Ky. Derby Trail: Louisville Shuffle
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 3/16/2009 9:55:31 PM
Last Updated: 3/18/2009 7:31:05 PM

Win Willy pulled off a huge upset in the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Photo: Coady Photography

As often happens on the Kentucky Derby trail, they fell like proverbial bowling pins last weekend, although two of the bigger names reinforced their strong position. Not all the vanquished will be taken off the trail, as some deserve another chance after racing on less than desirable surfaces, but they have put themselves in a desperate situation.
 

It was mentioned last week about the second wave that usually hits around this time. While that held up to a very small degree, in the form of one horse, those we expected to provide the fresh blood all failed miserably.

 

Rather than concentrate on the races, we will focus on the horses in the form of expanded comments on the Derby Dozen, and then we’ll get to the others who ran on Saturday..

 

1— I Want Revenge  /Jeff Mullins/Stephen Got Even  —Meguial, by Roy

 

He doesn’t need much more to be Derby-primed other than a good solid effort in the Wood Memorial. He’s already run a peak effort, and now just has to do whatever is necessary in order to run another one on May 2. He retains his top spot, as the only performer who ran big enough to displace him won in the slop, and a number of his main foes failed to fire.

 

2—Pioneerof the Nile  /Bob Baffert/Empire Maker—Star of Goshen, by Lord At War

 

The San Felipe was a perfect prep for him, despite his paltry Beyer figure of 90. He showed a new dimension by making a big early move, throttling it down a notch after collaring the leader, and then kicking in gear again. Because he seems to loaf a bit once he hits the front, he makes himself vulnerable in that position. So, although he had to work to defeat an opponent with far fewer credentials and wasn’t as visually impressive as some might have hoped, his final four fractions of  :24 , :24, :24 1/5, :06 1/5 were extremely strong and he was giving seven pounds to the runner-up.

 

He’s becoming more professional with each start, and has now shown his versatility and the ability to adapt to different race scenarios. Off his performance in the San Felipe, and never having cracked the 95 Beyer mark, he’s certainly not going to scare anyone away in the Santa Anita Derby, but the bottom line is that Baffert just wanted to get this race out of the way. Consider his early move a practice run for what he may have to do in the Santa Anita Derby to stay in close proximity to The Pamplemousse. But even if he gets beat by a loose-on-the-lead The Pamplemousse it’s not a big deal, as long as he puts himself into the race at some point. If he’s as effective on the dirt as he is on synthetic, and that is the key, he’ll be ready for a peak effort on May 2.

 

3-- Friesan Fire  /Larry Jones/A.P. Indy—Bollinger, by Dehere

 

He just keeps getting stronger despite seven races in seven months with no time off since his career debut. Can he keep up that pace into May? So far, he’s not showing signs of slowing down. Just as we love I Want Revenge’s Argentine and English-dominated tail-female family, you have to love all the Australian and New Zealand staying blood in his female family. He, like I Want Revenge, has no more questions to answer.

 

Jones is toying with the idea with training him up to the Derby. There are two ways of looking at that. On one hand, it’s less than ideal to go into the Derby without ever having raced beyond 1 1/16 miles and coming off a seven-week layoff. Neither has worked the few times they’ve been attempted. But, as mentioned earlier, because he’s never had a break in his career, and because of all his staying power, he might actually benefit from it, and it could prevent him from peaking before the Derby. A fresh Friesan Fire, with a couple of long lung openers over the Keeneland Polytrack should be ready for a huge effort on Derby Day. It is definitely a gamble that could backfire, but you can be sure Jones will make the right decision after he assesses the situation and sees how the colt is doing.

 

As for the Louisiana Derby, it’s obvious he relished the slop, so we don’t know if he’s really that much better than the others in the field. But he’s become machine-like in the way he runs the same race every time, sitting in almost the same spot and then kicking in turning for home, winning by bigger margins each time. And he pretty much drew off on his own with little urging from Saez.

 

4--Desert Party  /Saeed bin Suroor/Street Cry  —Sage Cat, by Tabasco Cat

 

Judging from what we’ve seen so far he looks like a legitimate Derby contender, and it will be interesting to see how he does against those Southern Hemisphere “older” horses again in the UAE Derby. The best scenario would be for him to be eyeballed at some point by a good horse and show what he’s made of. I normally don’t like  putting a Dubai-trained horse this high up, but his UAE Guineas was visually impressive and he’s already proven himself in the U.S., winning a grade II stakes at Saratoga and winning on synthetic and slop in addition to his dirt victories at Nad al Sheba. Unlike most of the others on the list, he needs to win the UAE Derby (unless he has a disastrous trip) or it will raise suspicions, and rightly so, as to how good he really is. When you’re the proverbial big fish in the little pond, you can’t afford to show any weaknesses.

 

5--The Pamplemousse  /Julio Canani/Kafwain  —Comfort Zone, by Rubiano

 

I have to admit this horse is really growing on me. Of course, his pedigree is suspect at 1 1/4 miles and it would be good to see him rate off the pace. He’s seems like the type who will, because of the way he relaxes so well on the lead and the way he closed from the clouds in his career debut, but right now he’s a terror on the lead. Bob Baffert is not going to have Pioneerof the Nile knock himself out trying to beat him; he feels he’ll have the advantage at Churchill. So, unless Baffert throws in a rabbit or some other trainer is willing to send his horse on a kamikaze mission, The Pamplemousse should be in control of the Santa Anita Derby early on. When a horse can glide along on the lead while setting testing fractions and then accelerate away from his opponents, he’s always going to be tough to beat, especially in a small field.

 

6--Old Fashioned  /Larry Jones/Unbridled's Song – Collect Call, by Meadowlake

 

There seemed to be no reason for Dominguez to go after Silver City after a stiff :46 half on a ‘good’ track that was on the slick side, especially since he already beat him handily last time out under the same scenario. He did finish eight lengths clear of the third horse, which is a positive sign, and he definitely should take a big step back in the right direction in the Arkansas Derby. But with that said, there still are concerns over how far he wants to go, and the Rebel did expose him to some degree. In his defense, he really wasn’t given the best chance to win and was coming into the race off only one work since the Southwest. So, Jones certainly didn't have him cranked up for a monster effort.

 

As for the 56-1 winner, Win Willy, there was no way to tout him coming off a six-furlong allowance score and never having been two turns in only three career starts. He broke his maiden in his career debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Canterbury Downs. Even now, we have no idea how good he is. He stormed into the fray from far back and wisely was kept out in the middle of the track where Old Fashioned couldn’t see him. He switched to right lead on cue, but then jumped back to his left lead and then back to his right. It actually was when he switched to his left lead that he accelerated away from Old Fashioned. The final two quarters up front of :25 3/5 and :26 2/5 were pedestrian, but the winner had to make up 16 lengths and came home his final sixteenth in about :06 1/5, which was impressive. And he was getting stronger as he ran through the wire, as they say, and galloped out very well. A $25,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland September, selling as Hip No. 5241, he is by Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos  , but out of a Carson City mare who was mainly a six-furlong horse, so from every aspect, I have no clue what to make of him. As a postscript, it was brought to my attention that Barbaro was out of a Carson City, which I am ashamed to say I had forgotten. so that breathes new life into the pedigree question.

 

And look ing at his tail-female family, his second dam is by Storm Bird, out of a French-bred mare by Sea-Bird's classy son Arctic Tern. And his fourth dam is by Hail to Reason, to whom he inbred top and bottom. So there is more there than you might think.

 

The bottom line is, if he’s not in the race, Old Fashioned defeats a good field by eight lengths and stays atop most everyone’s list. So, go figure. And it's interesting to note that Win Willy was born on April Fool's Day, just to add to the wackiness.

 

7—Quality Road  /Jimmy Jerkens/Elusive Quality  —Kobla, by Strawberry Road

 

The Florida Derby is shaping up as one of the more intriguing Derby preps, because it will feature three exciting colts who have something to prove. In his case it’s whether he’s as brilliant going two turns. Because of that there is no room for error. He must be able to use the Florida Derby as a solid steppingstone to May 2. If he is as good as he looked in the Fountain of Youth, he will zoom up to or near the top of everyone’s list.

 

8--Dunkirk  /Todd Pletcher/Unbridled’s Song—Secret Status, by A.P. Indy

 

He has to prove he can handle top-class competition and he needs to be a freak to win the Kentucky Derby with a three-race foundation. But so far he’s done freaky things. If he continues to do so in Florida Derby he could pull it off. There is more pressure on him and his connections than Quality Road, because he needs to finish first or second to assure a starting berth in the Derby. Horses normally don’t do what he did in his last start, so he very well could be special enough to go all the way on talent.

 

9— Imperial Council/Shug McGaughey/Empire Maker—Jaramar Rain, by Thunder Gulch  

 

Although it’s not imperative he makes up the 8 1/2 lengths he was beaten in the Gotham, he, like Dunkirk, does have to run first or second to assure he’ll make the Derby field. The feeling here is that he’s ready to run big in the Wood.

 

10— Theregoesjojo/Kenny McPeek/Brahms—Slewie Blues, by Seattle Slew

 

Big test coming up in Florida Derby, in which he needs to reel in Quality Road and Dunkirk and prove he’s as explosive going two turns. If he turns in that big kick again, then we’re talking serious Derby horse.

 

11—Chocolate Candy/Jerry Hollendorfer/Candy Ride  —Crownette, by Seattle Slew

 

If he can even finish a fast-closing third to the big two in the Santa Anita Derby he would have to be considered a legitimate Derby contender, based on his consistency and pedigree. His last was similar to Pioneer’s San Felipe in that he made an uncharacteristically early move to the lead, but still did what he had to to win.

 

12—Take the Points/Todd Pletcher/Even the Score  —Ginger Ginger, by Fred Astaire

 

He has to be taken seriously after finishing second in the Sham in his first start on a synthetic surface, arriving in California two days before the race, and having to chase The Pamplemousse every step of the way. But he needs to beat out Pioneerof the Nile or The Pamplemousse for second in the Santa Anita Derby (assuming that’s where he winds up running) in order to get into the Derby.

 

                                                 *****************

 

As for the other races and horses who competed over the weekend, you have to give a second chance to Hello Broadway, who raced wide every step of the way in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) over a track that has been unkind to almost every Gulfstream shipper this winter in 3-year-old stakes. This wasn’t a true bill, and one would think Barclay Tagg will give him that second chance in either the Wood Memorial (gr. I) or Illinois Derby (gr. II).

 

The winner Musket Man, although a classy, consistent colt, isn’t bred to be a Kentucky Derby horse, and runner-up Join in the Dance, whose only career win was at 5 1/2 furlongs, had never raced farther that 6 1/2 furlongs. So, make of this race what you wish. General Quarters   and Sumo, the first two finishers in the Sam Davis, in which they were well clear of Musket Man and the others, were never in contention this time, and Warrior’s Reward, second top Dunkirk in his last start, dropped right out of it after being forwardly placed early.

 

The beaten horses in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) have some major rebounding to do. Papa Clem   ran well enough, setting the pace and barely holding on for second. And third-place finisher, Terrain, again closed well to just miss the place spot in his first start of the year. He likely will improve off this. Giant Oak   could only pick up horses late to finish fourth. Flying Pegasus, Uno Mas, Patena, and Free Country either didn’t handle the slop or simply ran terribly. Patena made a good move to reach contention nearing the top of the stretch, but dropped back in the stretch, beating only Free Country, who made an early move on the backstretch, got in a bit tight along the rail and called it a day.

 

The Rebel (gr. III) also had its share of horses either drop off the Derby trail or drop out of contention. Poltergeist ran OK to finish third, an improvement from his previous race. Captain Cherokee, SilverCity, Wise Kid, and Hamazing Destiny finished far up the track. Some probably had physical excuses to be beaten that badly, but again this was a slick track that some might not have cared for, so who knows?

 

In the San Felipe, Shafted again was a huge disappointment. New Bay should have stayed in sprints as originally scheduled. Feisty Suances had won three of five in lesser company and certainly made his presence felt. And Jeranimo ran well enough to suggest he has a future.

 

In the Palm Beach (gr. III), Lime Rickey ran yet another good race without winning, and if you go by pedigree, we won’t see his best until he gets on real dirt.

 

If Rachel Alexandra’s connections hadn’t stated emphatically that she’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) bound, she would definitely be in the Top 12. This filly is so athletic and corners so well, and has so much brilliance and class who knows what she’s capable of. And she’s bred to run long. Her fractions were significantly faster than the fractions in the Louisiana Derby, but we don’t know how much slower the track had gotten later in the day.

 

How about if Calvin Borel is given a rear-view mirror next time, just so he doesn’t injure his neck looking back so many times? One or two little peeks you can understand, but a veteran jock should have a better grasp of what’s going on behind him and what he has under him. There was no need to look back that often. But no harm done. The fact is this is a special filly.

 

For down the road, keep an eye on Omniscient, who won his second straight at Fair Grounds for Steve Asmussen, defeating a solid allowance field by 1 1/4 lengths in an excellent time of 1:40 flat for a mile and 40 yards. Run as the fourth race, the time does suggest the track was faster earlier in the day.

Comment on this Column on Steve Haskin's Blog: Hangin' With Haskin.



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