Kentucky Derby Trail: Bubbling Under the Surface

Kentucky Derby Trail: Bubbling Under the Surface
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Haskin on Park Avenue Ball: Distance is a bit of a question, but 150-1 odds are enticing.
Although there are only two minor stakes this weekend, Nick Zito and Shug McGaughey will have important tests for two of their big horses. This also is a good time to see if there are still any live longshots in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) future book lurking out there who might be worth taking a hard look at.

With most of last year's leading juveniles still in the barn and on a two-prep schedule, this looks like the right year to try to latch onto something good while they're still under the radar and available at decent odds.

The Zito-trained Sun King, who has been climbing up the Derby Dozen list the past few weeks, looks like a strong Derby candidate, but you're not going to find any bargain prices on him. Saturday's split one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream looks like a good start back for the son of Charismatic, as he prepares for possible starts in the Lane's End (gr. II) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Because of the Wood Memorial (gr. I) being moved up a week, and now four weeks before the Kentucky Derby, there would be no chance of Sun King making the race, even if Zito had an inclination to do so.

Zito's strength is getting horses to peak on Derby Day, not in February, so don't expect anything eye-popping from Sun King on Saturday. If he does happen to win, it will be on class.

Survivalist, trained by McGaughey, also is entered, and is one of those "get me now while you can" horses who will be mentioned below, as are Zito's Andromeda's Hero, who runs in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Saturday, and the Todd Pletcher-trained Monarch Lane, who is entered at Gulfstream. As luck (albeit bad) would have it, Sun King, Survivalist, and Monarch Lane all drew into the same division, leaving the other division the weaker one by far. Another Zito colt, G P's Black Knight (Tiger Ridge), a 150-1 shot in the future book who was eased in the Holy Bull, has been sharp in the morning, and he's eligible to bounce back in the Sam Davis, having already won or placed in three stakes. Also in the race is the undefeated Canadian colt Get Down (Doneraile Court), whose connections say he's more likely a Queen's Plate horse.

So, here are those who are currently bubbling just under surface, hoping to step up and make a name for themselves. The horses mentioned (in alphabetical order) are listed at 50-1 or higher at Bally's.

Andromeda's Hero (Fusaichi Pegasus  ), 50-1 – We'll know a bit more about him after the Sam Davis Saturday. Didn't show much zip in his lone sprint, but that's not his game. If there is a reason to take a shot with him, it's because of the sensational classic and distance pedigree in his female family. Should be higher than 50-1. His entrymate, G P's Black Knight, could look good at 150-1 with a big bounce-back effort.

Criminal Mind (Cryptoclearance), 75-1 – Was going to run in the Sam Davis, but will go straight to the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). Don't know if he's talented enough to compete at the highest level, but he had trouble early in the Holy Bull (in which he finished fourth), and Gulfstream has been a killer on late closers. Strong pedigree top and bottom, but again, should be higher than 75-1.

Dearest Mon (Maria's Mon), 125-1 – Now, these odds are more like it. Stock plummeted after fifth in Holy Bull, but he broke poorly and found himself last early. Trainer Rick Violette said Jerry Bailey told him he slipped and wasn't going well behind early. Violette also pointed out the kickback at Gulfstream has been very painful for the horses and jockeys, and horses in the back getting hit deserve another chance. Colt came back and turned in a super 6-furlong work in 1:11 1/5, going from the eighth pole to the wire in :11 1/5, then an eighth past the wire in :12 1/5. Runs in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II), and like Violette said, he is one who deserves another chance. He has the talent, and having him at 125-1 would be mighty sweet if he bounces back.

Diamond Isle (Gilded Time), 75-1 – Love this colt's female family, and he showed enough last year in graded stakes to suggest he could develop into a top-class 3-year-old. He's been working strongly in company with another of Kenny McPeek's good 3-year-olds, Wild Desert. Expect to see him in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on the Fountain of Youth card. Because of the company he kept last year, 75-1 is enticing enough to take a shot on him right before his debut.

Golden Shine (Touch Gold  ), 60-1 – His odds dropped from 100-1 after his stirring 7-length victory at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut going 1 1/16 miles. It was his first start since he broke his maiden by 4 lengths in a swift 1:03 3/5 at Hollywood back on July 3. This was a huge effort off a long layoff and a major stretch out in distance. One noted trainer admitted he would love to get his hands on this colt. He's trained by his sire's trainer Dave Hofmans. There's no telling how good this horse really is.

Iced Out (Comic Strip), 75-1 -- He had a horrible trip in the Risen Star (gr. III), running up into a traffic jam and dropping back on the turn just as the winner, Scipion, was beginning his move. He was all over the track in the stretch, being yanked hard to the inside and then attempting to drift in. Despite all this, he closed well to be fifth, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths. A former $32,000 claimer, he also ran a big race in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. II), finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length by the wire-to-wire winner, Spanish Chestnut.

Kansas City Boy (Boston Harbor), 75-1 – Hard to tell how much farther he wants to go, but if he improves just a little off his second in the Holy Bull, after setting all the pace, he should be very dangerous in the Fountain of Youth. He doesn't need the lead, as he showed in the Lecomte, in which he was beaten a neck and a head. He set a very solid pace in the Holy Bull, with a :46 3/5 half, and kept battling back down the stretch. He looks to be an improving horse; he's honest and game; and is pretty appealing at 75-1.

Kirkendahl (Menifee), 50-1 – His third in the San Vicente (gr. II) was a good bounce-back race after a poor performance in the San Rafael. He made a good run at the pace-setting Fusaichi Rock Star, but couldn't match strides with him in the final furlong, eventually losing the place to the fast-closing Don't Get Mad. He was being touted big-time after winning his first two starts in impressive fashion. Defeated Going Wild in his first start, then went 6 furlongs in 1:08 2/5 next time out, winning by 3 1/2. There's no reason why he shouldn't do well stretching out. He just has to keep moving forward. Not really that crazy about 50-1, considering he hasn't been two turns.

Monarch Lane (Maria's Mon), 150-1 – If you're willing to take a huge gamble, this is the time to go after him, as he's running in an allowance race at Gulfstream on Saturday and going against Sun King and Survivalist. The gamble is that he's had only one start, and even if he manages to knock off these two on Saturday, he'll still have no more than four career starts going into the Derby and none as a 2-year-old (Remember Apollo, 1882). What he does have going for him is that he was impressive breaking his maiden by 5 3/4 lengths for Todd Pletcher and there's no telling how good he is.

Naughty New Yorker (Quiet American), 60-1 – Steady as they come, but wasn't able to get the money in the Count Fleet and Whirlaway. Always gives you that big run on the turn, which you like to see. He's been able to sustain it, but has fallen just short in both his open stakes performances. Keeps stepping up each time, and could be one to keep an eye on for the Wood Memorial (gr. I). Once again, odds probably should be a little higher.

Noble Causeway (Giant's Causeway  ), 50-1 – His odds took a major hit last week, plummeting from 100-1. Now, at 50-1, he's not as appealing, having only broken his maiden, but if he wins that nine-furlong allowance race on March 5 for Zito, you can bet you won't see anything even remotely close to 50-1. He sold for $1,150,000 as a yearling. He raced greenly when second to Dearest Mon and Bandini in maiden races, but was more professional in his 1 1/8-mile maiden score, slipping through on the rail to win by two. But he did jump back to left lead in the final sixteenth, so he still has some learning to do.

Park Avenue Ball (Citidancer), 150-1 – Distance is a bit of a question, but 150-1 odds are enticing. Although his speed numbers have been slow, he is a grade II winner at Belmont at a mile and turned in a rocket last-to-first move around the turn in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III), only to be outrun in the stretch by Proud Accolade. He's at least worth a look at that price.

Scrappy T (Fit to Fight), 75-1 – Wire-to-wire Count Fleet winner showed he could rate off the pace in the Whirlaway, and ran a gutsy race, coming through on the inside of Galloping Grocer and getting shoved in toward the rail. But he battled hard all the way, finishing a close third. It was the first time in seven career starts he was worse than second. Don't know if he can compete with the top-level horses, but he's the kind of horse you'd love to have in your barn.

Snack (Afternoon Deelites), 150-1 -- This horse really intrigues me. He's now with Doug O'Neill after having majority interest sold to J. Paul Reddam, who owns Wilko. Despite his very humble beginnings at Mountaineer and Hoosier Park, this Indiana-bred has won three straight stakes, all in explosive fashion, and his last in the WEBN Stakes at Turfway was extremely impressive visually. He'll likely return to Turfway for the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II). Has the makings of this year's Cinderella story.

Survivalist (Danzig), 50-1 – The moment of truth Saturday, as he faces one of last year's top 2-year-olds. He turned in a big effort in his 3-year-old debut, coming off a 4-month layoff after breaking his maiden by 8 1/2 lengths going a mile. Racing at a distance too short for him, he made a strong wide move and looked like he had a big chance to win. But he was absolutely creamed at the three-sixteenths pole by the eventual winner and knocked another three paths farther out. What I loved was that he never broke stride despite the sound bump and stayed on his right lead. He kept coming and closed well to finish third, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, while giving a spurt right near the wire. He subsequently was placed second via disqualification. Sun King or no Sun King, he should be ready for a huge effort, and even if he finishes a good second, it will move him forward. And if he should beat Sun King and Monarch Lane, you'll need a telescope to find these 50-1 odds on Sunday. This is a colt who could be peaking come Derby Day.

Vitruvian (Lemon Drop Kid  ), 50-1 – If this colt wasn't trained by Bobby Frankel his odds would be a lot higher. He was beaten 9 lengths by Bandini in his last start, but his race was much better than it looked on paper. And, remember, Bandini could actually wind up the favorite or second choice in the Fountain of Youth. On a track that was extremely speed favoring, he got hung six-wide on the first turn and raced wide the entire way. He launched a bid from way back, was still about six-wide going into the far turn and four-wide coming out of it. Although Bandini was long gone by the time he turned for home, he still continued his run, finishing 7 3/4 lengths ahead of the third horse. He should be 100-1 or higher, so you're not getting any bargains by any means. But you might be thrilled to have him at 50-1 in another couple of months. Just a question whether he has the speed to run with the big boys.

Wallstreet Scandal (Mt. Livermore), 150-1 – He's another big gamble, because he's probably a grass horse, and he'll likely wind up there, especially after his impressive turf score last week and his fast-closing second in last year's Pilgrim Stakes. But, he did finish second in the Futurity Stakes (gr. II) last year and broke his maiden impressively on the dirt at Saratoga. Trainer Rick Violette will give him one more shot to show he's a dirt horse and worthy of being on the Derby trail. So, at 150-1, you never know.

Wild Desert (Wild Rush), 150-1 – Once this colt finds out whether he's a dirt horse or turf horse, he should be OK. He bounced back and forth all last year, but his fast-closing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) likely has put him on the dirt to stay, at least for a while. He seems to be steadily improving, he's working sharply, and could debut with a big effort in the Tampa Bay Derby.

So, in summation, all these horses have enough merit to take a chance at big odds. Some look more attractive than others. Dearest Mon and Kansas City Boy are potential upsetters in the Fountain of Youth. Survivalist would look awfully good after his allowance race Saturday if he can match strides with Sun King. Golden Shine just may be a star in the making. And there's something to say for the others. All you have to do now is pick the right ones.

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