There are a number of interesting new faces competing in the three Derby preps this weekend, as well as several familiar, but forgotten names. From a star appeal standpoint, one would love to see Creative Cause and I’ll Have Another finish 1-2 in the Santa Anita Derby and Gemologist and Alpha 1-2 in the Wood Memorial (not necessarily in that order), and then Bodemeister and Hansen running big in the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, respectively, the following week.
But there are several potential stars in the making who could add a new twist to the Kentucky Derby picture if they spring an upset this weekend.
As of Friday morning, John Sadler still hadn’t made up his mind whether to run his recent maiden winner Holy Candy in the Santa Anita Derby or wait a week and head east for either the Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby. Sadler obviously is looking for the best spot to win, something Holy Candy likely will have to do in order to make it into the Derby field.
The Arkansas Derby probably is the easiest spot, but is expected to have a large field that includes Bodemeister and Secret Circle from the Bob Baffert barn.
When you have a horse who waits this long to break his maiden and still has no graded stakes earnings, you have to resign yourself to the fact that the ship most likely is going to sail without you, pardon the cliché. Only a winning performance against accomplished graded stakes horses is going get you on board.
Holy Candy has that intriguing unknown factor, and it has to be noted that he’s already won at Santa Anita and is at home there, so you might as well go for broke where you know he's comfortable. And remember, Creative Cause doesn’t have to win the Santa Anita Derby or even finish second. He’s in the Kentucky Derby even if he just runs around the track, so trainer Mike Harrington is not going push him hard and risk leaving his race here by peaking too early. I’ll Have Another also is a hot Derby contender, but still is an unknown quantity who is coming off a two-month layoff. The diminutive Midnight Transfer would become a fan favorite at Churchill if he can land the Santa Anita Derby because of his small stature. We haven’t given up on Liaison yet and expect a much-improved effort second race blinkers off. Senor Rain, who has placed in three stakes, is coming off an impressive allowance score at seven furlongs. The real wild horse in here is Paynter, who is being touted as something freaky, but has only one 5 ½-furlong maiden score to his credit. And a longshot we feel has a big chance to bounce back with a huge performance is Longview Drive, whose last start in the Southwest Stakes was a toss out, considering the trip he had. He could be a very smart bet in here, especially in the exotics.
Holy Candy did not defeat much in his maiden victory and his Beyer speed figure was pretty slow compared to the leading 3-year-olds. But here is where the intangibles come in play. From strictly a visual standpoint, his maiden score was arguably the most impressive race by a 3-year-old we’ve seen all year. It was a race you had to see to appreciate.
There was something about his scintillating victory that really caught the eye and made you take notice. His prior races were all good and against some talented horses, but this one was extraordinary. The pace was slow, and he really had no business running down the pacesetter, trained by Baffert, even though he’s certainly not one of Baffert’s top 3-year-olds. But Holy Candy turned in a blistering final half in :46 1/5 and final quarter in :22 4/5, exhibiting a powerful and efficient stride that covered a great deal of ground. He blew by the leader and quickly drew off to win by 3 ½ lengths. By the time he reached the first turn galloping out, he was 15 lengths in front and looked like he wanted to go around again.
It's difficult judging a horse's true ability in a maiden race, and we've seen many spectacular maiden winners regress when they face winners. All we’re saying is that this is a horse to keep a close eye on wherever he winds up running. He could be something special.
Two other potential stars
Two other lightly raced horses with no stakes experience who bear watching are Morgan’s Guerrilla in the Illinois Derby and Street Life in the Wood Memorial.
Morgan’s Guerrilla did not draw well, breaking from post 12, but the word is he is an extraordinarily talented colt with a bright future. Street Life has turned in back-to-back electrifying stretch runs, and if he can duplicate that explosive turn of foot against Gemologist, Alpha, and My Adonis he will be hot Derby contender, especially considering his sire and broodmare sire are both Kentucky Derby winners.
And how far can The Lumber Man take them in the Wood? He’s two for two and has never been challenged at any point.
Finally, you have the always dangerous Nick Zito, who is like a badger. He is often most dangerous when his back is against the wall, as it will be with Casual Trick, a colt who looked like any kind when he was second to Reveron in the Gulfstream Park Derby. But he displaced in his last two starts, finishing far up the track. He’s had a procedure done, and we can only wait and find out if and to what degree it worked. Even a hard-knocker like Tiger Walk has a chance to surprise a lot of people. In seven career starts, he has drawn the outside post or second from the outside in every one of them, and as a result has had some terrible trips. He’s drawn 7 of 8 in the Wood, and if he can get a good trip he could at least pick up a piece of it at a huge price.