Ky. Derby Trail: Rabbit Punch


On several occasions over the past few years, Todd Pletcher has reached into his hat to pull out a rabbit, and in most cases the trick didn't go quite as planned. Despite some bad hare days, Pletcher has decided to try his luck at prestidigitation once again in Saturday's Florida Derby (gr. I).

Read the rest of the column here.

112 Comments

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GunBow

Steve, do you think Dunkirk is at a slight disadvatage in the Florida Derby? He's one race behind Quality Road and Jojo on his developmental arc, and will be running on a track that favors the style of those other two runners, particularly Quality Road. Additionally, I think 9 furlongs suits Quality Road and Jojo more than Dunkirk. I'm not saying that Quality Road and Jojo' won't be effective at distances beyond 9 furlongs, but I really believe that Dunkirk will only get better as the distances increase.

Steve, do you expect Dunkirk to only get better with more real estate? In addition to his breeding, Dunkirk runs like a horse who will love added distances. He has such a long and smooth stride, and just appears to bound around the track. It  seems that with every one of those long strides he just gains more and more momentum. On the downside, he still runs a little greenly, sometimes running in spurts, he has yet to show alot of early speed, and does not come across as the most nimble athlete. With his long strides, I think he is a horse that needs to be kept clear and would be compromised if forced to check. Additionally, while he can really move once those long legs are stretched out, he hasnt demonstrated that brilliant acceleration, that quick and instant move that other greats possess. The reason that he was able to pass the frontrunners in his maiden win so quickly is that those frontrunners were virtually walking, having run a 26 and 4  3rd quarter. However, it's possible that Dunkirk does not appear to be flashy because his strides are so long and so smooth; you don't think he's running that fast until he is 5 lengths in front.

The problem for Dunkirk is that to run in the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby, he needs to win or run 2nd in the Florida Derby. This is unfortunate because, as I wrote earlier, I think that the conditions of the Kentucky Derby (distance, pace, track surface, 5 weeks of additional development) will be more advantageous to Dunkirk than the conditions this Saturday in Florida.

If Dunkirk isnt able to get the graded earnings in the Florida Derby, don't you think he could be a dynamite Belmont horse? Those steady, bounding strides that cover so much ground are tailored for 12 furlongs and those long straights at Belmont.

Steve (and others), is there a horse from the past that reminds you of Dunkirk?

26 Mar 2009 2:01 AM
black mamba

I was telling my friends that the race couls set up for a closer like theregoesjojo. What do you think? Then he still may be the third choice.

26 Mar 2009 2:04 AM
Matthew W

This is Pletcher's own version of March Madness--"One and done" for Dunkirk--He needs to fire big on Sat or else it's no Kentucky---I think he will! The rabbit will/should "force" Quality Road to rate/relax off the pace, and I don't yet know if he can do that---I think Dunkirk will be coming with his run, along with Beethoven for a symphonic exacta!

26 Mar 2009 2:13 AM
Coldfacts

If this overhyped $3.7M colt is as impressive as reported, he shouldn't need a rabbit. None of the past greats needed rabbits. I cannot recall ever seen stalemates with a total purchase price of $6.3M combining to win a race. Desperate time require desperate measures. The more a review Dunkirk’s two races, the more I am convinced he will not hit the board. He does not have the speed of QA, Jojo and Danger To Society. He has to be close to the pace to win as he is not going out close the starkers who can close in the stretch. I happen to think Theregoesjojo will win and put Kent is a dilemma.( Hold Me Back) He has enough early speed to stark and the kick to wear down the leaders. The Florida Derby have never been won by a horse that is dependent on a pace meltdown. Go Jojo.

26 Mar 2009 6:41 AM
Glimmerglass

Is there any reason why the Pletcher, Tabor, Smith, Magnier crew aren't using the presumed sprinter 'Munnings' instead of 'Europe' for the sacrifice as rabbit?

At least if Munnings were to hold on for a 2nd or 3rd, then that crew would have a KY Derby horse.

26 Mar 2009 8:43 AM
SSC

Steve, all the rabbit examples you gave did not work as planned. When is the last time running a rabbit did work?

Also , made some calls to the connections and friends of connections and can confirm the following (assuming they are telling the truth)

Wood - IWR,IC,Atomic Rain,Lime Rickey,West Side Bernie,Just a Coincidence

Ill. Derby - Musket Man,Al Khali,Lord justice

Still not committted - Nowhere to Hide,Danger to Society still may go to the Wood, Flying Private and Mr.Fantasy

26 Mar 2009 8:58 AM
Scotty P

In my opinion, if you have to ask yourself whether something is right or wrong, it is usually wrong.  You can say putting a rabbit out there is fair game but I have to disagree.  First of all, the fact that they do it in Europe is not very comforting. They do alot of things in Europe I disagree with.  Most importantly, aren't we always talking about the horses best interest?  Do you think that throwing a maiden out there against this group at this distance constitutes looking out for the horse???  Do you think a trainer like Larry Jones would risk one of his athletes??  When you say in your column, "for those of you who feel its not the sporting thing to do"..that tells me alot.  If it doesn't feel right in your gut, it's not!  As far as it being part of the sport???  What does that mean? So are Steroids, illegal drugs, etc...I say let the horses run and let the jockeys pilot the horse.  If gomez cant figure a way to make him win it than so be it.  Since when is a closer a better athelete than a front runner.  If they dont want Quality Road to run away with it than get ur ass up there and don't let him.  If you cant stay with him and he beats you than you get beat by a better horse that day.  Just my opinion...Great article Steve.  Cheers!

26 Mar 2009 9:19 AM
Speedball

Great article, Steve.  Just wondering what your thoughts are about  Mr. Hot Stuff pulling an upset over The Mouse,Pioneer, and C Candy in the Santa Anita Derby

26 Mar 2009 9:42 AM
Draynay

does anyone really want to see Quality Road get an uncontested lead, slow the pace down to a crawl, and wire the field? In racing, that’s called stealing,

Stealing?  Slow it down to a crawl? Steve... I guess you have not seen the 3 races Quality Road has run.  Steve you seem to think throwing in a horse for the sole purpose of messing up anothers race is ok even when he has NO intention on winning the race.  I call THAT trying to steal a race. Now I know why Pletcher has never had a colt win a triple crown race. Trying to alter the race by throwing in a rabbit may be ok by you but I think its pathetic. Doing anything to get your horse into the Derby explains why he has never had a Derby winner and probably never will with that attitude.  The man each year has some of the best bred colts in the world and every year he comes up empty.  These tactics and attitudes will fail again. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way Steve and this is clearly the wrong way.  Quality Road is the real horse with talent and will win going away.  Remember this... after the short first turn it becomes a mile race and there is no better miler in the world than Quality Road.

26 Mar 2009 10:22 AM
Tiznowbaby

No better miler IN THE WORLD than Quality Road?

Bahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...you're killing me Dray. Thanks for the laugh.

26 Mar 2009 10:39 AM
Steve Haskin

Scotty, don't confuse sporting with proper. From a strategic standpoint, it has been done since racing began and too many good horses have beaten because of tactics and not talent. Is it in Europe's best interests? No., but that's not what this column is about. It's a race analysis about the use of rabbits, not a political platform. Comparing running a rabbit to steroids and illegal drugs is a ridiculous comment and not even worth responding to.

Draynay, sorry but I lose track of all your horses who can't lose. I take it Quality Road is your big star this week. If he wins like you say he will then why are you so upset over the rabbit? That will prove he won the race the right way and didnt have the race all to himself. Sitting behind a rabbit will help him a lot more for the Ky. Derby than winning on an uncontested lead. And in case you're interested Jimmy Jerkens said, although he's never used a rabbit before, if the positions were reversed he would use a rabbit.

I mentioned all the pitfalls of using a rabbit and how it can backfire, and the lack of success Pletcher has had with them, but you and Scotty seem to have read right over that part.

26 Mar 2009 10:50 AM
DONNA

SCOTTY P, I couldn't agree with you more. Larry Jones would never scarifice one of his horses the way Petcher is using a rabbit. As Draynay said the man has had some of the most talented horses with quality pedigrees and still has never won the Derby. Perhaps he doesn't deserve it as much as others. Money does not always buy a Derby horse. Wasn't Tabor, one of Dunkirks owners, part of The Green Monkey team? Where did that 16 million get them?

Theregoesjojo is my pick for the Florida Derby. He's one trying horse and gives it his all.

26 Mar 2009 10:54 AM
Steve Haskin

SSc, the most famous example of a rabbit working was Hedevar and Dr. Fager on two occasions, setting it up for Damascus, who was a great horse but at a huge disadvantage against Dr. Fager because of their different running styles. By the way, Dr. Fager's trainer John Nerud used a rabbit against Bold Ruler in the Belmont Stakes to set it up for Gallant Man, who broke the track record.

Black Mamba, Theregoesjojo is definitely a serious threat. He's a very talented horse.

26 Mar 2009 10:54 AM
WMT

I think it should be against the rules of racing to enter any horse in a race for the sole purpose of making the race easier for another. A "sacrificial lamb" for the overhyped Dunkirk. Gimme a break. If he can't win it on the "talent" he supposedly has, then he ain't all that. I hope he runs up the track. Quit grasping at straws Pletcher.

26 Mar 2009 11:00 AM
mike rullo

steve,

quality road will able to sit off the rabbitt ,he doesnt need the lead to win.if dunkirk needs a rabbitt in the race to win then  this is a red flag to me.he should be talented enough to stalk and run by quality road.

26 Mar 2009 11:08 AM
Ranagulzion

STEVE:  A soup, with "rabbit meat" thrown in for good measure, is what Quality Road looks like on that speed favouring Gulfstream track in the Florida Derby, baring all the excitement.  That "rabbit" is gonna stew on the front end without affecting the winner.  I believe he is that good (no disrespect to Dunkirk and Theregoesjojo).

26 Mar 2009 11:48 AM
The Rock

Steve,

Just out of curiosity, what is your take on horses careers such as Gallant Man and Damascus? Horses that have needed rabbits in a race in order to perform at their best. For example, do you consider Dr. Fager to be a superior horse than Damascus b/c he took all the heat from the latters' rabbit and was around to battle with Damascus to the winning post? Even though he didn't win all the battles? What's your take on a horses career that reaps the rewards when they require a rabbit to do all the dirty work?

IMO, I think the rabbit and Casey's on Call will benefit Quality Road more than Dunkirk, as it will teach him to rate much kinder to the faster pace as opposed to pulling and wanting to do more in a paceless race.

26 Mar 2009 12:05 PM
picksixny

pletcher has a lot respect for quality road. the funny thing is the horse he really is helping is theregoesjojo. to me he has a good turn of foot.  where dunkirk is a grinder. the exacta box for the 3rd straight time will be qr and jojo

26 Mar 2009 12:09 PM
Wanda

In response to Donna's comment about the high price for The Green Monkey.

That's the way they do business, they buy what they consider the best every year and they hope one turns out as a stallion prospect. That one will pay for all the others. They have done pretty well with that plan and don't look back on the failures. We have one of their "rejects" standing in Alberta, Rosetti- Seattle Slew/Chic Shirine by Mr. Prospector. He was an very expensive 2yr old in training and all he did was break his maiden. He sires useful horses here so he's not a total failure.

As far as rabbits go, Steve do you remember Bucks Boy winning the BC Turf years ago? (of course you do). Nobody thought he'd go on the front end wire to wire so they let him go and he backed up the pace. He wired them cause nobody would push him. I always thought that was the greatest training feat by Noel Hickey who I think was the trainer of record at the time. Horse racing is a funny game isn't it?

26 Mar 2009 12:12 PM
El Angelo

Steve: just wanted to note that there's not necessarily only 19 spots in the Derby---if Gosden's horse flops in the Blue Grass, there's no guarantee he'd run him in the Derby for kicks.

26 Mar 2009 12:23 PM
blak mamba

Here's the thing draynay. Pletcher would've done the same thing if the pamplemousse were in the race because of his high cruising speed. So if quality road were good enough. Then he's the best horse in the race, but I see it otherwise. With a rabbit. Pletcher has intentions of setting an early hot pace. Setting up for a closer. Just like monarchos.

26 Mar 2009 12:40 PM
Kat

Any race can set up with speed vs late runners, etc.  What bothers me is when a group enters a second horse in a race to try to beat ONE horse with TWO horses.  And yes, it's about as new as original sin :)  

I also find justifying behaviors due to extenuating circumstances a slippery slope.  That being said, if it is allowed by the rules, it is allowed by the rules. . .

I also found myself asking the same questions about what makes the best racehorse?  I guess ideally, you want a horse with early speed/late speed/turn of foot/not prone to human error, etc, etc.  But when we're not talking the perfect horse, what is most important?

I guess it's the one that gets under the wire first.

26 Mar 2009 12:48 PM
Kat

Speaking of rabbits, no warm/fuzzy here about The Pamplemousse's latest work (post Sham blow-out).  Hopefully it was just a "bounce" workout and he'll arrive in Kentucky firing on all cylinders.

26 Mar 2009 12:50 PM
Draynay

For the record Steve I will give you the winners of the next 3 big races. They also happen to be the ONLY 3 that can win the Derby.

Desert Party wins in a few days and IS my DERBY PICK if things come up wet at all on May 2nd.

Imperial Council wins the Wood

Quality Road wins the Florida Derby

I will choose one of the two above for a fast dry track but will wait to see which one trains better before my final pick.

Steve... if you can't understand people being upset that Pletcher is THROWING in a horse that has no chance of winning to alter the race in his favor... maybe you and others should look to why other sports are increasing in popularity while horse racing continues to decline.

26 Mar 2009 1:28 PM
Steve Haskin

Draynay, you hit it right on the head. I like everyone in racing have been trying to pinpoint what has caused the sport's decline in popularity and you had the answer all along -- Todd Pletcher running a rabbit.

For your information, I never said I couldnt understand why people were upset. I dont like the use of rabbits either, but I can understand why he did it.

I'm sure if you and everyone else in an uproar over this owned Dunkirk and you were running in a million-dollar race with one shot only to get in the Kentucky Derby, you wouldnt do whatever you had to to beat the horse most likely to stop you, because it's not the popular thing to do.

And now that I know that ONLY 3 horses can win the Kentucky Derby I wont waste my time on all those other horses. Thank goodness I have all three of them in my Top 10. I'll give you credit, you do keep things lively on here.

26 Mar 2009 1:42 PM
For Big Red

TO STEVE: I have no problem with trainers using rabbits. The problem I have with what Pletcher is doing with Europe is that the colt is still a maiden with only one race under his belt.

I think it worthwhile to point out, for those who may not know, that Hedevar was a stakes-winning 5-yr-old at the time of the famous 1967 Woodward, and he would become that year's champion sprinter. At 4, Hedevar won the Equipose Mile equaling the then world record of 1:33 1/5. A grandson of Count Fleet out of a Double Jay mare, Hedevar was a quality horse, though obviously nowhere in the league of the three legends in that race, Damascus, Buckpasser and Dr. Fager.

However, your point is well taken that this is not a discussion of ethics, but of handicapping and race analysis. Here's a link (vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/.../index.htm) to the actual October 9, 1967 Sports Illustrated article by Whitney Tower that describes the race and includes several comments about the use of rabbits/stablemates.

Whitney Tower wrote, "There is nothing unsporting, of course, about using entries in racing. If he has a sprinter in his barn to supplement a stretch runner, every trainer will use him to the best advantage. If everyone in a race takes back and permits a speed horse — like Dr. Fager or Handsome Boy — to breeze on the lead, the speed horse will win every time. The mighty Kelso found this out three times against Beau Purple."

26 Mar 2009 1:47 PM
marleneburry

Scotty P I tota;ly agree with you. Why waste any horse as a rabbit, and this one is real pricey. It is sure not for the horses' welfare. I think the owners should be ashamed of themselves.

26 Mar 2009 1:47 PM
nickie

believe the Pletcher critisism is a bit disingenuous...his mentor Lukas faced the same critisism when he was on top...everybody would bad mouth him because he was the first from my recollection who took advantage of the condition book, and moved runners around the Country with aplomb. He has passed on his training techniques to many who worked for him. Kiaran MacLaughlin,John Kimmel,Mike Maker, to name a few who have taken the "baton". No success in the Derby...there's a lot of excellent conditioners out there who have done achieved success without the Derby ring[ask Jimmy Jerkens' Dad]...

Rabbit or not..I believe it all depends on what camp your in, and the "rabbit" is but a "red herring"..you like 'Quality you're against the rabbit, you like Dunkirk you are for the rabbit..believe me as a Dr.Fager fan, I hated it when he ran at Hedevar[who in his own right was not too bad]...but I did learn to rspect Damascus! Again I believe Jerkens is welcoming the challenge and it will only help his colt down the road!

Big dollars are a part of the game...Godolphin,Zayat,Ieah, they all do it!

26 Mar 2009 1:51 PM
Draynay

Lol... thanks Steve but let me remind you I picked Big Brown last year to win the Derby and you picked Monba.

The decline in racing has many angles Steve but trying to alter a race by throwing in a horse with no chance to win does not help endear the sport to anyone.

Steve... you are completely wrong about doing anything I could to make it into the Derby.  To be honest throwing a horse into the Derby is not wise off of 3 starts. There is always the Preakness or Belmont.  Rushing a horse into the Derby is a recipe for disaster.  Just because Big Brown did it last year don't think for a moment you will see it again in your lifetime. How many horse have won the Derby with no 2 year old foundation and only 3 races under his belt?

26 Mar 2009 1:57 PM
For Big Red

TO KATE: You posted, "I also found myself asking the same questions about what makes the best racehorse?"

My answer: The happy combination of genes from Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal that produced Secretariat. :)

26 Mar 2009 1:58 PM
Speedball

DRAYNAY,

I noticed in your trifecta Derby  pick that you left out FFire and your favorite Quality Rd.  May I ask why?

26 Mar 2009 1:59 PM
black mamba

Hey, no one likes pletchers coolmore and pletchers tactics just to get in the big show, but that's the way it goes. It's not the first time pletcher has done it and it won't be the last.

Like I said before, if quality road is good enough to rate off a hot pace and win. Then he's the best in the race.

Dray, yes  I do too like imperial council. His style and breeding speaks for itself. In fact if he were in the florida derby with the expected rabbit. He would have a great shot of winning with his stalking/closer style.

In regards to desert party. His connections not only need a win, but a very strong performance before considering the derby.

I'm looking for a nice price with that rabbit in florida. Theregoesjojo at 5/1

26 Mar 2009 2:00 PM
Steve Haskin

Nickie, that is the bottom line on all this. The rabbit could and should in a way help Quality Road. This is a prep for the Ky. Derby and you always want to see your horse sit off the pace. Now he'll be able to do it. If he won the Fla. Derby on an uncontested lead we wont know anymore about him other than he can go two turns. But what will he do if theres a ton of speed in the Derby. This will enable us to find out and should ultimately help him.

I do agree with those critical of the rabbit chosen, which obviously is out of desperation, having no other one. You hate to see a maiden with one bad start thrown into this situation. We're dealing with Coolmore, who sacrifice expensive yearlings every year as pacesetters, where they blow out of there and open 8 or 10 lengths on the field. One year their pacesetter finished 2nd or 3rd in the Irish Derby at 200-1.

Again, I would prefer to see a race without a rabbit, and I brought up all of Pletchers' failures with rabbits, and how they can backfire for a reason.

26 Mar 2009 2:21 PM
For Big Red

TO THE ROCK: Damascus most certainly did not need a rabbit in order to perform at his best. He won 21 races from 32 lifetime starts, with 7 place and 3 show, and earnings of $1,176,781 back when being a millionaire meant something.

The only time he was out of the money, he bowed a tendon in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a race he had won the year before. It was his last race. In addition to the JCGC, he won the Preakness, Belmont, Wood Memorial, Travers, Dwyer, and Woodward.

As a 3-yr-old, Damascus ran 16 times, on dirt and turf, at distances from 6f to 2 miles, and was named Horse of the Year.

There was a small four-horse field in the Travers. At one point, Damascus was 15 lengths behind the leaders. He passed them on the backstretch and drew off to win by 22 lengths in record time. No rabbit needed.

26 Mar 2009 2:22 PM
Steve Haskin

Let's not overlook one thing. Pletcher still may scratch Europe, making all this moot.

26 Mar 2009 2:28 PM
Mike Relva

TO: TIZNOWBABY

Let's see if you are laughing after Quality Road blows by come Saturday!

26 Mar 2009 2:36 PM
nickie

4BigRed..thankx for that bit of history[Handsome boy...I am sure Steve will corect me if I am wrong...Hobeau Farm,trainer...H.Allen Jerkens. And if you ask a jock who has been in a match race thru the years, in their thoughts I am sure you would find the common thread that it was a big edge to get the lead, and dictate the pace.

26 Mar 2009 2:40 PM
Bill

I believe it was Eddie Neloy of Buckpasser fame who ran a rabbit named Poker and the rabbit won the race!  Can't remember the race nor the horses involved, but it was a bit of a shock at the time.

26 Mar 2009 2:56 PM
Wanda

Mike R: Give us your take on why QR doesn't need to be on the front, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.

26 Mar 2009 3:13 PM
Ranagulzion

Come on folks the "rabbit" just adds spice to the "stew".  I don't think that it takes away anything from the sport.  On the contrary, it suggests that everyone is taking this Derby prep very seriously and that's good for racing.  When all is said and done Quality Road is going to make our discussion much ado about nothing.

26 Mar 2009 3:17 PM
slyder

So now Pletcher is making like Bullwinkle and trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat? Rabbit Schmabbit, If Dunkirk was good enough he wouldn't have to put forth that 2.6 million sacrificial hare. Line them up and let er rip, I see Quality Road making road kill out of Pletcher's rabbit and Jojo running over him for good measure. Dunkirk, funny I can't find him anywhere in the picture.

26 Mar 2009 3:53 PM
Tiznowbaby

Mike, if Quality Road blows by the field in the 1 1/8 mile FD, I still will be laughing that Dray proclaimed him the best miler IN THE WORLD. I'm giggling now, and I'll still be giggling Saturday afternoon.

26 Mar 2009 3:55 PM
DONNA

Even if Pletcher does get Dunkirk to the Derby via mr. rabbit, he will not win. Too many other good seasoned horses out there. A twenty horse field is one heck of a lot of horses. Experience is the one big key.

26 Mar 2009 4:10 PM
DONNA

FOR BIG RED, you are virtually a walking horse facts encyclopedia. Do you actually have all this knowledge in your head or are you referencing books? You are extremely knowledgabe and I commend you for it.

26 Mar 2009 4:15 PM
Sal

With all the hype about the top three horses and a 'rabbit', I think the time is ripe for an upset by Stately Character.  This Pleasant Tap colt is starting to mature and showed in his last race that he doesn't have to be far out of it.  He has had numerous excuses this year, (bleeding, jumping shadows, etc).  He is worth a wager.

26 Mar 2009 5:09 PM
GunBow

A trainer that was able to use a rabbit more successfully than Mr. Pletcher was Scotty Schulhofer. He used the decent sprinter Lustra to set up things for his big closer, Cryptoclearance. Clearance' was not a great horse, so the rabbit didnt always work, and Clearance won big races without a rabbit, but the rabbit did help him in a handful of races, including the 89' Widener (Lustra really hurt Slew City Slew) and 89' Hawthorne Gold Cup. In that Hawthorne Gold Cup Lustra did what he was supposed to do, setting a solid pace while lasting until the eighth pole.

For Big Red is astute to bring up the back class of Damascus' rabbit, Hedevar. In distance races, a rabbit need to be able to take the field beyond a quarter or half a mile. Throwing in a completely overmatched or outclassed horse (not saying Europe is) accomplishes nothing because they usually fold too early. And if they are rated somewhat to last a little longer, they could end up setting a pace too slow to aid the closer. A good rabbit should have some quality, some back class, like a Hedevar.

Although the Icy Atlantic rabbit experiment was not needed in the 06' Joe Hirsch, Icy Atlantic was the type of rabbit that is needed. Icy Atlantic actually had a solid racing career, and was a graded stakes winner on the turf. I saw him run 2nd to Lava Man, and ahead of Go Between, in the $500k 07' Sunshine Millions Turf. However, Icy Atlantic achieved his success at middle distances and was not a contender at 10 and 12 furlongs. This, though, made him a perfect rabbit for English Channel in those marathon turf races because you knew he was going to take the field those first 8 furlongs.

To add to the rabbit backfires Steve mentioned, how about the 1989 Breeders Cup Distaff? The favorite that year was the brilliantly fast Bayakoa, who had won 6 grade 1 races on the front end that year. D Wayne Lukas had one of the other top choices in Open Mind, a late running 3 year old filly that at one point had won 10 straight races, 7 of them in grade 1s. Lukas' plan to soften Bayakoa was to throw TWO rabbits at Bayakoa. For the first half mile it would be Wonders Delight, and then Winning Colors, the Kentucky Derby winner, was to take over and set the table for Open Mind. Using a Derby winner as a rabbit? In my opinion, that was a complete disgrace. Winning Colors clearly wasnt the same horse, and to use her as a rabbit was shameful. However, all the Lukas horses were owned by Gene Klein, so Im sure he signed off on it. In any event, it all failed miserably.

Wonders Delight was able to get the jump on Bayakoa, and opened a two length lead after a half. However, she only ran the first quarter in 24 and 2 and the half in 48 and 4 before dropping back rapidly. The jock was so concerned about keeping her going through those early fractions that he forgot to go fast!  When Wonders Delight dropped back, Pincay on Bayakoa quickly moved up and opened a clear lead. The belief by many was that Bayakoa couldnt rate and that without the lead she would spit the bit. Bayakoa was a great mare, though, and that slow half was fine with her.  As for Winning Colors, she never was closer than 5th and finished next to last, beaten by 24 and a half lengths in a sad chapter of her career. Open Mind did come running with a nice late run, but it was good enough for only 3rd about 4 lengths behind bayakoa with the wonderful filly Gorgeous in 2nd.

26 Mar 2009 6:12 PM
Derby132

I know this thread is mainly about the FL. Derby but the Wood is not far behind and I have just had news that Mr. Fantasy will not be in that race and will not go to the Derby.  Sidelined due to being off his feed the last couple of days and Kiaran is not going to push this very young colt.  We will next see him in the Withers later in April and if that goes well the Preakness.  I am glad the connections are doing right by this promising young colt.  I am really looking forward now to seeing him run at Saratoga!

26 Mar 2009 6:38 PM
GunBow

I like Dunkirk, but I dont like him to win this Saturday in the Florida Derby. While Dunkirk has a smooth, long stride, he has yet to display the speed and brilliance I think will be needed to beat Quality Road in two days. I don't think the rabbit will affect Quality Road that much; I believe he will rate fine, and the 9 furlongs should not be too far. I expect a close battle for 2nd with Jojo making a solid run and Dunkirk moving well from the back.

As for the Kentucky Derby, I reserve the right to wait until after the Florida Derby. While I think Dunkirk will be disadvantaged in the Florida Derby, I think he will love 10 (and then 12) furlongs, he will appreciate having another race for foundation purposes, and he will love the pace scenario at Churchill. Unfortunately, if Dunkirk doesn't win this Saturday, he may not make the Derby field.

Quality Road clearly is a very gifted horse. He has excellent tactical speed, and I agree with his trainer that he will be able to rate. Did he look headstrong in the Fountain of Youth? I do have some reservations about his ability to run classic distances, but the Florida Derby is at 9 furlongs, the Gulfstream track has been favoring speed, and even with the rabbit the pace should not be that hot. If the pace is scorching,with Europe and Casey' slugging it out, John Valezquez can tuck Quality Road in behind them, knowing they will come back to him. The problem for Dunkirk is that with Europe and Casey', Quality Road will not be facing elite speed. Valezquez can almost ride as if those two are not in the field.  Of course, things will be much different at Churchill, and the pace advantage would swing away from Quality Road and to Dunkirk, if Dunkirk is indeed able to make the field. On Saturday, though, Quality Road holds the cards.

Jojo' is also a very talented horse. I have been impressed by his quick moves around the turn and his ability to finish, and he did run by Quality Road two back. I do have distance concerns, being that Jojo' is by Brahms, but I think 9 furlongs should be within his scope. Like Dunkirk, I think he faces some pace and surface disadvantages vis-s-vis Quality Road in the Florida Derby. As for Jojo's chances in the Kentucky Derby, I really need to see how he finishes at 9 furlongs; like I said, I have some doubts if he can make that same quick burst at 10 furlongs.

Toby the Coal Man, Sincero, Danger to Society, and Stately Character appear overmatched, having run figs in the mid 80s against Gulfstream allowance horses that have not had success in stakes races (think Free Country and Atomic Rain). Of the 4, Danger to Society appears to have the most right to improve, given he has only made 3 starts with a 86 Beyer top (compared to Stately Character with 8 starts and a top Beyer of 83, Sincero with 6 starts and Beyer top of 87, and Toby the Coal Man with 6 starts and 86 top). However, I should note that Toby's Beyers have improved from 55 to 75 to 86 in his last 3 and Sincero from 75 to 83 to 87 (Stately Character has run 82-83-21-82 in hislast 4 although he is bred to run long).  However, compare these Beyers to Quality Road's 113, Jojo's 105, and even Dunkirk's 98 (in his 2nd start). I would be very surprised, and disappointed (for this crop as a whole), if one of the longshots were to win. But I'm sure there would be a few that would be VERY VERY happy.

26 Mar 2009 6:56 PM
Draynay

Tiznowbaby... if you know of any horse that has run a faster mile on dirt this year let me know.  

26 Mar 2009 7:11 PM
For Big Red

TO DONNA: Thanks. :) You asked if I have the knowledge in my head or if I reference books. Without going into a life history, I've loved Thoroughbreds since young childhood circa 1960. I used to soak up every last bit of news and info I could find: books, magazines, the DRF when it was cheap to buy daily. Plus I watched as many races as possible on TV. Haven't done as much of it in recent years as I once did, because breakdowns to too many good horses broke my heart.

So, in answer to your question, it's first-hand knowledge combined with a near lifetime of self-teaching about the sport and the breed.

There are other people in these blogs who also have a wealth of knowledge. GunBow is one. Even his/her screen name is a nice blast from the past.

And, of course, Steve Haskin probably has forgotten more about the sport than most of us will ever know. Handicapping is a tough game. Even the best will lose more than they win. But he's one of the very best, and I'm delighted his blog is available to us.

26 Mar 2009 7:14 PM
For Big Red

TO GUN BOW: Bayakoa is one of my many favorites. Like Secretariat and so many other good horses, she had to be euthanized in 1997 due to laminitis after she had her fourth foal.

She was overshot, meaning that her upper jaw was longer than her lower. I don't know if that caused any special problems with bitting for her, although I suspect not. In any case, when Bayakoa was on her game, no other filly or mare could beat her. She was amazing.

26 Mar 2009 7:30 PM
Rita

for big red do you remember onion that beat our beloved Secretariat? i believe he was a rabbit.

26 Mar 2009 7:56 PM
Steve Haskin

Derby, it's funny, our moderator forwarded me your comment at the precise moment I was e-mailing her to tell her I had just posted a story on Mr. Fantasy. Anyway, the story is up on our site. Excellent move on their part.

Big Red, it looks like we had pretty much the same racing upbringing. And I also dont watch as many races for the same reason. Back in the 60s when I was getting interested in racing and also soaking up everything I could find, I never even gave a second thought to a horse breaking down, and come to think of it I cant even recall seeing a horse break down.

Thanks for your kind words and keep up the great comments and research.

26 Mar 2009 8:06 PM
Tiznowbaby

Ah, Dray, now you are saying "on dirt." What happened to THE WORLD? But, that's your MO: backpeddle and pretend you're going foward.

26 Mar 2009 8:43 PM
Karen2

Not sure if my last post came through or not. But in case it didn't here goes again. Big Red... thanks for your fabulous posts. I thoroughly enjoy them. Steve... well..you already know how great I think you are. That really goes without saying.

As far as using a rabbit... I have very mixed feelings. I believe it has been something that has been done since the beginning of time although probably not always the same terms used for it. It is widely accepted and trainers talk openely about it. It seemed like years ago you wondered if a certain horse was entered to throw off the good horses. I think the problem is with the terms used...like rabbit and especially "sacrifice". We love these horses dearly and the thought of a trainer "sacrificing" a horse is beyond comprehension. I'm not so sure that word fits either. Many horses have lost races because of a "rabbit". The great ones will always have a target on their backs. These trainers know these horses and they study them. If they can throw them off, they will. Some may disagree with me but when I think of a race where a horse was set up, I immediately go to Smarty's Belmont.

Dray, I will give you one thing. You sure are confident about your choices. But you seem to have left out someone. The Pamp.

26 Mar 2009 9:59 PM
zarvona

   Head games??? There will be no rabbit!, as “Europe” is only entered in the Swale at 7 fur. and not cross entered in the Fla. Derby! Thusly, Gotcha, ha  ha  ha. Took you right ‘off track’ there for second, aye? Nice work Pletcher for attempting to screw with Jerkin’s head! He surely had you’ll going!

  It does however appear that this is an ‘all or Preakness shot’ for “Dunkirk”.

  But, as to protecting a $3.7 million investment, I, apparently among a very few, whom agree that this maybe the right strategy!!! If you win you’re in the Derby, the big dance, if you don’t win, you move on looking at the Preakness. In the meanwhile, since “Dunkirk” is by “Unbridled’s Song” there may have always been the protection consideration of protecting his legs. The non-two yr. old campaign itself was apparently related to a leg consideration, so there already were concerns. You want your expensive future possibility both healthy for ‘the dance’ if possible if he qualifies, and yet you also want your future investment protected once out as a sire!!

  If you owned this $3.7 investment, a.) you certainly would have had say all along in his strategy and b.) you too would trust your trainer and all of his advice, though YOU would plot the course. So, whatever happens don’t put it all on Pletcher. Certainly, I personally would have liked to have seen this fine colt compete more often as a gauge not only re he, but as a gauge against all of the others. However, if I had a $3.7 million toy in my garage, would I take it out shopping more often??? NO. I, probably much like “Dunkirk”’s connection currently, would protect my investment too.

   Re his supposedly former weak competition, as his former competitors did little in their next races, and etc., go back and look at that allowance field! The greater majority of those very entries were all bred to go long! And apparently someone thought something of that race as the Beyer was apparently raised from 98 to 107!!! That’s a 107 at 1 1/8 folkes!!! Also, name another horse who even  attempted a 1  1/8  over his second start in this year’s field or in the recent past!!. And, that also so, with he winning handily in a tough competitive race in only his second try out of barn!!! He is still a teenager, lovely bred, and bred to go forever and still young and growing.

  Personally, since he needs this win for the Derby I wish him the best and hope he wins, as it will apparently be his true only shot. At such low odds, one can look for all of the excuses to justify jumping ship on him for this Florida Derby to justify your own betting course. And I never object to taking in all the knowledge I can before approaching the teller or making that telephone call. But, he is a for real contender despite all the negative blogging comments I have heard, believe me. However, should he not win, well, … in the words of Arnold, “H E ’ L L   B E   B A C K !!!

  Also, this Florida Derby will be no walk in the gate and you’re in run! “Quality Road” is a proven commodity!! and many still think that even “Theregoesjojo” may be competitive at this distance, although to me his going this distance is a concern to me. “Danger to Society” another lightly raced is however 2  2-0-0!!! “Sincero” ran a gamely growing-up 3rd in his last 1  1/8 try. And, “Stately Character” has the pedigree to make him a consideration. Admittedly, I know less of “Toby the Coal Man”, but someone talk to Zito!, as this may be Zito’s last shot and thusly he is here for a reason and a purpose!!

  In any event, Good luck to you, “Dunkirk”. I see nothing wrong in cheering home this year’s ‘prince Valiant’, forgetting whatever his ‘morning line’ or ‘post line’ odds will be. Maybe he will be the next “Censor” and be the one to break “Unbridled’s” now growing long legacy drought as a Derby winner. The odds however short at the window tomorrow are still long against him to win the Derby following the course plotted.

  Guess this Florida Derby isn’t only about “Dunkirk” though, now is it? And the Florida Derby’s winner, whoever, has always been a highly considered Derby entrant. So whoever wins, go back and take another real good look, although, should “Dunkirk” win, he will be easy to research.

   On another subject, if “Big Drama” wins the Swale, is he actually back on the ‘Derby trail’? Also, can “Square Eddie” really return missing so much training time, and is he on schedule to return? Is “Charitable Man” also going to make a return try? He only apparently needs a ‘show’ in a graded major to qualify moneywise from here. And now “Mine the Bird” too? Thusly, if these 3 or 4 jump back in, how many “Derby’ gate slots does that really leave left open for another ‘newbie’??? none!!! 1?, 2?,  or 3? at most!!! ?

26 Mar 2009 10:18 PM
zarvona

   Head games??? There will be no rabbit!, as “Europe” is only entered in the Swale at 7 fur. and not cross entered in the Fla. Derby! Thusly, Gotcha, ha  ha  ha. Took you right ‘off track’ there for second, aye? Nice work Pletcher for attempting to screw with Jerkin’s head! He surely had you’ll going!

  It does however appear that this is an ‘all or Preakness shot’ for “Dunkirk”.

  But, as to protecting a $3.7 million investment, I, am apparently among a very few, whom agree that this may be the right strategy!!! If you win you’re in the Derby, the big dance, if you don’t win, you move on looking at the Preakness. In the meanwhile, since “Dunkirk” is by “Unbridled’s Song” there may have always been the consideration of protecting his legs. The non-two yr. old campaign itself was apparently related to a leg consideration, so there already were concerns. You want your expensive future possibility both healthy for ‘the dance’ if possible if he qualifies, and yet, you also want your future investment protected once out as a sire!!

  If you owned this $3.7 investment, a.) you certainly would have had say all along in his strategy and b.) you too would trust your highly paid trainer and all of his advice, though YOU would be the one plotting the general course. So, whatever happens, don’t put it all on Pletcher. Certainly, I personally would have liked to have seen this fine colt compete more often as a gauge not only re he, but as a gauge against all of the others. However, if I had a $3.7 million toy in my garage, would I take it out shopping more often??? NO. I, probably much like “Dunkirk”’s connection currently, would protect my investment too.

   Re his supposedly former weak competition, as his former competitors did little in their next races, and etc., go back and look at that allowance field! The greater majority of those very entries were all bred to go long! And apparently someone thought something more of that race as the Beyer was apparently raised from 98 to 107!!! That’s a 107 at 1 1/8 folkes!!! Also, name another horse who even  attempted a 1  1/8  over his second start in this year’s field or in the recent past!!. And, that also so, with he winning handily in a tough competitive race in only his second try out of barn!!! He is still a teenager, lovely bred, and bred to go forever and still young and growing.

  Personally, since he needs this win for the Derby I wish him the best and hope he wins, as it will apparently be his true only shot. At such low odds, one can look for all of the excuses to justify jumping ship on him for this Florida Derby to justify your own betting course. And I never object to taking in all the knowledge I can before approaching the teller or making that telephone call. But, he is a for real contender despite all the negative blogging comments I have heard, believe me. However, should he not win, well, … in the words of Arnold, “H E ’ L L   B E   B A C K !!!

  Also, this Florida Derby will be no walk in the gate and you’re in run! “Quality Road” is a proven commodity!! and many still think that even “Theregoesjojo” may be competitive at this distance, although his going this distance is a concern to me. “Danger to Society” another lightly raced is however 2  2-0-0!!! “Sincero” ran a gamely growing-up 3rd in his last 1  1/8 try. And, “Stately Character” has the pedigree to make him a consideration. Admittedly, I know less of “Toby the Coal Man”, but someone talk to Zito!, as this may be Zito’s last shot and thusly he is here for a reason and a purpose!!

  In any event, Good luck to you, “Dunkirk”. I see nothing wrong in cheering home this year’s ‘prince Valiant’, forgetting whatever his ‘morning line’ or ‘post line’ odds will be. Maybe he will be the next “Censor” and be the one to break “Unbridled’s” now growing long legacy drought as a Derby winner. The odds however short at the window tomorrow are still long against him to win the Derby following the course plotted.

  Guess this Florida Derby isn’t only about “Dunkirk” though, now is it? And the Florida Derby’s winner, whoever, has always been a highly considered Derby entrant. So, whoever wins, go back and take another real good look, although, should “Dunkirk” win, he will be easy to research.

   On another subject, if “Big Drama” wins the Swale, is he actually back on the ‘Derby trail’? Also, can “Square Eddie” really return missing so much training time, and is he on schedule to return? Is “Charitable Man” also going to make a return try? He only apparently needs a ‘show’ in a graded major to qualify moneywise from here. And now “Mine the Bird” too? Thusly, if these 3 or 4 jump back in, how many “Derby’ gate slots does that really leave left open for another ‘newbie’??? none!!! 1?, 2?,  or 3? at most!!! ?

26 Mar 2009 10:25 PM
Paseana

One of the more recent uses of a rabbit that caused the same kind of outrage was in the 2005 Woodward.  Rick Dutrow threw the "bunny hutch" at Commentator with two speedy rabbits to tackle him inside and out in order to secure the race for Saint Liam.  Commentator managed to dispatch both of the wannabes, but not before they had done their job.  I remember that Saint Liam still had to work pretty hard to get the win, and Commentator faded late to get passed by Sir Shackleton for second.  There was a lot of people that were pretty incensed by that particular tactic, as I recall.

Then there's the other kind of rabbit, one of which is also recently remembered, and that's Shake The Bank, who really became known more as "Better Talk Now's Rabbit" than by his real name!  This kind of rabbit doesn't ding-dong it with the more highly-regarded horse.  He just goes out there and opens up ridiculous margins.  The dynamics of turf vs dirt is probably the key reasoning why a rabbit like this is used in a turf race and never in a dirt contest, and vice versa.  I guess the thinking is that the other jocks will get nervous enough that the upstart might just hang on, and ask their horses for a little more than they would normally.

One thing I know is that Graham Motion was never chastised for using Shake The Bank in this way.  As a matter of fact, it was just accepted that, in a race where Shake The Bank was eligible to run, he would be there.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, but nobody seemed to get upset about it.

Personally, I don't really have a problem with rabbits.  Their use doesn't seem to be quite as prevalent now as it used to be, and maybe that's why it raises such a ruckus.  It's all part of perfectly legal strategy, and while I feel a little sorry for the sacrificial lamb, it's been a part of the sport since Day I, and it's just another thing you have to factor in when deciding how to approach the race.  If I have a problem with it at all, it's the uninformed money that gets played on these horses.  I don't think I recall a time when Shake The Bank didn't take at least some money at the windows, and that does bother me a little.  I guess it's about newbies learning from their mistakes, which I certainly had to do, and I'm in no way done yet!

I'm still not sure what Pletcher/Coolmore is doing with this one on Saturday though.  Why Europe?  I've got a feeling this is going to be one of the backfires.....and maybe in more ways than one!

26 Mar 2009 10:31 PM
Paseana

Sorry, but I forgot to add one thing.  It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Baffert enter Zensational in the Santa Anita Derby as a rabbit for Pioneerof The Nile, especially when Zayat owns them both!

Interesting!

26 Mar 2009 10:43 PM
Householder

Bayakoa was a monster.  I'm skipping the Florida Derby and You Tubing her 16 months of terror.  

27 Mar 2009 1:47 AM
GunBow

For Big Red: Thank you for the compliment, although when it comes to the 60s and 70s I have to defer to others like you and Steve. Although I do love Gun Bow (the horse), I wasnt around to see him run in person. The sport hooked me as a teenager in 1989 with the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer rivalry.

For Big Red, the first stakes race I ever attended was the 1989 Chula Vista Handicap, in order to see Bayakoa. Unfortunately, that was her one poor performance that year, as the very underrated Goodbye Halo won the race.  Goodbye Halo won 7 grade 1 races in her career, and was right there with Personal Ensign and Winning Goodbye Halo at the wire of that memorable 88' Breeders Cup Distaff.

I also know what you mean about the breakdowns. 1990 was tough for a young fan to get through. The 2nd Stakes I attended was the 89' Hollywood Futurity, won by the sensational Grand Canyon in 1:33 flat, a record for a two year old. Sadly, Grand Canyon was injured before making a start as a 3 year old, and ultimately died that summer from that dreaded desease you mentioned, laminitis. In the spring of 1990, I went to the track to watch Sunday Silence run in the Californian and had to see a horrific breakdown and spill that cost Chris McCarron a number of months and two horses their lives. Then there was Mister Frisky getting a grapefruit sized tumor, Great Communicator breaking down and then euthanized, and the the horrors of the Breeders Cup, with Go For Wand and two dying in the Sprint. I was crying watching Go For Wand and thought about giving the sport up. However, in the next race that Breeders Cup day, the Mile, one of my favorite horses, Itsallgreektome, ran a surprising 2nd and I decided to stay with it. But I do hate the injuries, and the fact that these wonderful horses sometimes lose their lives competing in this game.  Over the winter when I was visiting my family in California, I had to watch the very classy female sprinter, Indyanne, breakdown in the grade 1 La Brea and then be put down a few weeks later.

Living in Michigan now, I have been introduced to harness racing, and really enjoy certain aspects of it. First, pacing and trotting are much easier on horses than full-out running. Although harness horses run over tracks that are little more than gravel, most of them run every week or every other week. Alot of harness horses make over 30 starts in a year, and I've seen quite a few that have made more than 250 career starts. I've never seen a harness runner breakdown. With horses staying healthy so long, and then racing so long because breeding doesnt dominate, it's very easy to develop attachments to a number of horses.

It's probably a topic for another day, but there is a developing trend in harness racing for the top runners to be retired after their 3 year old season. In 2007, the champion trotter, Donato Hanover(at one point had a 17 race winning streak in elite races), was retired after his 3 year old campaign, and this past year the champion pacer, Somebeachsomewhere (winner of 21 of 22 career starts), was retired at 3. The owners and trainers of both also received some criticism for not running their stars enough (Somebeachsomewhere "only" made 15 starts this past year). The industry is concerned enough about the development that a conference was held to make sure harness racing doesnt become like thoroughbred racing, with breeding trumping racing, and stars leaving after brief campaigns. For thoroughbred racing fans, I bet 15 seems like alot of starts for a year.

27 Mar 2009 3:29 AM
GunBow

Zarvona: I believe Dunkirk's Beyer figure was kept at 98. The 107 number was for his Brisnet figure. Daily Racing Form has the past performances for the Florida Derby, free w/ Adobe Acrobat. Go to the toolbar on the DRF website, click under "Tools", then press "Watchmaker Watch", and then press the link for Florida Derby past performances.

Paseana: Good call. Shake the Bank was a very prominent recent rabbit. While it didnt always work, there were a few races he really helped Better Talk Now, a horse that came from far back. Another good call on the 2005 Woodward as an example of a rabbit being used. However, I have to disagree with one point; Saint Liam won that race very, very easily. Commentator was cooked by the rabbit(s) and offered no resistance to Saint Liam in the stretch. Sometimes the use of a rabbit seems unsporting, but it has been a part of the sport for a long time. In my opinion, great horses should not be affected by a rabbit, unless, perhaps, they are facing another great horse (Dr Fager-Damascus). Damascus was an absolutely GREAT horse, and the only competitor he needed a rabbit for was Dr Fager, one of the greatest of all time.

27 Mar 2009 3:43 AM
draynot

Let's not forget that Dunkirk is not the only one of the big three to need a win or second place finish to get to KY. Jojo does not have enough in the bank without a top placing and Quality Road could be on the bubble if he finishes third or less. This sets it up to be a mad dash to the finish. Jojo gets first crack at Quality Road based on his previous fractions and Dunkirk would have to catch them both. Alot of futures money going down the drain when Dunkirk falls short.

draynay,

I saw those tattoos on You Tube, they were both of this years KY Derby logo and a blanket of roses. Guess they had to be drunk to think either one of them ever had a chance.

27 Mar 2009 7:57 AM
Alan

I was devastated to learn of Mr. Fantasy's withdrawal from the Wood, even though I had a gut feeling he wasn't ready for the Derby trail.

What puzzles me is the talk about his pedigree.  The horse cost $230,000 and was the most expensive one in the Gotham.  Why would someone buy such a costly horse if loaded with question marks?

Now I'm wondering if Mr. Fantasy would be better suited to sprinting.  I didn't like seeing how it looked as if his power cord was suddenly pulled in the Gotham stretch.  With all the talk of rabbits here, and the way Mr. Fantasy appears to always want to be in front, he might forever be vulnerable in routes.

Your thoughts?  

27 Mar 2009 8:12 AM
SCC

Alan, Mr F has had 3 races lifetime! He is a May foal and in his first stakes race he ends up against a horse that freaks. IWR runs a 113 Beyer and a -1 on the Rag sheets. Mr.F runs a 98 Beyer and some have said GArcia gave him a bad ride (I dont agree with that). These owners are thinking long term - they know they have a very good if not potentially great 3 year old and I guess do not want to burn him out on the derby trail before he even becomes a full 3 years old!!

27 Mar 2009 9:25 AM
mg

Draynay, I certainly have to give you credit. When you come out with a statement, you come out with both guns blazing. I'm going to have to go with Tiznowbaby on this one however - The best miler in the world !!! wow partner. It won't make any difference whether they run over dirt, plastic, grass or broken glass, my man that's a big bit of the apple. Steve's right you do keep it interesting.

27 Mar 2009 10:47 AM
For Big Red

TO RITA: You asked about Onion and thought maybe he was a rabbit. Onion was essentially a very fast high-level claimer. The only stakes race he ever won was the 1973 Whitney Handicap, when he beat Secretariat. The back story of that race may not be widely known.

Onion was not being used as a rabbit that day. Secretariat was sick with a virus, and Onion's trainer, Allen Jerkens, knew it. Known during his career as the giant killer because he beat great horses with lesser one several times, Jerkens was a master at placing his horses where they had the best chance to win. He had watched Secretariat work for the Whitney in an uncharacteristically dull way. Jerkens put the rumors of Red being sick together with the work, and knew Onion had a real shot. Onion also happened to be the sharpest then that he ever was in his career, having just set the Saratoga 6 1/2f track record.

Lucien Laurin always blamed himself for Secretariat's three losses in 1973. (Red actually only lost his first race in 1972, but was ridiculously DQ'd in the Champagne.) Lucien knew they shouldn't have raced Red in the Whitney, and that they rushed him into the Woodward too soon after Red's world-record-setting win in the Marlboro Cup two weeks earlier. And Lucien messed up one of Red's works before the Wood Memorial. In fairness to Lucien and the always gracious Penny Chenery, they were racing the calender. They tried to let as many people as possible see the great horse before he would be retired in the fall of 1973 due to the terms of his syndication.

27 Mar 2009 12:07 PM
For Big Red

Nice to see Mr. Fantasy's connections do what's right for their horse. He is a late foal whose DOB is May 24, 2006. He's shown some real ability, winning his first two races in quick time and earning consistent Brisnet speed figures of 107, 101 and 102. Give this horse more time to develop, and he could be any kind.

27 Mar 2009 12:49 PM
For Big Red

TO STEVE: This is off-topic here, but is very important to this year's TC. News this morning is that a creditor in the MEC bankruptcy wants Pimlico sold before the Preakness. If it is sold, do you think it will have an impact on this year's Preakness?

27 Mar 2009 12:58 PM
Paseana

GunBow:  Thanks for setting things straight on the finish of the Saint Liam/Commentator Woodward.  You are correct.....Saint Liam won that race pretty easily.  I think the Woodward I was getting it confused with was the one the year before when Ghostzapper did have to work surprisingly hard to run down Saint Liam (no rabbit involved there so not relevant to the topic).  I just got those two Woodwards mixed up.

Thanks for the correction!

27 Mar 2009 1:26 PM
Steve Haskin

Big Red, I don't think it will have an impact. There are influential people that have expressed an interest in buying the track to make sure it remains at Pimlico.

27 Mar 2009 3:25 PM
Alan

SCC- Finley hasn't ruled out the Preakness for Mr. Fantasy.  I figure that's a longshot though, considering the colt has lost weight and the Withers isn't that far removed from the Preakness date.  All considered now, I couldn't imagine Mr. F entered in the Belmont at 1 1/2.

The more I think about it, Mr. Fantasy may turn out to be a monster sprinter.  In his 6 furlong debut, his opening fractions were 21.6 and 45 flat.  Final time- 1:10.51.

27 Mar 2009 4:53 PM
For Big Red

TO STEVE: Thanks. That's very good news.

27 Mar 2009 6:12 PM
Alan

Steve- Got a couple pictures of you before the Gotham down by the horses.  Didn't make the connection until downloading them today and noticed you're the guy on this website.  I was basically taking shots of people who appeared to be involved with the action.

27 Mar 2009 7:09 PM
Mike Relva

TO:TIZNOWBABY:

When Quality Road wins wonder what spin you use to ignore the obvious? Be great if you just "man up" and say you were wrong,period!

27 Mar 2009 9:52 PM
Steve Haskin

Alan, burn them before they infect your other photos.

27 Mar 2009 10:12 PM
Tiznowbaby

Mike, if QR wins the FD, I will not "man up" and say the horse is the best miler in the WORLD. To say he's the best miler in the world is just stupid.

27 Mar 2009 11:38 PM
Draynay

Did anyone else notice..... that Justwhistledixie ran very wide into the first turn at Gulfstream... ran the same distance as Dunkirk and ran it about a full second faster ???  I guess she is ready for Quality Road too......

28 Mar 2009 12:42 AM
GunBow

Paseana: It happens to everyone. I find myself constantly having to go back and watch races again, or read old articles, or check my old notes. After one has followed the sport for a while, it gets increasingly difficult to separate one race from another.

Dray: Justwhistledixie ran a second faster than just about any horse running 9 furlongs at Gulfstream this meet. Although the track may change alot from Friday to Saturday, it will be interesting to see if the boys can better that time in the Florida Derby. Or, could it be another case of a 3 year old filly running just as fast or faster than the males(Rachel Alexandra twice, Dont Forget Gil)?

28 Mar 2009 4:43 AM
Mike Relva

TO:TIZNOWBABY

I'm NOT speaking of you admitting that QR is the best miler in the world. I'm saying admitting you were wrong about him not being able to win today.

28 Mar 2009 12:12 PM
Karen2

WOW..... nice race by QR. Dunkirk ran his heart out but he was no match today. He was pooped. This is shaping up to be one heck of a crop of 3 year olds.......not sure if the Pamp can hang with QR or FF.

28 Mar 2009 6:27 PM
Mike Relva

TO:TIZNOWBABY

Guess you were wrong!

28 Mar 2009 6:32 PM
Karen2

One more comment. I completely disagree with the Big Drama DQ. He did bump "Phil" but in my opinion it would not have changed the out come of the race. Bummer.

28 Mar 2009 6:34 PM
Alan

I didn't know much about Quality Road before today's race, but when I saw his speed figures it became apparent he was the only choice.  I hit the trifecta for a whopping $6 (2/4-6/4-6) and missed the exacta by playing 2/6.

Another thing: I was impressed by Quality Road's eye-popping physical presence.  He is such a beautiful horse!

28 Mar 2009 7:13 PM
GunBow

An excellent Florida Derby. It unfolded as most expected, and the only real big surprise was that Jojo was so close to the pace, and faded so early. More about Jojo later.

Quality Road proved, once again, that he has no trouble rating, and he displayed alot of style turning back Dunkirk in the stretch. However, Quality Road held almost all the advantages this day. The track was ultra-fast, speed was holding once again, he received a perfect trip behind a hopelessly outclassed sprinter, and was able to save ground the entire trip after breaking from the 2 hole. It will not be that easy at Churchill.

While Quality Road did have many advantages, he ran another monster race like I expected. This is a huge, seriously talented 3 year old. I thought Johhny V would try to sprint ahead of Dunkirk on the turn, and was somewhat concerned when Dunkirk loomed to his outside. Quality Road, though, had plenty left, and out-kicked Dunkirk in the stretch.

Clearly the 9 furlongs was not a problem for Quality Road, and the final time was a track record, although the Gulfstream strip was blazing today; maidens ran 6 furlongs in 109 and 1, and a mile in 136, 3 year old allowance horses ran a 135 and 4 mile, and Big Drama and This Ones For Phil set a 7 furlong track record with a 120 and 4 clocking. Still, Quality Road and Dunkirk were well clear of Jojo in 3rd, and I expect the Beyer to be comfortably over 100 (likely 107-113).

Quality Road is definitely one of the most gifted runners of this crop. He has already demonstrated that he is a world class miler and 9 furlong horse. I think 10 furlongs is within his grasp, but I'm not sure that it's his optimal distance. The Kentucky Derby will be radically different from the Florida Derby. Quality Road will have to run another eighth of a mile against much better speed horses running even faster splits, and will have to race over a Churchill surface that is usually much less kind on speed horses than Gulfstream.

Yet, Quality Road should be a major factor in the Derby. I loved how he rated today, and think Johnny V will be able to take him 5 or 6 lengths off the pace in Kentucky if needed. Those last 100 yards of the Churchill stretch may yet be his unduing, but, as of now, he goes to the top of my Derby rankings.

Dunkirk ran HUGE today in the Florida Derby. As I said before the race, Dunkirk was going to be at a serious disadvantage vis-a-vis Quality Road in the Florida Derby; there was no stakes caliber speed to really test Quality Road early, the pace was not going to be the free-for-all that typically occurs in Kentucky, and he would be racing over a strip that has been brutal to horses trying to close.  While the fractions of the Florida Derby appear fast at first glance, with the first quarter in 23 and change, a half in 46 and change, and 6 furlongs in 110 and 3, the track was ridiculously fast; as fast as the track was, those were not excruciating fractions. Yet Dunkirk was able to cut into the lead on the far turn, making up about 5 lengths into a 23 and 4  3rd quarter.

Dunkirk's move wasn't necessarily brilliant or explosive, but his long legs were covering alot of ground. Given all the disadvantages, including this being his first try in stakes, Dunkirk ran admirably, passing Jojo and putting himself within a length of Quality Road entering the stretch. Quality Road was able to pull away in midstretch, but Dunkirk kept coming at him and was making up ground once again at the wire.

Given this was only Dunkirk's 3rd career start, and that he was forced to make a premature rally on a speed favoring course, he ran very well. Hopefully, Dunkirk can get into the Derby because he would be a major factor. Although he did tire slightly in the stretch of the Florida Derby, I think Dunkirk will enjoy 10+ furlongs, especially on a surface other than Gulfstream. There will be alot more speed in the Derby, and horses with Dunkirk's style have fared very well over the years in that race. If he cant get into the Derby, Dunkirk will be a leading contender in the Preakness or Belmont.

Kent gave Jojo a curious race ride in the Florida Derby. Clearly, Kent and McPeak were concerned about Quality Road and the lack of quality speed horses to challenge him, but Jojo's main weapon has been his quick acceleration on the far turn, and Kent took that away. I can understand wanting to be closer to Quality Road than in the Fountain of Youth, but Jojo was on Quality Road's hip the first 6 furlongs. Taken out of his preferred style, Jojo spit the bit early. I question Kent's ride, but even so, Jojo was very disappointing. I had serious concerns about Jojo getting a distance, and now feel that he simply is not a true 10 furlong Derby horse. Alot of people are going to point to the excuses I discussed, but there was more than that going on here. Jojo was right with Quality Road and just couldnt keep up with that one, and Dunkirk ran right past him. I can understand being a little flat in the stretch after being asked to do something new, but I would have expected him to finish alot better than he did. Very difficult to like for the Kentucky Derby.    

28 Mar 2009 7:43 PM
Tiznowbaby

Mike, you might want to re-read the blog. Where did I ever say QR couldn't win?

28 Mar 2009 9:23 PM
Kat

FLA Derby  23.49/23.3/23.8/24.6/12.44

Sham Stakes

23.08/23.4/23.8/24.8/12.77

Karen, IF The Pamplemousse takes to the dirt (and can get the last 1/8th at CD) he can play in this sandbox!  Santa Anita favors closers and Gulfstream favors speed!  

28 Mar 2009 9:24 PM
draynay

There is no point in talking about Dunkirk for the Derby.  He was a tired beaten horse.  Quality Road showed immense talent going two turns for the first time and now get to rest and train and improve for the Kentucky Derby.  This one is not hard to figure out.  If Quality Road comes out of the race well and trains well how can you pick any other horse than the one the just posted back to back Beyers over 110 and won the Florida Derby ???

28 Mar 2009 9:34 PM
Alan

Kentucky Derby Exacta/Trifecta-Box: I Want Revenge, Quality Road, Old Fashioned, Imperial Council.

28 Mar 2009 9:50 PM
Ranagulzion

Wow! Quality Road and Big Drama in track record times in their respective races ...(never mind the objections and DQ ...just added drama) the Derby plot just thickened.

Quality Road is "el numero uno" right now.  Any handicapper trying to diminish the brilliance of his comprehensive crushing of the Florida Derby field is being less than honest.  

Also I'm pretty sure that Harold Queen and David Fawkes (connections of Big Drama) are going to be roasting with Derby fever in the coming days.  I hope that they never get healed until the first Saturday in May.  It appears that inspite of his bone bruise injury, missed training time and apparent withdrawal from the Derby trail, destiny beckons this grandson of Buckaroo (Spend A Buck's sire).  His class, versatility, rateability, gameness and propensity to win his races, not to mention his Derby pedigree, make him one of six legitimate challengers to Quality Road in the Derby.  More anon.

29 Mar 2009 1:30 AM
GunBow

Kat:

I agree about The Pamplemousse. Well Armed folded in the stretch of the 9 furlong San Antonio after setting an uncontested lead, but wins the $6 million Dubai World Cup by 14 on the front end. Horses simply dont win stakes races at Santa Anita on the lead. Except, of course, The Pamplemousse. If he likes dirt, his speed will turn from a disadvantage on Pro-Ride to a huge advantage. That last eighth, as you said, is also a concern for The Pamplemousse.

29 Mar 2009 1:41 AM
Coldfacts

GUNBOW, some views on some points in your post:  

“Quality Road will have to run another eighth of a mile against much better speed horses running even faster splits, and will have to race over a Churchill surface that is usually

 much less kind on speed horses than Gulfstream”

Who are the better horses that QR will meet? Is there a 3YO that can set a pace that QR cannot rate close to? The fastest 6 furlong for the derby is Songandaprayer’s 1:09.25.The average time for six furlongs for the last ten derbies is 1:10.94. If there are going to be faster splits, then Secretariat’s record is history. How many on Steve’s top twelve list have recorded 1:10 plus in their rout races? The Mousse is probably the only one but can he run as fast on dirt? The speed of War Emblem, Smarty Jones and Big Brown were not affected by the Churchill surface. Good horses take their races wherever they go.

“Dunkirk ran HUGE today in the Florida Derby. As I said before the race, Dunkirk was going to be at a serious disadvantage vis-a-vis Quality Road in the Florida Derby”

Good horses overcome their disadvantages. If Dunkirk had won there would be no arguments about his disadvantage. He rocketed to every top ten list after his Allowance win. Were his disadvantages taken into consideration with the hype that surrounded him?

“the track was ridiculously fast”

I have read this statement elsewhere and I do not think the posters know their facts. Below are the fractions for the last three FL derbies:

Scat Daddy         23.06, 46.78, 1:10.82, 1:35.92, 1:49.02

Big Brown          22.76, 45.83, 1:10.08, 1:35.18, 1:48.16

Quality Road      23.49, 46.83, 1:10.66, 1:35.28, 1:47.72

QA’s fractions for the first 4 quarter were slower than those recorded in 2008. His fractions for the first two quarters were slower than those recorded in 2007. Big Brown was not challenged so he coasted home. If horse had challenged Big Brown, it is conceivable he would have gone below 1:48. Are you implying that Big Brow won the 2008 FL Derby on track that was ridiculously fast? The splits for the FL Derby for the last three years reflect marginal differences. This track is always fast on derby day. The Olympic track in China was fast but yielded only five records. Three WR were recorded by the amazing Usain Bolt. Exceptional athletes are likely to record world records on fast. It is not inconceivable that Quality Road is a better athlete than Big Brow. We already know he is better than Dunkirk irrespective of the excuses being brandished.

“Given this was only Dunkirk's 3rd career start, and that he was forced to make a premature rally on a speed favoring course”

I am not sure the point above carries any value. Big Brown made his third start in the FL Derby and had no problem winning. Quality Road made his third start in the Fountain Of Youth and had no problems winning. QA had only a one race advantage. What exactly is a premature move? Dunkirk rider took correct decision to move at the time he did. If he had allowed QR to straighten and change leads he would have been beaten five or more lengths. Without that move, he would making the turn for home when QR had already change leads and would be well on his way home.

“Hopefully, Dunkirk can get into the Derby because he would be a major factor”

I am hopeful he can get into his feed pan after his exposure to the monster Quality Road. Sometimes races can have adverse effects on horses, lets hope he was not damage too badly and will be able to recover.

Quality Road’s dam sire Strawberry Road was a HOY in Australia and champion older horse in Germany. His second dam was sired by Alydar, sire of two derby winner. His third dam was sire by Bold Bidder, sire of two derby winners. Do not expect distance to be his problem.

29 Mar 2009 8:13 AM
Saratoga AJ

Jimmy Jerkens has an absolute monster on his hands. The sheer size of this colt...about as big as Forego was for those of you who remember...is impressive. And with connections like Jimmy J. and Johnny V. what's not to like. I picked him after the FOY, and like him even more now.

A short note on The Pamplemousse. While he's nicely bred on the sire side, his dam's side is very weak...the weakest among the major Derby candidates. No route stamina. He will NOT get 10 furlongs. Add that to the fact he only has run the fake stuff, don't waste your money if he makes it to Churchill.

And lastly, doesn't the Kentucky Oaks look like it's shaping up to be one of the best ever?

Rachel Alexandra, Stardom Bound and Justwhistledixie. If they all make the starting gate what a race it will be. The feeling here is Rachel is a possible superstar..her running style reminds me, dare I say, Ruffian. Go to the front and just pour it on no matter what the distance. Scary.

$50 straight Oaks/Derby double:

Rachel Alexandra/Quality Road

29 Mar 2009 11:23 AM
LDP

Karen2

    Completely agree with you on your opinion of the DQ in the Swale. I know that BD bumped Phil twice, but once BD kicked in Phil never was gaining and wasn't going to get past. I know you have to be fair, but in this case Phil wasn't ever going to get past BD.

29 Mar 2009 12:29 PM
Kat

I DO hope they don't try to get another race into Dunkirk to get him into the Derby.  He was clearly exhausted yesterday, still severely winded while they were hosing him off.  He looked like a flat tire trotting down the track. Hats off for a courageous effort, but consider the horse first. I suspect he will see the winner's circle again.

29 Mar 2009 12:39 PM
Mike Relva

TO:TIZNOWBABY

I'm gonna say what you told Dray earlier,"thanks for the laugh"! lol

29 Mar 2009 1:19 PM
Barbara

Wanted to say hat's off to Quality Road - very impressive horse.  Every reason to say he is Derby fav. Dunkirk is the real deal, too, that was quite the move around the turn.  He even galloped out in front of QR into the clubhouse turn but seemed like the race  took a lot out of the gray horse.  I think he deserves to go to the Derby v. some of the others that will get in, BUT I kinda hope he doesn't make it for his own sake.  Run him in the Preakness.

29 Mar 2009 1:44 PM
Kat

GunBow - the down side of the PM taking the Derby is that there would be no TC this year.

If PM goes to the Belmont, Alex S better have some taxi money in his pocket. . .   :)

29 Mar 2009 3:24 PM
Speedball

Gun Bow,

I agree with your assessment of Quality Road.  I think he's going to win the entire shooting match.  His muscular build reminds me of a 4yr`old, not a 3yr old.  I think that he has stamina and class written all over him.  Do you know what his Beyer for the race was?  I think it's going to be close between  QR,I Want Revenge,and FFire, but QR will pull it out if he has a decent trip and post, but anything can happen, that's for sure.

29 Mar 2009 3:29 PM
Ranagulzion

COLDFACTS:  Your analysis of the comparative speed fractions is compelling. Keep up the good work buddy.

29 Mar 2009 4:17 PM
Karen in Texas

Saratoga AJ and Speedball---Quality Road does look big and mature--reminds me of a 4 year old as well. Is he as tall as Forego though? How many hands is he--anyone know? To me his chest and lower neck look like he may have tremendous heart/lung capacity, which bodes well for any athlete.

29 Mar 2009 4:30 PM
LDP

Karen in Texas,

    I heard from one of the announcers on ESPN yesterday QR is about 17 hands tall. That's a big boy, lol.

29 Mar 2009 8:48 PM
zarvona

Boy, we are really operating on real anti-cimax from here!!! The only mysteries are 'Will "Dunkirk" change strategies and attempt to qualify earnings wise running again? 'Will "Big Drama" or "Square Eddie" jump back in? 'Will "Charitable Man" make another stab? Why do we all Dubai results earnings count toward our DERBY!?!?! MAKE THEM earn it here, U.S. Graded winnings ONLY!! Make the winners of the Illinois and the Arkansas 'win and you're events' to make them significant! The Claifornia Derby won't reveal anything we don't know already and neither should the Wood. The winners of the Ill. and Ark. Derby's will likely only be attempting to accrue earnings qualifications, and are we really gonna respect the suprise winner anyway? Like at this point I am feeling, who cares. Earnings fighting for 2 remaining slots seems insane depending on who might jump in vs. those that already have the earnings and might declare in. And there isn't anyone out there we haven't identified and scrutinized. Just wake me up again on May the 1st.

29 Mar 2009 9:04 PM
Speedball

Karen in Texas-I think Quality Rd is 17 hands.  He reminds me of Refrigerator Perry that used to play pro football.  He's built like a brick----house!!

29 Mar 2009 9:09 PM
Saratoga AJ

Karen in Texas:

Forego was 17 hands tall. I believe I read where QR is the same...17 hands. Sure looks that way.

By the way, the tallest horse I ever remember seeing was Cox's Ridge, another stakes winning horse of the 70's. He was over 17 hands. Fortunately, he wasn't a gelding like Forego and had a very successful career at stud.

29 Mar 2009 9:13 PM
GunBow

Quality Road's Beyer for the Florida Derby is a 103.

Dunkirk- 100.

Jojo- around 90.

The Beyer came up a little lighter than I was expecting. It appears that the Beyer team felt the Gulfstream track was sooo fast that 1:47 and 3  was not extraordinary.  Interesting.

If one takes it at face value, Quality Road regressed about 5-6 lengths off his Fountain of Youth (113 Beyer) and Dunkirk didnt improve nearly as much from his second to third start as he did from his first to second start (78 Beyer in his 1st race, 98 in his 2nd, and now a 100).

Beyers in the 100-103 range are still solid, but they certainly dont tower over other contenders. I Want Revenge ran a 113 of his own, Friesan Fire ran a 104, The Pamplemousse 103, Win Willy a 102,General Quarters 102, Rachel Alexandra 100 and 99 (eased up), Imperial Council 98, Hold Me Back 97, Pioneer of the Nile 95.

And The Pamplemousse ran that 103 figure on a synthetic surface in which even grade 1 older horses rarely run over a 103 (Einstein a 100 for the Big Cap, Well Armed 89 in the San Pasqual and 99 when 2nd in the San Antonio).

Beyers arent everything, though.

30 Mar 2009 12:01 AM
Draynay

A 103 Beyer ? Lol... you have to be kidding so.... Dunkirk gets a 107 for running a 1:50 +  but Quality Road gets a 103 for setting the track record?  Nonsense... now you know why Beyer figures are to be taken with a grain of salt at Gulfstream. Two great horses set records and instead of talking about the horses we are talking about the track like they shot steroids into the track.  The hating of Quality Road has begun and it was obvious on ESPN... all they wanted to talk about was Dunkirk a horse that had won NOTHING leading up to the Florida Derby.  Even after the race Dunkirk got more face time.  Now with each win Quality Road haters are going to increase and you will hear things like, "he's a good horse but he is no big red."

Let the hate begin.

30 Mar 2009 9:29 AM
Barbara

Dray, you have Brisnet confused w/ BSF. Some of us had to sort that out last week for ourselves.  Dunkirk had a 98 Beyer last out.  The 107 is a Brisnet figure.

That aside, I think the Beyers at Gulfstream are just wacky this year as bloggers and other posters have noted.

I don't think anyone hates your boy.  Although the hype for Dunkirk on ESPN did verge into inanity pretty quickly. I bet QR jumps to the top of most Derby lists now.

30 Mar 2009 10:11 AM
Karen2

I don't see the hating your referring to Dray. I think QR is a very impressive horse however he just raced on Saturday which makes his win fresh. How can we forget about IWR or FF?? IWR ran a very impressive race. Plus, I think Gunbow may be on to something with the Pamp. Horses just don't do what he has done on synthetic. Great point about Well Armed. If the Pamp likes the dirt he may very well be a monster. In my opinion horses have to be fitter and have more stamina to run on synthetic. He may have a weaker female family but its been proven that that doesn't always mean everything. He sure adds to the drama of this years derby. Personally, I like the horse and enjoy his running style. Should be interesting.

30 Mar 2009 10:50 AM
Mike Relva

TO:BARBARA

If you notice I selected QR to win for the last two weeks. What I can't stand is many so-called experts thinking they know everything about everything and then using a "spin" when they are wrong.

30 Mar 2009 12:27 PM
Barbara

Mike, after you get a massage for your arm after that big reach to pat yourself on the back, are you noting that I have no problem giving ANY horse his due whether I picked him or liked him?

If so, thanks.

30 Mar 2009 1:38 PM
Mike Relva

TO:Barbara

May I borrow your comedy writer? lol

30 Mar 2009 4:04 PM

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