Steve Haskin's Derby Analysis: A. P. Exclusive

Steve Haskin's Derby Analysis: A. P. Exclusive
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Haskin keeps coming back to A.P. Warrior.
It is finally time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Because of the number of late arrivals, the following analysis will be in two parts: works, gallops, and overall impressions and handicapping angles. Those will then be incorporated in an attempt to narrow the choices down to a few horses to box in the exotics.

There simply are too many highly regarded horses with near-identical running styles to get a good read on this race, which is one of the most puzzling in memory.

First off, from strictly a personal angle, I will place some sort of saver on PrivateVow for old times' sake, because I had him ranked No. 2 all winter until the Rebel Stakes (gr. II). I still believe he needs another start before he's ready to peak, but he's been improving dramatically in his training and physical development and working and galloping well. So, let's just get that one out of the way.

There have been several horses who have been training well and doing all the right things, and then there is Barbaro. Although the one race in 13 weeks is still somewhat of a concern, as is the likely scenario of the race, it is safe to say that no one has stood out, in his looks and training, more than the son of Dynaformer. Each day, he seems to be getting stronger and sharper. Between his six-furlong work (or four furlongs depending on how you look at it), his gallops, and his overall physical condition, he looks like a horse who is ready to run the race of his life.

Again, the one race in 13 weeks goes against all Derby logic when it comes to getting a horse to such a demanding race, but Matz looks to be as astute a horseman as you'll ever see, so maybe he's the one who will rewrite the handbook. For the purposes of this analysis, Barbaro's odds will be too short to bet straight win unless you really love the horse.

In the category of works, Sweetnorthernsaint turned in an excellent six-furlong drill last week and, if you don't think he is going to regress off his dynamite score in the Illinois Derby (gr. II), you'd have to put him right up there. He also has a super disposition and nothing rattles him, which is so important when you're dealing with the hoopla of the Derby and a 20-horse cavalry charge.

It is hard to find fault with any of the Derby starters, but a few of the standouts seen over the past two weeks who will be a price are Jazil, Sharp Humor, and Storm Treasure.

Jazil will be ridden by Fernando Jara, who has little stakes experience and no Derby experience, so that is of some concern. But he does seem to ride this colt better than anyone and, although a great deal of luck will be involved to get him through the entire field, he is training brilliantly, has a great disposition, and is just a neat little horse to be around.

Sharp Humor is an unknown factor in that he's had only two starts this year, and his gutsy second in the Florida Derby (gr. I), coming off only one seven-furlong race, was one of the best performances this year. He is another who could be compromised by the pace scenario, but the bottom line with him is that we just don't know enough about him to take a strong stand.

If you're looking for a Closing Argument, Impeachment, Invisible Ink type of horse to sneak into the top three at a monster price, Storm Treasure has a lot going for him. He's training as if he is ready for a big effort, and it looks as if he is just now coming into his own. His explosive turn of foot on the far turn in the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) was impressive, considering he threw in a pair of :23 and change quarters before petering out in the final furlong. With that kind of acceleration, a staying pedigree, and an experienced money rider in David Flores, he could be one to watch to hit the board, as long as he doesn't get too messed up breaking from the 19-post.

Two other horses to mention in this category are Keyed Entry, who--like Sharp Humor--is in a tricky situation with the way the race shapes up, the enigmatic Bluegrass Cat, who looked awful in his last work but has shown tremendous improvement since.

There is a question whether Keyed Entry will be able to rate after watching him rocket around the track in his last work and his aggressive behavior galloping. He looked much better this morning, and is one of the best-looking horses in the race. It's going to be tough for him carrying that speed a mile and a quarter, but he may stick around longer than most people think. Bluegrass Cat has been galloping with renewed enthusiasm and has been getting smoother and stronger each day. But he is another who should be caught up in that second wave with all the top-class stalkers.

Turning our attention to the California works, the last two drills by Point Determined and Bob and John were discussed in the daily report, which said that Point Determined's last work was the most dramatic turnaround of any horse in the field. It was such a strong work, accomplished on his own, that it made you reassess his chances if you didn't like him before and reassured those who did. Bob and John looks fantastic, from his physique, fitness, and disposition, and he generates a great deal of power, which he has displayed in his gallops. He is one horse who may be overlooked, and definitely is worth a good bet if you see he's an overlay. As for Baffert's other horse, the tempestuous Sinister Minister, he worked well and looked particularly strong galloping this morning.

If you're getting confused by now, don't worry, it will get sorted out shortly, or at least an attempt will be made to get it sorted out.

We would be remiss not to mention Lawyer Ron and Brother Derek, who will break from posts 17 and 18, respectively. They are too short a price, and too obvious to discuss in detail. Let's just say, if given a choice to own one horse in this field (before the Derby, of course), Lawyer Ron would be the choice based on his enthusiasm, toughness, and durability. He's been a joy to watch train every day at 7:50. You push the start button and sit back and enjoy the show, which also describes his races. In the races Lawyer Ron has relaxed, he's been on the outside of horses, so post 17 should actually help him. If you like Lawyer Ron and feel the Oaklawn form was stronger than some believe, then you have to include Steppenwolfer in your exotics for his consistent stretch runs.

Brother Derek has done nothing wrong, but hasn't done anything exciting enough that would make him a standout favorite. So, at this point he looks to be more of a lukewarm choice. His best move would be to follow Lawyer Ron, who seems to know where he should be in a race, and more importantly, knows how to get there. If there is one thing that does stand out it is the colt's class. He just has the look of a special of horse. Now, we'll just have to see if gets the luck and the trip, and whether he can hold his own in a dogfight.

Finally, we come to the handicapping angle. You can have opinions and gut feelings and whatever else you use to make a selection in a wild and unpredictable race like this. The one thing that is lacking is a true handicapping angle, the kind you'd use handicapping any other race.

The one strong angle that is worth sinking or swimming with is the performance of A. P. Warrior in the San Felipe (gr. II) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). This is a colt who sold for $1.3 million as a yearling and began his career as if he was going to be a top-class runner. His key race at 2 was the Norfolk Stakes (gr. II), in which he rallied from seventh to finish second to Brother Derek, beaten three-quarters of a length. The feeling is it is that race he will return to in the Derby.

Another race to fall back on is his four-length victory over Bob and John in a one-mile allowance race, giving him a solid 2-year-old foundation. Throw out his Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) and El Camino Real Derby (gr. III). He was a wreck fighting the restraint of his riders and fizzled out when the running began. Under new trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Corey Nakatani, he relaxed beautifully in the San Felipe, while racing four-wide the entire race. Despite making a long sustained run on the far outside and hitting the front a bit too soon, he dug in when challenged on his inside by Point Determined, who had saved ground all the way. If they had gone around again, Point Determined would not have gotten past him. And coming off a seven-week layoff, he likely was not primed for a top effort in this race and should be much tighter this time.

The Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) pretty much turned into a three-horse race when Sacred Light lost all chance by stumbling badly coming out of the gate. Brother Derek was allowed to control the race, and for all intents and purposes was unbeatable on this day. A. P. Warrior and Point Determined both tried to take a run at him leaving the backstretch, which is where Brother Derek usually runs his opposition into the ground. A. P. Warrior was able to get to within a length through a testing :23 1/5 quarter and kept up the pressure to the top of the stretch. Point Determined, who needed to finish second to get in the Derby, couldn't keep up with that pace and dropped back, waiting for A. P. Warrior to expend his energy, so he could come on late and get his much-needed second-place earnings.

A.P. Warrior did tire, finishing third, beaten 4 3/4 lengths. But he got a great deal out of the race, which turned out to be a good stiff prep for the Derby. Now, with all the speed in there, A. P. Warrior will be able to drop back and settle somewhere in mid-pack. We know he can close and we know he can fight, and the feeling here is that he will revert back to his Norfolk and come flying late.

So, where does all this leave us? A. P. Warrior, Barbaro, Sweetnorthernsaint, and Lawyer Ron would be the top choices and a solid four-horse box in the exotics. I am also going for an all-California box of A. P. Warrior, Bob and John, Point Determined, and Sinister Minster. Of course, you can put Brother Derek in there, but we're going with prices only here. Bob and John could be the forgotten horse, so keep a close look at his odds. If he's higher than 10 or 12-1, that is an overlay.

The longshot closers to key on are Jazil and Storm Treasure, with Jazil worth a win wager because of the way's he's been training.

So, in summation, it is A. P. Warrior, who does look great physically as well, for the handicapping angle and Barbaro and Sweetnorthernsaint for their works, and Lawyer Ron for simply being a throwback who loves to run and knows how to win. Barbaro is the overall stand-out in the race, but he's going to be too short a price, as is Lawyer Ron.

Sweetnorthernsaint is the one horse who is dominant in works and in the handicapping angle, if you consider that he closes fast in every race, at any distance, over any kind of track. If pinned down to one horse at a good price, it would be A. P. Warrior, although he's beginning to get an awful lot of support, and, unfortunately, could wind up the bet-down horse. But right now, A. P. Warrior and Sweetnorthernsaint look to be the two best value horses.

Postscript/Warning: There is a possibility that we're dealing with a freak in Sinister Minister. There is always the so-called "bounce" factor, and the colt's inability to rate. Some of the speed gurus give him little or no chance coming back in three weeks off that monster performance in the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I). But he is so freakishly fast, this race could be a lot more cut and dried than people think. His gallop this morning was awesome, as he barreled around the track with high, but controlled, energy, reminiscent of War Emblem. It is possible Baffert will be unleashing a terror again tomorrow. So, either play him or don't play him at your own risk. All I know is that I wouldn't want to be the one trying to chase him after watching that gallop this morning.

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