Casper's Touch

Casper's Touch

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography

New Faces Set to Emerge on Derby Scene

A good performance Saturday could propel lesser-known horses into the Derby picture.

Almost all the talk regarding Saturday’s 3-year-old stakes at Gulfstream has focused on the return of To Honor and Serve and his predicted battle with Soldat  in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II).

For these two seasoned stakes horses, along with Gourmet Dinner, the Fountain of Youth is a race they are expected to win or at least be right there.

But there are several lesser-known horses in the race that have no North American stakes experience, but should not be taken lightly. These horses are not expected to win nor do they have to win. This is their first major step to being considered a Derby contender, and a good performance – a second or a third, or even a close fourth -- will help them achieve that. Two of those horses that have been on at least one person’s radar screen for several weeks are Casper's Touch and Bowman's Causeway. The former is coming off a horrendous trip in a 1 1/8-mile allowance, in which he finished second to Shackleford  after getting bumped hard, nearly slamming into the rail. That race was preceded by a solid maiden score at Churchill Downs and a third in the prestigious Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot. He looks like a good horse who is ready to put it all together.

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Bowman’s Causeway is coming off a sneaky-good maiden victory at nine furlongs, in which he looked like the real deal.  He runs with his head low, much like his sire Giant's Causeway, and with a good deal of determination. And he gallops out strong as if he wants to run all day. Another thing we loved was his :12 flat final eighth. He looks to be improving at the right time and also goes from a seven-pound bug boy to Julien Leparoux. These performances, as well as their previous efforts, suggest horses who are ready to take a big step forward. Both also have dream pedigrees with plenty of stamina.

Take nothing away from Shackleford, who defeated Casper’s Touch convincingly, but raced very greenly down the stretch, changing leads three times and ducking in late, all of which he’ll have to overcome.

It’s just that we’ve been waiting for Casper’s Touch and Bowman’s Causeway to get this opportunity on the Derby trail and they’ll have to make the most of it. As we said, they just need to be competitive against these horses to take a big step forward. If either jumps up and wins…

One of the reasons we were attracted to Bowman’s Causeway was his excellent second-place finish to Nacho Business in a one-mile maiden race, in which he reluctantly wound up setting the pace and finished 7 ¼ lengths ahead of the third horse. Sometimes, you see a horse and you like everything about him; a horse that shows professionalism, determination, and that certain look that attracts you to him. Well, that’s the feeling we got watching Nacho Business win that maiden race in his career debut. Winning a one-mile race first time out is not an easy accomplishment and he did everything the right way with a nice efficient stride and ran down a good horse.

Nacho Business is running in Saturday’s third race, a 1 1/8-mile allowance event, and that should tell us if he’s as good as he looked in his first start. He’s going up against some potential Derby horses in their own right in Cool Blue Red Hot, second to Soldat last time out and the recipient of a lofty 96 Beyer figure in his career debut; the sharp maiden sprint winner Arch Traveler, coming off three excellent races for Jimmy Jerkens, who knows how to stretch a horse out as well as anyone; and the Smart Strike colt, Hothersal, making his dirt debut after an impressive maiden score on grass. And Kenny McPeek is coming right back with Washington's Rules, who was a big disappointment in the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) at 3-1 after breaking his maiden going a mile and just might not have handled the Tampa surface.

So, this is a big test for all these horses, but we’ll be keeping our eye on Nacho Business, as well as Cool Blue Red Hot, who engaged in a kamikaze duel with Soldat in the slop, but who prefers to come from off the pace. Both have the potential to be major players either on the Derby trail or down the road.

Finally, in the seven-furlong Hutcheson (gr. II), a race inundated with speed and lightly raced horses, the highly regarded Crossbow drew the rail, which is not where you want to be. One horse to watch is Leave of Absence, who should benefit from an early speed duel, especially dropping back from a mile in the Holy Bull (gr. III), in which he bumped with Mucho Macho Man  coming out of the gate. Before that, he was a fast-closing second in the Spectacular Bid Stakes. He gets blinkers on, which should keep him in the hunt.

The other horse of interest is Black N Beauty, who also is coming off a disappointing effort in the Holy Bull, but is dropping back in distance and should be able to take back and sit off the pace, which will be a contentious one with speedy first-out maiden winners Travelin Man and Flashpoint, as well as several others with good early lick. Look for Big Drama’s little brother, Little Drama, to be right in contention just off the pace, as should Manicero, riding a four-race winning streak, including two stakes scores at Tampa this year, and also the Sapling winner Madman Diaries and recent Gulfstream allowance winner Razmataz. In short, this should be a real barn burner, which is why Leave of Absence and Black N Beauty look strong in here. And if Crossbow can overcome the rail and get a good trip, he will be tough as well.

If there is going to be a breakout maiden winner it should be San Pablo , who ran a sensational second to Washington’s Rules in his career debut and looks awfully good in Saturday’s sixth race.