Kentucky Derby 2002: Some Holiday Gifts

Trainers on both coasts unwrapped some exciting early Christmas presents last week, and all the gifts appear to come with batteries packed with enough charge to last well past next May. This is the time of year when the colts with Derby pedigrees make their appearance, and if you like to see brilliance and a big closing kick to go along with a very low dosage index, then you're going to love Pelirrojo, Charioteer, Axis, and Iwin, whose respective DIs are 1.67, 2.00, 0.93, and 1.59.

Trainer John Sadler was expecting Pelirrojo to come from far back with a late run in his career debut at Hollywood Park on Dec. 2. But the son of Flying Continental exceeded his expecations on both counts. Trailing the field by some 13 lengths after the opening quarter of the six-furlong race, and six lengths behind the fifth horse, Pelirrojo unleashed a monster move around the turn, while saving ground, then fanned out approaching the quarter pole and blew by his opponents in the stretch to win in hand by 3 1/2 lengths. The co-favorites at 17-10 – the Bob Baffert-trained pair of Chaos N Confusion and Clay Time – finished third and fifth, respectively. Pelirrojo, who broke awkwardly, then jumped a set of footprints at the wire, stopped the timer at 1:10 2/5, which was a second and two-fifths off Men's Exclusive's winning time in the Vernon O. Underwood Stakes later on the card.

That's a solid time, considering Men's Exclusive is one of the fastest horses in the country and Pelirrojo is bred to go long. And if you want to know where that devastating closing kick came from, his great granddam in his tail-female family is by none other than the legendary Silky Sullivan, who once came from 41 lengths back in a 6 1/2-furlong race to win. It's a name you rarely see in any pedigree. Pelirrojo also is inbred 4 x 4 top and bottom to one of our favorite influences, Prince John. A lot of the speed he does have is from his dam's broodmare sire Beau's Eagle, who was brilliant from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles when he wasn't busy chasing Spectacular Bid.

Pelirrojo will be easy to spot, as he's almost pure white. Trainer John Sadler and his crew call him Vigors, who, like Pelirrojo, was a big, white freight train of a closer who raced in the late '70s.

Back East on Nov. 28, Todd Pletcher unleashed another Derby hopeful to go along with Nokoma. His name is Charioteer, and he is from the same connections who brought you Invisible Ink this year. "I've been telling anyone who would listen what an absolutely sensational horse I have," said John Fort, who runs the Peachtree Stable syndicate that owns the colt.

Unlike Pelirrojo, Charioteer is a little guy, standing a little over 15.1 hands. But as exercise rider and assistant Cindy Hutter told Fort, he doesn't seem small when you're riding him. He certainly didn't seem small to his opponents when he drew off to a 1 1/4-length victory at Aqueduct, blazing his six furlongs in 1:09 3/5. Earlier on the card, D. Wayne Lukas' highly promising Capote 2-year-old River Gambler broke his maiden in 1:10 1/5.

Fort said Charioteer is all business, wanting only to eat, sleep, train, and race, and have as little contact as possible with humans. He said the colt's philosophy is simple: "If you're not coming in the stall to feed me or put a saddle on me, then stay out." What really impresses Fort is that although Charioteer is such a small horse, he has a huge, efficient stride.

Charioteer is by Silver Deputy out of a Dynaformer mare, and is inbred 5 x 5 top and bottowm to Nashua. He may be small, but his early foaling date of Feb. 3 helps him make up for his size with maturity. He did finish second twice before breaking his maiden, with the first race being more of a learning experience, in which he exploded on his own turning for home and galloped out 15 lengths ahead of the field, according to Fort. His sore shins were bugging him in his second start, and Pletcher gave him time off after that.

Let's go back a week to Turfway Park and the sensational maiden victory by the Elliott Walden-trained Axis, who romped by 6 1/4 lengths in :59 flat for the five furlongs. This colt has a remarkable pedigree in that there is a beautiful blend of speed and stamina. He no doubt gets a good deal of his speed from his sire Saint Ballado, who has the versatility to come up with any kind of horse, from the late-running distance horse Captain Bodgit to the brilliant miler Yankee Victor to the precocious Flame Thrower. His broodmare sire Moscow Ballet has produced some fast stakes horses, but he is by Nijinsky II, out of a half-sister to Mill Reef, giving him arguably the two greatest classic horses to race in Europe in the last 35 years. His maternal great-granddam, Never Knock, is the dam of Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Pleasant Tap. If you're into dosage, how about this colt's dosage profile of 6-1-13-5-3 and dosage index of 0.93?

Walden, who thinks very highly of the colt, tried to run him at Churchill Downs, but he didn't get in, so he was forced to run him at Turfway. Now it's time to stretch him out and see what he really has. He said the colt from a phyiscal standpoint is more short-coupled than your typical distance horse, but he is very well-balanced and has a good mind.

Speaking of Go for Gin, his familiar yellow silks of owner William Condren were seen at Aqueduct on Dec. 2 charging relentlessly down the stretch in a one-mile maiden race. The bay colt beneath those silks was the Nick Zito-trained Iwin, who came from fifth at the eighth pole to just get up by a nose in his second career start. Iwin is a son of the young stallion Victory Speech, who is by Deputy Minister out of an Alydar mare. His dam is by the Buckpasser stallion Bucksplasher, and her female family is all stamina through fourth generation stallions Princequillo and the noted French sire Tantieme. Iwin also has a strong dosage profile of 5-3-11-3-0 and DI of 1.59.

This gives Zito three horses who demonstrated a strong closing kick in the past two weeks. In addition to Iwin, Zito sent out Silent Fred and High Star to finish third in the Remsen and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, respectively.

Another recent maiden winner to keep an eye on is the Unbridled's Song colt Taillevent, who out-battled the promising Neil Drysdale-trained colt Sunday Break to win by a head at 6 1/2 furlongs. The gray colt, trained by Julio Canani, has an excellent blend of speed and stamina on the bottom and a 1.57 DI.

In other 2-year-old news, Jeremiah Jack, trained by Tom Amoss, drew off to a 5-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Sam Houston Texan Juvenile Stakes, defeating favored French Assault, who was coming off a solid sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which he was beaten only 5 lengths. Jeremiah Jack's sire is the brilliantly fast Patton. Although his DI is 4.33, there does seem to be enough stamina in his pedigree to possibly get him a mile and a quarter.

Bob Baffert's pair of Danthebluegrassman and Hawk's Top Gun were beaten by Cottonwood Cowboy in a 7 1/2-furlong allowance race at Hollywood Park Dec. 1. The winner, by Meadowlake, has won two in a row, but a mile and a quarter looks like a bit of a stretch for him.

Bill Mott said Listen Here, who turned in a disappointing effort in the Remsen, came out of the race in good shape, and probably will be kept at shorter distances.

Scott Lake's exciting Thunderello, who broke his maiden by 14 1/4 lengths at Saratoga, is out until late spring with a tear in his suspensory. Lake has high hopes for his other top 2-year-old Tacirring, who has recovered from an infection. Lake said Tacirring used to "outwork Thunderello for fun."

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