Ky. Derby Trail: Nile Flowing Fast


It was an excellent weekend on the old trail, with some first-class performances, not only by the winners, but several of the losers as well. The latest Top 15 follows the column.

From a visual and statistical standpoint, Pioneerof the Nile’s victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) was as impressive as we’ve seen this year. Sure, there were more brilliant performances with outrageous speed figures, but the bottom line is, Pioneerof the Nile looked like a Kentucky Derby winner…at least on a synthetic track.

Read the entire column here.



Leave a Comment:

Karen in Indiana

Was glad to see Cribnote is working again, hope he gets going again. Really liked watching Friesan Fire last weekend, he looks like he's really starting to enjoy himself.

09 Feb 2009 10:26 PM

Did Pioneerof the Nile make Bobby think twice about the filly hooking the boys?  I love them both, but you said it best.  The colt RUNS like a Derby winner.

And Steve, off subject, but where is Pyro now? Does Godolphin have him in Dubai or stashed in the US?  He isn't at stud...

09 Feb 2009 11:25 PM

Pioneer of the Nile is the horse I picked for the Derby. In last weeks blog I mentioned that I believed Pioneer of the Nile was a budding star. At this point, we will see. So IEAH is going to run Stardom Bound in the Santa Anita Derby. I sure wish Baffert still had her, I think IEAH is all about the money. Stardom Bound is a real gem but to think that she may be another Silver Spoon or Winning Colors is asking a lot.

09 Feb 2009 11:39 PM

I would keep the first 3 finishers of the San Rafael.  R-Dreamer's tank looked a little empty after the lay off but he made a monster move on the turn.  I would like to see him return in the San Felipe or Santa Anita Derby and hopefully avoid a bounce.  

10 Feb 2009 1:33 AM

I would like to mention a horse that no one has talked about. Mr. Hot Stuff. He just broke his maiden routing. I watched the video on 3 horses and I have counted strides from the 1/16 pole to the wire and Pioneer of the Nile has 12 and 1/2 strides which is like Bernardini, Mr Hot Stuff has 13 strides in his maiden win, in a fast time for a Mile at SA. Oh, should I mention he is a full brother to Colonel John. Stardom Bound, who Steve says cover a lot of ground in her stride, well she has 14 strides. What does this all mean, the longer the race the less strides for the horse the better. The really good horses in the route races have 12 1/2 strdes or 13. I have been counting strides for about 5 years now and it hasn't been proven wrong.

10 Feb 2009 2:18 AM

Hi Steve, Just a few comments on a few on your Derby list (excluding Dubai horses):

Old Fashioned.  Still looks the best to this point, if he can settle. Seems to be several potentials with front end speed, he’s got to show the ability to relax and rate that I don’t see with Freisan Fire.

Pioneerof the Nile. Great race this past weekend and didn’t get anywhere near the best of trips. You have that big question mark on him due to the California factor but keep in mind that Mott had him training at Saratoga on the dirt the majority of last year and liked his ability and potential as much as Baffert does now – he’s the real deal on any surface. Have you not considered this?

Giant Oak – Wow what an effort. As you pointed out he got as bad a trip as possible. Stopped twice, fanned wide, brushed, and still kept coming. Considering the circumstances, I thought his race was the most impressive of the weekend. It will be interesting to see if Prado takes the mount back

Theregoesjojo. What happened? You dropped him off your list. Great turn of foot from both he and Poltergeist - huge upside.

Imperial Council. Looks like you gave up on him due to the late start. Shug’s got a nice one and I agree he’s running out of time. Certainly not his style to push one to get to Louisville, but if he comes out as strong as he looks – watch out.

Still under the radar horse to keep an eye on: Checklist, Bear’s Prospector, Flat Out,

Dunkirk, and Hold Me Back.

Thanks for the updates.

10 Feb 2009 7:33 AM
Abbie Knowles

A most interesting and informative piece.  I believe there are some very exciting 3 year olds around this year and will thoroughly enjoy watching them!!!!  

My hopes for glory all ran well and most figure in your list.  Will be very interested to see how MIDSHIPMAN gets on in his race on March 5th.

Many thanks

God Bless

Best wishes


10 Feb 2009 10:56 AM

Hi Steve:

I mentioned on someone's blog last week I thought Pioneer would win. I've liked him for the past couple months. Also on my list is Stardom Bound and both of horses trained by Jones. Steve,many readers are always premature in "jumping on bandwagons". I can remember a short year ago when many were picking Pyro to win the Derby. The real Derby horse could still be under the radar.

10 Feb 2009 11:10 AM

Interesting that Frankie Dettori rides Desert Party instead of Vineyard Haven Thursday night.

10 Feb 2009 11:17 AM

Mr. Fantasy may be the real deal, too.

I was just having that conversation with a friend about the fact the Pioneer trained on dirt most of last year w/ Mott.  So Baffert figures if he has improved (and we know he has) then he will be fine on dirt, too.

10 Feb 2009 11:56 AM
Steve Haskin

Barbara, I'll try to find out about Pyro.

Josh, Mr. Hot Stuff has indeed been talked about -- here and in other places.

Mg, unless Mott worked Pioneerof the Nile behind horses in company with 19 other horses it doesnt matter how he trained. It's the dirt getting kicked back in his face for the first time that is the big question.

Theregoesjojo suffered a slight injury and missed the Risen Star, which is why I took him off. But he breezed 5f this morning, so now that he's OK, he'll go back on the list -- not sure just where.

I certainly havent given up on Imperial Council, but I cant put a maiden sprint winner with two starts over all these seasoned stakes horses. Once he runs and shows something big he'll be considered. But his first start likely will be at 6 1/2 furlongs, so he is way behind.

Mike, when you have a subpar crop like last year its easy to get excited over a big performance like Pyro put in in the Risen Star. I agree the Derby winner may be under the radar. There are lots of those out there as we speak.

10 Feb 2009 12:10 PM

mg: I'm watching Bear's Prospector too. Was that you that I talked to a month ago about his last start when he ran 2nd to Saratoga Sinner? The owners a home boy so I hooked his horse in the Holy Bull with the two Harlan's Holidays. It worked out well but the wrong Harlan's Holiday won.

10 Feb 2009 12:22 PM

Steve I am glad to see everyone getting excited about the Triple Crown races but I have to tell you I still haven't seen a performance this year that is equal to what Vineyard Haven did October 4th in the Champagne against some of the top prospects.  I guess out of sight out of mind is true in racing.  Placing Giant Oak in any list above Vineyard Haven is a bad joke Steve.

10 Feb 2009 12:23 PM

Steve, Thanks for the info on JoJo. One quick question I forgot on my previous post. There was some serious talk after the Breeders Cup about Donitivum possibly returning over here for the Derby. Any news on that front?

10 Feb 2009 1:14 PM

On the other hand, none of the dirt horses have worked or run in a 19 horse field and will do so only once in their lives. I hope Pioneer worked with some dirt in his face as a 2 yr old, but if not, the experience on the first Saturday in May is unto itself anyway.  Front running and close to the pace types aren't getting their share of dirt in the face either so far, but they sure might on Derby Day.  I don't put as much stock in the plastic to dirt angle as some as I think if they are bred for it they will be fine.  Col. John has no issue with dirt (see Travers) and didn't lose the Derby because of the surface IMO.  I am not sure I recall a 3 yr old that could use that as an excuse last year.  Zenyatta certainly didn't note that dirt was supposed to slow her down.  But besides the kickback, the concern would be can a come from behind horse like Pioneer quicken like that on dirt.  Curlin was more of a grinder so he was at a disadvantage against world class turf milers in the BC and he was at the end of a long season.  Steve points out that Pioneer has a serious turn of foot and a huge stride when he levels off.  His jock was even blown away by it.

10 Feb 2009 2:01 PM

I Agree that Pioneer of The Nile looks like a good grass horse.  He'd probably do better in the Epsom Derby than at Churchill Downs.  I don't envision a speed meltdown in this years Kentucky Derby so any closer will have to possess good tactical speed and be a hell-for-leather stretch runner to peg back the kind of horses that are going to be on the front end in this years Derby.  Apart from the surface question POTN might be too far back to make an impression.  That's how I envision it right now Steve.  

10 Feb 2009 2:43 PM
Steve Haskin

Draynay, all my jokes are bad jokes, so at least I'm consistent. You speak as if Vineyard Haven has been training at Palm Meadows instead of Dubai. I have to see how he runs Thursday. A big race vs. the southern hemisphere horses and he will catapult up the list. With that said, I totally agree that his Champagne was far and away the best performance by a 2-year-old last year, which is why I voted for him for the Eclipse Award. I cant believe how few votes he got.

10 Feb 2009 3:19 PM

Wouldn't the same concerns that hold for 'Pioneer' also hold for Stardom Bound? Perhaps even more so, because hasn't she been in CA since she was bought at the 2yo sale? I find it interesting that IEAH left her out there, after all the speculation right after the F-T sale about Dutrow getting her. I also find it interesting that Frankel seems almost subdued about Stardom Bound, after the way he went on about Honest Lady in her 3 year old spring.

10 Feb 2009 3:27 PM

Makes sense to me about reserving judgment on VH till after he runs against older horses.{Southern Hemisphere time}. It's a big transition from 2 to 3 and a bigger one from 3 to 4. If he can pull that one off I agree with you, he should be considered a serious contender.

10 Feb 2009 3:46 PM

Wanda, Yeah that was me when we discussed the Saratoga heat. I'm still on board and looking for the entry pretty soon. Best of luck with your home boy, get to the window early and let's get a clean trip.

10 Feb 2009 3:57 PM









8--Capt. Candyman Can



10 Feb 2009 4:33 PM


What is your perception regarding Haynesfield? I also like him alot. I realize what some are saying concerning distance,but I still like him.

10 Feb 2009 5:56 PM

If Bob Baffert believes Pioneer can win the Derby if he continues to move forward I wouldn't bet too heavily against him. Also Larry Jones thinks Freisan Fire will get better as he learns more. No matter how good the horse is if they get stuck between a wall of horses the ending some times does not play out for the best horse, especially in a twenty horse field like the Derby.

10 Feb 2009 6:18 PM

where are: "Dunkirk";"Augustusthestrong"; "Eve On Jacob"; "Ice Road";

"Zenzational"; "Flying Private";

"Dynamoor"; "Convocation"; & "Fumeg River"

& how much or how badly do "slight injuries"

affect "Big Drama"; "Square Eddie" ; & Theregoesjojo"??? just workouts lost??? OUT OF CONTENTION?

with only 10 weeks before the dance are these injuries qualifying threatening????  

10 Feb 2009 6:48 PM

and come on!!! "Midshipman" isn't on the list yet??? And, it would seem that you overlooked the trip of "Papa Clem" off only a maiden run!!!

10 Feb 2009 6:52 PM

and what about "Amercian Dance"? isn't he bred to complete the BELMONT???

10 Feb 2009 7:38 PM
russell maiers

Nice article Steve, I sure appreciate the information. The opinions are starting to get stronger and what fun it is. With our friends across the ocean races coming up, and the under the radars having to face tougher coming up, it should really get exciting. My top six, box them all, will have to be Old Fashion, Stardom Bound, Candy Rides two sons, Ryehill Dreamer, and Mr Fantasy. Looking forward to the next updates.

10 Feb 2009 7:40 PM
Julie L.

A few weeks ago people began speculating about the Kentucky Derby and at that time I said that the only horse that had caught my attention was Pioneer of the Nile and after the Robert B. Lewis race he is still the horse I am closely following. I really like his breeding and believe it suggests that he should handle the triple crown distances. I am anxious to see his next race and feel that he is only going to get better.

10 Feb 2009 8:28 PM

There is no clear favorite for the Derby ?  Maybe you better go back and watch the Champagne and listen to Vineyard Havens current trainer who says he has never been better. If he did get better since the Champagne all but a few have no chance.

10 Feb 2009 10:05 PM

@ draynay: I'm sure Vineyard Haven appreciates your support, but let's wait until after he's run against the South Hemisphere horses before chatting up a storm about him, ;)

I feel pretty sad that the horse that's got me most fired up for the Derby Trail broke his maiden February 1st.

Can't wait to see what becomes of Mr. Fantasy vs. Haynesfield.

10 Feb 2009 10:18 PM
Steve Haskin

Zavona, all I can say is you cant stuff 50 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound bag. Seems like you have your own Top 12, many of which I never even heard of. When Midshipman runs and wins or finishes a good second I'll put him on there. From past experience, always wait for horses to actually run in Dubai before committing to anything.

Mike, Haynesfield is very talented, but as you mentioned, distance is a big question. The Gotham will be his big test.

JC, yes, the same concerns for both horses and any horse who has never raced on dirt.

mg, the last I heard, Donativum was not going to point for the Derby, but as you know things change in racing.

Draynay, I'm a big fan of Vineyard Haven, but how does his current trainer know he's never been better when he's never even trained him for a race yet? He probably never even saw the horse last year. Let's wait until Thursday. Then we'll know a lot more. If he shows he's the same horse as last year then he will move way up.

11 Feb 2009 2:40 AM

Interesting to see that draynay now is stating that if the Haven is better than last year a few have a chance. Very recently he was saying noboday had a chance against him if that was the case. Personally I take 2 yr old performances for what they are worth. That was last year and it's a big difference how those translate to a 3 yr old campaign. The competition if it's there changes dramaticaly over a few months. Just like any year at this point there is no clear cut favorite. Why just last year at this time most had never heard of Big Brown and he proved to be head and shoulders above the others that day who showed up for the Derby. There is alot of potential out there and that is what makes it so interesting.

11 Feb 2009 8:13 AM

I am glad to see you pay so much attention to each word Draynot. Big Brown burst onto the scene March 5, 2008 and Vineyard Haven burst onto the scene October 4, 2008. I have also learned in racing anything can happen once the gates open.  You could have a maiden winner step on a horse going for the Triple Crown and dislodge his happens.  Horses like Old Fashioned, Mr. Fantasy, and Vineyard Haven like it up front and a battle could open it up for a closer like Stardom Bound.  Who will my money be on? I made that decision back in October.  Who will I be cheering for?  That is easy the horse going to the barn with Big Brown... Stardom Bound !!!

11 Feb 2009 9:38 AM

I have to agree with Draynot. Last night i was looking thru some things and found last years first and second Derby pools and low and behold Big Browns name was not on either one of them. There maybe someone out there who comes from out of the blue. Look at how War Emblem came on the scene in 2002. I had never heard of him before the Illinois Derby. He wins wire to wire with  117 beyer, Baffert buys him for the sheik and he wires the Derby field. Just goes to show, you never know.

11 Feb 2009 10:12 AM


I don't think anyone can tell for certain who will show up in May,much less the winner!

11 Feb 2009 12:15 PM


I like Stardom Bound,also.

11 Feb 2009 12:16 PM
Matthew W

Anytime you put 20 horses into a starting gate, going longer than they'ved ever run, you have a VERY good chance at a pace collapse! That being said, Pioneerof The Nile looked very strong last weekend, into a soft pace at that! Also thought Bittel Road ran well into said soft pace--The one good thing about the Santa Anita track surface (and maybe the only one thing) is rains don't change it at all--horses train/race on it as if it's always the same, and that is a genuine advantage! As far as the filly goes, she's no Zenyatta/not close---but I think she's a Derby contender, based on her class, her style, and her connections! Also Midshipman won his BCup wire to wire--That alone makes him intriguing!

11 Feb 2009 1:11 PM
Matthew W

Draynay I was with you on Big Brown last year...My vote for HOY was Zenyatta---The voters decided it was for "Whom would win at 1 1/4 on dirt"---and they got THAT wrong too! My $$ would've been on Big Brown v Curlin...That being said, I will disagree with your '09 choice---Derbys are rarely won on the lead--Vineyard Haven will surely be on the lead! Also he will not have run EVER around two turns--that to me is a worse angle that synthetics to dirt--and they're both bad angles! That filly intrigues me--I love her head-low running style! But there's really no reason to ever run a filly v males---unless it's The Arc, where stamina trumps strength--or even The Belmont---but a mare's value is not increased one bit by defeating males---I DON'T have to see Zenyatta v the boys---at the same time I don't think there's an older male that could beat her, or Cocoa Beach for that matter! I did think Winning Colors was the real deal/thought she'd win The Derby---I applaud Frankel for preferring to run her vs fillies--Bobby Frankel has evolved into a master horseman, ala The Bald Eagle--He waits on a horse--he places them Charlie....

11 Feb 2009 1:42 PM

Like I said last year right after the BC,Stardom Bound is the best in her class,regardless of sex..she does what she has to do and doesn't have to win by daylight.She takes command then cruises to the wire,that's the mark of a Great One..I agree with Mr.Frankel,the SA Oaks is the next logical step,them maybe the KY Derby.She's done enough to have a solid bottom underneath her.

11 Feb 2009 5:27 PM

Steve where do you put VH now that he got beat up today?

12 Feb 2009 3:39 PM


What are your thoughts on Stardom Bound.  If you already answered this, I misssed it.  

17 Feb 2009 3:02 PM


I think we are on the same track with a lot of horses.  Something is really nagging me about Stardom Bound.  She is one amazing filly.  

17 Feb 2009 3:04 PM
insider p

Stardom bound will not race against boys connections were not to thrilled with last performance even though she won.The plan is to prepare her fot the Oaks where she will have to race her heart to beat Rachel A and Just whistle dixie if she wins that will prove she is the best but,to this point she hasn't race over any other type of surface so we'll have to see what happens.IEAH planning big surprize shortly?Patena as mentioned did not fire on off track.Fres Fire looks like real deal over same track but, again what happens in new surroundings?

I'm suspect on Dunkirk? rider changes and work pattern suggest might be some issues.

16 Mar 2009 3:39 PM

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