Monarchos, an impressive winner of the Florida Derby.

Monarchos, an impressive winner of the Florida Derby.

Associated Press/Equi-Photo/Bill Denver

Haskin's Derby Report: Impressive Win By Monarchos

Now, we're not one to indulge in hyperbole, but the fact is, Monarchos was a million lengths the best in Saturday's Florida Derby. OK, so we will indulge once in a while. After all the waiting, listening to nothing but faint rumblings, the smoldering volcano finally has erupted. Although metaphoric cataclysms on the Derby trail normally signify uplifting events, such as Monarchos' explosive display, that is not true when mentioning Sunday's Louisiana Derby. This was more like an earthquake that nearly swallowed up favorites Dollar Bill and Hero's Tribute.

But first, let's revel in the sight of Monarchos streaking by horses on the far turn as if he were moving in a different time frame. This was as impressive a performance as any we've ever seen in a Kentucky Derby prep, and there isn't a hint of hyperbole in that statement. You just don't see a young 3-year-old sustain that kind of move for five-eighths of a mile, while racing eight-wide down the backstretch and around the turn. With horses strung out six-wide down the backstretch, Jorge Chavez kept Monarchos a couple of paths wider, out there by himself. With Chavez' arms pumping all the way from the five-eighths pole to the quarter pole, Monarchos passed horses so quickly it was as if he were running against two-bit hacks, which he certainly wasn't. Despite racing so wide, he went from the half to the three-quarters in a scorching :23 1/5.

At first there was a fear Chavez had pulled the trigger too soon, but amazingly, Monarchos kept on going, despite still showing signs of greenness. As soon as they turned for home, Chavez gave Monarchos one right-handed tap of the whip, and the colt did a little duck to the inside, while still on his left lead. He remained on his left lead while still drawing clear. Chavez then went to hit him left-handed and Monarchos shied from it, moving back out and switching over to his right lead. From there he ran a straight course to the wire, with Chavez just giving him a little slap on the neck with his right hand. Monarchos continued to draw off, winning by 4 1/2 lengths, and his final eighth was a solid :12 4/5, considering that he had already run a mile and a quarter, and the fact that the Gulfstream track was loose, with horses returning caked with mud. When Chavez stood up after the wire, Monarchos grabbed the bit again and wanted to do more, galloping out strongly.

A good deal of credit must go to trainer John Ward, who has kept Monarchos sharp in his works, while concentrating on building up his heart and lung capacity with strong gallop-out times and having him pull up a mile. Listening to Ward's enthusiastic description of Monarchos' last work, in which he came home his final eighth in :11 1/5 while being shut down by the rider, one could detect a prediction of victory without hearing the words.

The question now is: what does he do for an encore? Monarchos seemed ready to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, and all Ward has to do now is keep him where he is. His next start will come in the Wood Memorial, and he has the luxury of not having to do much more than maintain his form. If this colt is as good as he looked on Saturday, then we're obviously dealing with a major star. Remember, we have him ranked in the Top 10 best Derby pedigrees, and his bottom line says a mile and a quarter will be a breeze. As we said earlier, he ran that far in the Florida Derby.

Although Monarchos totally dominated his field, there were others who bear watching. At the top of that list is Invisible Ink, who ran most of the race surrounded by horses, with no place to go. The son of Thunder Gulch was able to maintain a striking position all the way, and never got discouraged. In the stretch, he had nothing but Songandaprayer's rump staring him in the face, with City Zip on his left and Dream Run on his right. When Dream Run bore in, his rider Jon Court went to a left-hand whip and seemed to clip Invisible Ink in the face, or at least come close enough to intimidate him. John Velazquez had to grab Invisible Ink and yank him to the outside. When the colt finally saw daylight for the first time in the race, he took off like a claustrophobic being let out of solitary confinement. He came home the final eighth with smooth, powerful strides, and just got up to nail Dream Run for third. For his first start in stakes competition, this was a big step up the ladder and a great learning experience.

Runner-up Outofthebox ran another solid race, going wide on both turns and running on strongly through the stretch. The son of Montbrook's performance was enough to win most races, as he finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Invisible Ink, but he just ran into a monster on this day. He looks like a colt who is always going to test you, and we'll just have to see how he progresses off this effort.

There were two other efforts worth mentioning. Dream Run, making his two-turn debut, ran a solid race to finish fourth and should only get better. But he does have a lot of speed influences in his pedigree, and there's a question how far he really wants to go. Sixth-place finisher It's so Simple was forced to angle in sharply after the start, breaking from the 13 post, and wound up on the rail, racing back in 10th. That move cost him valuable early position. He then swung widest of all turning for home, and although he was beaten 10 3/4 lengths, he was moving well enough in the stretch to suggest he's going to improve big-time off this race.

Songandaprayer raced evenly to the eighth pole, while changing tactics, and had little left to match the closers. We feel he'll be more effective on a tighter, packed down surface. You Know Who raced at the back of the pack, and just never got going. Turnberry Isle did not have the smoothest of trips, having nowhere to run on the far turn and getting stuck in tight quarters turning for home, while taking a few bumps. He's a small, slightly built colt who can't afford rough trips like this one if he's going to make any kind of impact on the Derby trail.

Continued. . . .