Kentucky Derby Trail: Things to Do Tips
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Todd Pletcher

Bob Baffert has already begun checking off items on his “Things to do” list for the 2010 Kentucky Derby trail by working Lookin at Lucky   in blinkers, with the intention of adding them for the colt’s first start. As consistent a winner as Lookin at Lucky has been, it seems he’s even better with the blinkers, and Baffert is hoping he won’t have to worry about the colt playing around any longer after getting the lead. 

 

Here are other items trainers should include on their list of things to do.

 

Ponder the ramifications of pointing for the Florida DerbyGulfstream Park has moved the Florida Derby up a week, putting it six weeks before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). One of these years they are going to find a place for this race that they’re happy with. Producing two of the last four Derby winners where it was obviously wasn’t good enough.

 

Trainers who are pointing for the Florida Derby should be aware that their horse will either have to wait six weeks for the Derby, which is asking a lot, or run back in three weeks in the grade I Arkansas Derby or Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on Polytrack, and then come back in another three weeks at Churchill. Because of this scheduling, look for some horses to skip town after the Feb. 20 Fountain of Youth (gr. I) to run in either the April 9 Wood Memorial (gr. I) or Illinois Derby (gr. II), both of which would give a horse a more reasonable four weeks to the Kentucky Derby. The Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass would be options as well.

 

Remember, too, that the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) is now being run five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, which is where the Florida Derby used to be and proved so successful recently, producing Barbaro and Big Brown. Also on that same weekend are the newly graded and lucrative Sunland Park Derby (gr. III) and Lane’s End Stakes for all the synthetic horses. So, many horsemen might feel, despite the big Florida Derby purse, the timing is better to wait a week and run in one of those races as their final prep for the Kentucky Derby.

 

On the other hand, the new date of the Florida Derby could be beneficial for those horsemen who still believe in the old school way of training up to the Derby. So, here is one final note to trainers, many of whom nowadays prefer a light prep schedule and four-to-five weeks between races. If you have a horse that is sound and in good form, there is nothing wrong with a three-week and three-week approach to the Derby. This way, you can go all out in the Florida Derby and then be able to use a race like the Arkansas Derby and especially the Blue Grass as more of a prep, without knocking your horse out (see Street Sense’s trainer Carl Nafzger and Monarchos’ trainer John Ward for further details). This gives you much more leeway and you can be sure of having a dead-fit horse going into the Derby. That is the way almost all trainers used to approach the race. Remember, the Blue Grass used to be run nine days before the Derby, while the Wood Memorial and Arkansas Derby were two weeks out. Even the Derby Trial was a successful prep (especially for Calumet Farm in its heyday) when it was run four days before the Derby. It sure didn’t hurt horses’ chances back then. Yes, we know those horses were tougher and sounder, but the Derby is still about toughness and being battle-tested and having a solid 2-year-old foundation, unless you have a super horse like Big Brown competing against much lesser talented horses.

 

The bottom line is, if you are pointing for the Florida Derby you better know your horse and have a plan mapped out how you want to get to the Kentucky Derby – bucking history with a six-week layoff or being prepared to come back for a final prep three weeks later.

 

Tips for Todd – If Todd Pletcher happens to read this, he no doubt will say: “Who does this clown think he is?” But, heck, it’s fun to play trainer without the headaches and pressure. Besides, there is no way Pletcher is going to pay attention to one word that is written here anyway.

 

With that said, get Super Saver  , Eskendereya  , and Rule off the lead. These are his three most accomplished 3-year-olds, along with Aikenite, and as most everyone is well aware, you really don’t want a 3-year-old in the Derby who needs to be on the lead, unless his name is Seattle Slew. You cannot bank on a fluke year like 2002 when no one paid attention to the lone speed horse, War Emblem or years like 2004 and 2007 when no one challenged runners-up Lion Heart and Hard Spun, respectively. Horses winning the Derby on the lead are a rarity.  Also, you don’t want a confirmed frontrunner in case he is unable to get the lead in the Derby, which often happens because of the size of the field and the nature of the race. Those kinds of horses have not proven they have the ability to win from off the pace when forced there by circumstance. All three of these colts have super pedigrees and the talent to win the Derby. All they need now is the running style to maximize their strengths.

 

Unlike Super Saver and Rule, both owned by WinStar Farm, Eskendereya has already shown he can win from off the pace, but after his front-running victory in a mile allowance race, in which he wound up on the lead after a :24 3/5 opening quarter, he needs to go back to his old style before he gets too comfortable on the lead. Two turns should help him achieve that goal.

 

We’re not done with Pletcher. Another item he needs to check off is putting Interactif back on the dirt, or even synthetic, just to give him a shot at the Derby. This is a talented colt who is bred for the dirt and has already won over it. But even a big race in the Santa Anita Derby on the Pro-Ride would make him a top contender for the Derby. Pletcher has already indicated he is looking at the Santa Anita Derby, so let’s assume that item has already been checked off.

 

One final item for Pletcher: despite winning a six-furlong allowance race wire to wire in the slop, in which he dug in and battled back to defeat his more highly regarded stablemate, Three Day Rush should be stretched out to two turns, based strictly on pedigree. By Harlan’s Holiday, out of a Vicar mare, and with a strong tail-female family, there is no reason why this colt will not handle longer distances. And he’s shown he doesn’t need the lead. He’s been OK sprinting, but has every right to be better going long. It’s just a question how good he is. We’ll find out when he goes two turns.

 

In a recent blog on Bloodhorse.com, Pletcher was asked to name some of his lesser-known 3-year-olds to keep an eye on. He neglected to mention Connemara, so we will mention that name for him.

 

Horses to Watch

 

Throw out Discreetly Mine’s fourth-place finish in the Spectacular Bid (gr. III). The distance was too short for him. He broke from the rail in the slop, bobbled at the start, was rushed up, and then was bumped into the rail at the top of the stretch. Look for big improvement next time out.

 

Also watch out for Kerouac when he runs back in a maiden race. He broke horribly in his career debut going a mile in the slop, made a big move to reach contention, but never was able to get clear sailing and dropped back, finishing up the track. Nick Zito horses often move way up in their second start, and it would be a surprise if this son of Rock Hard Ten doesn’t run big next time out.

 

The Gary Contessa-trained Eightyfiveinafifty most likely is a sprinter/miler type, but what a sprinter/miler he could be. Not only did he break his maiden at Aqueduct by 17 1/4 lengths, but his time for the six furlongs was 1:10 4/5. Two races later, the other division was won by the Pletcher-trained Myforestbaby, who ran his six furlongs in 1:13 1/5. In Eightyfiveinafifty’s only other start, five months ago, he set blazing fractions of  :21 3/5 and :44 1/5 before finishing third to eventual Hopeful (gr. I) winner Dublin.

 

Down With Dixie, who showed little speed in his four sprint races, came from far back after stumbling at the start to finish a good third in a 1 1/16-mile race at Churchill Downs Nov. 28 behind the promising Fly Down. On Feb. 10 at Fair Grounds, he went right to the lead and never looked back, winning by 2 1/4 lengths going a mile and 40 yards for Paul McGee. The son of Purge is owned by Jay Em Ess Stable, which also has two potential Derby horses in Worldly and Launch N Relaunch.

 

This could be a big year on the Derby trail for the Dutrow brothers. Rick has major graded stakes winners Homeboykris and D’Funnybone, and the aforementioned Launch N Relaunch, while Tony, who has been building up a top-class stable over the past couple of years, is well represented with the impressive Spectacular Bid winner A Little Warm, Count Fleet Stakes winner Laus Deo, and the highly promising Winslow Homer  , who has been working his tail off at Palm Meadows.

 

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