Came Home comes home victorious in the San Rafael.

Came Home comes home victorious in the San Rafael.

Benoit & Associates

Steve Haskin's Derby Report (3/4): Lost Weekend

For a weekend in which we had five races of note for 3-year-olds, we learned very little. Three of the five races were run on sloppy or muddy tracks, and in the highlight event, the San Rafael Stakes, we really didn't learn much more about Came Home than we knew before, other than he can now get a mile with no problem.

As far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned, we might have learned more about the losers than the winners. The horses whose performances we feel are worth mentioning for the future are: Perfect Drift, who was second again to Request for Parole in the John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway Park; Easy Grades, a fast-closing second in the San Rafael; and Straight Gin, who scored a solid allowance victory at Gulfstream. All three of these horses seem to be improving and have the pedigree to get the Derby distance with no problem.

In this report, we're also going to discuss some of the allowance races coming up in the next two weeks, in addition to the big events that are sure to put the entire Derby picture in much clearer perspective. That's when horses will either solidify their position as legitimate Derby contenders or drop off the trail.

As for this past weekend, the star obviously was Came Home, who is simply too brilliant and classy for these horses. It never looked at any point of the San Rafael that he could possibly lose, unless someone ran the race of his life. He tracked Werblin, the whole way, while going along easily. Although Werblin hung tougher this time than he did in the San Vicente, the outcome really was never in question. Came Home moved up effortlessly to challenge, switched leads smoothly, and after a little love tap from McCarron, methodically drew off under a hand ride to win by 3 lengths with his ears pricked. He came home his final two eighths in :12 1/5 and :12 3/5 to complete the mile in 1:36 1/5.

The big question still is, how far can this colt go? His pedigree says he's just about reached his max, give or take a sixteenth of a mile. But, in this game, sometimes extraordinary talent can take you a long way. It's still asking a lot to believe Came Home is not going to run head-on into his pedigree at some point, but until he does, let's just enjoy this colt. At least we know he can go two turns. There are few greater sights in racing than (co-owner) Trudy McCaffery greeting her victorious heroes after they've returned from battle.

The stretch run of the San Rafael was almost identical to the San Vicente, with Came Home drawing off, and Werblin getting caught for second in the final strides by a late-closing longshot. This time, that longshot was Easy Grades, who was making his fourth career start, and first in a stakes. His previous two efforts were on the grass, and this was a big jump in class for the son of Honor Grades. With names like Danzig, Secretariat, Easy Goer, Alydar, Nijinsky II, and Northern Dancer in his first three generations, he certainly has an illustrious family tree, and his 1.67 dosage index isn't too shabby either. What we really love is his 4x4 inbreeding to Buckpasser. Also remember, his sire is a half-brother to A.P. Indy and Summer Squall.

It's interesting that after being sold for $95,000 as a yearling, he was pinhooked to the Barrett's 2-year-old sale and brought only a third of that amount ($30,000). We'll just have to see now if his performance was legitimate or simply as case of merely passing tired horses.

Battaglia Battle

Normally, you can take a small stakes run in the slop at Turfway Park and basically can it. But there is no doubt we saw two very nice horses battle to the wire Saturday, almost 14 lengths ahead of the third horse. Request for Parole ran another hard-knocking race, and you have to admire the son of Judge TC for his doggedness and consistency. He's now finished first or second in seven of his last eight starts. But if you're looking for a potential Derby horse at a monster price, then you should keep an eye on Perfect Drift, who was coming off a good second to Request for Parole in the WEBN Frog Stakes.

Breaking from the far outside, Perfect Drift was forced to take back farther off the pace than he's ever been before, while racing on a sloppy track for the first time. Request for Parole, on the other hand, had already run a big second to Repent in the Kentucky Jockey Club in the slop. When jockey Tony D'Amico (remember him?) pulled the trigger heading into the far turn, Perfect Drift began picking off horses, while striding out beautifully. He was steamrolling toward the leaders when he ran smack up behind Request for Parole's tiring pacesetter Thunder on Land. D'Amico stepped on the brakes and cut sharply to the inside. In a flash, Perfect Drift was a head in front. But Request for Parole was far from finished. He battled back, and the two slugged it out down the stretch, with Request for Parole just sticking his nose in front at the wire.

The reason we liked Perfect Drift's race is that he has a stamina-oriented pedigree, being by Dynaformer, out of a Naskra mare, and his maternal great-grandsire is Vigors. While this is a weak black-type female family, there are some good staying influences. And, we did like the colt's action and his smooth way of going. Of course, class is the big question, and that should be answered in the Spiral Stakes.

One note of interest. In Perfect Drift's career debut at Churchill Downs, he was beaten a neck by Bunk N Ted, who has since gone on to blow the doors off his opponents at Tampa Bay Downs. This boosts that race's form, making this horse, and especially Bunk N Ted, who really impressed us in the Sam F. Davis, ones to watch.

Other 3-year-old races

-- Nick Zito popped another colt on the Derby trail when he sent out Straight Gin to a hard-fought allowance victory over Marasca. The son of Go for Gin has the physical look of a Derby horse, and we liked the fact that when Marasca came charging through on his inside to take the lead nearing the top of the stretch, he continued about his business and asserted himself down the stretch. Straight Gin tracked the early pace set by the Bill Mott-trained Spinning Tales, but wound up on the lead earlier than expected when Spinning Tales suddenly dropped out of it. Although Marasca had a good head of steam on his inside, and appeared on his way to victory, Straight Gin never flinched. His lead change was smooth as silk, and he then dug in and wore down Marasca to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:44 1/5 for the 1 1/16 miles.

Dosage pundits will drool over his 1.14 DI, and his seven combined points in the two stamina categories. His second dam, Dancing Detente, is a half-sister to Belmont winner Coastal and two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Slew O'Gold; and a three-quarter-sister to Dokki, the dam of Jockey Club Gold Cup winner and Kentucky Derby and Belmont runner-up Aptitude. His fourth dam, Bayou, won the Acorn, Gazelle, Delaware Oaks, and Maskette, and produced Santa Margarita, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara winner Batteur.

With High Star likely going the Florida Derby-Blue Grass route, if he passes his test in the latter, and American Style possibly heading for the Wood Memorial, we could see Straight Gin show up for the Lane's End Spiral Stakes on March 23. But that all depends on how Zito's horses progress over the next several weeks.

There really isn't much we can say about the split Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. Mud or no mud, when two eight-horse stakes fields fail to break 1:40 for the mile, there really isn't anything to learn from them. While the first division, won by Private Emblem was run in 1:40 1/5, the second division, won by Paloma Parilla, went in 1:41 3/5.