Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Expect a Big Blue Invasion

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Expect a Big Blue Invasion
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Steve Haskin
The cry of "Go, Big Blue" resounded throughout the New York area on Super Bowl Sunday. Although it was silenced following the New York Giants' defeat to the Baltimore Ravens, don't be surprised if it is resurrected by Gang Godolphin around the first Saturday in May.

That's when Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum and his faithful followers will invade Churchill Downs bearing gifts and exuding confidence. Boxloads of Godolphin jackets, shirts, and caps will turn Churchill Downs into a sea of blue. Over the past two years, three members of Maktoum's Marauders made it to the starting gate on Derby Day, their coats shining like burnished copper. But there really wasn't a Derby horse beneath those glistening exteriors. Many Americans looked at them as underraced and undertrained imposters. Despite this, all three horses – Worldly Manner in 1999 and China Visit and Curule in 2000 – turned in excellent performances, with Worldly Manner actually looking like a winner at the quarter pole before tiring.

Now, it's another year, and Godolphin is gearing up for a third crack at America's biggest prize. The difference this year is that they're going about it the right way. They instituted a 2-year-old program that took youngsters from Dubai in the winter and spring to California in the summer and fall. And they hired Bob Baffert's top assistant Eoin Harty to oversee their training. Emerging from this new endeavor was a top-class colt in Street Cry. The son of Machiavellian looked like something special in the making when he broke his maiden at Santa Anita by 7 lengths. He then ran into a tiger in Flame Thrower and just couldn't get past the tenacious, flaxen-maned colt in the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes, losing by a head and neck, respectively. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he closed well to finish third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths.

Now he is back in Dubai with Saeed bin Suroor and assistant Tom Albertrani. Although he will be trained for the Derby the Godolphin way, with two starts in the desert, then straight to Louisville, he at least will have gone through a structured schedule from the very start, and has already shown he is right there with the best America has to offer.

In addition to bringing Street Cry along from the beginning, Godolphin has also resorted to the same tactics that got them Worldly Manner and Chief Seattle – shelling out the bucks for proven American 2-year-olds. In December, they purchased the Florida-bred Express Tour after the son of Tour d'Or swept Calder's three-race Florida Stallion Series, which included an 11 1/4-length romp in the 7-furlong Affirmed Stakes. Other than Secretariat in his tale male family, Express Tour's pedigree is filled with relatively obscure names, and his dosage index of 5.67 indicates his best distances will be shorter than 1 1/4 miles. But there might be enough stamina there to allow the Godolphin method of training to get him an extra furlong or two on that one given day.

Also, the Godolphin horses are the only ones who come to Kentucky just days before the Derby from a hot, desert climate, so they're still feeling the energizing effects of the change to cool weather.

Both colts have settled in nicely in Dubai and have already turned some heads in the morning. "I've been very impressed with both horses," said Albertrani, who is not one to toss praise around haphazardly. "Street Cry has had two good works, and has really galloped out strong. He's an easy horse to work with, and is doing everything the right way. He takes his works easily, and you couldn't ask for a nicer horse.

"I really like Express Tour. He quarantined at Payson Park, so we didn't lose any time with him. He's also been very impressive in his works. He went 5 furlongs in 1:00 and never came off the bridle. He's a big, tall horse with a good attitude. If he continues to show great strides we could have something serious."

Albertrani said the plans as of now have Street Cry and Express Tour scheduled to face each other in the one-mile United Arab Emirates (UAE) Guineas at Nad al Sheba, followed by the $2 million UAE Derby at 1 1/8 miles on World Cup night. Another option would be a nine-furlong race on April 14.

A Hopeful revival

Two old friends got together again for the sixth time in Saturday's Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream, and they nearly pulled off a repeat of their memorable battle in last year's Hopeful Stakes. Yonaguska, who dead-heated with City Zip at Saratoga, barely held off his old rival to win by a diminishing neck after opening a 4-length lead at the eighth pole. City Zip, making his first start of the year, had only two registered works coming into the race. After tracking the pace from the inside, right alongside Yonaguska, he dropped back slightly and swung to the outside where he prefers running. He set sail after Yonaguska and was flying at the finish. Yonaguska, whom Lukas said earlier probably will not be nominated to the Triple Crown, had problems with his lead change, and was under heavy pressure from Jerry Bailey. The time was a solid 1:22 3/5, with a gap of 6 1/2 lengths back to longshot Sparkling Sabre.

There is a question regarding whether either horse wants to go a mile and a quarter, and Lukas' comment indicates he feels Yonaguska will be more productive not trying to go that far on the first Saturday in May. But we'll have to wait until the nominations come out to see if Lukas changes his mind. City Zip and Yonaguska both have enough in their pedigrees to suggest that a mile and a quarter is not out of the realm of possibility. With Yonaguska, it looks more like a case of having to teach him to relax early, as he puts a lot of pressure on himself right from the start.

Money talks in Maryland

So, what's a $1.8 million yearling doing running at Laurel in January? The answer could be, he's taking giants leaps toward Churchill Downs. Talk Is Money, a son of Deputy Minister whom Daniel Borislow purchased at the Keeneland September sale, showed a lot of grit to defeat a classy, more-experienced colt in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Miracle Wood Stakes. This colt has been a hot commodity right from the start, having sold as weanling for $785,000.

Coming off only one career start, a 6-furlong maiden romp at Laurel last December, Talk is Money stretched out to two turns and steadily inched away from the stakes-winning Marciano, winner of four in a row, to win by three-quarters of a length.

Trainer John Scanlan had been looking for a sprint race for Talk is Money, but before one race, he flipped, ran off and was scratched. Another time he got sick and had to scratch. He then entered him the Miracle Wood last weekend, but the race was cancelled due to a snowstorm. Considering he was caught five-wide on the first turn, breaking from the outside in the eight-horse field, and then went four-wide at the top of the stretch, this was a very impressive performance.

Marciano, a son of Two Punch, is a fast, hard-knocking colt, which makes Talk is Money all the more impressive. He still has several jumps to make to be considered a serious Derby contender, but he's won by 9 3/4 lengths, won in the mud, won first time going two turns, and won after being looked in the eye by a good horse. He's done all that's been asked of him, and should be a fun colt to follow from now on.


Continued. . . .

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