In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow, was an impish character who was always causing mischief.
Well, say hello to Harpoon and Vinceremos, Todd Pletcher-trained colts who are indeed goodfellows in that they are tough and talented, but, boy, do they have a knack for both finding and causing trouble, most of it self-inflicted. What is remarkable about them is that, despite their penchant for folly, they never run a bad race and in fact, in eight combined starts they’ve never finished worse than second.
To show how talented they are, in the Feb. 1 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) they managed to finish first and second, noses apart, despite trying their darndest to blow the race.
The question is, how long can they expect top get away with their antics until they catch up to them, especially with the competition expected to start getting tougher?
The panel who chooses the Kentucky Derby Future Wager field thought so highly of them they left both horses off the 23 individual betting interests and lumped them into the mutual field along with nearly 400 other horses.
Let’s start with Harpoon, from the folks who brought you Verrazano last year. Despite not changing leads and going seven-wide and drifting in through the stretch in the Sam F. Davis; despite coming out at the start and slamming into the horse outside him, not changing leads, drifting out in the stretch under right-hand whipping, and coming to a virtual dead-stop immediately after the wire in his maiden win; despite trying to prop coming out of the gate, taking the lead and fending off a cavalry charge at the head of stretch and battling with his stablemate the length of the stretch, while coming out and bumping him and then getting squeezed himself in a narrow maiden defeat; despite ducking in at the start, ducking abruptly to the outside and bumping a horse twice heading into the far turn, changing leads late, and repeatedly trying to get out in the stretch under right-handed whipping in another maiden race; and despite throwing his head to the side and going from the rail to the seven-path under left-handed whipping in the stretch in his career debut, he’s done nothing wrong.
As mentioned earlier, what is remarkable is that despite all his misadventures, he’s never been worse than second, and that’s with wearing blinkers twice and not wearing blinkers three times. So, where does that leave Harpoon as a legitimate Derby contender? It leaves him with the thought that if he ever gets his act together and learns to go about his business in a professional manner, there’s no telling what he can accomplish.
In all fairness, in his second start, he was beaten by Cairo Prince, who has developed into one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, and in his third start he was beaten by stablemate Matterhorn, who someone on the Future Wager panel must think very highly of to put him among the 23 betting interests, despite not having started since that race.
Harpoon has proven to be his own worst enemy. This is a good honest horse who just needs to grow up and not cost himself races.
As for Vinceremos, his list of demerits isn’t nearly as extensive as Harpoon’s. All he’s done in his last two races is duck so sharply to the inside at almost the exact same spot for no apparent reason, he’s either brushed the rail or come extremely close to hitting it before bouncing back off. But amazingly, on both occasions, despite having a 1 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole and then trying his best to give the race away, he’s managed to pull himself together, dig in and fight off his foes to win by a head and a nose.
In his maiden victory, after he recovered from his unexpected bolt to the rail, he fought back, while coming out into the runner-up when hit left-handed nearing the wire.
In his career debut in the slop, he took a left-hand turn after coming out of the gate and then got sandwiched when a horse came in on him. He then drifted out several paths in the stretch, finishing a well-beaten second.
One thing we know about him is that he wants to win and will fight you. In the Sam Davis, he looked as if he were about to be inhaled by three horses after his little jaunt to the rail, but refused to be beaten.
Good luck trying to figure out what these two colts are going to do in their next start. We do know that they both run hard, can battle through adversity, and don’t mind playing rough if need be. But they really need to start maturing, and you can be sure Beyer pundits are going to back off until they run faster numbers. In Vinceremos’ case, you don’t want to make a habit of ducking into the rail too often, especially after having a clear lead in the stretch.
So, we’ll see if one or both come back in the Tampa Bay Derby or if one goes elsewhere. Wherever they wind up, you can bet they’re going to at least make things interesting.