Kentucky Derby Trail: Seeing Through the Slop

Kentucky Derby Trail: Seeing Through the Slop
Photo: Benoit
Haskin on Bob and John: "getting close to the finished product."
What could have been a revealing weekend at Gulfstream Park was instead a muddy mess that left us with just as many questions as we had going in. We also had to try and digest some huge performances by former claimers in lesser races and several defeats that may have outshone the victories.

With the top spot in the 3-year-old division now vacant following Stevie Wonderboy's injury, it's not an easy task trying to come up with a worthy successor. Frankly, there isn't a horse right now that looks like a standout Derby favorite. Brother Derek, First Samurai, and Barbaro all appear to have the credentials, but all still have a few questions to answer, while Private Vow, Bluegrass Cat, and Your Tent or Mine have yet to make their 3-year-old debuts. Your Tent or mine, in fact, has not even had a workout.

The Holy Bull (gr. III) victory by Barbaro and the second-place finish by First Samurai in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) certainly solidified those colts' credentials and stamped them as leading contenders for the Run for the Roses. But Barbaro still has not run on a fast track and First Samurai has never been two turns. And Brother Derek still has to show he's not a one-dimensional speed horse.

Because of Saturday's sloppy track, it's still difficult to get a good gauge on Hutcheson winner Keyed Entry, who is as fast a 3-year-old as we've seen this year, and the Holy Bull second, third, and fourth-place finishers Great Point, My Golden Song, and Flashy Bull, neither of whom has won a stakes, but look to have promising futures

Samurai's First

Although last year's one-time budding superstar, First Samurai, was beaten at 3-5 in the Hutcheson, his performance was good enough to put him back on the throne he occupied before the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), but just barely. You can throw out the colt's third-place finish in the Juvenile, assuming he was compromised by a breathing problem. Making his first start of the year, the last thing his connections wanted was to see him subjected to a gut-wrencher, in which he had to chase a brilliant speed horse through fractions of :44 and 1:07 3/5, especially in the slop. This race was reminiscent of the Champagne (gr. I), except that First Samurai was not cranked up anywhere near what he was for the Champagne.

The fact that he was beaten means little, but the fact that he finished 16 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher in record time says a great deal. And it appears as if the race took little out of him. The son of Giant's Causeway   still has to pass his first two-turn test, but for now, he's back in top form and has the credentials to make him the horse to beat.

More tales of the slop

Everyone loves undefeated horses and in Barbaro and Keyed Entry we have two exciting colts who are a combined seven-for-seven, but still have a few things to prove. Barbaro did pass his test on dirt, sort of, but we would have learned a lot more had the Holy Bull been run on a fast track. Give him credit for winning the race over a surface he seemed to handle, but not relish. He tracked a strong pace of :23, :46 1/5 and 1:10 1/5, and hit the front a bit too early, with Aventura winner Doctor Decherd holding on stubbornly on his inside and Remsen (gr. II) runner-up Flashy Bull putting the pressure on from the outside. He put those two away, and then jumped over to his left lead approaching the sixteenth pole, but still dug in to hold Great Point safe. The bottom line is: he's undefeated, has handled every surface he's run over, and distance will be no obstacle.

My Golden Song raced wide all the way and was a bit green at the three-sixteenths pole, ducking in. But he closed well to get third, and the feeling here is that the son of Unbridled's Song will pop a big one at some point. Flashy Bull ran hard the whole way and also jumped back to his left lead in the stretch. He needed this race and should also improve.

Keyed Entry, who has an awesome slop pedigree top and bottom, no doubt will stretch out to two turns next, and we'll find out how far he can carry his speed. He is by a miler in Honour and Glory, but should get stamina from his broodmare sire, Cryptoclearance, and certainly from his tail-female great-grandsire, Belmont winner Avatar, a son of Graustark. After the race, he came bounding back, fighting the bit as if he wanted to go back and do it again.

Buy-back Bob is back again

So, is it possible for an owner to go 0-for-5 on a card and have a great day? It was for Bob La Penta last Saturday. La Penta apparently is still leading a charmed life, raking in the big bucks and graded wins and placings with horses who for the most part were buy-backs as 2-year-olds. La Penta and trainer Nick Zito sent out three horses in the grade I Donn Handicap and finished second and third behind racing's newest star, Brass Hat.

But more importantly, his second-place finishes in the Holy Bull, with Great Point and a seven-furlong allowance race, with Superfly, put him on the Derby trail for the third straight year. It is interesting to note that both colts had to overcome the worst possible post position in their respective races.

Everyone saw the 25-1 Great Point come from the clouds to finish second, beaten three-quarters of a length by Barbaro, in the Holy Bull, but many may have overlooked Superfly's second-place finish. The full-brother to La Penta's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) runner-up and Donn third, Andromeda's Hero, has shown a lot more speed than his brother, but he did go into his debut with three solid efforts in stakes at a mile or longer, two of them being the Champagne and Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

On a day when jockeys were treating the inside as if it were quicksand, Superfly was stuck down on the rail the whole way, battling head and head through a :44 2/5 half and then running gamely in the stretch to be beaten three lengths in 1:22 1/5. Considering this colt is bred to run all day, there is no reason to think this race won't set him up for some big efforts in the next few months.

As for Great Point, the Holy Bull was either his coming out party or just a huge effort over a sloppy track. He received a super ride from Jeremy Rose, who somehow got him to the 2-path from the 12-post, and then circled the field with a powerful move to mow down everyone except Barbaro. The son of Point Given was a highly regarded juvenile, winning his debut by 8 3/4 lengths at odds of 5-2 before going completely off form. Only time will tell which Great Point we'll see from here on.

Both colts were purchased as yearlings and then pinhooked the following year. Great Point, a $450,000 yearling purchase after selling as a weanling for $355,000, was withdrawn from the Keeneland 2-year-old sale, while Superfly was purchased for $210,000 as a yearling and then was bought back at Keeneland for $450,000. La Penta also has Little Cliff, a $350,000 buy-back who is trying to rebound off a poor effort in the Aventura Stakes after winning back-to-back races in impressive fashion.

Two Bobs and a John

After Saturday's Sham Stakes, Bob Baffert, Bob McNair, and John Adger should be seeing their names in print quite often. Horses aren't usually named after their owner and racing manager, but at least it's not one word. Bob and John has been a work in progress for a while now, and it seems as if we're finally getting close to the finished product. The son of Seeking the Gold is built like a stayer, keeps his head and shoulders low, and has good extension to his stride. Baffert told Victor Espinoza to get after him at the quarter pole, and the colt responded by charging to the lead and drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:49, the same time as the Strub Stakes (gr. II) for older horses on the same card. And you can't fault his closing fractions of :24 2/5 and :12 3/5.

Granted, the second-place finisher, Hawkinsville had run only in claiming and starter allowance races, but the third- and fourth-place finishers -- Sacred Light and Genre --had decent credentials, and don't be surprised to see Sacred Light run much better in a bigger field.

Back to 'School' and other lessons learned

There are still so many other names to throw out there from last weekend, some of whom will be discussed next week, which will be a lot slower. In stakes company, we saw runaway victories by Sweetnorthernsaint in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel and Warrior Within in the WEBN Frog Stakes at Turfway Park. Sweetnorthernsaint, in particular, looks to be an intriguing colt, who has the dubious distinction of getting disqualified in a race he won by 16 lengths. He looks about ready to hit the road and start looking for bigger fish to catch.

There were several allowance races of note last week, highlighted by Point Determined's first test against winners and Music School's long-awaited debut. Point Determined had to settle for second behind the Dick Mandella-trained One Union, who won on the front end, but he gained valuable experience, having to go in and out behind the erratic-running winner throughout the stretch run. The one-mile distance was too short for him, and he'll get better the farther he runs. Baffert also sent out a runner in Record who scored an impressive maiden victory, winning by 2 1/2 lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs. The son of Devil His Due has the pedigree to go long, but is playing catch-up as far as the Derby goes.

As for Music School, the son of A.P. Indy's three-quarters of a length-victory in a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn was a huge effort, considering he had only one 5 1/2-furlong race in his career and hadn't run in eight months. He looked sensational going to the post and was in complete control of the race. His low running style is reminiscent not only of his sire, but of another Neil Howard-trained colt, Horse of the Year Mineshaft. He took over the lead with ease on the far turn, by necessity more than design, and seemed to be on cruise control turning for home. He opened a clear lead, but raced greenly, ducking to the inside and easing himself up a bit, which resulted in the margin being closer than it really was. He quickly got himself back in rhythm, while staying on his right lead, and was never in any real danger. This definitely is a horse to watch in the upcoming Oaklawn stakes.

Other horses to watch from last week are Steppenwolfer, a son of Aptitude, who made a big run around horses in an Oaklawn allowance race before drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths over a solid field; Royal Legacy, who can't break his maiden, but who keeps progressing, and is still right up there on Baffert's list of top 3-year-olds; and Kilimanjaro, who came from far back to finish a good fourth in Royal Legacy's race, won by Mister Triester.

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