Mohaymen Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union
This horse hasn’t taken a backwards step in his entire career and showed the Holy Bull was a mere stroll in the park by working a half in a bullet :47 3/5, fastest of 31 works. McLaughlin wasn’t looking for anything that quick, but when good horses are doing good they do things fast and do it easily. Even with McLaughlin’s typical trainer clichés (“But he did it easy” and “He wouldn’t blow out a match”), we get the picture and there likely was a great deal of truth to those comments. I used the term “machine-like” on several occasions with American Pharoah last year, but that term seems to be creeping back into the vernacular with this colt. His Brisnet late pace figure of 115 in the Holy Bull is the best by far among the 23 Future Wager horses, with only Mor Spirit’s 108 anywhere close to it. When you have great tactical speed and can relax behind horses even when stuck down on the rail and then come home fastest of all, that makes you very difficult to beat. Until he demonstrates any flaws or takes even a mini-step backwards, he must be considered the top gun on this year’s Derby trail.
Mor Spirit Bob Baffert
Eskendereya—Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union
Baffert said he wants to give him a couple of weeks and see how he works before making a decision where to go next. The obvious choices are staying home for the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby or head to the Baffert gold mine known as Oaklawn Park. This colt has an advantage in that he’s already shipped from California to Kentucky and has shown he can handle any kind of track – long stretches, shorter stretches, big turns, tight turns, fast surfaces, sloppy surfaces. One thing about Baffert, you never know what he’s going to do until he does it. And it usually turns out to be the right choice. One thing about this horse that separates him from most of Baffert’s good ones is that he doesn’t work bullets in the morning. He just goes out there and does his thing, whether it’s in the morning or the afternoon. There’s no bravado; he’s more the silent assassin type. It’s all neat and clean with little noise, but you’re still just as dead.
Brody's Cause Dale Romans
Giant’s Causeway —Sweet Breanna, by Sahm
After breezing 5f in a blazing :58 3/5 Sunday, fastest of 27 works at the distance, how is Romans going to keep him on the ground for the next month? Remember, he turned in a sharp :47 3/5 breeze in his first work back and Romans had to slow him down in his next three works. It’s obvious he wants to get going. I would imagine Romans will slow him down again before cranking him back up for the Tampa Bay Derby. He certainly can’t stay this sharp for that long. Just because he’s a come from behind horse doesn’t mean he has little or no speed. He just uses it later than earlier, and he showed that quickness in his big move on the turn in the Breeders’ Futurity. People still mention how he had a much better trip than Nyquist in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and still couldn’t beat him, but forget that the finish line was at the sixteenth pole, and that short stretch run gave him little chance to catch horses the quality of Nyquist and Swipe. Who knows what we’re going to see at Tampa. Can’t wait.
Nyquist Doug O'Neill
Uncle Mo—Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry
You can’t help admire this colt’s will to win and ability to find a way to do it every time, from 5f to 1 1/16 miles, on or off the pace. As a point of interest, his San Vicente time of 1:20 3/5 was the same time Seattle Slew ran in his 3-year-old debut. The only thing keeping him from being ranked higher is his intended schedule. The baby races and sprints are over and it’s time for him to start becoming a Derby horse, and I’m just afraid one more start, with only a 7f race under him, is not going help him achieve that. The feeling here is he needs to harness his speed and get the bottom needed to run a peak performance on the first Saturday in May, especially with so many people questioning his pedigree to get the mile and a quarter. I feel his pedigree, especially his tail-female family, will allow him to go a lot farther than people think. But his sire and broodmare sire, while able to perform well around two turns, did have an awful lot of sprint and mile speed. So, as of now the Florida Derby, with its $1 million Fasig-Tipton sale bonus, looks to be the next and only start before the Derby. What was great about starting off at 7f is that it took a lot of the vinegar out of him and prevented him from running some blazing-fast time going two turns off a layoff, which is the last thing you want to see. Now I feel he needs two 2-turn races to settle him down enough to get the mile and a quarter. As I’ve been saying, O’Neill knows his horse a lot better than I do. You just have to be careful chasing bonuses and unbeaten records on the Derby trail if they’re going to dictate your horse’s schedule, especially if it makes for extra traveling and is not what you would have done had there not been a bonus. I’m certainly not going to be audacious enough to say O’Neill’s thinking is wrong; I’m just going by 47 years of studying the Derby and the road getting there and am offering an explanation why my gut instinct is keeping him at No. 4 instead of No. 1 or 2. Owner Paul Reddam said after the race about the schedule: “When we talked about it at the beginning of the year, we said we’d go to the San Vicente and the Florida Derby because we liked the timing. I think Doug will change his mind a couple times between now and then, because there’s the temptation to stay home. We love Santa Anita. But we’ll see. We just want to take it in stride.” So, perhaps the schedule is not as firm as it once appeared.
Greenpointcrusader Dominick Schettino
Bernardini—Ava Knowsthecode, by Cryptoclearance
Here I go again questioning another schedule at the risk of getting egg on my face, but this is a place for opinions. Last week, I provided the historical significance of Schettino’s decision to have only one more start in the Louisiana Derby. I will reiterate that this colt still has work to do, especially getting back to his best running style. I still believe, like Nyquist, he will need two races to accomplish that, not to mention all the history that is against him going into the Kentucky Derby with only one race in 14 weeks. Schettino now says he’s not only considering the Louisiana Derby, but also the Wood Memorial two weeks later and Arkansas Derby three weeks later. That’s an awfully wide span of races from which to choose. Will he be inactive for 8 weeks, 10 weeks, or 11 weeks? Will he have 6 weeks to the Derby, 4 weeks, or 3 weeks? With no set plans, there will be little to grasp onto for quite a while. As I’ve said on several occasions, I think a lot more of him than most people do (here is a Champagne winner and runner-up to Mohaymen the 11th choice in the Future Wager at 31-1) and believe he is a very talented colt. But he still must show that closing punch going two turns, considering two of his more noted siblings were distance limited, and with 8, 10, or 11 weeks to his next start, the fear is that he’s going to be too fresh once again. That is why I feel he needs that second race to get back in his groove and set him up for a peak performance on the first Saturday in May. If he goes in the Louisiana Derby as originally stated and is too fresh, the last thing he’s going to need is another six weeks off after that race. Schettino obviously is going to take the route he feels is best, and as a fan of the horse I wish him the best. I just don’t know where the horse is at this point.
Exaggerator Keith Desormeaux
Curlin—Dawn Raid, by Vindication
The San Vicente was a perfect first race back for him. He had a great trip, took dead aim at Nyquist, and simply was outrun by a very special horse in blazing-fast time. He also looked to be in great flesh, having made excellent physical progress from 2 to 3. I suspect he will go where Nyquest isn’t, as Desormeaux has now run second to the champ five straight times and all for the same owner. It seems those green and white Big Chief Racing silks bring out the best in Nyquist. When you run 6 furlongs in 1:08 2/5, you’re not supposed to close in :12 flat, but that’s exactly what Nyquist did and there was no way Exaggerator was going to outrun him going a final eighth that fast off those fractions. Perhaps Exaggerator can turn the tables as the distances stretch out. At least that’s all Desormeaux can hope for, and his horse definitely should move forward off this race. Desormeaux offered no excuses: “Goodness gracious. Anybody not a believer in Nyquist now, that was an awesome race, to set those kinds of fractions and still finish in close to track record time for a 3-year-old in February. Wow! Hat’s off to Nyquist.”
Airoforce Mark Casse
Colonel John—Chocolate Pop, by Cuvee
Casse said he’s “doing tremendously.” They had cranked him up for his first work back (5f in 1:00 1/5) and he came out of it, as Casse put it, a little under the weather, which knocked him out of his intended debut in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. But he bounced back quickly and turned in an even faster work in :59 3/5 followed by a half in :48 1/5, second fastest work behind Mohaymen, and is “at the top of his game.” Casse said, “We had turned the lights off for a while on him (freshening him up), but now they’re back on.” We’ll find out bright they are in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes, where he should relish that long stretch in a rematch with Mo Tom, who already has a stakes win over the track and will be running out of his own barn. If those lights shine as brightly as Casse thinks they will then you can expect this colt to move way up in the rankings. But first he must contend with a 13-horse field and, hopefully, his first attempt on a fast dirt track.
Smokey Image Carla Gaines
Southern Image—Special Smoke, by Free House
Gaines has been going slow with him since his victory in the Cal Cup Derby and took her time bringing him back to the work tab. He finally returned Feb. 15, working a sharp half in :47 1/5, second fastest of 42 works at the distance, while picking up some unwanted company during the work and just shrugging it off. His 5f gallop-out of :59 4/5 was only a fifth of a second slower than the bullet work of the day at that distance. He still has a few kinks to work out in his mechanics, but for those who feel he’s not in the same league yet as some of the bigger names, his Brisnet Prime Power number ranks No. 4, ahead of Mohaymen and Mor Spirit. I have no idea what that means, but I’m mentioning it because it sounds impressive. What I do know is that his high Brisnet speed figure of 102 puts him second, only one point behind Exaggerator and tied with Mohaymen and Nyquist before Monday’s San Vicente Stakes. And his figures have been climbing back up toward triple digits in his last two starts. Also, his Thoro-Graph number in the Cal Cup Derby is right up there with the top 3-year-olds in the country, so there is nothing phony about this horse.
Awesome Speed Alan Goldberg
Awesome Again—Speedy Escape, by Aptitude
I love the way he’s progressing toward the Fountain of Youth, breezing 6f in 1:14 2/5. What I like about this horse is that three races back his early Brisnet figure was his fastest. Two races back, his middle figure was his fastest. And in his last start, his late figure was his fastest. So he looks to be a horse who can excel at any point in the race. The only negative I can come up with is El Charro, the horse he beat by 1 1/4 lengths in the Mucho Macho Man, finished last, beaten 20 lengths in the San Vicente. But on the bright side, his Thoro-Graph number in the Mucho Macho Man ranks only behind Mohaymen’s Holy Bull among the leading 3-year-olds this year. He’s fast enough to run 6f in 1:09 3/5 at Laurel, just a tick slower than some of the fastest older sprinters in the Frank De Francis Memorial the same day, and he can run a flat mile in 1:35 4/5 at Gulfstream. And he’s bred to run a lot farther than that, as detailed in last week’s Dozen. His pedigree says he shouldn’t have that kind of sprint speed, which makes him such an intriguing horse as the distances stretch out. Goldberg couldn’t ask him to be training any better and we’ll see what he’s really made of in the Fountain of Youth when he tackles top-class horses and two turns for the first time, while coping with the blazing early speed of Awesome Banner, the tactical speed of Mohaymen and Zulu, and closing punch of Cherry Wine.
Mo Tom Tom Amoss
Uncle Mo—Caroni, by Rubiano
Breezed a half in :48 3/5 for the Risen Star Stakes. He drew post 2, where his late-closing running style will be tested in a 13-horse field. One thing in his favor is that he has already shown he can unleash that big stretch kick from down on the rail or way on the outside. The way he ducked in badly in the Kentucky Jockey Club and how professional he was circling horses in the LeComte, he certainly looks to be more effective with a sweeping outside trip, as most closers are at Fair Grounds. Because of his questionable pedigree going 1 1/4 miles, he must keep progressing and turning in those big stretch runs. As mentioned last week, there is stamina behind Uncle Mo and Rubiano, and so far it has contradicted what one might expect from this type of pedigree. But remember, he’s been running at 1 1/16 miles and that’s a far cry from 1 1/4 miles. He’s also a half-brother to Beautician, who was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but predominantly a sprinter throughout her career.
Suddenbreakingnews Donnie Von Hemel
Mineshaft—Uchitel, by Afleet Alex
I wasn’t planning on adding anyone from the Southwest Stakes, but this colt’s performance forced my hand. Normally I would lean toward the runner-up after his scintillating move on the turn, but Suddenbreakingnews’ pedigree is so strong I couldn’t help but go with him, despite the fact that no horse with one 18-letter name has ever won the Derby. Hey, you never know what little foibles I’m going to come up with. Normally, horses who have raced solely at Remington Park are not the horses you find in the Top 12, so it was important for him to show what he can do at Oaklawn Park in a 14-horse field and coming from last after breaking from the 13-post. Thus was not just your ordinary late charge to victory. What made it so impressive is that he roared by a horse who had made a monster move on the turn and was running a winning race. As I said, I could not resist this gelding’s pedigree, being by Mineshaft, out of a mare by Afleet Alex, for whom I admittedly have a soft spot in my heart. His dam is a half-sister to West Virginia Derby winner Ready Set. And if Mineshaft and Afleet Alex aren’t enough stamina for you, his second dam is by two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged, one of the great stamina influences in the world. He also is inbred to Hoist the Flag, a son of the another great stamina influence, Tom Rolfe, a son of Ribot.
Cherry Wine Dale Romans
Paddy O’Prado —C.S. Royce, by Unbridled’s Song
Of all the horses on the Derby trail, I may be looking forward to seeing him run more than any other horse, because we have no idea if his last two annihilations of his opponents were for real or merely an illusion. His 5f breeze in :59 1/5, second fastest of 49 works at the distance, suggests he is razor-sharp right now. Although his Beyer and Brisnet speed figures have not been impressive, indicating he may simply be beating up on lesser quality horses, he has looked awesome visually, especially his effortless turn of foot on the far turn. And his speed figures have at least been going up with each race, but still have a ways to go. In addition, he works consistently fast in the mornings, and for those reasons, his appearance in the Fountain of Youth against Mohaymen, Awesome banner, Awesome Speed, and Zulu is eagerly awaited. We just have no idea what we’re dealing with, but he better get faster if he’s going to be competitive with those horses.
Knocking At The Door
I went back and forth whether to add Southwest Stakes runner-up WHITMORE to the Top 12. I finally ran out of time and decided to study him a little closer for another week. His move on the far turn after having to check nearing the half-mile pole was breathtaking, and he looked like sure winner at the eighth pole, but then Suddenbreakingnews came charging by him in the final sixteenth to win going away. I also need to study his pedigree more closely to see if he just had too much to do in the Southwest or he simply got tired coming off a 6-furlong race. I know he gets a ton of stamina from his sire Pleasantly Perfect, but his broodmare sire Scat Daddy is by speed influence Johannesburg and his other third generation sire is speed influence Tale of the Cat. He also is inbred to the broodmare Yarn through her son Tale of the Cat and her daughter Myth, the dam of Johannesburg. I feel badly keeping him off the Top 12 because I believe he is a top-class colt and may turn out to be better than Suddenbreakingnews with this race under his belt. Don’t be surprised to see him on there in the very near future. Give credit to third-place finisher AMERICAN DUBAI, who ran a gutsy race after tracking the leader most of the way in only his third career start.
I put RAFTING in the Top 12 a few weeks ago because I thought he had gotten over his greenness and was starting to mature, and would win the Sam F. Davis, but that wasn’t the case. At the head of the stretch, I thought he couldn’t lose, he was moving with such momentum and doing it all on his own. But as soon as he straightened into the stretch, he started doing everything wrong and pretty much gave the race away, refusing to change leads, looking around, and ultimately drifting out at a crucial point when he had one last chance to catch Destin. Unfortunately, he looked like he did two starts back when he and his rider gave that race away. It must be pointed out that he was bumped coming out of the gate and dropped to the rear of the field and seemed a little headstrong passing the stands. And I did love the turn of foot he displayed. At the five-sixteenths pole he was moving so strongly and so fluidly I was all prepared to move him up several notches on the Dozen. I still believe the talent is there, and he could develop into a top-class stakes horse some day with maturity. But right now he just doesn’t seem mentally ready to be a leading Kentucky Derby contender. He had shown flashes of maturing in his last start, and we’ll see if he can bounce back off this performance and finally get his act together. If he does, he could still develop into a serious Derby horse. But that’s a big if.
As for DESTIN, I was extremely high on him after his maiden victory, but in his next start he ran like a horse in desperate need of blinkers, as he merely went through the motions and showed no inclination to try to catch the leader. Pletcher did put blinkers on him for the LeComte, but again he showed little interest in the proceedings, finishing a lackluster fourth. This time, Pletcher changed blinkers, putting little peep holes in them to allow him to look around and see other horses, and whether or not that made the difference, he was a different horse this time. Although he’s still a tad green, throwing his head up for an instant when Rafting challenged from the outside and looking around a little, all in all he seemed much more focused and competitive, settling beautifully in stride down the backside and moving strongly on the far turn. He obviously loves this track. His time of 1:43 3/5 was a fifth of a second off the stakes record, and he came home in a quick :06 1/5. He’ll no doubt be pointed for the Tampa Bay Derby. Another reason I liked this colt from the beginning is that he is a full-brother to my 2012 Kentucky Derby pick Creative Cause. The only reason I’m holding off putting him in the Top 12 is because I’m still not sure whether it was more him winning the race or Rafting losing it. By running so fast and coming home fast, I’d like to think he was just the better horse and has finally put it all together. If he can duplicate this effort in the Tampa Derby against horses like Brody’s Cause, he will vault way up near the top of the list.
I’m a bit reluctant to put FRANK CONVERSATION in the Top 12 at this point because I’ve been suckered into Golden Gate/Tapeta horses in the past who have looked impressive. And with this colt, dirt is only a partial question mark because he’s run on it twice without showing much. But he did look awfully good in the El Camino Real Derby, as he did in the California Derby, losing a lot of ground on both turns and still demonstrating an explosive turn of foot circling horses and charging to the lead. At a time when you’re looking for answers on who this horse is, O’Neill made it more complicated when he was quoted in back-to-back sentences as saying, “It does look like synthetic or turf is his thing, but we'll definitely try a big race on dirt soon. The race at Turfway Park (the $500,000 Spiral Stakes on April 2) is something we'd look at first because it is on synthetic.”
So, if that wasn’t a contradiction, what does he mean by soon? When is this try on dirt supposed to come? Would he run on dirt between this race and the Spiral? Would he run on dirt in the five weeks between the Spiral and the Kentucky Derby? I just figured that because of the confusion I’ll wait until he actually does run on dirt before assessing him as a possible Derby contender. Right now it would be too much of a stab in the dark and I was looking for something concrete and reassuring from O’Neill. But I’m as lost now as I was before. If he handles the dirt as well as he does the Tapeta he’s definitely a legitimate Derby contender. His pedigree also is an enigma. When we think of Quality Road we think dirt, but the best progeny of his broodmare sire, who was a grass horse in Europe, have been grass horses. His entire female family is a bit bizarre to analyze, with names like Crested Wave, a son of Crozier, and a slew of Australian and New Zealand-breds.
It’ll be interesting to see what DENMAN’S CALL does next time stretching out after his solid third-place finish in the San Vicente. To finish within 4 lengths of Nyquist and 2 1/2 lengths of Exaggerator coming off one 6f maiden race was pretty impressive, especially considering how fast they ran. There’s a lot of speed in his first two generations, so we’ll see.
The Wayne Lukas-trained GRAY SKY, with 6 career starts under him and a 5th-place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes, looked like a lock turning for home with a clear lead in a 1 1/16-mile Oaklawn allowance race, but give credit to DAZZLING GEM, with only one career start at a mile, for running him down and drawing off to a 2-length victory. Trained by Brad Cox, this son of Misremembered looks to be the real deal and could be heard from soon in stakes races.
In the comments on Mohaymen I mentioned his 115 Brisnet late speed figure, and that the only horse in the Derby Future Wager field who is close to him is Mor Spirit. And these are the top two ranked horses. Well, there is another horse lurking in the mutuel field who has the second fastest late Brisnet figure and he’s only a maiden winner. That horse is CUPID, who was discussed last week following his powerful victory in his first start around two turns. This was the first time he’s had an outside trip and free of traffic, and he pretty much inhaled the leaders, despite taking himself very wide turning for home. The fact that he drew off powerfully with Martin Garcia never moving a muscle and recorded such a fast late Brisnet figure indicates this $900,000 Tapit colt is one to watch. It must be noted, however, he is a half-brother to three stakes winners and they were all sprinters. But Tapit should help in that department and he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
Two interesting and promising colts who may show up in the March 12 Gotham Stakes are the undefeated SHAGAF (see my last column), who breezed a half in :49 3/5, and RALLY CRY, an unlucky third behind Shagaf last time out who breezed a half in :48 2/5. If anyone has any doubts about Shagaf’s pedigree to go a distance, and they shouldn’t anyway considering he’s by Bernardini and has 5 Belmont Stakes winners in his first four generations, it should also be noted that his dam is a half-sister to the top-class stayer Eldaafer, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon at 1 3/4 miles, and the Brooklyn Handicap and Greenwood Cup at 1 1/2 miles. Working in company with Shagaf was Swale Stakes runner-up ECONOMIC MODEL (any guesses on who owns him?), a promising son of Flatter who may stretch out in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. Seems like the trainers of these lightly raced horses who have only run in sprints, such as Zulu, Awesome Banner, and Economic Model, are not exactly afraid of Mohaymen.
Speaking of ZULU, he turned in a bullet 5f breeze in :59 4/5, fastest of 13 works at the distance. As the Fountain of Youth gets closer, watch for him to return to the Top 12 in anticipation of a big effort. I still believe this colt could be something special.
Going against Mohaymen, he certainly doesn’t have to win it to move forward on the Derby trail, as he will be at a big disadvantage experience-wise, having raced a total of 13 furlongs in his brief career, compared to 31 1/2 furlongs for Mohaymen, who has already won at 1 1/8 miles. But he may not be at a disadvantage talent-wise; we’ll see. The only problem is that the hype is beginning to grow and too many have jumped on his bandwagon. His Future Wager odds of 24-1 are pretty low considering it’s only February and he has only has two sprints, at 6f and 7f, on his resume and no stakes appearances. Everything will have to go perfectly for him, with not a single hiccup, and even if it does, he still will be trying to accomplish something that only two horses have in the past 98 years – win the Derby with career four starts or fewer.
Majority interest in Grey Stakes winner RIKER has been purchased by Team Valor and Gary Barber, and the son of Include will be turned over to trainer Mark Casse. Riker, who so far has been purely a frontrunner, made his dirt debut in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and tired a bit in the final furlong to finish 6th, but beaten only 4 lengths. Team Valor and Barber now own the first and second-place finishers of the Grey, having just finished an unlucky third in the El Camino Real Derby with KASSEOPIA, who broke horribly, dropping back to 11th, but rallied to pick up the show spot in an excellent effort. Team Valor is no stranger to sending horses to the Kentucky Derby who have excelled only on synthetic. They sent out Animal Kingdom to become the first horse ever to win the Derby having never raced on dirt.
Graham Motion, who trained Animal Kingdom and also trains Kasseopia and the aforementioned Rafting, collected the place prize as well in the El Camino Real Derby with TUSK, who ran a huge race rallying between horses from midpack to just miss by three-quarters of a length at odds of 11-1.
MAC DADDY MAC, an impressive maiden winner and runner-up to Toews on Ice in the Bob Hope Stakes who was purchased privately last year by Dean and Patti Reeves of Mucho Macho Macho fame, had his first work of the year for Kathy Ritvo, breezing a sharp half in :48 flat at Gulfstream Park.
There is a huge question mark surrounding GIFT BOX, third in the Remsen Stakes. The son of Twirling Candy has missed two works and will miss his intended debut in the Risen Star. Although trainer Chad Brown told Churchill Downs he is not off the Derby trail, things are not looking promising at this point. Another horse in the Future Wager field, COCKED AND LOADED, is nearing his first work since running 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, according to trainer Larry Rivelli.
For those wondering about Bob Baffert’s brilliant maiden winner DREFONG, the colt has missed training with a fever.
In other works last week, I WILL SCORE, third in the Robert Lewis after setting the pace, wasted no time getting back on the work tab, breezing a half in :49 2/5. ADVENTIST, third in the Withers Stakes, breezed an easy half in :51. The brilliant maiden winner MALIBU SUNSET, who was turned over to Bob Baffert, breezed a half in :48 3/5. CONQUEST BIG E, who ran a disappointing fourth in the Holy Bull Stakes, returned to the work tab, breezing a half in :48 2/5.
A couple of New York-based 3-year-olds were able to get works in following the deep freeze in the Northeast. Withers Stakes winner SUNNY RIDGE, who is not being pointed to the Derby, according to his owner, breezed a half in :52 4/5 on the Belmont training track, while MATT KING COAL, who could be any kind, went 6 furlongs in 1:17 3/5 breezing, also over the training track.
One year ago Monday, Feb. 15, AMERICAN PHAROAH had his first serious work as a 3-year-old, stretching out to five furlongs for the first time with a 1:00 2/5 breeze with Martin Garcia aboard. What made the work so unusual was that his first two breezes were at three furlongs and you normally don’t see horses skipping right by a half-mile and going straight to five furlongs. But the truth is, Bob Baffert actually worked him a half in :47 2/5, out in 1:00 2/5. His “gallop-out” was so strong it convinced the clockers he had worked five furlongs, even though Baffert said before the work he was going a half.
That was the first indication we might be dealing with something out of the ordinary. A young 3-year-old with only a pair of easy 3-furlong breezes had the clockers convinced he was working farther than he actually did.
Because he did everything so freakishly perfect (his magnificent stride, his brilliant speed, his professional demeanor), he had the potential to be a superstar, and once that work confirmed he had returned as good as ever, there was no looking back. It just shows there are so many elements in following horses on the Derby trail you never know which ones are going to reveal that nugget of gold we search for year after year.