Baltimore Bound Part 1: The New Shooters

Over the next 13 days I will be focusing on individual things pertaining to the Preakness Stakes on May 21.  I will be on-site for the Preakness and the focus of my attention will be there for the fortnight (or a tad less) that separates us from the 2nd jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.  Each of the next 3 days I’ll be looking at two horses that are “new shooters” in the Preakness.  Today’s are Dance City and Sway Away, the 3rd and 4th place finishers from the Arkansas Derby.

DANCE CITY

OWNER: The Estate of Ned Evans
TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano

Dance City was a colt that trainer Todd Pletcher might not have had high hopes for when his career began as he debuted in a maiden special weight race on the inner track at Aqueduct.  The quality of that effort prompted Pletcher to send him to Florida for a try against MSW company at 9 furlongs.  After winning he landed in a N1X at Gulfstream that was supposed to be a simple exhibition for Cal Nation, a flashy debut winner for Pletcher who was facing winners for the first time.  No one told Dance City that he was supposed to be a valiant runner-up as he battled tooth and nail through the stretch to score a nose decision.

In a year where horses were able to strattle the lines of class repeatedly in graded stakes races, this son of City Zip handled the jump to Grade I company with a tremendous effort at Oaklawn Park.  All the talk before the Arkansas Derby centered on The Factor, the fleet-footed son of War Front who had turned heads with a devastatingly easy win in the Rebel at Oaklawn one month earlier.  Let’s take a look at the Arkansas Derby in pictures, with particular attention paid to Dance City.

As the field rounded the first turn of the Arkansas Derby Castellano positioned Dance City in 2nd, just off the leader JP’s Gusto.  The most surprising element of this scenario is that Dance City was ahead of The Factor, who was out-sprinted to the lead and subsequently wrangled back by jockey Martin Garcia.  In this shot the field is just shy of completing the opening quarter mile, which was done in a spritely 22.54 seconds.  As you will see in the pictures going forward, this pace would take its toll on Dance City’s early rivals.

At the mid-point of the backstretch Dance City is still stalking from 2nd and the opening half-mile has been completed in :46.53.  This was the exact same split as the Northern Spur, an undercard race for 3YOs run two races earlier.  The difference, of course, as you’ll see in later photographs is that the Arkansas Derby field finished much quicker, as the late runners made their moves in the stretch drive.

As the field approaches the quarter pole, Dance City has been asked to collar the frontrunner.  In the meantime, Sway Away is in the midst of a wide and premature move under jockey Patrick Valenzuela.  Dance City has done all the running to this point and is now going to tackle a final quarter-mile after being seriously softened up.  The stiffening resolve that he shows is truly remarkable.

As the field straightens away two of the four who were battling outside the 1/4 pole are finished.  The Factor was simply not himself in the Arkansas Derby and JP’s Gusto never gave the appearance of being a horse who could go two turns.  Sway Away is now in command with Dance City battling to his inside.  With the pace gradually collapsing Archarcharch is making his move and is 3 horses off the rail in the 2nd flight.  Nehro, the eventual 2nd place finisher, is still approximately 5-6 lengths back as he unleashes his stretch kick.

At the finish of the Arkansas Derby Dance City moved away from Sway Away.  He wound up 3rd beaten just under two lengths by two rivals who enjoyed tremendous pace setups.  While Sway Away’s trip was far from ideal, Dance City was asked to go above and beyond by jockey Javier Castellano, and if not for a solid bump in mid-stretch he might have pulled off a huge upset in what would have been the best performance in any prep on this year’s Derby trail. 

THE BOTTOM LINE: With horses like Flashpoint and Shackleford slated to run in the Preakness the pace is sure to be very strong.  However, one thing that Dance City has going for him is that he has participated in quick early tempos in 3 consecutive starts and come out of them with two wins and a 3rd place finish.  He is a major player in the Preakness and a horse I will use prominently in my wagers.

SWAY AWAY

OWNER: Batman Stable, Olsen, Wallace, Et Al.
TRAINER: Jeff Bonde
JOCKEY: TBA

A sway-back colt by Afleet Alex, this guy’s career began with a splash as he crushed a field of MSW runners at Pleasanton before finishing 2nd as the 3/2 favorite in the Best Pal at Del Mar.  After being given some time to grow he returned to the races with a fast-closing 2nd place finish behind The Factor in the San Vicente.  Viewed by many as a one-run sprinter, he was sent to Oaklawn for his first try at two turns.  One month after shipping in Sway Away had run two races, had two horrible trips and what looked to be insufficient earnings to make the Derby field.  He was one spot away from getting into the Run for the Roses but wound up excluded and will make his Triple Crown debut in Baltimore.

Much like Dance City, there are many elements of Sway Away’s trip in the Arkansas Derby that have to be highlighted.

As the field rounded the first turn this shot gives you a great perspective on the wide trip that Sway Away endured right from the outset.  He is angled out at least four paths off the rail here, just outside of Brethren, who earlier carried him out at the entry to the Clubhouse turn.  Wearing blinkers for the first time he was much sharper early and the natural speed everyone knew he had was much more on display.

You could probably fit a football field, if not seven horses, between Sway Away and the rail as the field approaches the half-mile pole. He was extremely wide the entire way down the backstretch as Valenzuela made no attempt to save ground whatsoever.  Still very keen with the blinkers added, he is ready to roll at any point in time.

Approaching the top of the stretch Sway Away has launched a four wide move and soon after this image he grabbed the lead.  The troublesome part of this trip is that the race was not unfolding in such a way where a premature move would be effective.  The pace was rather quick and the winner was almost certain to be a horse moving well in the stretch drive.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While the possibility still exists that Sway Away is a one-turn horse who will always struggle at a route of ground, he is worthy of another chance.  His Rebel was a nightmare from the start as he hit the gate, lost a tooth, was carried out on the first turn, then forced to rally into a pace-dominated race.  The Arkansas Derby did not go much better, leading you to believe Sway Away will never be seen at Oaklawn Park again!  He is another major contender and one with a big chance of knocking off Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.  Should a more patient rider like Joel Rosario, who this barn has used with success, get the call then he will be even more dangerous.

Part 2 of my Baltimore Bound series will focus on a couple more new shooters for the Preakness, as Flashpoint and King Congie will be the topic.  See you tomorrow!

Images courtesy of DRF and Horse Racing Nation

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3 Responses to “Baltimore Bound Part 1: The New Shooters”

  1. Mike D Says:

    Its premature to talk about what horse your going to be betting 2 weeks out. Its funny how a horse like Sway Away is even being discussed, does it have anything to do with you knowing the owner? Sway Away has done nothing to even warrant him being in this spot. Good Luck with him.

  2. nicktammaro Says:

    I have no connection to Sway Away’s owners. As the blog stated, I plan to take a look at each of the horses who will be running in the Preakness that did not run in the Derby. Ironically, Dance City was given a significantly larger amount of praise by me than Sway Away. I am interested in betting on Dance City whether the race is in two weeks or two hours.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Mike D Says:

    If your not connected to the owner I apologize, a loudmouth in one of the local OTB’s says you are. Dance City has run well, but Cal Nation is not much and I’m not sold on the Arkansas Derby being that good a group. Plus a City Zip that will excel with the added distance, 2 many questions for me. This entire crop has turned into a joke, and I have personally lost a lot of the excitement that I have every year. Ill be giving Santiva a long long look in the Preakness, he was supposed to be the wise guy horse at Churchill but he was sent off at over 30-1. I read reports where his trainer had said he would be surprised if he even hit the board, and he might have been a bit short. I thought he ran well enough to move forward at Pimlico.

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