Creative Cause Mike Harrington
Giant's Causeway—Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer
Worked six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 and seems to have maintained his energy level, despite two tough races and a series of fast works, including three bullet drills. He just needs a good competitive effort in the Santa Anita Derby and to keep that energy level high without gutting himself or peaking a race too soon. His Thoro-Graph figs went from a 4 ¼ in the San Vicente to a “0” in the San Felipe, so a slight regression certainly is possible, and for the sake of the Derby it definitely wouldn’t hurt. Of course, he could “bounce” and still win, as long as he doesn’t do anything too dramatic. He’s on the right course where he is. Also, would like to see him return to his professional races last year when he was left alone and allowed to do his thing without the whip.
Union Rags Michael Matz
Dixie Union—Tempo, by Gone West
Certainly no reason to panic. Remember, his goal is to peak in the Derby, not establish himself as a superstar now. He had several things go against him and he still ran a good enough race keep his place in the Derby rankings. Leparoux was down on himself and got a bit defensive on Twitter, but he didn’t know going into the first turn the pace was going to be that slow, and he had Reveron outrun him from the outside and cut in front of him, as El Padrino kept him pinned in. After that, he was in a mess of a traffic jam, with Leparoux back in the saddle and pulling on him through three-quarters in 1:12 (the other four stakes were run in 1:10 2/5, 1:10 2/5, 1:10 3/5, and 1:10 4/5). Also, he threw a shoe before the race, which likely didn’t affect him, but still is a needless concern. And take note that his three works before the race were :50 3/5, 1:04 1/5, and :49 breezing, coming off one easy victory in five months. He leveled off beautifully in the final yards and was closing the gap, while pulling away from El Padrino at the wire, so there is plenty to build off of from this race. If you’re a Beyer pundit, only concern is his failure to improve his figs since last summer, being stuck in the low- to mid-90s. Big long-striding colt, he’s more effective with a clear, outside run; just didn’t quicken when El Padrino finally left him and had no escape route as they kept closing up. Important thing is that he got a lot out of the race, and he should move forward and peak on Derby Day.
Hansen Mike Maker
Tapit—Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat
Turned in a sharp five-furlong drill in :59 4/5, final eighth in :12 2/5, out in 1:14 3/5. He should get a good test in the Blue Grass Stakes, as that race is filling up fast. He still has to show again that he can rate behind horses and close. That would eliminate any doubts that still may exist about his ability to relax going a mile and a quarter. The key is relaxing and coming home fast. He’ll be facing an eclectic group of grass, synthetic, and dirt horses from across the country, so we should have a better idea how much he’s improved and matured and how comfortable he is in his new running style.
I'll Have Another Doug O’Neill
Flower Alley – Arch’s Gal Edith, by Arch
Continued his string of long works, going seven furlongs in 1:26. His previous works have been seven furlongs in 1:26 1/5, a mile in 1:42 3/5, and six furlongs between races in 1:10 flat. Interesting to see old-school training these days. Charlie Whittingham and Allen Jerkens would be proud. By skipping the San Felipe and having only two preps this year, he most likely needed a string of lung-opening works like these to keep his fitness level high and put some bottom into him. He gets his big acid test next weekend against Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby. He avoided a “bounce” in the San Felipe after running a “1 ¼” Thoro-Graph fig off a five-month layoff, and now, because he’s fresh and sharp again, must make sure he doesn’t run another huge number that would cause a bounce in the Kentucky Derby. Like Creative Cause, he doesn’t have to win. He just needs a good stiff race to move him forward.
Gemologist Todd Pletcher
Tiznow—Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector
While racing has been looking at Union Rags as its savior and protector from evil outside forces, perhaps it has been this guy all along who is on that path. He is after all undefeated, loves Churchill, and is bred to run all day. We’ll find out this weekend in the Wood Memorial. Somehow he has managed to separate himself from the mighty army assembled by Pletcher early in the year to attain the rank of No. 1 general. But before we get too excited, he has only one allowance victory to his credit this year and won that with such ease he could need a good old fashioned street fight in the Wood to get him battle-tested for the main onslaught on May 5. If it turns out he’s just that much better than his opponents, then he has to at least get something out of the race, as did all the other recent Derby winners who had only two preps, including his WinStar predecessor Super Saver, who also came up through the Pletcher ranks as his compatriots kept falling off the trail.
Take Charge Indy Pat Byrne
A.P. Indy – Take Charge Lady, by Dehere
Well, he took charge alright, getting away with a 1:12 three-quarters, and in doing so, turned the Derby trail upside down, inside out, and on its head by knocking off two of the top heavy hitters. Byrne did an excellent job having him sharp and fresh for this race. Now, we’ll just have to wait and see if switching at the last minute from a three-prep schedule to a two-prep schedule will have any effect on him in the Kentucky Derby. To his and Calvin Borel’s credit, they seized the opportunity and made the most of it. This colt has always shown great versatility and tactical speed, and the ability to use it at any point in the race. When Union Rags desperately needed to make his run and get into contention, he threw a :23 4/5 quarter at him, which all but sealed his fate. Byrne, who had a brief stint as one of the premier trainers in the country in the ‘90s, fell on hard times and was all but out of the game, and it’s great to see this colt come along and bring him back into national prominence. Many will chalk this race up to grand theft, but it wouldn’t be wise to underestimate this horse. As a side note, he became the eighth horse from last year’s BC Juvenile field to win a graded stakes this year.
Alpha Kiaran McLaughlin
Bernardini—Munnaya, by Nijinsky
Breezed a half in :49 before heading north for the Wood Memorial. It seems like ages ago that he ran; I can barely recall the Withers Stakes. I’m not even sure what I’m looking for from him on Saturday. McLaughlin is in it to win, and that’s good enough. I don’t think he’s in any danger of peaking. He can move forward off a win or a loss, so might as well go for it all for a million bucks. I don’t think his first two starts took much out of him; both were workmanlike performances against questionable competition. But he looked good doing it and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be closing in the stretch and no reason why he shouldn’t move forward off it. He’s the last Bernardini standing and Godolphin’s last chance.
Bodemeister Bob Baffert
Empire Maker—Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat
Baffert shifted gears and is sending him to the Arkansas Derby, even though his running style is similar to Secret Circle’s, who is trying for an Oaklawn trifecta. But Baffert entries never seem to compromise the other’s chances and often finish 1-2. There is no questioning this colt’s brilliance and gameness and how far he’s come in a short time. But as I’ve been saying, there is still that old Apollo curse, having never run at 2. Can he break a 120-year-old curse, or whatever you want to call it? And can he become only the third horse since 1918 to win the Derby having four or fewer career starts? He’s the only 3-year-old with a pair of triple-digit Beyers this year, so who knows, maybe he is that special.
Dullahan Dale Romans
Even the Score—Mining My Own, by Smart Strike
Obviously, the news about him popping a splint wasn’t good, but Romans said he’s perfectly sound now, and he did show up on the work tab April 1, breezing five furlongs in 1:02. So, it appears as if all is well for the Blue Grass Stakes. He’s been jumping around the mid-numbers of the Dozen because of the conflict between his speed figs and the visual aspect of his performances. He has yet to top an 86 Beyer or a “5 ½” Thoro-Graph figure, which would indicate he’s significantly slower than the leading Derby contenders. But I loved what I’ve seen in his last three starts – on Polytrack, dirt, and grass – and can’t help but think he has a big forward move in him, which will have to come in the Blue Grass Stakes, and then another one in the Derby. I just can’t equate his performance in the Palm Beach with an 86 Beyer. That’s not the race I saw. What I saw was a horse, looking like a million dollars, who ran extremely fast and closed in blistering fractions, regardless of how fast the turf course was. His speed figure and track variant in his PPs added up to an excellent 110, as archaic a method as that might be. If he runs another big one in the Blue Grass he definitely will catapult up the list.
Liaison Bob Baffert
Indian Charlie—Galloping Gal, by Victory Gallop
The forgotten horse, I still think he may be Baffert’s sleeper, especially after his 1:11 1/5 work. Rousing Sermon, who he defeated twice at Hollywood, bounced back with a strong third in the Louisiana Derby after two poor efforts at Santa Anita, and there is no reason to think he can’t bounce back as well in the Santa Anita Derby. He gave all indications he’s capable of it with a decent enough fourth in the San Felipe with blinkers off and dropping far off the pace, which is not his style of running. Baffert decided to keep him home and not look for a change of scenery, so maybe he’s confident the colt will run well. He certainly deserves one more chance.
Daddy Nose Best Steve Asmussen
Scat Daddy—Follow Your Bliss, by Thunder Gulch
He has not had a backwards Beyer move since his second start. Since stretching out to two turns, he has made a steady uphill climb, and his last two figs of 93 and 100 indicate a horse who is getting really good right now. In his two starts this year, his Thoro-Graph figs have jumped from a “6 ½” to a “2 ½.” He has the versatility trifecta of having won on dirt, grass, and synthetic. And he did finish second at 5 ½ furlongs on the dirt at Churchill Downs in his career debut, finishing four lengths ahead of Dullahan and behind the speedy Exfactor. Main drawback is that he will lose Leparoux, who has ridden him in his last eight starts. His sire is scorching hot right now.
Went the Day Well Graham Motion
Proud Citizen—Tiz Maie’s Day, by Tiznow
His Ragozin speed figure in the Spiral Stakes was 2 ½ points faster than Animal Kingdom’s in the same race last year. As a result they have decided not to give him another race before the Derby, just as they did with Animal Kingdom. Like with last year’s Derby winner, they will train him at Keeneland and ship to Churchill to work once or twice. Although he didn’t beat much in the Spiral, what I liked most about him was his efficient stride and the way he handled being bottled up in traffic. He is improving with every race and at the right time, and Animal Kingdom proved those horses are always dangerous.
Knocking At The Door
13 El Padrino Todd Pletcher
Pulpit—Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway
I honestly don’t know what to make of him at this point after his fourth in the Florida Derby. This isn’t what you want for your final prep, but I’m not tossing him out just yet. Did the Risen Star and traveling to New Orleans and back take too much out of him? You wouldn’t think so, considering he got a bigger Thoro-Graph figure in his allowance victory and Mark Valeski came back to run a strong race in the Louisiana Derby, despite throwing a shoe and returning lame. And he is a big, strong colt, so forget that theory. One other thought is this: When a jockey “rides” another horse, usually the favorite, there is always the danger of compromising his own chances. Castellano had every right to keep Union Rags pinned down and trapped; it’s called race-riding. But when the pace started to slow down I would have liked to seen him put the horse into contention before it was too late. Castellano has ridden this horse flawlessly, and you can’t blame him for thinking he had enough horse to make up 3 ½ lengths, but he seemed to stay focused on Union Rags too long and the first two just never came back. And he did have a wide trip. Who knows what would have happened had El Padrino run the same race as Reveron, which he could have with his tactical speed. That doesn’t excuse the horse for coming up flat in the stretch. It’s not like he wasn’t trying; he just didn’t have it on this day. But he’s too good a horse to discount off this one race.
14 My Adonis Kelly Breen
Pleasantly Perfect—Silent Justice, by Elusive Quality
Drilled a sharp half in a bullet :47 flat at Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial, giving him an all-important work over the track, which he obviously handles extremely well. With the distinct possibility of him winning the Wood, his 73-1 odds in the final Future Wager look like the potential steal of the year right now. He just needs to develop a consistent running style, having been effective on, near, and far off the pace. In most of his races last year he was right on the pace and in fact got caught up in a suicidal speed duel in the Delta Jackpot. In the Holy Bull this year, he came from 20 lengths back to finish third, falling a half-length short of catching Hansen for second. And in the Gotham, he sat about a length off the pace, but couldn’t match strides with Hansen in the stretch, finishing a clear-cut second, six lengths ahead of the third horse. He looks as if he’s sitting on a big race, stretching out to 1 1/8 miles, and would most likely catapult into the Top 5 with a win or a strong second.
15 Mark Valeski Larry Jones
Proud Citizen—Pocho’s Dream Girl, by Fortunate Prospect
Really can’t do much with him until we find out the extent and cause of his lameness after throwing a shoe in the Louisiana Derby. It is inconceivable to think he couldn’t catch the 109-1 shot Hero of Order in a :13 2/5 final eighth and :38 2/5 final three-eighths. So everything is up in the air with him until we know more. With only two two-turn races in his career, there already is a question how much foundation he has. But all in all, considering the circumstances, he ran a pretty gutsy race and did have enough of a gut-wrencher to prepare him for the Derby. We should know more shortly. (I’m not including the winner anywhere, as it is extremely unlikely he’ll be able to make the starting field, not being nominated).
16 Optimizer D. Wayne Lukas
English Channel—Indy Pick, by A.P. Indy
Breezed a half in :49 in preparation for the Arkansas Derby. We know this horse has ability and a strong closing kick. He just has to use them with some consistency and at least put in two good performances in a row, which is why the Arkansas Derby is such an important race for him. He’s right on the bubble with graded earnings and needs to pick up some money. Yes, he’s had some traffic issues this year, but he still should have run better. You can’t knock his second in the Rebel, as he was flying at the end, but he has to learn how to change leads, something he fails to do race after race. In short, the Arkansas Derby is a big race in more ways than one. When this horse runs his race he is extremely dangerous.
17 Prospective Mark Casse
Malibu Moon—Spirited Away, by Awesome Again
Still don’t know if he’s heading for the Wood Memorial or Blue Grass Stakes. His Beyers need to get faster in a hurry, with a career high 88, but he is on a nice pattern on Thoro-Graph, pairing up 5 ½ and 5 ¼ in his first two starts and then jumping to a 3 ½ in the Tampa Bay Derby with the addition of blinkers. He hasn’t beaten anyone of significance, but other than a poor effort in the BC Juvenile, he’s been a gem of consistency, finishing first or second in his other six starts.
18 Secret Circle Bob Baffert
Eddington—Ragtime Hope, by Dixieland Band
Does anyone, even Baffert, really know what to make of him? He’s still trying to shake the pre-conceived notion that he’s a sprinter by continuing to win each time he stretches out in distance. He doesn’t win pretty, but he wins. He’s razor-sharp right now, working a blistering five furlongs in :58 2/5 as he prepares for his final test in the Arkansas Derby, where his toughest opponent likely will be his own stablemate Bodemeister. He did drop 10 points in his Beyer fig in the Rebel (102 to 92), but has remained remarkably consistent in his Thoro-Graph numbers, running a 2 ½, 2 ½, 2 ½, 2 ½, and 2 ¾ in his last five starts. So distance is not slowing him down.
19 Rousing Sermon Jerry Hollendorfer
Lucky Pulpit—Rousing Again, by Awesome Again
He rebounded nicely off those two disappointing efforts at Santa Anita by closing from 11th to finish third, beaten two lengths, in the Louisiana Derby. But he was closing into a :13 2/5 final eighth and the two horses who finished in front of him were a 109-1 shot and a horse who threw a shoe in the race and returned lame. What is important is that he regained his form and demonstrated the big closing kick he showed at Hollywood Park last year.
20 Midnight Transfer Carla Gaines
Hard Spun—French Satin, by French Deputy
Although the mile and a quarter is a question mark with him, he is on a strong upward trend in his Beyers. He ran a huge “3” Thoro-Graph fig breaking his maiden in December and then paired up 4 ¾’s this year. He needs to take a step forward in the Santa Anita Derby, his second start around two turns. He’s just a little guy and the rigors of the Derby might be beyond his scope, but he tries and has a ton of sprinting speed that he can stretch out. It’s just a question of how far. He did get a little tired at the end of the San Felipe, but was competitive with Creative Cause and Bodemeister. We’ll just have to see in which direction he goes this weekend.
OTHERS TO WATCH
One horse who will be watched with great interest this weekend is STREET LIFE, who has turned two straight electrifying stretch runs and should make the final furlong of the Wood Memorial all the more interesting. If he should win or finish second, watch how quickly his bandwagon fills up.
Sitting just out of the Top 20 is REVERON, and he should make the list next week. He probably should be on there this week after his game second in the Florida Derby. The question is whether he was carried there by Take Charge Indy after chasing him through a slow three-quarters. He has an enigmatic pedigree, having all speed on top with Songandaprayer, and stamina on the bottom with Awesome Again. He was very game winning the Gulfstream Park Derby, and ran well enough to finish third in the Sam F. Davis from the 10-post. He had the blinkers removed for the Florida Derby and worked a bullet five-eighths in 1:00 4/5 at Calder a week before the race. He ran hard in the stretch and at one point looked like he had a shot to win, moving up on even terms with the winner, but couldn’t stay with him in the final furlong.
Expect our old friend SABERCAT to be back in the Top 20 next week after everything is sorted out in New York, California, and Illinois. Yes, he finished a disappointing eighth in the Rebel, but he was way too far back, some 15 lengths off the lead. He actually appeared to be moving with good momentum turning for home, but was in traffic and never sustained his run. This is the big disadvantage of giving a horse only two preps at 3. Everything has to go perfectly. He now has to make a huge turnaround in the Arkansas Derby and get something out of the race. I feel he can do it and expect big improvement with that first race behind him.
So, we could have a Ballydoyle duo in the Derby this year following the 1-3 finish by DADDY LONG LEGS and WROTE in the 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby. How that transfers to the dirt is hard to tell. Master of Hounds ran huge in last year’s Run for the Roses after his gutsy second in the UAE Derby. It was said by those close to the Ballydoyle contingent in last year’s Breeders’ Cup that Daddy Long Legs could be their best shot, but the son of Scat Daddy never picked up his feet after breaking slowly and beat only one horse. He has, however, made excellent progress from 2 to 3 and ran a strong race in the UAE Derby. Wrote looked fantastic winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but his pedigree is almost all grass. He did close well over the Tapeta in the UAE Derby, but couldn’t catch Daddy Long Legs and was just beaten late for second by the French-trained Yang Tse Kiang. We’ll see how Aidan O’Brien goes about his attack on the Derby this year.
It will be very interesting to say the least to see what PAYNTER does in the Santa Anita Derby off one 5 ½-furlong maiden race.