Kentucky Derby 2002: Siphonic And Other Presents

This is it, the final report for 2001. Starting next week, we'll officially be on the 2002 Kentucky Derby trail, as the major scenes shift to Gulfstream and Santa Anita, joining the already-in-progress Fair Grounds and Aqueduct meets. We close the year with the Hollywood Futurity and several more impressive maiden and allowance victories.

We've been able to place a number of beautiful ornaments on the Christmas Tree this year, but no doubt the lead ornament right smack in the middle of the tree is Siphonic, who established himself as a worthy favorite for the Run for the Roses, along with Johannesburg and Repent. But if you take everything under consideration – looks, stamina, and brilliance – then Siphonic must be considered the complete package that everyone wishes they had going into the new year. Add top-class veterans Jerry Bailey and David Hofmans and you've got one live Derby horse.

The son of Siphon not only defeated a classy field in the Hollywood Futurity, he did it with complete authority, winning by 3 1/2 lengths in a sharp 1:42 flat for the 1 1/16 miles. That was two-fifths faster than Starrer ran in the grade II Bayakoa Handicap. This colt has already shown how special he is by romping in the Breeders' Futurity, despite coming off only one maiden sprint victory. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he put away Officer and Came Home, running on the worst part of the track, and simply couldn't hold off the strong stretch runs of Johannesburg and Repent. But this colt's scope for improvement stamps him as America's top Derby hope, along with Repent.

Runner-up Fonz's ran another solid race at generous odds of 12-1, and it's obvious this hard-knocking son of Out of Place is going to make a lot of noise this winter and spring. As for Officer, well, we said he could be the overlay of the year at 3-1, but as it turned out, he probably was the underlay of the year at even-money. Those odds were outlandish considering the strength of the field. We thought he had a big chance to win if his busy campaign hadn't taken its toll on him. While he did run a good race, finishing third, he just didn't have the necessary kick in the stretch. Bob Baffert said he's going to keep him at shorter distances, but we have no doubt that he can handle two turns. You have to remember, he did run eight times this year, battling on the lead, stalking the pace, and coming from way out of it, and you're not going to find many 2-year-olds who put on the number of miles he did. Four cross-country trips in less than a month is a lot for a young horse. We thought he still might have one more big one left in him after a little over a month off and working bullets, but he didn't. Although he does not have a Derby pedigree, he still could do plenty of damage along the way.

Now, if you're looking for a Baffert horse who could be any kind, then keep a close eye on China Grind, who was not supposed to win first time out, but still defeated the highly promising Battler Bob in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race Saturday. The son of Grindstone is a May 9 foal and was very immature when eagle-eyed Buzz Chace plucked him out of the Keeneland September yearling sale for $240,000 for his longtime client Roger King. That's not a big price, considering his pedigree, but as Chace marked down on the colt's catalogue page: "Grindstone cold." Why a young stallion who had only one crop racing, and sired a classy colt like Ommadon, would become cold so quickly is beyond us, but this colt could heat things up for him pretty quickly. Not only is he a big, handsome colt, but get a load of these bloodlines: Bred by Overbrook Farm, he's by Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, who is by Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. His dam, China Bell, is by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew out of a half-sister to Alydar, by Damascus. He is a complete outcross and it won't take much to make him a sought-after stallion.

"He's one who slipped through the cracks," Chace said. "He didn't sell until the fifth or sixth night, and by then, I was just standing out back, watching the horses come in. When I saw him, I said, 'Uh oh, now that's the type I like.' He's a big, beautiful colt with a beautiful stride. Bob said he was thrilled with him, but because he was immature he wasn't going to abuse him, and that it might take him a race or two."

But China Grind not only won first time out, he defeated a very talented colt in Battler Bob, and he did it fighting for the lead all the way in :45 flat, then holding on determinedly to win by a head in a sharp 1:16 1/5. Now, he still has a lot of catching up to do, and still should be a bit immature come Derby Day. But it will be interesting to see how he progresses and if Baffert can get him to Churchill Downs, if that's where he decides to point him.

We're also intrigued by Baffert's first-time starter Strive, who broke terribly in his career debut Dec. 13, then came flying home to finish third, making up about 10 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile race. But like China Grind, he has a lot of catching up to do, especially still being a maiden.

The winner of that race was Definite Edge, another Hofmans-trained colt, who had finished out of the money in his first two starts at Santa Anita. Like Hofmans' Touch Gold, he is a son of Deputy Minister. His dam, Winning Edge, is by Seeking the Gold out of a Nijinsky II mare, so the breeding certainly is there. He also sold at Keeneland September, but was in high demand, going for $600,000.

We leave Southern California and head for Fair Grounds, where a potential star emerged. Easyfromthegitgo, a son of Dehere, trained by Steve Asmussen, was very impressive drawing off to win a mile and 40-yard allowance race by 5 1/2 lengths over Claiborne Farm's highly promising Robe. Easyfromthegitgo tracked the pace, as Robe went head and head, then blew by to win going away. Dallas Stewart's main Derby hope Yoga finished third. Easyfromthegitgo is out of an unraced mare by Easy Goer out of a stakes-winning daughter of In Reality. Seven of the colt's eight fourth-generation sires are chef-de-race stallions.

Robe, coming off a maiden victory at Churchill, likely will improve, giving away a lot of experience to the winner, who had an impressive maiden victory at Churchill and three seconds in maiden company at Churchill, Belmont, and Saratoga under his belt.

Let's go back to California and head up north to Golden Gate, where first-time starter Attabrook registered an amazing maiden victory, at least according to the footnotes. The son of Montbrook, trained by Lonnie Arterburn, made his debut going a mile after turning in some eye-opening works, including a seven-furlong drill in 1:24 4/5 and a six-furlong work 1:11 4/5. Sent off at 8-5, Attabrook "broke slow," then "forced his way through between horses while rank nearing the half-mile pole. He took the lead, then "appeared to let up," before "dropping to the inside once in the lane," then "jumped the starting gate tracks late in a green, but impressive, performance." Although he does have a DI of 2.33, there is quite a bit of speed in his pedigree. He'll no doubt be an interesting horse to follow through the Golden Gate 3-year-old stakes series.