Mohaymen Kiaran McLaughlin
Tapit—Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union
We’ve heard of horses peaking too soon, but this time it looks like the Kentucky Derby may be peaking too soon, with the classic East-West showdown of unbeaten horses taking place in the Florida Derby instead of the first Saturday in May. Bonus or no bonus, that’s a long way for Nyquist to go to face this guy on his home turf. He is so cool and so automatic, you just flip the switch when you want him to go and sit back. Imagine the buildup in Kentucky if an unbeaten Mohaymen and an unbeaten Nyquist squared off in the Derby. But it looks like that will be merely a Derby preview. If the Nyquist team can take any positives out of the Fountain of Youth it is that they didn’t come home very fast, but Mohaymen, after being forced wide into the first turn, went his second and third quarters in :23 flat and :23 3/5 and he was never put to any real pressure to dispose of Zulu, drawing clear under a hand ride and being geared down in the final strides. One thing we know about Mohaymen, ground loss does little to slow him down. Coming back off a big 3-year-old debut is often tricky, and many horses regress a little, but this was perfect, as it wasn’t a regression and wasn’t a giant leap forward; it was somewhere right in between and that is what these prep races are for. These are supposed to be building blocks and he now has two victories under his belt without coming anywhere near peaking, as evidenced by his back-to-back-to-back 95 Beyer figures. But because he didn’t move forward at all speed-wise in a race that was perfectly set up for him, he will need to start cranking up the engine when he tackles Nyquist and an improved Zulu in the Florida Derby, but still leave enough in the tank for the big one. This race, like the Holy Bull, seemed to take nothing out of him, and he was doing “awesome” the following morning, cleaning up his feed. I’ve been saying all along that McLaughlin is a major Derby gods candidate and so far they appear to be smiling down on him, with two perfect prep races; the emphasis on the word prep.
Mor Spirit Bob Baffert
Eskendereya—Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union
When Baffert’s plans go awry and it’s back to the drawing board, you can bet he will draw up new plans that will put him back on the right track. Such was the case when he had to adjust to this horse’s aborted work last week. This time with plenty of company, he was aggressive enough to work 5f in :59 4/5 with jockey Martin Garcia aboard, putting him right on schedule for his important test in the San Felipe Stakes, assuming that’s where he winds up running. As we all know, the last time he worked, Gary Stevens pulled him up during the work when he felt he was too unresponsive. Baffert attributed it to the cotton in his ears not being removed before the work. In any case, this time, going in company and having two other workers in front of him to run at, he turned in the kind of sharp work one expects from a top-class Baffert horse. The way the San Felipe is shaping up, he should have another ideal pace scenario, with his four main competitors all having early speed, whether on the lead or in a stalking position. He now likes to sit back with those long effortless strides and wear down his opponents methodically. He should get that opportunity in the San Felipe, but as we all know, Baffert doesn’t commit to long-term goals. So at this point we’ll just say he’ll run in the San Felipe as long as he continues to train to Baffert’s satisfaction.
Brody's Cause Dale Romans
Giant’s Causeway —Sweet Breanna, by Sahm
Ho hum, another week, another attempt to fill this space. I’ll begin with his sharp 5-furlong breeze in 1:00 3/5 at Gulfstream. I have to admit I probably should have Nyquist ahead of him, but after all this time I figured I’d just let it stay the way it is until we find out once and for all where he stands when he debuts in the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby against what should be a pretty salty field, especially those who have already run well over the track. We all know that Tampa Bay can be deep and quirky and not all horses care for it. But this has been the plan from the beginning, and if he can get through this race with a big effort, not necessarily a victory, just something good enough to set him up for the Blue Grass Stakes, he should be in good shape. All I want to see is that acceleration he showed in his 2-year-old races, especially in the Breeders’ Futurity when he kicked into high gear on the far turn. Tampa does help build a strong foundation, and that no doubt helped Street Sense when got into a slugfest with Any Given Saturday. Remember, it was Street Sense’s victory in the Kentucky Derby that opened the floodgates for trainers giving their horses only two preps.
Nyquist Doug O'Neill
Uncle Mo—Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry
What separates him from the others is his ability to turn back all challenges and kick on. In short, he’s been impossible to pass, although a number have tried. In his career debut, one horse pulled on even terms; he turned back that challenge and then turned back a second challenge to win by a head. In the Del Mar Futurity, a horse got within a head of him at the top of the stretch; he turned back that challenge and drew off to a 3 3/4-length victory. In the Frontrunner, his first start around two turns, he got bumped around between horses into the first turn, turned back the challenge of a horse who got within a head of him turning for home, and then turned back the challenge of Swipe, who also got within a head of him trying to sneak up the inside. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he had to go 6-wide on the first turn, put away a couple of horses and then held off Swipe’s challenge again to win by a half-length. And in the San Vicente, one horse got within a neck of him at the top of the stretch; he turned back that challenge and then turned back the challenge of Exaggerator, who got within a half-length of him, before drawing clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. I have no issues at all with this colt and admire his determination and consistency, and knowing just where the wire is. O’Neill’s master plan is to try to get him through the Triple Crown without regressing, and if he can pull off the Florida Derby against Mohaymen off one 7-furlong sprint and the Kentucky Derby off only one two-turn race, then the sky’s the limit the rest of the way and a huge congrats to O’Neill. But it’s a tough assignment, even for Nyquist. One vote of confidence came from Exaggerator’s trainer Keith Desormeaux, who said of the Mohaymen-Nyquist showdown, “Mohaymen will have his hands full.” He has enough second-place checks to back up that statement.
Exaggerator Keith Desormeaux
Curlin—Dawn Raid, by Vindication
He bounced out of the San Vicente speed fest in great shape judging by his sharp 5-furlong breeze in 1:00 2/5. The more I watch his race the more I like him. He looks like he’s made great progress from 2 to 3, he ran a winning race, and this will set him up perfectly for the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. Desormeaux said he was in top form and ready to win, but that was not the primary objective. He trained him with the purpose of using the San Vicente as a building block toward the Kentucky Derby. But because the colt was working so sharply, he felt he could win anyway, but he underestimated Nyquist’s raw speed and commends him for beating his horse in such fast time. In his latest work, Desormeaux said he clipped off :12s like he was galloping and he loved how he was willing to relax, which assured him the San Vicente, despite its blistering time, did not fatigue him physically or mentally in any way. Desormeaux is one of the few trainers who believe in preparing a horse for the Derby the traditional way, with a sprint as a sharpener and then a pair of two-turn races. Injury stopped him last year with Texas Red, but good for him for sticking to his principals again this year. Exaggerator should keep improving as the distances stretch out, being by classic winner Curlin and from a tail-female family that traces to English and Irish Derby winner The Minstrel and Belmont Stakes runner-up Ruritania, a Greentree-bred son of Graustark.
Greenpointcrusader Dominick Schettino
Bernardini—Ava Knowsthecode, by Cryptoclearance
Watching only six horses compete in the Fountain of Youth, I couldn’t help but miss the presence of this colt, who, as I’ve stated, I would prefer to have two more preps to get back into a come-from-behind groove, and the way to do that is to make sure he doesn’t get too fresh, as he was in the Holy Bull. I would love to hear a definitive plan for this horse rather than leaving so many options open over a three-week period. He continues to turn in leisurely works, breezing 5 furlongs in 1:02 2/5. As I’ve also stated, he is attempting to do something no other horse has ever done, and that is win the Kentucky Derby straight from the Louisiana Derby, if that is indeed where he runs next, as originally stated. But it must be added that before 2010 the Louisiana Derby was run at 1 1/16 miles, so one would think it can stand alone as a final prep much more than it used to, and we’ve seen too much Derby history torn to shreds in the past decade with the more conservative style of training. Whatever Schettino’s reasoning is for going this route, he obviously is trying to get this horse to the Derby what he believes is the best way. Like O’Neill, if he can pull it off being this conservative, and gets this horse to win the Derby off one race in 14 weeks, more power to him. I just don’t like the precedent his and Nyquist’s strategy would set. Next thing you know, most trainers will follow suit and you’ll have a boring, inactive Derby trail with a field of short horses on the first Saturday in May, which eventually will take its toll. As for this colt, I believe it’s time to set a target and train him accordingly. If it is indeed the Louisiana Derby, he is going to have to get an awful lot out of the race to establish himself as a legitimate contender and then get battle fit all over again waiting six weeks for the Kentucky Derby.
Zulu Todd Pletcher
Bernardini —Temporada, by Summer Squall
I admit I am not a big fan of horses going into the Kentucky Derby off only four career starts, especially with two of them being sprints, but the way he ran in the Fountain of Youth and the room he has for improvement, along with his raw talent, nothing he does on the first Saturday in May would surprise me. Historically, only two horses in the past 98 years have won the Derby with four starts or less and neither of them had ever run in a sprint. This colt is attempting it having run in two of them. That’s not a lot of foundation. He looked great in the paddock and post parade before getting a little wired and sweaty nearing the gate. But he broke sharply, relaxed beautifully in second, and was able to rattle off quarters in :23 3/5, :23 2/5, and :23 3/5. When Awesome Banner abruptly called it a day midway on the far turn, he found himself on the lead, partly to try to get the jump on Mohaymen, who was breathing down his neck. That put him at a disadvantage, having never been two turns. He needed to save more in reserve for the stretch run, but was already under a left-hand whip nearing the top of the stretch. To his credit, he tried to fight back when Mohaymen collared him turning for home. He was tiring at the end and was striding a bit high, but he never gave up. Getting beat 2 1/4 lengths by an undefeated horse who had won three two-turn graded stakes and had run 18 1/2 furlongs farther was very respectable. This race definitely will move him forward, and considering the competition in the Florida Derby and the big difference in experience and foundation, he doesn’t need to win that either, as long as it takes him one step closer to peaking on the first Saturday in May. But he is going to have to get a lot out of the Florida Derby; mainly experience, bottom, and toughness, and that means looking Mohaymen and Nyquist in the eye and standing his ground. As far as raw talent goes, he takes a backseat to no one, which is why he was in the initial Top 12. The bottom line is he is behind the leading contenders in every aspect and needs to catch-up quickly, and Pletcher is going to have to time this perfectly and get him to run an absolute monster race on the first Saturday in May.
Mo Tom Tom Amoss
Uncle Mo—Caroni, by Rubiano
For a horse with his style of running, he’s been remarkably consistent, having never finished worse than third in six career starts at distances from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles at four different racetracks. It’s just a question of whether he can duplicate his closing feats at longer distances. Here is where his pedigree becomes an enigma. People look at it and see speed on top with Uncle Mo and a broodmare sire who was strictly a sprinter. But the sons of Uncle Mo are mostly come from behind horses who look they want to go on. And although Mo Tom’s broodmare sire, Rubiano, was closing sprinter, he is a half-brother to the dam of Tapit. In fact, it’s even closer than that, as Tapit’s dam is by Unbridled, while Rubiano is by Unbridled’s sire Fappiano, so some may consider him more of a three-quarter brother. I also can’t get a handle on the Fair Grounds-based horses. Those who go through the series of preps here normally don’t make an impact on the Derby for some reason. You would think this should be a perfect track to prep for the Derby. Mucho Macho Man did win the Risen Star and finish third in the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby, but he shipped in from Florida for the Risen Star after running in the Holy Bull Stakes. The only horse to run in all three Fair Grounds preps and even finish in the money in the Derby was Risen Star himself, back in 1988 when the race eventually named after him was the ungraded Louisiana Derby Trial.
Smokey Image Carla Gaines
Southern Image—Special Smoke, by Free House
He’s had a pair of eventful works, hooking up with other horses, this time Danzing Candy, but he just seems to shrug it off and go about his business. In his last drill, he still wound up working a bullet 6 furlongs in 1:12 1/5, fastest of 30 works at the distance. We’ve gone through all this horse’s attributes and the comparisons to California Chrome, and the ease with which he won the Cal Cup Derby in his first race around two turns. It’s now up to him to show how much class he has when he takes on Mor Spirit, Exaggerator, Uncle Lino, I Will Score, Danzing Candy and others in the San Felipe Stakes. He won’t be strolling out there on any easy lead, so he’ll have to show his stalking ability against some very fast horses who can carry their speed a distance. Judging from the way he rallied after tracking the pace and then getting stopped cold on the turn in the Golden State Juvenile, I don’t see him having any trouble adapting to whatever pace scenario plays out. If he runs back to his works he should be competitive with these horses. But there simply is no way to tell how he stacks up with them at this point.
Suddenbreakingnews Donnie Von Hemel
Mineshaft—Uchitel, by Afleet Alex
Breezed an easy half in :51 1/5 in preparation for the Rebel Stakes. There really is little to dislike about this gelding, with his ability to beat you from anywhere on the track and his explosive late kick. What was most impressive in the Southwest Stakes was the way he ran right on by a very good horse in Whitmore, who is extremely close to making the Top 12. Whitmore appeared to be making a big winning move and becoming a major Derby contender when Suddenbreakingnews streaked by him late and quickly opened up by nearly three lengths at the wire. He is bred to run all day, with his broodmare sire having won the Belmont and his great-grandsire two Arc de Triomphes. His dam is a half-sister to grade I winner Composure and West Virginia Derby winner Ready Set and his granddam was grade I-placed. He’s inbred 4x4 to Alleged’s sire Hoist the Flag, a son of the great stamina influence Tom Rolfe, and he traces to the prolific Dan’s Dream, the dam of seven stakes winners. It’s been a long time between mint juleps for Von Hemel, who picked the wrong year to have his best 3-year-old, Clever Trevor, who managed to win three Derbys in 1989 and finish second to Easy Goer in the Travers Stakes. Ironically, Suddenbreakingnews’ first career stakes victory came in the Clever Trevor Stakes.
Gun Runner Steve Asmussen
Candy Ride—Quiet Giant, by Giant's Causeway
Returned to the work tab with an easy 5-furlong breeze in 1:02 4/5. His Risen Star victory was a big step in the right direction, especially maintaining the lead from the top of the stretch to the wire down that long Fair Grounds stretch, despite getting a bit tired in the closing yards. He has tremendous scope for improvement and looks to be extremely talented and probably deserves to be ranked higher. But let’s remember, he did beat a 40-1 shot by a half-length and Mo Tom did have to take up in the stretch. And the 34-1 shot who set a brisk pace of :22 4/5 and :46 1/5 was beaten only 2 1/4 lengths. So, although this was a very good effort for his first start in almost three months and in an 11-horse field, he still has to show improvement in the Louisiana Derby when he faces these same horses and some quality shippers, and then have a six-week gap to the Kentucky Derby. In the past, when the Louisiana Derby was six weeks away and run at 1 1/16 miles, horses would often run back in three weeks for their final prep. The past few years, the race has been run five weeks before the Kentucky Derby and we have had some big efforts, such as Commanding Curve, Golden Soul, and Revolutionary. So we’ll see what trainers do this year with the race back to six weeks out. We’ll also have to see if the six-week gap will affect him, being the only Fair Grounds-based Derby hopeful making his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star and having only two preps.
Destin Todd Pletcher
Giant’s Causeway—Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer
This is my new dark horse for the Derby. I loved this horse’s career debut and hated his next two starts, especially failing to catch a 28-1 former claimer who you couldn’t find with a telescope in his two most recent starts. But then I loved his race in the Sam F. Davis, which left me totally confused about him. I went back and watched all four of his races again and saw something in his uninspiring fourth in the LeComte that caught my eye. For most of the race he seemed to show little interest and was a mess turning for home, being hit left- and right-handed, and that was with the addition of blinkers. But then at the sixteenth pole, out of nowhere, he leveled off, found his best stride, and was moving with great power and authority to and past the wire. Pletcher then made an adjustment with his blinkers and he turned in a powerful effort from start to finish in the Sam Davis, flying home in :06 1/5, despite still being a bit green. I’m now convinced that this colt, who was a handful to break at WinStar Farm and constantly tested his handlers, simply woke up when the light bulb went on at the sixteenth pole of the LeComte, and he then carried it into the Sam Davis. The problem with him early on was that his mind had a tendency to wander when running at high speed, in the afternoon and morning. Even after returning from his victory in his career debut, he went right to the inside rail, turned his head, and stood there motionless for several seconds just staring out into the infield. Between the blinker adjustment, Johnny Velazquez working with him, and just finally maturing, I believe he has turned into the racehorse everyone thought he’d be and will keep moving forward.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Where are the Florida 3-year-olds? The Holy Bull Stakes drew 6 horses; the Fountain of Youth drew 6 horses; the Sam F. Davis Stakes drew 6 horses; the Swale Stakes drew 6 horses. The Palm Beach Stakes on grass had more Triple Crown nominees entered than the Fountain of Youth the same day. In the Fountain of Youth, the three main threats to Mohaymen – Zulu, Awesome Speed, and Awesome Banner – had a combined total of nine career starts, with Mohaymen’s five opponents having run in only one two-turn race, and that was restricted to horses by Florida-based stallions. By comparison, the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park not only drew 14 horses, but they got an additional eight horses in a two-turn allowance race run four days later, and even carded a 1 1/16-mile allowance race for 3-year-olds and up a week after that, which drew two more Rebel possibilities. At Fair Grounds, the Risen Star Stakes drew 11 horses, and they were able to muster up a seven-horse field in an allowance race five days later (see report below). That’s 40 3-year-olds, the vast majority of them stakes caliber, competing at those two tracks within the span of a week and a half.
Gulfstream, to its credit, did card a 1 1/16-mile allowance race the day after the Fountain of Youth, which drew a field of eight and was won by a horse who had never run on dirt. There are three top-quality horses who are leaving town and heading to New York for Saturday’s Gotham. Let’s hope we get deeper and more competitive fields for the Tampa Bay Derby and Florida Derby, but that is doubtful regarding the latter, with Mohaymen, Nyquist, and Zulu likely to keep that field small as well.
As for the beaten horses in the Fountain of Youth, FELLOWSHIP ran pretty much the same race he did in the Holy Bull. You can say he finished third by default, but we’ll give more credit to the horse, although he was no threat to the top two. AWESOME SPEED was mugged twice, once being knocked sideways, going into the first turn, by a horse, GOLDEN RAY, who really didn’t belong in this race other than he managed to beat Destin four races back. How he managed that is beyond me. He’s run some decent races, but not in this company. He was totally out of control around the turn and into the backstretch and faded to finish last, beaten over 26 lengths. Awesome Speed never did a thing after that, tiring early to be finish a well-beaten fourth. It's a shame he never got a chance to show what he can do. And AWESOME BANNER simply showed that he's a sprinter, stopping badly and finishing just in front of Golden Ray.
CHERRY WINE having to miss the Fountain of Youth was unfortunate, but although it’s a setback, there is still time to still get two preps in him. He’ll just have to forget the Gulfstream route and head elsewhere. The worst part of the defection is that the colt has been very sharp in his works and has now bypassed two stakes and will have to go more than two months between starts, having raced last back on Jan. 9. The most likely route would seem to be the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, but there is also the possibility of running him against stablemate Brody's Cause at Tampa, and that’s for Romans to decide, whether he wants to run both horses against each. With that said, I had no choice but to drop him from the Top 12 for the time being. Unlike Brody’s Cause, who is a proven top-class horse in graded stakes company, Cherry Wine’s inactivity still leaves question marks. He still has not proven his class against stakes horses and on the Derby trail, inactivity and unproven don’t mix.
How popular would a horse owned, trained, and bred by Larry Jones be on the Derby trail? Well, we may find out after JENSEN’S impressive 6 3/4-length wire-to-wire victory in a mile and 70-yard allowance race at Fair Grounds, in which the son of Haynesfield easily defeated a couple of very nice horses in SPIKES SHIRL and HARLAN PUNCH. Both Haynesfield and Jensen’s broodmare sire, Hard Spun, who was trained by Jones, were frontrunners who could carry their speed 1 1/4 miles, so Jones wanted to put the colt on the lead to see if he could carry his speed as well. Despite the manner of victory, Jones is convinced Jensen can be just as effective rating off the pace. What was most impressive about the victory was how the colt kept building up momentum throughout the race and powered his way to the wire, getting stronger with every stride. And he did it the right way, running a straight course down the stretch with smooth, efficient strides. He is not nominated to the Triple Crown, but will be a late nominee if he performs well in the Louisiana Derby. Jones’s wife Cindy is co-owner and co-breeder of the colt.
MALIBU SUNSET, a 10-length maiden winner going 6 furlongs at Fair Grounds before being sent to Bob Baffert, stretched out to two-turns in a mile allowance race and showed a good deal of professionalism, having to contend with constant pressure on his outside and inside before asserting himself and pretty much coasting to a stylish 1 1/2-length victory in 1:37 4/5. He was never asked in the stretch and, despite the margin and time, was much the best. It’s just too bad he couldn’t have gotten started a little earlier. Running in the Derby off three career starts would be asking a lot. Baffert sent out TOEWS ON ICE for his first work, a half in :49, since his disappointing effort in the Smarty Jones. But the “other” Baffert horse to watch on the Derby trail is CUPID, whose impressive maiden victory, in which he charged past his opponents at the top of the stretch with a powerful sweeping move, stamped him as a very talented colt. He demonstrated his sharpness, working 5 furlongs in :59 4/5. It’ll be interesting to see where he shows up next. You always have to consider the Rebel when it comes to Baffert.
After a string of seconds, WinStar Farm's CREATOR broke his maiden in explosive fashion, rallying far back in the 1 1/16-mile race to blow his field away in the stretch, drawing off to an impressive 7 1/4-length victory, coming home his final sixteenth in a sharp :06 1/5. But all six of his starts have been run in plodding fractions, so he will have to get faster to take the next big step. I will go into more detail on this colt next week. But for now, he could be one to keep a close eye on among the late developers, especially with his unusual pedigree. He will get higher billing next week when things are a little slower.
Saturday’s Gotham Stakes looks to be one the strongest in years, with a number of promising horses in addition to several proven stakes horses. The first and third-place finishers of the Withers Stakes, SUNNY RIDGE and ADVENTIST, will be back. Sunny Ridge, who breezed a half in :51 4/5 over the Belmont training track, is not being pointing for the Kentucky Derby, according to his owner. Adventist, who should show big improvement off his last start, breezed 5 furlongs in a bullet 1:01 1/5 also over the Belmont training track. A trio of Florida shippers who should get a great deal of attention are SHAGAF, RALLY CRY, and CONQUEST BIG E, who is trying to rebound off a disappointing effort in the Holy Bull Stakes. Shagaf and Rally Cry finished first and third, respectively, in a Gulfstream allowance race, with the latter having to take up sharply and then rallying in the final furlong without ever threatening the winner, who is undefeated in two starts and could be any kind. Shagaf breezed a half in :48 4/5 at Palm Meadows, while Rally Cry breezed his half in :48 3/5 at Palm Beach Downs. Another shipper is the lightly raced LAOBAN, third in the Sham Stakes, who worked 6 furlongs in 1:15 at Aqueduct for trainer Eric Guillot, who caught the colt’s last quarter in :24, galloping out 7 furlongs in 1:27 3/5. Although still a maiden, he appears to have ability and is on the improve.
Possibly pointing for the Gotham is MATT KING COAL from the Linda Rice barn. Although he’d be making his first start of the year, if he runs back to his sensational maiden victory last fall, he’d be tough to handle. He breezed a sharp 6 furlongs in 1:14 3/5, an excellent work over the Belmont training track. Rice is weighing her options. She has another 3-year-old who can run in SEYMOURDINI, who was beaten a half-length by Mohaymen in his career debut and then broke his maiden by 9 lengths stretching out to a mile. The son of Bernardini had his first work of the year, breezing a half in :50 4/5.
Mark Casse, who now has a new-look Derby team compared to the one he had at the beginning of the year, said SIDING SPRING will stay home and point for the Rebel Stakes, while recent allowance winner CONQUEST WINDYCITY will head to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby. Judging from his last start and how strong he looked at the finish he should love that long stretch. He does have CONQUEST BIG E in the Gotham Stakes, and you just never know what to expect from this colt.
Trainer Ron Moquett was looking for a two-race rider commitment for Southwest runner-up WHITMORE and he was able to line up Irad Ortiz Jr., who will ride the colt in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Mike Smith rode him in the Southwest. The son of Pleasantly Perfect turned in a bullet half-mile breeze in :48 1/5 in company, fastest of 75 works at the distance. This colt is sitting right on the edge of the Top 12, and I’m looking for the slightest excuse to put him on.
Also on the Rebel front, Jack Van Berg said CUTACORNER, ninth in the Southwest, deserves another chance after getting cut up pretty bad on his front legs. Others pointing for the Rebel are SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, DISCREETNESS, VORTICITY, who worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 1/5 at fair Hill, AMERICAN DUBAI, who breezed 3 furlongs in :36 1/5, SIDING SPRING, who breezed 5 furlongs in 1:01, undefeated allowance winner DAZZLING GEM, and allowance sprint winner MO FOR THE MONEY, trained by Tony Dutrow. We’ll have to wait to see if there are any other shippers coming and, as mentioned earlier, if Bob Baffert is planning on sending Cupid. Donnie Von Hemel said he will back off Smarty Jones third-place finisher SYNCHRONY after his poor showing in the Southwest and will not point for the Rebel.
It was great to see SWIPE back on the work tab. Four times runner-up to Nyquist, including a three-quarters of a length defeat in the Frontrunner and a half-length defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he breezed a half in :49 2/5.
As of now, FLEXIBILITY is not listed as a probable or possible for the Gotham, which to me is great news. If Brown waits for the Wood Memorial I feel he will be very live in there at a good price, because people have forgotten him after his fourth in the Withers. As I’ve been saying, I just feel he had too many races close together and needed a break, and he ran like it in the Withers. But just watch his two races against Mohaymen and you know this is a very good horse. He had his second work since the Withers, breezing a half in :48 4/5 at Belmont. He has a ton of stamina top and bottom, he’s inbred to two Triple Crown winners and his dam is inbred to the great classic influence Hail to Reason. Brown also has Swale Stakes runner-up ECONOMIC MODEL for the same owners likely pointing for the Tampa Bay Derby. His pedigree says he should have no trouble stretching out to two turns.
Because I think so highly now of Destin, I have to give RAFTING another chance, even though he’s become a Jekyll and Hyde type. One race he does everything wrong, then the next he looks smooth and professional, and then he’s back racing like a green 2-year-old. He even went from looking like a winner to looking totally messed up in the span of a few seconds in the Sam F. Davis. I truly believe the talent is there and think very highly of him. I just want to see him show that he’s matured and doesn’t keep going back and forth mentally. But first he has to show up on the work tab, as he hasn’t worked since the Sam Davis.
California Derby and El Camino Real Derby winner FRANK CONVERSATION breezed a half in :49 as he prepares to depart for Dubai for the UAE Derby. Team Valor’s KASSEOPIA, who finished an unlucky third in the El Camino Real Derby and looks to be a good one, will likely remain on synthetic and point for the Spiral Stakes April 2. Another Team Valor colt, RIKER, could also show up in the Spiral, the race that was Animal Kingdom’s springboard to the Derby for the same owner.
Last week, I mentioned Todd Pletcher’s crew of late developers. There are others to add to the list, and all of them are nominated to the Gotham Stakes. There’s AWESOME GENT, runaway winner of a maiden and allowance race over Aqueduct’s inner track; OUTWORK, undefeated in two starts at Keeneland and Tampa Bay; SARATOGA MISCHIEF, who hasn’t run since finishing second to Exaggerator in the Saratoga Special; and one early starter, DONEGAL MOON, an impressive maiden winner who is looking to regain his form after several poor efforts and a horrible break, unseating his rider and nearly going down. Pletcher even accidentally backed into a winner when he scratched AZAR from the Palm Beach Stakes on grass because of a bad post and entered him on the dirt for the first time in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race the following day, and the son of Scat Daddy scored a workmanlike three-quarters of a length victory in a slowly run 1:45. Pletcher could also decide to switch GIMLET to the dirt after the son of Lemon Drop Kid rallied from far back to finish fifth in the Palm Beach, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths. Gimlet’s second dam was a stakes winner on dirt in New York and is a full-sister to million-dollar earner Althea, winner of the Arkansas Derby in track-record time and five other grade I stakes on dirt, and a half-sister to Peter Pan and Withers winner Twining.
UNCLE LINO, second in the Robert Lewis Stakes, breezed an easy 5 furlongs in 1:03 for the San Felipe, while I WILL SCORE went his 5 f urlongs in 1:01 3/5. Another San Felipe hopeful, DANZING CANDY, worked 6 furlongs in 1:13 right in front of Smokey Image.
MAC DADDY MAC continues to move close to his 3-year-old debut, breezing 5 furlongs in 1:01. COCKED AND LOADED continued his easy breezes, going 3 furlongs in :38 1/5 at Tampa Bay Downs. UNBRIDLED OUTLAW, who is an under the radar horse to watch down the road, breezed 5 furlongs in 1:01 2/5. Another Dale Romans-trained colt, LOOKIN FOR A KISS, who broke his maiden first out in 1:09 3/5, turned in a bullet 5-furlong breeze in 1:00 flat, fastest of 26 works at the distance.
The Spiral Stakes on Polytrack gained a couple of prospective starters in CONVERGE, winner of the Palm Beach Stakes, and CITE, a son of Blame who came from way back to break his maiden in a 1 1/8-mile turf race at Gulfstream.