Haskin's Weekend Analysis: Prep Races on Two Continents

Haskin's Weekend Analysis: Prep Races on Two Continents
Photo:
After this victory in the Gotham at Aqueduct, Mayakovsky will contest the Santa Anita Derby.
We are well aware that the term 3-year-old analysis this year is an oxymoron. Maybe 3-year-old guesses would be more suitable a title. But the trouper that we are, we will attempt to link the word analysis with 3-year-old and try to make some kind of sense of this weekend's stakes, which actually look crystal clear compared to what is in store for us the following weekend.

First off, here is a trivia question: when was the last time the 1-2 finishers of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile prepped for the Kentucky Derby in the Gladness Stakes at the Curragh and the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park? Take your time.

You also have the 1-2 finishers of the Hopeful Stakes heading the Santa Anita Derby, and many of the experts say neither one has any chance to win the Kentucky Derby. Also in the Santa Anita Derby is a maiden, who already has been second to Came Home in a stakes and a D. Wayne-Lukas colt who hasn't run since finishing up the track in the Hopeful Stakes.

This is what we're dealing with this weekend. If U S S Tinosa should win the Santa Anita Derby impressively, and Harlan's Holiday wins the Blue Grass Stakes, that means that two of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby will be Ohio-breds.

Three of the leading contenders for next week's Wood Memorial – Saarland, Medaglia d'Oro, and Buddha -- will go into the race with a grand total of five starts between them this year.

Finally, we have Flying Dash, whose connections (owner Fusao Sekiguchi of Fusaichi Pegasus fame) say they will use tomorrow's Transylvania Stakes at a mile on the turf at Keeneland as a prep for the Kentucky Derby. Of course, this horse hasn't run farther than 6 furlongs and hasn't run since winning a group II stakes at Baden-Baden in Germany last August.

We imagine you get the picture by now that is is not a typical year in the life of the Kentucky Derby. But we do have five races this weekend to, er, uh, analyze.

SANTA ANITA DERBY
You can analyze this one all you want, and you still cannot conclusively say what's going to happen, or even what's supposed to happen. Came Home and Mayakovsky are the two most talented horses in the race by far, and either can win on that talent alone. All indications point to Came Home defeating Mayakovsky, as the latter's trainer, Patrick Biancone, really turned the screws tightly to get him to run a bang-up race in the Gotham off a 6 1/2-month layoff. And he did it in a swift 1:34 4/5. If he can ship back to California and turn in another effort like that, then he is indeed an extremely gifted horse.

Came Home is on his home track and has the right running style, sitting just off Mayakovsky, who likely will be winging it again on the lead. But the son of Gone West hasn't exactly had the smoothest trip getting here, coming down with a slight fever, casting himself in his stall, and undergoing a subsequent nuclear scan. It also has been reported that he's gotten wet prior to his works. Can he overcome all this and still win the Santa Anita Derby? He certainly can in this field. We're not saying there aren't any good horses to challenge the top two, it's just that none of them have really proven themselves in top-class competition.

Now, from a betting angle, we have a different story. When you have so many questions surrounding the two favorites, it's always more interesting and logical to look to someone who's capable of pulling an upset. The three most likely to post an upset are Danthebluegrassman, U S S Tinosa, and Easy Grades. Of these, U S S Tinosa has proven himself at 1 1/8 miles, and ran well enough to Medaglia d'Oro to suggest he's a legitimate threat. Easy Grades took a big step forward in the San Rafael, rallying wide for second, and has the pedigree to keep getting better the farther he goes. Danthebluegrassman is a tenacious battler with a lot of speed, and if he can sit back behind the leaders and relax until they hit the three-eighths pole, then he could go on and win it all. He'll be breaking inside them, from post 2, so Flores will have to be careful not to let him blow out of there. He was too keyed up in his last start, coming off a bit of a layoff, and should move forward with that race under him. While U S S Tinosa and Easy Grades might look more like Kentucky Derby horses, Danthebluegrassman could be the key horse in this race.

ILLINOIS DERBY
This is Repent's race to win or lose. With Bailey more familiar with him now, he should run more professionally, as he did last year. If there is one track on which he should have no trouble changing leads, it is the tight-turned Sportsman's Park. Bailey also has Blue Burner waiting in the wings for the Wood Memorial, so Repent will have to convince him he's as good as trainer Kenny McPeek says he is. He did draw post 10 and could get hung out to dry on that precarious first turn. Sportsman's also is often a very speed-favoring track, so, there might be factors working against him.

There are some talented horses in here who have the potential to improve, such as Changeintheweather, who does have speed and the pedigree to suggest he'll appreciate the longer distances. Publication and Peekskill are closers. But the former ran a clunker in the Louisiana Derby, and Peekskill was well beaten in the Florida Derby, despite finishing third. War Emblem romped in the Illinois Derby prep against mediocre competition, and One Tuff Fox used his tactical speed to defeat some good horses in a Fair Grounds allowance race. But unless Repent gets an atrocious trip or someone skips away to an easy lead and steals the race, there is nothing to suggest an upset here.

AVENTURA STAKES
This actually is an intriguing race, with Equality, a horse we like an awful lot, facing another up-and-comer in Charioteer, who should improve big-time off his fourth in the Louisiana Derby. There is also Mountain Forum, who is coming off two big wins, including a convincing score in the OBS Championship Stakes. The only problem with Equality, and Charioteer for that matter, is that they'll have to go into the Derby never having raced farther than 1 1/16 miles, and horses do not win the Derby without a 1 1/8-mile prep. But this year has been so screwy, we dare not take the history books too seriously.

Equality may have some stamina limitations (we say may). But the way he sailed effortlessly past a good horse in Political Attack on the far turn of the Tampa Bay Derby, with his rider up in the saddle and his hands motionless, there is no doubt this is one very talented horse. He does paddle his right leg and doesn't come out of turns very well, so he'll have to work on that. We really wish he would have gone in a 1 1/8-mile prep against the heavy hitters to show just how good he is. This way, we really won't know much more about him.

Charioteer is just a little guy, but he has a lot of speed and seems to be able to carry it. For $250,000, this is a good spot for him. But as a Derby prep, it really won't accomplish much. We'd love to see both these horses in the Preakness.

GLADNESS STAKES
This race will serve only to determine whether or not Johannesburg comes for the Derby, not whether he'll win. We won't know any more about him until they turn for home on May 4. Right now, let's just get him to Kentucky and bask in his glowing reputation. Just the possibility that he can accomplish something so outrageous as to win the Derby off the Gladness is good enough for the time being.

Continued

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