Creative Cause Mike Harrington
Giant's Causeway—Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer
Yes, Union Rags is the sexy No. 1 pick and the most logical, but this guy right now is more battle-tested with two tough races, including an excellent sharpener sprinting, and has a bit more upside when it comes to getting the 1 ¼ miles. Both colts are trained by veteran conditioners who can read a horse with the best of them. Important thing with him is for the rider to stay away from the whip. He gives everything he has on his own and doesn’t need encouragement. That’s the only way he’s going to stay on a straight course.
Union Rags Michael Matz
Dixie Union—Tempo, by Gone West
Had an easy five-furlong breeze in 1:04 1/5. He will get a much-needed test from El Padrino in the Florida Derby, with the winner establishing himself as the solid Derby favorite. He has exhibited every trait you want in a Derby horse and his main asset is his superstar potential. Other quality opponents in the Florida Derby should make this the race of the year. Let’s see if Matz gives him a sharp work next week.
El Padrino Todd Pletcher
Pulpit—Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway
Breezed five furlongs in 1:01 1/5. He has two hard-knocking performances going two turns this year, in addition to a tough race in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen last year, so there is plenty of foundation under him and he’s been tested by good horses three times already. Like Creative Cause, he’s a hard-running horse who will not back down from a fight and should only get stronger the farther he goes.
Hansen Mike Maker
Tapit—Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat
Turned in an easy half-mile breeze in :50 2/5 for the Wood Memorial, where he likely will face Alpha, Gemologist, and My Adonis among others. Although he rated beautifully in the Gotham, it couldn’t hurt to see him do it again just to show that it’s become natural for him and he can do it on a consistent basis.
Dullahan Dale Romans
Even the Score—Mining My Own, by Smart Strike
This horse intrigues me more each week and I kind of like the fact that he’s going dirtless this year into the Derby, adding to the intrigue and boosting his price on Derby Day. His Palm Beach is what a perfect losing prep is supposed to look like. He can even afford another one in the Blue Grass, as long as it’s not a plodding second or third, only running the last quarter mile. I’ll repeat his closing fractions of :22 4/5 and :11 2/5 (:34 1/5 final three-eighths) in the Palm Beach.
Gemologist Todd Pletcher
Tiznow—Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector
You couldn’t ask for a more visually impressive debut, but you have to wonder how much he got out of the race. He only has one more start to get battle-tested and build enough of a foundation to handle the rigors of the Derby. He does have a tendency to angle in slightly when he runs and paddles his left leg. But the bottom line is he’s undefeated in four starts and has two wins at Churchill Downs. He ran his field into the ground with a :22 3/5 second quarter and then came home his final half in a sharp :48 1/5. If you want to know how easily he won just look at his ears in the final sixteenth. His next start against much deeper competition will tell us how he stacks up. Looks like Castellano has yet another tough decision to make between him and El Padrino.
I'll Have Another Doug O’Neill
Flower Alley – Arch’s Gal Edith, by Arch
Liked his mile work in 1:42 3/5 and the fact that O’Neill hasn’t been afraid to turn the screws during this layoff. It may mean nothing, but it should be noted that the horses who finished 2, 3, 4 in the Lewis all ran poorly in the San Felipe. So, do we really know how good he is? Look at the Santa Anita Derby as a pool shot. He not only needs to knock in his ball, he has to make sure he leaves the cue ball in a good position for his next shot, because that follow-up shot is the one that matters. Despite the lack of success of his vanquished foes and the risk of running another lights out performance in the Santa Anita Derby and possibly regressing off it, I can’t help but feel this is a better horse than people think, and I do like the way O’Neill is bringing him up to the Santa Anita Derby by putting air in his lungs and taking some of the edge off him.
Alpha Kiaran McLaughlin
Bernardini—Munnaya, by Nijinsky
With a name like Alpha, he’s supposed to be the top dog, the dominant male, the boss. But his schedule has become a study in indecision. Does he duck Union Rags? Does he duck Hansen? Does he scurry off to Louisiana for easier pickins? After two months off basking in the Florida sun he needs to get his game face back on. There are no soft spots in April. Let’s see if he’s really the alpha dog or not, because he’s going to have to be on May 5. It isn’t easy trying to make the correct call. Take the easier route and try to take home the $1 million purse at Fair Grounds or let him get a taste of Rags and El Padrino or Hansen and Gemologist now to see where he fits with the best, and then move forward off it. Returning home and facing Hansen and Gemologist, win or lose, appears to be the most logical way to go and the best way to set him up for the Derby. One thing about McLaughlin, he has a way of making the right decision.
Mark Valeski Larry Jones
Proud Citizen—Pocho’s Dream Girl, by Fortunate Prospect
He’ll work by himself on Tuesday (March 20) and that will determine whether he goes in company in his final drill for the Louisiana Derby. Jones says he’s been galloping very strongly and is doing better now than for the Risen Star, and that he’s finally getting into a flow. One thing we’ve learned about Jones’ horses, they get awfully fit lugging their 180-pound trainer around the track every morning. He likely will inherit the role of favorite with El Padrino staying in Florida.
Liaison Bob Baffert
Indian Charlie—Galloping Gal, by Victory Gallop
Can’t wait to see how he runs in his next start. Although he made little impact on the San Felipe, he was taken out of his game at the start and seemed to take a while to get used to racing without blinkers. The moderate pace didn’t help him, nor did being stuck down on the inside behind traffic again, and if he can kick it up a notch he could pull a Coil (in last year’s Haskell) and show a whole new dimension. He also has to show he can handle better horses than he was beating at Hollywood Park last fall.
Bodemeister Bob Baffert
Empire Maker—Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat
There is no doubting his brilliance and raw talent. But not starting at 2 and having only four career starts give him a bit of a hill to climb. If anyone can overcome it is Baffert, who is in a class by himself getting a horse fit and tough for the Derby. He also can’t afford to drift out as badly as he did in the San Felipe. If anything can make up for lack of experience it is professionalism. We’ll chalk up the San Felipe to a learning experience and see if he can put his natural ability to better use in the Santa Anita Derby.
Optimizer D. Wayne Lukas
English Channel—Indy Pick, by A.P. Indy
Last fall, we wrote after the Breeders’ Futurity that this colt had tremendous potential, was actually bred for the dirt, and would be a force to reckon with on the Derby trail. He just needed to grow up and figure out what he was supposed to do. Well, he never lived up to the promise, due in part to several unfortunate trips and appearing clueless at times. Although he’s still pretty much clueless and still doesn’t know how to change leads, he did run an almost identical race to the Breeders’ Futurity, right down to rallying in the middle of the track and then cutting to the inside while still on his left lead. His pedigree is a Who’s Who of Phipps breeding and we’ll repeat it in detail next week. Right now, he has one objective, and that’s to run two good races in a row. He has the ability, but only consistency and maturity will get him to Churchill Downs as a legitimate contender.
Secret Circle Bob Baffert
Eddington—Ragtime Hope, by Dixieland Band
Putting him in the Top 12 strictly off his record and his desire to win, even though he’s not pretty doing it. Do I think he can win the Derby? Not really, but he’s making a lot of noise getting there and knows where the finish line is. From a visual standpoint, he really doesn’t look like he’s tiring at the end, even though Optimizer was running up his behind at the wire. But the closing fractions of the Rebel were a sluggish :26 1/5 and :06 4/5 and his 92 Beyer was the lowest of his career, so the numbers say he was. Or maybe those fractions can be attributed to the fact that he can’t seem to run in a straight line and continuously drifts out every race. I don’t think anyone, including Baffert, has a clue what to make of him, so he’ll just keep taking those baby steps toward Louisville.
Knocking At The Door
Castaway Bob Baffert
Street Sense – Priceless Storm, by Storm Cat
OK, bring on the Sunland Derby, America’s new favorite gateway to the classics, producing the Kentucky Derby winner, the Belmont winner, and the Preakness third-place finisher in the last three years. Yes, that’s the Sunland Derby, and this colt has a chance to complete Baffert’s Fab Four with another big performance this weekend. He is improving dramatically with every start and an improving Street Sense is always dangerous. He definitely is Baffert’s best shot at the mile and a quarter and needs one more top effort to crack the Top 12.
News Pending Dale Romans
Harlan’s Holiday—Motivated Sreva, by Lear Fan
Breezed five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 for the Florida Derby. He is one of those who is right on the edge of busting out in a big way. He just has to figure out what his best running style is and stick to it, instead of making a move at every and any point on the racetrack. His extremely early move in the Fountain of Youth was one of the little talked about gems of the year and showed just how versatile this colt really is.
Prospective Mark Casse
Malibu Moon—Spirited Away, by Awesome Again
This year’s quiet warrior, he just goes about his business race after race and does his thing, which for the most part lands him in the winner’s circle. The Breeders’ Cup 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, although he needs to boost his speed numbers and fast.
Take Charge Indy Pat Byrne
A.P. Indy – Take Charge Lady, by Dehere
Breezed five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 for his all-important engagement in the Florida Derby, where he’ll have to face Union rags and El Padrino off a layoff in an effort to pick up enough graded earnings to move up from the 28th slot. Only time will tell if scratching out of the Tampa Derby at the last minute due to the post position was a good decision. This is a good horse with a terrific pedigree, and if the timing and unorthodox schedule change manage to work to his advantage, he will be a force in the Triple Crown.
My Adonis Kelly Breen
Pleasantly Perfect—Silent Justice, by Elusive Quality
It’s been over two weeks since the Gotham, so he should be showing up on the work tab any day now. He’s gone pretty much unnoticed chasing Hansen and Algorithms this winter, but he is getting better and does his best running in the final furlong. Also, if you’re looking for foundation in a horse he’s made seven starts at a mile or longer.
Sabercat Steve Asmussen
Bluegrass Cat—Miner's Blessing, by Forty Niner
He may have fallen from the Top 12, but don’t be surprised to see him rebound with a much-improved effort in the Arkansas Derby or wherever he shows up next. He was up against it from the start dropping way too far out of it, some 15 lengths off a fairly moderate pace. He was moving with good energy turning for home, but was way too far back and in traffic the whole stretch run and never really got a clear run. Nakatani wisely didn’t push him too hard, yet he still was beaten only 2 ½ lengths for fourth and 6 ¼ lengths for all the money. The feeling here is that he can make up most or all of those 6 ¼ lengths with a cleaner trip next time.
Howe Great Graham Motion
Hat Trick—Ginger Sea, by Western Warrior
He doesn’t have the late-running style that Animal Kingdom showed last year, so we really don’t know what to make of him other than he’s a beautiful-moving horse who is dangerous on or just off the pace. As of now he’s pretty much of a guess, and let’s remember that his owner has stated all along he’s a much better horse on the grass.
Najjaar Dan Peitz
Jazil—Hasheema, by Darshaan
This colt is always going to be dependent on a fast, or at least honest, pace and he didn’t get either one in the Rebel, yet still managed to close from almost 21 lengths back to be beaten 4 ¾ lengths. Despite finishing sixth you still have to consider him a threat in the Arkansas Derby, especially if the pace is quicker and with the extra sixteenth of a mile.
Our Entourage Todd Pletcher
Street Cry – Sand Springs, by Dynaformer
Worked five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 as he prepares for either the Wood Memorial, which is getting tougher by the day, or the Illinois Derby, which will be a grab bag of horses trying to get into the Derby. If Hansen, Gemologist, and Alpha all show up in the Wood, he might be better off taking a shot over the quirky Hawthorne surface against much lesser competition.
Went the Day Well Graham Motion
Proud Citizen—Tiz Maie’s Day, by Tiznow
It’s graded earnings crunch time, and he’s in the same boat as dozens of other latecomers trying to snatch up a big purse. And what better race in which to attempt it than the Spiral Stakes, which launched Animal Kingdom’s assault on Churchill Downs last year. He has a great deal of potential. We’ll just have to wait and see if he waited too long to show it.
Zackn'mat Marty Jones
Northern Afleet – Pic Me for Fun, by Piccolino
Returned to the work tab with an easy half in :53 4/5. If this colt is flying again at the end of the Sunland Park Derby, you have to start taking him seriously. He runs hard all the time, and is always coming at the end, regardless of the distance. And there is a lot of class in his pedigree.
Street Life Chad Brown
Street Sense—Stone Hope, by Grindstone
This is one of the more intriguing horses on the Derby trail, based mainly on his electrifying stretch runs, despite his immaturity and inability to change leads. Not many horses can overcome a 1:15 1/5 three-quarters, but he exploded in the stretch once again in the Broad Brush Stakes, coming home in :24 2/5 and :06 flat. He’s probably not mature enough yet to tackle the Kentucky Derby, but we should find out in the Wood Memorial just where he stands against quality competition.
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.
Discreet Dancer Todd Pletcher
Discreet Cat—West Side Dancer, by Gone West
He dropped way off everyone’s radar after his punchless third in the Fountain of Youth, but with so many horses deserving of a second chance he should be one of them based on his two previous performances. Perhaps he’s only as good as he showed in the Fountain of Youth, but perhaps he’s much better and just happened to have an off day. We’ll find out one way or the other in the Louisiana Derby.
Heavy Breathing Todd Pletcher
Giant’s Causeway —Takemybreathaway, by Gone West
He’s only had two career starts, none as a 2-year-old, and is playing major catch-up, but he was dominant in both starts and has as strong a pedigree as anyone on the Derby trail. He’ll run this weekend in the Spiral Stakes and then would need to come back with another prep to have any chance of being a factor in the Derby.
Rounding out the Top 40 are Z Dager, a solid enough third in the Risen Star; El Camino Real Derby winner Daddy Nose Best and runner-up Lucky Chappy; Ender Knievel, an impressive allowance winner who is headed for the Sunland Derby; spectacular maiden winner Cigar Street; Private Terms winner Raconteur, a regally bred son of A.P. Indy; Windsurfer, a real sleeper who ran a super race breaking his maiden after going wide every step of the way and worked brilliantly last week; Jake Mo, a consistent closer who finished a solid fourth in the Rebel; stakes-placed maiden Brother Francis, who was a close third in a maiden race on the grass, but turned in another strong effort; Borderland Derby winner Isn’t He Clever; 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; Battaglia winner State of Play, who likely will run next in the Spiral or return to the grass; Battle Hardened, who gets another chance in the Wood Memorial after dull Tampa Bay effort; Mr. Prankster, who deserves another shot in the Spiral Stakes; the four-time stakes-placed Senor Rain, who beat a strong field in a seven-furlong allowance/optional claimer at Santa Anita; Stat, another Pletcher latecomer who was brilliant winning a one-mile allowance/optional claimer; and Union Rags’ stablemate Teeth of the Dog.