There are three ways of looking at the Florida Derby (gr. I): the best horse won, the best horse finished second, and both horses ran sensational races and established themselves as major Kentucky Derby contenders. The consensus would have to be number three.
Quality Road and
Those pretty much are the basics of the Florida Derby. But they are by no means the entire story.
Quality Road was a deserving winner and did everything expected of him. And how about Jimmy Jerkens heading to the Kentucky Derby for the first time? We’re talking about old-style training at its best, handed down from his legendary Hall of Fame father, Allen. How can anyone not root for a Jerkens to win the
Quality Road has shown he can rate kindly behind horses, and seems to be getting more mature and professional with every start. With an abundance of brilliant and classy horses on the Derby trail who like to run on or near the lead, it certainly would benefit Quality Road if can be just as effective laying a bit farther back and not get caught up in a fast, contentious pace. He won’t be sitting off sprinters like This Ones For Phil and Casey’s on Call, who are going to back up after six furlongs, at Churchill Downs.
Although the track at Gulfstream was blazing-fast and speed-biased, Quality Road’s splits of :23 2/5, :23 2/5, :23 4/5, :24 3/5, and :12 2/5 nevertheless were extremely impressive. And that’s with John Velazquez sitting chilly on him until challenged by
Todd Pletcher made his feelings about the track known on national television just seconds after the race was over, stating he would have gone to the Wood Memorial (gr. I) the following week had he known it was going to be so speed favoring. Whatever the reason, before this week, you couldn’t find a horse that broke 1:50 for 1 1/8 miles, and now they go in 1:47 3/5 on Florida Derby day, during which several track records fell. But a study of the races during the week provided a forewarning of what was to come when a six-furlong starter allowance race on Thursday was won wire-to-wire in 1:08 4/5.
Pletcher’s immediate reaction was understandable, considering the importance of this race to
To demonstrate just what he accomplished in the Florida Derby, he went from the five-eighths pole to the quarter pole in a scintillating :34 3/5, rattling off eighths in :11 3/5, :11 3/5, and :11 2/5, making up most of the eight lengths in that final eighth, in which he charged by horses with a spectacular move to stick his head in front of Quality Road turning for home. Although he closed well, pulling six lengths clear of 7-2 Theregoesjojo, Quality Road had plenty left after a fairly easy trip and drew clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Even then,
I have to admit I think more highly of
He’s one horse who probably can use the five weeks between races. In his career debut, he showed the ability to sit and wait behind a wall of horses after making a big move into contention and then respond when steered abruptly to the outside for running room. The horse he ran off from in the stretch, Santana Six, has come back to win his next two starts by daylight. In his second start, Dunkirk was forced eight-wide into the first turn, remained wide the rest of the way, shrugged off two horses making big moves on his outside, and blew his field away. Now with the Florida Derby, he has shown even more dimensions. Who knows what this horse is capable of with a good trip?
He still does have history against him, but as we’ve seen in recent years, the history books are being burned as often as “The Catcher in the
The bottom line is that the Florida Derby has produced two exceptional horses, who could be as special as recent Florida Derby winners Barbaro and Big Brown, both of whom did some history book burning of their own.
As a side note, how exciting has this year’s
As for Theregoesjojo, many times when you take a horse with an explosive turn of foot going one turn and you put him up close to the pace going two turns, you take his main weapon away from him. That was the case in the Florida Derby when Theregoesjojo, who had blown by
Ok, so you can now remove Desert Party from the list of
Once again, here is an endorsement for a runner-up, with another look at the stopwatch. There are several factors to take under consideration before dismissing Desert Party. I believed going into the UAE Derby (UAE-II) that Desert Party had to win and look impressive to still be considered a major
If Desert Party had run the exact same race in one of the final preps in
But here are the positive factors you can take out of the race:
-- The track, wet from a week of heavy rains, was speed-favoring, as evidenced by the emphatic victories by front-runners Well Armed and Two Step Salsa , who simply were uncatchable. Sound familiar? And like in the UAE Derby, the closers were all floundering up the track. In fact, in the three above mentioned races, Desert Party was the only non-speed horse to make up any ground late, and he finished 15 lengths ahead of the third horse, just as
-- If anyone is put off by the final clocking of 1:50, I have to take issue with the accuracy of the time, having timed the race several times from the moment the horses left the gate, with no run-up. That should have made for a slower clocking. Each time, however, I got 1:48 1/5, with the most spot-on being 1:48.37. If that was from the opening of the gate, how could the official final time be almost two seconds slower? It should have been faster. I did the same thing for the Dubai World Cup, and got a final time of 1:59.47 (1:59 2/5), not 2:01.01. Once again, where did those additional two seconds come from? I mention this at the risk of sounding ignorant in case there is something about the timing in
-- I also clocked the final eighth and final quarter a number of times, starting and stopping beforehand until I got the poles down pat. This is much more clear-cut than timing the entire race. The final quarter was run in :24 1/5 and final eighth in :12 2/5. Desert Party probably shaded :24 and came home his final eighth in :12 1/5. Dettori rode him confidently to the two-furlong marker and when he asked him he drew well clear of the others, but Regal Ransom had too much left on this kind of track. Remember, Kiaran McLaughlin thought so highly of Regal Ransom last fall he sent him to Santa Anita for the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) off one seven-furlong maiden victory, but the colt couldn’t handle the synthetic surface.
Now, many are going to say all this timing nonsense is a waste of time, and perhaps it is. The bottom line is that Desert Party was beaten in a race he should have won. Well, lots of
Nad al Sheba often favors horses with tactical and front-running speed, and this track was even more quirky than normal after being sealed for several days and packed down by all the rain.
No one is saying that Desert Party is going to win the Kentucky Derby. The only point being made here is that it might be premature to give up on him. He’s still on a good progression and is now dead-fit. It all depends on how he bounces out of this race and handles the trip back to
As for Regal Ransom, the son of Distorted Humor has sufficient stamina in his own right, but his running style is not as conducive to the Kentucky Derby as Desert Party’s is, as he appears to be more one-dimensional. And this is not the year to send a one-dimensional pace horse to the
In Sunland Derby Sunday, the hard-knocking Kelly Leak swept to the front turning for home and held off the maiden winner Mythical Power, who is a horse you should be hearing a lot from in the upcoming months. KellyLeak is a seasoned stakes horse who handles any surface and has now finished in the money in six of his eight starts. He was disqualified after finishing first in last year’s Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at
Mythical Power has always been highly regard by trainer Bob Baffert, and he kept pounding away after seemingly beaten at the quarter pole to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind KellyLeak. Borderland
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