Itsmyluckyday Eddie Plesa Jr.
Lawyer Ron—Viva la Slew, by Doneraile Court
After his easy mile breeze last week, he came back with a bullet 1:01 drill this week. Love the way he’s training for the Florida Derby. It seems like ages ago that this colt ran in the Holy Bull. Although he must finish 1st or 2nd to secure a spot in the Derby, it was smart of Plesa to back off after two consecutive blazing speed figures. In his Gulfstream Park Derby score he ran a whopping 9 3/4 points faster than his previous start on Thoro-Graph and one of only two negative numbers this year by a Derby horse (Verrazano being the other). Instead of regressing off that effort, he actually ran a full point faster, which is something you don’t often see with a young 3-year-old. He did have an excellent 2-year-old number at Calder in September to fall back on.
Verrazano Todd Pletcher
More Than Ready—Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway
If Pletcher can get him to win or even run big in the Derby, it would actually contradict what’s worked for him in the past. It is ironic that Pletcher usually likes at least 4-to-5 weeks between races, but the fact is, he has saddled six horses to finish 4th or better in the Derby, and all six went into the race off only three weeks, while all those given 4-to-5 weeks all ran poorly. Go Figure. Pletcher’s two best finishes in the past 11 years have been a win with Super Saver and a second with Bluegrass Cat, and both those horses prepped at Tampa Bay, so that at least bodes well for this colt, who could use as much fitness as he can get.
Revolutionary Todd Pletcher
War Pass—Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy
Worked five-eighths in 1:00 3/5 for the Louisiana Derby, where he likely will meet stablemate Palace Malice. A big field is expected, and although a 1-2 finish would put both in the Derby, a third-place finish by one of them would put that horse teetering on the edge of elimination. It doesn’t take much to fall off the Derby trail these days. This colt has two major objectives at Fair Grounds. One, of course, is to finish first or second, and the other is keep out of trouble, something he’s had trouble doing, whether it’s getting clobbered coming out of the gate or getting trapped in a near costly traffic jam. The one time he had a clean trip he won by 8 ½ lengths, earning a 102 Beyer figure.
Orb Shug McGaughey
Malibu Moon—Lady Liberty, by Unbridled
Breezed a sharp half in :48 at Payson Park. He’s already in the Derby field with 50 points, and with a possible small field expected in the Florida Derby, there would be nothing wrong with a good second or close third, as long as he’s closing at the end. This will be his fifth race at a mile or longer, so he certainly will have enough foundation. Shug doesn’t run short horses. We doubt any 3-year-old has shown more improvement than this colt has, especially from his allowance score to his Fountain of Youth victory. Now, he just has to keep moving forward.
Hear the Ghost Jerry Hollendorfer
Ghostzapper—Rehear, by Coronado's Quest
The more I watch the San Felipe, the more I’m convinced this is a special horse and not just one who capitalized on a pace meltdown. Love the way he dug in and re-broke when Tiz a Minister came charging up alongside him from last and was actually pulling away from him in the final yards. And his final 1/16 in :06 flat was very impressive. You don’t normally see a horse rallying from 16 lengths back on the far turn and then get outclosed late. He has a very efficient way of moving and when he lowers his shoulder and levels off in the final hundred yards, the result is electrifying. In his first two starts at 6 furlongs he beat Let Em Shine and was a fast-closing 2nd to Distinctiv Passion, arguably the two fastest 3-year-old sprinters in California and then stretches out and beats the two most accomplished two-turn 3-year-olds in California. There is a question of foundation, but I’ll Have Another, of whom this horse reminds us, didn’t have much more racing foundation than he does.
Vyjack Rudy Rodriguez
Into Mischief —Life Happened, by Stravinsky
Breezed a half in :51 1/5 at Aqueduct, as he prepares for his showdown with Verrazano in the Wood Memorial battle of the unbeatens. He won’t have the services of his trainer for 20 days, as Rodriguez currently is serving a 20-day suspension for an old drug positive, which ends the day before the Wood. The only thing we should be concentrating on is this gelding’s unbeaten record and the incredible versatility he’s shown, whether it’s track surface, distance, or running style. His Gotham stretch run still may be the single most memorable moment on this year’s Derby trail. If only he can duplicate that on the main track against far better competition.
Oxbow D. Wayne Lukas
Awesome Again—Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy
This horse has been narrowly beaten in his last two races and keeps moving up the list. For the second straight race, he got hung 5-wide on the first turn and raced wide all the way to the quarter pole. This time, he actually made two early moves, one from 6th to 3rd nearing the backstretch and another from third to first on the far turn. When Super Ninety Nine ran right by the leader and began to open up, Smith went with him to prevent the Baffert colt from getting a big jump on him. It appeared as if he wasn’t aware just how quick and powerful a move Oxbow has and was all over the favorite in a flash. Then when Super Ninety Nine backed out of it, he found himself on the lead sooner than he wanted. This set it up perfectly for his stablemate. In our opinion, had Oxbow not lost so much ground or made those two premature moves, he would have won, Some will feel he’s run out of excuses after two defeats, but these are preps, and preps are for learning and moving forward. His Beyer figures are climbing, despite the defeats, and his Thoro-Graph figs have been very strong. Smith now knows the horse much better and we hope he sticks with him. He has stamina and a quick turn of foot that just needs to be timed correctly.
Shanghai Bobby Todd Pletcher
Harlan's Holiday—Steelin', by Orientate
Turned in a sharp 5-furlong drill in 1:00 flat in company with Palace Malice, second fastest work at the distance. Like with Itsmyluckyday, we have to keep going back to watch the Holy Bull to remember the race in detail. One thing that is most certain, he is going to be much more formidable with that race under him. Just would like to see him sit off the pace this time, although that might be tough if the Florida Derby comes up short with no speed. His running style is way too similar to Verrazano’s, but he’s the one who seems more ratable at this time. The reason he’s dropped several places is because of inactivity. If he had beaten Itsmyluckyday in the Holy Bull the way Itsmyluckyday beat him he’d probably be No. 1 right now. If he can somehow keep off the lead and close in the Florida Derby, he most certainly will move well up the list.
Flashback Bob Baffert
Tapit—Rhumb Line, by Mr. Greeley
Baffert was thrilled with his :48 2/5 half-mile work. Like Hear the Ghost, his race in the San Felipe seems better the second time around. The opening half mile was a killer, with him eyeballing Goldencents, and he showed a lot putting away a talented, more experienced horse. He tried hard down the stretch, but the pace took its toll, and ducking to the rail after clearing Goldencents just as the closers were bearing down on him didn’t help. While his performance was more impressive than first thought, the fact is, he still needs to learn to settle, which he seemed to be doing early in the race until he came off the rail to engage Goldencents and Salutos Amigos. We’ll see if the switch to Garrett Gomez helps.
Palace Malice Todd Pletcher
Curlin—Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem
Worked five-eighths in 1:00 flat in company with Shanghai Bobby. His performance in the Risen Star seems more impressive now that Oxbow has come back to run big in the Rebel, at least big enough to justify the form of the race. We still come back to his inexperience in that race and how much room for improvement he has. If he moves forward at all off the Risen Star, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be right there in the Louisiana Derby, even with Revolutionary in there. If he does run the way we think he will and gets in the Derby, he has the right running style and should be very formidable going a mile and a quarter.
Normandy Invasion Chad Brown
Tapit—Boston Lady, by Boston Harbor
He needs a lot of luck in the Wood Memorial if he’s going to make the Derby field. After his bullet 5f work in :59 3/5, it would be a shame if he missed the cut, especially after his nightmare trip in the Risen Star, in which he got shut out on points. Remsen form has not held up so far, but he still looks like a top-class colt with a huge kick. If he can get past the Wood, we can see him coming back with another big effort in the Derby. Fox Hill could use a break in the Derby for a change after Hard Spun ran his heart out only to finish second in 2007 and Eight Belles ran an incredible race the following year only to run into Big Brown. Her death was one of the great tragedies in racing history. Could the racing gods be ready to reward Rick Porter, who certainly has paid his dues?
Will Take Charge D. Wayne Lukas
Unbridled’s Song —Take Charge Lady, by Dehere
Taking nothing away from his Rebel score, but he had a perfect setup, with Oxbow doing the dirty work up front. He is a big, long-striding colt who can gobble up ground and is a battler with the money on the line. But he needs to show he can run two good races in a row. His bad races have been terrible, but he does bounce back from them, and we’ll give him a pass on the Southwest, as it appears he absolutely hated the sloppy sealed surface. His only inbreeding is to Fappiano, which is a tribute to John Nerud on his 100th birthday.
Knocking At The Door
Is racing foundation a dying factor on the Derby trail? Hot Derby prospects Verrazano, Flashback, Hear the Ghost, War Academy, Departing, Ground Transport, and Tiz the Truth are just some of the horses who are looking to accomplish something that has only been done twice in the past 94 years – win the Derby with as few as four career starts. Of the two that pulled it off, Big Brown was a total freak in a mediocre crop and Animal Kingdom’s four races all were at a mile or longer. All the above mentioned horses will be attempting it with only two or three races at a mile or longer. There’s no saying it can’t be done, but history is against it.
If we were listing a baker’s dozen, WAR ACADEMY would be No. 14, right behind No. 13 RYDILLUC, following his 1 1/16-mile allowance victory Saturday. Although he didn’t beat much in the five-horse field, it was the way he did it that was impressive. We love the way he moves, much like his sire Giant’s Causeway, and how effortlessly he gets over the ground. Baffert has been high on him from the beginning and we’re just now seeing what this colt is capable of. What he has going against him is lack of experience, with only three starts, two of them in sprints. He desperately needs to get a gut check in his first and only attempt to pick up points. He just hasn’t been tested enough over a distance of ground. But there is no doubt the talent is there.
Speaking of Rydilluc, he turned in a bullet five-eighths breeze in 1:02 at Palm Meadows. This still is our live longshot, and he will remain an unknown even with a victory in the Blue Grass Stakes. Can he run huge over Polytrack and then on dirt at Churchill Downs? If he is as good on those surfaces as he’s been on grass, there is no telling what he’s capable of. What is most intriguing about him is that we haven’t seen any horse that strides out they way he does and is as athletic.
Although DEN’S LEGACY doesn’t win very often, you sure can’t knock his consistency and determination, as he is always in the picture, regardless of who he is running against and where. In the Rebel, he had a perfect trip, but could do no better than third, while returning with a pretty nasty gash on his back leg, which fortunately looks to be superficial. He tries hard every time and you have to admire him for that. TEXAS BLING also ran a good race in the Rebel to be fourth. He looked to be running on well in the stretch, but lacked a big closing kick at the end.
One of our big sleepers, DICE FLAVOR, drilled six furlongs in 1:14. We’ll see if he shows up in the Spiral. Private Terms winner MR. PALMER got right back on the work tab breezing a half in :49 2/5 for the Wood Memorial.
The late rush to Louisville continued this past weekend, as Darley’s soon to be Godolphin colt INCOGNITO ran off with a mile maiden race at Aqueduct. We’ll have to see if they throw him into a 100-pointer or perhaps try the Illinois Derby as a prep for the Preakness. By A.P. Indy, out of the top-class Octave, Incognito took the lead nearing the head of the stretch and was never asked, coming home in :24 3/5 to win as jockey Mike Luzzi pleased. This is another with beautiful action who appears to have a bright future. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin also has the promising ELNAAWI, third in the Gotham, likely heading to the Wood Memorial. Two races back, Incognito finished a good third to Elnaawi in a mile maiden race in the mud.
What makes this race even more significant is that Incognito was coming off a neck defeat to MR. PALMER, who turned in a huge effort last week to win the Private Terms Stakes for Bill Mott. So, each horse flattered the other. Mr. Palmer looks to be headed to the Wood Memorial.
In the early bird catches the roses department, we saw two monster debuts over the weekend, but, alas, neither colt is advanced enough to be ready for the Derby. ZAIKOV, a son of Distorted Humor who twice was consigned to sales and withdrawn each time, never raised a sweat in his six-furlong debut, winning off by 14 ¼ lengths in a snappy 1:09 3/5. He is trained by, and this getting to be redundant, Todd Pletcher.
The other horse, however, probably missed his calling in the Derby by one race. ABSTRACTION, trained by David Carroll, turned a mile and 70-yard maiden race at Fair Grounds into no more than a breezing workout, coasting to a 9 ¾-length victory. This son of Pulpit is out of a Quiet American mare and his third dam is a full-sister to Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince. Carroll is hoping to have him ready for the Belmont Stakes.