Since the Belmont

A LOT has happened.  Some grand, unfortunately more sad and disappointing, all a part of and challenge to the lives of Thoroughbred racehorses.

Let’s start with the happy.  American Pharoah is a hero, and has been feted on both the East and West coasts in the form of being paraded at both Churchill Downs and Santa Anita Racecourse.  He’s such a kind horse and took all the attention and adulation in stride; he just marched down the track before the grandstands as he was applauded and photographed by thousands of fans.

Better yet, he has returned to training and seriously doesn’t look like the Triple Crown effort took much out of him.  He continues to gallop around the track in his morning works fluidly and happily and looks the picture of health–big and strong.  His next race will be upon us very soon, Sunday, August 2 in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanside, New Jersey.  The track is pulling out all the stops with festivities planned for attendees all weekend.

The fast-approaching Haskell leads to the next question and a few updates for the three-year-old crop; who the heck is going to take on the champion in the Haskell?  So far, War Story’s connections have signed on.  Stanford, who was initially entered and then withdrawn from the Kentucky Derby is a likely candidate thanks to his win in the Long Branch Stakes this past weekend at Monmouth.  Carpe Diem and Materiality have had works recently and they may be sent to pursue American Pharoah yet again.  Frosted won’t take on the challenge again, at least not at this point.  He is headed to Saratoga with the Travers Stakes as the goal.  He’ll likely prep in the Jim Dandy also at Saratoga.

We know Firing Line won’t be there.  It was announced last week that his racing in 2015 is done.  He’d been recovering from a hoof injury, but his connections have decided he’d benefit from continued R and R so he won’t be seen again until the turn of the calendar.  Next race plans for Dortmund have not been announced yet, but he won’t be accompanying American Pharoah back to the East Coast.

Sadly, Danzig Moon will not be present either…he had to be euthanized following an injury sustained in the running of the Queen’s Plate Trial at Woodbine Racecourse.  He’d run valiantly in the Bluegrass Stakes, the Kentucky Derby, and Preakness Stakes.  RIP.

The news doesn’t improve much among the distaff or older horses.  Lady Eli, a stunning, undefeated three-year-old turf filly including being the winner in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies race has been stricken by laminitis in both front hooves.  It was set in motion after having stepped on a nail as she was returning to her stall from the test barn after her latest win in the Belmont Oaks run July 4th.  Right now her racing future and potentially her life is in the balance. Good thoughts and prayers for her swift recovery.

2014 Horse of the Year, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome is also on the sidelines for the remainder of the year.  2015 has proven to be a star-crossed period for the colt as he has yet to win a race, was unable to race at Royal Ascot as planned due to a bruised hoof, and now has been found to have a bruised cannon bone during a vet inspection.  He had just returned stateside to prepare for a run in the Arlington Million. Nothing life threatening or career ending here unless the connections determine otherwise.  He may well return to racing next year as a five-year old.

Main Sequence, a star on the turf throughout 2014, including a major win over an international field in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, has been retired from racing due to a tendon tear.  Trainer Graham Motion did a stellar job with this somewhat quirky horse; he definitely turned his form around and helped him reach his potential.

Kentucky Oaks winner Lovely Maria returned to racing last Saturday, July 11 in the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park. She never fired as the prohibitive favorite and finished out of the money in fifth place.  A 50-1 shot, Calamity Kate led just about from gate to wire and had enough left to hang on for the win in one of the biggest upsets of the weekend.

Wicked Strong, one of 2014’s leading three year olds and winner of last year’s Wood Memorial and Jim Dandy Stakes, has been off form through his first three races in 2015.  Saturday, he made his first start on grass in the Forbidden Apple Stakes at Belmont Park to shake things up and see how he’d handle a new surface.  He ran a decent second in the race; he didn’t hate the turf, but he didn’t seem to become a world beater over it either.  It’ll be interesting to see where he appears next.

But let’s end on a very positive note.  Two-time Horse of the Year (2012, 2013) Wise Dan has been completely cleared to return to full training and should return to the races late this summer or early fall.  Late in 2014 he’d sustained a non-displaced fracture near the end of his right front leg.  At the time of injury, his return to training and the races was questionable.  Can’t wait to see him back on the track!

Thoroughbred racing can be so exciting, beautiful, and thrilling especially when a horse like American Pharoah, Lady Eli, and Wise Dan come along.  They are unusually gifted athletes with an incredible will to win.  As this report exposes, they can be quite fragile and the privilege to watch them run should never be taken for granted.


Final Approach

Post positions were drawn late this afternoon for the 141st Kentucky Derby to be run Saturday, May 2 with a post time of 6:34 p.m.,EDT.

Let’s get right to the bottom line of who got which post.

1.Ocho Ocho Ocho
2.Carpe Diem
5.Danzig Moon
7.El Kabeir
10.Firing Line
12.International Star
14.Keen Ice
16.War Story
18.American Pharoah
20.Far Right

I don’t think in recent memory, I’ve found sitting through a post position draw to be such a tense experience. This one was, especially since it appeared that the first 10 posts determined, for the most part, went to horses with the least chance to win. The only serious contender, in my opinion, to be drawn in the first 10 horses assigned a position was Frosted (15). Keep in mind, these are random pairings of horse and post. Still, at the end of the first half of the draw, the dreaded 1-2-3 posts were still open, and Carpe Diem, American Pharoah, Dortmund, and Mubtaahij were still awaiting a post draw. You can see from above how that ended up.

Generally, drawing Posts 1, 2, or 3 is not necessarily a bad thing, and often can be advantageous. But not in a 20-horse field (the ONLY 20-horse field for any American horse race all year to my knowledge; more on that in a bit). In a 20-horse field, posts 1-2-3 are about the kiss of death for any chance in winning the race. Why? As the gates open, it’s a run and rush to attempt to get as near the rail and not hung out wide before the first turn. So while it would seem those first three spots would be advantageous, in reality it requires a horse coming out of those spots not only to press (and use energy better used/needed in the final quarter mile of the race) to secure position and not get pinched off, battle off (literally physically some days) other colts jostling for the same spot(s), AND the horse breaking from the rail, is nearly looking at running into the rail pretty quickly out of the gate, if the rider isn’t careful. It’s just bad luck to end up in 1, 2 or 3 in the Kentucky Derby.

So what do the post positions mean for the five horses I think are the best in the race?

Carpe Diem I think loses all chance to win from Post 2. I hate it, as he’s been training beautifully and is an extremely talent colt. I simply think it’ll be too much for him to overcome. Further, Carpe Diem can be a handful in the stabling area, warm up, and being loaded in the gate. This post does not play well to those issues. If the massive crowd has revved him up (look to see if he’s prancing, otherwise looking nervous/acting out, and/or sweating profusely) his race could be over before it begins.

American Pharoah’s draw into Post 18 isn’t ideal, but I’d FAR prefer him there to further in. Here, Victor Espinoza can keep him out of early trouble in terms of traffic and bumping for position. He showed in the Arkansas Derby he can rate; this post shouldn’t compromise him much if at all. Meanwhile, American Pharoah has continued to DAZZLE during his works at Churchill Downs. His final major work April 26 was basically perfection. Not only was it the bullet move of the day, but it has received nothing but rave reviews from all. He worked exactly as you’d want any horse to perform. And he will likely be the post-time favorite.

Undefeated Dortmund drew well into Post 8. Being the massive (17 hands) animal he is, it is likely he can handle himself in any traffic crush. He’s already had some racing luck as Post 1 was still open when his name was pulled. Dortmund has continued to train forwardly; however, there has been some talk that he didn’t school well in the paddock at Churchill Downs. I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over that point as he’s already raced and won at Churchill. Additionally, trainer Bob Baffert apparently thinks he handles the Churchill track better than Santa Anita where the bulk of his victories have come.

My “Mystery Horse,” UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij drew Post 6. His trainer Mike de Kock had wanted posts 7 or 8 so he should be relatively pleased. Still hard to say what we’re going to get from Mubtaahij. He’s been highly successful and won with great ease in his races overseas. But to participate in the Derby, not only has he had to travel a great distance, he did lose weight (not unusual) when he arrived stateside, had to change feed, did not train at Churchill (he was stabled and training at Arlington Park in Illinois), and had a new groom. A LOT of changes for an animal that is a member of a species that thrives on routine. By all accounts he’s put the weight back on and is training well. He’s either going to live up to his reputation (and then some by overcoming all of the above) or he’s going tho flounder badly. Impossible to say, but based on his accomplishments, he can’t/shouldn’t be disregarded.

And then there is Frosted in Post 15. His turnaround in the Wood Memorial was truly impressive and showed a horse on the improve AND finally meeting expectations. Simply put, he could be coming around at exactly the right time.

Those are the horses I feel have the best shot to win the race. Other horses you might want to consider are Danzig Moon (improving), Keen Ice (a closer), and El Kabeir (a steady performer). Materiality I like, but drawing Post 3 and this being just his fourth start, I think he’s now too compromised by both of those factors. Upstart (who was ailing just a bit in my last post is fine and that was a one-day hiccup), but Post 19 does him NO favors.

My pick remains American Pharoah. He appears to be a once in a lifetime kind of horse. And I’ll go on record now and say because I am so smitten by him I will be crushed if he doesn’t win. For what that’s worth.

But it IS the Kentucky Derby, and anything can, and often does happen–think Mind That Bird and Giacomo. So I always encourage anyone to back the horse they like or even just have a feeling about. Whether it’s the color of the silks or the horse or the name or even the post number, go for it! That’s the real fun of any horse race, especially America’s most famous!

One final thought. Again, in my opinion, there is one thing that could make the Kentucky Derby better and I’ve said it for years–limit the field to 14 horses, just as the Breeders’ Cup and most other major stakes races do. It’s fairer to the horses and riders and safer for all involved. I’ll close with a quote that addresses this point by two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger (Unbridled-1990 and Street Sense 2007) from the April 25, 2015 edition of The Blood Horse: “The trouble with the Triple Crown is that too many people run [a horse] in the Kentucky Derby that don’t belong in it. If they want to help the Kentucky Derby, forget the point system and make it a 14-horse field. Basically, there’s about eight [horses] every year that belong in the Kentucky Derby.” Amen! This year is no exception.

Safe run for all horses and riders!! Enjoy!!!

The Very Nice Pile

It’s just about go time.

Yesterday, three major prep races were run across America, further solidifying who the starters will be for the 2015 Kentucky Derby. The results were fairly predictable, but there were a few surprises.

First up yesterday was the mile and an eighth (as all preps discussed here were) Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. This race was the chance to see if ultra consistent El Kabeir would seal the deal as the ruling colt out of New York, if Daredevil could get much needed points to get in the gate or if throat surgery really made a difference for Frosted so that he might display the talent all his connections saw in him, but hadn’t come to pass on the track…where it counts.

The Wood was the most surprising of the three races. El Kabeir trailed or was near the back of the field throughout most of the race. MEANWHILE, at the head of the field was longshot Tencendur, who initially stalked, then led and held that lead late into the stretch until Frosted inhaled him for the win. El Kabeir finally got in gear, but it was too wide and too late and he finished a well-beaten third. Daredevil managed fourth.

So what does this all mean? Frosted is talented after all and his win gave him 100 points to put him in the Derby gate. And with his breathing problem corrected, I’d think there’s room for improvement going forward. El Kabeir, hard to tell what this race showed as he never seemed to be in contention until it was too late. I liked his tenacity, but that’s about it. The 40 points Tencendur earned has put him in the gate as well, but besides yesterday’s effort, there’s nothing that shows me he’s a serious Derby-winning threat. And, in my opinion, Daredevil’s fourth shows me that his strong suit is seven furlongs. Further, this finish didn’t give him the points he needs to get in the gate.

It was like old times at Keeneland: the Bluegrass Stakes was back to being contested over a dirt track and it was being run four weeks before the Derby, two significant changes from recent runnings (on a synthetic track and run two to three weeks before the Derby) that instantly reestablished its importance as a significant prep race for the Kentucky Derby. The race was Carpe Diem’s to lose. Having run and won over the track impressively last fall, coupled with his highly impressive season debut win in the Tampa Bay Derby, losing this race seemed unlikely. Ocho Ocho Ocho was attempting to rebound from his disastrous eighth place finish last out in the San Felipe. Frammento was trying to build on his solid, closing third place finish in the Fountain of Youth and get points for a Derby run.

No surprises here. Carpe Diem ran and won easily. He sat off the flank of leader Ocho Ocho Ocho throughout the race and passed him at will in the stretch. In the process he again displayed total professionalism and command of the track and his foes. The race was no contest. Ocho Ocho Ocho ran gamely, but was no match for Carpe Diem and finished a fading third. Frammento never got involved. Danzig Moon ran impressively for second and looked like he might be interested in more ground. As a son of Malibu Moon (sire of 2013 Derby winner Orb), that is certainly a possibility.

Finally, there was the Santa Anita Derby where the two main questions were would Dortmund win yet again and remain undefeated or would Bolo and/or Prospect Park take the next step forward to beat him? I’ll be succinct here, from Dortmund’s point of view I’m sure he was thinking “PLEASE, Stop wasting my time!!” Dortmund won again. After stumbling a bit breaking from the gate (Sound familiar?) and in the process losing his right front shoe (Sound familiar?) Dortmund took the lead and never looked back. He galloped throughout easily, controlled the pace, and the only significant, and impressive, change for him was that once he got into the stretch he OPENED on the field instead of just winning by a bit, he finished clear at the wire by four and a quarter lengths. And never looked extended at any point in the race. Aside: If he and American Pharoah break clean and keep all four shoes on during the Derby, AIIIEEE! Watch Out!

So now what? For me, and hopefully as a help for you, it’s time to start cutting to the chase.

Westminster Dog Show Host David Frei refers to Group judges making their next to last judgement as to who will be a winner as selecting a “pile” of dogs from which they will make a final winning selection. Based on almost four months of prep race watching here’s my initial pile.

The Very Nice Pile
1. American Pharoah–I’m not at all ashamed to say I’m smitten with this horse. He’s just a dream to watch run, the entire package–efficient, fast, ground covering, and smooth as silk. He already has sufficient points for the Derby. His final prep run (and that’s all it should likely amount to is another workout in race conditions) is next Saturday (4/11) in the Arkansas Derby.

2. Carpe Diem–What’s not to like? Knows his job. He’s been a model of consistency, runs easily, and has shown the ability to stalk and run well off the pace. Can’t see how he can’t be a serious Derby contender.

3.Dortmund–Yes, I’ve placed the six for six colt third. Could easily have placed him second, but his size gives me a little cause for pause going into the Derby, but that’s a discussion for closer to the big day. One more bonus he possesses that my 1 and 2 choices don’t–a win at Churchill Downs.

4.Mubtaahij–WHO? With a nod to The Black Stallion I’ll also refer to him as “The Mystery Horse.” In reality, he’s FAR from a mystery, Mubtaahij is a very talented colt and last week won the UAE Derby on the undercard of the Dubai World Cup day. Won, might understate what he did in the race; dominate is more like it, finishing about eight plus lengths ahead and continuing to draw off. That win got him in the Derby and his connections say he’s coming. The big plus for him is in that race he’s already run and won at a mile and 3/16ths, just a 16th short of the Kentucky Derby distance and further than any of his competitors have run. The minus, in my mind, is the “Dubai Bounce,” where horses running in Dubai and then shipping stateside seem to be not fresh or rested enough in their next start(s). And sometimes that’s MONTHS later. The Mystery Horse will have to do this as a developing three year old and with only five weeks between races. Beyond that I can’t really gauge where he belongs, as he hasn’t raced against the rest of the colts I’ve watched this year. He’s a very good horse, how good we shall see.

5.Frosted–I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that in the races prior to the Wood, that the breathing problem was his real issue. I liked what I saw yesterday. Not sure it’s Derby-winning caliber, but I’m also not sure it’s not.

The Maybe Pile
These colts are nice, consistent horses, but they haven’t convinced me they’re serious Kentucky Derby contenders:

International Star–The absolute model of consistency, sweeping the Fair Grounds Racecourse series of Derby preps. All he’s done late winter/early spring is win, but I kind of wonder who he’s beat in the process and he just doesn’t look as impressive as the colts in my Very Good Pile.

Materiality–He’s also undefeated, but has jumped into Derby consideration late. He gave a great account of himself in defeating Upstart in the Florida Derby, but as I said in the previous post, it was a grudging slugfest between the two of them through the stretch and I’m wondering how much it drained them both. Can he win the Derby in his fourth start? And as he didn’t run as a two year old, can he overcome the old “Curse of Apollo”?

El Kabeir–Another consistent trier, but I think yesterday’s Wood was a step back for him.

Upstart–Like El Kabeir, I think his Florida Derby was a step back and didn’t do him any favors. Still, he does have talent.

Firing Line–He’s got potential, but Dortmund has already dispatched him twice, including the San Felipe when he’d taken the lead and Dortmund rerallied to get him at the wire. His Sunland Derby was great, but against lesser horses.

Honorable Mentions for this pile: Danzig Moon and Stanford. Both are showing promise late in the game, but I’ve not seen enough to whole heartedly endorse.

The NO Pile
These colts, as of today have the points to get in the race, but…

Ocho Ocho Ocho–Like I said after the San Felipe, I’ve seen enough. There were no excuses in yesterday’s Bluegrass. I hope his connections will take this good colt in another direction.

Bolo–Too nice a grass horse to keep fooling around pursuing the Derby. He made NO inroads on Dortmund yesterday.

Itsaknockout–And, in my opion, that’s about what happened to him in the Florida Derby–knocked out of contention. He was a very well-beaten fourth. Should be saved for another day, not ground up in the Derby.

Finally, Dubai Sky, winner of the Spiral Stakes, is out of Derby contention after suffering a left hind condylar fracture (YES, the very same injury Far From Over sustained last week) in a workout. He’s already had surgery to repair it and should be able to return to training later this year.

The 141st Kentucky Derby is now 27 days away!

BEST 2:00 of the Day

Yes, it was nearly 8:30 p.m.  Yes, there’d been several enjoyable and impressive races preceding it.  But when the gates finally opened for the 2015 Santa Anita Handicap, my day was on the way to being made; Shared Belief was about to “do his thing!” And what a thing it’s growing to be.  Yesterday I stated that if the other horses in the race didn’t get in his way, the Big ‘Cap was all but over.  Thanks for making me look real good Shared Belief!!

Jockey Mike Smith got a clean break and immediately placed him in a clear stalking position and from that point on all he did was steer, sit back, and enjoy the ride.  And what a ride it must be, because with no noticeable urging at the turn for home Shared Belief started to engage, or maybe I should say overrun the front runners, but it just appeared he was gliding to do it.  Effortlessly, he was in the lead, opening and Smith never shook the reins or cocked the whip.  Meanwhile, the horses behind him were laboring to finish the classic distance of a mile and a quarter.  In essence, Shared Belief put in a paid workout to win the Santa Anita Handicap by five-plus lengths…all on his on.  So impressive, so apparently easy, and such a joy to witness!  Thanks for making my day SB!

As a point of reference, in a post-race interview, Mike Smith, who’s ridden more top class, Hall of Fame, Grade I, stellar quality Thoroughbreds than I can name said he puts Shared Belief in the company of Holy Bull and Zenyatta, both Horse of the Year winners; the former also a Hall of Fame horse, the latter, to be as soon as she becomes eligible.  If you’ve followed Thoroughbred racing awhile, you know that that’s rare praise and in my opinion, not overstating the case for Shared Belief’s growing brilliance.  He is now 10 for 11 in his race career.

And here I have to give a quick shout out to the performance of Moreno (winner of the 2014 Grade I Whitney), who gutted it out to finish second in the SA Handicap.  Moreno is an all or nothing front runner and that’s the race he ran yesterday, being modestly pressed throughout.  Moreno also ran this race with that level of effort off a four-month layoff, his last race being a difficult run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  It was a game, impressive race by him.  In different efforts, Shared Belief and Moreno showed the class of the Thoroughbred athlete.

Now back to the Derby trail.  For me, some very good efforts and races, but I’m still looking for my Derby horse.

The Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct.  Winner–El Kabeir.  What made this race interesting to me and potentially beneficial for the colt was El Kabeir displayed a new running style, racing to victory after sitting well off the pace for about two-thirds of the Gotham.  At first glance, since his previous scores have come in front running style, it appeared maybe it wasn’t going to be his day.  But observing, he wasn’t struggling at all, he was actually running well within himself.  When called upon, he picked it up readily and willingly to win.  Sitting behind other horses, taking some dirt, and rating can do nothing but help El Kabeir in a Kentucky Derby run.  Or he can run in his more natural style, on the lead; depending on the gate break and the scenario of the race, this versatility can really be a valuable weapon for him.  The 50 points he received in victory, maintaining health, assures his spot in Louisville.

The San Felipe Stakes, Santa Anita. Winner: Dortmund.  At the risk of sounding bored, Dortmund’s win yesterday was more of the same.  He broke well, raced on the lead, and determinedly fended off a few late challengers.  He appears to do just enough to win and I’m not trying to be dismissive; I find him to be very impressive and not just because of his massive 17+-hand frame.  But a friend inquired yesterday, post race–“Does he have a turn of foot for the Derby?”  My response was, what you see with Dortmund is what you get: to date a preferably free, front-running colt, with a massive stride, a relatively high cruising speed, but I suspect lacking that blink-of-an- eye kick that could quickly separate him from a field or allow him to engage a very hard closing finisher.  If you want to close at him in a grinding fashion prepare to lose, as Dortmund has repeatedly shown if you’re just going to essentially run with him in the stretch, he’s not having it.  But if an express train closes on him, I think all bets are off to the wire. Bottom line, another solid performance and in possession of the needed points for the Derby gate.

A few more San Felipe details. Prospect Park and Bolo, two horses I mentioned as contenders yesterday delivered in that role, finishing second and third respectively.  Although I was a tad more impressed with Bolo’s effort, as it was his first race on dirt, I felt he hung a bit in the stretch.  Prospect Park, just not as good as Dortmund on the day.  However, Prospect Park’s jockey, Kent Desormeaux, was enthusiastic about the effort and hopes for a different outcome in the Santa Anita Derby.  Further, word is he has committed to ride Prospect Park throughout the Triple Crown.  SCREEECH!!  That news distresses me as Kent is the rider of his trainer brother’s Texas Red.  TR has been sidelined with a hoof abscess, but all indications had been that he’d be able to get back on the road to the Derby soon.  Kent’s talented, but he can’t ride two horses in one Derby…awaiting some word/confirmation on what Texas Red’s future, especially the immediate future will be.

Finally, Ocho Ocho Ocho, previously undefeated, didn’t run a step in the San Felipe, finishing eighth…and his lackluster performance didn’t appear to be just because it was his first race off a layoff.  I’d say his Derby future was severely compromised, points and otherwise,  yesterday.  If he does go on, for me, no thanks, I’ve seen enough.

Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs. Winner: Carpe Diem.  This race was as billed with Carpe Diem the clear favorite and his 2015 debut did not disappoint. Very professional, Carpe Diem stalked, took the lead in the stretch, and pulled away and opened for a clear victory by five lengths.  He looked really sharp and I would expect him to complete his prep efforts in the Florida Derby.  His efforts yesterday should have provided him the points he needs for May 2.  If I had any qualms about his effort, it was his fussing behind the starting gate and not loading readily.  Trainer Todd Pletcher indicated it is a bit of a concern and a work in progress.  Hopefully, it will be resolved soon, as it’s the kind of issue that the crowds and hype environment of the Kentucky Derby will only exacerbate.  Another previously undefeated colt, Ocean Knight, ran a dull race and was potentially exposed, finishing seventh in the field of eight.

Of the three preps run yesterday, I give the edge to Carpe Diem for the most impressive effort of the day.  Still, I’m looking for a colt that commands the field and the course as my Derby pick; haven’t seen him yet.  BUT, I’m thinking he may just materialize next Saturday, March 14 in Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes.  While writing this, I took a short break to watch American Pharoah’s workout from yesterday morning at Santa Anita.  Be still my beating heart…everything you want to see a racehorse do working or racing: happy, smoothly covering ground, a near perfect, metronome rhythm to his stride; there just aren’t enough superlatives for what I’m (and everyone else, led by trainer Bob Baffert is) seeing.  Right now I. Can’t. Wait. to see this colt unleashed in the Rebel.  American Pharoah ain’t just commanding the track, he owns it!  Hey, maybe I do have a Derby pick after all!!


March 7, 2015.  Perhaps today, the Kentucky Derby picture will begin to sharpen.  Or maybe it’ll be more of the same.

On the East Coast, the Gotham Stakes is being run and El Kabeir and Classy Class who dueled quite aways before Far From Over overtook both deep in the stretch of the Withers Stakes return for another round.  They are likely to go one-two again today; any less than that isn’t the progression you want to see moving on towards the Derby.  A first place finish garners 50 points and will, for sure, barring injury, put a colt in the Derby gate.  I’m going to look past the two favorites to Blame Jim, who has shown some promise.

At Gulfstream Park, monsoon rains last Saturday, literally swept the Swale Stakes and the bulk of the remainder of the Gulfstream card off and away.  So we try again today.  While the Swale doesn’t provide any Derby points, at least last week it was considered a prep for colts with some racing experience and with success in the race, the hope of moving up and on into a points prep race.  But now it’s seven days later and that just might cramp the Swale winner’s potential Kentucky Derby style.  Daredevil is the favorite for the Swale.

At Tampa Bay, it’s Tampa Bay Stakes Day and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile second-place runner, Carpe Diem makes his 2015 debut.  Again, time is of the essence and this race won’t necessarily be a walk in the park for this talented son of Giant’s Causeway.  Ocean Knight and Divining Rod, another one-two finishing combo from the Tampa Bay Derby prep Sam F. Davis Stakes return, looking for their secured ticket to Louisville.

On the West Coast, a potential throwdown is possible.  Undefeated giant colt Dortmund and well-rested, undefeated and making his first start of the year colt Ocho Ocho Ocho will contest the San Felipe Stakes.  This race may have the deepest field of the day and year for a prep with San Vicente winner Lord Nelson and well-thought-of colts Prospect Park (x Tapit), Bolo, and Pain and Misery also contesting the race.  However, the latter three will really need to step up their games, particularly Bolo, who’s making a surface switch from turf to dirt.  Lord Nelson hasn’t yet succeeded in a two-turn race and may be more inclined to seven furlongs or a mile. Initially, Dortmund was supposed to stay on the sidelines until the April 4 Santa Anita Derby, but his training was so forward, trainer Bob Baffert opted to race him today.  A side note on Dortmund: He’s currently toping 17 hands and 1,280 lbs.!!! He is a three year, one-month-old colt today!

There were other Derby-related developments throughout the week.  Khozan, easy winner of his first two races, has been forced off the Derby trail before he could even rightly get on it.  He came out of a routine work with an undetermined injury to his right hind ankle.  He will be examined at Rood and Riddle Veterinary Clinic in Lexington, KY on Monday.  Very disappointing, as it appeared the sky was the limit for this colt.

Take Charge Brandi wasn’t even entered in today’s Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park (Correction from last post: the Honeybee is not on the Rebel Stakes undercard. The Rebel runs next Saturday, March 14). So it appears she will be entered to take a shot against the colts.  If so, the Rebel will feature both the Eclipse winning two-year-old filly and two-year-old Eclipse champion colt in American Pharaoh.  My opinion hasn’t changed; between the two of them it’s no contest.  And American Pharoah’s works approaching the Rebel have been lights out not only in times but appearance in ease (and enjoyment) of work!

But despite this wealth of three-year-old race enjoyment, the real excitement should be in the last major race of the day: “The Big ‘Cap,” the Santa Anita Handicap, featuring star Shared Belief.  At least on paper this race IS Shared Belief and everyone else.  But as regrettably seen in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, anything can happen.  But I believe in Belief and if everyone just stays out of his way, I believe he’s ready to roll.  Schooling in the paddock yesterday at Santa Anita, he couldn’t keep all four hooves on the ground!

Hope you can catch some of today’s action.  I’ll be back with impressions of results.  FIFTY-SIX days until the Kentucky Derby.