Haskin's Derby Report: 48 Hours and Counting

Haskin's Derby Report:  48 Hours and Counting
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Hold Me Back gallops at Churchill Downs on April 30.
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The big day is almost here. No, not the Derby; having to make selections, which will be in Friday’s column. These selections are based primarily on observations over the past eight days, and it’s going to be particularly difficult this year. In the meantime, he are a few late odds and ends.

 

Papa Clem  , who had his seven-furlong work last week compromised in the final furlong when the exercise rider misjudged the finish line, made up for that miscue by turning in a razor-sharp three-furlong blowout in :34 breezing Thursday morning, out a half in :47 1/5. I particularly loved the way he rolled around the clubhouse turn and well down the backstretch, reaching out with great authority as if he wanted to keep going.

 

It’s difficult to know what to make of him on Saturday, as he will be the inside speed from post 7, if Rafael Bejarano decides to have him return to his old style of running. He surprised his connections in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) by taking back to fifth and then rallying in the stretch to out-battle Old Fashioned. There is no one in the field more tenacious than the son of Smart Strike   and you can bet none of the connections of the favorites will want to take him on too early. His coat is blossoming and he appears sharp, even to the point of nipping at anyone who comes near his stall.

 

Not far outside Papa Clem, in posts 9 and 10, respectively, will be Join in the Dance and Regal Ransom  , the two horses expected to be on or close to the lead. Todd Pletcher would love to see Join in the Dance be contentious early to provide a decent pace for the late-running Dunkirk  . Both these colts also have proven their mettle under fire, so we could have quite a battle going on up front.

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An interesting post position selection was the connections of the late-running Hold Me Back   choosing post 5 instead of post 17. Some wondered why they didn’t go outside with this long-striding son of Giant's Causeway  , who will drop back to the rear of the field. Their choice actually is a sound one if you really think about it. Breaking from post 17, the idea is to take back and drop as far to the inside as possible to save as much ground as possible. Well, if that’s the objective, why not pick post 5 and already be where you’d be trying to get to in the first place? If the holes are destined to open for you, they’re going to open, regardless of where you are on the track.

 

One horse on most everyone’s watch list is Dunkirk, who only shipped in late Tuesday morning. Several people have commented that the son of Unbridled’s Song is on the light side and may have lost some weight since his Florida Derby (gr. I). Never having seem him before, there is nothing to use as a comparison. Although he doesn’t carry a lot of flesh, his physical appearance seemed fine. He is a well-balanced horse who moves with great efficiency, with a regal heir about him. This morning, which was quite humid, he did seem to get a little wet coming off the track and was throwing his head around on several occasions. There just isn’t a lot to tell about him off the pair of gallops he’s turned in at Churchill Downs.

 

There is one horse who seems to be coming up to the Derby in peak form, based on his steady improvement. His engine appears to be revved up, and if they can keep him in his skin for another two days he should fire big on Saturday. Who is it, you ask? The answer will be in tomorrow’s column. Don’t you hate teasers? Hey, with the synthetic surfaces, two shippers from Dubai, jockey musical chairs, 20 horses, and the probability of an off track, we’re all guessing anyway. There are no experts when it comes to the Derby. It humbles even the greatest of analytical minds.

 

The one name, surprisingly, that is not on many people’s lips is the morning line favorite I Want Revenge  , who has not gotten a lot of buzz, perhaps because he’s stabled out in the hinterlands or whatever reason. But anyone who gets a good look at this horse close up has to be wowed by him. He looks spectacular, and has to be the most striking physical specimen in the field. In fact, all the California-based horses look terrific. If Pioneerof the Nile runs as good as he looks and as good as he’s been training, he will be very tough.

 

The one horse who is getting a lot of buzz is Friesan Fire  , and the feeling here is that the son of A.P. Indy is going be bet very heavily. More and more people seem to like him, and mention of the Derby gods seems to pop up whenever he’s discussed. A good deal of that is based on the Larry Jones angle, even owner Rick Porter, and the fact that the colt looks fantastic. His distinct muscle lines and “in the zone” demeanor suggest a big effort is imminent. But I’m getting too far ahead of myself and am venturing into Friday’s column. Could one of these horses be the aforementioned mystery horse?

 

Hold Me Back turned in a strong gallop, equipped with draw reins, to give the rider better control and help keep the colt’s head down and straight. He was striding out beautifully this morning.

 

One horse who impressed on Wednesday was Join in the Dance, who turned in an excellent gallop, and I loved the way he was holding his head and moving over the track.

 

On the other hand, Mr. Hot Stuff obviously needed some time to get used to the track on Wednesday, as he turned in an odd gallop, constantly ducking in, throwing his head up, and leaping in the air. The rider was actually having trouble staying in the saddle. The colt went out early this morning in the dark and I didn’t get a chance to see if he improved any.

 

Although no one was paying attention, Mine That Bird, who likely will be either the longest or second-longest priced horse in the field, actually turned in a smooth, strong gallop this morning, which caught the eye. There is nothing striking about him physically; he’s just a smallish colt in a plain brown wrapper, but he does move well.

 

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