Haskin's Derby Trail: Revisiting Four for the Weekend

Four of our highly touted horses, as early as Oct. 13, 2011 and as recent as April 6, are running this weekend. Two already have the graded earnings to get in the Derby, one needs an in-the-money performance, and one needs to win.

All of them – Holy Candy, Dullahan, Optimizer, and Sabercat – should be good prices, with Holy Candy and Sabercat morning line longshots. We feel all have a legitimate shot to win or are good plays in the exotics.

Rather than rehash everything we like about these four horses, we’re just going to reprint what we’ve written about them and see how many of them can get through the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby and earn their way – monetarily or by accomplishment – into the Kentucky Derby.

HOLY CANDY (Blue Grass Stakes 30-1):

(April 6, 2012)  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.

DULLAHAN (Blue Grass Stakes 6-1):

(Oct. 13, 2011)  It seems a contradiction to the senses to boost the merits of the Breeders’ Futurity, run over Polytrack, and several of its participants. But the feeling here is that we saw a couple of potential stars emerge from the race, whose true talents actually will not be seen until they run on dirt. One of them already has become our live longshot for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a force for next year’s Kentucky Derby trail.

First, however, let’s address the Futurity winner Dullahan. The first inclination would be to dismiss his chances in the Juvenile, based on his two mediocre performances over the Churchill Downs dirt surface in his first two career starts. That would be a mistake.

All you have to do is watch the Futurity to see that this is a big, scopey, long-striding colt who would not be expected to run big going 5 ½ and six furlongs, the distances of his first two starts. He actually ran OK in those races to finish third and fifth. He improved when stretched out to the grass, finishing a close second in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Saratoga and third in the With Anticipation Stakes. We believe the improvement was due to the stretch-out and not the grass. This colt is bred top and bottom for the dirt, being a son of the Unbridled’s Song stallion Even the Score and a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and traces to a great Greentree Stud family, most notably Broodmare of the Year Track Medal, a full-sister to Swaps.

He ran decently in sprints on the dirt, improved on the grass, improved even more on the Polytrack, and should improve again when he returns to the dirt going two turns.

The most impressive aspect of his performance in the Breeders’ Futurity was the quick-fire acceleration he showed on the far turn, blowing past horses, despite racing wide four-wide every step of the way. He also was able to sustain his move for five-eighths of a mile, something you don’t often see a 2-year-old do. And finally, he appeared to actually find another gear in the final furlong and seemed to be getting stronger the farther he ran.

So, watch out in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This performance was legitimate and we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg with this colt.

(March 12, 2012)  Surprise! Hey, can’t leave him out of the Juvenile Jackpot after his eye-opening performance in the Palm Beach Stakes. No, he didn’t win, but you could not have asked for a more perfect debut, even if it was on the grass. This was not the same big, long-striding dude from last year who took forever to jump start his engine. Physically, he looked awesome, and as soon as he came out of the gate he got right down into the bit and was able to stay in touch with the field. He settled beautifully down the backside, while maintaining his striking distance. When Desormeaux asked him he showed off his patented quick-burst acceleration and pounced on the favorite Howe Great in a flash, while circling four wide. Here he was with his head in front of a brilliant colt in Howe Great before they even turned for home. In case you want a term for what was just described, it’s called a DIRT move. But it was grass and that is not a winning grass move, especially losing so much ground the whole way. Like last year, he had his head a bit high, but once Desormeaux hit him and he leveled off, he dropped his head and was striding out beautifully in the final furlong, while under no pressure to try to catch the winner. Yet he still was slowly getting to him, despite under no more than a mild hand ride. Oh, did I mention he came home in :22 4/5 and :11 2/5 (:34 1/5 final three-eighths) and ran his 1 1/8 miles in 1:46 3/5?

OPTIMIZER  (Arkansas Derby 6-1):

(Oct. 13, 2011)  Now, if you’re looking for a horse who was almost or equally as impressive as the winner, but who is going to be a big price in the BC Juvenile and looks like a hot prospect for next year’s Derby trail, then pay close attention to third-place finisher Optimizer, who has unlimited potential.

If you feel he is a grass horse because he is by English Channel and ran big in his first two career starts on the grass you would be dead wrong. English Channel happened to be a grass horse, but wasn’t bred to be a grass horse. Optimizer only raced on grass because trainer Wayne Lukas needed to run him two turns and the only two-turn races for 2-year-olds at Saratoga are on the grass. Lukas believes his dramatic maiden victory and his second in the With Anticipation Stakes, in which the rider lost the whip at the sixteenth pole, were both achieved on class alone. The only reason he ran him in the Breeders’ Futurity on Polytrack was because it was two turns and he was looking to get enough points to make it into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile field.

This colt worked lights out on the Oklahoma training track and continued to work big on the dirt at Churchill Downs, blowing out a half in :48 breezing for the Breeders’ Futurity, the second fastest of 31 works at the distance.

Optimizer’s female family is a Who’s Who of Phipps family breeding. His dam, Indy Pick (by A.P. Indy), is out of Fantastic Find, winner of the grade I Hempstead and placed in the grade I Test, Ballerina, and Gazelle. Fantastic Find also produced Finder’s Fee, winner of the grade I Acorn and Matron, and who won or placed in 10 other graded stakes.

Fantastic Find’s dam, Blitey (by Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Riva Ridge), won the Test, Maskette, and Ballerina and produced grade I winners Dancing Spree and Furlough, in addition to Fantastic Find and graded stakes winner Dancing All Night.

Blitey’s dam, Lady Pitt, won the Coaching Club American Oaks, Delaware Oaks, and Mother Goose and was champion 3-year-old filly in 1966.

This is as strong a female family as you’ll find anywhere, and there is no doubt Optimizer will improve the farther he goes. In the Breeders’ Futurity, he was the other horse flying around the far turn, as he rallied from 12th. Unlike the winner, however, he raced greenly through the stretch and got stuck on his left lead. Robby Albarado kept hitting him left-handed and after getting to the outside, the colt finally changed to his right lead. It took him a few strides to find his rhythm, as he continued to race greenly, but once he did he leveled off and began closing in on Dullahan and Majestic City, getting stronger with each stride.

Lukas said he can’t wait to get him on dirt after seeing his action over it in the morning. The colt is still learning what the game is all about, and with his pedigree, powerful stretch kick, and the look of class about him, his future could be limitless. We’ll find out for sure in the Juvenile, a race in which he only needs to move forward to prepare him for the Derby trail.

SABERCAT (Arkansas Derby 15-1):

(Feb. 6, 2012)  Last year, he was visually as impressive as anyone. Turned in an electrifying move in the Delta Jackpot and never broke stride despite being taken hold of when he almost ran up over horses. Showed quick turn of foot drawing off in Garden State romp. Likes to run his foes into the ground and put them away quickly, but also can be tenacious, as he showed out-battling the talented My Adonis in maiden race. He’s won three straight, all at a mile or longer. He just needs to improve his speed figures. He’s been galloping at Santa Anita and progressing beautifully for a March debut.

Impressive winner of the Delta Downs Jackpot and Garden State Stakes, he is a son of the promising young stallion Bluegrass Cat, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, who is out of an A.P. Indy mare and traces to the great Phipps mare Numbered Account. His dam, Miner’s Blessing, is a daughter of Travers and Haskell winner Forty Niner, out of a Halo mare. Miner’s Blessing is a half-sister to Conquistadoress, second in the Ashland and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. This family is four generations of Stuart Janney Jr. (breeder of Ruffian) and his son Stuart Janney III breeding, and we love old traditional families that span several generations. Prior to Janney, this was a solid Wheatley Stable family that traces to Man O’ War and La Troienne. Sabercat’s dam also is inbred to major stamina influence Tom Rolfe, by Ribot.

(Current comment)  His 2012 debut in the Rebel looks terrible on paper, but he was shuffled to the back of the pack early and was way too far back for his style of running. He actually appeared to be moving with good momentum turning into the stretch, but was in some traffic and just couldn’t sustain his run coming off such a long layoff. We feel with a good trip this time you’re going to see big improvement. He doesn’t need to win, but a strong in-the-money performance would certainly send him to Louisville with some kind of a shot.

Other weekend tidbits

If Optimizer and Sabercat don’t pan out at Oaklawn, the Todd Pletcher-trained Stat (10-1) looked terrific winning an allowance/optional claimer, drawing off to an easy win , despite racing greenly and drifting out. Pletcher and John Velazquez at 10-1 looks enticing. Also, Isn’t He Clever with blinkers off could be very tough in here after getting a badly mistimed ride in the Sunland Derby. He still finished 7 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Stirred Up, who had just beaten Holy Candy. And his sire, Smarty Jones, was the last horse to win the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby.

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