Revolutionary Todd Pletcher
War Pass—Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy
What is most interesting about him is his ability to maintain a high fitness level from his gallops. In the 36 days between his maiden win and the Withers he had only one :48 half-mile breeze, 23 days after the maiden race and 13 days before the Withers. For him to run the race he did without a work in 13 days was pretty remarkable. He followed that same schedule, breezing a half in :48 2/5 Monday. His main attribute is his incredible female family, which traces back to the foundation of the Phipps family dynasty, all the way to Striking, and before her the great La Troienne, as well as major stamina influences Ribot, Herbager, Buckpasser, and Tom Rolfe, and a double dose of War Admiral. He has all the tools and the looks of a Derby horse, and we know he’s one tough colt, and hopefully his habit of finding trouble, whether at the start or in the stretch, is a thing of the past. He can’t afford that to happen in his final prep.
Itsmyluckyday Eddie Plesa Jr.
Lawyer Ron—Viva la Slew, by Doneraile Court
Returned to the work tab with a :48 4/5 half-mile breeze, out five furlongs in 1:01. To Plesa’s credit, he says if the colt fails to pick up enough points in the Florida Derby to assure a starting berth in the Derby, he will not run him again and will accept his fate and move on. You would think he’s done enough to qualify, with two impressive stakes victories, including a track record, but under the new points system, big races in January and early February will not get you in the Derby. And, as is the case with Shanghai Bobby and Revolutionary, you’re taking a major risk by sitting still for two months and passing up the 50-point races.
Orb Shug McGaughey
Malibu Moon—Lady Liberty, by Unbridled
As an old school traditionalist, it would be great for the sport to get McGaughey, Stuart Janney III, and the Phippses to the Derby with a big chance. Perhaps the Derby gods were waiting for this partnership to reward all involved. The pace of the Fountain of Youth did set up perfectly for him and he was getting six pounds from Violence. But to his credit, he was the only other horse who closed into that rapid third quarter, making a long sustained run and beating the third horse by 7 1/4 lengths, while earning a 97 Beyer. This was a major improvement off his last race when he ran a full second slower than Cerro in the other division. He still has a tendency to wait on horses once he gets the lead, just as he did in his previous start. This most likely was not a strong field other than Violence, so we’ll see if he keeps moving forward. The bottom line is he’s won three straight and is going in the right direction, and that’s more than you can say about anyone else. Female family is the same family as Ruffian and also includes the Big 3 from the 1964 crop -- Damascus, Dr. Fager, and In Reality.
Verrazano Todd Pletcher
More Than Ready—Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway
Breezed a bullet 5 furlongs in :59 1/5 Monday. Although there are question marks regarding his seasoning and whether he’ll be battle-tested enough to go 1 1/4 miles, I’ve decided to move him up because he’s the one horse, along with Flashback, who could be something very special. It’s that unknown factor that has him ranked this high. But he still needs to prove himself against better company and has a lot of cramming to do if he’s going to be a major threat on Derby Day. I also moved him up because there is no real standout, and he’s no more an enigma than that crazy Risen Star Stakes, in which the first eight horses finished within 3 1/2 lengths of each other.
Shanghai Bobby Todd Pletcher
Harlan's Holiday—Steelin', by Orientate
Yes, I know he can’t go a mile and a quarter, but I heard the same thing about Union Rags last year. Maybe he can’t. His female family certainly is not geared toward stamina, but going strictly on raw talent, he’s still accomplished more in his career than anyone else on the Derby trail and he did run huge in his 3-year-old debut. I know I lowered him a bit, but at this time of year, many horses get lowered as others start winning or running big in major races. Many are also tossing him because the BC Juvenile does not look like a strong race, but this colt peaked in the Champagne and probably should have called it a year and not traveled cross-country to run in the heat and get caught up in a brutal pace. Bad race or not, he deserves credit for fighting back, despite running out of gas turning for home. We’ll have a better idea how far he wants to go after the Florida Derby, for which he breezed a half in :49 3/5.
Flashback Bob Baffert
Tapit—Rhumb Line, by Mr. Greeley
I can pretty much echo the words I used for Verrazano. He hasn’t been quite as brilliant as the Pletcher colt, but he’s faced better competition. Again, the main concern is seasoning and toughness, and in his case, the two minor setbacks he had following his maiden victory. He has tremendous raw talent, and don’t expect to see him on the lead again unless there is a paceless race, as he’s a better horse stalking the pace. His owners, Gary and Mary West, also have two distance-loving sons of Lemon Drop Kid on the Derby trail in Treasury Bill and Code West, so they’re loaded. Like Verrazano, Flashback needs to get tested in battle by a good horse at some point, just so we’ll know what’s beneath all that brilliance. He tuned up for the San Felipe with a sharp six-furlong work in 1:11.
Overanalyze Todd Pletcher
Dixie Union—Unacloud, by Unaccounted For
If he wins the Gotham and catapults up near the top of everyone’s list, those 33-1 Future Wager odds are going to look mighty good. He tuned up for the race with a half-mile breeze in :48 3/5. It is important to note that Unlimited Budget, who romped in the Rachel Alexandra, won the Demoiselle in time two full seconds slower than Overanalyze in the Remsen. You have to love a horse who can win at 5 furlongs and 1 1/8 miles. The only concern with him is that he was beaten eight lengths in his only start at Churchill Downs as the 9-5 favorite, and there are horses who don’t handle Churchill. But he ran an odd race that day, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Goldencents Doug O'Neill
Into Mischief—Golden Works, by Banker's Gold
This horse has to be setting a record for the most consecutive six-furlong works, his latest being a 1:10 2/5 hummer. Is this going to catch up to him or will he be like the proverbial tiger in a cage when he’s let loose in the San Felipe and help turn him into a professional racehorse? We’ve known all along the talent is there, but he just hasn’t blown anyone away, which could happen once he becomes more focused and learns how to level off in the stretch. Can’t wait to see what we get in the San Felipe. His future is limitless if he can get his act together. He’s another who could leap to the top with one big effort.
Oxbow D. Wayne Lukas
Awesome Again—Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy
Bet you never thought you’d still see this horse on here. I admit the Risen Star was a head-scratcher, and how do you choose one or two horses from the first five or six finishers? Well, the fact is, this colt was at least 5-wide going into the first turn, was wide down the backstretch, made an early move to engage Code West, and after taking the lead early, hung on gamely to be beaten a half-length, battling with horses on both sides of him. We may have learned more about him in this race than we did in his Lecomte laugher, in which he beat the Risen Star winner by over 13 lengths. He most assuredly will get the best or second best Thoro-Graph and Ragozin numbers in the race. He’s bred to run a lot farther, he’ll get a lot out of this race, and this is the time to take a chance on him.
Palace Malice Todd Pletcher
Curlin—Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem
Of the first eight finishers of the Risen Star that finished 3 1/2 lengths apart, every one had multiple races at a mile or longer, while he had only three sprint races -- one in the past 6 months -- and is the one who has the most room for improvement. He was three-wide on both turns, was stuck in traffic the entire run down the backstretch, and raced greenly in the stretch, drifting in and out and jumping back to his left lead, but still kept battling to finish third, beaten a half-length. He looked like a winner at the sixteenth pole and might have won had he kept a straight course and also kept his head straight. Considering this was only his fourth career start and he was going two turns for the first time, and had to cope with that long Fair Grounds stretch, he ran a darn good race and definitely should learn a lot and move forward off this effort, especially with his strong pedigree.
Normandy Invasion Chad Brown
Tapit—Boston Lady, by Boston Harbor
He certainly didn’t help his chances in the Risen Star when he broke a step slowly and bobbled after possibly clipping Oxbow’s heels. He dropped way out of it, while rank into the first turn, and had to take the overland route on the far turn. He then was fanned 7-wide turning for home and was coming on in the final 100 yards. But I would have liked to see a little more from the quarter pole to the eighth pole, rather than late when the others appeared to be slowing down. I keep wondering, with his female family, if he wants to get that extra eighth of a mile. What I did like was the way he was striding out at the end, so let’s give him one more chance and hope for a better trip. The Wood Memorial would seem to be right up his alley. With hardly any points and only two preps this year, he had better make the most of his next start. Ironically, Brown sent him to Fair Grounds because of Gulfstream’s normally speed-favoring surface and as it turned out the Fountain of Youth would have set up perfectly for him.
Treasury Bill Ron Ellis
Lemon Drop Kid—Wow Me Free, by Menifee
It was a tough choice between him and Code West and Tiz the Truth. He’s still a live longshot special for the Derby and I can’t wait to see him stretch out in the Rebel Stakes. Like in the San Vicente, if he’s coming at the end and is right there, then it will set him up for a huge effort in the Arkansas Derby, where he’ll face Super Ninety Nine, who along with Flashback, Code West, Tiz the Truth, Den's Lrgacy,and Shakin It Up, could give Baffert a powerful quintet for the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher may have the bigger names right now, even without Violence, but Baffert’s 3-year-olds are on the rise, and several of them have very strong pedigrees. And we haven’t even mentioned Curly Top, another with tremendous promise.
Knocking At The Door
You could have chosen any one of several horses coming out of the Risen Star. You never like to see that many horses finish so close together in a big race, but it still got a 95 Beyer. The winner, 135-1 shot I’VE STRUCK A NERVE, ran lights out, but needs to show it one more time. His best previous effort was a second in the 6-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes. All in all, this race was just too bizarre to figure out. CODE WEST looked like he was headed to a fourth-place finish at best and came on again late to be beaten a nose. Baffert had taken the blinkers off him, but it’s possible he may have lost a little focus turning for home after being challenged by Oxbow and didn’t start getting back into the race until the final 70 yards. What I liked most about his race was he probably was expected to take back farther off the pace with the blinkers removed, but, breaking from post 2, he wound up right on the pace and under pressure the entire way. The fact he was coming back at the finish bodes very well for a big improvement when the distances stretch out. It’s as if the light bulb went on in the final sixteenth. Normally I would have a horse like this in the Top 12, but there’s no way I can put four horses on there from the Risen Star.
Saturday’s Gotham will have several interesting horses on the verge of breaking out, headed by the undefeated VYJACK, along with a possible pair from Kiaran McLaughlin in maiden winners ELNAAWI and TRANSPARENT. Another intriguing possibility is Hutcheson winner HONORABLE DILLON, who should have no problem stretching out. He’ll go either here or wait for the Tampa Bay Derby.
FALLING SKY, who was scratched out of the Fountain of Youth, will now return to Tampa Bay for a rematch with DYNAMIC SKY in the Tampa Derby. All they can do is hope Verrazano isn’t crazy about the surface. Dynamic Sky indicated his sharpness with a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00 2/5.
Al Stall scratched both DEPARTING and SUNBEAN from the Risen Star due to outside posts. The latter showed up instead in the Gentilly Stakes for Louisiana-breds earlier on the card and won by almost five lengths at 9-5. One race later, the promising GROUND TRANSPORT blew away his rivals in the final eighth to win an allowance/optional claimer by three widening lengths for Mike Stidham and looked very good doing it, striding out beautifully at the wire. The son of Big Brown has two wins and a second in three career starts, his only defeat coming at the hands of Departing in his career debut sprinting. He's certainly a new face to keep an eye on.
Graham Motion finally unleashed Team Valor’s CROP REPORT in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claimer on the turf and the son of Medaglia d’Oro, making his first start in the U.S., turned in a powerful closing kick to finish third after hitting the side of the gate at the start and dropping far off the pace. This is a grand-looking colt with a classic European look and a big, beautiful stride. The winner was the Rock Hard Ten colt BLACK ONYX, who was making his grass debut for Kelly Breen.
DRY SUMMER, a well-beaten fourth in the Sham Stakes behind Goldencents, made it two in a row at Sunland Park, winning the Mine That Bird Derby by 1 1/2 lengths as the 6-5 favorite.
Doug O’Neill found himself a Sunland Park Derby horse, winning the Turf Paradise Derby with PERSUASIVE PAUL, who drew off to a 3 3/4-length score. What’s interesting about this horse is that his broodmare sire is Lure, and that’s a name you don’t see too often in pedigrees.
UNCAPTURED followed his :35 3/5 work at the Ocala Training Center with a half-mile drill in :47 4/5, so he is progressing nicely for his 3-year-old debut, which could come in the Spiral Stakes. DEWEY SQUARE is looking to rebound from his dismal Holy Bull effort in Saturday’s Palm Beach on the grass. Trainer Dale Romans used this race last year for Dullahan’s 3-year-old debut.