Creative Cause Mike Harrington
Giant's Causeway—Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer
Yes, he’s back in his familiar No. 1 spot, with all due respect to Rags. I just needed to see him take that important second step, and he used the San Felipe as a perfect prep to move forward again in the Santa Anita Derby. Harrington has done it the old-fashioned way, with the 7f sprint debut as a sharpener and then a two-turn tightener. CC accelerated quickly when Rosario nudged him on the turn and had so much momentum he floated way wide turning for home. CC raced erratically when Rosario kept snatching the reins on him and throwing crosses, trying to keep away from the whip, which the colt does not like or need. Rosario did give him a left-handed crack and CC ducked out from it. When Rosario finally went to a vigorous hand ride after coming together and locking horns with a stubborn Bodemeister, CC looked his antagonist in the eye, leveled off, and found another gear approaching the wire. Although the margin was three-quarters of a length, by the time he hit the turn galloping out, he was 6 lengths ahead of Bodemeister and kept widening. The proverbial street fighter, he’ll try to beat you any way he can. It’s a joy to see a horse handled the way this horse has been handled. He doesn’t need to be cranked to the max for the SA Derby, and as a result is going to be sharp, fit, and tough come Derby Day. The 1 ¼ miles and the extra race under his belt could give him the advantage he’ll need against Union Rags.
Union Rags Michael Matz
Dixie Union—Tempo, by Gone West
He’s still the one with the potential for greatness, but I had CC at No. 1 for the first four weeks and he’s earned his way back on top. Rags is the most gifted 3-year-old in the country, but I’ll depart from the crowd and stick with the gray warrior. We still have to see how much Rags gets out of the Florida Derby. With only two starts and already having an easy race, he needs to get into some sort of a slugfest, unless he’s just so much better than the others and will be able to dominate them on May 5 like Big Brown did. But these are much more formidable foes. Remember, Barbaro got his slugfest in the Florida Derby and it set him up for his rout in the Kentucky Derby. Returned to the work tab with a :50 3/5 breeze.
El Padrino Todd Pletcher
Pulpit—Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway
Drilled a half in :48; Pletcher with big decision regarding Louisiana Derby or Florida Derby. There isn’t much more to say about him other than what we’ve been saying all along. He’s not going to blow you away or have your jaw dropping, but try finding a chink in his armor. He does everything, and does it well. When you combine talent, tactical speed, consistency, temperament, and pedigree, how can you not consider him one of the major Derby contenders? I keep bringing up his Risen Star closing fractions of :23 1/5 and :06 1/5 for a reason. You don’t see many young horses coming home that fast, especially out-battling a horse closing almost as quickly after controlling the pace. The 5 ½-length gap to third substantiates the magnitude of both colts’ efforts.
Hansen Mike Maker
Tapit—Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat
Each week, some horse who was prominent in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile enhances that form with a huge performance. When was the last time the BC has had such a major impact on the Derby trail? He truly sits upon an exalted throne. First it was Union Rags, then the champ the following week, and now Creative Cause this week, completing a remarkable trifecta for the Juvenile form. In a few seconds you’ll read about the superfecta. As far as this guy, his connections have to feel good about the Derby picture, considering how much he learned and how far he moved forward in the Gotham. That’s what these Feb. and March preps are for.
Dullahan Dale Romans
Even the Score—Mining My Own, by Smart Strike
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. 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. 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?
Sabercat Steve Asmussen
Bluegrass Cat—Miner's Blessing, by Forty Niner
Only a week away from his long, long-awaited debut. It seems like we’ve been waiting longer than four months, but he’ll finally debut in the Rebel Stakes and we can figure out just where he fits, if at all. Right now, just waiting for a final work. My persistence is based solely on what I saw last year from a visual standpoint. I have no idea how he’s progressed from 2 to 3, or even how good he really was last year. This has been my one and only gut selection and it will be good to see just what we’re dealing with. If he runs a big race it’s going to open up a lot of eyes.
I'll Have Another Doug O’Neill
Flower Alley – Arch’s Gal Edith, by Arch
My feelings about his skipping the San Felipe were made known in detail in my latest online column. Does it diminish how serious a horse I think this is? Not at all, and I can see him being one of my big plays come Derby Day. I’m just leery about the fine line they are treading and the chance he could run another corker in the Santa Anita Derby. Best case scenario for him is run the exact same race as Silver Charm in the ’97 Santa Anita Derby. That would be the kind of race that would toughen him up, give him a fairly solid foundation, and set him up for a big effort in the Kentucky Derby. He sure looked magnificent working 6 furlongs in 1:10 between races a little over a week ago.
Liaison Bob Baffert
Indian Charlie—Galloping Gal, by Victory Gallop
Bet you were expecting to see Bodemeister here, and certainly not this colt. But if there was a sneaky-good performance this year it was his fairly quiet fourth in the San Felipe. He seemed lost without the blinkers, but wait until next time. No one knows how to use Derby preps better than Baffert, and this horse had a lot of questions to answer after his Lewis debacle. When he swerved in a bit at the break, he immediately took himself into virgin territory, hanging out at the back of the pack. Down the backside, he again was stuck down on the rail with a tight wall of horses in front of him and no escape route. He lost whatever position he had and dropped back to last. At this point he appeared lost, with no chance at all of winning. The fact he at least picked himself off the floor and closed methodically to finish fourth, beaten 5 ½ lengths, was a step in the right direction, and he got a lot of the kinks out. Remember how slowly Baffert worked him going a mile? No way he was fully cranked for this race. Look for a huge improvement next time out, second race blinkers off. You sure don’t have to worry about him being too rank early anymore.
Alpha Kiaran McLaughlin
Bernardini—Munnaya, by Nijinsky
The way things have been going, McLaughlin is going to need a soothsayer to tell him whether to stay in Florida and face Union Rags or go back to New York and take on Hansen. Neither prospect seems all that appealing, but such is life on the Derby trail, especially this year when there seems to be a tiger behind every door. But who knows, maybe there are stripes under Alpha’s bay coat and sharp claws under his hooves. You never know where tigers are lurking on the road to Louisville. Forget Rags and forget Hansen. There’s no more inner track to conquer, and Alpha just has to go out and do his thing and run a big enough race to get him to Churchill in peak condition. It seems like ages ago since he’s run, so he better turn the screws a bit wherever he shows up.
Gemologist Todd Pletcher
Tiznow—Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector
In yet another change of plans, he’ll now make his debut in an allowance race at Gulfstream the day before the Rebel, as Pletcher couldn’t get a return flight. Unbeaten Hopeful winner Currency Swap should give him a good test. He’s going to need it. Let’s not forget this is a grade II-winning undefeated colt who desperately needs a good race under him. If he runs big and remains unbeaten, everyone will take notice. If he doesn’t run big, then he’s going to have perform a magic act in the little time he has remaining. Had his final work, a :49 3/5 breeze.
Mark Valeski Larry Jones
Proud Citizen—Pocho’s Dream Girl, by Fortunate Prospect
The talent is there, but like a few of the others, will he have enough bottom with only two distance races in his career? Jones knows how to stretch them out, and no one should forget the job he did with Hard Spun. We’ve already expounded on the virtues of his C.V. Whitney dominated female family, so he certainly has a solid pedigree to fall back on. He also appears to be extremely sensible and showed his ability to adapt to new and different scenarios.
Bodemeister Bob Baffert
Empire Maker—Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat
Call him the defier of history. The 120-year-old Apollo curse awaits him. No big deal, obviously. Winning the Derby with as few as four career starts (accomplished once since 1918). Shrug it aside. His talent and brilliance will save the day. At least that’s what his connections are hoping. As impressively and gamely as he ran in the San Felipe, if you want to see what inexperience can do, just watch him drift about seven horse paths out after some left-handed encouragement in the final sixteenth. By doing that it forced him to run sideways at a crucial point and put himself right in close range of Creative Cause’s radar. CC was engaged in his own meandering scamper and had no one to actually light a fire under him until Bodemeister came calling. This colt has tremendous upside and a limitless future, but still has issues to overcome (like those mentioned above and a hot Derby pace) if he’s going to make any kind of splash on the first Saturday in May.
Knocking At The Door
Castaway Bob Baffert
Street Sense – Priceless Storm, by Storm Cat
He’s been climbing the ladder one rung at a time, and he could just get to the top on the right day. Forget the speed differential between him and stablemate Secret Circle. When it comes to the Derby, time is on his side and there’s no rush for him to start breaking stopwatches. He just needs to keep forging forward, and still has two more preps to work with. From a visual standpoint, he was very impressive in the Southwest and that’s all you need to take out of that race. Right now, he’s Baffert’s dark horse to make noise on Derby Day.
News Pending Dale Romans
Harlan’s Holiday—Motivated Sreva, by Lear Fan
Drilled a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 4/5, his first work since the Fountain of Youth. There are some generals that like to attack in full force with everything they have and not waste time. But there some, like Dale Romans, that use guerilla tactics and try to pick you apart slowly and quietly. Romans hasn’t had the weapons to launch a full-scale attack, but he’s been popping off sneak attacks lately that have caught the enemy by surprise. First it was this guy, who came out of nowhere to snatch second in the Fountain of Youth. Then came an even more obscure combatant, Finnegan’s Wake, who snuck off with a third in the Gotham Stakes. That was followed Saturday by another nondescript fellow named Cozetti, who absconded with a third-place prize in the Tampa Bay Derby. And finally came his main warrior, Dullahan, who came away with a well-orchestrated second in the Palm Beach Stakes. All of a sudden, Romans has four potential Derby horses, three of which he virtually pulled out of a hat.
Prospective Mark Casse
Malibu Moon—Spirited Away, by Awesome Again
Well, what do you know, another BC Juvenile starter making a splash in stakes races at 3. He joins an amazing list – Hansen, Union Rags, Creative Cause, Dullahan, Alpha, and Drill. His Juvenile was his only out-of-the-money performance in seven career starts. He improved with blinkers on in the Tampa Bay Derby and must be respected wherever he shows up next. His competition was questionable and he only got an 88 Beyer, but he definitely is on the improve.
My Adonis Kelly Breen
Pleasantly Perfect—Silent Justice, by Elusive Quality
A versatile colt, who can be effective from anywhere on the track, only Hansen and Algorthims have finished in front of him this year. He should continue to improve as the distances keep stretching out. Breen is looking forward to bringing him back for another crack at Hansen in the Wood Memorial, and it’s never wise to overlook Breen in big stakes.
Howe Great Graham Motion
Hat Trick—Ginger Sea, by Western Warrior
There’s no way I can tell if he’s a Derby horse when his owner has said all he’s a grass horse. However, grass horses have done well in the Derby recently and we’re seeing more and of them making a Polytrack stop before heading to Churchill Downs. This colt runs like a grass horse, but he has handled the dirt well at Philly Park and has looked good in his two turf stakes scores this year. They pulled it off last year, so why not try again with him or Lucky Chappy or State of Play. It’s open season on the Derby.
Take Charge Indy Pat Byrne
A.P. Indy – Take Charge Lady, by Dehere
Only time will tell if scratching out of the Tampa Derby at the last minute was a good decision. We’ll have to see who he runs into in the Florida Derby. Bottom line is that he needs a big effort and he’s going to have to produce one off a long layoff against the top-ranked 3-year-old in the country. They haven’t left themselves with many options, so this race will determine whether he’s a Derby horse or a Belmont horse. He has that big move in him, but needs to finish it off. Twice he’s opened clear leads and has gotten caught in the final furlong. But that’s just a matter of timing and maturity more than anything else.
Our Entourage Todd Pletcher
Street Cry – Sand Springs, by Dynaformer
Worked a half in :48 for most likely either the Illinois Derby or Wood Memorial. He looks like a good fit for the Wood, but they may decide Hawthorne is the better place to collect much-needed graded earnings. Crazy about his pedigree. By the sire of Zenyatta, out of a mare by Barbaro’s sire Dynaformer, he has the Rasmussen Factor (RF), being inbred to Natalma, and also is inbred to Hoist the Flag, giving him three doses of Ribot, and to Hail to Reason through Roberto and Halo. No pressure with him. If it doesn’t work out, he can point for the Belmont or go back to the grass.
Went the Day Well Graham Motion
Proud Citizen—Tiz Maie’s Day, by Tiznow
Well, Team Valor has at least one horse who is accomplishing something on the dirt. I wish he had another race under him and had received his class test already, but you have to make do with what you have, and he does look to have a bright future. He seems very straightforward and professional and is improving with each race, so they’ll just have work with that and see where he takes them.
Najjaar Dan Peitz
Jazil—Hasheema, by Darshaan
He could be the wise-guy horse in the Rebel because of his exciting running style, but he’ll be going up against far better horses than the ones he’s been facing. If he makes that big move on the turn and can get himself into good position turning for home it will be very interesting to see if he can finish it up against some fast proven stakes horses.
Midnight Transfer Carla Gaines
Hard Spun—French Satin, by French Deputy
Hung tough against two very fast and classy horses in his two-turn debut in the San Felipe. It was a big step forward for him, but there is still a question how effective he can be going classic distances, as he did back out of it just a bit in the final sixteenth.
Zackn'mat Marty Jones
Northern Afleet – Pic Me for Fun, by Piccolino
We’ll give him one more week and if he still hasn’t worked, we’ll have to put him on the back burner unless we hear otherwise. Just something about this horse I like. He runs hard all the time, and is always coming at the end, regardless of the distance. His broodmare sire, Piccolino, was bred by John Nerud and is by Fappiano, out of stakes-winning Mochila, a half-sister to Cozzene. Pic Me For Fun is inbred to Dr. Fager, so there is a great deal of Nerud’s influence in his pedigree.
Rounding out the Top 40 are Z Dager, a solid enough third in the Risen Star; Southwest division winner Secret Circle; El Camino Real Derby winner Daddy Nose Best and runner-up Lucky Chappy; four more Pletcher horses, Discreet Dancer, who is better than he showed in the Fountain of Youth; Ender Knievel, an impressive allowance winner who likely is headed for the Sunland Derby; Spring Hill Farm, who should improve off his fourth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby in only his third career start on a track over which he was spinning his wheels; and Windsurfer, a real sleeper who ran a super race breaking his maiden after going wide every step of the way; Brother Francis, who was a close third in a maiden race on the grass, but turned in another strong effort. He just needs to learn how to win; sensational Fair Grounds maiden winner Cigar Street, who has a lot of catching up to do; Borderland Derby winner Isn’t He Clever; Scatman, game second to Secret Circle in the faster Southwest division; Golden Ticket and Cozzetti, second and third, respectively, in the Tampa Bay Derby;
Stirred up, who won his first two-turn race over a really nice horse in Holy Candy; Finnegan’s Wake, third in the Gotham; impressive allowance winner Politcallycorrect; Well Armed’s full-brother Arm Force; Hopeful winner Currency Swap, who debuts against Gemologist on Friday; Battaglia winner State of Play, who likely will run next in the Spiral or return to the grass; and Union Rags’ stablemate Teeth of the Dog.