Derby Countdown – March 23

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:

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