Haskin's Derby Trail: Early Observations

The works are done, and all that remains are the final gallops and observing how the horses are thriving during the final week. We’ll also look back and comment on the works and gallops we’ve seen over the past three days. As tough as this field is to separate talent-wise, it’s equally tough watching them train. So, in many ways we’re even more confused now than we were before.

Creative Cause - Photo by Steve Haskin

The standout so far has been Union Rags, who is the most imposing physical presence we’ve seen, and who turned in a sharp work on Saturday, going a half in :47 1/5. He galloped out so strong past the wire, the clockers gave him a five-furlong work in :59 4/5. But he wasn’t through. He continued galloping out, six furlongs in 1:13 4/5.

Union Rags - Photo by Steve Haskin

The son of Dixie Union is muscle on muscle and does everything with class. You could really get a good look at him this morning as he was getting his bath, and there is no one that could argue this colt is all racehorse.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but if he should win the Derby, you can bet that it won’t take more than five seconds before the words “Triple Crown” are mentioned. There are several colts in the field you could say the same thing about, but we’ve always maintained that the next Triple Crown winner will be a classy 2-year-old with a good foundation who was right up there at the top of his division, and preferably had won the Champagne Stakes (gr. I).

Union Rags - Photo by Steve Haskin

The one-turn mile in our opinion is still the classiest and most prestigious 2-year-old race over the past half century, because it tests a horse’s class, speed, and stamina, as opposed to a two-turn, 1 1/16-mile race like the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). It is no coincidence that the last three Triple Crown winners – Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed all finished first or second in the Champagne, as did Triple Crown caliber horses such as Spectacular Bid, Easy Goer, Alydar, and Buckpasser.

Remember, this was the definitive championship race for 2-year-olds before the Breeders’ Cup, and Union Rags won it as impressively as any of those mentioned above, having to overcome traffic and altering course on several occasions.

As of now, the feeling here is that this is the horse to beat next Saturday.

But the depth of this field makes it awfully close. The horse we’ve had ranked No. 1 starting from day one is Creative Cause and we haven’t seen anything to cause us to consider dropping him. This is a good-looking high energy horse, who has a good deal of spirit and generates a lot of power. He’s more of a one-paced grinder, but did take back in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) with the blinkers off and showed more acceleration on the far turn than he has in any of his previous races.

He came off the van bouncing on his toes and was a handful his first day on the track before settling down in his gallop. His work today was exactly what trainer Mike Harrington was looking for, and you couldn’t have him to do it any better, coming home his final eighth in :11 4/5 to complete the half in :47 4/5, then galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 1/5.

Perhaps the most visually impressive work came from Bodemeister, who broke off five lengths behind stablemate Jemima’s Pearl, eased up to her on even terms nearing the head of the stretch and came home very strongly. He finished about a half-length ahead of his workmate, but was never asked. It was his gallop-out, however, that really caught the eye, as he just kept going and going at a good clip, finally pulling up a full mile in 1:39 4/5.

You have to judge this colt on his works and not his gallops, where he is a totally different horse, and not nearly as impressive, moving with much shorter strides. When he works, however, it’s like Clark Kent turning into Superman.

We would have loved to see I’ll Have another work over the track, but the second best thing is to see him gallop, and his gallop today was arguably the best we’ve seen since we arrived. He was almost two-minute licking and covered the ground with fluid, powerful strides, and moved over the track as if he’s been here his whole life. He has low action and tremendous reach to his stride. We can’t wait to see what he does the rest of the week.

I'll Have Another - Photo by Steve Haskin

Remember, we were very impressed with the colt when he came off the van. His coat was resplendent and he was a handful walking the shed. So, all in all, very high marks for the son of Flower Alley.

Then there are the horses you just plain like, whether it’s watching them train or graze, although this year has the fewest grazers we can remember. The horse we’ve really come to like is Daddy Nose Best, who has had four works over the track already, and just is a horse you enjoy watching. His gallop yesterday was very strong and his work this morning was equally strong, starting off slow, then coming home in :11 4/5 and :12 flat before galloping out another eighth in about :12 4/5. and pulling up six furlongs in 1:16 3/5. He is another with grat reach to his stride.

What we liked most about his stablemate Sabercat’s work was the way cut the corner so tightly while galloping out. He broke off at the pole much faster than Daddy Nose Best..

If you want spunk in your horses, you should have seen Rousing Sermon digging a hole in his hay and rolling several times before getting up each time and charging his webbing, squealing, as if he wanted to jump over it. This Cal-bred son of Lucky Pulpit has a gorgeous, refined head and a great eye. We’re starting to take notice of him.

So, right there you have two big longshots who are capable of at least coming home late and picking up a piece of it.

As for some of the others, we’re impressed with Mark Valeski’s muscle tone and athletic appearance, and his work this morning also was strong; certainly strong enough to entice owner Brereton Jones to take a shot at the Derby.

Mark Valeski and Larry Jones - Photo by Steve Haskin

Liaison apparently loves Churchill a lot better than he did Santa Anita, and you have to be impressed with his gallop-out in today’s five-furlong work in 1:00 4/5. He no doubt appreciates the kinder surface at Churchill, as does Rousing Sermon, who also lost his form at Santa Anita this winter.

Liaison (center) - Photo by Steve Haskin

Dullahan only had a maintenance work yesterday and didn’t dazzle anyone with his closing fractions, but he’s dead-fit, feeling good, and still has the most explosive late move of any of the Derby horses.

Dullahan - Photo by Steve Haskin

Prospective is in good health and hasn’t done anything wrong.

So, are you totally confused by now? Good, we need the company. Why should our brain be the only one swimming? For all those looking to read bashing of some of these, sorry, can’t oblige. While some look better than others, as you can deduce reading this, it’s hard to find any major faults in any of them.

And we haven’t even gotten to the late arrivals, Gemologist, El Padrino, Take Charge Indy, Alpha, and Daddy Long Legs, or a visit to see Hansen at Trackside at some point.

Friday’s selections column should be a real challenge.

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