Derby Countdown – March 30

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:

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