American Pharoah Bob Baffert
Pioneerof the Nile—Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman
With all the huge performances this week, does his body of work, running style, and pedigree combined warrant the No. 1 spot? Probably not. But is he freaky good with superstar potential? He very well could be. And that is why he has to remain on top, at least until next week when it’s his turn to show off his talents. With top-class stars like Dortmund, Carpe Diem, and several others breathing down his neck for the top spot, he has to win the Arkansas Derby and do it impressively, otherwise body of work, running style, and pedigree will come into play and possibly expose him as a very fast and talented colt, but not Kentucky Derby material. With that said, he still gives every indication of being something very special and until he proves otherwise, I feel compelled to keep him up on that No. 1 pedestal, despite any factors that might compromise his ability to win on May 2. So far, all the pieces of the 3-year-old puzzle have come together beautifully, and now we have one more important piece to put in place before we get the full picture. Once again, he turned in a brilliant distance work, going six furlongs in a bullet 1:11 3/5, out 7f in 1:24 4/5, fastest of 25 works on the tab. With fellow Zayat horse, the enigmatic Mr. Z, being considered for the Arkansas Derby, it would give him a much-needed target to run at, but Mr. Z has proven not only to be a fighter, but an erratic stretch runner, so hold your breath if American Pharoah comes up on his outside down the lane.
Dortmund Bob Baffert
Big Brown —Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat
What more can you say about this remarkable horse, who just keeps winning in whatever fashion he and Martin Garcia deem necessary. And what’s scary is that he keeps getting better. In the Santa Anita Derby, he bobbled at the start, losing his front shoe, and still went about his business as if nothing had happened. He appears to take so little out of himself because of that humongous stride and effortless way of moving. The way he covers ground, it’s almost like watching a front-running version of Zenyatta. But we all know he does not have to go to the lead. When no one else wants it he takes it, because it’s so easy for him and he runs the same race whether he’s on or just off the lead. In the Santa Anita Derby, he made a :22 2/5 opening quarter look like they were crawling. He just gets into that rhythm and kicks in when Garcia asks him. To demonstrate his remarkable cruising speed, in six career starts, his average three-quarters time is 1:10.30. Fortunately, he’s so athletic for a big horse, he was able to recover quickly from that awkward bobble at the start; something you do not want to see in the Kentucky Derby. With that said, we still have to equate all this to a 20-horse field on the first Saturday in May. You hate to diminish his performance with statistics, but it has to be mentioned that he came home his final three-eighths in :38 (:25 and :13), but they also crawled home in the Santa Anita Oaks, as well as several other races, so you can’t make anything of that, as the track obviously was playing slow in the stretch. He still crushed what was considered a good field by 4 1/4 lengths and received a 106 Beyer, his third straight triple-digit Beyer. The question is, was the field he beat as good coming out of the race as it was going into the race?
Carpe Diem Todd Pletcher
Giant's Causeway—Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song
From a visual standpoint, this horse once again looked like your quintessential Derby horse, with that high cruising speed (like Dortmund and American Pharoah) and that smooth graceful stride. He got exactly out of the Blue Grass what one would have hoped for -- no geared down cakewalk; no gut-wrenching stretch duel against an inferior foe, and a good solid time for 1 1/8 miles, which for some reason only earned him a 95 Beyer, which actually was lower than his Tampa Bay Derby. In fact, he has yet to hit a triple-digit Beyer. I firmly believe his Beyer was based mainly on the previous Beyers of runner-up Danzig Moon (ranging from 69 to 87), which is deceiving, as stated farther down. We’ll have to see if he regressed in his Thoro-Graph number, as he did when he fell from a “1 3/4” in the Breeders’ Futurity to a “5” in the BC Juvenile. He began the year with a strong “zero” in the Tampa Bay Derby, and it’ll be interesting to see if there was another regression in the Blue Grass, and how much. He does have a few issues that need to be watched at Churchill Downs. He was not very good being saddled or mounted and was on the muscle in the post parade. He’s also had major gate issues, but was much better before the Blue Grass. Also, Johnny V had to give him a couple of right-handed whacks in the stretch when he started drifting out. If he can avoid any incidents before the Derby, with that big crowd, he has enough class and raw talent to beat anyone. He is a horse you just love looking at, whether standing still, galloping, or running. In short, he is all racehorse.
Frosted Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Fast Cookie, by Deputy Minister
There was just something about this colt’s bizarre race in the Fountain of Youth that didn’t ring true. Between McLaughlin working him a sharp 6 furlongs behind two horses and the colt having a minor throat procedure to free his air passage, his performance in the Wood came as no surprise. In addition, McLaughlin adjusted his blinkers and replaced Irad Ortiz with Joel Rosario, who, after that 6 furlong work, was as excited as he’s ever been following a workout. There have been reports coming from the McLaughlin camp over the past two months how incredible this colt was training, especially after having blinkers added in the morning. There just was no reason to believe there wasn’t a very talented horse in there crying to get out. McLaughlin, to his credit, tried different things and finally was able to bring that talent out, and just in the nick of time. And I still can’t help but think of McLaughlin as a prime Derby gods candidate. No one deserves it more. As for the Wood, he raced very wide the entire way, going 6-wide on the first turn, as Rosario tried to avoid a particularly harsh kickback on a drying out track, then 7-wide down the backstretch, and 5-wide on the far turn and into the stretch, where he ran a straight course with Rosario never touching him with the whip. He needed to run final fractions of :23 4/5 and :12 2/5 to run down a live horse in the improving Tencendur, drawing off to a two-length score, with the runner-up finishing nearly four lengths ahead of El Kabeir. The time of 1:50 1/5 was good enough for a 103 Beyer and was nearly two full seconds faster than the Gazelle run earlier on the card. Even the 7f Bay Shore and grade I Carter were run in a rather pedestrian 1:24 3/5 and 1:23 3/5, respectively. So, all in all, this was the perfect Derby prep and stamps Frosted as a major player come May 2.
Mubtaahij Mike de Kock
Dubawi —Pennegale, by Pennekamp
He is regarded as the unknown factor, but he may not be unknown at all, which makes him possibly the best value horse in the Derby and the most fun horse on whom to have a nice future book wager. Dubai or no Dubai, he could very well be the best 3-year-old in the world. What I loved most about his 8-length romp in the UAE Derby was his electrifying turn of foot when Soumillon gave him the ‘go’ sign by merely flicking his wrists. Then just one short crack of the whip and he was gone in a flash, with Soumillon looking back twice and gearing him down in the final 100 meters. But will Soumillon’s inexperience in the Derby and at Churchill Downs be a factor? There obviously will be a divided camp as to whether this colt can build on that effort to the point of winning the Kentucky Derby. Some feel he didn’t beat anything and will find it tough journeying to America to compete at this level. But for those who are looking for a refreshing change from the number of babied horses we have running in the Derby, the only other horse to have run in two races longer than 1 1/8 miles going into the Derby was Canonero II, who scored one of the biggest shockers in Derby history, and he finished 11th in one of those races. It is safe to say there will be no Derby starter fitter than this colt, who went into the UAE Derby having had four races in nine weeks and was running in back-to-back races at 1 3/16 miles three weeks apart. Yet he improved 10 lengths off his previous race, winning the UAE Derby with ease. Now he has five weeks to the Kentucky Derby and is trained by one of the greatest trainers in the world; a true master. According to Pat Cummings of Dubairacenight.com, he is scheduled to fly to Chicago April 16, where he’ll spend a few days at Arlington Park before shipping to Churchill Downs. Ignore him at your own risk.
Firing Line Simon Callaghan
Line of David—Sister Girl Blues, by Hold For Gold
Had his first work since the Sunland Derby, going a solid half in :48 at Santa Anita. What is most impressive about him from a numbers standpoint is that on Thoro-Graph, he jumped from a “3 1/4” to a “1” in the Robert Lewis and then paired that “1” in the Sunland Derby in a laugher. While he was pairing his number, Dortmund, regressed slightly from a “0” in the Lewis to a 1 1/2 in the San Felipe. Dortmund’s domination of the Santa Anita Derby field makes Firing Line look even more formidable, considering he’s likely a much more polished horse now. What made California Chrome so dangerous last year was his ability to pair up fast numbers, and this colt has shown that same ability. The six weeks could work for him or against him, depending on how you look at it. He has shown the ability to strike from either on the pace or several lengths back, and it is the latter that will give him the best shot to stay the 1 1/4 miles. To pull out that stamina, he’ll have to reach far back into his pedigree, being inbred three times to Gold Digger (Rasmussen Factor) through Mr. Prospector and Lillian Russell, and his fourth dam being by Forli, out of the great producer Kamar. Because of the six-week gap to the Derby, he could be the forgotten horse. One thing is for sure, we have not seen the best of this horse, and if he can stretch his pedigree out another furlong, he is another who has to be taken seriously.
International Star Mike Maker
Fusaichi Pegasus—Parlez, by French Deputy
I doubt there are going to be any revelations about him from now until the Derby, other than how he works at Churchill Downs. We pretty much know what we’ve got; we just don’t know what he’s been running against at Fair Grounds, having to work hard to beat the front-running Stanford, who had previously been crushed by his stablemate, the eventual Florida Derby winner Materiality. Although he boasts a far better record than Giacomo, he does remind me a bit of the 2005 Derby winner in that he is perceived as being too slow and inferior to the major contenders. But like Giacomo, he would benefit from a hot pace if the Derby is as contentious as that one was, with so many brilliant on or near the pace types. We know how versatile and consistent he is, and although he bears absolutely no resemblance to his sire, mentally and physically, people do tend to forget how magnificent and gifted Fusaichi Pegasus was. This colt is much more professional and knows where the finish line is and the best way to get there. And in the end that could be the most admirable quality you want in a horse.
Danzig Moon Mark Casse
Malibu Moon—Leaveminthedust, by Danzig
If you’re looking for a horse peaking at the right time and with the right running style and pedigree, you cannot afford to ignore this colt. Forget the low Beyer figures in the Blue Grass. He was five-wide on both turns, had to make a long sustained run into a slow pace and ran huge in the stretch, pulling away from the others while keeping within three lengths of Carpe Diem from the eighth pole to the wire, while under a hand ride the final sixteenth. And he had to run 28 feet farther than the winner, according to Trakus. If you want to know why he was able to make up nine lengths on Carpe Diem from the Tampa Bay Derby to the Blue Grass and why he only ran a 76 Beyer at Tampa, two days after the Tampa Derby he started to lay down in his stall and did so for several days and was very listless walking the shed, which for a good-feeling horse like him is a major warning sign. They pulled blood on him and his white blood count was way out of whack, indicating he had been fighting off a viral infection at Tampa. That forced him to miss the Florida Derby, and as Casse said, when you get your butt whipped the way he did at Tampa, you normally wouldn’t come back in the Blue Grass against the horse that whipped you. But they felt confident that wasn’t the real Danzig Moon and they were proven right. He does need to focus a little better in the stretch, as he seemed to be looking at the crowd. Another point to consider is that he’s already run big at Churchill Downs, finishing second in a mile maiden race after making a spectacular move on the far turn, going from 11 lengths back to a half-length back. As for his pedigree, Malibu Moon sired Kentucky Derby winner Orb, and his second dam, Hidden Reserve, is a half-sister to Hall of Famer Inside Information and a full sister to multiple grade I winner Educated Risk. It looks like we have a new star in the Derby picture.
Materiality Todd Pletcher
Afleet Alex—Wildwood Flower, by Langfuhr
The hits just keep coming in what looks to be an exceptional Derby crop. Pletcher’s once ubiquitous presence on the Derby trail is now down to three, four, or possibly five, depending on how Madefromlucky runs at Oaklawn and what they do with Itsaknockout and Stanford. Regardless, trainers would kill just to have Carpe Diem and this colt, who has unlimited potential. I’ve discussed the positives and negatives regarding Materiality as a Derby horse, considering he’s had only three career starts and is one of several strong on or near the pace types. Is he so special that he can overcome the lack of experience and foundation? In today’s racing, you can’t be brazen enough to say he can’t, especially with all the remarkable qualities he’s demonstrated so far. Frankly, no one can be sure what he is and is not capable of doing. We do know he’s bred to love the mile and a quarter, and not many of the contenders can say that. And even if some of his sire’s magic has been able to run off on him, in terms of overcoming great odds and doing things you’re not supposed to do, then they’re going to have to take him very seriously, three starts or not. If he can buck history on two fronts and pull this off, who knows what we’re dealing with?
Upstart Rick Violette
Flatter—Party Silks, by Touch Gold
I have re-assessed his race in the Florida Derby and crunched his speed figures, and while his status is still kind of murky, one conclusion is that this is one horse who will appreciate the 20-horse field, as he will not have to focus on one horse, and will be able to use his grinding style and just keep coming and try to wear them down. His inability to keep a straight course in his last two indicates he probably was a tired horse over that sand trap of a racetrack. That might work in his favor switching to Churchill. We know he’s fast enough, having run three triple-digit Beyer figures, but he’s regressed off the first two of those and is coming off a career-high number. He’s also run two negative numbers on Thoro-Graph prior to the Florida Derby and has regressed off both of those as well. So does that mean that we should expect another regression coming off the Florida Derby? You’ll have to draw your own conclusion. What he does having going for him is that his regressions are still fast enough to win most races, and his biggest regression, from the Champagne to the BC Juvenile was more than excusable, considering the horrible trip he had. And when he does fire, he fires big. His negative “2 1/4” in the Holy Bull has been the fastest Derby prep run this year, as of this writing, and he’s the only horse to have run two negative numbers – at 2 and 3. This is one tough, hard-knocking horse who never fails to give his all, and he has enough versatility to be effective coming from midpack, which is where he’ll likely be in the Derby. His final ranking will be determined on how he looks and trains at Churchill. His star has fallen slightly since the Holy Bull, but that’s what makes overlays.
One Lucky Dane Bob Baffert
Lookin At Lucky—Echo Harbor, by Boston Harbor
What I like most about this colt, other than how well he’s come around lately, is the way he moves, dropping his head and shoulder and getting a great deal of thrust from each stride. He ran a big race in the Santa Anita Derby, kicking in when it looked like the others had swallowed him up. First, he had to chase Dortmund all the way, with Cross the Line lapped on him from the outside the entire length of the backstretch through quick fractions. Then Bad Read Sanchez moved up on his inside. Cross the Line forged ahead of him on the far turn, with Bolo rallying on the far outside and Prospect Park eventually cutting to the inside for a clear run up the rail. Just when it looked like he was about to pack it in, he kicked into another gear, got down real low, and began drawing off from his three pursuers, finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Bolo in third. He then galloped out very strong, passing Dortmund on the turn, with Rafael Bejarano having to throttle him down. As for his pedigree, his broodmare sire Boston Harbor is a speed influence, and his tail-female line is all speed, tracing back to the speedy sprinter Tatallah and her dam, the very fast Leallah. Maternal great-grandsire Eastern Echo was a fast sprinting 2-year-old who won the Futurity before his career was ended by injury. So it’ll be interesting to see how far he wants to go. Remember, Baffert has won the Santa Anita Derby seven times, but both his Kentucky Derby winners coming out of that race finished second.
Far Right Ron Moquett
Notional—Zindi, by Vindication
He will be going into the Arkansas Derby not having raced in seven weeks and with three works in 48 days, so I have no idea what we’re going to see from him. I put him in the final spot mainly because of his overall record, his success at Oaklawn, and with Mike Smith looking for a Derby horse. It was very close among El Kabeir, Prospect Park, Madefromlucky, The Truth Or Else, and Bold Conquest. One would think the Arkansas Derby horses not named American Pharoah are running to pick up enough points to get in the Kentucky Derby. He’s won from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and has won or placed in all three of his starts at Churchill Downs, as well as Keeneland, Delta Downs, and Oaklawn, and was fourth in the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park, so he’s definitely been around the block. And how can you not love a horse who sold as a yearling for $2,500? He’s a horse anyone would love to have in their barn. But as for being a major Derby contender he’ll obviously have to get a lot faster in order to challenge American Pharoah on Saturday. Far Right had been sold privately early in his career and turned over to Ron Moquett to train. Last winter, Robert LaPenta bought an interest in Far Right after the horse’s troubled third in the Delta Jackpot. Back in the spring of 2006, LaPenta had sold a horse named Seek Gold, who had won only four of his 27 starts. The horse was turned over to Moquett, and in his first start for his new trainer upset the grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at odds of 91-1. Now LaPenta is hoping Moquett can work the same kind of magic for him.
Knocking At The Door
It seems apparent that trainer Carla Gaines is not too anxious to remain on the Kentucky Derby trail, feeling that BOLO handles the grass far better than the dirt. She is leaving the decision up to the owners, but because of her reluctance and the tenuous status of the colt, I have to keep him outside the door until something definitive is decided, as there are too many good horses who definitely are heading to Churchill. Although Bolo could never threaten the top two, I thought he ran a credible race, considering he was wide going into the first turn and kept getting floated wide to the point where he was six-wide turning into the backstretch and continued wide around the second turn, eventually failing to corner properly and pretty much blowing the turn at the head of the stretch. He did dig in late and found his best stride, collaring Prospect Park, who had saved ground the whole way, and Cross the Line for third. Whether or not he is a Derby horse is pure speculation, and you have to feel Gaines knows what his strengths and weaknesses are. So we’ll sit tight with him, knowing if he does re-enter the Derby picture it will be the owners’ decision, regardless of the spin anyone puts on it. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not the right decision. This is still a very talented horse. I just wish he didn’t have to overcome such a wide trip and blowing that final turn. To show how much ground he lost, he ran 65 feet farther than Dortmund, which equates to 7 1/2 to 7 3/4 lengths, farther than he was beaten. I wouldn't give up on this colt just yet.
As for PROSPECT PARK, he was in between horses, then had to wait for room nearing the top of the stretch. He cut back to the rail after turning for home, but came up empty, narrowly losing the show spot to Bolo. He’s a big, long-striding horse, and perhaps being in traffic and on the rail is not where he wants to be. I just have to wonder how he would handle a 20-horse Derby field. You can’t totally give up on him after that race, but with so many vying for the top 12 spots, he needed to show more to stay up there. I would expect him to head to Kentucky, and we’ll see how he trains there.
I still consider EL KABEIR a viable Derby candidate, as he ran a pretty good race to finish third, having to come from well off the pace again. As mentioned earlier, the kickback was very harsh on Saturday, and it took him a while before he got going. But once he did, he was running on well in the final furlong, despite not challenging the top two. He is one horse you can never get down on. He has proven to be a machine with many gears that never stops running. I’m still not sure he wants to go 1 1/4 miles, but he deserves the chance as much as any of them.
Runner-up TENCENDUR’s performance shouldn’t have been a total shock, only because he actually ran a good race in the Gotham, closing from 10th to finish fifth, beaten only 3 3/4 lengths by El Kabeir. The son of Warrior’s Reward, who like the winner had a very wide trip, has been improving with every start.
It would be a shame if FRAMMENTO falls just short of getting in the Derby with 20 points. In the Blue Grass, he raced the entire way all by his lonesome on the rail, and there was a reason why no one was near him. Everything was winning from the outside on Saturday over the drying out track and jocks were taking their mounts out to the middle of the track. Gary Stevens said he came off the bridle early and he had to niggle at him to keep him in the race. Frammento finally found his best stride and was able to close from a dozen lengths back along the rail to finish fourth, but was never a threat, getting beat 7 1/4 lengths and 1 3/4 lengths for that all-important third spot. If he can get in the Derby, he could make his presence felt in the exotics at a monster price, especially if there is pace meltdown.
Despite his awful showing in the Rebel Stakes, I still have a gut feeling THE TRUTH OR ELSE is a dangerous horse, and have no idea why he ran so poorly after his exceptional performance in the Southwest Stakes, where he turned in the most explosive run on the turn seen all year, and might have won the race had he not drifted out at a crucial point, while battling with Mr. Z and never seeing Far Right sneak up the rail to snatch victory. Since the Rebel, The Truth Or Else turned in a sensational work, blazing five furlongs in :58 4/5, suggesting that perhaps he just wasn’t on his game for the Rebel and is ready for a big bounce back performance.
I did like the way BOLD CONQUEST ran in the Rebel and he’s also worked well since. I would think Steve Asmussen would be thrilled with a second-place finish to get in the Derby. The likely second choice in the Arkansas Derby, MADEFROMLUCKY, ran a solid second in the Rebel and could improve off that race. He tuned for the race going a half in :48 3/5. But as I mentioned, all these horses look to be running for second and it would take a real off day by American Pharoah or a dramatic turn of events for any of them to turn the tables on the champ.
With the success of Frosted, it will be interesting to see what Godolphin decides to do about their UAE Derby runner-up MAFTOOL, who actually didn’t run a bad race, even though he was beaten eight lengths by Mubtaahij. Maftool broke awkwardly, was hustled out well off the rail. His jockey Paul Hanagan had a chance to tuck in, but elected to stay wide, going into the first turn six-wide, while Muftaahij saved all the ground, snug on the rail. Maftool continued to race wide without cover. Around the turn, Hanagan hit him twice right-handed, steered him to the rail, and then eased him back out. Maftool never changed leads, but finally began to get in gear late to snatch the place spot, while appearing to run on well. In short, his race was a lot better than it looked on paper or at first glance. We’ll see if Godolphin decides to send the son of Hard Spun to Kentucky or just go with Frosted.