turf division.

MAC DIARMIDA

The heavy rain that fell on Saturday afternoon rendered the Gulfstream lawn damp and that put defending champion Presious Passion’s status in doubt for this Grade II turf marathon.  After seeing a couple of turf races earlier on in the card trainer Mary Hartmann opted to keep her seven year-old of Royal Anthem in the field and he didn’t disappoint.  He did his thing and went right to the lead and jockey Elvis Trujillo was even able to slow the pace down a bit after a half-mile as he negotiated a third quarter in :25 and 3/5, practically glacial for Presious Passion standards.  When confronted he pulled away again and scored by a length and a quarter.  He’s now on track for a start in the 12 furlong Dubai Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night (March 27).

Click here to read Mike Welsch’s wrap-up of the Mac Diarmida in the Daily Racing Form

Aside from the stakes races run at Gulfstream over the weekend, the major story was the ire created in bettors when the aforementioned rain on Saturday forced the 10th race to be moved to the main track.  Anyone who was alive in the Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, or Pick 6 was forced to navigate the final race in their sequence with selections they made for turf.  Now, I’ll be perfectly honest in saying that I was alive in the Pick 4 and was none too thrilled to find out that Gulfstream did not pay these sequences with “all” in the last leg as is done most commonly at NYRA tracks.  The eventual winner, First National, was 0 for 9 on turf and synthetics coming into yesterday’s heat but narrowly missed in his only on conventional dirt at Hawthorne.  He went off a generous 5-1 considering his prior dirt form but that likely had a lot to do with the fact that the race was transferred to the main track with only six minutes to post.  Here’s to hoping that someone at Gulfstream takes the lead in getting the Florida state law that forbids the state’s tracks to pay “all” in the end of these sequences overturned.  Soon.

With March beginning we can look forward to these stakes races being run over the next 31 days:

March 6 – Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), Santa Anita Oaks (G1), Sham (G3), Gotham (G3)

March 13 – Tampa Bay Derby (G3), Rebel (G2), Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), Santa Margarita Handicap (G1), San Felipe (G2), New Orleans Ladies

March 20 – Florida Derby (G1), Bonnie Miss (G2), Rampart (G2), Swale (G2), Appleton (G3)

March 26 – Fair Grounds Oaks (G2)

March 27 – Dubai World Cup (G1), Louisiana Derby (G2), New Orleans Handicap (G2), Lane’s End (G2), Mervin Muniz (G2)

I’ll be back Tuesday to update my Top 10 3YOs on the Derby trail as we ready ourselves for an exciting weekend to kick off March!  Until then, enjoy the 2009 running of the Santa Anita Handicap: