American Pharoah Bob Baffert
Pioneerof the Nile—Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman
I have to admit I’m not entirely comfortable with anyone at No. 1 after Texas Red’s setback and after prolonged thought and meticulous scrutiny I decided to go by raw talent and the potential to be something very special. He looked super breezing a half in :47 2/5, out in 1:00 2/5. He galloped out so strongly, the clockers gave him a 5f work even though Baffert said all along he was working a half. Watching his last two wins, it’s really amazing just how flawless he is in every respect. He does everything so smoothly and effortlessly, has tremendous extension to his stride, and never deviates an inch off his path . From the head-on, his legs are perfectly placed beneath him, he keeps his head as straight as can be, and even when Victor Espinoza for some reason hit him 10 times right-handed in the Del Mar Futurity with a clear lead, he remained dead straight on his course. I also like the way he tosses his ears back and forth throughout the race as if he’s having a good time out there and using little energy. So although he is living on the edge with no room for even the slightest setback, I’ll take a chance that he will return as good as he was last year and will show he can rate off the pace the way he rates on the lead.
Upstart Rick Violette
Flatter—Party Silks, by Touch Gold
Breezed 5f in 1:00 3/5 Feb. 14. I was seriously considering moving him up to No. 1, but with the Fountain of Youth this weekend, let’s hold off one more week and see where we are with him. If he runs another impressive race he could very well move into the No. 1 slot. Violette a bit concerned about his big speed figure first time out, but unlike most horses who run lights out in their first start, he has the 2-year-old figures to back it up, indicating it was well within his reach and he shouldn’t regress too far, if he regresses at all. He certainly can back up a little from those figures and still win the Fountain of Youth. Many trainers would be inclined to wait for the Florida Derby, but Violette is an old school veteran and knows that this is the right way to go. Why freshen him and have him run his eyeballs out in the Florida Derby and possibly peak in that race when he can run him on Feb. 21 and get any “bounce” out of the way now and then start moving gradually forward again? This is a powerful, fast colt who has shown every indication he can take a lot of racing, overcome big ground loss, and come out of his races in great shape. As they used to say, he is all hickory, and he should have no problem getting the mile and a quarter.
Carpe Diem Todd Pletcher
Giant's Causeway—Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song
Moved him up a couple of spots following another monster work (5f in :59 4/5). He appears to be well ahead of schedule, and the way he’s been training I can see him winning the Tampa Bay Derby by a big margin, although I’d like to see him have one real test to get him battle-hardened for the Derby. Like American Pharoah I’m going strictly on potential and from closely watching all his races again. He just does everything like a flat-out runner. Although Texas Red went by him on the turn in the BC Juvenile like he was moving in slow motion that really wasn’t his game. He is more of a one-paced horse with excellent tactical speed who keeps coming and building up momentum through the stretch, and you had to love the way he leveled off in the BC after fanning seven-wide and determinedly ran down Upstart for the place and how strong he galloped out. Again, you never know until they actually return, but he is showing all the signs of a horse ready to do some serious running right off the bat. I’m not a fan of having only two starts, but many of the contenders are doing the same, and like American Pharoah he at least has a decent foundation at 2 and has shown his class against the best.
Dortmund Bob Baffert
Big Brown —Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat
He seems to be the most logical horse to put on top, considering he’s unbeaten and has been battle-tested in two straights starts, out-fighting a very talented horse both times. That’s enough slugfests for one horse. I’m just waiting to see a bit more turn of foot in the stretch. He’s a horse who apparently has to be ridden hard and was under a lot of pressure a long way out in the Robert Lewis, yet still allowed Firing Line to get a length lead on him in the upper stretch. I believe his next start could be the one that defines him and sets him up for the Derby, so I’ll wait a little longer before considering putting him on top. Physically, he reminds me of Point Given, but with less foundation and experience in top-class races. However, although he runs with his head high, he seems shiftier and lighter on his feet, and switches leads much smoother. He’s still a work in progress and we’ll have a better idea of how Derby-ready he is after his next start.
Texas Red Keith Desormeaux
Afleet Alex—Ramatuelle, by Jeune Homme
One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in 23 years of compiling the Derby Dozen and Derby Watch is taking him off the No. 1 spot. I really loved this colt as a true Derby horse, but there are just too many question marks now, and I’m leery of horses who are sent to a farm smack in the middle of the Derby trail. As others continue to impress and progress, I’m afraid he will keep moving down the list, beginning next weekend. I’m still keeping him at No. 5 for now out of respect for his talent. Even if he makes it back for the Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby, I’m not sure one 7f race and one 1 1/8-mile race, with a swimming regimen in between, is enough to have him ready for the Kentucky Derby. And I wasn’t crazy about Desormeaux’s quote saying, “I wouldn’t even be concerned with having another race at all if we weren’t at the mercy of this point system. I’d go straight into the Derby. But you have to run now.” Go into the Derby off one seven-furlong race, an abscessed foot, and swimming on a farm? I’m still a big believer in this colt and haven’t been this high on a No. 1 horse in early February in a long time, and that is why news of his abscess was so difficult to take.
Firing Line Simon Callaghan
Line of David—Sister Girl Blues, by Hold For Gold
I’m not sure if I agree with Gary Stevens that he moved too soon in the Robert Lewis. In a match race when you’re 10-15 lengths ahead of the field, you want to put your opponent away as quickly as possible and he did just that. When you open up by a length you’re not supposed to get beat by the horse you just seemingly put away. Whether Dortmund actually came again or Firing Line was getting a little more tired off that quick three-quarter fraction than Dortmund was remains to be seen. You have to wonder how far Firing Line wants to go, but I do expect to see a more polished performance next time as he gains experience. If he indeed is a 1 1/4-mile horse you won’t be seeing him give up a lead like that again. Perhaps a truer indication of what this colt is all about is his performance in the Los Alamitos Futurity when he battled with Mr. Z on his inside and Dortmund on his outside and refused to give an inch, despite coming off only two sprint races. Expect him to be right there once again wherever he goes next.
Far From Over Todd Pletcher
Blame—Alchemist, by A.P. Indy
As much I as I like this colt and feel he has tremendous potential, you still have to remember that big performances on Aqueduct’s inner track often are not duplicated on the main track. Only I Want Revenge has won a stakes on the inner track and then won the Wood Memorial. There is a big difference in class between the two tracks. Can this colt do it? The feeling here is yes. His victory in the Withers closely mirrored I Want Revenge’s remarkable score in the Wood. The only difference is, I want Revenge went into the Wood off seven career starts, an 8 1/2-length romp in the Gotham, and placings in a grade I and grade II, while Far From Over went into the Withers off one nose maiden victory. If a horse can overcome what he overcame in the Withers against proven stakes horses off only one career start, who knows how much upside there is to him and how far he can move forward in the Gotham and Wood Memorial. He’s a fighter and he can overcome adversity and still win going away. That’s some impressive credentials for a horse with only two starts.
Lord Nelson Bob Baffert
Pulpit—African Jade, by Seeking the Gold
Baffert said this colt is really improving, and this is the time you want to see 3-year-olds improving. He worked 5f in a sharp :59 3/5 Feb. 16. He may not look like your typical stayer, but his eight generations of Argentine staying blood should get him classic distances, and Argentine horses are in general muscular types who carry their speed long distances. Owner John Fort says he is such an efficient mover you can’t tell whether he’s galloping or breezing. Also this colt has worked a couple of times in company with Dortmund and in one work in particular, both colts finished a seven-furlong work on even terms in a swift 1:23 4/5, with Lord Nelson doing it well in hand. As mentioned, throw out both his two-turn races. He had no shot in either one and this is a different horse, who actually out-closed Texas Red in the San Vicente despite having to go very wide turning for home, while Texas Red had a ground-saving trip. This definitely is a horse you want to keep an eye on, who, despite his sprinting speed, should keep improving as the distances stretch out. If I could have any horse in the second Future Wager it would be him at 41-1. That could prove to be a huge bargain.
Imperia Kiaran McLaughlin
Medaglia D'Oro—Cocoa Beach, by Doneraile Court
Breezed a sharp half in :48 at Palm Meadows Feb. 14 as he awaits his debut in the Risen Star Stakes, where he should appreciate the long Fair Grounds stretch. To come off a maiden race and win the Pilgrim Stakes with such a powerful closing kick shows what kind of potential he has. Many feel he would have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf if he hadn’t gotten blocked badly in the stretch losing all chance. He still was beaten only 3 3/4 lengths. Judging from his dirt debut in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, surface means little to him, and it would be very surprising if he didn’t come back with a bang-up performance at Fair Grounds. He has the breeding, he has the closing kick, and he has the right kind of mind to be a major factor come the first Saturday in May. He just has to get past the Risen Star to show he’s made the transition from 2 to 3.
Ocean Knight Kiaran McLaughlin
Curlin—Ocean Goddess, by Stormy Atlantic
Breezed a half in :49 4/5 Feb. 14. It looks like he’ll give up the Tampa Bay Derby to fellow Stonestreet Stables colt Carpe Diem and head up to New York for the Gotham. For a horse with only two career starts, it’s hard to find any flaws in him. He just has to step up in class and continue to move forward. He has a maturity well beyond his years, so the lack of racing experience shouldn’t be held against him, even though four career starts is not an ideal way to go into the Kentucky Derby. Having a stiff race at Tampa Bay should help from a fitness factor and having given him a much-needed gut check.
Ocho Ocho Ocho James Cassidy
Street Sense– Winner, by Horse Chestnut
This little dynamo becomes more intriguing with each work. In his latest drill he went 5f in a sharp :59 2/5, with Cassidy catching him in :59 flat, out 6f in 1:12 and pulling up 7f in 1:27. Cassidy, who was expecting him to go in 1:00, called him an “amazing little horse.” It will be interesting to see how he fares against more seasoned horses in the San Felipe Stakes, a race he certainly doesn’t have to win. But if he runs big against a number of expected top-class horses, he’s going to be one tough opponent in the Santa Anita Derby and beyond. What is so fascinating about him is that he possesses blazing sprint speed, but can use it at any point in the race, and most important, he’s actually bred for distance. When he won the off-the-turf Juvenile Turf Sprint in a laugher, finishing almost nine lengths behind him was Metaboss, who was so impressive winning Saturday’s El Camino Real Derby. I think I better start coming to terms with his name, because it looks like he’s going to be a major player on the Derby trail.
Frosted Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Fast Cookie, by Deputy Minister
With the addition of blinkers playing a major role in his awesome :47 3/5 half-mile work last week, he came back this week and worked a half in :48 3/5 without blinkers. But he’ll get blinkers back on for the Fountain of Youth and we’ll see how much better he fares against Upstart this time around. With his run of second-place finishes (four in his five starts), the blinkers might be just what he needs to ignite a more explosive stretch kick. Right now, McLaughlin is holding a pretty strong hand with three potential Derby contenders. If they can pass their next tests, you can eliminate the word “potential.”
Knocking At The Door
It’s difficult to know what to make of El Camino Real Derby winner METABOSS, who looked like a legitimate Derby horse, the way he swung wide and mowed down a pretty talented field, while coming off a maiden victory. And he did it by coming from eighth off a pedestrian pace (:49 1/5 and 1:13 4/5) and flying home in :23 flat and :11 4/5. Any horse that can come home in :34 4/5 going 1 1/8 miles has to be taken seriously. With that said, the slow pace and fast come home time have to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, as the race, like many over the Tapeta surface, was run like a turf race. He had previously run first, second, and third on the turf, but did finish a decent, though well-beaten, fourth behind Ocho Ocho Ocho in the Juvenile Turf sprint, which was taken off the grass. And he did go into the El Camino Real off five sensational works on the dirt at Santa Anita.
So, now the question arises: can a son of Street Boss win the Derby? His female family, which is dominated by distance-loving stallions owned and bred by John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery says yes. His broodmare sire is Free House, who won the Santa Anita Handicap and Pacific Classic, and placed in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. His great-grandsire Bien Bien, a son of champion and Hall of Famer Manila, out of a Graustark mare, won the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup twice, the marathon San Juan Capistrano, and the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey. On dirt, he won the Swaps Stakes and finished second in the Santa Anita Handicap. And let’s not forget that Street Boss, although a sprinter, is by Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry, the sire of Zenyatta.
Although I’ve been fooled before by winners of the El Camino Real Derby, run on Tapeta, this colt made a believer out of me, and right now he’s not far off from making the Top 12.
Two other horses who jumped into the Derby picture are MAFTOOL and MUBTAAHIJ, the one-two finishers of the UAE 2000 Guineas who are now going to be looking for Kentucky Derby points in the UAE Derby. These colts dominated the Guineas, finishing 10 3/4 lengths ahead of the third horse. Maftool , a son of Hard Spun owned by Godolphin, just got the better of the Mike de Kock-trained Mubtaahij, despite never changing leads down the long Meydan stretch. Both have pedigrees to suggest they will continue to excel at longer distances and both have the right running styles. What I find most interesting about Mubtaahij is his inbreeding to the great Mill Reef. So, the UAE Derby will be a race you’ll want to watch, because both these colts look like legitimate classic horses.
Speaking of foreign horses, the transplanted European THE GREAT WAR is another who I’m becoming more enamored with the more I look at him. Forget the competition he faced in the 96Rock Stakes or that it was run on Turfway’s Polytrack. We all saw what he’s capable of on dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he was right behind Carpe Diem and Upstart in his dirt and two-turn debut. It was the way he won the 96Rock Stakes that was impressive, as he glided down the stretch with fluid, effortless strides. Now here’s the kicker. He’s on schedule to run in the John Battaglia Memorial and Spiral Stakes at Turfway in an effort to take the path of least resistance. But lo and behold, the Blue Grass Stakes was moved up to two weeks after the Spiral, and trainer Wesley Ward had been counting on running him at Keeneland after the Spiral. With The Great War stabled at Keeneland and with the Blue Grass 100 points, don’t be too surprised if they pass up a possible sure thing in the Spiral and wait for the Blue Grass. Otherwise it’s win or nothing in the Spiral and then it’s waiting six weeks to the Derby without a true class test.
Now that Texas Red’s best case scenario is to have one seven-furlong race and one 1 1/8-mile race, it makes one take notice of DAREDEVIL, who is on the same schedule, as might be COMPETITIVE EDGE, depending on whether he joins his stablemate in the Swale Stakes. I don’t see any horse coming anywhere near either of these two in the Swale, especially the way they’ve been working. So, can a horse win the Derby off only one sprint and one two-turn race? Who knows anymore? If three-quarters of the Derby field are going to go in under-raced I guess it makes it an easier task. But how far are we going to go in limiting a Derby horse’s campaign? Now, Texas Red’s trainer is saying he would go in off one sprint if he didn’t need the points. Perhaps those who knock the Derby for ruining 3-year-olds should consider the possibility that it’s not the Derby that ruins horses; it’s running horses who are unprepared for the Derby. Think of it as preparing for a championship boxing match by using a punching bag and never sparring with anyone. See what happens when that first left hook nails you. If you’re going to run in America’s toughest race, how about making sure your horses are tough enough to handle it. But I realize that is old school thinking, so bring on the horses with two starts at 3 or three and four lifetime starts and see where they are come summer or fall.
In minor races last week, Shug McGaughey’s regally bred GOLD SHIELD, by Medaglia d’Oro, out of Dream Supreme, drew off to a 2 1/4-length maiden score at Gulfstream going 1 1/8 miles in his fourth career start. Despite the slow time of 1:52 2/5, he earned a sharp 92 Beyer speed figure. Look for McGaughey to slowly ease him into stakes competition in the next couple of months. At Tampa Bay, the Chris Clement-trained TAM O’SHANTER, a son of Mineshaft, scored a gutsy neck victory to remain unbeaten, with both his starts coming at Tampa.
Back on the work tab is my main sleeper from Week 1, BOLO, who bypassed the Robert Lewis because Carla Gaines reportedly didn't like the way he was training on dirt. After a brief absence he returned Feb. 16 with a 3f work in :35 2/5. I still very much would love to see this horse try the dirt in the San Felipe. I believe he's that good, especially after Metaboss, who he blew by two races back, came back to break his maiden impressively and then win the El Camino Real Derby.
Remember EAGLE, who was once highly regarded as a potential Derby horse after just missing in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, only to fall off everyone’s radar following a dull effort in the LeComte Stakes? Considering how much ground he lost going into the first turn, perhaps that was enough to excuse that effort and give him another chance, wherever he shows up next. He’s been training well, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 Feb. 10 and coming back with a 1:01 breeze Feb. 16.
If you’re looking for a real dark horse in the Fountain of Youth, keep an eye on DANNY BOY, a horse I liked last year in the BC Juvenile Turf. He’s been training well on dirt for Dale Romans and is coming off a 1:13 2/5 breeze at Gulfstream on Feb. 6 and a 1:14 2/5 breeze Feb. 12, so he should have good conditioning going into the race. And his pedigree is pretty much all dirt. He did run a solid fourth in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill last fall. This is a tough spot for his debut, and he is a total guess, but he could make his presence felt, despite drawing the outside post.
In other works of note last week, the highly touted PROSPECT PARK, an impressive allowance winner Jan. 30, continued his steady progression, turning in a sharp six-furlong work in 1:12 1/5 at San Luis Downs Feb. 14. The promising GORGEOUS BIRD, a seven-length maiden winner last out for Ian Wilkes and Marylou Whitney, turned in a sharp five-furlong breeze in :59 3/5 at Palm Meadows Feb. 13 for the Fountain of Youth. LeComte winner INTERNATIONAL STAR breezed five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at Gulfstream Park Feb. 14 for the Risen Star. Recent maiden winner CYRUS ALEXANDER went right back to the work tab, drilling a half in :48 flat at Santa Anita Feb. 14.