Haskin: "...a big race at Oaklawn...will make [Team Valor's Shadowland] a serious horse on the first Saturday in May."

Haskin: "...a big race at Oaklawn...will make [Team Valor's Shadowland] a serious horse on the first Saturday in May."

Team Valor

Kentucky Derby Trail: More Intermission Ramblings

With plenty of down time left before the flood of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) preps begin on April 3, this is a good opportunity to continue looking for new angles, new faces, and a new perspective on the Derby picture.

The usual game of musical jockeys began on Wednesday when Bob Frieze, agent for Edgar Prado, said Prado would ride Eddington back in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) after his third-place finish in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III). "I told Mark (trainer Mark Hennig) before the Gotham I wasn't coming up to ride his horse for one race, only to have (Jerry) Bailey get back on him for the Wood," Frieze said. "So, it looks like we'll be riding him him in the Wood." The next day, Hennig said Bailey would be aboard for the Wood. Oh, well, just another typical day on the backstretch.

According to Frieze, Eddington's connections felt this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and they believed Bailey would be more instrumental in helping the colt change leads, something he failed to do in the Gotham. Even in the two races Bailey rode him, he was late changing leads, and they were slower, two-turn races. But Bailey does know this colt as well as anyone, and has learned more about him each time he's ridden him. The two seemed to be getting into a good rhythm together before Bailey had to jump ship to honor his commitment aboard Birdstone in the Lane's End. The bottom line is that Bailey is a good fit for Eddington.

Although Frieze was looking forward to getting back on Eddington, he still has other "irons in the fire," and could wind up on one of several colts, such as Tapit (Wood), Limehouse (Blue Grass), Swingforthefences (Wood or Illinois Derby), and yes, even Birdstone (Blue Grass). Frieze said the mount on Limehouse came open when Pat Day elected to ride Shadowland in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II).

Day got into a ton of trouble on the colt in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), and still has so much confidence in him he gave up several other live mounts (3-year-olds and older horses) that same day to ride him at Oaklawn. Day ran Shadowland up behind a tiring leader at the five-sixteenths pole and couldn't ride the colt for about a sixteenth of a mile, then got completely shut off and had to take up sharply when he tried to come through a tiny opening on the rail. After that, Day didn't persevere with him at all and just sat on him, knowing he had no chance to hit the board. The key is that he was moving as well as anyone at the time, and the feeling here is that he would have been right there at the wire. The son of Distant View made a super appearance before the race, and has a look of class about him. This definitely is a colt who bears watching next time, and a big race at Oaklawn, even a good second behind Smarty Jones, will make him a serious horse on the first Saturday in May.

Still looking for a piece of the Action

I have come to praise Action This Day, not to bury him. OK, so it's not exactly the way it was written, but it fits this way. And this current lull is a perfect time to go against what appears obvious and play devil's advocate.

Action This Day has been all but buried after his disappointing performance in the San Felipe (gr. II), but it may be wise to hold off on the eulogies until after April 10. Regardless of where trainer Dick Mandella decides to run him, there is still time for a ressurection. That comment could very well bring with it the proverbial egg on my face, but it wouldn't be the first time, and, besides, it's more fun to defend a champion after he has fallen.

Action This Day was not exactly a monarch who was worshipped during his brief reign, anyway, so it's time for someone to say a few good words on his behalf.

It's possible, just possible, that the San Felipe was a total fluke, gash or no gash. A three-stitch wound shouldn't have made him run as badly as he did. A stone closer who usually comes from the clouds, he broke like a bullet and charged up behind the leader, Odds On, going into the first turn as if he was going to run up his back. And he did all this while dodging a loose horse, making it an even more bizarre scenario.

His fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Sham Stakes, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths, in his 3-year-old debut was criticized by many as a dull effort. But he did make a big run on the far turn, while going very wide, and two of the horses who finished in front of him, Preachinatthebar and Borrego, went on to win the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) and finish second in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), respectively. The winner, Master David, had already finished second to Read the Footnotes and third to St Averil.

After the Sham, Action This Day had five works between that race and the San Felipe, including a bullet seven furlongs in 1:24 2/5 and a sharp half-mile breeze in :47 3/5. For whatever reason, he was raring to go in the paddock and in the post parade, like a football player before the game looking for helmets to butt. Mandella and his son, Gary, thought it was a good sign, because he'd likely be closer to the pace, but as Gary said, "It blew up in our face."

The bottom line is that the gash is fine, the horse is doing well, and a return to his old tactics may put him back in the right direction. And if it does, remember, he's one of the few Derby contenders out there who you know for sure will relish the mile and a quarter. Yes, he ran a terrible race in the San Felipe, and, yes, he could turn in another clunker next time. But there are also several reasons to remain hopeful that he can silence his critics.

The American dream

Looking ahead to the Illinois Derby (gr. II), here is a name most people aren't familiar with. Already training at Hawthorne is Pure American, who has come to Chicago by way of Emerald Downs, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, and Oaklawn Park. If there was a jaw-dropping performance this year at a lower level it was this colt's allowance victory in his last start at Oaklawn. With all eyes on the overwhelming favorite, Gran Prospect, most people had no idea who that gray blur was streaking past him around the far turn. Not only did Pure American go from eight lengths back to four in front in a quarter of a mile, he looked like he was in a high gallop, barely raising a sweat.

So, who is this unknown horse trained by little-known Grant Forster? After breaking his maiden at six furlongs with an equally explosive move at Churchill Downs, he stretched out to two turns at Fair Grounds, and after making up nine lengths in a flash, he started gawking at the grandstand and lugging in, losing his concentration and winding up fourth behind Gradepoint. Forster put blinkers on, but the son of Quiet American became rank and wound up battling for the lead early before tiring. In his last start, Forster took the blinkers off, and Pure American put on his dazzling exhibition, coming from about 10 lengths back to win by eight. He's not a robust horse and is not the best shipper, so Forster sent him to Hawthorne early, and the colt drilled a sharp five furlongs in a bullet :59 2/5 on March 21.

Whether he has the class to handle stakes horses like Pollard's Vision, Kilgowan, Farnum Alley, O.K. Mikie, and White Mountain Boy, and the up-and-coming Suave and Song of the Sword remains to be seen. But he is an interesting horse to keep an eye on.

Another longshot possibility is White Mountain Boy, who suffered his first defeat in the Battaglia at Turfway after breaking from the far outside (post 10), and never really got a chance to relax, chasing some relatively stiff fractions. After offering huge bucks for several Derby prospects this winter, this likely will be owner Michael Gill's last attempt to get to Churchill Downs on May 1.

Suave and Farnum Alley have been added to the list of definite starters, but Tiger Hunt will not be coming, as his connections feel he's not ready for this kind of test for his first start of the year.

Ballydoyle in the Wood Memorial? There is a chance Aidan O'Brien may send over King Hesperus for the nine-furlong race. The son of Kingmambo was two for three last year, including a third in the seven-furlong Superlative Stakes (Eng-III) at Newmarket.