Haskin's Derby Report: Don't overlook Animal Kingdom on any surface. Read Blog
First off, before we get to the Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty works, let's at least acknowledge both colts for getting this far. Read Blog
Arriving in Kentucky two weeks ago, the feeling here was that there were two horses in particular to concentrate on who looked to be coming into the Derby with enough angles to make them live at a decent price. After watching most of the Derby horses work and gallop at Keeneland and Churchill, things have changed a bit, as has track condition.
The post position draw is history, and it is time for racing's greatest minds to start planning strategy. Will there be a fast pace or a slow pace? Do you send or take back and see what others do? Will the outside horses break sharply and try to get to the inside or take back and hope to get lucky to find the holes? The wheels are turning.
It was 11:15, and the 11 a.m. post position selection draw at the racing office still had not begun, as owners and trainers of Kentucky Derby horses paced back and forth or just stood anxiously waiting to see if all their hard work was about to be nullified by some random, ominous-sounding number.
It takes a lot to steal the spotlight from Curlin, but at approximately 8:35 Monday morning, Hard Spun made Curlin's half-mile work two hours earlier seem like a distant memory. That's when the Lane's End (gr. II) winner went out and worked five furlongs in :57 3/5, all but leaving sparks as his feet hit the ground.
Todd Pletcher's stay at Keeneland, for all intents and purposes, is over, and he went out with a bang, with three of his Derby horses - Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, and Scat Daddy - turning in excellent works before heading over to Churchill Downs on Tuesday.
Most people feel Sam P. has a high mountain to climb in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But it's not nearly as high as the human Sam P. climbed during World War II. So if you want a good story to root for, Sam P. could be your horse.
With not much going on at Churchill Downs or Keeneland Wednesday morning, this will be more of a potpourri of Derby tidbits and a few early thoughts on the race. And, guess what? We have another name being tossed in the Derby hat, which is par for the course in late April.
There were three Kentucky Derby (gr. I) works Monday morning, but the biggest revelation came a little after 6 o'clock when Bandini strolled onto the track, the day after working five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. Although he was only out for a jog, it was enough to convince me that the colt is sitting on another huge effort on Saturday.
A beautiful, cloudless sky; Nick Zito and Todd Pletcher working five Kentucky Derby (gr. I) horses; what more could you ask for? Zito and Pletcher dominated the morning's activity, sending out Bellamy Road, High Fly, Noble Causeway, Bandini, and Flower Alley for strong five-furlong works.
This year's running of the Kentucky Derby will be special. It will be won by a special horse with a special story. We're sure of it after watching last night's PBS documentary on Seabiscuit. The only Derby horse on the work tab Tuesday was Offlee Wild. Also, Fund of Funds is out with an injury.
Monday morning saw bright blue skies and a fast track following a severe electrical storm the night before, which left thousands without electricity and phone service. The two workers were Buddy Gil and Atswhatimtalknbout.
While there were some impressive performances this weekend, it is not likely any of the winners of the major stakes want to go a mile and a quarter. Therefore, we will precede the review of those races with a few comments regarding the overall picture of the 3-year-old crop, as well as Hold That Tiger and the other Ballydoyle horses.
After five months of scrutinizing over this year's crop of 3-year-olds, and two weeks of studying the Derby horses at Churchill Downs, it is finally time to break down all the logic and observations, and attempt to make some sense out of one of the most wide-open and perplexing Derbys ever.
It is finally May. In three days it will be Derby Day. In four days it will all be over. Until that day, when everything will look so simple and logical, we remain in our usual state of confusion.
With so many classy speed horses and stalkers in this year's Derby, we were particularly interested in the final works by two of the closers whom we feel have a good chance to come charging late and who have the pedigrees to get the mile and a quarter.
If you blinked Monday morning, chances are you missed one of the 10 works turned in by Derby hopefuls. Starting with Proud Citizen's blazing five-furlong work and Sunday Break's six-furlong move in company at about 5:45, and ending with the five rapid-fire works following the renovation break, it was quite a showcase of Kentucky Derby horses.
As the denizens of Derbyland eagerly await Monday's deluge of works, there were a few workers this morning, as well as several strong gallopers who deserve mention.
With Thursday's moves by Essence of Dubai and Request for Parole, the first wave of works have just about concluded. Tomorrow we'll go over what we've seen so far, and what significance they may play in the Kentucky Derby.
Once again, we had leading Kentucky Derby contenders turning is totally dissimilar works, which just adds to this year's complicated Derby picture.
Pedigree vs. Performance. That is the battle within the battle that may very well decide this year's Kentucky Derby winner. The more we see of Came Home, the more we think that maybe performance can conquer pedigree on Derby Day.
The state of confusion that has been so prevalent over the past several months has now manifested itself in the form of real live horses.
As difficult to believe as this may seem, we're actually going to keep it relatively short this week, as everyone saw what transpired on Saturday and has formed their own opinions. We are starting from scratch and tossing the past performances. We've looked at them so many times over the past four months, they no longer register in our brain.
There were no big 3-year-old stakes this weekend, and the void proved too difficult for us to cope with. We need our Derby fix. So, our mind started racing – how do we put this unwanted respite to good use? Turn to the Derby gods.
As usually happens in a year like this, a second wave hit the beach this past weekend, bringing with it some new goodies, while washing some of the old deposits out to sea.
In the wild, wacky, wonderful world of cliches, you could say Repent finally showed us a light at the end of the tunnel, giving us something to sink our teeth into; something we can hang our hat on; something to bring a smile to our face and twinkle to our eye. OK, you get the point. In short, Repent's victory in Sunday's Risen Star Stakes finally gave us something to get excited about.
Normally, a weekend that features the Lecomte Stakes from Fair Grounds and a pair of allowance races from Gulfstream is not going to cause any great tremors on the Derby trail. While this past weekend was no exception, we did have several impressive performances, by losers as well as winners, that could have an impact in the weeks ahead.
Tick...tick...tick. Nothing to do now but wait. This evening's draw for post positions will be the final stress test for the Derby trainers, after which they will just have to get by Thursday and Friday, and then racing's longest day – Derby Day. Then, it'll all be over in a heartbeat, and all the questions will be answered. There was little activity this morning, as summer temperatures continue to climb by the day, bringing with them the forecast of possible thundershowers throughout the next few days. The morning's main action was Bob Baffert slipping Point Given past the hordes of onlookers virtually unnoticed.
Another bright, mild morning saw the final flurry of Kentucky Derby works, as Millennium Wind, Fifty Stars, Jamaican Rum, and Keats all made the work tab. Now comes the task of sorting all through all the works we've seen over the past 10 days and trying to narrow down the three or four standout moves. We'll discuss these moves in Friday's Derby Report, along with the horses who have been the most impressive in their gallops and the ones who are flourishing physically and look to be sitting on a big effort. We'll combine all that with some logic, history, and speed figures, and narrow down the field to the three or four we feel will be peaking on Derby Day.
The setting was the same as past years: Bob Baffert standing in the Churchill Downs grandstand, his white hair glistening in the morning sun like a fresh mound of snow. A two-way radio is held close to his mouth, as he surveys the post-renovation break scene and offers his first set of instructions to exercise rider Dana Barnes. Several minutes later, after watching his two Derby horses work, Baffert takes a deep, relaxing breath and breaks out into a smile and selection of one-liners. His horses once again have left a long line of smoldering hoof prints in the Churchill Downs surface.
Throw 'em in a hat and pick one. Regardless of which one you choose you'll have the work of the day. That's how similar this morning's four Derby works were. In fact, the times of all four horses – Dollar Bill, Balto Star, Thunder Blitz, and Invisible Ink – were within a fifth of a second of each other. For the seventh morning in a row, since we arrived, the dawn brought bright skies and mild to crisp temperatures. More of the same is predicted through the week, with showers arriving, you guessed it, on Friday.
We've seen some great works over the past week, but this morning we saw a super work; the best move by a Derby horse so far. Express Tour obviously has several questions surrounding him, such as having only one start this year, having missed several days training with a bruised foot, and a less than classic pedigree. But freaks have a way of overcoming such mundane obstacles, and everyone who was around this horse at Calder last year is convinced he indeed is a freak. After watching today's work, and the past few day's gallops, we're not about to argue with them.
Sorry, but we've got yet another terrific work to confuse you with. But even with all the top works we've seen this week, we'd have to give this morning's drill by Monarchos the highest marks. There was a great deal of confusion as to what time he actually worked, as the clockers somehow only caught the final three-eighths of his five-furlong work.
It was a tale of two works at Churchill Downs this morning. The formula was something we see many times prior to the Kentucky Derby: two horses with similar running styles come off the same race, have two completely contrasting works, and both their trainers are ecstatic. It was a perfect example how different horses need different types of works. The beaming smiles on the faces of trainers Dave Hofmans and John Dowd told the story following Millennium Wind's five-furlong work in 1:01 3/5 and Songandaprayer's deceiving :59 drill over the same distance.
It was one of those intoxicating spring mornings that only Churchill Downs in late April can bring: blue skies, crisp temperatures that put an extra jump in your step, and the sight of Kentucky Derby horses, decked out in their striking gold saddlecloths, strutting over the track with adolescent enthusiasm. Although there were no works on tap this morning, we were able to take advantage of the leisurely atmosphere to get excellent close-up studies of many of the contenders as they galloped against the picture-book backdrop of the Twin Spires.
If opposing trainers were looking for any holes in the Baffert Brigade, they sure didn't find them this morning, as Point Given and Congaree both turned in brilliant works over a deep track that trainer Bob Baffert described as demanding. Baffert, always nervous before big works, was looking forward to getting these out of the way. Heavy rains at around 8 p.m. the night before didn't help soothe his nerves any, but morning brought bright blue skies and a drop in the temperature from the previous day.
Welcome to Churchill Downs. Many of the names and faces change each year, but the same charge of electricity still ripples through the backstretch. Bob Baffert has two shotgun cartridges aimed right at the Twin Spires, while Nick Zito is back after a one-year absence, and for the first time since Genuine Risk captured the roses in 1980, D. Wayne Lukas will be a spectator.
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