Kentucky Derby Trail: Dubai Do or Don't?

Kentucky Derby Trail: Dubai Do or Don't?
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Haskin on Discreet Cat: "impressive power and fluidity of stride."
Perhaps it is time to stop poring over every bit of minutia concerning this year's Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and just go with the flow. If you don't, your brain will be fried by the time the Twin Spires come into view and the scent of roses is in the air.

So why then are my eyes still getting buggy studying past performances and watching race replays ad nauseam? Why am I searching under every rock, hoping there's a Derby horse under one of them? Because, like so many others, I am stricken with Derby fever; so much so that I even watched the replay of the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) several times.

The best thing to say about this past weekend is that the jabbing finally is over. It's time to deliver a power punch or get out of the ring. It doesn't have to be a knockout punch, just some display of strength. The big wallop has to come on May 6. What is unfortunate about this year's Derby trail is that most of the truly exciting athletes seen so far are inexperienced, and would have to be rushed into the Derby with little seasoning and without being battle-tested.

How's that for a segue to Discreet Cat? Saturday's dynamic UAE Derby (UAE-I) winner joins other budding stars, such as Strong Contender, Showing Up, and Bernardini, who are destined for stardom, but fighting an uphill battle as far as making the Derby. Discreet Cat has made only three starts, while the others have made only two. Of these, only Bernardini definitely is looking beyond the roses, although the latest word from Godolphin is that Discreet Cat is only a possibility for the Derby, and may wait for the Preakness (gr. I). The colt is a May 1 foal, and Godolphin does not want to push him.

It is easy to look at Discreet Cat's six-length romp in Dubai and start spewing out one superlative after another. It was that impressive. The way the son of Forestry   cruised to the lead and bounded away from his rivals without ever feeling the whip from Frankie Dettori was as indelible an image as anything seen on the Derby trail this year. The most impressive aspect of it was the power the colt generated and the fluidity of his stride. And his final time of 1:48 2/5 for the 1 1/8 miles stacks up very well with the 2:01 1/5 of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) and the 1:35 4/5 of the Godolphin Mile.

As brilliant as Discreet Cat looked, the reality of the race is that the "older" South American stars, most notably the "Chilean Monster," Simpatico Bribon, never showed up. Finishing second was Discreet Cat's stablemate, Testimony, who had been trounced in the UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III).

With that said, there is little doubt that Discreet Cat is something special, and it will be good to get him back home whether he runs in the Derby or not. It was at Saratoga that the colt burst on the scene last August with a powerhouse maiden victory, which sent speed figures soaring into orbit. After turning down an offer from Godolphin, Discreet Cat's former connections finally caved in when Godolphin came back with what, trainer Stan Hough called, "An offer we couldn't refuse."

Many feel that a son of Forestry will not get the mile and a quarter, but the same was said about Distorted Humor   and Elusive Quality  . Forestry was a fast horse, but one of his best efforts came in the nine-furlong Haskell Invitational (gr. I) when he was right there at the wire with Menifee and Cat Thief, beaten a length. He also won the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer Stakes in 1:41 flat.

Forestry, who has had only three full crops to race, is by Storm Cat, out of major stakes winner Shared Interest, a daughter of stamina influence Pleasant Colony. Discreet Cat's dam, Pretty Discreet, a daughter of Private Account, won the 10-furlong Alabama Stakes (gr. I) by eight lengths. Forestry is inbred top and bottom to Ribot, through His Majesty and Tom Rolfe, and Pretty Discreet is inbred to Buckpasser. And Discreet Cat also has the big three from the historic 1967 Woodward Stakes in his pedigree – Damascus, Buckpasser, and Dr. Fager. Throw in In Reality as well, and he's got the crop of 1964 pretty much covered.

Now it's just a matter of whether Godolphin takes the more logical path and gives the colt time to mature and develop, or whether they take a shot at the Derby and hope they're not rushing him into something for which he's not ready. At least they're taking their time about it, which means they won't be making any hasty decisions.

Poly Puzzles

No one knows for sure how Turfway's Polytrack form will play out for the horses who run over it, especially after the result of the Lane's End Stakes. There isn't too much to learn from the winner, With a City, the longest shot on the board at 48-1. Not only was the son of City Zip   the highest odds in the field of 12, but the next highest odds was 25-1.

Credit Ron Peltz of Equirace.com for buying this colt when everyone else thought he was crazy. After starting his career off with seven defeats at Calder, including three claiming races, he found a home on the grass, breaking his maiden for a $40,000 claiming tag and then winning an allowance race. In the Battaglia Memorial, With a City finished eighth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths, but bled severely. After being treated in a Hyperbaric chamber, which was beneficial in helping the healing process, the colt was equipped with blinkers by trainer Mike Maker. The result was a 1 1/4-length victory in 1:51 for the nine furlongs.

With a City most likely will head straight for the Kentucky Derby. Equirace.com, headed by Peltz and his son Luke, are the same people who sprung a 27-1 upset in the 2004 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) with Freefourinternet.

Keep an eye on runner-up Seaside Retreat, one of the leading 2-year-olds in Canada last year, who lost a ton of ground on both turns and still finished up with good energy. The son of King Cugat is a long-striding horse who looks to have a great deal of room for improvement.

The most accomplished horse to run at Turfway on Saturday was High Cotton, who would have been tough in the Lane's End following his authoritative victory in the Rushaway Stakes. The son of Dixie Union was held in high regard last year after finishing second in the Iroquois (gr. III) and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), but was eased in his 3-year-old debut. After stumbling pretty badly at the start and pressing stiff fractions, it appeared as if he lost his air.

Back and apparently better than ever, High Cotton is once again headed in the right direction. This is a competitive colt who likes to mix it up, and even in his defeats, he was coming back at the winner at the finish.

In the Rushaway, he put his ears back and ran hard every step of the way, while striding out beautifully. He was always in complete control of the race, and the question that arises is why jockey Chris DeCarlo felt compelled to hit him nine times in rapid succession when the colt seemingly was giving his all and in no danger of being caught.
Even if he had a reason, such as feeling the horse was goofing off, nine times seemed pretty excessive, especially with such an honest horse. Finishing second was the D. Wayne Lukas-trained maiden, Special Interest, who was making his eighth career start. With Lukas' success in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II), it wouldn't be a surprise to see this horse show up there.

Crying Wolf again

The closer one looks at the Rebel Stakes (gr. III), the more one has to like Steppenwolfer, who was highly regarded before the race, having finished a fast-closing second to Lawyer Ron in the Southwest, beaten only three-quarters of a length. What at first appeared to be a disappointing third in the Rebel, actually was not a bad race at all, and the feeling here is that the son of Aptitude is going to run big in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and even bigger in the Kentucky Derby.

Breaking from the outside post in the field of 10, Steppenwolfer was carried five wide by Lawyer Ron's stablemate, Red Raymond. While Red Raymond was able to save ground and settle at the back of the pack, Steppenwolfer continued to race wide down the backstretch and then was put into a drive a long way out. This colt's style has been to make a quick, powerful run leaving the three-eighths pole. But in the Rebel he had to make a long sustained run of about 4 1/2 furlongs, while losing ground all the way. He closed well in the stretch, but Lawyer Ron was running a freaky race wasn't going to be beaten.

Red Raymond, who appeared to be ridden with second in mind, came along late to nip Steppenwolfer for the place. But Steppenwolfer still came back at him in the final yards, while holding off Well Said on his inside. The only thing he lost in the Rebel was additional graded earnings he might need. Steppenwolfer has mile and a quarter written all over him, being by the distance-loving Aptitude, out of a mare by Wolf Power, who is also the broodmare sire of two-time Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Milwaukee Brew. Watch out for this colt on May 6.

Take the Fourth

Continuing the search for under-the-radar horses, do the top contenders confuse you, especially the ones that ran in the Rebel, Gotham (gr. III), Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), and San Felipe (gr. II)? Well, how about looking beyond the top three in each race and try to find a gold nugget in the form of several fourth-place finishers.

Racketeer (San Felipe): This son of Awesome Again   has been discussed numerous times, but in a nutshell, this was his first race around two turns, having turned in a pair of strong efforts going six furlongs, while running against some of the fastest 3-year-olds in California. In the San Felipe, he tracked a strong pace and then found himself between horses on the far turn. All around him were seasoned colts, including major stakes horses Bob and John and A.P. Warrior. When things heated up he could have backed out of the fire, as pacesetting Simon Pure did. But instead, he battled on and actually stuck his nose in front at one point. He continued on gamely, stuck down on the inside, and was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths. With this race under him, and his distance-oriented pedigree, there's no reason to think he won't settle better and show big improvement in his next race, which likely will be the Illinois Derby (gr. II)..

Little Cliff (Tampa Bay Derby): Yes, he finished a dull fourth again in the Tampa Bay Derby, but he's still an interesting horse if you're looking for a Nick Zito longshot for the Derby. And after this past weekend's results, and the hock injury to Great Point, he may be Zito's last chance to send a contender to Churchill Downs. It is apparent watching the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby that the son of Gulch does not handle the Tampa Bay surface (Look what Seaside Retreat did in the Lane's End after a dismal effort in the Sam Davis). He appeared to be in great position, and was striding out beautifully on the far turn until he and Bluegrass Cat ran into the same wall. Had he stayed on the inside, where there were no horses anywhere near him, he likely would have been third. But Jeremy Rose, still trying to win, decided to look for better ground and yanked him clear to the outside. But he didn't fare any better there.

What can be taken from this race is that Little Cliff had been beaten 5 3/4 lengths by Bluegrass Cat in the Sam Davis and finished 3 1/2 lengths behind him in the Tampa Derby. Zito has in the past followed leading Derby contenders, trying to keep closing the gap, and so far, he's doing that with Little Cliff and Bluegrass Cat. Little Cliff will run next in the Blue Grass, a race Zito won two years ago with The Cliff's Edge, who had run third in the Sam Davis. Don't be surprised to see Little Cliff return to his form of last fall when he won back-to-back races at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. All Zito is looking for is a solid third-place finish or better to move on to the Derby. And if there is some good to come out of the Tampa races, it's that the deep surface should give the colt a lot of bottom.

Greeley's Legacy (Gotham): Having demonstrated a quick turn of foot on the far turn in his previous two races, the son of Mr. Greeley tracked the three big speed horses, Like Now, Keyed Entry, and Sweetnothernsaint, who finished in that order. Down on the inside for most of the race, he tried to close the gap in the stretch, and did manage to make up two lengths in the final furlong to be beaten 1 1/4 lengths. We really don't know how good this horse is, or if he can move forward in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) against what promises to be a tougher field. But his speed figures are solid and climbing, and if he can get a contentious pace and be able to make one big run, he could be a factor.

Well Said (Rebel): Like Steppenwolfer, he is a son of Aptitude. He showed dramatic improvement this year following a mediocre 2-year-old campaign, winning at Louisiana Downs and Oaklawn, defeating the highly regarded Brilliant both times. In his stakes debut, he was stuck in traffic most of the way and closed well enough to be fourth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, to suggest that there is more improvement to come.

In other Derby news:

-- Looking ahead, here are the possible fields that might be shaping up on April 8 and 15:

Santa Anita Derby, April 8 -- Brother Derek, A.P. Warrior, Point Determined, Sacred Light

Wood Memorial, April 8 – Keyed Entry, Bob and John, Strong Contender, Showing Up, Like Now, Sweetnorthernsaint (or Illinois Derby), Deputy Glitters (or Blue Grass), Greeley's Legacy, Marco's Tale

Illinois Derby, April 8 – Cause to Believe, My Golden Song, Racketeer, Sweetnorthernsaint (or Wood), Devilofarush

Blue Grass Stakes, April 15 -- First Samurai, Bluegrass Cat, Jazil, Little Cliff, Deputy Glitters (or Wood)

Arkansas Derby, April 15 -- Lawyer Ron, Steppenwolfer, Private Vow, Red Raymond, Achilles of Troy, Sinister Minister, Well Said, High Cotton

-- It's almost decision time for Edgar Prado and agent Bob Frieze. They're OK for this week, riding Barbaro in the Florida Derby (gr. I), and set for April 15 aboard First Samurai in the Blue Grass. But they may have to decide between Keyed Entry and Strong Contender for the Wood Memorial. Imagine the decision if they win all three races.

-- Not only has Bally's, as well as other race books, sold out the fans by instituting a mutuel field, and not altering it each week, they are so far off the mark with several horses. As of March 19, after the big weekend stakes, they had Deputy Glitters listed at 150-1 and A.P. Warrior at 45-1. I wonder if they honored those odds. Of course, if you want to bet Barbaro, Point Determined, Keyed Entry, Steppenwolfer, Sweetnorthernsaint, Like Now, My Golden Song, or Racketeer, you'll have to settle for 8-5 as part of the field.

-- Not enough upsets for you on this year's Derby trail? How about Our Peak paying $149.80 in Saturday's Private Terms stakes at Laurel Park? The son of Peaks and Valleys was making his stakes debut and covered the mile in 1:36 3/5 for trainer Katy Voss.

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