Six days away for Kentucky Derby 143 and here are some things you should know:
**The connections of Battalion Runner (second to Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial) and Malagacy (fifth in the Arkansas Derby last out) have withdrawn them from the Derby. As a result, Sonneteer (a charging fourth in the Arkansas Derby) and Lookin At Lee (third in the Arkansas Derby) are now in the gate.
**Louisiana Derby winner Girvin struggled all week to get his final work in at Churchill Downs due to a quarter crack (A split or crack that runs up or down the hoof. There are several causes for this, but hoof and/or limb conformation is the leading contributing factor. Big Brown, 2008 Derby and Preakness winner struggled with this during his Triple Crown pursuit). He finally got the work in and fired 5 furlongs (1/8 of a mile) in :59 + change (very sharp).
**Practical Joke, who has shown a tendency to “hang” (not pass and/or finish in the stretch; basically running in place) worked in blinkers this week and watching his work effort in them I did see some improvement when he engaged his workmate. Chances are he will wear them in the Derby in an attempt to keep his mind focused and on the task at hand.
**Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE Derby IS going to contest the Kentucky Derby. He is stateside at Churchill Downs, in quarantine (standard operating procedure) and will be able to stretch his legs on the the track Tuesday.
So as of today, the list of potential Derby starters is:
2. Classic Empire
5. Irish War Cry
6. Thunder Snow
7. Always Dreaming
9. Practical Joke
10. J Boys Echo
11. State of Honor
14. Fast and Accurate
16. Battle of Midway
19. Lookin At Lee
21. Royal Mo (Also Eligible in the event of a scratch)
Right now these horses break into four categories for me.
THE CLASS: Classic Empire and Irish War Cry. In my opinion, these two horses are the top of the field with all the ability needed to win the Kentucky Derby. HOWEVER, both present a nagging concern. Classic Empire–Which version comes to the Derby? Calm, cool, collected, and polished Classic Empire who took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Arkansas Derby or quirky Classic Empire who comes to the gate in a froth and can be unpredictable in behavior?
Irish War Cry–Which one? The talented horse that’s won all his races but one…or the one that finished an inexplicable and very well beaten seventh (in the Fountain of Youth Stakes)?
Still, when these two are on their game, they are very nice racehorses with great potential.
THE STEADY EDS: Girvin, Gunnevera, and McCracken. There’s nothing flashy about any of these colts, but they generally grind away and get the job done. Think Gun Runner last year. Girvin is the rare winner of two stakes preps this year in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. But he is dealing with a compromised hoof. It won’t necessarily be an issue based on his good final work and Big Brown’s example of being able to race successfully with the same condition. But bottom line, at least for me, I want my horse to be as close to physically perfect (and none of them are) as possible; a hoof problem, no matter how deftly handled doesn’t thrill me. The old adage “No hoof, No horse” IS true; I know.
Gunnevera has won the Delta Jackpot Stakes (at 2) and the Fountain of Youth. His last out in the Florida Derby (3rd) was workmanlike, but not necessarily inspiring.
McCraken. I didn’t like the fact that he didn’t even challenge maiden-breaking winner Irap in the Bluegrass Stakes (finishing 3rd), but he also was in desperate need of a race following his minor setback with a bit of a wrenched ankle over the winter. Churchill Downs is his home track with victories in the Street Sense and Kentucky Jockey Club stakes over the strip. His trainer, Ian Wilkes knows his business and was a longtime assistant to two-time Derby winning trainer Carl Nafzger (Unbridled-1990 and Street Sense 2007).
THE DARK HORSES: Sonneteer, Gormley, Always Dreaming, and Royal Mo. All four have shown talent, many people have or will make Always Dreaming their favorite off his Florida Derby win and sharp last work. I’m not on the bandwagon yet, because the Florida Derby was his first stakes race. It’s impressive that he could step up from allowance company to take the Florida Derby in his first stakes action, but for me it seems/feels a bit too much too fast, with the Kentucky Derby as the next step/ask. In human terms, the progression equivalent might be similar to being the winning quarterback in the NCAA National Championship, then leading a team to an AFC/NFC Conference Championship, and then going on to quarterbacking and expecting to win the Super Bowl right in a row…maybe, but you get the picture in terms of the rapid advancement that’s being asked. I also watched his most recent work at Churchill Downs and was less than impressed.
Gormley showed improvement winning the Santa Anita Derby with his new running style and his stablemate Royal Mo just missed getting there (3rd in the Santa Anita Derby). They both have talent, consistency has been an issue.
Sonneteer has yet to even win a race, but finished exceptionally fast (4th) in the Arkansas Derby, two lengths behind Classic Empire. It’ll take a hot pace and many meltdowns for him to win, but I certainly think with the right trip he could hit the board.
EVERYONE ELSE: And that’s just what I mean, everyone else. The only one I’m going to mention is State of Honor because he is absolutely stunning to look at and not just because he’s 17 hands plus (not a real advantage at this stage of his racing life, if ever)!
Wednesday comes with what could well be the dreaded post position draw. If you’re the unfortunate horse that’s drawn into PP 1-2-3, despite all your talents you might as well stay in your stall. So my fingers will be especially tightly crossed for Classic Empire and Irish War Cry’s draw.
See you after the Post Position Draw.