American Pharoah Bob Baffert
Pioneerof the Nile—Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman
Guess what 3-year-old has the highest Brisnet late pace figures in his last two starts? No, it’s not a late closer as one might expect, it is American Pharoah, whose late pace figs of 109 and 108 indicate that this colt, despite being a frontrunner at this point, does his best running late, by far. The only 3-year-old with a single higher late pace figure is Far From Over (112) I the Withers, but while Pharoah’s early and middle pace figures are basically in the mid 80s, Far From Over’s early and middle pace figs were 66 and 78. so, what we have is a horse who is not a speedball, but one who can maintain a high cruising speed on the lead and then come home fast. That bodes well for American Pharoah not being a need-the-lead type. He should be able to adjust to any kind of early pace and still close off it, much like a Barbaro type. Of course, it would be ideal if he could show that in the Arkansas Derby to remove all doubt. He just needs a real speed horse in there to provide a target for him. Let’s just say with all the speed horses and stalkers dominating the Kentucky Derby trail, he better be able to come from off the pace. He did turn in another spectacular work, zipping 5f in :58 3/5, second fastest of 88 works on the tab.
Dortmund Bob Baffert
Big Brown —Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat
Turned in his second straight bullet work, drilling 6f in 1:11 3/5, fastest of 22 works on the tab. So, what will be his tactics in the Santa Anita Derby, having won in almost every conceivable manner? With a speedy sprinter in there, who hasn’t run since August, he should have a perfect target. Horses as big as he is have not had much success in the Kentucky Derby, but what he has going for him is an athleticism and versatility you don’t normally see in 17 hands horses. He is so light on his feet and has such a humongous stride he seems to do things very easily. But even with those attributes, you have to be a bit concerned if he runs into traffic problems in the Kentucky Derby. Yes, he can bull his way through horses with his size and strength, but we don’t know for sure if a horse his size can switch the gears on and off and what kind of turn of foot he possesses.
Carpe Diem Todd Pletcher
Giant's Causeway—Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song
Well, Pletcher is already in the Derby with Materiality and Stanford if he so desires, and looks to have several prospects with the same running style, not conducive to the Derby. So, it is up to him to show he can be effective coming from a bit farther off the pace. He seems to have the right mind to do it. He did change tactics dramatically in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and while he closed fast in the final furlong after going seven-wide turning for home, Texas Red did blow right by him on the turn as if he were running in slow motion. If he can find a comfortable spot somewhere in between and just grind his way home from midpack, he is going to be very tough. He showed in the Juvenile he doesn’t have the turn of foot from far back, but he did overcome an extremely wide trip to get up for second, showing he can mow them down late. Pletcher sharpened him up for the Blue Grass with a :47 4/5 breeze, and he should have a class edge on his opponents. You always have to love young horses who do everything right and have little or no flaws.
Mubtaahij Mike de Kock
Dubawi —Pennegale, by Pennekamp
Whether you Dubai into this horse or you don’t buy into this horse (sorry, couldn’t resist) he has accomplished things the other Derby contenders haven’t, especially running in back-to-back 1 3/16-mile races in a span of three weeks and blowing his rivals away in the UAE Derby. You can be sure there won’t be a fitter horse in the Derby, and he is trained by a master. We have no idea how good this horse really is and I’m banking on him being very good. In the UAE Derby he sat behind four horses taking the kickback with no problem. When the two outside horses retreated he nearly ran up on the heels of the other two and was pulled to the outside and was gone in a flash, winning eased up the final 100 meters, with the jock looking back twice. He merely coasted to the wire, winning by eight lengths. Although he didn’t change leads, as horses are prone to do in Dubai, he changed perfectly in the Al Bastakiya. Apparently not changing leads had no effect on him other than the fact he ran the best race of his life. Despite winning easily, he came home his final three-sixteenths in about :18 3/5, which is right up there with the fastest closing three-sixteenths ever in the Preakness. I discussed his pedigree in depth On March 10, but being by a red-hot son of Dubai World Cup winner Dubai Millennium and being inbred to the legendary Mill Reef is huge. Christophe Soumillon said, “When I pushed the button, he closed like a machine.” And De Kock had to admit, “He blew me away.” Sorry, but he blew me away, too, and apparently lots of others, as he plunged to 8-1 third choice in the Future Wager.
Bolo Carla Gaines
Temple City —Aspen Mountain, by Chief Seattle
Continued his string of strong works, going 6f in 1:12 flat. His Brisnet speed figures are strong, and he’s the only 3-year-old to run triple-digit numbers on dirt and grass. If he handles the dirt the way he did in the San Felipe, it won’t take much improvement to put him right there at the finish. Those 34-1 odds in the last Future Wager and in this final Future Wager are looking awfully attractive, and they could be a steal after Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. But he does have things still to prove. He must move forward off the San Felipe and he has to be stronger in the final quarter mile. A big effort in defeat is OK, but you don’t want to see anyone passing him in the final furlong. Also, with so much pure speed and tactical speed in this year’s Derby, it would be ideal if he could sit back off the pace and wait just a tad longer to make his move. You don’t want him tackling Dortmund too soon, especially with Prospect Park likely to be coming on strongly late. He showed a wicked turn of foot on the grass and now it’s time to show it on the dirt.
Prospect Park Clifford W. Sise, Jr.
Tapit —Quiet Romance, by Bertrando
I’m still looking for a legitimate closer, and I realize it’s playing with fire having three of the top six horses running this weekend in the same race. But we’re about to find out for sure if the nucleus of the Southern California horses is as strong as it appears. Two of the three could be exposed, but the one who emerges victorious could very well be the horse to beat on May 2. A good deal of this horse’s first three generations screams 1 1/8 miles, so we need to see some indication in his nine-furlong stretch-out that there is another eighth of a mile in him. He needs to reach into that fifth generation and pull out some of that stamina. This also will be his last chance to smooth out the rough edges. No cocking his head in the stretch and gawking at the crowd.
International Star Mike Maker
Fusaichi Pegasus—Parlez, by French Deputy
The Louisiana Derby was his breakthrough race, as he left no doubt who is the king of Fair Grounds. It wasn’t so much that he won, it was that he had to show his tenacity and determination to run down a Pletcher horse loose on an easy lead. And he did it with strong :23 4/5 and :12 3/5 closing fractions. Not only that, he was the only horse to close strongly and threaten the runner-up, who finished 4 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher War Story, who had no excuses this time. I also moved him up several spots because of the lack of true closers on this year’s Derby trail. Granted, horses in general over the years who run all winter at Fair Grounds for some reason do not win the Kentucky Derby, and this year’s crop down there did not appear to be very strong. Still, he’s won three straight stakes and did it in a variety of ways. I was looking for a race from him to make me forget his lackluster fourth at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and he delivered it. He did jump back to his left lead in deep stretch, as he’s done before, but that doesn’t bother me, because it seems to give him a little extra burst. It just was a visually impressive performance, except for Miguel Mena pounding away with more than 25 smacks of the whip from the eighth pole to just before the wire that definitely would have gotten him banned in England. When is America going to start adopting stricter whip rules? It just doesn’t look good.
Materiality Todd Pletcher
Afleet Alex—Wildwood Flower, by Langfuhr
Talent-wise, this colt should be in the Top 5, and you have to pay him a lot of respect for holding off a horse like Upstart, but to me that was another throw-out track and the bottom line is he only has three career starts, none at 2, and is one of a throng of speed horse/stalkers on the Derby trail. I couldn’t get a grasp of the Fountain of Youth over a disgracefully slow surface, and I simply cannot get a grasp of this surface, which saw fast horses run 1 1/8 miles in 1:52 1/5 and come home the last three-eighths in :39 3/5 (:26 and :13 3/5), while pulling away from two other good horses by over 12 lengths, and those two horses were coming off bang-up performances in the Fountain of Youth and Tampa Bay Derby (to Carpe Diem). And despite the slow time he did get a 110 Beyer. We know these horses are faster than they showed on Saturday, so what does that say about the race when horses like Itsaknockout and Ami’s Flatter are distanced like that, while their two main foes pretty much staggered home time-wise. With that all said, this horse has to be special to do what he's done. He stretches out from one six-furlong maiden race to 1 1/8 miles, overcomes trouble, and crushes stablemate Stanford by 5 3/4 lengths in a very sharp 1:49 1/5. Then he comes back in only three weeks and out-duels Upstart over an extremely demanding track, finishing more than a dozen lengths ahead of the third-place finisher, while Stanford comes back and gets beat a neck by International Star in the Louisiana Derby. It's amazing what this colt has accomplished in only three races. His sire was truly remarkable and he looks to be a chip off the old block. I love this colt’s pedigree, especially my favorite, Afleet Alex, so I have a warm spot for him, but I don’t know if he can use his speed this way in a 20-horse Derby field loaded with speed and with only three career starts. If any horse can do it, it just might be him. If he had just a little more experience and foundation, only one more start, he very well could be ranked No. 1. It looks like we have another serious test for Apollo this year.
Firing Line Simon Callaghan
Line of David—Sister Girl Blues, by Hold For Gold
The more speed that shows up on the Derby trail, the tougher it’s going to be for him, and now with Materiality and Stanford added to the mix he is going to have an awful lot of pace pressure. That is why it is essential that American Pharoah shows a different side to him at Oaklawn. Firing Line has no more races in which to experiment and try a new tactic, so we’re left with what we’ve seen so far, and that is another extremely talented horse who is going to be on or near the pace, who has several speed influences in his pedigree and who will be coming into the Derby a fresh horse, off a six-week layoff. There is a good chance he could move back up the list after next weekend’s big races sort things out.
Upstart Rick Violette
Flatter—Party Silks, by Touch Gold
I hated to drop him this far down off a strong second-place finish, but let’s let the others sort themselves out next weekend before re-assessing him. Again, I simply don’t know what to make of this race. He seemed to have the far less experienced Materiality measured, but couldn’t get by him. To his credit, he handled this track better than Itsaknockout, and did cost himself to some degree by bearing in and hitting Materiality’s hind end, which forced the winner to come out into him, pushing Upstart a couple of paths out. That’s what happened to tired horses last time and that’s what happened to tired horses this time. You’d love to have these big preps decided by horses who run straight and have clean stretch runs. So, did the Florida Derby set him up for a big bounce-back effort at Churchill Downs, where he won’t have to cope with a single loose-on-the-lead speed horse, or did he fire his best shot in the Holy Bull and is not moving forward the way you’d like him to? I tend to lean toward the former, and look at that huge gap back to third and how much he improved against Itsaknockout. I just wish it had been a normal race run over a normal track.
Daredevil Todd Pletcher
More Than Ready—Chasethewildwind, by Forty Niner
Have a feeling he is going to very live in his stretch-out in the Wood Memorial, based on his exceptionally fast speed ratings in the Swale on Beyer, Brisnet, and Thoro-Graph. This horse showed how gifted he is when he toyed with Upstart in the Champagne, and his comeback second was huge. He still is way behind and needs a bang-up performance to even have a chance to be competitive in the Kentucky Derby off only a seven-furlong and 1 1/8-mile race this year. The unfortunate loss of his stablemate Far From Over obviously helps his chances immensely. I just believe this is a horse with an enormous amount of talent, and we’ll see if he’s ready to show it in top company going nine furlongs. It was close for the final spot with El Kabeir, and I can see that colt running huge in the Wood, but I would need to see some sign that he wants to stretch out to 1 1/4 miles. The same applies to Daredevil.
Frosted Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Fast Cookie, by Deputy Minister
This final spot was so close between him and El Kabeir, but decided to give him a slight edge looking ahead to the 10 furlongs and the fact that there is an excellent chance we’re going to see a huge rebound performance in the Wood. If you’re willing to take that chance, this could be the perfect time to take advantage of this colt’s talents. If you stopped the action at the five-sixteenths pole of the Fountain of Youth Stakes, you might have made Frosted one of favorites for the Kentucky Derby, the way he seemingly had improved with blinkers and was merely toying with Upstart and Itsaknockout. But we all saw what happened after that. Well, that was then, and as it turns out, Frosted had some issues that likely caused his sudden shut down, and those issues have now been corrected, so there is a very good chance we’re going to see the real Frosted, especially considering the way he’s been working since the Fountain of Youth. His camp is very optimistic and I am looking for a major improvement from a colt who we know has the ability, but hasn’t had the opportunity to put it all together. Now he has the opportunity and we’ll see if he can make the most of it.
Knocking At The Door
If EL KABEIR wins the Wood I’m certainly not going to be surprised. I could have easily kept this hard-knocking honest horse at No. 12 (how about if we consider him co-No. 12), but decided to gamble that Frosted’s problem is behind him. Frankly, we need horses like El Kabeir in the Derby, with his toughness, durability, and versatility.
One horse who is really going to be overlooked is CROSS THE LINE, who takes on the big Southern California guns in the Santa Anita Derby. Although the son of Line of David has never been away from Golden Gate and hasn’t run on anything other than Tapeta, the feeling here is that this is actually a pretty good horse, who is coming off a horrible trip in the El Camino Real Derby, in which he ran into several roadblocks and still managed to close well for second. He looks on paper to be up against it in his first start on dirt in this company, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him competitive in here and make his presence felt. Jerry Hollendorfer is pretty high on him, enough so that he passed the Spiral Stakes, in which he would have been one of the favorites, to run in this spot.
Carpe Diem definitely is the class of the Blue Grass and it’s difficult seeing anyone beating him, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting horses with interesting angles, even for second. Horses looking to earn their way into the Derby by taking a step forward off excellent performances are FRAMMENTO, a fast-closing third in the Fountain of Youth, TIZ SHEA D, who should improve big-time off his second in the Gotham, whether he runs here or in the Wood, PEPPER ROANI, a fast closing second in the John Battaglia Memorial, CLASSY CLASS, third in the Gotham and Withers, and UNRIVALED, who’s been tearing it up at Parx.
Those looking to rebound off disappointing efforts who we know have ability are GORGEOUS BIRD and DANZIG MOON, and especially OCHO OCHO OCHO, of whom much was expected in the San Felipe. After a troubled trip early he never fired and there is no reason to think he will not make his presence felt at Keeneland based on what we saw of him last year. And he’s turned in two solid five-furlong breezes since.
Let’s not forget that the other Kentucky Derby hopeful in the UAE Derby, MAFTOOL, did get up for second, albeit a long way behind Mubtaahij. But the son of Hard Spun likely earned enough points to get in if Godolphin chooses to pursue it, and this was his first start over a mile, so there is room for improvement
Looking ahead to the Arkansas Derby, Rebel runner-up MADEFROMLUCKY breezed a half in :49 1/5 at Palm Beach Downs, BOLD CONQUEST, third in the Rebel, worked a solid six furlongs in 1:12 1/5, and THE TRUTH OR ELSE, who disappointed in the Rebel, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. He certainly deserves another chance. Still waiting for FAR RIGHT to show up on the work tab. The Smarty Jones and Southwest winner has not worked since March 19 and has had only two works since the Southwest on Feb. 22.
If you’re looking for a reason why DUBAI SKY will handle the dirt, his pedigree is loaded with horses who excelled on grass and dirt, starting with his sire Candy Ride, who was brilliant on both surfaces, as has been his offspring. His broodmare sire Chester House was a top-class grass horse who won the Arlington Million and placed in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Juddmonte International twice, but he did finish a fast-closing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 63-1, and was a good fourth in the Stephen Foster and Excelsior Handicaps. His maternal great-grandsire Cryptoclearance was a top-class dirt horse, while his maternal great-grandsire Danzig sired horses who were proficient on dirt and grass. And his third dam is by Seattle Slew and his fourth dam is by Alydar, out of the dam of Affirmed. So we’re talking about a family that has a number of horses who could handle both dirt and grass.
ITSAKNOCKOUT, a distant fourth in the Florida Derby. came out of the race in good shape and his connections are blaming the deep tiring track for the colt's disappointing effort. If he works well over the next few weeks he will be pointed for the Kentucky Derby.