Irish War Cry Graham Motion
Curlin—Irish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers
It’s not as if he backed into the No. 1 spot, as in my mind he was ranked on equal terms with McCraken. Now he must earn the right to stay there. The big question is whether he will take back off the pace in the Fountain of Youth, and with the presence of Three Rules, Beasley, and Takaful, you sure don’t want to see him trying to outrun those three horses, even if he could. So it would be huge surprise to see him in front, and not something you want to see. He turned in one of the most eye-catching works of the year. Although he was clocked 5 furlongs in 1:01 3/5, his “gallop-out” in :12 flat for another eighth made this more of a 6-furlong work in 1:13 3/5. What was most impressive was the way he let his workmate open up early and how he was striding out at the wire. With his workmate being hand-ridden vigorously in the stretch, his rider threw a cross on him and he was gone in the blink of an eye, quickly opening up several lengths for fun without being asked, and the extension of his stride in the final 70 yards was stunning to see. Not having worked since his Holy Bull score, he needed a work like this. What I loved was the fact that he was only a half-length off his workmate, while on the inside, and unlike most works when a workmate breaks off several lengths in front, he actually took back on his own and let his workmate open up 5 lengths on the turn. He then came through on the inside and could not have been moving with more authority in the final furlong.
McCraken Ian Wilkes
Ghostzapper—Ivory Empress, by by Seeking the Gold
Late-breaking news that he will miss the Tampa Bay Derby due to a minor ankle injury has scrambled things up at the last minute. I had to drop him, but only to No. 2 for now, until we find out the extent of the injury. Wilkes at least has a race to play with by having scheduled three starts for him, and he can still go straight to the Blue Grass Stakes, but his status will remain iffy until his injury heals and he’s back working. As others run, he likely will slip farther down the list. He had worked for the first time since the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), breezing a half in :48 4/5. Right now, he still remains the only top ranked 2-year-old from last year along with Gormley to win a major stakes, as Classic Empire, Mo Town, No Dozing, Lookin At Lee and Wild Shot have all disappointed. The Derby Future Wager bettors believed in him, betting him down to 6-1 favoritism of the 23 individual horses, with Irish War Cry right behind at 7-1. As I’ve been saying, it’s tough trying to find any flaws in him, from his running style, consistent closing punch, powerful turn of foot around the turn, improving Beyer speed figures every race, pedigree, and trainer. He just looks like the complete package. He will need to be now. But all that may be meaningless at this point in time. Can he still win the Derby if he makes it to the Blue Grass? With his resume, yes, but that is a long way off and we will have to live with all the question marks until then.
Mastery Bob Baffert
Candy Ride—Steady Course, by Old Trieste
He worked much slower than last time, breezing 6 furlongs in 1:15 over a track that was playing slow with a few exceptions. Baffert said the work was perfect and that the colt has been ready for two weeks, and he’s laying down a foundation for the future, having him gallop out a mile in 1:40. He has been putting a lot of distance works in him, which he needs after being away for so long. Not only was his 7-furlong work in 1:25 2/5 two works back as good as any work I’ve seen this year, along with Irish War Cry’s, he followed it up with an equally brilliant work last week, this time going 6 furlongs in 1:12 flat, again galloping out like a powerhouse. In that work he broke off right behind his workmate and tracked him until he hooked up with him at the three-eighths pole. He spurted clear inside the sixteenth pole to finish 2 1/2 lengths in front at the wire and then quickly opened up by 8 lengths in the next sixteenth of a mile. This was a typical Baffert work, and you can expect this colt to come back in the San Felipe at the top of his game; dead-fit with a lot of bottom under him. But that Los Alamitos Futurity seems like a long time ago and we still have no idea how good this colt is, especially considering who he’s beaten. But Baffert is very high on him and loves the way he’s been training and that’s good enough for me. We’ll find out for sure soon enough in the San Felipe when he’ll be taking on some very fast horses who have already won stakes this year.
Gunnevera Antonio Sano
Dialed In—Unbridled Rage, by Unbridled
He had his final work for the Fountain of Youth on Saturday, a 5-furlong breeze, but the clockers were unable to time it because of heavy fog. Sano said he breezed well, of course, and went to the track the following morning for a jog. I was impressed with his performance in the Holy Bull for the reasons already given, and it should be mentioned that he has proven to be one of the few leading 2-year-olds from last year to make a successful transition from 2 to 3. He had to stay within fairly close proximity to Irish War Cry and still had enough of a closing punch to prove much the best for second, while holding his ground in the final furlong. Considering he showed last year he could win sprinting and he could blow you away with one quick burst going two turns, this was an excellent 3-year-old debut. With the aforementioned presence of Three Rules, Takaful and Beasley in the Fountain of Youth, Irish War Cry is not expected to control the pace like he did last time, which would benefit Irish War Cry as well in the long run, but most important would allow Gunnevera to settle a bit farther back and make that one big run. All Gunnevera needs to do is improve off the Holy Bull and be right there at the finish, which should help move him closer to peak form for his final prep, likely the Florida Derby. When you look at his grandsires Mineshaft and Unbridled and great-grandsires A.P. Indy. Storm Cat, Fappiano, and Graustark, there can be no doubting the abundance of class and stamina influences. And his third dam is by English and Irish Derby winner The Minstrel. Not bad for a $16,000 yearling.
Practical Joke Chad Brown
Into Mischief—Halo Humor, by Distorted Humor
Following a pair of 5-furlong works, he sharpened up for the Fountain of Youth Stakes with a bullet half in :48, fastest of 38 works at the distance, much to the delight of his trainer. Finally, we get to see what we’re dealing with this year, as he heads into his big test to prove he is as adept around two turns and he is around one. Don’t let the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile influence you in a negative way. I expect a much stronger stretch run from him, but he’s been out of action for four months, and Irish War Cry and Gunnevera have a fitness edge on him, so don’t get down on him if he should get beat, as long as he shows he can come home and be competitive going two turns. I’m not crazy about him having only two starts, leaving little room for error or setbacks, which is why, win or lose, he has to get a lot out of the Fountain of Youth; enough to prepare him for a big effort in the Florida Derby if that’s what Brown is pointing for. His pedigree concerns me, especially with Into Mischief on top and Gilded Time on the bottom, but as I said last week I’m just hoping he can take after his maternal great-grandsire Forty Niner and keeps battling to the wire while stretching out to classic distances. Remember, Forty Niner was flying at the end of the 1988 Kentucky Derby and just missed catching the front-running Winning Colors, and then out-dueled Seeking the Gold in both the Haskell and Travers. But realistically he does have question marks when it comes to a mile and a quarter. However, they are questions he can at least begin to answer starting Saturday.
El Areeb Cathal Lynch
Exchange Rate—Feathered Diamond, by A.P. Indy
Moved him up three spots based on his continued sharp works, breezing 5 furlongs in a bullet 1:00 4/5, out in 1:13. Watching his works he appears to be very enthusiastic about everything he does, and just seems to love the action. Remember Lou Grant’s classic line to Mary Richards, “You got spunk…I hate spunk.” Well, El Areeb looks like a horse with spunk, but in his case you have to love it. Good for Lynch for avoiding the temptation to skip the Gotham Stakes and point directly for the Wood Memorial or shipping the horse to Florida. This appears to be a colt who thrives on racing and training and if there are any kinks still to be worked out, let him do it now before he heads into his final prep against what promises to be tougher opposition. What was impressive about his last work was the way he hugged the rail going into the clubhouse turn on the gallop-out, and how he continued all the way to the three-eighths pole. When they can hug the rail after a good stiff workout, it shows they still have a lot of run left and also shows off their athleticism. Also, Lynch said the track was not as fast as it was for his previous work, which makes his time all the more impressive. His stock as a mile and a quarter horse may be questionable to many because of his sire’s stud record, but let’s remember, his second dam is a half-sister to Queens Plate winner and millionaire Regal Intention, his third dam is a half-sister to Canadian Horse of the Year Ruling Angel, and his fourth dam, Loudrangle, was a Canadian Broodmare of the Year and a daughter of Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Quadrangle. Although we still need to see him away from the inner track, these races so far have been excellent building blocks and he hasn’t backed up an inch during his roll of four straight victories at Aqueduct and Laurel.
Classic Empire Mark Casse
Pioneerof the Nile—Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief
Between his foot abscess and no works and now McCraken, the Derby picture regarding the one-time big guns is beginning to come apart at the seams. He’s been galloping regularly, but still no works as of early Tuesday morning. They had hoped to work him this past weekend, so I’ll give it one more week before I’m reluctantly forced to lower him. He’s still fourth choice in the Future Wager of the individual horses and ranked fourth on the NTRA poll, but at this point, all you can be is hopeful there will be some movement very soon. If you want to visit friendly familiar ground with him, how about the San Felipe over the same track as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then the Blue Grass Stakes over the same track as the Breeders’ Futurity. Those were the two races in which he shined both performance-wise and professionally. But I admit that premise is merely space filler and probably not realistic or being considered. Right now he just needs to work. It has to be frustrating for his connections, as well as his fans, to wait for a foot abscess to heal properly, with time becoming an important factor, knowing the horse most likely is dying to get back in action. Fortunately, he’s been able to train daily, and it’s just a matter of getting some works in him and planning his schedule. No matter where he shows up, he’s still the 2-year-old champion, we know what he’s capable of on his best day, and you have to give him a big chance assuming he behaves well. If he only has one more prep it’s going to make things more difficult, because he didn’t get as much out of the Holy Bull as everyone would have hoped and he’ll have to improve dramatically and get a lot out of the next race if he’s going to be ready for a peak performance on Derby Day.
Gormley John Shirreffs
Malibu Moon—Race to Urga, by Bernstein
The closer I look at this colt the more I like him. Following his brief layoff he is razor sharp, as indicated by his last two works – 6 furlongs in a bullet 1:11 and a half in :47 3/5, which was very deceiving considering how far he kept going past the wire, galloping out the 5 furlongs in 1:01 1/5 and the 6 furlongs in 1:14 3/5, and not pulling up until well down the backstretch. The 1:11 work was on a slow track that saw Mastery work in 1:15 and Arrogate a mile in 1:38 2/5. Needless to say, Shirreffs was not expecting him to go that fast. Fortunately, he has two weeks before the San Felipe and even longer if he waits for the Rebel Stakes. Shirreffs is a master at getting a horse fit, and although you would prefer to see him a bit farther off the pace, Shirreffs is not going to take his strength away from him. His main focus has always been the entire career and choosing the right races. He is as meticulous a planner as there is, and no one gets horses to relax better, so we’ll see what he can do with Gormley and Royal Mo. As I’ve said all along you won’t find a better training job of getting a horse to peak on Derby Day than Shirreffs did with 50-1 shot Giacomo.
One Liner Todd Pletcher
Into Mischief—Cayala, by Cherokee Run
Pletcher, as expected, will give him only one more start, just as he’s doing with Battalion Runner, which brings back into play the historical stat regarding having only four career starts before the Derby. As mentioned several times, only two horses in the past 99 years have won the Derby with as few as four career starts and both had never sprinted, while One Liner has sprinted twice. As talented as I believe this colt is, these facts have to be addressed, just as they have to be addressed concerning Battalion Runner, who also will have only four career starts. One Liner will be going into the Derby with only three races in 9 1/2 months, with a 6-month layoff between his first and second start. With question marks surrounding his stamina, it must also be pointed out that he will be carrying 11 pounds more in the Derby than he did in the Southwest Stakes. So, if One Liner should win the Derby in spite of all these facts, then he truly is something special. And he very well may be, but like so many horses these days he will be going into the most grueling race in the country with very little mileage under him. I’ve also pointed out that Bodemeister nearly pulled it off in 2012, but unlike One Liner, all four of his starts were as a 3-year-old, and three of them were at a mile or longer, and let’s remember he was unable to hold on to a 5-length lead in the stretch. Again, in this day and age where getting to the Derby is the main priority for so many trainers, it is only inevitable that one of these lightly raced horses, like One Liner with only 29 total furlongs of racing under him, will put an end to these historical trends. But until they do it, these historical facts have to be mentioned.
American Anthem Bob Baffert
Bodemeister—Indy’s Windy, by A.P. Indy
There is no doubting this colt’s speed, as indicated by his 5-furlong drill in :58 4/5 in preparation for the Rebel Stakes, and that was on a track considered slow. The statistics mentioned above regarding four career starts also apply to him and that is the only reason he is not ranked higher. Like One Liner, as brilliant as he may be, we have seen too many of these lightly raced horses come up short in the Derby. His path likely will be the Rebel Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. One thing about Baffert, he trains his horses fast and aggressively, and those that can handle it will be wound tightly on Derby Day, as Bodemeister was. He received a good deal of support in the Future Wager at 17-1, and Baffert horses always command respect. If he turns into a major player come Derby Day and runs big, it wouldn’t come as a shock, but I still will cling on to certain historical trends until someone breaks them. Also, this is a year with an abundance of top-class speed, so he also has to show he can settle behind horses going two turns, as he did in his career debut.
Tapwrit Todd Pletcher
Tapit—Appealing Zophie, by Successful Appeal
With McCraken’s injury, it looks as if Pletcher can dominate the Tampa Bay Derby, which suddenly has lost most of its luster. He worked a sharp half in :47 4/5 in company with Always Dreaming, who could join him at Tampa. As well as he was closing in the final furlong of the Sam F. Davis Stakes, it must be noted that there would have been a fairly significant weight shift with McCraken, as he was getting 6 pounds from the winner in the Sam F. Davis, and McCraken was not fully cranked for that race. But that is all moot now, and he may have jumped into the role of favorite, with Always Dreaming likely to be bet down as well off his runaway maiden score at Tampa. What Tapwrit has going for him is that he seems to be improving at the right time and has made a great deal of progress since his diminishing one-length victory in the Pulpit Stakes. He does have a good blend of speed (Successful Appeal by Valid Appeal) and stamina (Hawkster) in his female family. And his inbreeding to In Reality is intriguing. His 22-1 odds in the Future Wager seem a tad low, but considering his performance against the 6-1 favorite, it is certainly understandable. He appears to be going in the right direction, but needs to duplicate his Sam Davis performance in a race that could now undergo major changes since McCraken’s defection.
Girvin Joe Sharp
Tale of Ekati—Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon
I had no intention of putting another horse in the Top 12 who was going into the Derby off 4 career starts…until I belatedly looked at his Thoro-Graph figures going into the race. In his career debut at 2, his only start on dirt, his figure, with the exception of Mo Town’s Remsen, remarkably was faster than any of the other 10 horses in the field had ever run. To repeat, his career debut as a 2-year-old was faster than Guest Suite’s LeComte Stakes; faster than Untrapped’s best race; and significantly faster than Local Hero’s best race. His subsequent start was far slower, but Sharp said he disliked the grass, yet was good enough to run second anyway. With Mo Town running so poorly, he simply was the fastest horse in the field…as a 2-year-old maiden. With the expected improvement and maturity since that race, he likely was by far the fastest horse in the field, or at least on equal terms with Mo Town. But as far as the Kentucky Derby, he’s another who is going to be bucking history, and his pedigree is loaded with sprinters and milers, and his only sibling, Cocked and Loaded, is basically a sprinter who set a track record at 4 1/2 furlongs, but did manage to win a stakes at 1 1/16 miles at 2, his only victory around two turns. And Cocked and Loaded is by Travers winner Colonel John, a son of Tiznow. Tale of Ekati, although a talented colt, was mainly a miler who managed to win the slowest Wood Memorial in 65 years. So let’s just say it was that Thoro-Graph number at 2 that forced me to put him in the Top 12, with the thinking that he was always cut out to be a top-quality horse and has improved and matured at an extremely rapid rate. One thing I found very interesting and possibly revealing is that inside the eighth pole when he came in a little he switched to his left lead, but for only a stride or two and then quickly corrected it and switched back to his right lead. It was so fast it’s difficult to see, but perhaps the quickness of that move showed his athleticism. He also appears to have the physique of a horse who wants to run long and his action and big strides suggest he may be able to outrun his pedigree and overcome his lack of experience. Whether it’s enough to buck history and win the Kentucky Derby is another matter.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
The thee top choices in the Risen Star all were disappointments, especially MO TOWN, who had a perfect trip, but came up totally empty at the head of the stretch. I’m the first to admit I was dead wrong about him. I’ve said all along I’m not a fan of the Remsen Stakes and Remsen winners in general, and I went against my better instincts and thought he was the exception, based on his maiden victory, the caliber of horses I thought he was beating in the Remsen, his works at Payson Park, and an excellent Thoro-Graph profile. I should have known better after NO DOZING ran even worse than he did in the Sam F. Davis and TAKAFUL’S horrendous performance in the Jerome Stakes. If there is any hope for him as a Derby horse it is that John Velazquez said he definitely did not handle the track. That may be true, but you can’t use it to dismiss the performance, not when you’re giving your horse only two Derby preps. As I’ve said, there is no room for error and this was a race that did nothing to help get him to Churchill Downs in peak form. I’ve maintained that I would have liked to seen him come back in a sprint to sharpen him up and take some of the dullness left from the 9 furlongs of the Remsen and then have a pair of two-turn races. As it turned out, he actually ran a good race for 6 1/2 furlongs. But after that he had nothing left, whether it was the track or not. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him bounce back with a good effort in the Wood Memorial over a track we know he likes, but will it be enough to have him ready for a peak performance in the Derby? I know he’s a lot better than he showed at Fair Grounds.
UNTRAPPED ran another solid race, but had to play bridesmaid again. He certainly looks as if he still has plenty of room for improvement. He just needs to kick in a little better in the final furlong. But he was running on well at the finish, which is encouraging. LOCAL HERO went as far he could, but why open up 6 lengths down the backside when you could have nurtured his speed a little more? Geroux is a patient rider, so it just looks as if the horse had run on his mind from the start. He’ll be tougher to catch next time with this race under him. GUEST SUITE ran OK considering how many lengths he had to make up, but couldn’t improve his position in the final furlong. He simply needs to get faster, and he should move up at Churchill Downs, where he’s turned in two big efforts. But like all the beaten horses they need points to get there and they have only one more opportunity.
If you’re looking for a horse to pull a Holy Bull and bounce back big-time from an inexplicably poor performance, as Holy Bull did in the Florida Derby following a 24-length drubbing in the Fountain of Youth as the 6-5 favorite, don’t give up on UNCONTESTED, who tired abruptly to finish sixth, beaten nearly 13 lengths, as the even-money favorite in the Southwest Stakes. The son of Tiz Wonderful was caught by surprise by Petrov’s aggressive move as a confident Channing Hill was still sitting motionless on Uncontested. When you have a big powerful, long-striding horse like Uncontested you can’t suddenly shift gears as if you’re driving a sports car. When Petrov came charging up alongside, Hill had to shift gears and gun the gas pedal. That’s when horses flip their palate, as Holy Bull did in the Fountain of Youth, and lose their air, especially a big imposing horse with a massive stride like Uncontested. And the consensus opinion of everyone around Uncontested is that is just what happened, based on how he was acting back at the barn. A horse that fast and talented doesn’t retreat as rapidly as he did. The circumstances were ripe for it and he did run like a horse who had lost his air. So Wayne Catalano, having gotten two starts in the colt this year, will now wisely skip the Rebel Stakes and set his sights on the Arkansas Derby, where Uncontested will be fitted with a tongue tie, which he will train with. If you were impressed with Uncontested’s race in the Smarty Jones, that is the performance you should judge him by and throw out the Southwest Stakes. Now if they can only get him to settle behind horses.
Poor PETROV has not had the best of trips from a strategic standpoint. Twice now he’s had to do the dirty work and chase Uncontested, who looked a towering presence loping along on the lead, while Petrov, running low to the ground, tried to stay within range and not let him break the race open. This time, when Jose Ortiz unleashed his run, he went by Uncontested so fast he wound up with a clear lead, likely much earlier than he would prefer. I believe Petrov is better taken farther back off the pace and making a later run. This horse tries so hard every step of the way in every race. His sire Flatter, sired two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out and both his maternal great-grandsires, A.P. Indy (to whom he is inbred 2x3) and Skywalker won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His Sire, Bertrando, finished second to mega-longshot Arcangues in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If you’re looking for a real bomb in the Future Wager, you could have some fun with this guy at 70-1, especially since the horse he ran second to closed at 12-1.
Others who look likely to improve off the Southwest Stakes are LOOKIN AT LEE, a strong closer who simply put has been way too far back in his races and would need a total collapse up front to get up in time, and SILVER DUST, who had only two career starts and just got caught late by Lookin At Lee for third. Wayne Lukas said he is still undecided what to do with fifth-place finisher DILETTANTE.
Sitting at No. 13 and still waiting for that opening is ROYAL MO, who is one horse I believe we haven’t seen anywhere near the best of. A big, muscular colt who pounds the ground pretty good, he is just now finding himself, even if it has been on the front end in his last two races; not where you would really expect him. If he had beaten better horses in the Robert Lewis, he probably would be in the Dozen, but in his defense he beat who he had to, including the same horse who finished second to Mastery in the Los Alamitos Futurity, who just happens to still be a maiden after finishing second again in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park. Royal Mo worked 6 furlongs in 1:15 2/5 being pushed along in the stretch, but striding out nicely at the wire. Once this colt, who has one of the most beautiful heads I’ve seen, can hone some of that muscle he’s packing and takes back off the pace, which I’m sure he will, I believe we’re going to see a vastly improved horse. It’s not going to take much to finally push him into the Top 12, and I would love to have him at 36-1 in the Future Wager, because I see nothing but bigger days for him.
Right behind him are the Doug O’Neill pair of SO CONFLATED and ILIAD. The former could be the next breakout horse if he can go to Aqueduct and knock of El Areeb in the Gotham Stakes. I’ve been touting this horse for some time as a sleeper. His last work, 6 furlongs in 1:15 3/5, didn’t do much for me, especially compared to his previous works, but if he handles the inner track we could see him coming fast at the end. Iliad, who still needs to stretch out to two turns, was given an easy half-mile breeze in :50 1/5 after being anxious and headstrong galloping to the pole. His talent is limitless, but he still has a lot to prove.
How many New York-bred sons of Uncle Mo who sold as a 2-year-old for $8,500 have you seen lately? Well, there is one at Sunland Park who is undefeated in three starts and who has now captured the Riley Alison Futurity by 11 lengths and Sunday’s Mine That Bird Stakes, defeating the same horse who had finished second to Mastery and Royal Mo in graded stakes. The winner’s name is CONQUEST MO MONEY and he had no problem turning back the challenge of even-money favorite IRAP to win by two lengths. Next stop, the $800,000 grade 3 Sunland Derby on March 26.
Because of Todd Pletcher’s seemingly limitless number of young horses for big-time owners every year, he is always going to be a ubiquitous presence on the Derby trail. We’re not going to get into his record in the Derby; that has been discussed many times. We’re just going to focus on this year’s crop and try to figure out what kind of Pletcher horse to take seriously on the first Saturday in May. If there is one common trait his horses have it is the ability to be put under pressure on the far turn, appear to be going nowhere, and then somehow just keep coming, often times getting stronger in the stretch. We saw that twice last week alone with One Liner and the maiden winner PATCH. His young horses also break from the gate like bullets, and many of the truly brilliant ones, when meeting lesser opponents. can pounce quickly and open up quickly. When his horses are in front turning for home they are extremely tough to pass and you really have to work hard to get by them.
But those are not the Pletcher horses who have run well in the Derby. It is those rare ones who do their best running from farther back in the pack that are his serious Derby horses. If you take Pletcher’s best finishes in the Derby, Super Saver came from sixth, some 10 lengths back, to win in the slop; Bluegrass Cat came from sixth to finish second, although beaten 6 1/2 lengths by Barbaro; Invisible Ink (in Pletcher’s very early days) came from ninth to finish a well-beaten second to Monarchos at 55-1; Danza came from 12th to finish third to California Chrome; Revolutionary came from 18th, 20 lengths back, to finish third to Orb; and Impeachment (also in his early days) came from 19th, 23 lengths back, to finish third to Fusaichi Pegasus.
Although Pletcher likes time between races (he will not run a horse who lost the Derby in the Preakness), often giving his horses five weeks before the Derby, of the six horses mentioned above, five of them went into the Derby off only three weeks (three ran in the Arkansas Derby and two in the Blue Grass Stakes). But many racetracks think like Pletcher, and the Blue Grass was moved to four weeks out, so the three-week intervals are decreasing.
So you can look at horses like One Liner, Tapwrit, ALWAYS DREAMING, SONIC MULE, BATTALION RUNNER, MADE YOU LOOK, ACTION EVERYDAY, MASTER PLAN, and MONACO, and see which ones fit the successful profile of a Pletcher horse.
One that pops right up, and seemingly the most unlikely, considering he’s never run on dirt, is Made You Look, who is scheduled to make his dirt debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. Although his sire, More Than Ready, has sired a number of brilliant sprinters and milers who could win at 1 1/8 miles, he hasn’t had any classic-type horses, and Made You Look’s best races have been sprinting up to 1 1/16 miles. So why would he be considered a Kentucky Derby horse? Well, he does have a big stretch kick, even if it’s been on grass, his broodmare sire is the red-hot Unbridled’s Song, he is inbred to major classic influence Halo, sire of Kentucky Derby winners Sunday Silence and Sunny’s Halo, and he has two sensational fillies in his female family, Serena’s Song and Glorious Song. And he tuned up for Saturday’s race with a bullet half-mile work in :47 2/5 in company with Sonic Mule. He has a lot to prove, but could be a sleeper.
Also representing Pletcher this weekend is Action Everyday, who is stepping up in class following two victories at Tampa Bay in his only two career starts.
We also don’t know how far Sonic Mule wants to go, and he was always a second-tier type Pletcher horse, debuting at Monmouth and then running in small stakes and allowance races at Gulfstream and Gulfstream Park West in October and November. But he moved closer to the front ranks with a courageous win in the listed Mucho Macho Man Stakes before finishing a solid third dropping back to a sprint in the Swale Stakes. He obviously was intended to be a one-turn horse, and still may be, but he does seem to be improving, he has a pretty strong pedigree top and bottom, and he’s tough and consistent. We haven’t heard of him pointing for any Derby preps. He most recently threw in a bullet work in :47 2/5, in company with Made You Look.
Another potential dark horse is Master Plan, who has the right style, even if there are also some question marks concerning his pedigree. But he was running down Tapwrit in the Pulpit Stakes and then closed to win the OBS Championship on synthetic going away, although that race normally is not known as a productive Derby prep. As for Battaltion Runner, he finally returned to the worktab for the first time since his last race, breezing a half in :49 1/5. He likely is pointing for the Florida Derby as his stakes debut. As mentioned earlier, Always Dreaming worked a half in :47 4/5 in company with Tapwrit. Both of these could wind up in the Tampa Bay Derby. The speedy MALAGACY breezed a half in :48 3/5, but most likely is a one-turn horse.
We should finally get the chance to find out whether or not the brilliant THREE RULES is Derby material when he takes on some heavy hitters in the Fountain of Youth Stakes Saturday. He has been very sharp in the mornings, with his latest work a 5-furlong eye opener in :58 4/5 at Gulfstream, fastest of 15 works at the distance. There is no questioning his speed, and he has won impressively against lesser competition going two turns, but his dam’s female family is all speed, so this will be his big test. Coming off the 7-furlong Swale Stakes, he could provide enough early speed to get Irish War Cry to take back off the pace.
If Three Rules doesn’t go to the front, there’s a good chance it will be the lightly raced BEASLEY, who ran a gutsy race to finish second to the highly regarded Battalion Runner in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race in his two-turn debut. The son of Shackleford also turned in a bullet work at Gulfstream, going his half in :48 breezing, fastest of 38 works at the distance.
NO DOZING’S poor effort in the Sam F. Davis Stakes remains a mystery, as he turned in a bullet half-mile breeze in a razor-sharp :47 2/5 at Tampa, fastest of 37 works at the distance, over the same surface he appeared to be floundering over in the Sam Davis. Swale Stakes winner FAVORABLE OUTCOME, who is a horse not many people are talking about, but still may prove himself as a real sleeper if he handles himself well going two turns, breezed a half in :49 2/5 at Palm Meadows for Chad Brown.
Mark Casse had to be thrilled with STATE OF HONOR’S bullet work in :47 flat breezing at Palm Meadows, fastest of 42 works at the distance. He seems to be improving and ran a big race in the Sam F. Davis, but I’m wondering if he can take back and make a big run like he did in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes now that he’s been equipped with blinkers. He did appear to have that race won, so I can see the addition of blinkers. He did get beat by a tough horse in Sonic Mule, so maybe he just needed that race, which was his first ever on dirt. Norm Casse said the blinkers will stay on and, after drawing the rail in the Sam F. Davis, they’re hoping for an outside post next time.
If there is a real dark horse who is eligible to improve big-time off a pretty decent effort in the Sam F. Davis Stakes it is WILD SHOT, who looked like a serious threat nearing the top of the stretch, but just seemed to come up a bit short in the stretch, yet still was only beaten 3 1/2 lengths after having a head advantage at the eighth pole. The son of Trappe Shot breezed a half in :49 at Payson Park for Rusty Arnold, and for all you risk takers, he was available in the Future Wager at 99-1. The aforementioned TAKAFUL, who ran horribly in the Jerome Stakes, hit an up note when he turned in a bullet 5-furlong work in :59 4/5 at Palm Meadows.
For what it’s worth in regard to the Derby, UNIQUE BELLA breezed a sharp 5 furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at Santa Anita. Jerry Hollendorfer isn’t budging, and I think the holders on are finally beginning to let go of her facing the boys. Although he has no shot to make the Derby, watch out down the road for IRISH FREEDOM, who won his only start last year and has back-to-back 6-furlong works in 1:12 4/5 and 1:12 2/5 for Bob Baffert.