Ky. Derby Trail: Making the Most of Defeat

Looking for a potential Derby contender coming out of this weekend’s races? You might want to look outside the winner’s circle.

It is difficult finding fault with the winning performances of Pants on Fire in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), Animal Kingdom in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III), Twice the Appeal in the Sunland Park Derby (gr. III), and Swift Warrior in the Rushaway Stakes – four horses whose names were not exactly on everyone’s lips prior to last weekend.

And you certainly have to forgive Mucho Macho Man’s third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby after he threw a shoe at the start of the race and ran hard the entire way, battling through the stretch to be beaten only three-quarters of a length.

But, other than Mucho Macho Man, the horses we found the most intriguing as far as being Derby-caliber colts were Elite Alex (fourth in the Louisiana Derby), Astrology (second in the Sunland Derby) Crimson China (second in the Rushaway Stakes), and Nehro (second in the Louisiana Derby).

Many are going to toss Elite Alex from Derby consideration because he’s lost all three of his races this year and they feel he is a late-closing plodder who just gets up for a minor of piece of it each race.

You can also look at it that he’s been incredibly unlucky in all three starts, breaking horribly in his first start, dropping far back in last, circling the field five-wide, and just getting beat a head by Alternation in an outstanding effort. He then drew the nine-post in the 11-horse Southwest Stakes (gr. III) going two turns, was taken back to 10th, about a dozen lengths back, was fanned six-wide turning for home and closed well to finish third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths.

He was then scratched from the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) after drawing the 10-post and re-routed to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby, where he drew the 12-post in a 12-horse field.

Calvin Borel dropped him back to last once again and cut over to the rail, falling a dozen lengths off the pace. He was still last, 15 lengths back, after three-quarters in a moderate 1:12. He finally unleashed his run while circling the field and this time had to go seven-wide. Although he made up 11 lengths in the final three-eighths he simply had been given too much to do and could finish no better than fourth.

If anyone thinks he could have come home faster or finished closer, he closed his final three-eighths in :35 3/5 (:23 3/5 and :12 flat). You simply cannot expect any horse to come home faster than that. For him to close as fast as he did while losing so much ground showed that this is a very talented, but very unlucky horse, who has never had the opportunity to show off his talents. You have to remember, he won his career debut on the pace going five furlongs at Delaware Park, battling head and head through fractions of :22 1/5 and :45 3/5. After that race, he did not run again for 6 1/2 months.

To show how sharp he was for this race, he turned in a bullet six-furlong work at Oaklawn in 1:12 2/5 breezing, then had an easy five-furlong maintenance breeze in 1:00 4/5, which still was the fifth fastest of 32 works at the distance.

The intention was always to run him back in the Arkansas Derby, win or lose. Now they will have to focus on getting graded earnings. So, no more taking the overland route and losing a ton of ground. It's go for broke, and that means keeping him closer to the pace, six to seven lengths back, and going for any holes that might open up. He has to be given a chance to win or at least get second. If it doesn't work out, they still have a heckuva Belmont Stakes (gr. I) horse on their hands.

Yes, we realize this is the most space we can recall devoting to a horse who just finished fourth, but if Elite Alex can pick up enough graded earnings at Oaklawn to make into the Derby, he could very well be a live horse on May 7. After all, he has never actually “run” an entire race this year, so he still should be relatively fresh. If he doesn’t earn enough graded money then it’s likely on to the Preakness (gr. I).

Finally, just a quick note about his pedigree. As we all know, he is by Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont (gr. I) winner Afleet Alex and is inbred 3 x 4 to Nureyev, who is the broodmare sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown. Many experts in the field believe it was Nureyev’s extraordinary heart that enabled Big Brown to get the mile and a quarter. On the dam side, Elite Alex’s third dam is a half-sister to English Derby (Eng-I) winner Secreto; his fourth dam is a half-sister to French Derby (Fra-I) winner Caracolero; and his fifth dam is a half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Majestic Prince.

It may be a blessing in disguise that Crimson China is now forced to run back in the Toyota Blue Grass and not have to buck history by going into the Derby off a six-week layoff, especially with only four career starts. Because of a lack of earnings, he was forced to switch places with his stablemate Animal Kingdom and run in the Rushaway instead of the Spiral Stakes. While Animal Kingdom got a perfect setup in which to close, with three horses going head and head in :23 2/5 and :46 3/5 and then running the next two quarters in :26 and :26 1/5, Crimson China, was forced to try to catch a good horse in Swift Warrior, who was on an uncontested lead, setting fractions of :24 2/5, :48 4/5, and 1:13 1/5. In the Spiral, they closed the final eighth in :13 1/5, while Crimson China came home his final sixteenth in :06 1/5.

The big difference visually between his race and Animal Kingdom’s is that he didn’t make his move until much later when it was too late, while Animal Kingdom came rolling up along the rail on the far turn, eased out and was all over the leaders at the head of the stretch. Crimson China, on the other hand, had to go six-wide turning for home, while the winner got a ground-saving trip.

It also appeared that Crimson China was never comfortable with the Poly powder kickback early on and either took himself or was taken out of contention, far behind the next-to-last horse. Down the backstretch, Alan Garcia had to give him a couple of cracks with the whip and continued hitting him around the far turn and down the stretch when the colt kept trying to get out. Like with Elite Alex, it was to his credit that he was able to close as fast as he did and make up four lengths in the final furlong while racing extremely wide, and in his case, failing to keep a straight course.

Despite Crimson China’s attempting to get out, his stride was so fluid and effortless down the stretch it was beautiful to watch, just as it was when he won his previous start on the grass. Although we expect a huge performance in the Blue Grass, assuming he handles the Keeneland surface, which doesn’t have quite as much kickback, or in this case sprayback, as Turfway, we still don’t know how he will handle the dirt, so that will remain a big question mark. But there is little doubt in our mind that this is a very good horse, and if he doesn’t handle the dirt, he will be a top grass horse.

As for Astrology, he hadn’t run in four months after undergoing surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis. He got a bit antsy in the gate but settled down right before the break. What was encouraging was the quickness he showed coming out of the gate from the 11-hole and how he was able put himself into contention on his own without having to be urged.

But he did lose ground on the first turn, going four-wide, and then had to chase blistering fractions of :22 3/5 and :45 flat, about two to three lengths off the pace. He made a strong quick move midway on the far turn and took a short lead, with the eventual winner, Twice the Appeal, breathing down his neck. He has an enormous stride and seemed to take the turn into the stretch on the tight track kind of awkwardly and was sloppy changing his leads. He switched over at the three-sixteenths pole and tried get his rhythm back, but the winner already had him measured. He never could level off, in good part because he was getting leg-weary from his early efforts, the fast pace, and the long layoff. But he never stopped trying. He was throwing his ears up in the stretch and Leparoux pretty much hand-rode him to the wire.

Normally, this would have been an excellent first race back, but with only one start it’s far from ideal to go straight to the Derby. If he bounces out of this race and is thriving over the next week, there is a good chance he will run back in the Arkansas Derby. The other option is to give him a long stiff work in company at Churchill. But if he needs more time there is always a prep race and then the Preakness. What is important is that he acted beautifully in the paddock, never sweated, and was very professional during the race and didn’t get any panic attacks as he did last year from not getting his air. And he came out of the race in good shape. If this race had been two weeks ago he would be looking pretty good for the Derby, but he can still get there if everything goes right.

The same question marks that apply to Crimson China also apply to Animal Kingdom, who also is immensely talented, but unlike Crimson China has basically all grass breeding, being by Leroidesanimaux, out of an Acatenango mare. But what breeding it is. His paternal grandsire is Candy Stripes, the sire of Invasor and broodmare sire of Candy Ride. Acatenango was a three-time Horse of the Year in Germany and four-time champion sire. He won almost every major race in his home country, as well as France’s Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I). Animal Kingdom’s second dam is by European Horse of the Year Dancing Brave, winner of the Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I), King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I), and English Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I).

By winning the Spiral, Animal Kingdom now will have to go into the Derby off a six-week layoff and having only four career starts, just as Elite Alex would have had to do had he gotten a good trip and finished in the first two.

As for Louisiana Derby winner Pants on Fire, the irony is that he was intended to be a rabbit for his more highly regarded stablemate Nacho Business, who didn’t show much at all. Trainer Kelly Breen experimented with the speedy Pants on Fire in the Risen Star Stakes, taking him back off the pace. While he made a brief threatening move on the far outside he was unable to sustain it, finishing sixth. That is when his role was diminished to pacesetter for Nacho Business. But a couple of weeks before the Louisiana Derby, Breen said Pants on Fire was training and looking so good, he was beginning to think he had a chance to win it himself.

Just when it looked like Mucho Macho Man was about to drive by him, he dug down and turned back every challenge from the 3-2 favorite. Then longshot Nehro, coming off a breathtaking maiden victory, found a second gear and came flying late up the rail, but Pants on Fire still had enough left to hold him off with a :12 3/5 final eighth to win by a neck.

You’re going to have search far and wide to find a better class and distance pedigree than the winner’s. Pants on Fire is by A.P. Indy’s son Jump Start. His broodmare sire is Cape Town, a son of Seeking the Gold and his second dam is by the distance-loving Bates Motel, a son of the great Sir Ivor. The kicker is that Pants on Fire is inbred three times to Buckpasser and also inbred to the regally bred Key to the Mint. His fifth dam, Courbette (by Native Dancer), is a daughter of the great Gallorette. At this point he sits right on the edge of the Top 12.

Nehro, who is owned by Zayat Stables, reminds us of a similar story that goes back over four decades. In 1966, the undefeated Graustark, owned by Darby Dan Farm and trained by Lloyd Gentry, was one of the hottest Derby favorites in history, but an injury suffered in the Blue Grass Stakes ended his short, but brilliant career. The following year, Darby Dan and Gentry had an unknown and unheralded 3-year-old named Proud Clarion, who didn’t make his first stakes start until the Blue Grass, finishing second. He then went on and scored a 30-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby.

Last year, Zayat Stables had the red-hot Derby favorite Eskendereya, who like Graustark was injured shortly before the Derby and never raced again. Now the following year they have the unknown and unheralded Nehro who made his first stakes appearance in the Louisiana Derby, finishing second. He, like Elite Alex, may come back in the Arkansas Derby, but the “next year” storyline is still pretty close. Zayat Stables actually might have two Derby horses this year, with Jaycito scheduled to run in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). With all Ahmed Zayat went through last year, losing Eskendereya and then being embroiled in an ugly lawsuit with Fifth Third Bank that dampened his enthusiasm for the sport, here he is back on the Derby trail with two contenders. You gotta love it.

Jeff Seder, president of EQB, who helped pick out Nehro at the Keeneland September yearling sale ofe $170,000, said the son of Mineshaft had the “heart and lungs of a lion and the conformation to match.”

We are going to save Mucho Macho Man for next week when there is only one major stakes – the Florida Derby. The one irony of his race is that he winds up losing a shoe the same day his former rider Eibar Coa takes his first steps after his near catastrophic injury. Throwing his shoe did cause him to come back a bit foot sore, but the soreness is expected to be gone in a few days.

Machen again loomed boldly but could not sustain his run. Being out of a More Than Ready mare, it's possible he simply wants shorter distances.

Getting back to the Sunland Derby, Twice the Appeal, who broke his maiden in a $30,000 claiming race three races back, was coming off a second in the Turf Paradise Derby, but was disqualified and placed fourth. It was his first stakes appearance in nine career starts, but he has been consistent, finishing in the money in seven of his last eight starts.

Ruler on Ice closed well to just miss second by a nose, giving Kelly Breen a win in a $1 million race and a third in an $800,000 race. Not a bad payday after selling his star 3-year-old Sweet Ducky for a figure well into seven figures.

Finally, the Rushaway winner, Swift Warrior, had run his best races on the grass, finishing third in the Tropical Park Derby, but has run well on dirt as well. In 12 career starts he's never been worse than fourth, so he is tough and consistent. He had never been on the lead before, but managed to steal this race on the front end in his synthetic track debut.

So, all in all, no one really stepped up this weekend to put themselves among the top Derby contenders. Mucho Macho Man pretty much stayed where he was, and Elite Alex, at least in one person’s opinion, provided a ray of hope, if he can pick up enough graded earnings in the Arkansas Derby. The two Graham Motion horses will remain more or less a guess until the Derby, and Astrology will be a horse to watch as well if he comes back in the Arkansas Derby, where Asmussen could also run Nehro.

Jolt of reality

What do these pillars of the Turf -- C.V. Whitney, Alfred Vanderbilt, George Widener, Joseph E. Widener, Ogden Phipps, Ogden Mills Phipps, Mrs,. Henry Carnegie Phipps, William duPont,  John A. Morris, James Cox Brady, Max Gluck (Elmendorf Farm), and Hal Price Headley – have in common?
You probably guessed by now -- none of them won the Kentucky Derby, despite devoting their lives to the sport and its breeding program.

No one gets handed anything in this sport, no matter how much money they spend and how committed they are, especially when it comes to the Kentucky Derby. And remember, with the graded earnings restrictions and 20-horse fields, made up of nothing but stakes horses, it’s a lot harder to win the Derby now than it was years ago when cheap claimers and cheap allowance horses made up a decent portion of the starting fields each year. And a number of Derby fields back then consisted of anywhere from six to 12 horses.

In other Derby news:

-- Alternation, who was scratched from the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) after washing out badly and flipping in the gate, was taken back to the gate the following morning and was no problem. Trainer Donnie Von Hemel said he has not ruled out the Arkansas Derby for the colt’s next start.

-- Bowman’s Causeway, a horse we still think highly of, will make his next start in the Florida Derby. Trainer Patrick Biancone said his third in a recent allowance race served the same purpose as a mile work. Don’t know if he’s ready for these horses at this point, but one day this horse is going to put it all together and land a big one.

-- Two grass horses seeking riches and possible glory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) are Data Link and Willcox Inn, both of whom could have a future on dirt.

-- Expect to see Todd Pletcher with one or two starters in the Illinois Derby (gr. III). Two possibilities are recent allowance winner Dance City and recent maiden winner Praetereo.

-- Watch out for Dominus, an impressive maiden winner at Santa Anita Saturday. Yet another 3-year-old co-owned by George Bolton, the son of Smart Strike has been highly touted for months. He could show up next in either the Derby Trial (gr. III) or Withers Stakes (gr. III) and then come right back in the Preakness. If he runs in the Withers, he will be taking basically the same path as Bernardini in 2006.

-- The brilliant maiden winner Bind was defeated at 1-10 Saturday at Fair Grounds, stretching out to two turns. He did get tired, but was beaten by a very nice horse in Prime Cut, who missed the track record by a fifth of a second.

-- One-time Derby hopeful Casper’s Touch, who ran such a disappointing race in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II), will look for an allowance race at Keeneland as his next start, but is no longer under consideration for the Derby. Another Fountain of Youth disappointment, Shackleford, is back on the work tab, breezing six furlongs in 1:15 3/5.


Leave a Comment:

Fran Loszynski

Elizabeth Taylor who loved horses said in "National Velvet" the horse he just needs to know he is good.  Elite Alex knows he is good. Thank you for the great write up. I've always felt it is the racehorse that fights for the lead that proves he is a champion, fights traffic problems and still shows the speed of an oncoming train and Elite Alex-that is you! I hope he runs in the Arkansas and  if we see him in the Derby; we are going to see a magnificent racehorse.

28 Mar 2011 2:08 PM

Steve, any idea where Wilburn might pop up next? Thanks!

28 Mar 2011 2:14 PM

Also, are you concerned that ST did not have a good work on Sunday? Clearly the horse is immature and green, so if the stewards allow Todd to put blinkers on, they should help. I just wonder if he got anything out of that work.

I noticed that THAS worked a bullet at Payson yesterday. He was working strongly before the FOY, but I have hopes that he'll run much better in the Florida Derby. I'm still concerned that he can't rate - and with a small field, that Soldat will get away with an easy lead.

28 Mar 2011 2:16 PM

I have read may times on this blog that a blown shoe is worth 10+ lengths (Big Brown). Using that logic MMM blows away the field and jumps to the top of the Derby Dozen.

28 Mar 2011 2:32 PM

Steve outside of the winners circle Nehro was the one that really caught my eye,there seems to be no more room at the rail when Calvin is riding in a stakes race,i think if the connections changed the jock the rail might open up lol.

28 Mar 2011 2:41 PM

Good observations.

The LA Dby looked likely to produce an upset winner.

Mucho Macho Man may develop down the road, but his win in the Risen Star was overrated.  He lapped on a slow pace in that earlier race and then was fully extended to win that race.

As for Elite Alex, it is well known that Calvin Borel tries to get to the rail and save ground.  However, that was likely to be a poor strategy for Elite Alex in the La Dby.  With the large field and likely slow pace, it would put him at a severe disadvantage in the stretch and, with the large field, it was unlikely that he would actually be able to get through on the rail.  Had they chosen to stay close and not drop back to last on the rail, I think that he would have been much closer.  Of course, that's Monday-morning quarterbacking.

And as for Pants on Fire, I'm surprised that they thought of him as a rabbit.  He had a significantly better record than Nacho Business and his style of front-running was likely to be better suited to this race than the come-from-behind style of his stablemate.

At Sunland, Astrology was the most impressive horse in the race.  It's quite an achievement that he managed to finish 2nd despite being as close to that suicidal pace as he was.  Though I think that it is extremely unlikely that he will be able to get fit enough at this late date to contend in Kentucky.

28 Mar 2011 3:06 PM

I'd be interested to know if the first two finishers from the UAE Derby have any K.D. aspirations.

Khawlah & Master of Hounds.

28 Mar 2011 3:20 PM
El Kabong


1st thought;

ELITE ALEX? I haven't seen so much love for a horse who has done so little since Denis of Cork had everyone playing the fiddle for his finishes.

Second thought;

No hold on thar Baba Looey, if memory serves me right, Denis ran an impressive third to Big Brown and Eight Belles.


Ok, Ok, Steve, I'm still listening on this guy, but not for the win.

28 Mar 2011 3:24 PM

Nehro is by Mineshaft. And with Asmussen and Zayat Stables being his trainer and owner big things lie ahead for this colt.  I caught him at 25-1 across the board two starts back and 35-1 this start across, so he has paid good dividends so far. LOVE betting across the board in the big raaces!!!

28 Mar 2011 3:50 PM

Thank you for the briefing on what happened with Elite Alex and Calvin. Still won't scratch them off the list yet especially if they get to run again. Anyone who says a bad trip is no excuse for a good horse just has to replay LAL's trip last year or a number of other good horses beaten by so-so's. Not every horse is Big Brown and can win from the 20 hole. I also do think broken or knocked out teeth, thrown shoes also make a difference in results. Regardless of what some people have you believe, the horses are not running on pure adrenaline the whole way around and a distraction is a distraction. I am disappointed to see some winners and in the money horses we may now be stuck watching crowd up the field in the Derby, but I guess that's how it goes until they role back the number of starters allowed. Can you imagine 20 horses allowed to run in the BCC? I think not! You know the best wouldn't always win and it's frustrating enough for the veteran fans let alone trying to explain to newbies why long shots win big races (esp like the Derby) so often.  Also wishful thinking:  fewer early 3 yr old graded stakes that water down the top 20 earners and more for the 3yo+ or as one person rationalized, stakes with nice pots for 4 and 5 yr olds only to entice some people to keep sound horses running.

28 Mar 2011 4:15 PM

Enough of elite alex already he's done nothing at all and people think he's gonna catch lightning any a bottle, I just don't see it.

28 Mar 2011 4:16 PM
Bill in Atlanta


I'm from Atlanta and I was at the LA Derby this weekend and had the farm bet on MMM.  The owners are that "feel good" story, and from Atlanta (we don't have very many potential Derby horse owners in GA!) and a lot of us were pulling (that is...betting) for MMM to win.  I had Nehro in my exotics, and had Pants in there too, but I needed MMM to at least place to be in the money.  BTW, "the money" was nice because of Nehro coming in second.  The trifecta paid $1700 and the super paid $9200!

Anyway, what do the Reeves Racing Team do with MMM now?  You mentioned the bad history of waiting 6 weeks to the Derby, but where do they race now, if they race at all, before May 7?

28 Mar 2011 4:18 PM

Steve, excellent write-up as always, and thank you for reminding us that 1 - no one is handed anything in this sport, and 2 - the Derby is harder to win now than it used to be.  Are you of the opinion that the size of the field for the Derby should be reduced?

28 Mar 2011 4:19 PM

Steve, once again great article.

So far the graded stakes Earning was working fine, but, in recent years we have seen tracks boost a race graded or not to attract a top horse(RA case an example where she basically ran against allowance horses & earned Grade one purse) and in the triple crown case with previous years top horses trying to prep for the derby by running 1/2 races and not being nearly cranked for up for their prep. This would open the door for a horse who normally would not have made the graded earning to get into the derby of a poor caliber race. In my view its time for some kind of revision to the graded earnings. Like a max. dollar amount for say grade one, two or three race or say a point system where say a grade one winner, place or show gets certain number of points and a grade 2 winner, place or show horse get certain number of points.

whats your take on that.

28 Mar 2011 4:54 PM

That's weird what he says about Elite Alex cuz on horseracingnation this morning someone said I'm tossing him and I said that I disagree and went on to say pretty much what was said here. Don't believe me, go on the website and click on Elite Alex and you will see a comment by me, austinbnike.

28 Mar 2011 4:59 PM
art laguna

Steve, I admire your unflinching support for Elite Alex-I have in Pool 2 of the KD Futures. However, after witnessing back to back "a little too late" performances, I'm atarting to question his will to win. Of course, it didn't help that Mr. Borel gave him too much to do. Perhaps, a change in tactics or maybe even jockey (no disrespect for Mr. Kentucky Derby)might be appropriate. To me onw od  the worst handicapping angles is a closer that cannot finish in time and overcome traffic adversity.

28 Mar 2011 5:17 PM
Carlos in Cali

More excuses for Elite Alex?.. It seems like it's the doing of his connections when he showed in his maiden breaking win that he has the potential to show early speed.Granted,missed breaks is another thing,but if he has excuses now what will he encounter in a 20-horse Derby field?.. not for my liking.

Astrology ran well considering the set-backs and lay-off.Will they go the Arkansas-KyDerby route or maybe the Derby Trial/Jerome-Preakness?..

28 Mar 2011 5:41 PM
Liz Jamieson

Elite Alex reminds me of Mr Hot Stuff from a few years ago. Each race he was entered, he was supposed to do better. He always had an excuse when he placed 3rd or 4th The problem was, he never did get better.

28 Mar 2011 5:59 PM

I know Khawlah is going to England for the Oaks.  Mr O"Brien said Master of Hounds was to be pointed to the Euro classics, but plans could always change.  You never know who will show up.  They are both beautifully bred animals.

28 Mar 2011 6:12 PM
Kristen Ohler

I agree with fourcats.  I also thought Astrology was very impressive.  Not only stalking a suicidal pace, but having to go at least 4 wide on both turns.  Also wonder since he had those breathing problems last year, if a horse wouldn't remember. in some ways, it could happen again.  He also was off for 4 months.  I think he ran great.  Also impressed with Nehro.  If the race was a little longer, he wins.  Although I love Pants On Fire.  I think Elite Alex might be another Looking At Lucky.  Very talented but unlucky.  I remember Bob Baffert saying Lucky was the most unlucky horse he ever trained.  And he's trained alot.  Lucky constantly drew the 1 post.  Elite Alex always seems to get the outside post.  Arienza, Azeri's 2nd offspring by Giant's Causeway won an allowance race at Oakland Park on Sunday.  To bad Bind ran 2nd on Sat.  Prime cut who beat him is by Bernstein.  Wish I knew the margin Bind got beat.  

Thanks Steve for staying with Astrology.  I know alot of people, including me wondered why you kept Astrology in the top 12 when he hadn't raced in so long.  I think he is a very talented colt.  AP Indy is my fav. sire, so I'm probably a little biased.  I just hope he doesn't turn out like last years Fresian Fire, who by the way ran 3rd, I believe in an alowance race last week.  Astrology belongs in the top 12 and he'll get better as he gets fitter.

28 Mar 2011 7:03 PM
Jet Deck

no love for ruler on ice, who was runnin by astrology at the end.  looks like a play next time out.  

28 Mar 2011 7:29 PM
Zenyatta John

The first two runners from the UAE Derby have NO Chance to get on another plane and fly half way around the world to race in the roughest, toughest, 20 horse field they'll ever face - then add in a super Dubai Bounce, plus short rest ....

I now have it in my mind Elite Alex is a morning glory , a herder,  who doesn't have the will to win. He may run hard, but just doesn't do enough to win.

Mucho Macho Man was not disgraced since he lost a shoe at the start. still growing, not out of it at all.

The connections new Nehro knew he would excel at 9 furlongs since they ran a maiden and almost got the money. Question mark for me.

To Honor and Serve as seen through Mr Mott's eyes has begun to "blossom" , put on weight and fill out. Wonderful to hear he's on schedule.

I think these races this week just helped the cream rise to the top for me.

28 Mar 2011 7:52 PM

What upsets me are the trainers who leave the horse so much to do in order to take the team where they want to go.

Anyone can see that in Astrology, he is such a nice horse. They throw him in a race after so much time off.

Folks are still wandering around attempting to figure out how to run Alex, when he has already shown them.

Pants on Fire is for real I have been watching him for a while now.

Twice the Appeal has some of the same bloodlines as Go For Gin and looks a little like him.

Right now is what makes the Derby list fun. Its almost time to pick your horse and cross your fingers.

28 Mar 2011 7:54 PM


Great quote from a great movie.  Too bad we lost Liz Taylor.  Ya know, now that I watch the race again, Elite Alex almost made a Zenyatta-like late closing move but couldn't get there in time.  If you and Steve are still giving him another chance so will I.  You never know, if there is a big traffic jam in the Derby and Calvin can't get to the rail, Elite Alex will have so much experience going wide he may just be able to get around the jam no problem and have enough energy to bring it home?  I doubt it, but ok, he stays in.

MMM gets a big break because of the shoe throwing and flesh and fur on the shoe at the gate.  He had to be hurting and still got up for third.  I think he would have won if not for the shoe incident.  Astrology looks good to me, I was expecting worse.  The intrigue now to me is with Animal Kingdom, and yes, Steve what a breeding!  I loved Leroidesanimaux, his sire.  If he does get in who rides him, his jockey is Alan Garcia, Soldat's jockey and he better be on Soldat!

Pants On Fire has improved from third in the Count Fleet Stakes, second in the LeComte Stakes, and now a first in the Louisiana Derby.

How's that for improvement?  Can he beat a Soldat or Factor or Mo, or Dialed In, I doubt it.  And the big question to me is what will Dialed In do next time out?

28 Mar 2011 7:55 PM
Scott's Cause

Got to believe MMM wasn't all that wound up to win, yet he still ran well with one shoe missing.  Put $2 to place on Nehro and watched as he fell back and amazingly came back ON THE RAIL.  He's bred superbly and doing what he did for his experience was Kool.  This year is VERY interesting..

28 Mar 2011 8:33 PM

I like Elite Alex and I was impressed by his late run. I think he might have a little more talent than we even know. He is gaining very valuable experience right now...the pace in the derby shouldn't be nearly as soft...that could possibly set the race up quite nicely for Alex......I wouldn't dare throw him out of contention just yet.

28 Mar 2011 9:46 PM
Paula Higgins

Steve, if I am ever down, but not completely out, I want you in my corner. ITA that Elite Alex, Mucho Macho Man and Astrology are talented horses. But the only one I see with a real chance in the Derby out of the three of them is Mucho Macho Man. He was still impressive. Nice article and really interesting read as always.

28 Mar 2011 9:48 PM

You can bet for sure that there's gonna be plenty of speed in the Florida derby, especially if flash point enters but I doubt they do. Im sure he will go in the swale. You can also bet that julien will drop to the back of the field. This horse has a kick like the great CONCERN and he was taken out of his element last time out. Everyone thinks he short on works but zito already stated he gallops 2 1/2 miles and doesn't need much... im hoping gulfstream doesn't soup this track up so fast and make it some what fair but even that might not hold this freak back.

28 Mar 2011 10:04 PM

In regards to Elite Alex; I was really hoping he would put it all together for once, but no, he was once again too far off the pace and wide.  His move looked good for awhile and then he flattened out.  Is Borel leaving him with too much to do or does he simply not have enough tactical speed or agility to move between horses?

28 Mar 2011 10:18 PM
Joe Alva

Superb article, Steve!

I agree with the observations on Elite Alex.  In fact, I just posted a comment about him in your Derby Dozen blog.  He always fires and is bound to catch better racing luck at some point.  Unfortunately, his window of opportunity is running out.

He appears to me to be a big horse who may have difficulty committing to running through seams in races, and may be most comfortable running around horses.  For this reason, if he does get into the Derby, I view him as more of a bottom of tris and supers runner than a top-two finisher.  However, with a sizzling hot pace and the presence of The Factor, I would not be surprised to see him get up as a similarly honest and overlooked Giacomo did!  By the way, if he doesn't get in, you're right, this guy is tailor-made for the Belmont Stakes and its sweeping turns.

29 Mar 2011 1:12 AM

What excuse will they use on Derby Day, when MMM gets beat 20 lengths?   The only chance he has is a sloppy track. His pedigree is only good for about 7 furlongs with an honest pace.

29 Mar 2011 2:47 AM

Let's hope Elite Alex is included in Future Pool 3, as 1 of 23.

29 Mar 2011 3:04 AM

@Kristen said "Lucky constantly drew the 1 post."

Lucky only drew the 1 post in the KD - the only place where it was certain death. He  drew outside post in BC juvenile, 2 post in the  Rebel and 7 post in the SA derby....His bad luck came from other horses jostling him.  In all 3 races (2010) Gomez was nearly unseated by other riders' interference but Lucky fought back gamely and powerfully each time with an incredible turn of foot....

Elite Alex is no Lookin at Lucky IMO

29 Mar 2011 8:41 AM
The Rock

Steve or anyone else on here,

Can anyone find a video of Bind's race on Saturday? I was unable to watch and want to see how the race unfolded for him.


29 Mar 2011 9:02 AM
Triple Crowsn Karen

ya gotta love a horse who tears a front shoe off coming out of the gate and STILL has enough guts to be ther at rhe end....MUCHO MACHO MAN deserves his shot.   As does ELITE ALEX!  I've had him on my scope since he started and we ALL remember the tremendous heart & sheer atheleticism his sire had in avoiding what could have been a tragic wreck and turned into VICTORY!   I say Like Father Like son on this one...he just needs to catch a lucky break.   And we all KNOW that the Derby comes down to LUCK if, nothing else.  This run up to the Triple Crown is turning into "movie material" with the many "story lines" in it.  We've got a traner with a heart transplant who actually has a Derby horse, we have a life long horse player/"snack food" king with a great sense of humor and the(right now) TOP contender in UNCLE MO,and it just goes on from there!   Quick! Steve....start writing the screenplay!

29 Mar 2011 9:24 AM

While I truly loved and respected the agility of Afleet Alex...I have to say that this year's love affair with Elite Alex reminds me of last year's infatuation with Dublin.  (Where is he now?)  Same size, same style.  I like the horse, but have no faith in his ability to be anywhere near as good as Daddy.  I'd sooner stick with Pants On Fire and Archx3. I think they're much better horses. How is Frankel doing?  Now there's a UK horse I would love to see in the Ky Derby...but I don't think that's going to happen.  

29 Mar 2011 9:33 AM
Derby Dew


I have to agree with you that Elite Alex has been the victim of some extraordinary bad luck in his recent races.  The talent is there and he could have benefitted from a better ride from Calvin.  In fact, Mr. Borel admitted that he has a difficult time riding Elite Alex and blamed himself for the 4th place finish.  As previously suggested, perhaps a rider change is in order?

Thanks for the update on Alternation.  This colt has promise and class test will be answered in the Arkansas Derby.

Anxiously awaiting the Florida Derby this weekend hoping to see Dialed In continue to move forward.  This should be the best prep on the Derby Trail so far.

Steve, thanks, as always, for your excellent insights from the Derby preps.  Your informative reports are unmatched in painting a complete landscape along the road to the Triple Crown.  Looking forward to next week's feedback.

29 Mar 2011 9:49 AM

@WannaPick: Just back from Dubai. Master of Hounds will likely challenge in the KD and I love Khawlah. The Dubai bounce is old news. Getting on the plane early is the key.

29 Mar 2011 10:01 AM

I truly believe Eskendereya would have been a legitimate triple crown candidate had he not been injured. It would be a great story if Jaycito could deliver Ahmed Zayat that Derby win that got away.

29 Mar 2011 10:18 AM

Steve,  Thanks for another great summary of this weekends races. I really enjoyed watching Dominus at SA, he's a nice mover and looked in total control with the win, I will be anxious to see where he goes next. Another race that was really intriguing was that AOC at 1m&70yds. over at the Fair Grounds. I thought Prime Cut got a great trip, looked good, and ran terrific down the stretch to get the win, (he kind of reminds me of Court Vision). However, I can't help but wonder what may have happened if Bind had been allowed to use his speed,(perhaps a new track record). It looked like Napravik really took a firm hold on him early on and he never settled into rhythm. This seems a little odd because usually Rosie can settle a horse with the best of them. Maybe the strategy was to try to teach him to rate just off the pace, or perhaps he was just to rank. Anyway, it looked like he really wanted to run Saturday and judging from his previous races I'm thinking, on a good day on a fast track, this colt should get a mile in 1:35 and change with no problem. Let's just hope this doesn't frustrate or drop his conidenence the next time he faces a similar situtation. Those last cracks of the whip didn't appear to help, and during the last 100yds. he looked a little tired from the struggle and may have given in. Who knows.., but it was an interesting race, and above all I hope he came out of it ok. How is Albergatti doing, and also have you heard how the filly Position Limit is coming along?   Thanks Bill

29 Mar 2011 11:44 AM

Steve or anyone else on here,

Can anyone find a video of Bind's race on Saturday? I was unable to watch and want to see how the race unfolded for him.


The Rock 29 Mar 2011 9:02 AM Go to,you can find race replays on this page. 3-26, race #4.

29 Mar 2011 12:01 PM
Point Given

Elite Alex a champion? I doubt if he gets closer to being one or even smell like one.Second coming of Dublin. The most hyped and a bag full of sorry excuses.He is who I think he is, a slow horse.

29 Mar 2011 12:04 PM
Pedigree Ann

Where did you find those Derby fields of maidens and claimers, Steve. I remember 'the olden days' and because the horses raced so often, the field rarely had more than two or three no-hopers of that sort.

For example, in the 1970 17-horse field (not a particularly vintage year), there were only 3 horses who were not SWs BEFORE the Derby, with one of those stakes-placed.

The year before, only 4 horses showed up to oppose the Big 4 of Majestic Prince, Arts and Letters, Dike, and Top Knight. Two were major-track SWs (Arkansas Derby and Del Mar Futurity winners), one was a minor track SW, and one had no stakes credentials.

How about the Centennial Derby, when 23 horses lined up? Eighteen of them (18!) were SW or SP in Derby preps in the Jan-May period. Of the remainder, three were imports - Sir Tristram from England (yes, the umpteen times leading stallion in New Zealand), Set n' Go from Venezuela (Canonero dreams?), and Lexico from Panama. Leaving two US starters with less than sterling records: both became SWs as older horses.

Don't have time to do any others right now, but I believe you overstate the 'weakness' of Derby fields past.

29 Mar 2011 12:33 PM

Nice write up and I so agree with you although I still like POF just because he is such a fighter..Alite Alex is still holding on to my heart as is MMM ..Astrology had a good come back race too..It may not be the winners who will be in play but I know POF will be on my ticket somewhere the others not so much.

29 Mar 2011 1:02 PM
Zenyatta John

Rock -

The BloodHorse has all replays available broken up between maidens, Allowance, and Stake races. You'll find Bind's race there with ease.

To Fran and Alex's Big Fan -

You just have to face the facts- Elite Alex is a slow average colt and no amount of 'wishing' or saying 'the horse knows he good enough' is going to make him any better. He might be a $25,000 claimer by September.

He's a a horse that just doesn't want to win. There are everyday examples of horses who are morning glories, but never transfer that ability in the afternoon.

Elite Alex might be lucky to win a G3 somewhere - but has absolutely no chance to win the Derby. Too slow, and disinterested. Maybe if they gelded him- he'd be more focused on racing.

29 Mar 2011 1:36 PM

Loved the article, Steve. I am on the Zayat-Jaycito bandwagon and I hope the Victory Gallop baby has a great shot at Mo this weekend and in the KD! I also think Elite Alex is to play no big part on May 7th.

29 Mar 2011 1:49 PM

After last years Derby there was talk about not running so many horses.  Are they still giving this any concideration?

29 Mar 2011 2:03 PM

Family commitments eliminated any possibility of watching these races last weekend, so I do appreciate your breaking them down and analyzing what went on in each race.  The replays on the computer screen are just not the same as watching on tv for me, plus I just like the way you are able to pick up important nuances of a horse's behavior in the race that might go unseen by my untrained eyes.  In other words, thank you - now I'm going to go back and re-read your article and study a little bit more.

29 Mar 2011 4:28 PM

For the naysayers, take off one of your shoes and run full out for about a mile and see how you hold up...  MMM is grit, heart, and talent in my view.

Astrology's performance was unexpectedly amazing.

I'm not giving up on Elite Alex either.  I hope he makes it to the Derby.

Nehro's tenacity was impressive.  

29 Mar 2011 4:54 PM

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Pants on Fire from Derby contender consideration just yet. Would the owners have agreed to sell that other horse (the name already escapes me) if they didn't like the two left in the barn?

29 Mar 2011 5:00 PM

Zenyatta John,

I'm solid on Soldat, Mo, Factor, and maybe Dialed In and Prepeg.  I've posted this ALWAYS.  I tossed Elite Alex from sixth a month ago.  I don't see the mental interest there in him either, I agree, but Steve and Fran have kept my heart with him so I have him around #8 now, and I said a reluctant #8 in Steve's other blog.  I don't get these wide runs Calvin is doing with him.  Love the trainer and the sire so I'll give Elite Alex just a glimmer of a chance.  Where is Jeremy Rose and why can't he ride Elite Alex?  He rode Afleet Alex and if anyone could figure out Elite maybe he could.  Does anyone know if Jeremy rides for Tim Ritchey anymore?

29 Mar 2011 6:12 PM
John McEvoy

Love all these enthusiastic comments. Elite Alex? I don't think so, even though Calvin, who I like, has never ridden him right.

The Derby will be another 20-horse crapshoot, with nothing horses banging into good ones. The Factor may run their legs off before Mo comes coming. Post position will be huge. Anyway, it is much fun to speculate and read the impassioned responses from your large following, Steve. Rgds, JMc

29 Mar 2011 6:20 PM
Matthew W

Steve in the 1980 Strub, my briother Pete and I walked up the entry way to the saddling barn so we could see Spectacular Bid and Flying Paster up close....there were two others who were real lookers, Relaunch and Valdez--but I was drawn to the two horses that took me for a ride that previous Spring,or Derby Trail--two horses with such superb race records, that despite having General Assembly and Golden Act in the field, BOTH Bid and Paster went off under 2-1---then they ran the race.....point is, here's to ya, old chap, for correctly recognizing the contenders and for understanding that, usually, it's the Derby Trail that trumps all in this Sport Of Kings--that 1979 Derby Trail has stayed with me moreso than most of the winners of the race....

29 Mar 2011 6:33 PM
The Rock

Zenyatta John,

Thanks for the info. Just saw Bind's race. Very rank all the way around the track. Still really like this horse despite the defeat. 1/5 off the track record. And despite being very rank, the horse pulled away from the rest of his competition but one. This horse will relax better with the race under his belt. I really wish Rosie would've let him roll and maybe he would've settled. But oh well. Can't blame her for trying to get him to rate either. It was a good experience for both. Now its off to Keenland for a nx1 other than or the Lexington. Interested to see what Al Stall does next.

29 Mar 2011 7:03 PM
Willcox Ted


Appreciate your mention of my super sleeper Derby horse, Willcox Inn.  I've haven't seen him on the worktab since March 7th.  Do you  know if he is still in training for Michael Stidham?

I'm looking forward to him having his break-out race in the Blue Grass.

29 Mar 2011 7:07 PM

Decisive Moment ran very well in the Spiral considering it was his first race on synthetic.  It will be interesting to see if he takes to CD.  I like that he has almost 6 wks to train there.

29 Mar 2011 7:14 PM
Point Given

Zenyatta John,

Elite Alex is at best an average horse. Amen to That.Go "Factorsoldjaycito".    

29 Mar 2011 7:23 PM
Bill Daly

Right now, Bind looks like a need the lead sprinter.  Napravnik had a hammer lock on him and spent a lot of effort trying to get him to rate.  He'll be a very nice horse if he learns to relax. Big maybe..

29 Mar 2011 9:52 PM
Zenyatta John

Richard -

The Dubai Bounce is a real deal. Shipping back quickly is deadly - they have learned to leave the horses for another week in Dubai to avoid the Dubai Bounce.

Now that's a Coldfact!

30 Mar 2011 7:23 AM

Uh....If Elite Alex goes for the Belmont Stakes in June and not the $1 million Queen's Plate at Woodbine, that would be diabolical!!!

30 Mar 2011 8:00 AM

Mott hardly sounds like he's brimming with confidence about THAS. He hopes the  horse will improve and he hopes he shows more gameness in his last; he as much as admitted (even right after the FOY) that THAS folded pretty quickly. No matter what he said after the FOY, it's apparent now (it was apparent to me then) that Mott was not happy at all.  I don't think he has any idea what he's going to get from this colt on Sunday.

30 Mar 2011 8:23 AM

I'm waiting for the day when I feel like I've learned enough to argue with Steve! On the other hand, most of your followers have provided some interesting perspectives as well. This is my first time to follow the Derby Trail all the way from January, and other than Mo, the list has certainly been shuffled and re-shuffled over the past 3 months. Without exception, I've picked the wrong horse in every race so far! Luckily, I have several favorites, so I will be happy with whatever the outcome is and for everyone to come home safely. Cheers all!

30 Mar 2011 12:01 PM

Re the Dubai bounce, everybody knows (except trainers and owners) that after sending a horse to Dubai they are never the same when they come back here.  That explains why we aren't sending as many over there anymore.  As for the Derby, put your money on Soldat, and forget Uncle Mo, as it will be his first really hard race.

30 Mar 2011 12:46 PM
Bill Daly

Steve, you make a good point about the Derby being more difficult to win than it used to be.  Your reasons are sound as well. Moreover, starting on the turn with the two gates really compromises the chances of the horses breaking from the extreme inside posts.  Mskes one wonder how many of the Derby winners of yesteryear would have won their races had they encountered the obstacles horses like Looking at Lucky faced?

30 Mar 2011 1:56 PM

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