Ky. Derby Trail: Memorable Moments
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Dunkirk's (second from left) big move in the Florida Derby is one of Haskin's most memorable moments from the Ky. Derby prep season.

We’re getting close to judgment day -- finding that single horse or betting angle or most attractive overlay possibilities. Until the horses can be observed in the flesh starting next week, here are some of the most memorable moments on this year’s Derby trail in one person’s opinion that will help in finding potential overlays.

 

Of course, most everyone will single out I Want Revenge  ’s Gotham and especially Wood Memorial, Quality Road  ’s Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, and Friesan Fire  ’s Louisiana Derby, but for the purpose of this column, the object is to recall moments a bit less obvious that left a lasting impression and will go a long way in finding those elusive potential overlays.

 

1—Dunkirk’s move on the far turn in the Florida Derby. He likely will not be an overlay, but he still provided the single most memorable moment with the exception of I Want Revenge’s Wood Memorial. That was his :34 3/5 three-eighths run from the five-eighths pole to the quarter pole, in which he rattled off eighths in :11 3/5, :11 3/5, and :11 2/5. But the visual highlight was making up some seven lengths on Quality Road with an explosive turn of foot in that :11 2/5 eighth. That solidified my opinion that this is a special horse. Although did get tired in the final furlong on a lightning-fast track that favored horses on or near lead, he still matched strides with Quality Road and actually galloped out well past him. If he had at least one more start, the confidence level would soar. But even with the difficult task he faces and the history he is attempting to overcome, he still will be high on my list and just may be gifted enough to write a new page in the history books. But he will have to be the proverbial freak to pull it off.

 

2—Desert Party  ’s stretch run in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas. I loved everything I saw. He looked like a well-oiled machine, striding out magnificently and drawing off with authority, while being allowed to do it all on his own. I also liked the way he remained on his right lead to the wire. Many horses, especially American horses, will switch back to their left lead at the end of that testing three-eighths of a mile stretch, as our horses are not used to being on one lead for that long. Staying on his right lead and still reaching out with good extension suggests he wasn’t even close to getting tired. As an afterthought, even in his second to stablemate Regal Ransom in the UAE Derby, the race, as in the Florida Derby, was run over a speed-biased track that probably was even more pronounced than at Gulfstream. He was the only dirt horse to close ground the whole night and he finished 15 lengths ahead of the third horse.

 

3—Pioneerof the Nile’s final sixteenth in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. What stands out the most about his electrifying run, in which he demonstrated a rapid-fire acceleration and great determination, is the fact that it’s the only opportunity he’s had in his last four starts to run the way he wants to run. In his last two paceless events he’s had to improvise and run counterproductive to his best running style, yet still found a way to win. Because of the dirt unknown and his moderate Beyer figures (add several points on synthetic surfaces) he could very well be overlooked at the windows. Even if he’s fourth choice, that could be around 8-1 or even 10-1 in such a deep, contentious field. If he should handle the dirt well enough to win the Derby (and there’s no reason to think he won’t), I will agree with my colleague Jon White and say he’d be a live candidate to sweep the Triple Crown, based in good part to the foundation he’s had at 2 and 3 and Bob Baffert’s unblemished record (3-for-3) winning the Preakness with the Derby winner. And as White has maintained, the Belmont should be right up his alley, with his pedigree and picture-perfect stride. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. In short, he has shown the most versatility and ability to adapt to unfavorable scenarios than any horse on the trail.

 

Numbers 4 and 5 are the Tampa Twosome of Musket Man and General Quarters. Musket Man  ’s final sixteenth of the Tampa Bay Derby stands out because of the way he responded to a single right-handed whip, switching gears in a flash and pouncing on the apparent winner Join in the Dance in the final few jumps. It was the classic case of turning defeat into victory. That’s the kind of acceleration you’re looking for in a Derby horse.

 

General Quarters   memorable moment came after turning for home in the Sam F. Davis Stakes when he left his field for dead and drew off, while generating a tremendous amount of power. Even with his Blue Grass Stakes victory he is not ranked all that high on most lists, but with this horse’s tactical speed, his ability to settle anywhere on the track, his powerful strides, and a distance-oriented pedigree, he has to be considered a serious threat on Derby Day.

 

So, excluding the two likely favorites, I Want Revenge and Quality Road, these are the five moments and five horses I will be thinking seriously about when looking for the best potential overlays.

 

A few others, which can be considered honorable mentions, are Hold Me Back  ’s breathtaking strides in the stretch of the Lane’s End Stakes and Win Willy’s lead-switching stretch run in the Rebel, in which he opened up on Old Fashioned after rallying from 16 lengths back and continued to build momentum approaching the wire. A look back at his earlier victories showed the same surge in the final yards. His Arkansas Derby performance was a bit of a disappointment, considering the slow final fractions and being out-closed by a recent maiden winner, but a regression was expected, so we’ll see how fares during his stay at Churchill Downs, if indeed he points for the Derby, which hasn’t been determined yet.

 

The only non-stakes race to make the list among the Derby probables was Papa Clem  ’s gutsy maiden victory. When he battled back in the stretch and then doggedly out-finished a very good horse in Mayor Marv (trained by Bob Baffert and wearing Mike Pegram’s silks), he reminded me of Tiznow holding off Pegram’s Captain Steve in the Goodwood Handicap. He has proved equally as tenacious in his subsequent races. He also reminds me of Tiznow in that he is a strong, bullish-looking horse who seems to relish a good fight. I don’t know how he’ll stack up in this field, but if he’s still in the hunt inside the eighth pole, good luck trying to pass him.

 

Another maiden victory that caught people’s attention and should be mentioned was Mr. Hot Stuff’s impressive rally in the final furlong, but we’re going way too deep here.

 

In short, based on what I’ve seen so far, I will be taking the three or four most attractive overlays from the top of this group and use them based on the memorable moments they provided, with Dunkirk, Desert Party, and Pioneerof the Nile   heading the list. But General Quarters and Musket Man, both likely overlays, will get serious consideration.

 

In other Derby news:

 

-- Mr. Hot Stuff is on the bubble in regard to making the field, but he will be shipped to Churchill Downs anyway, and his connections will hope for the best. If he doesn’t get in, they will make alternate plans. Owner WinStar Farm also has Hold Me Back in the Derby.

 

-- Looking ahead to Saturday’s Coolmore Lexington Stakes, most eyes will be on Square Eddie  , who is looking to return from the “dead” and make the Derby. If he runs big on Saturday he will be a welcome addition to the field, based on the high regard in which he has always been held. He’ll also be another dirt unknown, but it’s getting tiresome saying that so often. Another horse working well for the race is the Todd Pletcher-trained Masala. Watch out for Omniscient, who has been highly regarded in the Asmussen camp for a long time.

 

-- It has been reported that Charitable Man, seventh in the Blue Grass in his 3-year-old debut, is still under consideration for the Derby. No surprise there.

 

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