(See end of text for first official Top 30)
Either tracks like Gulfstream and Oaklawn are getting noticeably slower or the horses are. Last year we had a procession of pedestrian times all winter until Big Brown came along in early March. It has become a rarity when a horse breaks 1:38 for a mile, yet several have run six furlongs in 1:08 and change and 1:09, so how do you figure?
From all indications, it is the tracks that are getting slower, which is fine if they keep the horses sounder. The 1:51 2/5 final time of the Holy Bull didn’t look so slow after the Donn Handicap (gr. I) two races later was run in 1:50 4/5. So, at least we hope it’s the tracks. What was disturbing about the Holy Bull and the Donn is that the first two finishers of the Holy Bull – longshots Saratoga Sinner and Bear’s Rocket – ran one-two the entire race, pulling three lengths clear of the field, while the first three finishers of the Donn pretty much ran one-two-three the whole way around. Closers seemed to be floundering. The only closer to show anything was West Side Bernie, who made a huge sweeping move from last, but could not gain on the two leaders from the quarter pole to the wire.
Although Todd Pletcher had two big disappointments over the weekend in Checklist and Idol Maker, he did run one-two in a one-mile allowance race with Take the Points and Masala. Even in that race, Take the Points raced in second the whole way, with Masala only a length or two behind. These two drew off from the others, with Masala opening up seven lengths on the third horse. The time of 1:38 1/5 was the same as the mile fraction in the Holy Bull. The big disappointment in this race was the 7-5 favorite Well Positioned, who was done on the far turn.
Checklist’s second start was a good example of how expectations can crumble quickly on the
Well Positioned proved that a maiden victory, no matter how impressive, is no guarantee a horse will come even close to duplicating it against winners. Although Well Positioned had potential buyers reaching for their cell phones seconds after his 14 1/4-length laugher at Aqueduct last fall, no deal ever went down. Considering owner Paul Pompa was willing to part with his colt, it may tell you something about Well Positioned’s soundness. In Saturday’s one-mile allowance race, he never ran a lick and quickly dropped right out of the race and likely off the
The other big disappointment, not counting Nicanor, who grabbed a quarter in his debut, was Break Water Edison. This horse is becoming an enigma. He’s finished out of the money three times in his career and all three times he broke from the rail in a one-turn race. In the Hutcheson, he managed to get to the outside on the far turn, but came up empty, finishing last at 5-2.
The winner Capt. Candyman Can received a brilliant ride from Julien Leparoux, who found himself down on the inside in three-horse speed duel. Trainer Ian Wilkes had been teaching the colt to relax off the pace, so Leparoux took a hold of him and let him settle about two lengths behind the leaders. He then steered him to the outside and the Captain overpowered Hello Broadway and eased clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. This is a tough, versatile colt, who can beat you in many different ways.
Hello Broadway wasn’t as fortunate. He broke like a bullet and Edgar Prado could do nothing to keep him off the lead. Under pressure the entire way, while stuck between horses early, Hello Broadway looked as if he lost focus a little turning for home and Prado had to give him a short whack over the shoulder. He ran on strongly after being passed by the winner and matched strides with him in the closing stages. This was a good enough first step, because it got him tired and certainly sharpened him. Trainer Barclay Tagg indicated the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) likely will be his next start. Tagg obviously has an agenda, but the feeling here is that this horse needs to go two turns in his next start, especially considering how sharp he was on Saturday. His brother Nobiz Like Shobiz was more of a mile to nine-furlong horse, and having a pair of two-turn races before the Derby would seem to help this horse – the first to help him settle back behind horses as he did in the Nashua (gr. III), and the second to prepare him for the Derby.
The Holy Bull was a surprise, in the sense that 12-1 maiden winner Saratoga Sinner and 33-1 Bear's Rocket ran one-two the whole way around, with runner-up Bear's Rocket a comfortable three lengths ahead of West Side Bernie and Beethoven, the two proven graded stakes horses in the field, both of whom were victimized by outside posts and both of whom were giving the winner eight pounds. Neither West Side Bernie nor Beethoven have ideal 10-furlong pedigrees, but they should improve off this. The favorite, Danger to Society, got bogged down on the inside and never fired. Idol Maker once again was a disappointment and apparently has major issues to sort out. All in all, this race was a head scratcher. The first two came home in :13 1/5 and just under :39 for the final three-eighths. Saratoga Sinner is improving the right way, but he still has to keep moving forward, while picking up weight off this race. It's still early in the year, but if the Florida 3-year-olds are going to be factors in the Derby, someone is going to have to step up and show some kind of brilliance going two turns.
Other winners over the weekend who could have a future include the exciting
Dr. Large, by A.P. Indy, gave Larry Jones and Rick Porter another top 3-year-old when he rebounded off a bad effort to wire an allowance field at Oaklawn by 5 3/4 lengths. But the horse to watch coming out of that race is Flying Private, a talented horse with too much early speed for his own good. In this race, he got caught napping at the break and walked out of the gate, well behind the others in last. He made a long steady run, and was still a bit disjointed after turning for home. But he finally leveled off and continued his rally to finish second. So, call that bad start a possible blessing in disguise if it teaches him how to come from off the pace.
Ian Wilkes found another good one in first-time starter Warrior’s Reward, who received a typical Calvin Borel rail-skimming ride, coming from ninth to win by a length over a promising-looking Pletcher colt Allrightsreserved. By Medaglia d’Oro, out of a Seeking the Gold mare, Warrior’s Reward should run all day.
Perhaps the most spectacular victory over the weekend was Mr. Hot Stuff’s powerful stretch run to win a one-mile maiden race at Santa Anita. Last most of the way, the son of Tiznow came from way out in the middle of the track to win going away by 1 3/4 lengths after being sixth at the eighth pole. His final quarter in :23 3/5 and final eighth in :11 3/5 was brilliant and he was just starting to run, pulling away even farther in the gallop-out. He’s shown a great deal of improvement since trainer Eoin Harty removed his blinkers.
We have an exciting New York-bred to watch in Mr. Fantasy, who certainly looks like he’ll be just as formidable against open company. Coming off a 10 1/4-length maiden score going six furlongs against state-breds, he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and overcame post 10 to romp again, this time by 8 1/2 lengths. The son of
The Nick Zito-trained Brave Victory ran a big race to run down Fitzaslew at the wire in a six-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream, coming home his final eighth in:12 flat, while making up three lengths in the final furlong.The son of Lion Heart has apparently returned to his early 2-year-old form,. but distance is a question mark.
This week the first Derby Dozen list comes out. Following is an extended Top 30:
1--Old Fashioned /Larry Jones/Unbridled’s Song – Collect Call, by Meadowlake
Looks to be the fastest and most talented 3-year-old at this point, but his only true stamina influence is Alleged. The rest is all geared toward 8 and 9 furlongs tops, so he has to show he can rate off the pace.
2--Patena/Rick Dutrow/Seeking the Gold—Handpainted, by A.P. Indy
If you're looking for a live dark horse this is the one. Loved his race in the LeComte; first start on dirt and giving six pounds to Friesan Fire. Awesome pedigree, second dam full-sister to Touch Gold, and Dutrow’s got him now.
3—Giant Oak /Chris Block/
He caught the eye in his maiden victory on grass and has continued to improve with each start. Covers a lot of ground; decent enough pedigree. Had every chance to win the Ky. Jockey Club, but is still learning.
4--Square Eddie /Doug O’Neill/Smart Strike—Forty Gran, by El Gran Senor
He’s already proven his class and demonstrated a big turn of foot, but is untested on dirt. Like the fact he’s heading to Oaklawn to see how he handles it. If he runs big in the Southwest, he’s the horse to beat on May 2.
5--Hello Broadway/Barclay Tagg/Broken Vow—Nightstorm, by Storm Cat
Was way too sharp in Hutcheson and wound up in a speed duel between horses. Seemed to lose focus turning for home. Ran gamely; a good first step back, but don't like Fountain of Youth next; he needs to go two turns.
Visually, one of the more impressive horses we’ve seen. He's made great strides and there’s more improvement to come. Versatile, professional, terrific pedigree, super works. If he handles the dirt, watch out.
7--Capt. Candyman Can/Ian Wilkes/Candy Ride—Stormy Way, by Storm Creek
Excellent return in Hutcheson, and masterful job by Leparoux taking him back after early speed battle and coming around horses. Overpowered Hello Broadway. Not the greatest 10-furlong pedigree, but enough to get him there.
Sounds like he’s staying in
9--Friesan Fire /Larry Jones/A.P. Indy—Bollinger, by Dehere
Larry Jones said in September this was as talented a 2-year-old as he's ever had, and that's good enough for now. He needed time to get some maturity issues straightened out, and blinkers no doubt helped in the LeComte.
He’ll get tested in the Robert Lewis, but if he should step up and run huge he will emerge as a major contender. His last was an eye-opener; explosive turn of foot. Could be something special, but unknown on dirt.
11-- Poltergeist/Donnie Von Hamel/Tapit —I’m Relaunchable, by Relaunch
Couldn’t wait to stretch out, as demonstrated by his powerful victory in one-mile Oaklawn allowance. Blew away a solid field to win by 6 lengths and kept going after the wire. Terrific pedigree; very intriguing colt.
12—Theregoesjojo/Kenny McPeek/Brahms—Slewie Blues, by
His sire was a top miler who was effective at 1 1/8 miles, and female family is loaded with stamina. He’s brilliant, has a huge closing kick, and his last was one of the best performances seen this year; came home in :36 2/5.
13--Chocolate Candy/Jerry Hollendorfer/Candy Ride—Crownette, by
Another Californian who has excelled on synthetics. Second dam is a half-sister to Affirmed, by Alydar. Steady closer who has now turned in four straight big efforts since being stretched out. Will run all day.
Liked this colt before the Delta Jackpot, and am not going to give up on him after well-beaten fifth, in which he had no business being up near the leaders through a :46 1/5 half. Good closing kick; handles dirt and synthetic.
15—Vineyard Haven /Saeed bin Suroor/Lido Palace—Princess Aloha, by Aloha Prospector
Still believe he was the best 2-year-old last year. Pedigree is geared toward nine furlongs, and he runs very wide up front, but dominated his foes. Big question is how he’s made transition from 2 to 3 and going to
16--Midshipman /Saeed bin Suroor/Unbridled’s Song—Fleet Lady, by Avenue of Flags
No mention in Godolphin’s progress report not a good sign. Tons of stamina in tail-female family to go along with the brilliance of his sire. Being in
17--Silver City /Bret Calhoun/Unbridled’s Song—Proposal, by
Looks like 10 furlongs probably is beyond his scope, but he looked sensational in the Dixieland at 5 1/2 furlongs and won like he wants to keep going. But how far is the big question. He’ll be tough in the Southwest.
18—Stardom Bound/Rick Dutrow/Tapit—My White Corvette, by
If she runs big in the Santa Anita Derby, it likely will be on to the
19--Big Drama /David Fawkes/Montbrook—Riveting Drama, by Notebook
Not ideally bred for 1 1/4 miles, but any horse who can win five in a row, four of them stakes, has to be taken seriously. Missing the Holy Bull was a setback, but he has plenty of foundation to fall back on.
Have no idea what to make of the Holy Bull, as first two finishers ran 1-2 the entire race. He’s won two in a row, but hard to gauge his ability. He might have a little more room for improvement than the two he beat, and more staying blood.
21--The Pamplemousse /Julio Canani/Kafwain—Comfort Zone, by Rubiano
Big long-striding colt who is improving rapidly; defeated Square Eddie coming off maiden score, controlling the pace throughout. in
Another who may have distance limitations, even though his running style suggests he’ll stay. He’s been victimized by bad posts in big races; made a big sweeping move from last in Holy Bull, but couldn’t sustain it, while giving the winner 8 pounds.
23-- Beethoven/John Ward/Sky
Also compromised by a bad post and wide trip in Holy Bull, and also was giving winner 8 pounds. Ran well enough to be taken seriously next time, but he’s another with distance question marks.
24—Take the Points/Todd Pletcher/Even the Score—Ginger Ginger, by Fred Astaire
Dare we latch on to another Starlight-owned gray? But he did look impressive in allowance score and his :49 3/5 closing half and :12 3/5 final eighth was solid on that track. And runner-up drew 7 lengths clear of the others. Could be intriguing future book horse.
25—Free Country/Ken McPeek/Big Country—
Showed what he’s made of when he stretched out from 6 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles and out-battled Remsen runner-up Atomic Rain to win by a neck. Good-looking colt with a long, smooth stride. One-third interest sold recently.
26--Flying Private/Wayne Lukas/Fusaichi Pegasus —Beautiful Treasure, by Unbridled
If you believe in blessings in disguise, then you have to love that he got caught napping at the break, dropping far back in last in Oaklawn allowance. Made him rally to get second through crawling fractions, and could unveil a new-look horse now.
Victory in the Smarty Jones, drawing off from a decent of field, showed he’s on the improve. Circled his field and mowed them down in a flash. Big, long-striding colt should keep improving.
28—Atomic Rain/Kelly Breen/Smart Strike—
Look for big improvement with blinkers added. Turned in a sharp 5-furlong work in 1:00 flat at Palm Meadows. Tough loss against Free Country last out, but his second in Remsen off 5-furlong maiden was big.
29--Indygo Mountain/Bret Calhoun/A.P. Indy—Mountain Girl, by Mountain Cat
Definitely the hard-luck horse this year. Missed allowance when race was canceled by freak snowstorm, then missed it again with a hoof bruise. Last was a disaster from the start. Expecting big turnaround next time. Can’t help but remember his brilliant maiden score at Churchill.
30—Masala/Todd Pletcher/Lion Heart—Countess Marq, by Marquetry
Slow start and :25 opening quarter put him at a big disadvantage in Take the Points race. He still put in a strong run, drawing off by seven lengths from the third horse. Looks to have a bright future. Not sure about pedigree or sire; little mixture of everything.
Last start maiden winners
This is a group you want to keep an eye on. Several could be stars in no time.
1--Imperial Council/Shug McGaughey/Empire Maker—Jaramar Rain, by Thunder Gulch
Liked this horse from day one, and Shug’s long overdue. He has all the tools, is bred to run all day, and has been running against top-quality horses. Shug as conservative as they come, so he needs to come out with a bang.
2--Alma d’Oro/Rick Dutrow/Medaglia d’Oro—Brenda D S, by Fortunate Prospect
He was ultra impressive breaking his maiden in first start for Dutrow, although runner-up Dubinsky came back to run fourth at 6-5. Inbred to Northern Dancer’s dam Natalma top and bottom. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
3--Captain Cherokee/Steve Asmussen/Sir Cherokee—Candytuft, by Dehere
Half-brother to Midnight Lute, but he’s far from a sprinter. Plenty of stamina on bottom. Looked good breaking his maiden at Fair Grounds going a mile; very efficient mover. Third dam is full-sister to top-class French colt Gyr, by Sea-Bird.
4—Mr. Hot Stuff/Eoin Harty/Tiznow—Sweet Damsel, by Turkoman
Turned in a spectacular stretch run Sunday to win going away with a final quarter in :23 3/5 and final eighth in :11 3/5; mile in 1:35 4/5. Much improved with blinkers off and just starting to find himself.
5--Warrior’s Reward/Ian Wilkes/Medaglia d’Oro—For All You Do, by Seeking the Gold
When a first-time starter threads his way through along the rail from ninth to first you have to take notice, and he beat some nice horses. With his pedigree, distance will not be a question, but does have a lot of catching up to do.
6—Soul Warrior/Steve Asmussen/Lion Heart—Urmia, by Meadowlake
Hard to think of this as a Derby pedigree, but he did break his maiden by almost four lengths going a mile and 40 yards, so it’ll be interesting to see how far he wants to go.