American Pharoah Bob Baffert
Pioneerof the Nile—Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman
Ever wonder why his tail is so short? Well, he actually had part of it bitten off by another horse while playing in the field. Now his tail is all the other horses see of him and he’s made sure no one gets close to it. But a little company in the Arkansas Derby might be nice just to see how he handles it. Winning Colors, Spend a Buck and War Emblem had success going solo, but it doesn’t happen very often in the Kentucky Derby, and it’s still not the ideal way to win the race, because you never know when you’re going to have unexpected crazy speed in there, like a Palace Malice, Songandaprayer, and Spanish Chestnut. Look, we know he’s classy and cool and exceptionally fast, but it’s always good to have a backup weapon in the Derby in case your main weapon backfires. On another note, do the people who constantly ask Baffert who is better, American Pharoah or Dortmund, really expect an answer other than one he gives every time -- that it’s like asking which of his kids he likes more. Do they really expect him to answer that?
Dortmund Bob Baffert
Big Brown —Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat
Worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:12, fastest of 16 works at the distance. One of six major Derby prospects to have a bullet work this week. There is very little this horse hasn’t done, and that makes him extremely dangerous, regardless of where he is in the race. If you didn’t think the Robert Lewis Stakes was for real, all you had to do was watch Firing Line’s decimation of the Sunland Derby field on Sunday. The only question mark, as it is with Firing Line, is how far he wants to go. The jump to 1 1/8 miles should pose no problem, but it’s that next jump to 1 1/4 miles that the doubters are concerned about. It’s hard to get a gauge on Big Brown who was freakishly talented, but by a sprinter who sired mainly sprinters. However, Big Brown’s broodmare sire, Nureyev, supplies those big heart scan readings, which you love to see in looking for a distance horse. Dortmund’s dam and broodmare sire are speed, but his taile-female great-granddam, Lakeville Miss, won the CCA Oaks at 1 1/2 miles and produced the top class Mogambo, winner of the Champagne and Gotham Stakes and second in the Wood Memorial. So there are just too many variables to know for sure just what his limitations are and if he can stretch out to 10 furlongs. So, for now, I’ll leave you with the words of comedian Steven Wright; “I plan to live forever. So far so good.”
Carpe Diem Todd Pletcher
Giant's Causeway—Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song
Breezed a half in :48 4/5 at Palm Beach Downs March 21. While on the subject of question marks regarding distance, he is pretty much right on the edge, but as I’ve been saying, he is so classy and has such flawless action, it would be surprising if he came up short at 1 1/4 miles. His Brisnet speed figures show a steady improvement with every race, starting with an 88 and progressing to a 94 to a 96 to a 105. and there should be more improvement to come. Having already won the grade I Breeders’ Futurity by 6 1/4 lengths, he should welcome the return to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes, and even if there is a slight regression off his Tampa Bay Derby romp, win or lose, the race should set him up for a peak performance on Derby Day, as long as he’s not going the wrong way from the eighth pole to the wire.
Upstart Rick Violette
Flatter—Party Silks, by Touch Gold
Good horses know how to bounce back when things don’t go perfectly. Last week, Violette had to call an audible in the horse’s OK 6f work, but this week he nailed his 5f work with a brilliant :59 2/5 breeze at Palm Meadows. The Fountain of Youth is history; time for that big final push. Just look at what this horse has accomplished. He’s finished first in four of his six starts; his only actual defeats – a second and third – coming in grade I stakes, one in the slop in the Champagne when he still earned a 102 Beyer, and one in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he ran a super race from the 11-post, racing wide, tracking a blistering pace that killed off everyone near it except him, and getting bumped around turning for home. When your defeats are as impressive as your victories that shows you are a very talented horse who is always going to be dangerous, regardless of the circumstances. He’s won at 5 1/2 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles and has two triple-digit Beyer figures and three triple-digit Brisnet figures, including a lofty 111 in the Holy Bull. Simply put, what’s not to like?
Firing Line Simon Callaghan
Line of David—Sister Girl Blues, by Hold For Gold
Well, that 21 1/2-length gap to third in the Robert Lewis certainly was no fluke. The Sunland Derby was a complete annihilation, as he won for fun over a vastly inferior group. This will now have to be his building block for the Kentucky Derby, and the question is, did he get enough out of the race to have him fit enough to win the Derby off a six-week layoff. This race was over after a half-mile run in :45 1/5, with the entire field separated by only four lengths. There was no way any of the others would last off that pace. After that he simply ran everyone off their feet with a three-quarter split of 1:09 flat, which had his opponents in full retreat, while he just kept going. But remember, this was a very fast track that saw a 45 4/5 and 1:09 4/5 pace in an ugly running of the Sunland Oaks. So, while the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 1/5 is impressive, he did come home his last three-eighths in a leisurely :38 over a track that was producing slow come-home times in two-turn races. And he sure wasn’t being asked for much the entire stretch run. Look, we knew going into the race this was a very fast and talented horse who has already been battle-tested by one of the best 3-year-olds in the country on two occasions. This was a good confidence builder and a good lung opener and that’s all he needed at this point. Now, it’s all about keeping him sharp and fit over the next six weeks. That’s a long time to go into the Derby off such a dominating performance, but let’s not forget, he did have a battle on his hands for the first five furlongs, while stuck down on the inside, so it wasn’t a total laugher.
Bolo Carla Gaines
Temple City —Aspen Mountain, by Chief Seattle
He turned in another strong work, going a half in :47 4/5 at Santa Anita March 19. Between his steady quick works and his one effort on dirt, coming off a 2 1/2-month layoff and missing several works, there is no reason to think he’s not going to take another step forward in the Santa Anita Derby. The only caution is that horses previously racing solely on grass sometimes need to show a second big effort on dirt to be considered a true dirt horse. There have been many grass horses who were one-hit wonders on dirt, only to regress in their second start. While I don’t believe that is the case with Bolo, only another top performance will confirm his affinity for dirt. And he needs a first or second to assure his place in the Derby field. That certainly is no gimme against the likes of Dortmund and Prospect Park. Getting nailed for second in the San Felipe could prove costly if he runs into any obstacles in the Santa Anita Derby.
Prospect Park Clifford W. Sise, Jr.
Tapit —Quiet Romance, by Bertrando
Sise naturally was ecstatic over his brilliant 6f work in 1:11 flat at San Luis Rey Downs, fastest of eight works at the distance. This is one horse where it’s safe to say he is still a work in progress and needs to smooth out a few rough edges. But each start has been a big improvement. Who knows what would have happened if had been more focused after turning for home in the San Felipe? With Dortmund and Bolo already being asked, Desormeaux still hadn’t set Prospect Park down, and when he did, the colt began cocking his head to the outside, apparently gawking at the stands and it took Desormeaux a while to straighten him out. When he finally became focused and leveled off, he really began picking it up and was striding out strongly at the wire. This colt’s tail-female family is a melting pot, with horses bred in the U.S., England, Ireland, France, Chile, and Germany in his first five generations. Prospect Park is a half-brother to the Wygod-owned and bred full sisters Proposed, winner of the Milady and El Encino, and Silent Sighs, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks and the dam of the Wygod-bred Clear Attempt, winner of the Poker Stakes. The second dam, Brisa de Mar, also owned and bred by the Wygods, was stakes placed and a daughter of the Chilean 1,000 Guineas winner, Viga. Prospect Park has some fascinating inbreeding – to major stamina influence Le Fabuleux, to major class influence In Reality, and he has the RF (Rasmussen Factor), being inbred to the mare Foggy Note, through Tapit’s fourth dam Moon Glitter and her full brother Relaunch.
Itsaknockout Todd Pletcher
Lemon Drop Kid—Stormy B, by Cherokee Run
Because he’s running this weekend in the Florida Derby, he gets the nod over stablemate Far From Over this week, based on the likelihood he is going to run first or second. I keep watching the Fountain of Youth and can’t get away from those two strong moves he made at Upstart while taking all the worst of it on a track over which he seemed to be laboring. He also is one start up on Far From Over and that one start can mean a lot in the Kentucky Derby. This is not to say he’s a better horse than Far From Over, who has true star potential. But at this time, with a rather mediocre field after the top two or three expected in the Florida Derby, he looks to be in excellent position to take a huge step forward and become one of the major Derby contenders. One of the horses he has to beat is stablemate Materiality, with whom he worked in company March 21; both getting the half in a solid :48 3/5.
Far From Over Todd Pletcher
Blame—Alchemist, by A.P. Indy
His turn to ascend up the ladder will come on April 4 in the Wood Memorial, and we’ll see if he can make that all-important transition from the inner track to the main track and get enough out of the race to win the Kentucky Derby off only three career starts. Only one horse since 1915 has accomplished that feat, and that was Big Brown. The person who helped negotiate the deal for Big Brown was Nick Sallusto, who is the racing manager for Far From Over’s majority owner Black Rock Thoroughbreds, so he’s at least been there before. We still don’t know what Far From Over’s best running style is, because he had to do some major improvising after stumbling badly at the start in the Withers. That’s another question he’ll have to answer in the Wood. With pedigree a question mark regarding several of the leading contenders, that is one issue he doesn’t have to worry about. With him, it’s all about reproducing his form over the main track against top-class competition, establishing his running style, and getting enough out of the race to prepare him for the tough task that lies ahead.
International Star Mike Maker
Fusaichi Pegasus—Parlez, by French Deputy
Turned another easy 5f breeze, this time in 1:02 2/5 at Gulfstream. I’m not sure exactly what the Louisiana Derby is going to prove other than what we already know about him, as there doesn’t appear to be many new faces pointing for the race, and no new proven stakes horses with the exception of Mr. Z. With the abrupt decline in form of Tiznow R J, third in the LeComte, and the poor effort in the Spiral Stakes by Another Lemon Drop, fourth in the LeComte, one has to question the quality of competition at Fair Grounds this winter. This year’s Kentucky Derby marks the 15th anniversary of his sire Fusaichi Pegasus’ stunning victory at Churchill Downs. To his credit, there are few, if any, horses more versatile on this year’s Derby Trail, as he’s finished first or second in sprints, going two turns, on dirt, grass, and Polytrack, at six different tracks and ridden by five different jockeys. But the bottom line is, War Story and Keen Ice are the two best horses he’s beaten and they may be the two horses to beat in the Louisiana Derby, along with Mr. Z, so there’s a good chance we still won’t know how good he is until he faces far tougher competition on the first Saturday in May.
Daredevil Todd Pletcher
More Than Ready—Chasethewildwind, by Forty Niner
Breezed a bullet half in :48 flat March 21, fastest of 30 works at the distance. You always like to see them come back with a quick work following a race in which they had to run hard and fast. Although his debut was only at 7f, it was extremely fast over a track that has been playing slow, and now he stretches out for that all-important two-turn race in the Wood Memorial. He’s still well behind most of the others, so he can make no mistakes and has to get a lot out of the race. This is one fast horse, who has now run 113 and 110 Brisnet figures, and it’s just a question whether he can get enough bottom to be ready for a 20-horse cavalry charge going 1 1/4 miles. We’re going into April and he’s had one seven-furlong race, not exactly your typical blueprint for winning the Derby. With his speed and the class he’s demonstrated, he surely would have been ranked higher if he had a two-turn race under him at this point. He’s in the Top 12 based on his natural ability, his class, and his impressive score in the Champagne.
El Kabeir John P. Terranova, II
Scat Daddy—Great Venue, by Unbridled's Song
He showed his sharpness by breezing a 5f in a bullet :59 4/5 on the Belmont training track March 22, fastest of 30 works at the distance. I have no idea if he’s good enough to win the Wood Memorial or to be considered a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender, but you can’t help but admire his record, having finished first or second in five graded stakes and doing it in just about every way conceivable. His maiden wire-to-wire 10 3/4-length maiden score in 1:22 flat at Saratoga last year was one of the most impressive 2-year-old performances of the year. Then he stretches out to two turns and wins the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on the front end. This year he comes from a stalking position in third to win the Jerome, and finally wins the Gotham going always by coming from ninth, 12 lengths off the pace. We will find out in the Wood just who this horse really is, whether he can keep stretching out, and where he fits in the Derby picture.
Knocking At The Door
DUBAI SKY’S impressive victory in the Spiral Stakes normally would have landed him in the Top 12, but no one has done anything to justify knocking them off, so he’ll just have to lurk outside the door waiting for someone to let him in. The truth is, he’s never run on dirt, he wasn’t an original Triple Crown nominee, and he’ll have to go into the Derby off a six-week layoff, which would not be a problem for trainer Bill Mott. In fact, there is still no firm decision that he will point for the Derby, although he most likely will.
The son of Candy Ride got a dream trip from the 11-post and was able to establish a good position into the first without losing much ground. But it was obvious down the backstretch, even after a :22 4/5 opening quarter, he was revved up and wanted to go. He pretty much dragged Jose Lezcano up to the leaders, forcing Rodney Prescott, on Royal Son, to move with him between horses to avoid getting squeezed back. Lezcano had his feet in the dashboard as Dubai Sky, obviously relishing the Polytrack, stormed to the lead at the head of the stretch, as Royal Son and Wireless Future began their retreat. CONQUEST TYPHOON and FIRESPIKE launched their bids, but could not threaten the winner, who was in total command, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Right after the sire, Lezcano had to throttle him down, as Dubai Sky still wanted more.
Now comes the question of whether he can pull an Animal Kingdom and win the Derby off the Spiral and never having run on dirt. OK, so we know he’s by Candy Ride, who was equally proficient on dirt and grass, but who has sired a number of top-class dirt horses. But if you want dirt in the tail-female family, take notice that his fourth dam, In Memory, is by Alydar, out of the dam of Affirmed (although Affirmed was known more as a sire of grass horses). In Memory was then bred to Seattle Slew to produce Dubai Sky’s third dam, Crownette.
Whether he points for the Derby or not, Dubai Sky is going to be another of those mystery horses who we won’t be able to get a good grasp of until he actually runs in the Derby. All we can do is see if he can turn in an Animal Kingdom-like work at Churchill, which convinced a lot of people he was for real.
Pletcher’s Magnificent Seven became the Elite Eight when he took over the training of the newly acquired COMFORT, an impressive maiden winner at Fair Grounds. Even with ROYAL SON’S disappointing effort in the Spiral Stakes, which all but knocked him off the Derby trail unless they run him again in major prep, Pletcher still has STANFORD now heading for the Louisiana Derby. Of course, there is MATERIALITY going in the Florida Derby and MADEFROMLUCKY likely returning for the Arkansas Derby. It seems as if Pletcher’s goal is to have one in the Kentucky Derby – no, not one horse, one gate. As of now, he can fill the entire auxiliary gate and a couple more stalls in the main gate. He only needs two more to have half the entire Derby field. And that’s without Royal Son, J.S. Bach, and Khozan, all of whom have been on the trail at some point this year. Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, who recently purchased Comfort, is hoping the son of Indian Charlie can be this year’s Danza.
Although Itsaknockout is Pletcher’s big horse in the Florida Derby, if Materiality should beat him and Upstart and remain unbeaten, we could have an emerging star. The late-developing son of Afleet Alex made a big jump from an impressive six-furlong maiden win to an even more impressive 1 1/8-mile allowance win, in which he was virtually wiped out by his stablemate Stanford turning into the backstretch. But he recovered quickly, settled right back in stride, and went on to a comfortable 5 3/4-length victory in a sharp 1:49 1/5. No one is comparing his trouble to that of his sire in the Preakness, but he did demonstrate Afleet Alex’s ability to shrug off adversity and go about his business as if nothing had happened. The Florida Derby will tell us if we have a special horse on our hands, and if the name Apollo will re-surface once again.
Not to be outdone, Bob Baffert’s Dynamic Duo is now a trio (sort of) following the sensational victory of ONE LUCKY DANE in a one-mile allowance/optional claimer at Santa Anita March 19, in which the son of Lookin at Lucky romped by 9 3/4 lengths in a sharp 1:35 2/5, winning on the front end and coming home his final quarter in :24 1/5. This colt has a great way of moving with his head down and neck outstretched. There is no wasted movement and he changes leads right on cue. The 2-1 second choice, Commute, made a strong sustained run at him. But once Rafael Bejarano set down One Lucky Dane, he was gone in a flash. And like Baffert’s other two, he runs on a tightrope down the stretch, which you always love to see.
The $490,000 yearling purchase was third and second in his first two starts on Polytrack, but his action was not nearly as smooth as it’s been on the dirt. In his dirt debut he broke his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths in 1:35 1/5, but couldn’t maintain that form jumping into the fire in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he broke from post 9, was 5 to 6-wide and in tight quarters, and never threatened after that, finishing sixth. Although being hustled out of the gate was the way to go in his last race, and in some of his prior races, if he’s going to be a last-minute Derby horse, it’s time to see if he can establish a position on his own and settle behind horses. Right now, he’s still not in the same league as American Pharoah and Dortmund. He could show up in the Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby and could provide either Dortmund or American Pharoah with a target if he gets sent to the lead again. Or Baffert can send him solo in the Wood Memorial, which is the less likely of the three options.
There were several notable works this week. WAR STORY, who will try to turn the tables on International Star in the Louisiana Derby, blazed five furlongs in a bullet :58 4/5 at Fair Grounds on March 18. Could this be the race in which this colt’s true ability finally emerges? In both his last two races, International Star caught him in the final sixteenth, so let’s see if Tom Amoss has any tricks up his sleeve this time. The key to this horse could simply be timing his move right, combined with the maturity factor, as he was giving up a great deal of experience to International Star in their two meetings. That work could be the eye opener that hints we’re about to see something different.
At Oaklawn, the hard-knocking FAR RIGHT breezed a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 4/5, out six panels in 1:14 4/5, as he prepares to take on American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. With 22 points, a second or a third will get him in the Kentucky Derby. Forgetting about the points, this is not a race he needs to win, just be closing and be competitive against American Pharoah. Like International Star, he’s been around the block, competing at five different tracks at five different distances. But if you’re a Beyer pundit, like International Star, he has to improve on his figures and his career high 91 in the Southwest Stakes.
Also working for the Louisiana Derby was KEEN ICE, who had an easy five-furlong breeze in 1:02 at Gulfstream Park. In other Louisiana Derby news, Kent Desormeaux picks up the mount on Mr. Z, who will race without blinkers, as Wayne Lukas tries to get him more focused after a series of tough defeats. Although this colt has lost nine consecutive races, his conquerors have had to work awfully hard to beat him, and that includes Dortmund and Firing Line. This is one tough, tenacious fighter who has been on the wrong end of several big photos and cost himself another race by literally giving away the Smarty Jones Stakes, a race he had won before bearing out badly with a clear lead.
OCHO OCHO OCHO, looking to rebound off his disappointing debut in the San Felipe, worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Santa Anita March 18. Trainer Jim Cassidy had been pointing the son of Street Sense to the Santa Anita Derby, but is now leaning toward the Blue Grass Stakes. Because in part of the rough trip he had early in the San Felipe, he is now behind the 8-ball, but he has shown he’s a talented horse, and we’ll see how he rebounds off that race. What happened to him in the San Felipe is just one example of the narrow margin of error there is in having only two starts at 3.
The enigmatic FROSTED raised eyebrows in the morning once again by breezing a bullet five furlongs in :59 4/5 at Palm Meadows. I have to admit, I cannot wait to see what this colt does in the Wood Memorial. Nothing would surprise me, and that includes a huge race to put himself back in the Derby picture. A horse to keep an eye on in the Blue Grass Stakes is the Nick Zito-trained FRAMMENTO, a fast-closing third in the Fountain of Youth, who continues to work sharply, breezing a half in a bullet :47 4/5 at Palm Meadows March 19, fastest of 31 works at the distance. When Zito horses get sharp this time of year, watch out. It’s been a long time between mint juleps for Zito, and his return to the big dance would be most welcome.
One of the more interesting late developers is Gotham runner-up TIZ SHEA D, who breezed a half in a bullet :47 4/5 on the Belmont training track, fastest of 87 works at the distance. If he takes another step forward in the Wood Memorial, he could be dangerous. The son of Tiznow is out of Florida Oaks winner Ender’s Sister, who placed in the Cotillion Stakes and Delaware Oaks. Second dam Gold Rush Queen is a half-sister to Royal Assault, third in the Belmont Stakes and Brooklyn Handicap. And third dam Fit for a Queen won over $1.2 million and won or placed in 20 stakes.
The other recent stakes-placed horse that is intriguing is AMI’S FLATTER, who breezed a half in :48 4/5 at Palm Meadows for trainer Josie Carroll, and looks to be headed to the Florida Derby, according to Carroll. By Flatter, out of a Victory Gallop mare, Ami’s Flatter, who was striding out strongly at the end of the Tampa Bay Derby, should improve as the distances get longer, especially after showing big improvement last out with the addition of Lasix and blinkers.
On the 25th anniversary of Unbridled’s memorable victory in the Kentucky Derby, it should be noted that grandsons or great-grandsons of Unbridled this year include AMERICAN PHAROAH, CARPE DIEM, PROSPECT PARK, EL KABEIR, MADEFROMLUCKY, FRAMMENTO, GORGEOUS BIRD, and UNRIVALED.
Unrivaled, who is now owned by Team Valor International, has romped in back-to-back races at Parx, and the well-bred son of Super Saver now heads for the Blue Grass Stakes.
Finally, it is time for the UAE Derby, which should tell us if we’re going to have a Kentucky Derby horse (or two) from Dubai this year. Both MUBTAAHIJ and MAFTOOL look to have the credentials necessary to handle the task. We’ll see whose strategy proves more successful – running in the Al Bastakiya, as Mubtaahij did, beating undefeated Uruguayan champion Sir Fever, or skipping the second leg of the Dubai Triple Crown, as Maftool did after defeating Mubtaahij by a head in the UAE 2,000 Guineas. Mubtaahij, trained by South African great Mike De Kock, crushed Maftool by 5 1/4 lengths in the UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial. An impressive victory by either of the two would make them extremely live on the first Saturday in May.