Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Repent's Star Rises to the Top

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Repent's Star Rises to the Top
Photo: Alexander Barkhoff
Haskin says Repent's victory in Sunday's Risen Star Stakes "finally gave us something to get excited about."
In the wild, wacky, wonderful world of cliches, you could say Repent finally showed us a light at the end of the tunnel, giving us something to sink our teeth into; something we can hang our hat on; something to bring a smile to our face and twinkle to our eye. OK, you get the point. In short, Repent's victory in Sunday's Risen Star Stakes finally gave us something to get excited about.

In the final quarter mile of last fall's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Repent had as horrendous an inside trip as you'll see. In the final quarter mile of the Risen Star, he had as horrendous an outside trip as you'll see. He overcame both of them, which is the sign of an extraordinary horse. There is no doubt that Repent is an extraordinary horse, certainly worthy of top spot on the list of Kentucky Derby contenders. Now, we're not saying he's some wonder horse. We still don't know what he beat in the Risen Star, but he did beat every top American 2-year-old in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and in a year like this, we're going to savor every big effort we can. Also remember, this was his first start in almost three months.

Let's just take you through the Risen Star from the start. Repent broke alertly from post 7 in the nine-horse field. Jockey Tony D'Amico, who lost a heartbreaker the day before aboard Harlan's Holiday in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, tried to get a good position going into the first turn. It appeared as if he wanted to slip outside It'sallinthechase, who had broken from the 6-hole. But when Easyfromthegitgo, from post 8, began to ease over, there was danger of Repent getting caught in a squeeze, so D'Amico wisely took back and just let everyone go. He then angled to the inside to save ground, and had to be content to bring up the rear of the field.

Fortunately, Bob's Image set a sharp pace, while being hounded by Sky Terrace, as the pair sped along in :46 for the half, with Repent about eight lengths back. French Assault was closer to the pace than usual, right behind the leaders, with War Emblem right alongside. They continued that way through three-quarters in 1:11 1/5. Passing the half-mile pole, Repent started getting in gear, with It'sallinthechase inside him. LeComte winner Easyfromthegitgo, just in front of them, began to put in his run along the rail.

As they passed the five-sixteenths pole, D'Amico could not have liked what he saw. Repent was charging up to the pack, but there in front of him was a wall of horses, strung out from the rail to the seven path. There was nothing to do but ride Repent like a 7-10 favorite, and that meant going around everyone. As wide as he had to go, he got pushed out even farther by It'sallinthechase, who was still rallying inside him. Now 9-wide straightening into the long stretch, Repent couldn't even switch to his right lead.

By now, Bob's Image had gamely turned back every challenge and set sail for home with a two-length lead, showing no signs of tiring. Only Repent had enough left to go after him. Easyfromthegitgo was clear, but not making a dent on Bob's Image. Still on his left lead and well out in the middle of the track, Repent bore down on the leader. With his ears jutting out like antennae, he drifted in closer to Bob's Image. At the sixteenth pole, he had him. He surged past and increased his lead with every stride, crossing the wire 2 1/4 lengths in front. Bob's Image had three lengths on Easyfromthegitgo. The time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:43, and Repent came home his final sixteenth in a solid :06 2/5 after racing wide almost all the way on one lead.

And so a legitimate Kentucky Derby favorite was born. With Siphonic on the West Coast still likely to head some people's lists, we could have a great East vs. West rivalry brewing. What Repent has in his favor is that he's already beaten Siphonic; already won at Churchill Downs; already won on fast, dead, and sloppy racetracks; and already encountered and overcome enough adversity to prepare him for whatever obstacles the Kentucky Derby might throw at him.

We can't overlook the impressive perfomance by Bob's Image, who was facing stakes competition for the first time after leaving allowance fields for dead in his previous two starts. Bob's Image, who is trained by Dallas Stewart, capped a big 3-year-old weekend for West Point Thoroughbreds, which won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Aqueduct Friday with their improving colt My Man Ryan, and sent out another promising colt, Smokin' John to break his maiden going a mile at Aqueduct the following day.

The Holy Fountain

The Fountain of Youth did nothing to clear up the 3-year-old picture in Florida, except to eliminate several promising allowance horses, at least for the time being. Booklet and Harlan's Holiday basically just confirmed their Holy Bull form. As much as you have to admire Booklet's speed and grit, his pedigree, combined with his running style, suggests these are going to be his best days, as far as the Derby picture is concerned. He's a little horse and he's using all his attributes at the right time. He's certainly capable of winning the Florida Derby if he gets the right trip, but the Kentucky Derby is altogether a different story.

Harlan's Holiday once again showed he's talented, tough and consistent, and the type of horse any trainer would love to have in his barn. He gave it his best shot, but Booklet had things his own way, and is not an easy horse to get by. How much better Harlan's Holiday is going to get we have no idea, but it is important to note that he finished 5 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Blue Burner. He's run big races at all five tracks he's competed at and can handle any type of surface thrown at him. Taking the blinkers off was an excellent move by Kenny McPeek, as the colt looked more professional and showed excellent acceleration of the far turn. As a horse who now comes from off the pace, he just has to show he has that kick that can carry him past another horse in the stretch. All we have to go by is Booklet, and we can't fault him for failing to pass such a classy, tenacious colt. There is nothing in Harlan's Holiday's pedigree to suggest he won't keep improving as the distances stretch out.

As for the newcomers, we were impressed with Blue Burner's effort and his overall appearance. He was on his toes before the race, especially approaching the starting gate. Coming off only one start in more than seven months, he held his own in the stretch and was clearly the best of the rest. He wasn't paying attention in the gate and broke slowly, then was placed in a good position by Jerry Bailey. Sitting right behind Harlan's Holiday, he couldn't match his acceleration on the far turn and wasn't able to put himself in a position to win. But he did continue on well, showing at least he is stakes caliber and deserves to go on to the next step in the Florida Derby.

Because of the condition of the racetrack, which was wet and deep, we wouldn't be shocked to see some those beaten off to come back and run much better. It is too coincidental that impressive allowance winners Stephentown, Grey Beard, and Speed Hunter all showed so little. Speed Hunter did make some kind of run on the far turn, but he's always been a bit of a head case, and that was evident in the stretch when he started throwing his head around and trying to drift out.

Continued...

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