With two more major stepping stones to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) taking place this weekend, three prominent trainers took a moment Tuesday, March 6, to discuss the outlook of their potential stars.
Richard Violette, who will send out Summer Doldrums in the March 10 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, was quick to defend the capabilities of his colt, who closed out his 2-year-old season with a puzzling unplaced finish in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct.
The New York-based son of Street Cryquickly jumped onto the Derby radar screen, however, after registering an impressive victory in the Feb. 10 Whirlaway Stakes and the highest Beyer Speed Figure (106) recorded by a 3-year-old so far this year. Violette believes he's ready to rumble in the Gotham.
"His Remsen (performance) was kind of unbelievable," said Violette, who has yet to decipher the reasoning behind the colt's only off-the-board finish in six starts. "(After the Remsen), we backed off, regrouped, and his allowance and stakes performances (this year) show he's still spectacular," he added in reference to Summer Doldrums' Whirlaway triumph and an 8 1/2-length allowance win at Aqueduct in his seasonal debut.
Regarding the upcoming Gotham, Violette remarked, "We don't want to see too high a Beyer so he doesn't have anything left. We want a performance good enough to win the race--I'm just hoping for a nice, uneventful performance to reconfirm his high quality."
Summer Doldrums, who will be ridden by Mike Luzzi in the Gotham, is slated to run next in the April 7 Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct if all goes well.
Meanwhile, Birdbirdistheword, trained by Kenneth McPeek, will go up against the recently impressive colt Imawildandcrazyguy in the March 10 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds.
According to McPeek, his contender "has been a piece of cake--he's a very special horse. The most difficult thing has been the people calling to buy him." McPeek said he has received several offers for the strapping dark bay son of Pure Prize in recent weeks.
"He's easy to handle, a total pro," continued McPeek, who saddled Birdbirdistheword for three victories last year, including the $1 million Boyd Gaming's Delta Jackpot (gr. III) at Delta Downs. The Louisiana Derby will mark the colt's 2007 debut.
"Since (the Delta Jackpot), he's done everything perfectly and on schedule," said McPeek.
With the pressure off his back of getting enough graded stakes earnings for Birdbirdistheword's ticket to the Run for the Roses, the trainer said, "I can take my time and develop the horse. We were able to back off and gave him 30 days off (after the Delta Jackpot). Now we've got a nice little work pattern set up."
McPeek said he was even impressed with Birdbirdistheword's fourth-place effort in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland last fall, considering the colt had been scoped for a lung infection after the race.
Another possible Derby contender for McPeek is Bold Start, who has won two of his eight career starts and was most recently a runner-up in the March 3 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II). Future starts for the colt are undecided, though McPeek is considering either the March 31 Florida Derby (gr. I), the April 7 Illinois Derby (gr. II), or the April 14 Arkansas Derby (gr. II).
According to William Kaplan, trainer of Imawildandcrazyguy, there is little concern for the fact his gelding has drawn the eight post position in the Louisiana Derby.
"It's less important for this horse because he comes from more off the pace," Kaplan explained of Imawildandcrazyguy, whose name was changed after he was purchased due to his sometimes unruly nature.
The son of Wild Event was immediately gelded after his first day of training, said Kaplan, because "he almost killed my exercise rider. He's still a little bit crazy. He's gotten better on the track, but in the barn, I'm still questioning who's the boss--me or him."
I'mawildandcrazyguy broke his maiden at second asking last summer at Calder Race Course, but failed to cross the wire in his next five starts.
"He experienced some bad fortune, and in most of those races, there was something that stopped him from getting to the top," said Kaplan, who claimed the 10-length optional claming victory with which Imawildandcrazyguy closed out his juvenile season was one of the fastest 2-year-old races run at Calder last year.
Fernando Jara, who piloted Imawildandcrazyguy to a second-place finish in his last start, the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), will again get the mount in the Louisiana Derby.
Kaplan's other possible Triple Crown starters include Storm in May, winner of the Jan. 27 Sunshine Millions Dash, and Drums of Thunder, winner of last year's What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder.
"We'll take one more stop for both along the Derby trail," said Kaplan, who has not yet decided what those outings will be. "Both have the quality, but you need a lot more than that--you also need good racing performances and luck."