Pop, Pop, Pop

That was the sound of bubbles bursting as the horses crossed the finish line for the Arkansas Derby yesterday.

The race was run at Oaklawn Park at a mile and an eighth and the order of finish was 1st–Creator, 2nd–Suddenbreakingnews, and 3rd–Whitmore.  The top three finishers were not in the top 20 points earners prior to the race; post race the points they earned safely placed all three in the gate for the Kentucky Derby.

Horses Mo Tom, Fellowship, Adventist, and Laoban, all with 32 points were bumped down to “standby” status. Race participant Cupid’s bubble also burst, but to a lesser extent.  After racing on the lead with Gettysburg throughout the first three quarters of the Arkansas Derby, in the stretch he dropped like a lead rock ending up 10th of 12 runners. At this point he’s going to be shipped to Churchill as he already had enough points to qualify for the Derby thanks to his Rebel Stakes win, but whether he starts the race remains to be seen.

The day belonged to the deep closers. Creator, Suddenbreakingnews (who I’m going to refer to as SBN going forward here), and Whitmore were all well off the pace; Creator was last in the early stages of the race. SBN was actually closer to the action than I’ve seen him be previously, and I think he benefitted from it as he, Creator, and Whitmore all launched their closing kicks.  Creator’s proved best in the end, although SBN certainly looked like with just a bit more ground, he might have found the wire first.

With this effort, Creator went from near Zero (he had 10 qualifying points entering the Arkansas Derby gate) to hero gaining the 100 points credited the winner.  Yet another son of Tapit, Creator has the pedigree on both sides of his family to thrive at a distance. As I indicated when SBN won the Southwest Stakes, his pedigree is designed for a route of ground as well.  Whitmore, well right now, much like Adventist, he’s showing me that he seems fairly satisfied running second (in the Southwest and Rebel stakes) and third (yesterday’s Arkansas Derby).

So with the conclusion of the prep races for the Kentucky Derby here’s who, TENTATIVELY, will be in the starting gate:

1.Gun Runner

2.Nyquist

3.Exaggerator

4.Outwork

5.Brody’s Cause

6.Creator (not in the top 25 last week)

7.Lani

8.Mor Spirit

9.Mohaymen

10.Danzing Candy

11.Destin

12.Suddenbreakingnews (32nd last week)

13.Cupid

14.Oscar Nominated

15.Shagaf

16.Whitmore (24th last week)

17.Tom’s Ready

18.My Man Sam

19.Majesto

20.Trojan Nation (has never won a race)

By May 7th, Kentucky Derby Day, this list will probably change most likely due to illness or injury or less likely due to a change of heart by connections.

Leading sire Tapit may have FOUR sons in this race: Lani, Mohaymen, Creator, and Cupid; all four are grey or roan.  Leading juvenile sire Uncle Mo will be represented by Nyquist and Outwork.

A few observations.  If the track comes up muddy, give a close look to Exaggerator, Outwork, Brody’s Cause, and Trojan Nation.  Late closers with a realistic chance: Creator, Brody’s Cause, Suddenbreakingnews, My Man Sam, and Trojan Nation. Horses I think who are without a chance (unless I see them working BRILLIANTLY at Churchill Downs): Destin, Cupid, Oscar Nominated, Shagaf, and Majesto.

My top contenders AS OF TODAY: Nyquist, Gun Runner, Mohaymen, Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, and Exaggerator.  Dark Horse selections: Lani and Trojan Nation.  If either of them were to win it’d be historic, big news as Lani would be the first UAE Derby winner to turn the trick and as stated earlier, if he were to win, it would be Trojan Nation’s first lifetime win!  Right now, I think most anything’s possible for Kentucky Derby 142!

 

 

 

 

Confusion Reigns Supreme

Three of the last four Kentucky Derby prep races are complete and not a thing has cleared up!

Race One, April 9th–The Wood Memorial Stakes–1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct.  This race was won by Outwork, who when last seen was finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby.  He held off a stout late closing move by…80-1 (!!!), maiden (!!!) Trojan Nation.  And Adventist finished third, AGAIN, in his third and last New York-based prep. It was yet again another closing move that made you think with just a little more distance… That remains to be seen as Adventist sits #20 w/32 points to get in the Derby gate.

But back to Outwork. I’m convinced the horse knows his name and what it means, because in the two solid efforts I’ve seen him race he gives his all and flat outworks the other horses to the best of his ability.  Despite his second place finish, I have no idea of what to make of Trojan Nation.  He could be a late bloomer just figuring things out, he may have liked the off going of the sloppy Aqueduct track or his performance might be throwing shade on the overall quality of the field.  Well-thought-of Gotham Stakes winner Shagaf tanked, was never a factor in the race, and finished fifth. In his defense, he may not have liked the off going, but if you’ll recall, I thought his Gotham performance left a bit to be desired.

Race Two, April 9th–The Bluegrass Stakes–1 1/8 miles at Keeneland. This race restored Brody’s Cause’s reputation and got him the points necessary to get to Louisville after a poor first start of the year in the Tampa Bay Derby where he’d finished seventh of nine entrants.  Having sat well back (next to last early in the race) he made a sustained, grinding run to the lead to hold off fellow late closer My Man Sam by 1 3/4 lengths. Cherry Wine (fourth in the Rebel Stakes) finished third. Fountain of Youth second-place finisher Zulu finished 12th, beat by 23 3/4 lengths, leaving him without enough points (without a lot of defections) to run in the Kentucky Derby.

Race Three, April 9th–The Santa Anita Derby–1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita Park.  This race provided two surprises for me.  First it was a sloppy track at Santa Anita and it’s the first time I can recall seeing a wet track in Southern California for this race.  Second, Exaggerator, who I’d pretty much decided from his two earlier races this year wasn’t going to go for a mile and an eighth or more won and won stunningly, by six and a quarter lengths.  Without a doubt he appeared to be loving and thriving in the slop (by Curlin that’s to be expected).  Sitting well off the lead, at least 12+ lengths back, Exaggerator just exploded on the final turn, blazed past early pacesetter Danzing Candy and won going away.  Mor Spirit hung on for second, Uncle Lino was third, and San Felipe winner Danzing Candy faltered to fourth.

So where are we 27 days away from the 142nd Kentucky Derby?  Honestly, my feeling right now is Who knows?  I sum it up this way as of today: It’s Nyquist and everyone else.  At seven for seven and having defeated the unofficial East Coast favorite Mohaymen handily last week in the Florida Derby, Nyquist has shown himself the best of this crop so far. He’ll be the Derby favorite, but for whatever reason I’m not 100% sold on him yet (kinda 75-80% there).  The rest of the horses have either not shown that breakout brilliance like an American Pharoah or a solid body of work where there has been a steady string of wins and/or improvement from race to race…with one exception, a horse I’m increasingly warming up to as the Derby looms and that’s Gun Runner.  Gun Runner, winner of the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby is a horse, while not flashy, has come on in 2016 and won both starts convincingly; basically he appears to be a solid citizen.  And for this Derby that may be just the skill set needed to take the day. He also won his first race at Churchill Downs.

Many of the horses that have earned their way into the Derby are doing so off very light racing experience, in what have been their third and fourth lifetime races.  The few horses that are showing me something so far, Nyquist, Gun Runner, Exaggerator, and yes, still, Mohaymen will go into the Derby as their eighth, sixth, eleventh, and seventh race respectively. Even in an era of lightly-raced Derby entrants, I think there’s something to be said for racing experience.

So now there’s only the Arkansas Derby to be run to send a horse or horses to the Derby.  The horses to watch in the race will be Cupid, Suddenbreakingnews, and Whitmore. Even with a definitive win by any of them, I don’t think the Derby forecast clears!  Yikes!

 

Well THAT was a Drag!

It was Florida Derby day yesterday at Gulfstream Park.  One hundred points to get in the Kentucky Derby gate were on the line.  It was the next step up in distance for the three-year-old colts aiming for Louisville at 1 1/8 miles and, of course, the showdown between undefeated East Coast colt in Mohaymen and undefeated West Coast colt in Nyquist.  Big fun and excitement…except it wasn’t.

Let’s cut straight to the chase, for the moment Nyquist is Number One headed to the first Saturday in May as he handily dispatched the rest of the Florida Derby field including and especially Mohaymen.  When you’re on the favorite, Mohaymen, scrubbing and going to the whip trying to generate an effort on the turn for home while the second choice, Nyquist,  is ahead of you cruising along like the jockey is taking a nice, brisk Sunday drive on a sunny day in his new droptop Z, you know it’s not going to be your day…not even close. But I’m getting a bit ahead of the story.

Nyquist broke from the four hole on the lead straight out of the gate and never relinquished it.  Mohaymen, who came out of the number nine gate, was left about four wide throughout the race in a stalking position where he could readily pounce on Nyquist at the right moment, but that never happened.  Mohaymen was flat as a pancake throughout the race and although he took a brief run at Nyquist, he couldn’t sustain it; it actually ended about as quickly as started.  Worse still for the Mohaymen camp he was also passed in the stretch by one-time winner Majesto, who took second and perennial third-place finisher Fellowship.  Mohaymen held on for fourth, eight and a quarter lengths to the rear of Nyquist.

Nyquist ran a great race and seemed to handle the track and distance with ease.  He didn’t look like he overextended himself in advance of the Derby. He is now seven for seven and will ship on north to Keeneland where he’ll remain in training up to the Derby. Based on this performance and the record he’s accumulated, he is easily ranked the best prospect to win the Kentucky Derby right now (although there are still four major prep races to go: the Bluegrass Stakes–Keeneland; the Wood Memorial Stakes–Aqueduct; and the Santa Anita Derby–Santa Anita Park, all April 9 and the Arkansas Derby–Oaklawn Park, April 16).  He impressed me yesterday.  The only knocks I can put on him are those old racetrack concerns: it’s hard(er) to win the Kentucky Derby when you go into the race undefeated (24 have tried, 7 have succeeded), as the winner of the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic Juvenile (only Street Sense in 2007 has been able to turn that double in the 31 years the race has been run to date), and as the likely favorite for the race! But of course Nyquist doesn’t know or care about any of those issues.

As for Mohaymen, I’m not sure what to think at this stage.  I still believe he’s a FAR better horse than ran the Florida Derby; he’s already run and won at 1 1/8 miles as a two year old, so that’s not an excuse.  He really never looked engaged in the race and his jockey, Junior Alvarado, as much as said so indicating that at no point in the race did he have any horse under him.  I might make the lame excuse that Mohaymen didn’t like the track yesterday even though Gulfstream has been his home track for the winter and he has two victories over it this year.  However, yesterday, they had rain early in the card and then again about an hour before the Florida Derby, which left some moisture in the track and had it rated as good.  He may be a horse that needs a fast, dry strip. Still…good horses can take their track with them as Nyquist has at Del Mar, Keeneland, Santa Anita, and now Gulfstream Park. For Mohaymen it was just a dull performance beginning to end.

Yet and still, I’m taking the rare stance that I’m not quite ready to kick him to the curb. I’m going to “draw a line through” Mohaymen’s lackluster day and give him another chance in the Derby. His race was just too bad to be believed in light of how well he’s run up until now.  And I just heard that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin says Mohaymen came out of the race just fine so…on to Louisville.  Further, I am anxious and hopeful to be able to see his, Nyquist’s, and as many of the other Derby contenders’ morning works at Churchill Downs as I can in the days preceding the race.  Those works tell me as much, if not more than the prep races do about who’s ready to put in a winning effort in the actual race.

There was one other Derby prep race yesterday, the Spiral Stakes (1 1/8 miles) at Turfway Park.  The winner was Oscar Nominated, a horse whose previous wins have been on turf, while yesterday’s victory was over synthetic.  The race also featured another try to get Airoforce back on track (even though after his poor performance in the Risen Star Stakes his connections had decided to get off the Derby trail) and points to qualify for the Derby.  The connections should have followed their instinct; Airoforce was once again a non-factor in the Spiral, finishing a well-beaten eighth.

The Kentucky Derby is now just over a month, 34 days exactly, away!!!