American Pharoah Bob Baffert
Pioneerof the Nile—Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman
He shipped to Churchill right after the Arkansas Derby, so he will have a good deal of training over the track, much more so than Dortmund who will arrive April 26, not that it will make a whole lot of difference in the long run. Looking again at his pedigree, remember, his broodmare sire’s dam is a half-sister to Shared Belief and his great-grandsire Ecliptical is a half-brother to the dam of Preakness winner Codex. And his broodmare sire traces to one of Darby Dan’s top classic families. On the top side, his sire was second in the Kentucky Derby, his grandsire won the Belmont Stakes, and his great-grandsire won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Despite what it seems on the surface, there is plenty of pedigree here to carry him 1 1/4 miles, especially now that he’s shown he can rate behind horses. I have to wonder if there is anything he can’t do.
Dortmund Bob Baffert
Big Brown —Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat
He turned in yet another super work, showing off his magnificent stride, while gliding through his 5f in :58 4/5. Breaking off about 6 lengths behind his stablemate, he passed another worker on the inside, eased out between horses and cruised by his mate at the top of the stretch, then kept going strongly past the wire, out in 1:11 4/5 and pulled up 7f in 1:24 4/5. There is absolutely no wasted movement with this horse, as he bounds along so effortlessly. I can’t recall ever seeing three horses in one Derby who move as powerfully and gracefully as do Dortmund, American Pharoah, and Carpe Diem. The thought of seeing these three hook up turning for home in the Derby is enough to get anyone excited.
Carpe Diem Todd Pletcher
Giant's Causeway—Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song
His work at Keeneland was a thing of beauty. When this horse levels off and reaches out he is something to see. They gave him a 4f work in :48, but he really worked 5f in 1:00 2/5, with a final eighth in :12 2/5, and just kept going at a strong gallop until Velazquez had to pull back and step on the brakes nearing the half-mile pole. It looked like he would have gone around again if allowed to, and came back prancing on his toes. He did look around a little, but this was a new track. If he makes it into the starting gate without any issues he is going to be very tough to beat. Now, we must point out he does have his own website and merchandising. It’s a beautiful website with photos and video diaries, but hopefully he will have better luck than past Derby horses with their own website and merchandising. There is an excellent general video of the colt, including his breeze show at the sale, where you can see that great extension even then. And he still keeps his ears back in his races; no playing and goofing around with this guy, he is all business once the gates open. When you have a horse with a stride as long and fluid as his who can work in :10 1/5, you have, well, a $1.6 million 2-year-old. People forget how fast this horse is, breaking his maiden on the front end in :21 4/5, :44 4/5, and 1:03 4/5 for 5 1/2 furlongs.
Frosted Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Fast Cookie, by Deputy Minister
He may be ranked No. 4, but if you gave me $100 and told me to bet it on one horse for the best possible value I would place it on this colt. In the proverbial check box, listing all the qualifications to win the Derby, he checks off every one. There isn’t a single question that needs answering. He has the look and diverse running style of a Derby horse, and as I’ve discussed the past few weeks, whatever riddles surrounded this colt after the Fountain of Youth, McLaughlin apparently has solved. He turned in yet another excellent breeze this week, after which his exercise rider said it was a better breeze than the brilliant work he had before the Wood Memorial. He ran a career high Thoro-Graph number in the Wood, which is right up there with the two fastest numbers run by anyone in the field, and he has a negative number at 2 to fall back on, so there shouldn’t be any fear of a big bounce. Not only is This is a colt who cools out in five minutes, and he’ll eat anything you put in his feed tub. Traveling to New York, winning the Wood, and returning to Florida, he never lost a pound. In racing terminology, he’s a good doer, and if he gets a good trip in the Derby, look for him to be right there at the finish. Good luck trying to separate the leading contenders this year.
Mubtaahij Mike de Kock
Dubawi —Pennegale, by Pennekamp
De kock changed his plans after seeing the setup at Arlington Park and decided to just stay there and train the colt over their Polytrack surface instead of shipping him again to a training center near Churchill Downs, as originally planned. He worked 3 furlongs April 21, so that’s another step forward. De kock also said he will race without Lasix, which will win him many fans, especially the growing membership of WHOA (Water, Hay, and Oats, Alliance) who support no race day medication. It is apparent that people are split in their opinion of this colt, and rightly so, because of the unknown factor. Some feel he is a budding superstar and love his chances, while others feel he is undertaking too arduous a challenge and that his competition in Dubai was far inferior to what he will be facing at Churchill Downs. Even those who dislike his chances should still fear him, because it actually is that unknown factor that makes him so dangerous and such an appealing betting prospect. You’re not only betting on a potential star, you’re betting on one of the world’s great trainers, who won with the first horse he ever brought to the U.S. (Horse Chestnut) and has never finished out of the money in six starts in this country, including a pair of second-place finishes in the Arlington Million and a second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The main question is how Christophe Soumillon will handle Churchill Downs in a 20-horse field. He’s not used to anything like this.
Firing Line Simon Callaghan
Line of David—Sister Girl Blues, by Hold For Gold
Consider him the silent hunter, who lurks behind the bushes waiting to pounce on his prey. You have a tendency to forget he’s there. Everything this colt does seems to get lost, from his gutsy defeats to Dortmund to his rout in the Sunland Derby, where his lack of competition took away from the sheer brilliance of his victory. Even his sharp 5f work in 1:00 2/5 April 18 was completely overshadowed by the plethora of Derby works the same day, including his nemesis Dortmund and leading contender Carpe Diem. He has paired fairly fast Thoro-Graph numbers in his two starts this year and the six weeks off could be beneficial. What many may have missed was the way he sat behind a stablemate and then flew home, while galloping out strongly. His pedigree remains an enigma, as it seems to be teetering on the edge of a mile and an eighth, with a female family that traces to Forli and the great producer Kamar that could help propel him that extra eighth. And in Gary Stevens he has a jockey who can also help get him that extra eighth. I just feel there is a good chance he is going to be overlooked in the wagering, and he’s the type who could easily ruin a lot of exotic tickets if he’s not included. We don’t know if the six weeks off will help or hurt him. But we do know it has contributed to the out of sight, out of mind thinking that has prevented him from taking his place among the Derby favorites.
Upstart Rick Violette
Flatter—Party Silks, by Touch Gold
I had him ranked #10, but had to move him up after seeing his Thoro-Graph numbers, which are through the roof, and even a bounce from the Florida Derby is more than good enough to win, and he won't bounce far because he’d already run a career best first time out this year and ran a negative figure and a near zero at 2, so he has a ton of 2-year-old speed to fall back on. He actually ran a slightly faster number in the Florida Derby than Materiality, who beat him 1 1/2 lengths. He has an amazing four negative numbers total and a near zero, including the two fastest numbers of anybody in the field. With five weeks off, he is ready to run another huge figure even with a bounce. In fact, he can bounce 1 1/4 points off his last and still match American Pharoah’s career best Arkansas Derby number. There is some concern about the distance, and it’s just a question of which will win out, the speed influences in his tail-female family or the stamina influence of Touch Gold and Flatter. It was very important for him to rebound off that little setback and work brilliantly after missing a work, and he did just that, breezing a bullet half in :47 2/5, with DRF getting him going another eighth in :12 flat. This was a key work, because it showed he not only recovered quickly from his sinus infection, he also has retained his sharpness after those two gut busters at Gulfstream over dead, demanding tracks, in which he failed to maintain a straight course, which adds to the concern regarding his ability to get 1 1/4 miles. So, although you can’t get too excited over one work, there is now renewed enthusiasm over his chances on May 2. It’s time to start looking at him as a possible overlay, because he has lost most of the buzz he had early in the year, but he has not lost any of his speed, which is faster than anyone in the field if you follow Thoro-Graph.
International Star Mike Maker
Fusaichi Pegasus—Parlez, by French Deputy
He turned in a workmanlike drill at Churchill Downs, getting his 5f in 1:01 4/5 in company, with a final quarter in :24 3/5. Owner Ken Ramsey said he may not be as fast as many of the contenders, but he’ll run through a brick wall for you, and there is certainly something to say for that quality. He has already shown his propensity for squeezing through narrow openings, altering course when trapped in traffic, and basically extricating himself from any unfortunate situation. Being a smallish colt who can meander his way through a large field, and having a nose for the wire, he is never out of a race, and that is something you can take to the mutual windows if you feel he has the speed and the closing punch to run down some of these extraordinarily talented horses. Because so many of these horses inspire positive comments, and would not be a surprise in any way if they won, there is going to be some heavy duty mind games being played when it’s time to actually bet this race. From a Thoro-Graph standpoint, Stanford, who he was all out to beat, has now run the same figure in all three starts this year, which are not fast enough to win the Derby, and this colt’s figs are fairly close to those, while showing only slight improvement. So, while it would seem International Star is not quite fast enough to handle the heavy hitters, you never know in the Derby. Just see Giacomo and Mine That Bird, who ran against far faster horses. There are no stats for pedigree and heart.
Materiality Todd Pletcher
Afleet Alex—Wildwood Flower, by Langfuhr
Worked 5f in 1:00 2/5 at Palm Beach Downs in company with his old rival Stanford, coming home his final quarter in :23 2/5, galloping out 6f in 1:13 4/5. He is one of the biggest guess horses in the field, as you have to weigh his inexperience against his extraordinary talents. We all know by now how he is bucking history on two fronts. His sire was a remarkable athlete who could perform unusual and astounding feats, and we’ll just have to wait and see if he has inherited that quality. It would be ironic in a way if Afleet Alex loses Texas Red and winds up winning the Derby with this colt. For all those tired of hearing and seeing the name Apollo, this horse could be your savior, but in this field he better be something out of the ordinary if he’s going to silence Apollo once and for all. Now, if he can run back to that lofty 110 Beyer in the Florida Derby he might have a chance. He also gets the services of Javier Castellano, which certainly won’t hurt his chances.
Bolo Carla Gaines
Temple City —Aspen Mountain, by Chief Seattle
Heee’s baaack. Like Peter Cottontail, he’s been hoppin’ on and off the Derby trail, and considering I had him ranked No. 8 on the very first Derby Dozen before he’d ever stepped foot on the dirt, I have to put him back now that he’s a definite starter. No sooner had I first put him on, I had to take him off because Gaines said she didn’t like the way he worked for the Robert Lewis and withdrew him. As it turned out he was injured slightly and lost some training. Then he was back on for the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby, after which Gaines and jockey Mike Smith both pretty much said it was back to grass. But it was decided to put him right back in the Derby picture. So, where does that leave us in assessing his chances? Well, he did travel 65 feet farther that Dortmund in the Santa Anita Derby, which equates to 7 3/4 lengths (more than he was beaten), and even if he is better on grass, we know that the Churchill surface is conducive to grass horses (see Animal Kingdom, Barbaro, Dullahan, Paddy O’Prado, and even Big Brown, who started out as a grass horse and ended up on the grass). He turned in another sharp work, going 5f in 1:00 1/5. As for pedigree, his sire is a stakes winner at 1 1/2 miles, his dam is a half-sister to the dam of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Derby third-place finisher Dullahan, and his paternal grandsire Dynaformer is the sire of Derby winner Barbaro, so two of the grass horses who ran big in the Derby mentioned above are in his pedigree. Welcome back.
Danzig Moon Mark Casse
Malibu Moon—Leaveminthedust, by Danzig
This horse is improving in leaps and bounds on Thoro-Graph, making a huge leap forward in the Blue Grass, and you can toss his Tampa Bay Derby when he was incubating a virus. One more step forward and he’s right there. Sometimes, a Derby work can get away from you, especially if you’re dealing with a fairly inexperienced horse who is feeling good and just now becoming a man, and that may have been the case with this colt when he sizzled 5f in :58 flat after turning it on right from the start, with opening fractions of :11 2/5 and :22 2/5. After another blistering eighth in :11 3/5 from the quarter pole to the eighth pole, he finally was reined in a bit, getting his final eighth in :12 2/5. Assistant trainer Norman Casse said it was faster than they wanted him to go. He checked him out thoroughly afterwards and he showed no ill effects from the work and was back galloping and feeling good. You can bet his next work will be a nice easy maintenance breeze. You don’t want this colt too close to the lead, considering the strong closing punch he has exhibited and the quality of tactical speed horses in the field. He, like Tencendur, is a horse who is improving quickly and at the right time, and you just never know how far he can move forward on May 2.
Far Right Ron Moquett
Notional—Zindi, by Vindication
He is sort of like the International Star of Oaklawn, with the exception being that he had to run against American Pharoah, spoiling his attempt to duplicate the Ramsey colt’s feat of winning three stakes at one meet. They even has identical Thoro-Graph figures in their last two starts. But his eight-length defeat was much better than it looks on paper for all the reasons stated last week. He also moves up with Mike Smith staying aboard. Like International Star, he is shifty and quick on his feet and has the ability to hit holes as soon as they open up. As we know, that is invaluable in the Kentucky Derby, where the slightest hesitation can mean the difference between an in-the-money finish and finishing in the back half of the field. This $2,500 yearling has come a long way, and although it may not look it, he has as strong a mile and a quarter pedigree as anyone in the field. His sire is by In Excess, who won the Suburban Handicap in a track record 1:58 1/5, and in his female family are Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Nijinsky, as well as Strawberry Road. So he has the last American Triple Crown winner (in 37 years) and the last English Triple Crown winner (in 45 years) in his female family. His fourth dam, Cascapedia, was a grade I winner who finished second to colts in the Hollywood Gold Cup and third in the Del Mar Invitational. And his fifth dam, Princess Ribot, by Ribot, is also the fifth dam of California Chrome. Any doubts he will relish the 1 1/4 miles?
El Kabeir John P. Terranova, II
Scat Daddy—Great Venue, by Unbridled's Song
Sorry, I am taking the liberty of making it a baker’s dozen this week, as I am unable to leave him off. Call it a parting gift to myself on what likely is the final online Derby Dozen of the year. It’s been a blast. He bounced out of the Wood Memorial by working a sharp 5f in 1:00. This colt never ceases to amaze me, with his versatility, toughness, and durability. And now with Calvin Borel back aboard, he has a three-time Derby winner who has owned Churchill Downs and has already won a grade II stakes on El Kabeir at Churchill. Another amazing aspect of this colt is that, starting six races back, he ran two races on the front end, finishing first and second; then ran two races coming from just off the pace, finishing first and second; and finally ran two races coming from dead last and next-to-last, finishing first and third. For those concerned about his failure threaten the top two in the Wood, Lopez’ ride may have cost him a chance to win, but strictly as a Derby prep it was the perfect prep for him, as he already had enough points and the last thing he needed was another hard race after running in seven graded stakes in the last 6 1/2 months. This race was no different than the ride Jorge Chavez gave Monarchos in the 2001 Wood when he elected to save his horse and not beat him up to try to catch Congaree, who won comfortably by nearly 3 lengths. Monarchos, of course, came back to run the second fastest Derby in history. Another reason why El Kabeir didn’t threaten the top two is because they both had outside trips, while El Kabeir remained behind horses on a day when the kickback was particularly harsh and was actually hurting the jockeys when it hit them in the face and chest. He didn’t start running until he was out in the clear, and by then it was too late. There is a question of stamina with him, but, how can you not admire this horse?
Knocking At The Door
Of the top 21 horses (by points) pointing for the Kentucky Derby, 11 of them are by sires who ran in the Kentucky Derby – Fusaichi Pegasus, Big Brown, Pioneerof the Nile, Tapit. Afleet Alex, Scat Daddy, Lemon Drop Kid, Line of David, Street Sense, Lookin At Lucky, and Curlin.
ITSAKNOCKOUT (remember him?) quietly worked a half in :48 at Palm Meadows in company with Competitive Edge, coming home his last quarter in a snappy :23 flat. One off day at Gulfstream and he has practically faded from public consciousness. As co-owner Jack Wolf said, “People say we’re under the radar, but we are sub under the radar.” He is another who could much better than expected and it wouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s just a question of whether he got enough out of the Florida Derby, where he was spinning his wheels pretty much the entire race.
Dale Romans, as he often does once he starts smelling the roses, is starting to get high on KEEN ICE’S chances after the colt worked five furlongs in :59 4/5, out six furlongs in 1:13 1/5 and up seven panels in 1:27 3/5. Romans has had good success in the Derby with Donegal Racing horses Dullahan and Paddy O’Prado, and in Keen Ice, he feels like has a horse who is getting good and will appreciate the mile and a quarter.
EL KABEIR will work next Sunday at Belmont Park and then van down to Kentucky that night, getting in Monday morning. TENCENDUR has arrived at Churchill Downs and is scheduled to work Saturday, along with DANZIG MOON and several others. Tom Amoss said WAR STORY will work at Churchill either Saturday or Sunday. The California contingent, including DORTMUND, FIRING LINE, BOLO, and OCHO OCHO OCHO are due in on Sunday, April 26.
With ONE LUCKY DANE’S defection it moves MADEFROMLUCKY into the top 20, with Keen Ice, FRAMMENTO, and BOLD CONQUEST hoping to find a way in. But there has been no word either way regarding Madefromlucky’s status, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they passed. If Stanford should also drop out, which is possible, then we’ll get a lucky and blessed Nick Zito back in the Derby.
The Derby horses already on the grounds at Churchill are AMERICAN PHAROAH, FAR RIGHT, DANZIG MOON, WAR STORY, MR. Z and BOLD CONQUEST. CARPE DIEM remains at Keeneland, along with Madefromlucky, and INTERNATIONAL STAR is stabled at the nearby Trackside training center.
Although there is one more magazine Derby Dozen, this likely is the final online version. I hope everyone had a fun journey, despite me confusing you more than you’d normally be. In case you’re still not confused enough, my daily reports on the Derby horses’ training begins Saturday, and I will have my final observations and selections the day before the Derby.