Free Country will try to stamp his Ky. Derby ticket in the March 14 Louisiana Derby.

Free Country will try to stamp his Ky. Derby ticket in the March 14 Louisiana Derby.

Coglianese Photos

Ky. Derby Trail: Second Wave Lands

It is the second week in March, the second Future Wager is upon us, and that means the Kentucky Derby contenders are pretty well established…or are they? That’s what we’ll find out this weekend when the second wave storms the beaches at Fair Grounds, Tampa Bay Downs, Oaklawn Park, and Santa Anita in an attempt to secure a late spot in the Derby field. 

With 11 of the 22 horses in the second Future Wager pool running this weekend (Big Drama was withdrawn) it is going to make wagering a fiasco. Why even consider placing a bet before Saturday evening unless you like seeing your 50-1 shot plunge to 12-1 or 15-1 after his upset victory or seeing your big bet on a 12-1 or 15-1 shot wind up at 50-1 after he finishes up the track and all but eliminates himself from Derby contention?


Is it likely that horses who are not in the Future Wager field are going to knock off the likes of Old Fashioned, Pioneerof the Nile , Friesan Fire , Papa Clem, General Quarters, Patena, Giant Oak, Flying Pegasus, Hello Broadway, Silver City, and Bear's Rocket?


It may not seem likely, but anything is possible. There are some talented longshots running, and even if they fail to upset the favorites they can certainly run big enough races to make their way on to the leading contenders’ lists.


Three horses in particular to watch out for who are capable of springing an upset or at least be heard from in the weeks to come are Shafted (San Felipe), Wise Kid (Rebel), and Sumo (Tampa Bay Derby).


There’s also the promising stretch runner Warrior's Reward , coming off a good second to Dunkirk, in the Tampa Derby. And beware of a big rebound performance from Poltergeist. in the Rebel. His race two back was too good to ignore, and they're allowed one clunker. We'll also find out how good Midnight Lute's brother Captain Cherokee is. He is eligible to keep improving.


The Louisiana Derby is tough because there are five established Future Wager horses to crack, and it is not as likely that one of the lesser accomplished horses will pull off an upset. But there several talented horses who will give it a try. The classy Terrain, who has done enough in his career already to be in the Future Wager field and compete with these horses, will be making his first start of the year, and although he may need a race, he is coming off back-to-back bullet works. Free Country, who couldn’t handle the quirky Tampa surface in the Sam F. Davis (gr. III), gets blinkers and also has been working super, with a pair of bullet works; Uno Mas has already soundly defeated Friesan Fire; Nowhere to Hide, ran a sneaky-good race in the Risen Star (gr. III) to finish fourth, beaten 3 3/4 lengths and is coming off a bullet work at Palm Meadows. He was cross-entered in the Tampa Bay Derby and will run there after drawing post 3, as opposed to post 10 at Fair Grounds. And Soul Warrior, a stablemate of Uno Mas, came from dead-last in the 13-horse Risen Star field to finish a respectable sixth and gets blinkers on Saturday. That gives you a good idea how deep this field is.


This is the time to watch for equipment changes, especially blinkers on, because you never know how it will affect a horse and how far it will move him up. With the final Derby prep still to come, this is probably the last opportunity to try something new to wake up an aspiring Derby candidate. With that said, Kenny McPeek has always been very high on Free Country, and the colt’s last work – five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 1/5 with Kent Desormeaux up – was the fastest of 25 at the distance, and it was said he was dragging Desormeaux around there. So, perhaps the blinkers will move this colt way up and enable him to be competitive with this group.


To demonstrate how competitive the Louisiana Derby is, the gap between the highest Beyer numbers for each horse is only 10 points – Friesan Fire’s 96 and Soul Warrior’s 86. At this time of year, 10 points is not a lot to make up.


“All others” could get boost from Shafted, Wise Kid, and Sumo


The horse who looks like the shortest favorite by far is Pioneerof the Nile, who faces six opponents in the San Felipe (gr. II) (there may be a scratch), none of whom look to be in his class. But keep an eye out for Shafted, a son of Mineshaft  who journeyed from Canada and proceeded to inhale a good bunch of allowance horses with as dramatic a turn of foot as we’ve seen all year. When he kicked in at the five-sixteenths he exploded, and in a flash swept by the leaders with a :23 3/5 quarter and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Second-place finisher, Massone, second in a maiden race to I Want Revenge , went on to finish a close second to Chocolate Candy (beaten a half-length) in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III). The fourth-place finisher, Scorewithcater, won his next start and then captured the Borderland Derby.


Many will get turned off by Shafted poor performance in the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II), in which he did no running and was beaten nine lengths by Pioneerof the Nile. But while cooling out after the race, trainer Mark Casse noticed that he was in a little bit of discomfort and showing signs of a horse that had tied up (he was exhausted and not walking fluidly). Casse was puzzled, because horses normally don’t tie up in a race when the adrenaline is flowing. They pulled blood on the colt the next morning, and sure enough, his enzyme levels were high enough to indicate there was some muscle damage and that he in fact had tied up.


Casse gave him a break and began working him on Feb. 26. After a half-mile breeze in :49 2/5, Shafted came back with a solid five-furlong drill in 1:00 4/5 on March 5 with jockey Joel Rosario aboard.


Although the pace scenario is not in his favor in the San Felipe, with a small field expected, if this colt can put in the kind of run he did two races back and even finish a good second to Pioneerof the Nile, he will be a horse to reckon with.


Wise Kid and Sumo were discussed in detail in our last column. To briefly summarize, Wise Kid caught our attention when he finished a close second in a maiden race despite a nightmare trip and has since come back to win his next two races at Oaklawn. In that maiden race, the son of Lemon Drop Kid  , trained by Tim Ritchey, overcame a bad start and traffic problems along the inside and still was beaten only a neck by Buzzin and Dreamin, who came right back in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) off that race and finished a solid third at 64-1 behind Rebel favorite Old Fashioned.


Wise Kid had a clean trip next time out, made big run from 11 lengths back, and was able to wear down a loose-on-a-big-lead Good Sermon, who had been third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in the aforementioned maiden race. The margin likely would have been greater had Wise Kid not kept lugging in during the stretch run. Good Sermon boosted the form by coming back and breaking his maiden next time out by 2 3/4 lengths.


In Wise Kid’s next start, Ritchey got permission from the stewards to add blinkers off a victory in order to correct the colt’s greenness. Wise Kid ran into Buzzin and Dreamin again, who trainer Wayne Lukas was sending right back in 11 days. This time, Buzzin and Dreamin was no match for Wise Kid, who kept a perfectly straight course after tracking a slow pace in the slop and drew off to a 4 1/4-length victory, the same number of lengths Old Fashioned had beaten Buzzin’ and Dream in the Southwest. He has a ways to go to catch up with Old Fashioned and Silver City in the speed figures department, but he is showing steady improvement with every race and he should be coming at the end. If you don’t want to bet a heavy favorite or even second choice, this colt likely will give you a run for your money.


Sumo, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus , trained by Graham Motion for Arthur Hancock, is another who improving with every race and is bred to run all day. His tail-female line is all stamina, made up of the best Darby Dan and C.V. Whitney blood, with names like Dynaformer, Roberto and Gulfstream Park Handicap winner Court Recess.


We won’t even attempt to describe his allowance win at Tampa again. Just go watch it on the Tampa website or and get ready to be entertained.


In the Sam Davis, Sumo broke from post 10, tracked the pace after going three-wide into the first turn. He was fanned four-wide turning for home, and although he couldn’t catch General Quarters, who had a ground-saving trip throughout, he was striding out beautifully at the end, finishing three lengths ahead of Musket Man, earning a 94 Beyer. He’s now finished first or second at Tampa, Laurel, and Delaware Park. Watch for him at a price on Saturday. But even if he can’t handle General Quarters again or Hello Broadway, he’s still a horse to keep an eye on when the distances stretch out.


Rachel, you've come back


Now, we know Rachel Alexandra's long-range goal is the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), but if she runs anywhere close to her awesome victory in the Martha Washington Stakes in Saturday's Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), her connections have to at least have the Derby in the back of their minds. The reason you have give it some thought is because Rachel Alexandra is explosive, dominant, has the look of a true stayer, and is bred to run all day. But there's nothing wrong with winning the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) either. In short, it's a nice decision to have to make.


One other race to watch on Saturday is the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) on grass. If the steady closer, Lime Rickey, runs as well as he's supposed to, look for him to come back the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Even then we won't know as much about him as we should, because the pedigree of this son of Lemon Drop Kid  is all dirt -- he has classic dirt influences top and bottom and is inbred to Buckpasser, so he'll relish the longer distances. Who knows how much he'll improve once he gets on the dirt?


One maiden of interest running Saturday is the Carl Nafzger-trained Polished, who is coming off a strong second to Santana Six, in which he earned a 93 Beyer. The son of Mineshaft, out of an Unbridled mare, will be running in his second straight one-mile race. Watch for him down the road.


Comment on this Column on Steve Haskin's Blog: Hangin' With Haskin.