Sure, Brother Derek should win the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Yes, you can pick out of a hat in the suddenly depleted Wood Memorial (gr. I), And, of course, Cause to Believe and Sweetnorthernsaint look to be the standouts in the Illinois Derby (gr. II). But it's what comes out of these races that will prove to be more important.
There are several horses running over the weekend that can emerge as serious Derby horses with a second or even third-place finish. And some of those are more than capable of pulling off an upset and going to Louisville as one of favorites for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) presented by Yum! Brands.
Of all the horses running this weekend, the three that could be sitting on a breakout race at a big price are Racketeer and My Golden Song in the Illinois Derby and late addition Jazil in the Wood Memorial, which lost two of its prominent pace horses in Like Now and Showing Up.
Of the three races, it is the Illinois Derby that actually appears to be the most intriguing. Cause to Believe has always been a big favorite here because of his honesty, consistency, and versatility, and a victory would send him to Churchill with impeccable credentials. The same can be said about Sweetnorthernsaint, the rags-to-riches horse who once again will have to overcome the 10 post.
But if you're looking for a price, Racketeer and My Golden Song not only can upset this field, but have the potential to repeat on the first Saturday in May. Racketeer is bred to run long, yet was able to run with top-class speed horses at Santa Anita going six furlongs. Stretching out for the first time, he wasn't ready to tackle experienced two-turn horses in the San Felipe, and despite a hard battle, being caught between horses a good deal of the way, and getting stuck down on the rail in the stretch over a drying out track, he never gave it up and fought hard to the wire, getting beaten only 2 1/2 lengths by A. P. Warrior. And he only missed third by a nose to Bob and John, who will be the favorite or second choice in the Wood Memorial.
Unlike his last two races when he drew inside posts, he'll break from post 8, which should allow him to get a good position and dictate his own strategy. This will provide a good test to see how he'll rate. Although he wears blinkers, as did his sire, Awesome Again
, and Ghostzapper, a son of Awesome Again
, trainer Bobby Frankel feels he'll rate kindly with them, as they did. But if no one wants the lead and the pace slow down noticeably, he could wind up in front, although that is not the plan of attack.
My Golden Song is another who has not been able to run his best race yet. After winning his first two starts, he drew the dreaded rail going a mile in the Aventura Stakes. After breaking poorly, he was rushed up into contention, but was trapped behind horses. He had to wait for an opening, and by the time he got clear it was too late and he had to settle for third. In the Holy Bull (gr. III), he struggled with the sloppy track, but still finished a solid third. In the Fountain of Youth (gr. II), he again was down on the inside and couldn't quicken on the turn. He regrouped and ran on well late to finish fourth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths.
Although it could be he simply isn't fast enough to win big races such as these, the feeling here is that a change in tracks, especially one with a longer stretch like Hawthorne, will move him up and enable him to use that big, long stride of his. He is a beautiful moving horse, but just didn't seem suited to Gulfstream. From a physical aspect, he's a gorgeous individual and commands attention when you look at him in the paddock. He didn't draw well, breaking from post 9, but if he can take back this time and let the speed clear him, he should be in good shape to make a long sustained run from mid-pack.
The Wood Memorial, which likely will be run over a sloppy track, changed complexion dramatically with the late defections of Like Now, the probable pacesetter, and budding superstar Showing Up. With Like Now gone, the pace is up for grabs, and you can bet Keyed Entry, Bob and John, and Deputy Glitters will want no part of the lead. But Keyed Entry, although being taught to rate recently, could have this field at his mercy if he gets a clear lead, especially in the slop. The horse to beat, however, is Bob and John, if he handles the expected off track. He has the right style, the class, and the experience. If it does come up sloppy, there's a good chance Deputy Glitters will defect as well.
But if you're looking for a live horse to back up the favorites in the exacta, who also has a good chance to pull off the upset, then Jazil is one to key on.
The best thing for Jazil, a stablemate of Like Now, was getting away from Keeneland and the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) and coming up to New York. The son of Seeking the Gold
should love the slop, tracing to one of the great slop influences, Traffic Judge. He is bred to run all day, and after bleeding in the Fountain of Youth, you can be sure he will appreciate the 48-degree temperature predicted for New York Saturday. If you liked Corinthian, you have to like this colt, who finished a game second to him in a nine-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream. Before that, he turned in two breathtaking stretch runs in Aqueduct maiden races that had to be seen to be truly appreciated. And, now he returns to a track he obviously loves. In one of those maiden races, he was beaten a nose by Derby contender Steppenwolfer, and was several lengths in front three strides past the wire.
In short, this is a much better horse than people think, and the Wood looks like a great spot for him to come away with at least second-place earnings and huge shot in the Kentucky Derby. But don't be surprised if he skips into town and walks off with the whole pot at a good price.
Another horse to keep an eye on is Greeley's Legacy, who has shown a big kick on the far turn when he's able to utilize it and is on the improve. Jazil would be the live win bet in here, and boxing him in the exactas with Keyed Entry, Bob and John, Deputy Glitters, and Greeley's Legacy.
The Santa Anita Derby is simple: Brother Derek vs. three improving horses -- A. P. Warrior, Point Determined, and Sacred Light. If Brother Derek falters, any one of the three can win, with A. P. Warrior being slightly ahead of the other two right now. But a second behind Brother Derek -- the more realistic scenario -- would be a victory for any of the three in terms of the Kentucky Derby. Sacred Light was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths by Brother Derek in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II), but has never finished first, so it will be interesting to see how far he goes forward or backward from the Santa Catalina.
A. P. warrior is a horse we really don't know enough about other than he is immensely talented. But he must put in another good effort and show some consistency, something he hasn't been able to do so far. But he is one-for-one with trainer John Shirreffs, who feels the quiet confines of Hollywood Park suits him better than the chaos of Santa Anita. If he wins, you can rest assure you won't be seeing him at Churchill Downs until the last possible moment.
Point Determined is still a work in progress and probably has the most room for improvement. So, even a fast-closing third behind Brother Derek and A. P. Warrior would be an excellent outcome and would set him up beautifully for the Derby. And any horse with Bob Lewis smiling down on him on the first Saturday in May is going to be tough to beat.
If you're looking a bit farther down the road, the horse you want to pay close attention to on Saturday is Bernardini, who runs in a one-mile allowance/optional claimer early on the Wood Memorial card. There's no way to tell how track conditions will affect the performances, but this is a horse you're going to hear from in the near future. The son of A.P. Indy
looked as impressive breaking his maiden on Fountain of Youth day as any 3-year-old seen this year. You never know until they beat winners, but this grand-looking colt has star written all over him.