Kentucky Derby Trail: Lurking in the Wings

Kentucky Derby Trail: Lurking in the Wings
Photo: NYRA/Adama Coglianese
Whirlaway Stakes winner Achilles of Troy will continue on the road to the Kentucky Derby in Florida.
It is mid-February, and although the 3-year-olds look to be a solid bunch, there are few standouts. With question marks surrounding some of the leading contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the top spots up for grabs, it's time to check out the second wave, which includes several horses whose bandwagons are ready to take on passengers.

Allowance horses -- This group is made up of horses who have already defeated or fared well against winners, but have not yet run in a stakes.

Music School -- This is one of the buzz horses after his successful comeback from an eight-month layoff. The son of A.P. Indy caught people's attention with his gutsy debut last June, in which he stumbled badly a few strides out of the gate, almost going down, and then showed his courage by battling back in the stretch to win by a nose. Most horses making their first start would not have recovered from such a traumatic experience, but he went about his business as if nothing had happened. He's a magnificent-looking horse, who appears to have tons of class, and he had no problem stretching out to a mile off one 5 1/2-furlong race and a long layoff. The only drawback is that he missed his prep for the Southwest, and unless trainer Neil Howard decides to run him right back, he is looking at only two more starts (four lifetime) before the Derby.

Point Determined -- The son of Point Given was so highly touted after his maiden victory he was sent off at 18-1 in the first Future Wager pool, and then promptly went out and was beaten in a one-mile allowance race. But he was dropping back in distance and gained valuable experience, getting stuck behind the erratic-running winner, One Union, in the stretch. He should keep getting better as he matures. He's been entered in a one-mile allowance race at Golden Gate on Friday.

Barbican -- We'll find out if he can duplicate his explosive move on the far turn in his resounding Jan. 15 allowance victory when he makes his stakes debut in the Feb. 20 Southwest. Trainer Eoin Harty had him ranked behind more precocious colts, A.P. Warrior and Barcola, mainly because of his unwillingness at times in the mornings. But the son of A.P. Indy turns into a tiger in the afternoons. In his last start, when Chris DeCarlo reached back and cracked him once at the three-eighths pole, he jumped right into the bit and blew by his opponents before drawing off to a 4 1/2-length score in 1:35 4/5 for the mile.

Corinthian -- Watching this attractive son of Pulpit winning at Aqueduct last November and even just standing in the winner's circle, it looked as if he had a good deal of class about him. He came back in his 3-year-old debut and defeated a talented colt in Jazil in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race in 1:49 3/5, despite racing greenly in the stretch. He has a sensational pedigree, top and bottom, with names that sound like a Who's Who of the American Turf: A.P. Indy, Easy Goer, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, Nijinsky II, Mr. Prospector, Alydar, and Buckpasser.

Jazil -- He also looks to have a bright future, and lost nothing in his loss to Corinthian. He did get the jump on Corinthian, who was trapped behind horses along the inside, and had to veer sharply to the outside for running room. After hitting the front turning for home, Jazil took a bump from Corinthian, who then leaned in on him near the eighth pole. He continued to battle back and was beaten only three-quarters of a length. By Seeking the Gold, he should continue to improve, and if you're looking for female class, his first three dams are stakes winners, and his fourth was stakes placed and the dam of two stakes winners; his second dam, Blush With Pride, won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), Santa Susana (gr. I), and Ashland (gr. II), and produced three graded stakes winners; and his dam, Better Than Honour, won the Demoiselle (gr. II) and placed in the grade I Acorn and Mother Goose.

Steppenwolfer -- He turned in an impressive allowance score at Oaklawn, sitting patiently in sixth, waiting for horses to clear him, before swinging out and mowing down his field in a matter of a few strides. He quickly drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Going back, the son of Aptitude, defeated Jazil in a 7-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct last November. He'll get his first class test in the Southwest Stakes Feb. 20.

Hesanoldsalt -- The son of Broad Brush was able to sustain a long run before showing a good burst of speed inside the eighth pole to run right by Ashado's full-brother, Sunriver, in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race. With Broad Brush as his sire and Cox's Ridge his broodmare sire, there's a lot of toughness in his pedigree. He'll get his big test on Saturday against Remsen (gr. II) winner Bluegrass Cat in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay.

Kilimanjaro -- The Patrick Biancone-trained son of Boundary returned from a 4 1/2-month layoff to finish a strong fourth behind One Union and Point Determined in an allowance race, coming from dead-last, 14 lengths back, to be beaten 5 1/4 lengths and just missing third by a head. Among the horses he defeated in his maiden victory at Saratoga was Flashy Bull.

Noonmark -- There's no way to tell how far he wants to go, but he looked good winning a six-furlong allowance race last weekend in 1:09 2/5 coming off a 3 1/2-month layoff after breaking his maiden by 10 1/4 lengths at Belmont. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he's by Unbridled's Song, out of a Storm Cat mare, but he has a lot of catching up to do, and so far he's been all speed.

Maiden winners -- Horses who have won only a maiden race and have not faced winners.

Latent Heat -- With his huge speed numbers in his first two starts, they are already lining up to jump on his bandwagon, which will fill up fast if he wins an allowance race later this month. Of all the 3-year-olds seen this year, his style and his action has impressed the most. The son of Maria's Mon has an extremely efficient stride and seems to possess all the qualities to be a top horse. He's inbred 4x4 to Buckpasser and has that Buckpasser look and style, but gets speed from his broodmare sire Capote.

Brilliant and Jolted and Jostled -- These two promising colts square off at Oaklawn on Thursday after breaking their maidens on the same day. Brilliant's time for the mile was more than a second and a half faster, but Jolted and Jostled had to go five wide on the first turn, breaking from post 12, and wide on the second turn. The Storm Cat colt is trained by John Servis, while Brilliant, a son of War Chant and another from Neil Howard's barn, is showing rapid improvement at the right time.

Scanlon's Song -- Stablemate of Achilles of Troy, the son of Partner's Hero came from the clouds to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Aqueduct Jan. 28, turning in one of the most explosive stretch runs of the year. After going very wide at the top of the stretch, and still 6 1/2 lengths back at the eighth pole, he turned on the afterburners and won going away by 2 3/4 lengths.

Really Indian -- Another promising son of A.P. Indy, he put in arguably the most powerful sustained run of the year by a 3-year-old in winning his debut at Santa Anita for Neil Drysdale. He showed tremendous acceleration in the one-mile race, charging out of the pack on the far turn and continuing to pour it on down the stretch to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Like Scanlon's Song, however, he did not race at age two and will have to contend with the so-called Apollo curse.

Strong Contender -- If his works this winter at Gulfstream and his maiden victory at Arlington last August are any indication, look for a huge effort when the son of Maria's Mon trained by John Ward makes his return in the next couple of weeks. He's out of a Dynaformer mare and is inbred three times to Ribot, so distance will not be an issue.

Other maiden winners who have made a big impression are Showing Up, who scorched 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15 3/5 in his career debut at Gulfstream for Barclay Tagg; Chatain, a son of Forest Wildcat who won his career debut by 3 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream, covering the mile in a sharp 1:35 flat for Angel Penna Jr; Record, a Bob Baffert-trained son of Devil His Due who has earned some big speed numbers in his two starts, including an impressive victory going 6 1/2 furlongs; Tatsuji, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus   who scored an impressive victory coming from far back at 1 1/16 miles in his debut for John Shirreffs and Jerry and Ann Moss; Mister Triester, who wasn't an early nominee, but woke up in his first two-turn start and knocked off the highly touted Royal Legacy by four lengths; Exclusive Quality, an under-the-radar colt from the Todd Pletcher barn who broke his maiden by two lengths in 1:10 3/5 in his second start; Harborage, a regally bred son of Monarchos   who came from seventh to blow away his field at Tampa Bay going 1 1/16 miles; and Songster, who won a seven-furlong maiden race in 1:21 2/5 for Tom Albertrani.

Two maidens trained by Bob Baffert – Royal Legacy and Point of Impact -- also must be mentioned, as they've both been two turns and need only a big maiden score to put them right in the thick of things. Baffert has always been extremely high on both horses and still believes they'll be heard from.

This is a strong second wave, and there are several who can jump up and stamp themselves as major Derby contenders in their next start.

Trojan horse ready to hit the road

Achilles of Troy did what was expected of him in Saturday's Whirlaway Stakes, and in many ways, this victory was more impressive than his 14-length romp in the Count Fleet. The son of Notebook is very light on his feet and just glides over the ground. Unlike Alan Garcia, who used the whip on him too often in the Count Fleet, Ramon Dominguez, whose whip heard 'round the world almost caused a catastrophe in last year's Preakness Stakes (gr. I), did right by the colt. After giving him one crack of the whip, he was about to reach back and deliver another one, but instead looked between his legs, saw no threats being mounted, and put the whip away, allowing the colt to cruise the rest of the way.

As visually impressive as this performance was, there are a couple of points that should be mentioned. First off, for the second time in a row, he switched back to his left lead, this time for no reason at all, as he was being eased when he did it. This may mean absolutely nothing, but it is something you'd rather not see.

Secondly, the colt is scheduled to ship to Florida later this week. The opinion here is if you're going to ship from cold weather to hot weather, it's better to do it early, rather than go down there and be thrown right into the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) against far superior horses than Achilles of Troy met in the Whirlaway and Count Fleet. Horses in general tend to do much better shipping from hot weather to cold. One positive from this is that if Achilles of Troy should run a big race in the Fountain of Youth it will prove he's an extraordinary horse.

With the Gotham (gr. III) run at two turns this year, the timing of that race and the Wood Memorial (gr. I) actually would have fit perfectly into Achilles of Troy's schedule, and he wouldn't have to ship anywhere until the Derby. But owner Ernie Paragallo is planning to go that route with Scanlon's Song, who would need to get in three starts to avoid being put in the near-impossible position of going into the Derby off only three career races.

In other Derby news:

-- High Cotton, who ran some big races last year in graded stakes, is still eligible for a non-winners of two allowance races, and that's likely where Pletcher will run him next. The son of Dixie Union has had some bad posts and bad trips, but has proven on several occasions he's a fighter, and he just needs to find a comfortable running style.

-- Trainer Bob Baffert said that Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner Bob and John definitely will point for the March 18 San Felipe (gr. II) instead of the March 4 Santa Catalina (gr. II).

--Dr. Pleasure finally had his first work of the year, breezing a half in :48 2/5, although trainer John Ward said he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, which sounds more like a five-furlong work. Ward said the son of champion Beautiful Pleasure has plenty of bottom in him and won't need much to get him ready.

-- Among those to watch in next Monday's Southwest Stakes are Lawyer Ron, Barbican, Steppenwolfer, Travelin Leroy, and possibly Admiral's Arch.

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