Kentucky Derby Trail: Paddy Cake
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Paddy O'Prado is an extremely talented and versatile horse who is improving at a rapid rate.
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Saturday’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland should be one of the more intriguing Derby preps of the year. Yes, it’s loaded with your typical grass and synthetic horses and has little resemblance to the Blue Grass Stakes of the past, but the feeling here is that it could produce at least a couple of legitimate Derby contenders.

 

No way we’re going to expound on the virtues of Interactif yet again. The “dirtly-bred” son of Broken Vow   has been a favorite of ours for a long time and has resided in our Derby Dozen almost the entire year. The Blue Grass will tell whether or not he handles Polytrack, but that will have no bearing on how he does in the Derby. If he wins, fine. If he runs second, third, or even fourth, no big deal. It’s his return to the dirt we’ve been waiting for since last summer. We get the feeling trainer Todd Pletcher is playing the Derby game with him, but will yank him back to the grass at the first sign of a regression. We just hope he gives him a little leeway in the Blue Grass because of the surface. There have been too many superior dirt horses who couldn’t pick their feet up on Polytrack.

 

Interactif, for the third time in his last four starts, drew the outside post, which again could put him on the muscle if he’s rushed out of the there, unless Pletcher decides to experiment for the Derby’s sake and have him drop back and make one late run. The last thing he needs in another Derby starter who’s going to be up on the pace. This colt has proven he’s best when taken back, as he was in his two stakes victories last year.

 

In any event, that’s not the main topic of this column. That will come soon enough, but there is one more diversion before we get there.

 

When it was decided to run Odysseus in the Blue Grass, it was basically nothing more than an alternative to training up to the Derby. The thinking was to give him a fairly easy race on the Polytrack and that should set him up nicely for the first Saturday in May. But something unusual happened along the way. The minimum earnings required to make the field kept rising and rising until Odysseus, with a seemingly hefty $180,000 bankroll, found himself on the outside looking in. He currently sits in a tie for the No. 22 spot.

 

There are two or three in the Top 20 who could very well wind up defecting, and six others in the Top 20 are running in either the Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby (gr. I). A couple of those may exit the Derby picture with a subpar performance, and if a few of them run big, it will prevent those behind Odysseus from passing him.

 

The ones in question who are looking to whiz by Odysseus this weekend and burst into the Top 20 are Super Saver   and Northern Giant (Arkansas Derby) and Pleasant Prince, Paddy O'Prado  , and First Dude   (Blue Grass). And then there are Drosselmeyer   and Connemara attempting one last gasp for earnings in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) the following week.

 

The obvious question now is what if Odysseus does not handle the Polytrack? Many of those who don’t handle the surface you can’t find with a telescope. So, what was once meant to be merely a tightener for the Derby on a kinder surface could now turn out to be major roadblock if events don’t play out in his favor. Hindsight says the Arkansas Derby would have been a better spot for him because of the dirt surface, but you know what they say about hindsight. At the time, this looked like the right move. So, they’ll just have to play the hand they dealt themselves and hope it all works out. He drew the rail, which means he not only has to handle the surface, he needs to get lucky.

 

Now for the main focus of the Blue Grass as pertaining to this column. One of the horses Odysseus had better be looking over his shoulder for is Paddy O'Prado  .

 

It is our belief that this is an extremely talented and versatile horse who is improving at a rapid rate and is capable of just about anything on Saturday, including running off with the whole darn thing.

 

Trainer Dale Romans thought enough of him to run him March 6 in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) as a maiden. Although the son of El Prado had proven himself to be stone closer with a huge late kick, he was so good going into the Palm Beach he wound up battling on the front end all the way through solid fractions and still had plenty left for the stretch run, drawing clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:45.40 for the 1 1/8 miles. This was a strong performance by a horse who may very well be much more than just a classy turf horse. The only blot on his record was a terrible race in his debut in his only start on dirt. But that was at six furlongs and in the slop at Churchill Downs.

 

Paddy O’Prado’s broodmare sire, Prized, it should be remembered, did the unthinkable by winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) in his grass debut. On the dirt, he upset Sunday Silence in the 1 1/4-mile Swaps Stakes (gr. II) in a race where the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner had a four-length lead at the eighth pole.

 

And you can't ask for a more versatile stallion than El Prado, who sired grade I-winning turf horses Kitten's Joy   and Artie Schiller   and grade I-winning dirt horses Medaglia d'Oro   and Borrego.

 

So, it’s not going to matter where Paddy O’Prado is during the running of the Blue Grass. It’s only a question of whether he handles the Polytrack. If you want to go by works, he's had two five-furlong drills at Keeneland -- :59 3/5 (second fastest of 52) and a bullet :59 4/5...both breezing. He should be a decent price, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if he turned out to be the wiseguy horse. In any event, watch out for him. He could be extremely dangerous in here.

 

Here is a trivia question as a postscript. What 2-year-old stakes last year has a good chance of becoming the key race in regard to the Kentucky Derby? Here’s a hint: It’s more about who was entered than who actually ran.

 

Let’s go back to last year’s listed Pilgrim Stakes, scheduled for the turf at Belmont Park. In that field were eventual Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) winner and likely Derby favorite Eskendereya  , who won by 7 1/4 lengths, and eventual Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) winner Dean's Kitten, who was beaten more than 33 lengths. Entered and scratched from the race were Interactif and Paddy O’Prado, who could very well run 1-2 in the Blue Grass or at least be right there at the finish. So, how about the old reliable Pilgrim Stakes scratch angle for the exacta?

 

This race is loaded with live horses, such as Aikenite   and Pleasant Prince, both of whom should be coming late and would be solid additions to any trifecta boxes. Make Music For Me is a proven stakes horse on synthetic and grass and will represent California. First Dude   did not have a good trip in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and is eligible to improve big-time, and he’s already run a solid second over this track in his career debut.

 

But despite the depth of the field and all the unknown factors, we’ll stick with Paddy O’Prado and Interactif. Aikenite, who was a fast-closing second in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland, looks like a solid horse to throw in the trifectas.

 

We’d love to see Odysseus run big, because it would be a crime if he failed to make the Derby field, especially having his fate decided by a single race on Polytrack. This is a dirt horse who can blow you off the track, as he did eventual Rushaway winner Exhi  , or he can beat you in a tight finish, as he did in his gutsy victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). The Derby also needs a passionate industry leader like Satish Sanan and a well-liked and respected trainer like Tom Albertrani. OK, well, the media does.

 

In the same vein, here’s hoping Aikenite, who already has enough earnings, runs well enough to get Cot Campbell and Dogwood Stable into the Derby with a legitimate contender. The father of the racing syndicate, Campbell and Dogwood have finished second, third, and fourth in the Derby, and Aikenite, with a big effort Saturday, would give them a decent shot at completing their own Derby superfecta.

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