Ky. Derby Trail: A Vision at the Downs

Ky. Derby Trail: A Vision at the Downs
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Remsen winner Court Vision worked impressively at Churchill Downs on April 17.
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With the Derby getting closer, we’re doubling up this week to take a look at the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) and mostly to discuss what may turn out to be one of the most important works on this year’s Derby trail.

If there is one thing you want to see in a Derby horse this time of the year it’s a dramatic change that suggests the roses are beginning to blossom overnight. Although we didn’t see his work this morning, just knowing the horse and listening to the comments of trainer Bill Mott, Court Vision is going through such a change.

As a result, just as we returned to the first Derby Dozen last week and put Monba back up top, we’re going to do the same thing next week with Court Vision, despite all the statistical evidence that he’s too slow. In a year of mostly slow horses, that is not as much of a deterrent as it might normally be.

Over the deep Payson Park track this winter, Court Vision worked six furlongs in 1:19, a half in :51 2/5, five-eighths in 1:02 4/5, a half in :50, five furlongs in 1:04, and a half in :49 3/5. In his two starts, he came from out of the clouds to finish third in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Wood Memorial (gr. I). In the Wood, he was criticized for not winning after his “rabbit” forced War Pass into a suicidal pace. Most felt he should have finished stronger through a snaillike closing three-eighths in :40 4/5. But jockey Garrett Gomez said the colt was “slipping and sliding” over the drying out, “greasy” track, and he had trouble finding footing he could get hold of.

Mott shipped him to Churchill Downs, put a set of blinkers on him, which he normally doesn’t do for a work or a race, and worked him a half-mile Thursday morning. This is when the roses began to burst. Court Vision went a half in :46 1/5 breezing, galloping out five-eighths in about 1:00 3/5 under exercise rider Neil Poznanski. The work was the fastest of 25 at the distance and a full second faster than the second fastest work. Another clocker caught him in :45 and change. When a horse of this quality undergoes such a dramatic change, especially at Churchill Downs, where he has already won a grade II stakes, it is exactly what you’re looking for.

Can one half-mile work stamp a horse as a major Derby contender just like that? The answer is “yes” if he’s already shown his class and proved for a second time that he loves Churchill Downs. Remember the determination and tenacity this colt showed last year turning certain defeat to victory in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) and Remsen Stakes (gr. II). Right now is when you’re looking for your horse to suddenly blossom, and Court Vision showed today that’s what’s happening with him.

“We decided to put the blinkers on him, and (the work) was maybe a bit more than I was anticipating,” Mott said. “We’d never tested him with the blinkers and it was a big wake-up call. As good as he worked in them I’d be foolish not to put them on for the Derby. We just felt he was back a little too far in his races and maybe not responsive enough.

“After the work, Neil said that’s just what we were looking for. I don’t know if he realized he had gone as quickly as he did. I had a horse in front of him and he went after him a little early. But when (Court Vision) came alongside  him, Neil gave him a little nudge, and, shooo, he just flew away from the other horse.”

There obviously are no personal observations that can be made, but there is more than enough here to suggest Court Vision is now a horse who must be taken seriously, slow speed figures and all.


 

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Another person who was thrilled when he heard about the work was Gomez’ agent Ron Anderson, who stands by last month’s decision to ride Court Vision instead of Colonel John.

“With Colonel John, you’re dealing with a horse coming off synthetic surfaces and who had won the Sham Stakes by a half-length,” Anderson said. "With Court Vision, you’re dealing with Billy Mott and going to Aqueduct where he had already won a stakes, and then going to Churchill Downs where he had already won a stakes. How could I take off him? And when you’re going a mile and a quarter for the first time, you can’t count speed figures.

“I was at Keeneland this morning and didn’t see the work, but the clockers said they were really impressed with him. It’s pretty exciting, because Billy normally never works horses that fast, and nobody that works for him works that fast. My whole mindset was that he would handle Churchill Downs and he obviously does that, so I’ve been pretty pumped since I heard about it.”

Court Vision is scheduled to work again either next Wednesday or Thursday. With Wednesday being our travel day (late this year), it is hoped he’ll work Thursday, but even if it’s Wednesday, there’s a good chance we’ll see it on a local news feed tape the following morning. Until then, Court Vision will be climbing back up the Derby Dozen list.

Lexington Ave. Express

With a couple of Kentucky Derby berths still open to any horse who can win the Lexington, and either a first- or second-place finish by Tomcito enough to get him in the race, it is not surprising to see a contentious field of 11 entered. Of course, we still have the same Polytrack puzzlement we had in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II), so talent alone will not get anyone to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Almost every horse in the field has proven himself at some point on a synthetic surface, with Tomcito and Atoned two who have not, putting them at a disadvantage. Atoned, as of now, is being considered more of a Preakness horse, so Tomcito is the one who needs to show something over a foreign surface in order to make the Derby field. If the son of Street Cry does finish first or second, he is the real goods, and must be taken seriously in the Derby, considering the unprecedented feats he’s accomplished in Peru and his excellent U.S. debut in the Florida Derby (gr. I). In that race, he rallied from last in the field of 12 to finish a well-beaten third to Big Brown off a four-month layoff. And he was 3 1/4 lengths ahead of the fourth-place finisher, Hey Byrn, who came back to win the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III).

Another horse who has Derby credentials is Racecar Rhapsody, a late-closing son of Tale of the Cat who has finished a close third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) and turned in solid fourths in the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) and Delta Jackpot (gr. III). He seems to handle dirt and Polytrack equally well.

Todd Pletcher could add to his list of Derby starters with Atoned (if they change their mind about running) and Behindatthebar, an impressive allowance winner last out in a a Santa Anita allowance race.

If the Mott-trained Riley Tucker wins, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s wheeled back in the Derby. His owner, Zayat Stables, appears determined to run as many horses as they are allowed to. They already have legitimate Derby horses in Z Fortune andZ Humor, with Halo Najib needing some defections to get into the starting field. Another horse, Massive Drama, is being considered, according to trainer Dale Romans, even though he was just beaten 42 lengths in the UAE Derby and has traveled back and forth half way across the world. And running him as a pacesetter for the Z pair makes no sense considering there are already five brilliant, classy speed horses in the field who will assure a fast pace. They ran J Be K in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) off one six-furlong race in six months and he stopped to a walk, beating one horse, before dropping back to a sprint in the Bay Shore (gr. III), which he won and where he belonged.

Z Humor also had a good breeze for Mott this morning, going a half in :47 3/5. Tale of Ekati breezed a half in :49 1/5 at Keeneland.

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