Kentucky Derby Trail: The Fresh Faces of February

Kentucky Derby Trail: The Fresh Faces of February
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Redskin Warrior toyed with the Best Turn field.
Each year at this time, new stars are spotted in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) galaxy for the first time. But there is always a question whether they have come along too late to shine brightly on the first Saturday in May. Such is the case with Redskin Warrior, Odds On, Purge, Rock Hard Ten, and Quintons Gold Rush.

The temptation is always strong to play catch-up and rush a young horse to make the Run for the Roses. But history has taught us that no horse with four lifetime starts has won the Derby since Exterminator in 1918, and no horse with three starts has won since Regret in 1915.

As for the five aforementioned horses, all are very talented colts who have the raw ability to raise the hopes of their connections. Redskin Warrior was extremely impressive last year winning a six-furlong allowance race at Aqueduct by almost five lengths in 1:10. It was the ease with which he did it and the fluidity of his stride that really caught the eye. But he grabbed two quarters over the sealed track and was sidelined for 3 1/2 months. Then in January he was slowed by a virus. Fortunately for owner Ernie Paragallo and trainer Jennifer Pedersen he returned as good as ever, toying with his field in Saturday's Best Turn Stakes. Unfortunately, he's still never been beyond six furlongs and will now have to stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) in order to give him enough bottom to be competitive in the Derby.

With four starts already, he doesn't have to worry about lack of starts, as did his sire Indian Charlie. Yes, he is playing catch-up and has a lot to prove, but there is great of deal untapped talent here, and after seeing his last two races, there is little doubt this colt has the potential to be something special. In the Best Turn, in which he faced some good horses, including Cowdin (gr. III) winner Smokume, Redskin Warrior tracked the early pace, and after a half in :45 3/5, he came home his last two eighths in :12 and :12 1/5 to complete the six furlongs in a sharp 1:09 4/5 before galloping out very strong.

Jockey Richard Migliore, after working him for the first time, told Pedersen the colt had "multiple gears." In his first two works this year, and the only two at Palm Meadows, he turned in bullet moves of :59 4/5 and :59 2/5. The time off has done him good, and he has become much more professional with maturity. And the way he galloped out after the Best Turn is cause for optimism that he'll be able to stretch out. He's in the educating phase, as Pedersen said, and all he has to do is run a solid enough race in the Lane's End to move on to the next step.

As for pedigree, Indian Charlie ran a super race in the Derby to finish third off only four career starts, including a stirring victory in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). It was to be the last start of his career. Redskin Warrior's broodmare sire, Hermitage, is an unraced three-quarter brother to the great Sadler's Wells. On the tail-female side, great-granddam On Record is a half-sister to Widener Handicap and John B. Campbell winner Vertee. Redskin Warrior has a dosage index of 3.00. It's not an ideal way to get to the Derby, but this definitely is a serious racehorse.

Odds On is in a similar situation, having had four starts, all sprints, except for the Norfolk Stakes (gr. II), in which he was eased. After a series of exceptional works, including a six-furlong drill in 1:09 4/5, the son of Silver Charm returned in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race at Santa Anita Saturday. Facing only three opponents, he overcame a tight start, and after a brief tussle, opened a clear lead. He made light work of :44 and 1:08 3/5 over a blazing-fast racetrack, then drew clear to win by three lengths in just a tick under 1:15 2/5. The pace and final time meant little considering the ridiculously fast times all day by cheaper horses. What was more significant was that he did it while be hand-ridden by Alex Solis.

Trainer Bob Baffert, although not committed to the Kentucky Derby, will give the colt every chance to get there. Now, it's just a matter of harnessing some of that speed and getting him to relax when he stretches back out to two turns. In the Norfolk, he wanted to run early and was under stout restraint from Gary Stevens. After finally being given his head, he made a good run at the leaders before being eased with shin problems.

Pedigree should be no problem, with Silver Charm on top, and a strong female family, including great-grandsire Little Current, who passed on a good deal of his stamina to Funny Cide last year.. He has a DI of 1.11.

One colt I have been following closely since the day be broke his maiden at Saratoga is Purge, who showed as much courage, class, and acceleration as any first-time starter in memory. The way he exploded through a very narrow opening on the rail and drew off showed just what a talented horse this is. After being sidelined, Purge finally returned to the races Sunday, and picked up right where he left off with a stunning three-length, off-the-pace, allowance victory in 1:09 3/5, defeating three talented and fast opponents. Again, the Derby would be a real stretch, even more so than for Redskin Warrior and Odds On, who have had twice as many starts. Wherever this son of Pulpit is pointed, definitely watch him down the road.

Rock Hard Ten has had everyone at Santa Anita talking about him since his brilliant maiden victory in his career debut, in which he ran faster than the San Vicente winner Imperialism (gr. II) earlier on the card, and did it well in hand. But if his connections insist on trying to make the Derby, they'll have to do it off only three career starts. Quintons Gold Rush has made only two starts, including an impressive maiden score over Wimbledon going 1 1/16 miles, so that puts him on course to arrive at Churchill Downs off only four starts. But both his races have been around two turns, and he has a strong enough pedigree. He'll get his first big test in the San Rafael (gr. II), for which he worked Saturday in 1:10 2/5 for six furlongs.

Another new face could emerge out of next Wednesday's mile and 70-yard Gulf allowance, which drew Notorious Rogue, Tiger Heart, Decibel, and Victory Light. Decibel, like Purge, is trained by Todd Pletcher. Notorious Rogue's last race was a disappointing third-place finish in an allowance race, but there is a talented horse in there waitng to get out.

In other races last weekend, the heavily favored The Cliff's Edge looked to have the Sam F. Davis at his mercy as he charged up to the leaders at the eighth pole, but he couldn't sustain his move and let a 34-1 shot spurt clear of him to win by almost two lengths. He did have to circle the field five-wide, so, although this looked to be a race he shouldn't have lost, we'll have to reserve judgment until he runs again.

Mustanfar, who looked ready to make a big leap forward off his allowance victory at Gulfstream, passed the Fountain of the Youth (gr. II) and a second-level allowance race due to the presence of Birdstone, and ran instead in Saturday's Palm Beach (gr. IIIT) on the turf. So, instead of knowing how he stacked up against top-quality Derby horses, we still know very little after his sixth-place finish, beaten three lengths, in which he was caught wide on the far turn. Now, he'll have to step up big-time if he's going to make his presence felt on the Derby trail. All the ingredients looked to be there for a Derby horse to emerge, but after his little side trip we'll just have to wait.

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