Mohaymen Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union
After working a half in :47 3/5, which was faster than McLaughlin was expecting, he had a nice easy half-mile breeze in :49 3/5 as he begins his final preparation for the Feb. 27 Fountain of Youth, where he will take on a number of new faces who are looking to make an impact on the Derby trail. As McLaughlin said, “We know he’s fast, we don’t need to see :47’s every week.” This time he went off slow in :13 3/5, then finished up his final three-eighths strong in :35 4/5. If he can turn back this second wave, and then defend his home track against the invading Nyquist in the Florida Derby, there will be few who can dispute his ranking as top dog. But it is important to remember that in the grand scheme of things these are all preps, and it’s only important to show enough to move forward without emptying the tank. Much will be expected of him after his easy Holy Bull score, but we really don’t know the extent of the talent he’ll be facing on Saturday, which will include some fast horses who have been sprinting and will be stretching out for the first time.
Mor Spirit Bob Baffert
Eskendereya—Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union
Gary Stevens pulled him up in a work because he was unresponsive following a reported coughing episode before the work, which seems to have nothing to with the aborted work. Baffert and Stevens said it was due to earplugs. Whatever it was all about, it's probably no big deal, but still a hiccup, and you have to hope he gets back to work soon. To judge who he’s beaten you have to decide whether Uncle Lino and I Will Score are serious Derby contenders. They pretty much set it up perfectly for him in the Robert Lewis and we have no idea how much to make of his win over Toews on Ice in the Los Alamitos Futurity and the latter’s subsequent poor effort at Oaklawn Park. His best race still may be his second in the Ky. Jockey Club and he’s perfected his running style since then. He certainly doesn’t set off the sparks like American Pharoah, but then who does? He is in the unenviable position of having to try to fill those shoes, but he is moving in the right direction, he still has a lot in reserve, and there are very few flaws, if any, to find in him. I only see him improving with each race. Taking into consideration the 2010 Triple Crown crop, it is very possible that had his sire stayed healthy he might have beaten American Pharoah to the punch. Although Mor Spirit looks nothing like Eskendereya and doesn’t run like him, he definitely has inherited a good deal of his talent.
Brody's Cause Dale Romans
Giant’s Causeway —Sweet Breanna, by Sahm
Breezed 5 furlongs in 1:01, and as in previous weeks, there isn’t great deal new to say about him as he waits patiently for his March 12 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby, which will be a make or break weekend around the country for many Derby hopefuls. Until then, we sit and wait. I was tempted last week, and even this week, to move Nyquist ahead of him, just because he’s run and we know he’s made an excellent transition from 2 to 3, while Brody’s Cause still has to show it. But I decided to keep them in the same order for now, even though Nyquist has proven himself to be the most accomplished and versatile 3-year-old in the country with an insatiable will to win. As a reminder, Brody’s Cause is taking the same route as 2007 Derby winner Street Sense, running twice, in the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. Street Sense was fortunate enough to get a gut check at Tampa against Any Given Saturday and didn’t need to push himself to the limit in the Blue Grass, run back then on Polytrack. The Tampa surface gets horses fit and we’ll just have to see how he handles it and how fit he can get from it. I still have to wonder deep down how Romans compares him to Cherry Wine and how he compared last year to Unbridled Outlaw.
Nyquist Doug O'Neill
Uncle Mo—Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry
O’Neill confirmed that the Florida Derby will be his next and only stop before the Kentucky Derby. He likely would then ship directly to Keeneland instead of traveling back to California. Training for the Derby certainly has changed over the past 10 years, and although I feel compelled to retain some sense of tradition and remain skeptical, I wish them good luck in blazing a new trail. It used to be that Derby horses had least three preps, with many of the top stars starting with a sprint and then having two or more two-turn races. Now, starting only twice at two turns is the way to go with many of the leading trainers, whose philosophy is more geared toward getting to the Derby. You can’t deny it’s been successful. But now, O’Neill is taking the two-race schedule a step further by having pretty much 1 1/2 preps – a sprint and a two-turn race, with long periods of time between races. The way the Derby trail has changed, no one can say for sure whether that will work or not. The fact that I don’t get it means very little in the grand scheme of things. If O’Neill believes he can get Nyquist, who some feel may be distance limited (I’m not one of them), to peak on Derby Day with so little mileage in the colt, then more power to him for standing by his convictions. He did a remarkable training job with I’ll Have Another, winning the Derby with only two races spread far apart. Despite this colt’s immense talent, unbeaten record, and a tenacious will to win, I’ll stick with history and tradition for now, or what’s left of it.
Greenpointcrusader Dominick Schettino
Bernardini—Ava Knowsthecode, by Cryptoclearance
Had his typical :49 1/5 half-mile breeze, as he continues his early preparation for whatever race he winds up running in. So far, just about every major stakes has been mentioned, so it’s safe to say Schettino has no concrete plan. All those races are so far off, he’ll be in limbo for quite a while, unless things change. I have discussed my concerns with his schedule for the past several weeks, so no one wants to hear that again. A good deal of the criticism I’ve gotten regarding the Derby Dozen has been directed at this horse, who for some reason is not being regarded very highly, and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with his schedule. Perhaps it’s Schettino’s inexperience in big races over the past 20-plus years, never mind the Derby. Or perhaps it was his effort in the BC Juvenile, which was not considered a strong race as a whole, with the first 11 finishers within 5 1/2 lengths of each other. But for the most part, people just don’t take the horse seriously, feeling he’s a cut below. Who knows, maybe it’s a combination of everything. I can’t see any knocks on his Holy Bull performance, where he was taken completely out of his comfort zone, and slop or no slop I can’t see knocking his Champagne victory. And he certainly appeared to have an excuse in the BC Juvenile, returning with an ulcerated eye. I know he has dropped from No. 1, but that is based strictly on my scheduling concerns and has nothing to do with the horse’s ability. Who knows, the way the Derby trail has changed so dramatically, perhaps he and Nyquist will both teach me a lesson.
Exaggerator Keith Desormeaux
Curlin—Dawn Raid, by Vindication
So, who will be proven correct, Doug O’Neill or Desormeaux? The latter will stick to the traditional path of the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. Right now, Desormeaux is thrilled with O’Neill’s strategy, having dropped five straight decisions to Nyquist, finishing second each time – four with Swipe and once with Exaggerator. He said candidly, “We’re looking at the San Felipe, no doubt. It seems like a good progression to me. If Nyquist runs next in Florida I’m fine with that. I don’t ever want to have to run against him for $200,000 again. It’s not enough money to run against that kind of horse.” Desormeaux went into the San Vicente extremely confident, and while he was disappointed he got beat he was happy with Exaggerator’s performance, which should set him up beautifully for the San Felipe. As a son of Curlin, he should improve as the distances stretch out, and with his excellent tactical speed and how hard he tries every race, he should continue to be a major force. Although his record demonstrates his consistency and versatility at different distances and different racetracks, it’s difficult to know just what his strength is. He basically runs around there and runs hard and is always right there at the wire. I’m just waiting to see what his best weapon is when it’s time to deliver a knockout punch.
Mo Tom Tom Amoss
Uncle Mo—Caroni, by Rubiano
He always seems to find trouble trying to come up the inside, whether by his own doing, as in the Ky. Jockey Club, or having a tiring horse come in and cause him to check sharply, as was the case in the Risen Star. He no doubt would have won or been right there at the finish with a clean run. As it is, for him to be beaten only 1 1/2 lengths, while suffering a minor gash, he definitely must be considered one of the leading Derby contenders. For a horse who comes from as far back as he does, he’s been remarkably consistent, demonstrating that big late closing kick in all six of his starts, whether it’s at Ellis Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs or Fair Grounds, from 6 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. Fair Grounds for some reason has been the downfall of many a good horse over the years trying to rally along the rail or between horses, and, with its long stretch, seems to favor horses making big outside runs, regardless of how wide they go, as was the case in his LeComte victory. His pedigree, with the exception of his dam being inbred to Nijinsky, doesn’t exactly shout a mile and a quarter, but he sure doesn’t run like distance will be a problem, and we really don’t know how far the progeny of Uncle Mo want to go. At this point, they don’t appear to be distance limited, so we’ll see what happens as the distances stretch out.
Smokey Image Carla Gaines
Southern Image—Special Smoke, by Free House
He breezed 5 furlongs in 1:00 2/5 in preparation for the San Felipe Stakes. Gaines decided to work him in company just to give him a target this time. But she said he did it easily. The San Felipe will be a major test to see how he stacks up against open company. His speed figures say he fits with those horses, even though it is shaping up be to be a very tough spot. As I mentioned last week, his mechanics still need a little work, but he seems to have so much raw talent he just goes out there and runs his opponents off their feet, as he did in the Cal Cup Derby, his first try around two turns. Of course, the San Felipe will be a huge step up in class, but from a visual standpoint he’s been as dominant as anyone and did improve a great deal stretching out in distance. No one is claiming he’s the next California Chrome, but I don’t believe we’ve seen the best of this horse. And remember, he is undefeated in six starts and his average margin of victory is 4 1/2 lengths. The only race he won by less than 2 lengths may have been his best performance, as he overcame a horrible trip, having to check sharply on the far turn, to win a race he probably shouldn’t have won.
Gun Runner Steve Asmussen
Candy Ride—Quiet Giant, by Giant's Causeway
I loved his chances in the Risen Star, but his victory didn’t really tell me much more about him. He did win off a 3-month layoff in an 11-horse field. Although he had a perfect trip, and Mo Tom may have beaten him with a clean trip, I have to think he still has a lot of improvement left in him. He was getting a bit tired at the end, drifting to the inside, but being away since November, running at Fair Grounds for the first time, tracking a rapid pace, and making an early move to take the lead turning for home all likely contributed to that. He is a racy-looking colt with good extrension to his stride. He’s had problems with his lead changes in his previous races, but he showed tremendous improvement in the Risen Star, switching to his right lead on cue and staying on his right lead all the way to the wire down that long stretch, which likely is a sign of maturity. From a pedigree standpoint, he’s very strong. His dam, who won the Molly Pitcher and other stakes, is a half-sister to Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Saint Liam and sold for $3 million at Keeneland November. Gun Runner’s tail-female family traces to the great Gallorette, and he is inbred to Fappiano, Lyphard, and Blushing Groom, so, all in all, there is plenty of class in his pedigree, and plenty to like about him.
Suddenbreakingnews Donnie Von Hemel
Mineshaft—Uchitel, by Afleet Alex
I’m always a little leery of horses who come from as far back as he did in the Southwest and are still several lengths back at the eighth pole. But I believe the 13-post contributed to that, especially considering he broke his maiden at a mile battling head and head for the lead before drawing away. Watching all his races, I’m more impressed with him now. He has shown remarkable versatility, coming from everywhere, whether a monster move on the turn from the back of the pack, sweeping by the entire field on dirt and grass, or squeezing his way between horses. If you don’t think he has speed, he was 4 lengths off a :44 2/5 half in his gutsy victory in the 7-furlong Clever Trevor Stakes, rallying between horses. When he broke his maiden battling on the lead he drew off without ever being touched with the whip. In the Springboard Mile, he was stuck behind horses in the upper stretch, then squeezed through the narrowest of openings between horses, only to be beaten the shortest of noses by eventual Smarty Jones winner Discreetness in the slop. So, as you can see, this smooth-striding gelding can do anything and from anywhere. He has an explosive turn of foot that can be used at any point in the race, whether he’s 6 lengths back or 15 lengths back. And with his outstanding pedigree, there’s no telling how far he’s going to keep advancing.
Awesome Speed Alan Goldberg
Awesome Again—Speedy Escape, by Aptitude
His dropping two spots has nothing to with him. I still think just as highly of him, but I had to move the Southwest and Risen Star winners ahead of him. He’ll have his chance to jump back up in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth. He definitely has his work cut out for him, but all he has to do is be competitive and leave room for improvement. The fact that he’s been running so well at shorter distances with a pedigree that is inundated with stamina bodes well for his chances to improve as the distances stretch out. He turned in another strong work, breezing a half in a bullet :48 1/5, fastest of 45 works at the distance and his third straight bullet work. I admit I’m taking a gamble having him in the Top 12 for several weeks when we really have no idea how good he is or who he’s beaten. But he’s done things like a good horse, he’s shown his competitiveness race after race, and he’s fast and can carry his speed. He can’t afford to get caught up in what promises to be a quick pace, with Awesome Banner in there. And Zulu likely will have speed coming off sprints. He also can’t afford to match strides with Mohaymen, so he’s sort of an in-betweener in this field. In short, the pace scenario is a tough one, but we’ll just have to see how talented he really is, with the knowledge that he still hasn’t had to use that abundance of stamina in his pedigree.
Cherry Wine Dale Romans
Paddy O’Prado —C.S. Royce, by Unbridled’s Song
He continues to train sharply for his stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth, breezing 5 furlongs in 1:00 flat. Facing an array of fast and classy opponents, this will either be his coming out party and establish him as a major Derby contender or will confirm that he is not quite fast enough for this company. We do know he has an explosive turn of foot and absolutely toyed with his opponents in his last two starts. Like Awesome Speed, he certainly does not have to win the Fountain of Youth, but needs to demonstrate that same kind of acceleration and be coming on at the end. This is a major steppingstone to launch him into the upper echelon, and all he needs to do is prove he belongs there. His works indicate he’s sharp and fit, and unless he runs into traffic or the pace is freakishly slow he shouldn’t have any excuses. Remember, this is a prep – an important one, but still a prep.
Knocking At The Door
If there has been one sure thing at Saratoga every year, it’s been the unveiling of a slew of Todd Pletcher 2-year-olds who bust out of there in their first start as if someone had given them a hotfoot. There’s one or two in every maiden race, and you better have a talented runner if you hope to have a chance against these fleet-footed Pletcher prodigies. But a funny thing happened last year. Pletcher was human and actually made little impact on the 2-year-old races.
In the past, those precocious Pletcher babies and a second wave unleashed at Gulfstream in January and February seemed to dominate the maiden, allowance, and early stakes. He even managed to win a pair of Florida Derbys with horses making only their third career start. For the most part, those early Pletcher horses would either fail to make the Derby or disappoint on the first Saturday in May. We all know that Pletcher has been criticized for his poor record in the Derby, so there’s no need to quote statistics. He did manage to win it once in the slop with a perfect ground-saving trip and has had several horses finish in the money. But considering the number of horses he’s run in the Derby, sometimes five in one year, many feel his accomplishments should be greater. He’s also had a number of horses finish far up the track, and had big horses like Eskendereya and Uncle Mo withdrawn at the last minute due to injury. Many of his Derby starters simply weren’t that good or were not ready to compete at that level going 1 1/4 miles.
But as mentioned earlier, because he was so silent with his 2-year-olds last year, he is, whether by design or not, approaching the Derby totally different this year, trying to get a number of lightly raced horses with little or no stakes experience or 2-year-old foundation to make a late push and actually be peaking on Derby Day instead of emptying their weapons in January, February, and March. Unlike talented horses such as Materiality and Dunkirk, all these horses will have at least four career starts. Two years ago Pletcher had a precocious 2-year-old named Danza who won first time out in July and then was sidelined for seven months after running in the Saratoga Special. That probably was the best that could have happened to him, as he came out of nowhere at 3 to upset the Arkansas Derby at un-Pletcher-like odds of 41-1, winning by almost 5 lengths, before running a super race to finish third in the Kentucky Derby, despite a terrible trip. But that was the last we ever saw of him.
This year started out with Pletcher, unlike past years, appearing to have little ammunition for the big Derby preps. But once again that may have been the best thing that could have happened to him. He has already unlocked the mystery of DESTIN’S past malaise and sent out a different horse to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes impressively. This horse actually woke up the last sixteenth of a mile in the LeComte and carried that wake-up call to Tampa. Studying that race more closely, I believe he may be much better than people think and likely will wind up in the Top 12 in the next week or two. Pletcher has the brilliant, but untested ZULU, who has never been farther than 7 furlongs, primed for a shot at Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and he mentioned possible plans to send the unlucky RALLY CRY to the Gotham Stakes following his hard-luck third-place finish against unbeaten Shagaf in an allowance race. He also has the recent mile maiden winner MO POWER ready for better things.
At the end of November, three of these horses were still maidens, with Destin having broken his maiden in October. By the end of December, all had broken their maidens and it was just a question of how good they were and how much stakes experience they could get leading up to the Derby. Pletcher, this time, didn’t rush any of them into stakes company, running Zulu, Destin, and Rally Cry in allowance races. He has had one disappointment with the only horse he put right into a stakes off his maiden score, and that was GETTYSBURG, who was never a threat in the Sam F. Davis as the 8-5 favorite.
So, how will this new look Pletcher team fare in the big upcoming stakes? Does he have another Danza lurking in the barn who will start peaking in April? We’ll soon find out, but one thing is for sure, this is one group of Pletcher 3-year-olds who won’t be peaking too early, and if any of them make the Derby they will at least get there with something left in the tank.
A word about ZULU. I thought enough of him to put him in the very first Top 12, despite never having been two turns, having only two career starts, and never having run in a stakes. I took him off when he went several weeks without working, and with so many excellent stakes performances, it’s been difficult finding a spot for him. I could have taken off Cherry Wine, but to do so right before the Fountain of Youth might not be the wisest thing to do, so I’ll sit tight and expect a big performance from Zulu, which no doubt will get him back in the Top 12. If my initial observations about him are correct, I expect a big performance from him on Saturday, despite his lack of experience and foundation and never having run against this caliber of horses. But I also expect big performances from Derby Dozen occupants Mohaymen, Awesome Speed and Cherry Wine, so if he proves he’s not quite ready to win a race against more seasoned horses, with only a pair of sprints, I still believe he has a bright future and will move way forward in the Florida Derby. He breezed half in a sharp :48 1/5, so all systems are go. Stablemate MO POWER went his half in :48 2/5.
Getting back to the Risen Star, kudos to runner-up FOREVAMO, yet another talented son of Uncle Mo, who physically looked great before the race and ran to his looks, coming within a half-length of catching Gun Runner. With the exception of a poor effort in the Delta Jackpot in the slop, he’s been improving with every start. My favorite part of his pedigree is his crop of 1964 trifecta. His third dam is by a son of Damascus, out of a daughter of Dr. Fager, and his broodmare sire is a great-grandson of In Reality. He is inbred to the great Tartan stallion Intentionally and his tail-female great-grandsire, Who’s for Dinner, is a Tartan-bred grade I winner on grass who was runner-up to John Henry in the great gelding’s career finale in the Ballantine’s Scotch Classic at the Meadowlands.
Mention must also be made of arguably the most improved horse on the Derby trail, CANDY MY BOY, who rose from a $15,000 maiden claiming race at Indiana Grand to impressive maiden and allowance scores at Fair Grounds. In the Risen Star, he had to break from post 11, was rushed to the front, rattled off testing fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 1/5, and still held on gamely to finish fourth, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths in as good a losing effort as I’ve seen this year. By comparison, the pace of the Mineshaft Handicap for older horses earlier on the card was :24 1/5 and :48. In addition, the horse who was chasing him, Bistraya, faded to 9th, beaten over 18 lengths.
What was ironic about the Risen Star, was that the second, third, and fourth-place finishers of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes have now all come back to win graded stakes in their next start. But the winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club, AIROFORCE, did absolutely nothing in the Risen Star, beating one horse as the 8-5 favorite. Whether he just does not handle a fast dirt track as he does the slop and grass, he looks to be out of the Derby picture. He’ll be sent to Ocala where he’ll get checked out thoroughly before a decision on his future will be made.
Trainer Stanley Gold said he does not see a problem stretching AWESOME BANNER out to 1 1/16 miles, citing the fact that he’s not a speed-crazy horse who runs off and has to have the lead at all costs, despite his wire-to-wire scores in the Hutcheson and Swale Stakes. He admits 1 1/4 miles is another question, but is taking it one step at a time, and Saturday’s Fountain of Youth will tell him where he stands with this colt. At the other end of the spectrum. Gold has FELLOWSHIP, another son of Awesome of Course who is also pointing for the Fountain of Youth after his third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes at 40-1, in which he rallied from last. He also has speed, as indicated by his last work – 5f in :58 3/5, which followed 5f works in :59 2/5 and :59 4/5, so that last work was no fluke. Remember, he did finish second in the 6 1/2-furlong Juvenile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream West, dropping back into a sprint after rallying from 14th to win the Florida Sire In Reality Stakes going away by 4 1/2 lengths. This is a very interesting duo, who should compliment each other very well.
One horse who may be way under the radar for the Rebel Stakes is the Mark Casse-trained SIDING SPRING, who finished 5th in the Southwest Stakes, beaten 6 1/4 lengths, after uncharacteristically charging to the lead from the 11-post and leading to the top of the stretch, while under a strong hold. He was racing in blinkers for the first time and was a fresh horse, not having run since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He also was wearing regular shoes after having previously worn bar shoes because of an old quarter-crack. Although passed by four horses in the stretch of the Southwest, he re-broke after the wire and galloped out past all of them and just kept going. In three of his four career starts, he drew post 11 in his debut on grass, winning off by 6 lengths, post 14 in the BC Juvenile, and post 11 in the Southwest. Coming off his maiden score he finished a solid third in the Bourbon Stakes on grass, beaten 3 lengths by Airoforce. With this race under him and a decent post, watch for him to return to his off-the-pace style of running.
He has a fascinating pedigree, being by Warrior’s Reward, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, out of a Seeking the Gold mare. His female family has names you rarely see. His broodmare sire is Peace Rules, winner of the Haskell, Blue Grass, Louisiana Derby, and Suburban Handicap and second in the Travers and third in the Kentucky Derby. His second dam is by Thirty Six Red, winner of the Wood Memorial, second in the Belmont Stakes, and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His third dam is by the all-but-forgotten Wajima, a 10-length winner of the Travers who at 3 defeated The Mighty Forego twice, in the Governor Stakes and Marlboro Cup, looking him in they eye each time. He was also second to Forego in the Woodward in a race for Horse of the Year honors and was beaten a neck in the 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. And finally, the fourth dam is by Majestic Prince, undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and second in the Belmont Stakes in the final race of his career, cut short by injury. There is just something about this horse I find fascinating, especially his pedigree. If he doesn’t run in the Rebel, he’ll go in an allowance race around the same time.
Casse added another horse to the Derby trail when he sent out CONQUEST WINDYCITY to win a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn last Friday. The son of Tiznow looked trapped behind horses nearing the head of the stretch, but was able to swing out for room, switched leads on cue, and charged past the dual stakes-placed RATED R SUPERSTAR to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths. What I loved most was the way he seemed to pick up momentum at the wire and pulled well clear of the others on the gallop-out. He has good extension to his stride and runs like he wants to go a lot farther. He ran a huge race to finish 4th in the Iroquois Stakes as a maiden in his second career start and first start on the dirt. Considering all the trouble he had in that race, he made a huge run from 10th to third on the turn, but couldn’t sustain it. He then came back and broke his maiden in the slop at Keeneland over a nice horse in Donegal Moon.
His dam, by A.P. Indy, is a full-sister to graded stakes winner and Champagne runner-up Jump Start, and his third dam is a full-sister to the multiple stakes-winning sprinter Miswaki, who sired Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Black Tie Affair and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea, who in turn produced English Derby, 2,000 Guineas, and Arc de Triopmphe winner Sea the Stars and English and Irish Derby winner Galileo. Conquest Windycity is inbred to Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew, as well as Buckpasser.
Staying with Casse, CONQUEST BIG E, for whom he had a great deal of promise before a disappointing fourth in the Holy Bull, breezed a sharp 5f in 1:00 4/5 at Palm Meadows. Casse’s two big Derby horses at the start of the year, Airoforce and Conquest Big E, have both been disappointments so far, but he may have two worthy back-ups in Conquest Windycity and Siding Spring.
As of now, the Rebel Stakes is looking strong, with Suddenbreakingnews, WHITMORE, AMERICAN DUBAI, and Siding Spring all eligible to show big improvement, along with New York shipper VORTICITY, second in the Withers Stakes who breezed 5f in 1:01 2/5 at Fair Hill. And we’ll see where Casse goes with Conquest Windycity. DISCREETNESS, who had an extremely wide trip in the Southwest, and unbeaten allowance winner DAZZLING GEM are other Rebel possibilities. With out-of-the-money performances by Collected and Toews on Ice in the Southwest and Smarty Jones Stakes, respectively, Bob Baffert has two strikes against him already at Oaklawn, where he has been all but invincible the past several years. Could he be saving his (not so) secret weapon, CUPID, for the Rebel and Arkansas Derby? That’s just speculation, so we’ll see. He is starting to rev it up, working 6 furlongs in a sharp 1:11 4/5.
Even though the majority of top horses at Fair Grounds ran in the Risen Star Stakes, there are still a few left over who will compete in an allowance race on Thursday, including JENSEN, HARLAN PUNCH, and the highly regarded SPIKES SHIRL.
DANZING CANDY, impressive winner of his last two starts, turned in a sharp 5f breeze in 1:00 1/5 for the San Felipe Stakes. Trainer Clifford Sise said he was just galloping. Also at Santa Anita, Robert Lewis runner-up UNCLE LINO turned in a sharp half-mile breeze in :47 4/5, which, according to trainer Gary Sherlock, was the best work he’s ever had by himself. The Lewis third-place finisher I WILL SCORE breezed 5 furlongs in 1:01.
The undefeated SHAGAF, who could head to the Gotham, breezed a half in :48 3/5. I still feel he and Zulu, both of whom I wrote about in a recent column, could be very special horses and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg with them. We’ll know a lot more about Zulu on Saturday.
COCKED AND LOADED, winner of the Iroquois and Tremont Stakes last year, and fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, returned to the work tab for the first time since the Breeders’ Cup, breezing 3 furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs in :37 3/5. The aforementioned RALLY CRY, breezed a half in :48 2/5 for a possible start in the Gotham Stakes. The much-heralded MALIBU SUNSET, a 10 1/2-length maiden winner on Jan. 31 for Wayne Catalano before being sent to Bob Baffert, is starting to get serious, working 6f in 1:12 3/5. If he were to make the Derby it is highly doubtful he’d have more than three career starts, so with only a 6f race under him at this late date, his chances of being ready for the Derby appear slim at best. Another brilliant colt who got started too late is the Jimmy Jerkens-trained UNIFIED, who won his career debut by 3 lengths, scorching 6 furlongs in 1:08 4/5 and coming home his final quarter in :23 3/5. The huge margins between the others strung out over 23 lengths suggest this was a monster effort and that he could be a very special horse.
Jeremiah Englehart looks to have a runner in CADEYRN, an 11-length maiden winner at Aqueduct going a mile. The son of Malibu Moon set all the pace and drew away impressively through the stretch with a solid final quarter in :24 4/5. He could be an interesting new face for the Wood Memorial.
Dale Romans sent UNBRIDLED OUTLAW a half in :48 1/5 at Gulfstream as he prepares for his 3-year-old debut. MAC DADDY MAC continues to train well for his debut, breezing 5f in 1:00 4/5 at Gulfstream. Canadian champ RIKER turned in a sharp 5f drill in 1:00 1/5 at Palm Meadows.
With California Derby and El Camino Real Derby winner FRANK CONVERSATION targeting the UAE Derby, his connections had a keen interest in Sunday’s one-mile Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Race Course, with the appearance of the Tapit colt LANI, who was attempting to earn his ticket to Dubai. But Lani certainly didn’t strike any fear in their hearts, finishing 5th, beaten 2 1/2 lengths.
Another O’Neill-Paul Reddam stakes winner, RALIS, impressive winner of the Hopeful Stakes, continues to progress, breezing a half in :50 1/5. FLEXIBILITY, perhaps the most forgotten horse on the Derby trail following his fourth-place finish in the Withers, breezed a half in :49 on the Belmont training track. I still believe this is a top-quality horse, who just ran once too often. With five races in 3 1/2 months, including tough races against Mohaymen at 1 1/8 miles and one mile, it’ll be interesting to see if he gets some extra time and skips the Gotham to point directly for the Wood. Does he really need another 1 1/16-mile race over the inner track? He already has 15 points and likely would need only a second- or third-place finish in the Wood to get in the Derby.
Finally, I haven’t forgotten about ZICONIC, but this is the Derby Dozen and he as much of a shot of running in the Derby as his mother has of coming out of retirement.