Observations

Now that Belmont 148 is in the books there’s just a few post race points to cover.

First, it really did turn out to be an exciting race with Creator launching from near last to catch Destin at the wire to finish first.  Perhaps his rotten Derby trip really did compromise his performance and finish; we’ll never know. And so much for the position that the Belmont Stakes isn’t won by deep closers.

This was the first time I can recall having three grey colts finish one-two-three in such a major stakes race.  And of course two of them–Creator and Lani are sons of super stallion Tapit; Destin is by Giant’s Causeway. Tapit now has two of the last three Belmont Stakes winners, being the sire of 2014’s winner–Tonalist.

While I was very disappointed in Exaggerator’s 11th place finish (his worst race finish ever) I am relieved he came out of the race sound and healthy and it’s clear in watching replays that jockey Kent Desormeaux wrapped up on him when he felt they were not going to contend.  Exaggerator will remain in New York, at Belmont for the immediate future, and then ship upstate for some of the summer stakes (the Jim Dandy and/or Travers Stakes being the most likely targets) at Saratoga.

The second biggest disappointment for me was Suddenbreakingnews.  In my opinion the race was tailor made for him and I had high hopes that with Mike Smith riding he’d breakthrough; no such luck, he didn’t run a step.  I have no explanation and have heard  nothing about the performance (or lack of same) from his camp.

Besides the close finish, the highlight of this race for me was: LANI!!!  Yes, my boy, the grey wonder horse (in more ways than one) yet again took another significant step forward in his third place finish.  Ninth in the Derby, fifth in the Preakness, Lani just kept at the task and kept coming.  He and his handlers were viewed with a lot of skepticism and in some instances mockery because of his behavior and the way he trained–usually long and slow. They underrated this horse. This spring, dating back to March, he has travelled from Japan to Dubai to Chicago, Louisville, Baltimore, and Elmont, New York.  Although his training might have appeared out of the norm, there was never any doubt in my mind that he was the fittest horse in this bunch of three-year-old colts.  That, combined with his Tapit/Sunday Silence pedigree, kept him in contention throughout this series.  As for his behavior, I attribute that to being quite the ALPHA colt.  But he learned and improved throughout and I think, provided he stays sound, once he returns to Japan he’ll be quite successful.  I would love to see him return this fall to contest the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  GO Lani!

Creator will ship to his eventual stallion home, WinStar Farm, for a few weeks of rest and recovery. Barring the unforeseen, he should also return to training for the Saratoga meet.

Nyquist is back in California and resumed light training late last week. His future races have not been announced, but if all goes well, I’m sure he’ll be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic as this year it’ll be run at his home track at Santa Anita Park.

It was an interesting series of Triple Crown races. The three-way split of the races further emphasizes the difficulty of winning one, let alone all three, and shows how amazing and rare American Pharoah’s sweep last year was through the 19-horse Derby field, monsoon conditions of the Preakness, and the mile and a half “Test of the Champion.”

American Pharoah’s feat was further flattered in the Belmont undercard.  Last year’s second-place finisher in the Belmont, Frosted (also a son of Tapit!) blistered a talented field in the Metropolitan Mile. Not only did he set a record time for the stakes, he won by 14 1/4 lengths.  It was an absolutely stunning performance and honestly the best race of the day. With Frosted’s performance, you have to wonder what American Pharaoh might have been capable of as a four-year-old.

 

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Six Days

It’s now six days to the Kentucky Derby and I can’t wait to see what will happen.  It’s been a pretty quiet lead up to the big day so far.  The most notable news came in the day after the last major prep, the Arkansas Derby, was completed; Cupid, who had been favored in the race, but tanked badly was withdrawn from the Derby.  He had an excuse for his dismal Oaklawn run as he struggled with an entrapped epiglottis in the race.  Kinda hard to run your fastest or best when your breathing is severely impeded.  He’s had corrective surgery and will be able to return to racing later.

With this, Mo Tom has been able to move into the race, which personally, I’m thrilled with because I think this colt has the potential to have a big run in the Derby.  The defection of Cupid also altered one of the most interesting subplots in the 2016 Derby as it gave leading sire Tapit one less starter and up and coming sire Uncle Mo one more colt in the gate.  Barring any more changes it’ll be Team Tapit (Mohaymen, Creator, and Lani) v. Team Uncle Mo (Nyquist, Mo Tom, and Outwork).

The next most interesting story post preps has been that of Japanese-based, Kentucky-bred, UAE Derby winner Lani.  Here I have to defer to the description The Blood Horse provided following one of Lani’s “works” at Churchill: “Take (one of Japan’s leading riders and Lani’s jockey, who came from Japan for this work…) acknowledged that Lani’s temperament is such that he’s not always willing to run, but ‘if he wants to run on Derby Day, we have a big chance.’ The jockey said he wouldn’t know which Lani was showing up until they broke from the gate.”   (Emphasis mine.)

Uh huh…  Lani’s times in his two works over the Churchill track have been gla-cial.  Now, I’m not a big times girl, I only use it as a point of reference and it’s just one factor in an overall picture. So I was really glad I could watch these two works that Lani put in and quite honestly, I’m just scratching my head.  He’s handing the Churchill track well enough and when he does move out, he does look comfortable and good.  However, as his jockey indicates, he also exudes attitude as he’s going through his morning paces; pretty much an appearance of “Is this really necessary, because there’s far better ways I could be spending my time back in my stall.”  Seriously.  So at this point all I can say is I hope Lani wakes up on the right side of the stall May 7 and enjoys all the excitement of the day.  Otherwise, by the end of the race it may well appear that he broke from the gate in Japan and not Louisville.

Now I haven’t had an opportunity to see the works of every horse entered for the Derby and some, like Nyquist, haven’t made their final moves at Churchill (Nyquist is the only horse I’ll give a pass on on this point, as to date he has carried his track with him. To date no surface has proven an impediment to him.  For me, the main thing is his connections left him here on the East Coast post the Florida Derby, stabling and working him at Keeneland as opposed to making the cross-country ship back and out again).  But of the works I have seen here is how I rank them:

Brody’s Cause–3 Stars

Creator–3 Stars

Destin–1 Star

Gun Runner–4 Stars

Lani–I don’t know; never seen anything so at odds with itself! 0 Stars for attitude/effort; 3 for movement

Majesto–3 Stars

Mohaymen–4.5 Stars

Outwork–4 Stars

Shagaf–3 Stars

Suddenbreakingnews–5 Stars

Tom’s Ready-1 Star

Basically, of the 11 horses I’ve been able to watch, most are working really nicely.  None of them seem to be having any problem handling the course.  Suddenbreakingnews was my hands down personal WOW work of the bunch–smooth, fluid, willing, into his effort, and flat out moving; it was beautiful to watch.  Mohaymen was a very close second.  The only reason I rank it a tick below Suddenbreakingnews is subjective; he was just a touch anxious at the start of both moves I saw.  Still, I’d rather see the more than willing worker than not (LANI!).  Mohaymen had at least one “bullet work” (best time of the day among all horses working the same distance) in his Derby prep moves and he really didn’t look like he was moving as fast as he was.  He also appears to be on the smaller, slight side which is either going to be a great advantage come Derby day in terms of agility and maneuverability or he runs the risk of getting smashed and knocked out of contention in the always too large Derby field.

As for the colts I ranked one star, I personally  just wasn’t impressed with what I saw them doing; there was nothing inherently wrong with their efforts.  The work that surprised me a bit was that of Shagaf.  I’ve found his races to be less than inspiring, but he looked ready to rock and roll in the work.  Maybe he’s a “morning glory.”

Perhaps the best news going into Derby 142 past the ongoing good health and preparations of the starters is that the long-range weather forecast for Louisville on Saturday sounds nearly perfect–dry and temperatures in the 70s!

I’ll be back later in the week once the critical post position draw is done with final impressions and thoughts.

 

New Players

We had two Kentucky Derby prep races this past weekend.  Here’s what happened.

The Tampa Bay Derby was run at 1 1/16th miles at Tampa Bay Downs and it proved to be a bit of a replay of the Sam F. Davis Stakes run there last month.  Once again Destin prevailed in track record time.  He’s a horse that appears consistent and professional and must be considered as the Derby path narrows.  Actually, the horse that impressed me in the race was second-place finisher Outwork.  He indeed lived up to the name, doing all the heavy lifting, leading the race from the early stages until the final few strides.  I think there’s still room for improvement from this colt by Uncle Mo (who is a red-hot sire right now, exceeding early expectations so far in his young stallion career); this was just his third start.

The biggest surprise in the Tampa Bay Derby likely was the performance or lack of same from Brody’s Cause.  Brody’s Cause was making his first start as a three year old off of a pretty successful two-year-old season.  With that in mind, it would’t have been surprising if he didn’t win, but was at least competitive. Saturday he wasn’t even competitive.  He sat well last through most of the race and ended up crossing the wire seventh of nine runners…Ugh!  So far I haven’t heard any compelling excuse for this stumble and this miss puts him well behind in terms of points and progress you want to see with the Derby now less than two months off (54 days today).  It will be interesting to see where he runs next or if he stays on the Derby trail.

On the West Coast the San Felipe Stakes was run at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita Park.  The winner, in a bit of an upset, was Danzing Candy, a colt on the improve and making his fourth start. Danzing Candy led gate to wire and although a few colts chased late, no one made a dent in his lead. Mor Spirit (BTW, Mor is Danish for “mom”) was second.  He was closing, but really didn’t appear to have the turn of foot to run Danzing Candy down.  Exaggerator finished third.  He too made a crack at Danzing Candy, but flattened to third. Exaggerator’s effort shows me, at least, that a mile and a quarter likely “ain’t gonna be his thing.” I had had high hopes for him, but he’s pretty much become a pass for me if he makes it to the Kentucky Derby.

Danzing Candy is a son of Twirling Candy, a horse that I thought had unlimited talent when he was running, but in my opinion didn’t always display it as much as expected. Twirling Candy in turn is a son of Candy Ride who was a shooting star on the track and quite capable of a mile and a quarter, delivering one of the best performances by a horse in his Pacific Classic win of 2003.  His dam is by Songandaprayer who was a bit more accomplished at shorter distances.  Danzing Candy appears to be a potential mix of speed and stamina.  I’d suspect we’d see him next in the Santa Anita Derby and we’ll see if he’s up to added distance.

So at this juncture, I add Danzing Candy, Outwork, and Destin to the watch list (in order of preference), especially since all are likely to have a final prep race before Louisville and am dropping Exaggerator. Brody’s Cause was never one I was following and his performance Saturday gave me no reason to start now.