California Chrome Art Sherman
Lucky Pulpit—Love the Chase, by Not For Love
There is absolutely nothing more to say about this horse that I haven’t already said over the past two months. He is simply one of the most special young horses I’ve seen in years, and if the Triple Crown drought is ever to end, this is the kind of horse who will end it. Yes, I’m getting way ahead of myself, but I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a horse as close to perfection as this guy. For a horse to keep piling up these freakish performances for so long is a rarity in racing today and he actually keeps getting better. My apologies for a little horn tooting, but I have a reason for doing so. Back on Feb. 3 after his Cal Cup Derby victory, I wrote, Cal-bred or no Cal-bred, this was the most impressive 3-year-old in the country, saying, “This horse has such a long fluid stride and levels off so beautifully he’s a joy to watch…you can’t ask a horse to run any straighter down the stretch. He accelerates on his own at the right time, and for a long-striding horse his lead changes are so smooth you can barely see him do it…this horse has absolutely no flaws.” Two months later and nothing has changed. He has run one monster Thoro-Graph number after another without regressing; he has run the best 3-year-olds in California into the ground at the exact same spot each time and with the same push-button burst of speed; he wins under no urging at all; his works are spectacular while under wraps; he’s now won at 4 1/2 furlongs, 5 1/2 furlongs, 7 furlongs, 1 1/16 miles, and 1 1/8 miles and has been racing steadily for an entire year; he’s brilliantly fast, but has a tremendous mind and knows how to harness his speed and when to use it; and his pedigree is inundated with classic winners at 1 1/2 miles from Europe and the U.S. Can a horse possibly keep up this remarkable pace heading into the Derby? In the words of Al Jolson, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Come to think of it, I take back my apology.
Hoppertunity Bob Baffert
Any Given Saturday—Refugee, by Unaccounted For
Remember, Baffert had toyed with the idea of training up to the Derby, because of all the racing and traveling he’s squeezed into this year, so he got exactly what he wanted – a nice long “work” into him in a $1 million race. Now this race sets him up for a peak performance on May 3. I wrote that all you wanted from him was a Real Quiet-like performance, where he wasn’t being asked, while still keeping pace with a brilliant winner like California Chrome; in Real Quiet’s case it was Indian Charlie. What is important to note is that he did keep pace with California Chrome in the final furlong without being asked (neither was the winner), but still was able to open up 3 1/2 lengths on Candy Boy and the others, while coming home his final eighth in :12 2/5. And I liked the way he rated and stalked from the inside and waited for a seam to open up. So, as a Kentucky Derby prep, you couldn’t have written a better script for him. And as the proverbial icing on the cake, he once again had a powerful gallop-out, as he has in all his races, and blew by California Chrome after the wire, for whatever it’s worth.
Wicked Strong Jimmy Jerkens
Hard Spun—Moyne Abbey, by Charismatic
It was extremely close for second between him and Hoppertunity. I nearly went with him because he was my No. 1 ranked horse in January before he freaked at the gate and ran a clunker in the Holy Bull. But his subsequent fourth, like Hoppertunity’s, was much better than it looked on paper, as he went seven-wide into the first turn and four wide on the second turn. He was now ready to return to his form from last year’s Remsen Stakes, in which he flew home in :11 2/5 and was just getting revved up in the final yards. In the Wood, he exhibited that same explosive closing kick and saw his Beyer figure soar to a 104. It did look as if the horses he ran down, Samraat and Social Inclusion, were getting a little leg weary in the final sixteenth, and he did a few things in the stretch he’ll have to straighten out, mainly ducking out, especially when Rajiv Maragh hit him left-handed, racing with his head cocked to the outside, and not doing his best running until after he changed leads at three-sixteenths pole. It wasn’t until Maragh started hand-riding him that he straightened himself out and drew away. It seemed more of a case of him being distracted than anything else. While the Wood set up perfectly for him, that should in no way diminish what he accomplished, and he sure looked like a Derby horse in the way he did it. And speaking of deserving connections, there are few better pure horsemen around than Jimmy Jerkens, and credit to Centennial Farms for remaining loyal to him after he lost several of his biggest clients and saw his barn go quiet for a few years.
Tapiture Steve Asmussen
Tapit—Free Spin, by Olympio
He gets a major jockey switch, with Joel Rosario replacing Ricardo Santana for the Arkansas Derby. You have to admire his consistency and his toughness, and he certainly got battle-tested in the Rebel. He also has three solid performances over the Churchill Downs surface, including an easy score in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He can go toe to toe with horses on the front end or sit back in fourth or fifth and he’s shifty enough to race inside or outside, and as he demonstrated in the Rebel, between horses, even when getting bounced around. So, all in all, this is a very solid, dependable horse, who definitely should have no problem getting 1 1/8 miles, and while his breeding is geared for that distance, he’s shown enough to suggest that he could stretch out the extra furlong.
If he can win the Arkansas Derby or even run a bang-up second, he will help provide the nucleus for a very solid top five or six come Derby Day.
Constitution Todd Pletcher
Tapit—Baffled, by Distorted Humor
The more people I talk to about this horse the more special he looks, as everyone who has been in contact with him has nothing but glowing things to say about him, from his physical and mental attributes to the extraordinary things he’s done on the racetrack, even back to his earliest days in training. But his career has been the complete opposite of California Chrome’s as far as experience and seasoning. With so little experience and so much history against him, having had only three career starts and two two-turn races, his Florida Derby victory was a perfect race for him. We have seen time and again how tough and gutsy Wildcat Red is, and for Constitution, who had run only twice and had never been battle tested, to out-fight such a gritty competitor the entire length of the stretch was pretty remarkable. And he needed that gut check if he was going to have any chance in the Kentucky Derby.
General a Rod Mike Maker
Roman Ruler—Dynamite Eyes, by Dynaformer
I know I keep repeating this, but there are only so many new thoughts I can drum up on these horses. I can’t help but feel we are not seeing the best of this horse nor his most productive running style. Somewhere beneath all that speed and stalking speed is a powerful closer who wants to revert back to his maiden race and make a big run from well off the pace. The blinkers have taken that horse away and made him sharper and more pace-driven. But that is not to say that certain adjustments can’t still be made to induce him to come from farther back and pass horses with more conviction. Sometimes, the Kentucky Derby alone can achieve that, simply by overpowering his speed with faster speed and more of it in a 20-horse field that often can swallow up speed horses and stalkers and spit them out in the middle of the pack. When a horse has the kind of closing kick he demonstrated in his debut, he doesn’t lose it completely. It’s always there if the situation arises, and the feeling here is that it will arise in the Derby.
Samraat Rick Violette
Noble Causeway—Little Indian Girl, by Indian Charlie
The jury, at least my jury, is still out regarding his chances in the Derby. Winning on the inner track at Aqueduct going 1 1/16 miles isn’t quite the same as facing top-quality horses on the main track going 1 1/8 miles, so the Wood was a big test for him. But I feel he got enough out of the Wood to move forward, based on the learning experience he got by being in traffic for the first time and having to put Kristo away and then go all out to chase down a brilliantly fast horse in Social Inclusion, who had separated himself from the field at the five-sixteenths pole. I do feel he is going to need to change leads in the Derby to compete in the final furlong, something he didn’t do in the Wood and in some of his other races. One thing about this horse, he tries every step of the way and was determined to run down a game Social Inclusion, while the winner was rolling out in the middle of the track, which seemed like the place to be. I don’t know how the Derby is going to set up for him, but he moved up into the big leagues on Saturday and you can bet he’s going to make his presence felt. We’ll just have to see how far he can move forward after this race and how much he got out of it.
Intense Holiday Todd Pletcher
Harlan’s Holiday—Intensify, by Unbridled’s Song
His Louisiana Derby is still perplexing because of his antics after turning for home. If he does anything like that in the Derby he surely won’t be around at the finish. Looking at the race positively, I’d like to think of the push-button move he made right before that, when he pounced on Vicar’s in Trouble in a flash and looked as if he were going to blow right by him. That’s when it all fell apart. But the bottom line is that he did finish second and he did get his rhythm back after changing leads at the sixteenth pole and did gallop out well. He’s never really run a bad race and has shown steady improvement since being in Pletcher’s second string at Monmouth Park. The Louisiana Derby might be considered his first step backwards, as slight as it may have been, and now it’s just a question of whether he can regroup and turn his miscue into nothing more than an aberration, which it could very well be considering his body of work prior to that.
Conquest Titan Mark Casse
Birdstone—Miner’s Secret, by Mineshaft
I’m taking a stab here for old times sake, because I know the talent is there. I saw it in his allowance win at Churchill Downs and I saw it in the Holy Bull when he caught Intense Holiday for second, outclosing a strong closer. He showed his sharpness, drilling 5 furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at Palm Meadows, second fastest of 20 works at the distance and then moved to Churchill Downs, where he breezed a bullet half in :47 2/5, fastest of 28 works at the distance.. The Tampa surface is quirky enough to throw out his fourth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, when he didn’t have the cleanest of trips. The rail might not have been the best place to be, but he did hang in the final sixteenth and Ring Weekend’s stunning defeat at 1-5 in the Calder Derby didn’t flatter the form of that race. So, overall, his performance was disappointing. But on the plus side, he has always been highly regarded, he has an explosive turn of foot when used properly, he loves Churchill Downs, and half his career has been spent being ridden incorrectly, especially his ludicrous ride in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he set suicidal fractions. The fact he was able to make a 180-degree turnaround after a complete makeover and turn into a stone closer shows how adaptable he is. Now let’s see which Conquest Titan shows up in the Arkansas Derby, where he’ll need a win or a second in a tough field to assure a spot in the Derby, although he’d still have a shot with a third, which would give him 24 points.
Ride On Curlin William Gowan
Curlin—Magical Ride, by Storm Cat
With the Arkansas Derby next week, he’s back on the list to give him one more chance to show he can beat these horses. But like Conquest Titan, he needs to be ridden properly. I liked his 7-furlong breeze in 1:26 4/5, going off slowly and finishing fast. He needs to get off the lead or even close to the lead and run like he did in the Champagne Stakes, in which he came from eighth, 10 lengths back, to finish third, beaten less than two lengths. If horses like Strong Mandate and Bayern slow the pace down, he does have enough tactical speed to stay in contention and still be able to close. He hasn’t been off the board in eight career starts and his Beyer figures are climbing with every race since he regressed off the Champagne in the Street Sense Stakes, which bring us to one major question mark and that is whether he is as effective at Churchill downs, where he’s 0-for-3. So let’s see what he does Saturday and go from there. I’m looking at him as a live upset possibility if he puts himself in a position to win.
Cairo Prince Kiaran McLaughlin
Pioneerof the Nile—Holy Bubbette, by Holy Bull
Can I make it a tie for 11th between Cairo Prince and Candy Boy? I really didn’t know which one to drop for one week, because it’s only temporary until after the Arkansas Derby. These two have had carbon copy campaigns, but Cairo Prince had a slightly longer vacation and might have a little more room for improvement, considering he was more competitive and wasn’t beaten as badly as Candy Boy. Of course, he wasn’t running against California Chrome. Candy Boy looked in good shape until the top of the stretch, but had nothing to offer after that and barely got third over 33-1 shot Dublin Up. Both he and Cairo Prince ran like short horses after their lengthy hiatuses, and Cairo Prince will now have to go into the Derby off one so-so performance in 14 weeks, pretty much the same as Candy Boy. But you still can’t give up on either one for the Derby, as they have a good chance of still getting in. McLaughlin and Sadler did what they felt was best for their horse in the long run, and that was to pass their respective 50-point races. It may compromise their chances for the Derby, but may pay off for them down the road.
Vicar’s in Trouble Mike Maker
Into Mischief —Vibrant, by Vicar
I can’t knock him for stealing the Louisiana Derby. When someone hands you a gift you have to take it, and he did win the race rather comfortably. But he’s sure not going to get such a dream trip at Churchill Downs. Not that he needs it, having run well enough from off the pace in the LeComte and Risen Star. The main question with him is whether he wants to go a mile and a quarter. His pedigree really isn’t that bad, but his :13 3/5 final eighth in the Louisiana Derby suggests that may be his limit. He looks more suited for the Preakness, but no way he’s going to pass the Derby. He is a talented horse who has more than paid his way to Louisville, so if Ken Ramsey wants to try to have three in there, he every right to, and this colt has the credentials. We’ll just have to see how he can carry them.
Knocking At The Door
Another note on CALIFORNIA CHROME, who literally had the fans on their feet as he came down the stretch, according to Santa Anita racing director Rick Hammerle: The colt will not have a work over the Churchill Downs track, as he isn’t scheduled to arrive until April 28, the Tuesday of Derby week. You think there might be a crowd there to greet him?
I could easily have SOCIAL INCLUSION and WILDCAT RED on the list, but right now I do not want to overload it with one-dimensional speed horses, whether experienced or inexperienced. Social Inclusion ran a terrific race in the Wood Memorial and is going to be a major force in the division, but the way he sweated up on a cool, windy day and the way he acted going to the post, kicking and bucking, I just don’t know if he’s capable of handling Derby Day. Is there a Future Bet for the Haskell? I thought he was going to take a lot of beating turning for home, even after dueling on the lead and going wide breaking from the 11 post. But after separating himself from the field, he started shortening stride in the final sixteenth, yet still held on gamely, just getting nosed out for second by Samraat. He’s a big, imposing colt with a massive hind end and I have a lot more respect for him now than I did after his last race. I also didn’t put him on the list because it looks like he’s being pointed for the Preakness because of his points situation. The Derby hasn’t been ruled out, but right now the Preakness looks like an excellent spot for him. This was a major step in the right direction.
It appears as if they tried rating RING WEEKEND off the pace in the Calder Derby and rightly so if they wanted a Derby horse. At 1-5, this was a good place to experiment, but it blew up in their faces when OUR CARAVAN, coming off two dismal performances in the Fountain of Youth and Holy Bull, got the jump on him at the head of the stretch with blinkers added and drew off to a stunning 9 3/4-length victory. I thought the Ring Weekend of the Tampa Bay Derby was a serious Derby horse who would have no trouble handling this field, especially the way he worked over the Calder surface. But he got off to a rocky start, getting squeezed and then became a bit headstrong while under restraint. He finally got in the clear and had a clean trip, moving up to challenge the leaders. But he came under an early whip from Alan Garcia and then played bumper cars with the winner, getting knocked around pretty good. After that he was pretty much done, as Our Caravan took off and left him far back.
I still feel this horse has a lot of talent, but things just didn’t go his way on this day. I was expecting that quick burst of speed he showed in the Tampa Derby, but it never came. Considering they ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:54 1/5, crawling home the last three-eighths in :39 3/5, this obviously was a very deep, tiring track that he may not have liked all that much. With his pedigree, 1 1/4 miles should move him up, and horses coming off this Calder strip usually improve in leaps and bounds. If they still want to push on to the Derby no one can blame them.
So, with Constitution and Social Inclusion, two of the three two-race wonders, proving they are for real, it is now BAYERN’S turn, and judging from his sensational seven-furlong work in 1:23 4/5 he may prove to be just as real. He has some tough opponents to cope with in the Arkansas Derby, but we’ll see if the Baffert magic continues at Oaklawn Park. He has been in the Top 12 briefly. Now it’s up to him to get back on. One Arkansas Derby starter who everyone is interested in is the enigmatic STRONG MANDATE, who breezed five furlongs in a sharp 1:00 4/5. Who knows what to expect from this horse, who has proven he has a ton of ability.
Also heading for the Arkansas Derby is Sunland Derby third COMMISSIONER, who breezed a half in :49. Another Pletcher horse looking to earn his way into the Derby is VINCEREMOS, who breezed his half in :49 1/5 for the Blue Grass Stakes.
One horse who looks to be in love with the Keeneland Polytrack is MR SPEAKER, who drilled a half in :46 1/5 for the Blue Grass, which will draw a large field. Possible favorite, BOBBY’S KITTEN, worked a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at Keeneland.
Baffert worked his Sunland Derby winner CHITU a half in :46 2/5. He was one of the first horses to earn a place in the Derby field. Another of Baffert’s top horses, MIDNIGHT HAWK, went his half in :46 flat.