Kentucky Derby Trail: Get Your Future Derby Prep Results Right Here

Kentucky Derby Trail: Get Your Future Derby Prep Results Right Here
Photo: AP/Equi-Photo/Bill Denver
Fountain of Youth victory was a big step forward for Scat Daddy.

The strangest thing happened while in Florida this past week. I came upon a crystal ball that amazingly revealed the winners of all the major Derby preps this year, although some images were clearer than others. To obtain this privileged information, just continue reading.

Here we go. This is what you have to look forward to if the images seen are correct. Circular Quay and Soaring By will finish one-two in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). Cowtown Cat will win the Gotham Stakes (gr. III). The Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) will go to Twilight Meteor. Any Given Saturday will win the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). Scat Daddy will repeat his Fountain of Youth (gr. II) score with a victory in the Florida Derby (gr. I). Ravel and King of the Roxy will finish one-two in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Here is where it got a little blurry. Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, and Sam P. will win the Wood Memorial (gr. I), Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and Arkansas Derby (gr. II), but who wins what will depend on who goes where.

On May 5, trainer Todd Pletcher, who just happens to train all the aforementioned horses, will emulate Michael Dickinson’s feat in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, by saddling the first five finishers in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). The only thing that can prevent Pletcher from sweeping the Triple Crown is if he beats his Derby winner with another of his horses in the Preakness or Belmont Stakes (both gr. I).

If you’re not particularly fond of these images and were hoping for another Funny Cide, Smarty Jones or Barbaro fairy tale, blame it on the Derby gods.

OK, you get the point. But this fantasy is closer to reality than you might think. Pletcher Inc. appears to be headed toward total domination of the Derby trail and the Derby itself, unless, of course, the powerful firm of O’Neill and Reddam can stop it with Great Hunter, Liquidity, and Notional, a pretty intimidating trio themselves. They have already come out on top in two minor skirmishes with Pletcher. O’Neill also has the Merv Griffin-owned monster in the making, Cobalt Blue, who is headed for the San Felipe (gr. II). In any event, 2007 looks to be the year of corporate America’s takeover of the Kentucky Derby.

So, until the Derby pumpkin turns into a golden coach once again, it’s time to say goodbye to Cinderella, toss the tissues and hankies, and hit the past performances, speed figures, pedigrees and mounds of other data and try to figure out which one of Pletcher’s horses, or Doug O’Neill’s and J. Paul Reddam’s steeds, will have the roses draped over his withers this year. Remember, too, that Reddam's recent contributions to racing could have him in good standing with the Derby gods.

Saturday was all about Pletcher and O’Neill again, as they increased their number of stakes wins on the Derby trail this year to eight. It’s difficult to figure out just what kind of racetrack we had at Gulfstream, as the pattern of the races made little sense. Blazing fast fractions early, slow fractions late, speed favoring early in the day, closers coming on later in the day, slow pace in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II), in which they went 10 or 11 lengths slower than they did in the Fountain of Youth.

So, one really doesn’t know how to interpret the last three-eighths in :39 1/5 in the Fountain of Youth and :13 4/5 final eighth. That’s pretty much crawling. But Stormello did cut out a 1:09 4/5 three-quarters, compared to 1:10 3/5 in a nine-furlong allowance race and a tardy 1:12 1/5 in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. And then there were the blistering early half-mile fractions of  :43 3/5 in the Richter Scale (gr. II)  and :44 1/5 in the Hutcheson (gr. II) and an allowance. The last named saw the Pletcher-trained Deadly Dealer go six furlongs in 1:08 1/5 before drawing off to win by seven lengths. No one seemed to know what kind of track this was, so don’t even try to come up with any logical conclusion.

Youthful exuberance

Although the Fountain of Youth set up well for Scat Daddy, who came flying late in that slow final eighth, this still was a big step forward for last year’s Champagne (gr. I) winner. The son of Johannesburg has now emerged victorious in two of his three meetings with Nobiz Like Shobiz and must be regarded as one of the top Derby contenders.

As for Nobiz Like Shobiz, he still hasn’t been able to iron out his quirks, most notably his tendency to lug in. Other than initiating a slight bump going into the first turn, he had a clean trip and looked to be poised to pounce on the leaders. But he was already being hard ridden passing the three-eighths pole, and it soon became obvious he was going to have a tough time catching Stormello and Adore the Gold. He might have had a shot, but he lugged in on Adore the Gold and never seemed to get untracked, running with his head cocked slightly to the outside. He did find his stride late and came back to get third, beaten a half-length.

His workmanlike victory in the Holy Bull was supposed to be a springboard to a big effort in the Fountain of Youth, and no one was expecting him to regress off that performance, especially not trainer Barclay Tagg.

Some felt he might have left too much on the track in his recent 1:11 1/5 work and :47 3/5 blowout two days before the race, but he’s a big, grand-looking colt with a huge stride, so he may thrive on that kind of work. Tagg knows his horse better than anyone and what he needs, so it’s best if we look elsewhere for a reason. It’s way too early to get down on him off one defeat, especially with his raw talent. It’s not his losing as much as his lugging in and showing little response that are the main concerns. If it’s a mental thing, it’s kind of late to be adding blinkers, but it’s something that may have crossed Tagg’s mind.

Now we come to one of the best performances of the day. It was thought that Stormello, with only two scheduled starts before the Derby, would be rated off the pace. Or at least an attempt would be made to do so. But when the gates opened, he burst out of there and took Kent Desormeaux right to the lead. Before you knew it, he was winging out there, getting the half in :46 flat and the three-quarters in 1:09 4/5.

Adore the Gold made a run at him and pulled on even terms at the quarter pole, with Nobiz Like Shobiz breathing down their necks. Stormello, however, wouldn’t quit and battled back just as he did in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) when he came again to beat Liquidity. He turned back the challenges of Adore the Gold and Nobiz Like Shobiz, and then threw his ears up right before the wire. He didn’t see Scat Daddy, who was way on the outside and was able to just get up in the final stride.

What was most impressive about his performance was that he arrived in hot, humid Florida Wednesday night after a 14-hour flight and being cooped up in a pallet for hours waiting for a plane to arrive in Dallas. In his only gallop over the track, he worked up a good sweat, as did most of the horses. Saturday saw temperatures hover around 90 degrees. Yet, he was able to overcome all that and run a sensational race. There is no doubt this is one tough, courageous horse who will back down to no one. After the race, while being given electrolytes, the vet put his arm around the colt and told trainer and co-owner Bill Currin that never in his life had he seen a horse run a race like that and come out of it as “alert and strong and healthy” as this horse did.

The only thing that prevents him from being ranked higher on the Derby Dozen is his eagerness early on in the race. He’s already sat back and won from off the pace, and he needs to return to that style if he’s to have a legitimate chance of going 1 1/4 miles off only two starts. Of course, there is always the possibility he could pull a War Emblem, but those kinds of Derby wins are rare. Whether he can adjust or not, it’s hard not to like this horse, who is as pure a runner as we have on the Derby trail this year.

Watch out for fourth-place finisher Adore the Gold, who ran a huge race, beaten just a length, after making a difficult stretch-out from 6 ½ furlongs, in which he battled on the lead in :44 3/5. After breaking from the outside in the field of nine, he chased Stormello all the way, took him on with a quick burst of speed through a :23 4/5 third quarter and pulled on even terms turning for home. It is understandable why he came up a bit short in the final furlong. With this race under his belt, and with his natural speed and ability to rate off the pace, he is going to be extremely dangerous next time out when he faces Scat Daddy again, as well as another California invader, Notional, in the Florida Derby. Even though he’s just a little guy, when the massive Nobiz Like Shobiz lugged in on him he never flinched and kept battling to the wire.

Nobiz Like Shobiz will now head to New York for the Wood Memorial. Stormello’s status is still up in the air. Currin said he can either keep him in Florida and run in the Florida Derby or bring him home and point for the Arkansas Derby. If he chooses the Florida Derby, he’ll lose Desormeaux, who will be riding in Dubai that day, and that will be a factor in his decision.

Return of the hunter

Great Hunter showed everything he needed to in the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II), his first start of the year. The son of Aptitudewas forced wide into the first turn when Tap it Light came out in his path. When it was time to run, he took off, splitting horses, and quickly charged into contention on the far outside, while going wide again. This is the kind of push-button acceleration you like to see, as he pounced on the leaders and blew right by them. He ran his final fractions in :24 2/5, :24 2/5, and :06 2/5, which were solid, and after crossing the wire 1 1/4 lengths in front, he galloped out so strongly he put eight lengths between him and the others in the blink of an eye. With his strong 2-year-old foundation, he, along with Stormello, should have an advantage over the others that are attempting to win the Derby off only two starts.

O’Neill said he’ll be pointed to the Blue Grass Stakes, which means a return to the Polytrack surface over which he won last year’s Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I). He has the pedigree, the turn of foot, and the consistency you want in a Derby horse.

Runner-up Sam P. showed his potential last fall when he finished second to stablemate Any Given Saturday and then defeated Chelokee in a classy allowance race at Churchill Downs. Whatever the reason was why he ran so dull in the Holy Bull, he bounced back big-time with an excellent effort against one of the top Derby contenders. He appears to be a grinder, and was being pushed along down the backstretch and around the turn. He couldn’t match strides with Great Hunter, but when the winner cut right in front of him in the stretch, Garrett Gomez grabbed a hold of him and yanked him to the outside. He shifted into another gear and took off after Great Hunter, running stride for stride with him to the wire. He’s as tough and durable as any of Pletcher’s other Derby hopefuls and now needs one more good effort in top company to join his trainer’s top echelon of 3-year-olds.

Roxy on the Derby stage

As if Pletcher doesn’t have enough Derby horses, add Hutcheson (gr. II) winner King of the Roxy to the list. Team Valor’s head honchos Barry Irwin and Jeff Siegel had intended all along to keep the colt around one turn, feeling he wasn’t a true distance horse. But after studying the replay of the Hutcheson more closely, they were so impressed with the effortless way the son of Littleexpectations put stablemate Out of Gwedda away and then drew off with authority, they have decided to give it a shot and follow the Derby dream, which means a trip out west to confront stablemate Ravel in the Santa Anita Derby.

What was most impressive about his victory in addition to jockey Edgar Prado looking back over both shoulders at the quarter and the ease with which the colt swept by horses on the outside after a half in :44 1/5 was the way he drew clear from Bold Start, who ran a winning race after being bottled up on the turn. Although Bold Start finished 5 1/2 lengths in front of Out of Gwedda he couldn’t make a dent on the winner. The son of Jump Start   had turned in one of the most impressive performances of the meet winning a mile allowance race, and after a dull performance in the Holy Bull, he bounced back with the addition of blinkers. This colt seems to like being covered up and then swing out and make one big run. Trainer Kenny McPeek feels the Illinois Derby (gr. II) would be a good spot for his next start.

Don’t forget the allowance races

Michael Matz is back on the Derby trail after the impressive allowance victory Saturday by Chelokee, whose 1:49 3/5 for nine furlongs was only three-fifths slower than the Fountain of Youth. How the son of Cherokee Runwon this race is a question everyone was asking. After stalking a solid pace of :46 4/5 and 1:10 3/5 along the inside, he ran right up on horses’ heels entering the far turn and was forced to check, dropping well back in the pack. Everyone, including track announcer Larry Collmus, thought he was done. With all eyes on the two favorites, For You Reppo and Sightseeing, who were attempting to put away the stubborn pacesetter High Act, here came Chelokee from out of nowhere squeezing his way between horses to out-finish For You Reppo and Sightseeing, winning by three-quarters of a length. A jubilant Matz said he’ll likely try stakes company next for the Centennial Farms colt, but wasn’t sure which one. He only said the Florida Derby, which he won last year with Barbaro, is too soon, so he’ll likely wait another week or two before finding out jut what he has.

For You Reppo is also worth keeping an eye on. A handsome son of El Corredor  , he didn’t break well from the rail and made a good run to stick his head in front at the eighth pole. Sightseeing had to break from the far outside in the nine-horse field and ran well to be third, but he needs to step it up quickly if he’s going to take trainer Shug McGaughey to the Derby.

Bob Baffert, who saddled his newest acquisition Saint Paul to a third-place finish in the Robert Lewis, sent out Air Commander to win a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on Sunday for his second straight victory. The imposing son of Point Given   won by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:51.

At Turfway Park, Catman Running out-closed the 6-5 favorite Joe Got Even to win Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial by 1 3/4 lengths. After snail-like fractions the son of Tactical Cat was able to come home his final sixteenth in :06 flat.

Also at Gulfstream, the A.P. Indy colt Sahara Heat out-fought the Pletcher-trained Vamanos in a stirring stretch battle to win a nine-furlong maiden race by the slimmest of noses in 1:50 1/5. He is trained by Eoin Harty for Darley Stable. Pletcher finished one-two in a seven-furlong allowance race with 3-1 Takes My Song and 55-1 Betterinclude.

After turning in an unsatisfactory work at Oaklawn, Hard Spun will skip the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) and point for the March 24 Lane's End Stakes. Trainer Larry Jones, after watching Hard Spun blow hard following an easy half-mile breeze, has come to the conclusion the colt labors over the Oaklawn surface and has decided, along with owner Rick Porter, to go elsewhere. They feel he should like the Polytrack surface and will ship the colt to Turfway later this week.

 

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