Kentucky Derby Trail: And Away We Go
Photo: Associated Press
Doctor Decherd, right, with Shaun Bridgmohan on board, duels Itsallboutthechase to the wire to win the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The journey on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) Trail officially began last weekend, and although none of the major stars were in action, there were enough solid performances – both gutsy and explosive -- to start the year off in a positive way.

The main event was Saturday's one-mile Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream, which got mixed reviews. The negatives were the out-of-the-money finishes by the three stakes winners in the field – Saint Daimon, Catcominatcha, and In Summation. Closers Saint Daimon and Catcominatcha never were a factor, and In Summation battled on the lead with the promising Little Cliff as far he went before tiring to finish fifth as the even-money favorite. Little Cliff also tired badly from his efforts to finish eighth.

One had to be impressed with the first two finishers, Doctor Decherd and Itsallboutthechase, both of whom had only a maiden score to their credit, and both of whom showed a good deal of courage battling down the stretch while pulling 5 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher My Golden Song, who went into the race having won both his starts for Todd Pletcher.

Doctor Decherd was particularly impressive, being stuck between horses down the entire backstretch. Even when Itsallboutthechase came charging up on his outside, again putting him in a tight spot, he never flinched. When Shaun Bridgmohan asked him, he responded and bulled his way to the lead, while still between horses. In midstretch, Itsallboutthechase pulled up alongside and seemed to have all the momentum, but Doctor Decherd fought back and stuck his nose in front at the wire.

If that kind of courage under fire can be inherited, then what he did should have come as no surprise. His sire, Louis Quatorze, was a fighter who ran hard every step of the way, and battled back to come within a nose of winning the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), finishing ahead of Cigar.

On his female side, his broodmare sire, Proper Reality outfought the Shug McGaughey pair of Seeking the Gold and Dancing Spree to win the Met Mile (gr. I) by a nose and won the Philip H. Iselin Handicap (gr. I) by a head, also in a three-horse photo. Proper Reality's sire, In Reality, was a tough, hard-nosed little horse who has proven to be a sire of hard-knocking horses. And Proper Reality's broodmare sire, Nodouble, was as tough as they come, winning a number of major stakes, including the Met Mile by a head over Reviewer in one of the gutsiest performances you'll ever see.

Doctor Decherd now gives trainer Steve Asmussen a powerful one-two punch along with Private Vow.

As for Itsallboutthechase, his potential and his pedigree make up for his name (sorry, I just dislike those one-word, 18-letter names that roll off the tongue as smoothly as bulldozer over broken glass. It's bad enough giving a horse a sentence for a name, regardless of its derivation, it's even worse when the sentence is so long you can't even fit it into the name and have to start chopping letters off.)

With that said, this colt does have a good deal of promise and will keep improving as the distances stretch out. He has a solid sire in Devil His Due and his female family is awesome, with Darby Dan class and stamina infused all through it, with stallions Dynaformer, Roberto, His Majesty, and Graustark, along with 5x5 inbreeding to Ribot and 4x5 inbreeding to the blue hen producer Golden Trail. And remember, in the Aventura, he was dropping back to one turn following a pair of two-turn races.

Third-place finisher, My Golden Song, also should improve off this race after being stuck on the rail behind horses most of the way, and then running hard through the stretch when clear to beat out the late-closing Big Lover for the show.

These horses still have to take another step forward to put themselves among the leading Derby contenders, as the final time of 1:37 3/5 did not stack up well with the times of the other races on the card. I normally don't dwell too much on time, but you would like to see a faster final quarter than :26 1/5 on a day when they were running pretty solid times at all distances. So, although we saw a number of good things from the first two finishers, we'll have to put this race on hold for the time being.

One horse to keep an eye on is Keyed Entry, who wired an allowance field on the Aventura card to win by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:09 2/5. The son of Honour and Glory is now two-for-two for Pletcher, but he still has to show what he can do going two turns. Some may discount him as a classic horse, being by such a brilliant sire, but Honour and Glory has plenty of stamina in his pedigree and he fits the same profile as recent classic-winning sires Distorted Humor   (Funny Cide), Elusive Quality   (Smarty Jones  ), and Northern Afleet   (Afleet Alex). Also, Keyed Entry has more than enough stamina in his female family through his great-grandsires Fappiano and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Avatar, a son of Graustark.

He did break like a bullet, so it would be ideal to see him show he can rate off the pace in his next start. What was impressive was the way he turned back two challenges at the quarter pole, and then drew off with his ears pricked, as if he were just playing out there. He also galloped out very strongly while still hugging the rail.

Pletcher also saddled the impressive maiden winner Exclusive Quality on the same card. The son of Elusive Quality, who cost $850,000 as a yearling, came between, then around, horses from fifth to win by two lengths in 1:10 3/5. He is another who is by a brilliant stallion, but has good stamina in his tail-female family. He showed excellent acceleration on the far turn and again in the stretch. The main lesson to be learned from his race is that he dislikes the whip, throwing his tail up every time he was hit.

The most dynamic performance of the weekend was the 14-length victory by Achilles of Troy in the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct. It wasn't so much the margin of victory as it was the explosive move he made on the far turn to blow the race wide open. Granted, the two horses he blew by were 50-1 longshots who were engaged in a suicidal battle on the front end, but he certainly destroyed everyone else in the field as well. The only negative aspect of the race was jockey Alan Garcia whipping him in the final furlong, despite being a dozen lengths in front. After one of those whips, Achilles of Troy jumped back to his left lead.

Achilles of Troy, a son of Notebook, has several speed/mile influences in his male and female family, but runs like a horse who wants to go on.

In other races this weekend, Final Copy made it three in a row winning the Turfway Prevue Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths. The son of Souvenir Copy still has not been over seven furlongs in seven career starts, but he has a strong pedigree, with an excellent combination of speed and stamina, the latter of which he gets from his maternal great-grandsire Alleged.

Sunday's San Miguel Stakes was won impressively by the Bob Baffert-trained Too Much Bling, who blazed the six furlongs in 1:08 2/5, winning by four lengths, and looks to be pretty much a sprinter. At the present time, Baffert does not include him among his Derby hopefuls, but we'll see where he shows up next and how far he can carry his speed.

The same, however, cannot be said about the runner-up Cause to Believe who is as consistent as they come, winning four of his seven starts with three seconds. The son of Maria's Mon, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, has already won at a mile and boasts a star-studded pedigree top and bottom.

With My Golden Song, Keyed Entry, and Exclusive Quality to go along with Bluegrass Cat, High Cotton, Saint Augustus, Half Hours, and Stonesider, Todd Pletcher certainly is well-armed in his quest for his first Derby victory.

All eyes will be on Santa Anita this weekend, as 2-year-old champ Stevie Wonderboy makes his 3-year-old debut and first start around two turns in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. II), in which he'll get a strong challenge from the hard-running Brother Derek, winner of the Norfolk (gr. II) and Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). Baffert likely will start either Bob and John or Wanna Runner.

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