Steve Haskin's Weekend Analysis: More Surprises In Store?

Steve Haskin's Weekend Analysis: More Surprises In Store?
Photo: Equi-Photos/Bill Denver
Can Trust N Luck run away with the Florida Derby as he did in this Fountain of Youth victory?
With four big Kentucky Derby preps this weekend, as well as the Swale Stakes, one would think that finally some sense of order will be restored to the Derby trail. But maybe, instead of seeing the light, we will plunge deeper into the darkness.

How, you might ask, is that possible with Trust N Luck and Empire Maker ready for big efforts in Saturday's Florida Derby, and Domestic Dispute, Man Among Men, and Atswhatimtalknbout ready to leap to the top of the contenders list in Sunday's San Felipe? Surely, promising Gulfstream allowance winners, Region of Merit and Aristocat will shine in their stakes debuts.

Well, all those scenarios are quite likely. But, never take anything for granted in a year like this. The Florida Derby will be all about whether Trust N Luck bounds away to a clear lead again, as he did in the Fountain of Youth, and whether blinkers will be the tonic Empire Maker needs to start living up to trainer Bobby Frankel's lofty expectations. But the race that really provides the most intrigue is the San Felipe. Although the big three mentioned earlier look like standouts, the forecast for the weekend is for an inch of rain, and there are some shadowy figures lurking in there who just may slosh their way right into the Derby picture.

Brancusi recently broke his maiden by 5 lengths with first-time Lasix over a track labeled good, and he looks to be a vastly improved horse. Siberland has been working up a storm and could outrun everyone from the start, especially if it's sloppy; Ten Cents a Shine has been fattened and sharpened by Mr. Lukas, and who knows what expect from him? Even Buckland Manor deserves another chance after missing five or six days of training, then finishing third to Atswhatimtalknbout, in an allowance race.

But the real dark horse in here who could spring a major surprise is Flirt With Fortune. And just who is Flirt With Fortune, you ask? Well, he's run three times, the last two going 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill on the Santa Anita turf. After breaking maiden coming from 20 lengths out of it, he was sideswiped and squeezed back at the start of the Baldwin Stakes, then closed to finish third. That doesn't sound like much in the way of credentials against horses like these. But now it gets interesting. This colt is by the red-hot Touch Gold, sire of 3-year-old stars Composure, Region of Merit, and the injured Powerful Touch, and is out of a Pleasant Colony mare. So, we're talking about a colt who is bred for the dirt, bred for the slop, bred to run all day, and has a powerful closing kick.
He's also turned in some awesome works on the dirt, including a sharp 6-furlong drill recently in 1:12 4/5 at Hollywood, with Corey Nakatani aboard.

This horse should not be running big in 6 1/2-furlong turf races. He's going to be sharp, coming off the sprints, will love stretching out for the first time; and he makes that big turf to dirt switch that has proven so successful this year for Peace Rules and Man Among Men. Sure, he's up against it facing horses of this caliber, but for the price he's going to be he could be worth the gamble. But it's his future that is most intriguing. Even if he just runs a competitive race Sunday and is right there at the wire against these horses, watch out for him as a super longshot Derby horse.

Finding a potential upsetter in the Florida Derby is another matter. Senor Swinger will be bet, along with the two choices. People already realize he is a star in the making. But he's still very lightly raced. Midway Cat, Indy Dancer, and Formal Attire have to improve, and Supah Blitz has won only two of his 13 starts. One of these horses, however, could surprise a lot of people.

While the improving Formal Attire still is probably not fast enough to outrun this field, the same can't be said for Midway Cat. When he romped by 6 1/4 lengths in a maiden race with first-time Lasix and first-time blinkers, he ran the same time as Offlee Wild did in winning the Holy Bull Stakes in a photo later on the card. In the Fountain of Youth, he had to steady going into the first turn and was way too rank early. Jorge Chavez had to fight him and drag him back off Trust N Luck. His misplaced aggression cost him against a powerful front-runner like Trust N Luck, and while he couldn't match strides with the winner through the stretch, he still managed to finish third.

It would take a major reversal of form for him to turn the tables on Trust N Luck, but if Chavez can get him to relax off the pace, he should be a lot more competitive this time. And if Trust N Luck should have an off day, then this colt has a good chance to spring an upset. Looking ahead with him, his sire, Sir Cat, is a son of Storm Cat who won several graded stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. His dam, Say Forever, is by Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current, out of the Graustark mare, Never Say Forever, who is from the sensational family that has produced Devil's Bag, Glorious Song, Soaring Softly, Rahy, Singspiel, Saint Ballado, Parade Ground, Parade Leader, Tricky Creek, Military, Dawn's Curtsey, Mehmet, Miss Swapsco, and numerous other stakes winners. If you like low dosage indexes, his is 0.63. As we said, if he can just learn to relax, there's no telling how good this colt might be. We're looking for a big effort from him on Saturday.

Getting back to Formal Attire, his speed numbers are slow and his final times have been slow, and it would take a major leap forward for him to outrun these horses. But he may run better than people expect, and could pick up a piece of it. He does have two 1 1/8-mile races under him and he is improving with every race. His sire, Formal Gold, was one of the most underrated horses we've seen a long time. He'll probably need another race or two before he puts it all together, but he still could be an interesting horse to keep an eye on, especially for down the road.

At Tampa Bay, Region of Merit and Aristocat both have to run huge if they're going to continue on the Derby trail. Region of Merit has won three straight, and his last was a beauty. The one horse who could test them is Strength Within, who has a good closing kick and ran a solid second behind Lion Tamer in the Hutcheson Stakes. Popular Groom won his 3-year-old debut at seven furlongs for Bill Mott, but he hasn't faced top-quality horses and would need to really step up.

Colita will get a lot of play in the Gotham Stakes, despite his off-the-board finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The farther they go the better he'll like it. You always have to beware of Maryland invaders, and there will be two live ones – Cherokee's Boy and Gimmeawink. Grey Comet returns to New York following a third-place finish in the John Battaglia st Turfway as the 4-5 favorite. A possibility is Eugene's Third Son, who beat Formal Attire last time out in his first two-turn race.

One horse who should be a decent price and has an excellent shot is Spite the Devil, trained by Allen Jerkens. The son of Devil His Due returns to the cool weather after wintering at Gulfstream, where he was unplaced in the Holy Bull, but a fast-closing second to Region of Merit in his most recent start. He has the pedigree, and was beaten a neck by Funny Cide in the one-mile Sleepy Hollow Stakes for New York-breds last October. Jimmy Jerkens also might have a say in the race with Parnell Square, winner of his last start at Aqueduct in allowance company.

Another horse to keep an eye on Saturday is Affable, who runs in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream. Bred to run all day, by Unbridled out of a Nijinsky mare, he debuted off a 3-month layoff going 7 furlongs and finished fourth behind Runnin on Nitro in 1:21 2/5. He should be more comfortable stretching back out and could jump into the Derby picture with an impressive win. Nebuchadnezzar, is another looking for more distance.

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