Kentucky Derby Trail: Lurking in the Shadows

Kentucky Derby Trail: Lurking in the Shadows
Photo: Mathea Kelley
Pulsion makes his dirt debut at Gulfstream on Sunday.
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This week was highlighted by the first Derby Dozen, and although there are several top-class colts listed, many people are still looking for that one horse, or horses, with the “Wow” factor.

 

As usual, there are many promising colts who are still lightly raced, having just broken their maidens, and have a great deal of catching up to do. In the past, horses still running in maiden races and sprints in late January would be pretty much eliminated as legitimate Kentucky Derby prospects.

 

Although they were not quite ready to win the Derby, the emergence of Curlin  , who made his career debut on Feb. 3 going seven furlongs, and Summer Bird, who made his career debut on March 1 going six furlongs, has given trainers and owners hope that their late developer can at least make his presence felt in the Derby and then go on to win one of the other Triple Crown races. And, of course, we all know that Big Brown   was a virtual unknown maiden winner on the grass in his only start when he debuted as a 3-year-old on March 5. Two races later, he won the Kentucky Derby.

 

So, it makes sense to keep an eye on these late-developing horses that normally would have appeared to be behind the eight-ball. It is also beneficial to watch out for allowance races that could serve as a steppingstone for accomplished 2-year-olds who are in need of a prep race, preferably two turns.

 

Pro Pulsion

 

Such a race will be held at Gulfstream Sunday, and such a horse will be running in the 1 1/8-mile event, and he definitely is worth watching, as are several of the others entered.

 

That horse is Pulsion, who will be making his all-important debut on dirt. If he turns in a big effort, then he likely will catapult himself right into the Top 12, based on his pedigree, his temperament, and his record as a 2-year-old.

 

A lazy horse in the mornings, who basically eats and sleeps and does nothing more that what is asked of him, he has accomplished enough in the afternoons to suggest he has a bright future. He certainly has seen it all for a young horse, having gone through the sales ring as a weanling ($60,000), yearling ($200,000), and 2-year-old ($250,000). He was purchased at the Ocala Breeders Sales Co. March 2-year-old sale by trainer Patrick Biancone for Flying Zee Stables and partners.

 

His first five starts last year were at five different distances. After breaking his maiden at a mile at Del Mar, he came flying late to snatch second in the grade I Norfolk Stakes, beaten 1 3/4  lengths by 2-year-old champ Lookin at Lucky.

 

Although he finished a disappointing 11th in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), he was bounced around like a rag doll going into the first turn and returned with a laceration so severe Biancone had to stop on him for five weeks. He shipped him to Gulfstream Park to see how he took to dirt, and the son of Include   gave him a good indication by working six furlongs in 1:12 flat.

 

Biancone set his sights on Sunday’s allowance race as a prep for the Fountain of Youth (gr. II), and kept mum for fear of the race not filling. Now that the race is a go, Biancone finally will find out if he has a Derby contender.

 

Pulsion has already run big against the best 2-year-old in the country; he has the right running style and a good closing kick, and he has the pedigree. He is inbred to Nijinsky II, his sire is inbred three times to Turn-to, and his second dam, Spinnin Cannon, is a full-sister to the dam of Gentlemen.

 

So, stay tuned on Sunday. And while you’re at it, you might as well also pay close attention to the maiden winner Drosselmeyer  , a regally bred son of Distorted Humor   who was extremely impressive breaking his maiden by six lengths going a mile at Churchill Downs for Bill Mott and WinStar Farm. He has already finished first or second on a firm turf course at Belmont, on Poytrack at Keeneland, and on a ‘good’ dirt track at Churchill. So far, there is very little not to like about him, and he will get a good class test on Sunday. If he should win, grab your spot on the bandwagon, because it’s going to get crowded awfully fast.

 

Another colt eligible to improve off his maiden score is the Rock Hard Ten colt Best Actor, who is working lights out, coming off a :59 3/5 drill for Wayne Catalano. His four-length victory was a big improvement following a poor effort at Churchill Downs.

 

Guys Reward is interesting in here, coming off a fast-closing fifth, beaten less than two lengths, in the Dania Beach Handicap on the grass. In his previous start he closed fast to finish second to Maximus Ruler, beaten a length, in a one-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs. The son of Grand Reward has already made seven starts in his career, but seems to be just now finding himself.

 

But the two glamour horses in here are Pulsion and Drosselmeyer, both of whom could be dangerous in the Fountain of Youth with a big performance Sunday.

 

Ten to watch

 

The list in alphabetical order:

 

Colizeo (Todd Pletcher) — He didn’t beat a particularly strong field in 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Gulfstream, but won like a good horse, and he has plenty of pedigree top and bottom.

 

Concord Point   (Bob Baffert)Leothelion and Nextdoorneighbor both came out of his maiden victory in 1:15 for 6 1/2 furlongs to score impressive wins. He’s been working steady half-miles. Has shown he came come from off the pace, but needs to settle better early.

 

Eightyfiveinafifty (Gary Contessa) — Not a lot of stamina top and bottom, but his 17 1/4-length romp and big speed figures in a six-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct stamps him as a gifted individual. He’ll get his chance to stretch out in the Whirlaway Stakes.

 

Hawaiian Springs (Kathy Walsh) — He didn’t have the cleanest of trips, rallying from last to finish second in a strong 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Santa Anita, finishing ahead of two highly promising Baffert colts.

 

Lentenor   (Michael Matz) — Barbaro’s brother showed he has ability, winning a 1 1/16-mile maiden race with authority, He’s already run well on synthetic and it’s time to put him on dirt to see if the Derby trail is in his future.

 

Leothelion (Mike Puype) — Son of Lion Heart turned in a powerful performance in a seven-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita and galloped out like he was just getting started.

 

Middle of the Nite (Tom Albertrani) — He matched strides with Eskendereya   to the eighth pole in one-mile allowance race and hung tough to finish a solid third. He broke his maiden in impressive fashion at Belmont, and has plenty of stamina in his female family.

 

Nextdoorneighbor (Mike Machowsky) — You had to figure this son of LidoPalace was going to improve stretching out to two turns and he certainly did, tracking the pace and drawing off to a four-length score at Santa Anita.

 

Rule by Night   (Steve Asmussen) — From a visual standpoint, he was as impressive as any horse who ran last weekend, winning a six-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct by seven widening lengths. Loved his action and the extension of his stride.

 

Uptowncharlybrown   (Alan Seewald) — Judging from his first two races he is going to provide an unfriendly welcome to any trainer who thinks he’s going to ship in to Tampa and have an easy time of it. This son of Limehouse   can flat-out run.

 

Others to be on the lookout for who will be discussed in future weeks include in alphabetical order: Afleet Express (debuted with late-closing score in mud, :59 2/5 work suggests he’s ready for big return, which will come in 6f allowance Saturday), Backtalk (working for return, needs to regain early 2-year-old form), Backwater Blues (Cindy Jones on the Derby trail?), Bulls and Bears (breezing steadily; hasn’t run since close-up fifth in Sanford Stakes), Discreetly Mine (will improve big-time off Spectacular Bid in slop), Fly Down (promising colt, but no works in last two weeks), Ice Box (nine-furlong allowance score at Gulfstream was second straight), Lost Aptitude (pedigree says he definitely needs to get on dirt), Make Music For Me (third in CashCall Futurity, back working; possible for Robert Lewis, Mission Impazible (heading to Southwest Stakes after game allowance second), Moojab (troubled allowance trip), Nordic Truce (time to hit the dirt), Odysseus (game in maiden score in 12-horse field), Peppi Knows (Remsen runner-up has fast 5f work and two slow mile works at Penn National), Savemyspotimbeting (terrible name, but he’s fast), Sidney’s Candy (working well, deserves another chance), Soaring Empire (super pedigree, back on work tab), Stay Put (powerful stretch runner), Tempted to Tapit (Tapit gelding romped by 11 1/2 in the mud at Aqueduct going a mile; 2nd to Laus Deo in previous start), Three Day Rush (stretch out in Whirlaway Stakes), Uh Oh Bango (Delta Jackpot runner-up back on work tab), Walking the Beach (Churchill maiden winner tired badly in Fair Grounds stretch-out; one more shot). Godolphin made its first purchase in the 3-year-old marketplace, buying impressive maiden winner Tahitian Warrior.

 

The defeated

 

Of the beaten horses in recent stakes, Aikenite had no shot in the Holy Bull, battling for the early lead; needs to return to his late-closing style; he’ll improve next time. Citrus Kid was a big disappointment in the LeComte; had nothing in the stretch. Connemara broke slowly in the California Derby, but still has to show more to be a serious Derby horse. Cool Bullet ran a good race in the LeComte, stretching out from sprints and rating off the pace; beaten only 3 1/4 lengths. Homeboykris is looking more like a one-turn horse, unless he can learn to relax off the pace like he did in the Champagne. Jackson Bend was not pushed hard in the final sixteenth in Holy Bull, but ran on strongly; Zito doesn’t gut them first time out and he will improve off this race. Letsgtitonmon found his best stride too late in the LeComte, but was coming fast at the end; he’s lost six in a row and has to step up. Maximus Ruler may have been best in LeComte, but needs to focus more and get off the lead. Pleasant Storm was a fast-closing second to Dryfly in Smarty Jones and looks to have a future; pedigree says he’ll improve. Thank U Phillippe ran another solid race in the Holy Bull with blinkers on, but may be a notch below the best. Turf Melody ran the first poor race of his career in the LeComte, other than his one grass race. Worldly had no apparent excuse in the LeComte; may be quirky like his brother Suave.

 

Other action this weekend

 

There isn’t much 3-year-old stakes action this weekend, with only the one-mile WEBN Stakes at Turfway (which was not yet drawn at this writing) and the six-furlong Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel, where the headliner is Turbo Speed, who had won his first three starts sprinting before finishing third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in the mile and 70-yard Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct. A stalker in all his races, he’s dropping back to a short sprint and will be breaking from the rail, not the ideal post.

 

The aforementioned Afleet Express runs in a six-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Saturday for Jimmy Jerkens. We would rather see him stretching out, but at Gulfstream, that’s not always easy. His main foe likely will be General Maximus, a New York-bred by Freud whose only start came last July when he defeated state-breds by four lengths in :57 2/5 for five furlongs, earning a whopping 93 Beyer figure, way and above anything in this field. Bill White has an interesting colt in Family Holiday, a son of Harlan’s Holiday who is coming off a third against the Todd Pletcher pair of Three Day Rush and Mission Impazible and gets blinkers. Also coming out of that allowance test is fourth-place finisher Peace at Dawn, who was dropping back to six furlongs off a mile and 70-yard allowance race at Calder. Coming off victories are Octavo, who won nicely at Keeneland following a pair of seconds, and Windy City Cat, who won his only start at Hawthorne.

 

Also on Saturday’s card is a one-mile maiden race. One to watch in here is the Patrick Biancone-trained Gothic’s Peak, who is coming off a third to the highly touted Tahitian Warrior in 1:09 4/5. As mentioned earlier, the winner has since been sold to Godolphin. Gothic’s Peak, a son of Unbridled’s Song who sold as a yearling for $500,000, ran poorly over Del Mar’s Polytrack in his debut after breaking slowly, but improved on the dirt with blinkers. He now gets Lasix for the first time.

 

The fourth-place finisher in that maiden race, The Director, also bears watching after breaking slowly and rushing up from last. The son of Mr. Greeley, a $750,000 yearling purchase for Robert La Penta, worked a bullet half-mile in :47 flat on Jan. 22 and should show big improvement.

 

The other to keep an eye on is the Dale Romans-trained First Dude, who has been second in both his starts and is coming off a sharp performance against the Nick Zito-trained Fly Down going 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs, in which he was beaten a half-length. By Stephen Got Even, out of a Smart Strike mare, he should get better with distance and experience. 

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