Well, we finally have some semblance of a Kentucky Derby field, give or take a horse or two…or three. We’ve already lost Odysseus, Uh Oh Bango, and Aikenite in the span of two days. Noble's Promise is “50-50” depending on how he works, which in trainer language means he’s running as long as he doesn’t work horribly. Interactif is “doubtful,” depending on how he works; more on him below.
Looking over the Top 20 horses on the graded earnings list, as well as several of the ones on the outside looking in, here are a few statistics and random thoughts as we head into D-Day minus two weeks.
* What do you think of a horse who in his last three starts ran the quarter before the stretch call in :22 3/5. :23 1/5, and :23 1/5 and still closed his final eighths in :12 1/5 and :12 3/5 and final sixteenth in :06 flat? His overall come-home times of :35 2/5 and :35 4/5 (final three-eighths) and :28 3/5 (final three-sixteenths) are nothing short of spectacular. Sounds pretty impressive for a closer, right? Well, then, what if that horse was a front-runner? It is those stats that make Sidney's Candy so dangerous. Granted, he set very slow fractions in his last two races, but does this imply that maybe Sidney’s Candy doesn’t need the lead and can come home that fast laying off the pace? Of course, we have no way of knowing, but with Conveyance and his own stablemate, Line of David, likely to assure a rapid pace in the Derby, you can bet trainer John Sadler would like to see Sidney’s Candy take back. If he can and still come home that quickly, perhaps we’re dealing with a pretty special colt.
* I don’t know why, but Mission Impazible is starting to remind me of Lil E. Tee. Maybe it’s because both are workmanlike, consistent horses who have similar running styles and often go about their business in an unspectacular, but efficient manner. And like Lil E. Tee, Mission Impazible will be forced to come from farther back in the Derby than in any of his previous races. Lil E. Tee came flying late from 10th and I can see Mission Impazible having the same kind of trip. Also, both ran in the Southwest Stakes and ran similar races, with Lil E. Tee finishing third and Mission Impazible finishing fourth. Mission Impazible’s Beyer Speed Figures don’t compare to Lil E. Tee’s, but they are improving with every race. I have no idea what all that means; just thought I’d mention it.
* Todd Pletcher said Interactif would have to work lights out at Churchill Downs to be considered for the Derby. He ran an even fourth April 10 in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), while racing in fifth most of the way, about five lengths off the pace, and he hasn’t won a race since last October (can anyone say Giacomo?). But there is still a big, gaping hole that hasn’t been filled yet. My wish for this horse all year was to see him return to dirt and be taken well off the pace. I don’t mean third, fourth, or fifth; I mean 12th or 13th. In his last victory he came from 11th, circled the field with a big move, and was a length and a half in front at the eighth pole, winning by a measured length. I can’t help but think he has that race in him, especially on dirt. He just hasn’t had the opportunity to show it. His last victory also was the last time he didn’t draw either on the far outside or down on the inside, both of which often necessitates a horse having to break sharply to get a decent position. In a 20-horse field, he will have no choice but to take well back and make one run.
* The Wertheimer brothers, who own Interactif, also own Setsuko. Currently sitting in #24 on the earnings list, this horse needs to get in the Derby. What a powerful entry he and Interactif would make. He’s getting really good right now; he’s one the few powerful closers; he has a gorgeous stride; he’s crying out for 10 furlongs; and how great would it be for Hall of Fame trainer Dick Mandella to finally win a Derby, and do it with a son of his Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) and Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Pleasantly Perfect? The question is: what if Setsuko winds up at #21? Do the Wertheimers pull Interactif to make room for him? He’s never run on dirt, but he’s definitely bred for it. As much as Interactif should be given a shot at the Derby, if it’s between the two, Setsuko looks to have a bit more upside and has a better chance to actually win the whole thing, based on his potential and huge closing kick.
* If you’re a fan of the Rasmussen Factor (RF), be aware that Awesome Act’s dam, Houdini Honey, is inbred top and bottom to the great producer Almahmoud through – get a load of this – her daughters Cosmah (dam of Tosmah, Halo, and Cannonade’s dam Queen Sucree among others) and Natalma (dam of Northern Dancer). It doesn’t get much better than that.
If you’re looking for push-button European acceleration, no one has a quicker turn of foot than this colt.
* It's always difficult to predict how the Derby pace scenario is going to set up. Between the number of quality speed horses and stalkers, it's hard to envision a slow or even moderate pace. If that's the case, who will be able to take advantage of a hot pace? We have a quick-footed closer in Awesome Act, a deep closer in Ice Box, and several mid-pack horses, and that's pretty much it. But there is only one horse who has proven he can sustain his run a long way, and that is Dublin. This looks like a year where you want a horse who can start his move at the five-eighths pole and keep going all the way to the wire, just grinding down the horses in front him one by one. Dublin showed in the Southwest Stakes he can sustain his move coming from far back. He was ridden terribly in the Rebel and never got a chance to run his race. And in the Arkansas Derby, he again put in a long run, but launched it from third behind a fast pace. In the Derby, he most likely will not be anywhere near the lead, and I can see him coming from well back in the pack, only because six or seven horses are going to wind up there whether they want to or not. He is one that probably wants to, as it would give him a better opportunity to sustain his run longer than the others. I'm still not certain if 10 furlongs will suit him or if he has enough of a killer instinct to put horses away in the stretch. But I'm not certain he can't get 10 furlongs or doesn't have the killer instinct either. What he does have is the talent and the consistency and has done enough to indicate that the Derby could very well set up perfectly for him with a heady ride. That's all you can really ask for.
* If you’re looking for a ray of dirt hope in Dean's Kitten’s pedigree, which is loaded with grass influences, his broodmare sire, Ide, won both of Churchill Downs’ big 2-year-old stakes, the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) and Iroquois Stakes (gr. III). If Dean’s Kitten should win the Derby, what a coup that would be for owner and breeder Ken Ramsey, who has pretty much hogged every Kitten's Joy that has hit the ground. I believe he has about 2,000 of them by now. Well, at least it seems like it’s that many. One other note: Ramsey’s big Derby hope this year was supposed to be the classy stretch runner William's Kitten, who dropped off the Derby trail early with an injury. Ramsey also owns Pleasant Prince, who failed to make the Derby field by the nose he was beaten in the Florida Derby (gr. I). He was put in the Blue Grass Stakes as a desperate attempt to pick up the needed earnings, but failed to handle the Polytrack and never picked up his feet. So, you can’t blame Ramsey if he’s thinking third time is the charm. Whether you like his horse or not, how can you not smile at the thought of the gregarious Ramsey guffawing his way to the winner’s circle after winning the Derby with a son of Kitten’s Joy.
* Are you concerned that Lookin at Lucky's Beyer figures as a whole do not measure up to some of the other contenders? His Beyers on a synthetic surface range from 78-91, which is not what you want to see from the consensus second choice. But it must be noted that in his only start on dirt, he ran a 98 Beyer, and had a ton of trouble in the race, which indicates that as good as Lookin at Lucky has been throughout his career, winning three grade I stakes and getting beat a head in another, he most likely is far superior on the dirt, at least when it comes to speed figures.