Haskin's Derby Report: Palmeiro, Newcomers Best of Derby-Bound Horses

Haskin's Derby Report: Palmeiro, Newcomers Best of Derby-Bound Horses
Photo: Associated Press/Benoit Photo
Crafty C.T., winning the San Rafael under Eddie Delahoussaye.
The march to Louisville is beginning to look like Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, as the troops keep trudging along, battling the elements and making little headway toward their destination. The best you can say right now is that at least no one has been ambushed by Cossacks along the way.

Normally, when there are four stakes run on the same day, you can expect a little movement, but all we really got out of Saturday's stakes activities was a solid effort from Palmeiro, who finished second in the San Rafael Stakes.

The winner, Crafty C.T., no doubt is a very fast and talented colt, but his trainer has already stated that the Kentucky Derby definitely is not in his plans. Now, we're not saying that Palmeiro is the only potential Derby contender to emerge from this week's races. Although it's getting late to start looking for nonwinners of two allowance horses and maiden winners, we've got a couple of doozies who could grow into monsters quicker than the blob. They'll have to. We're talking about Congaree and Romolo's Fritzi, whom we'll get to in a bit.

Getting back to the San Rafael, this was only Crafty C.T.'s third career start and first beyond 6 furlongs, and while he stretched out beautifully to a mile, drawing off to win by 4 lengths, he'd still have only four starts going into the Derby, and his pedigree does not exactly shout out a mile and a quarter.

One pedigree that does is Palmeiro's, which is why his performance was encouraging. Dropping back from 1 1/16 miles, the son of Pleasant Tap broke from the rail, and after stumbling at the start, he took off after Crafty C.T. With the leader racing enough off the rail to create an enticing opening, Kent Desormeaux had to put a stranglehold on an eager Palmeiro, who was looking for an early tussle. With the Santa Anita track favoring speed big-time, Crafty C.T. had a lot left after a half in :46 and three-quarters in 1:10. In his two previous starts, his slowest half had been :44 3/5. The track, still pretty deep from recent heavy rains, was not conducive to fast closing fractions, so Crafty C.T.'s final quarter in :25 2/5 was not that bad, especially considering Tiznow ran his final quarter in the Santa Anita Handicap a tick slower.

Palmeiro couldn't match strides with the winner and was beaten 4 lengths in a sharp 1:35 3/5. He really had no shot to win under the circumstances, and the race should help him move forward in the Santa Anita Derby, where he'll be able to relax better and make one run instead of having to track the leader in a no-win situation.

Now for our brash, young upstarts. Normally, when a horse breaks his maiden on Feb. 28 in only his second career start, we don't even consider him for the Derby, even if his performance is as awesome as Congaree's was. The son of Arazi inhaled his field with a devastating move and drew off to win by 7 lengths in 1:34 1/5, the fastest mile of the meet. But when someone like Bob Baffert calls him a "freak of nature," and definitely a serious Derby horse, we're not about to argue with him. Baffert, in fact, said months ago that this could very well be his best Derby horse, ranking him right up there with Point Given.

Congaree, who is closely inbred 3x3 to Northern Dancer and has a 1.82 dosage index, missed a lot of time last year with a cough and a chip in his knee, which was removed. "He's never been sore," Baffert said. "The four starts going into the Derby don't bother me, because he'd been in training for a long time last year. This year, I worked him only four times, then ran him, and he was still able to turn in an awesome performance like that. He's a big, strong colt, and I haven't had a horse with this kind of raw talent since Indian Charlie. I'm going to look for a two-turn race somewhere, then run him in the Wood Memorial. He's really got me caught up in Derby fever."

If that two-turn race turns out to be the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway, then he'll run up against Romolo's Fritzi, whom Team Valor purchased privately last year. The son of Cryptoclearance showed flashes of brilliance breaking his maiden at Aqueduct on Nov. 25, but also showed signs of greenness. After blazing 5 furlongs in :58 4/5 at Gulfstream, the new and improved Romolo's Fritzi stretched out to 1 1/16 miles on March 1 and blew by his field on the turn under Jerry Bailey, then drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths. His time of 1:44 was almost a second and two-fifths faster than the other division.

Team Valor president Barry Irwin said the colt was on the high-strung side when they got him, but he's become much more relaxed and settled. He'll run all day, being inbred 5x4 to Ribot, and we love his 5x4 inbreeding to top mare Pocahontas. If these two exciting colts don't cross paths in the Rushaway, they'll most likely face each other in the Wood Memorial, and we'll see if a new star is born.

Last Thursday in Dubai, Street Cry passed his first test, winning the UAE 2,000 Guineas by 2 lengths over Arazi's half-brother Noverre. The most important aspect of this race was that it showed Street Cry had made the transition from two to three nicely, and gave him some confidence after tough defeats last year to Flame Thrower and a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. If Godolphin is going to win the Derby the way they want to, this will be the colt to do it. He's soup to nuts Godolphin, having gone through their program from day one, first with Eoin Harty in Dubai, then California, then back to Dubai with Saeed bin Suroor's main string.

To show what kind of year it's been so far, some of the most talked about horses have been those coming off allowance races, such as Hero's Tribute, Monarchos, You Know Who, Invisible Ink, and now Romolo's Fritzi, as well as maiden winner Congaree.

Add to that list Scorpion, who scored a front-running victory in a 7-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Saturday. The son of Seattle Slew had been working up a storm, his coat looked super, and he was sharp in the post parade. Going to the gate, he had his down into the bit and looked ready for action. He broke quickly from the rail, then outran the quick Lake Agawam through fractions of :22 2/5, :45, and 1:09 4/5. He drew off to win comfortably by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:23 3/5, and although he came home his last eighth in a pokey :13 4/5, no one on the card was closing in fast fractions, which is typical of Gulfstream. In fact, Wayne Lukas said Jerry Bailey told him Scorpion's final eighth was his best, and that he was striding out nicely.

What we liked the most was how perfectly straight he ran through the stretch with minimal pressure from Bailey, who gave him one right-handed smack with the whip, then mostly waved it at him. This colt is not a front-runner and will only get better as the distances stretch out. He'll come back in two weeks in the Gotham Stakes.


Continued. . . .

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