We’re going to do something different this week. Because there are so many new faces emerging who could be major Derby contenders by Sept. 5, there will be two rankings this week. The usual list of horses who have already established themselves and a separate list in Knocking on the Door comprised of late developers who have only competed in maiden and allowance races and have not yet faced stakes company, but have shown enough to suggest they soon will be major players.
Tiz the Law Barclay Tagg
Constitution—Tizfiz, by Tiznow
With back-to-back dominating performances and negative Thoro-Graph figures added to his dominating score in last year's Champagne Stakes (G1), he is a legitimate Derby favorite, but it looks like we won't be seeing much more of him until he re-embarks on the Derby trail. He remains in light training with a :52 4/5 half-mile breeze.
Maxfield Brendan Walsh
Street Sense—Velvety, by Bernardini
Now that he's back working at Keeneland, with a solid half in :49 1/5, the truth is he is only two races behind the top 3-year-olds and should be able to get three races in before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). There is no reason think he won't return the same horse we saw turn in the most explosive move of the year, so we’re taking a shot he will not only return to his 2-year-old form, but will improve with experience and maturity.
Authentic Bob Baffert
Into Mischief—Flawless, by Mr. Greeley
Even though his demeanor and his galloping style suggest he will be able to rate off the pace, and even though he is a late foal and could be a monster come September, we now have to wait a while before he shows it on the racetrack. It's not as if his pedigree is loaded with stamina. So we will wait for him to return, possibly in the June 14 Affirmed Stakes (G3) if they don’t reschedule the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Honor A. P. John Shirreffs
Honor Code—Hollywood Story, by Wild Rush
"Solid as a brass ring." That's how John Shirreffs described Honor A.P. The San Felipe (G2) runner-up will not be going to Oaklawn Park, as Shirreffs is confident Santa Anita will be back running in May. If so, we will have to wait to see how Santa Anita readjusts its stakes schedule, especially the Santa Anita Derby.
Sole Volante Patrick Biancone
Karakontie—Light Blow, by Kingmambo
He was scheduled to run in the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1), where we were looking forward to seeing him compete away from Tampa Bay Downs, but those plans were scrapped because of too many regulatory hurdles, so now he and stablemate Ete Indien will get some time off and point for a summer campaign.
King Guillermo Juan Avila
Uncle Mo—Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band
As long as he remains on target for the Arkansas Derby he will have to stay fairly high in the rankings, because anything close to a repeat of his Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby victory will make him extremely tough to beat on May 2. He has the tactical speed, closing punch, and pedigree to be one of the top 3-year-olds.
Gouverneur Morris Todd Pletcher
Constitution—Addison Run, by Unbridled's Song
Continues to keep on edge, breezing a half in a solid :49 2/5 at Palm Beach Downs. There’s no other place for him to go, so until a decision is made regarding training at Keeneland and Churchill Downs he will remain where he’s been training all winter. He is trending upward, despite his fourth in the Curlin Florida Derby (G1), and we won’t see the best of him until summer.
Charlatan Bob Baffert
Speightstown—Authenticity , by Quiet American
He really belongs on the other list, but because he is scheduled to run in the Arkansas Derby and because I have no reason to drop him from the magazine Top 12, we will leave him here until then. He needs a race and to be tested for class, but what he may really need is a split Arkansas Derby to get in the race. He was flattered by the gutsy allowance victory by Shooters Shoot at Oaklawn, having trounced him by nearly six lengths in his career debut. I admit his ranking likely is too low for his talent, but I just want to see him stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in a large field with a lot of speed and see how he handles it.
Nadal Bob Baffert
Blame—Ascending Angel, by Pulpit
I’m sure Baffert doesn’t want to see him and Charlatan in the same race with their early speed, so he no doubt is hoping for a split race and to get Charlatan in the race with only $67,000 in earnings. The key to Nadal is relaxing early and coming home faster, something he hasn’t been able to do so far. All we know is that he is a fast, talented horse and needs to run to his pedigree.
Farmington Road Todd Pletcher
Quality Road—Silver La Belle, by Langfuhr
He gets a slight nod over Mr. Big News because of his bad post, poor start, and the winner getting first run on him. Despite the addition of blinkers, he again found himself at the back of a big field in the Oaklawn Stakes, breaking from post 12 and jockey Martin Garcia bouncing up off the saddle. He still turned in another powerful wide rally and looked like he was going to win until he starting drifting in several paths while shying from right-handed whipping and losing his momentum. But once he straightened out he put in another run and just missed by a half-length, closing his final eighth in a quick :12 1/5. But it must be added the brutal early fractions of :22 flat and :45 2/5 set it up for the first two finishers coming from far back. He has shown he can win from closer up when he captured an allowance race at Tampa Bay coming from three lengths back.
Mr. Big News Bret Calhoun
Giant's Causeway—Unappeased, by Galileo
With his sire and broodmare sire both being European grass horses, it’s possible he moved up in the slop, but take nothing away from his winning performance in the Oaklawn Stakes, as he showed he apparently likes Oaklawn better than Fair Grounds, although the speed ratings for this race were pretty slow. Breaking from post 3 he had a much smoother beginning than Farmington Road, who had to cut across the entire track, and I’m not sure if he still would have won had the runner-up kept a straight course in the stretch. You have to love his inbreeding to Halo and Hail to Reason and especially his inbreeding to the terrific Herbager mare Ballade, giving him the Rasmussen Factor (RF). His dam also traces to Darby Dan Farm foundation mare Soaring. This horse definitely will run all day.
Major Fed Greg Foley
Ghostzapper—Bobby's Babe, by Smart Strike
Connections have decided to pass on the Arkansas Derby and hope a race opens up for him on the Kentucky circuit, more sooner than later. It is hoped he can quickly erase the bad trip in the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) when he was forced to come from last in a 14-horse field and still rallied to finish fourth, despite having to go very wide and getting bumped twice in the stretch. He is more of a midpack horse who likes to sit three to four lengths back.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
I have written extensive comments on the first five, but because of space, the rest will be expanded in future weeks.
Pneumatic Steve Asmussen
Uncle Mo—Teardrop, by Tapit
It is very rare that one can call a horse flawless after his first two starts. But if ever a horse has the look of a Derby horse it is this colt, who is the fourth generation bred by the Winchell family from their foundation mare Carol’s Christmas and is a rare complete outcross through five generations. Pneumatic is 2-for 2 and earned a strong “4” on Thoro-Graph in his career debut, in which he overcame a stumble two strides out of the gate. In both his races he showed he is extremely professional and responsive to his rider’s command, sitting back in fifth and making a strong move when asked. Ricardo Santana rides him with a great deal of confidence and barely touches him in the stretch. He has come home fast in both his races with final quarters in :24 and :24 2/5 going six furlongs and one mile. He runs perfectly straight down the stretch, but doesn’t seem to like the whip, shying from it ever so slightly, and has been hand-ridden the final eighth in both his races, running straight as the proverbial arrow, while showing flawless action, great extension, and he gets stronger the farther he goes. In a year with mostly frontrunners and deep closers, he is the perfect mid-pack horse. As far as competition, the runner-up in his maiden score, Skol Factor, came back and romped by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:09 3/5 and third-place finisher, Liam’s Pride, came back and won his next start by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:10 flat. From the aforementioned Carol’s Christmas has come major stakes winners Tapizar, Olympio, Pyro, Cuvee, Paddy O’Prado, Call Wonder, and Wild Wonder, and now Pneumatic. This is the complete package.
Mystic Guide Michael Stidham
Ghostzapper—Music Note, by A.P. Indy
I believe this regally bred colt will be a major Kentucky Derby contender by late spring or summer and will be ranked right up with the best once he beats winners, something Pneumatic has already done. I love everything about this horse. He has run twice and both performances were extremely impressive. In his career debut at six furlongs, he ducked out at the start, was bumped soundly and dropped back to last. He made a strong move around horses, going six-wide, and was a bit green in the stretch, switching back to left lead. But he found his best stride and was flying at the end to finish third, galloping out some five lengths ahead of the winner. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds, he was much more professional, turning in a flawless performance, again making a sweeping outside move, then switched leads on cue and drew off to win by five lengths, coming home in a brilliant :23 3/5 and :06 flat, with the rider never going to the whip, just throwing a couple of crosses on him. He has a smooth efficient stride and from the head-on, he carries his legs perfectly straight under him. He has three Breeders’ Cup Classic winners in his first two generations, His dam won the 1 1/4-mile Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Mother Goose Stakes (G1), was second in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama Stakes (G1), and was third twice in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1). Mystic Guide’s third dam, It’s in the Air, upset Hall of Famer Davona Dale in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama and won or placed in 22 stakes, 11 grade 1s.
Sonneman Mark Hennig
Curlin—Zardana, by Crimson Tide
He has yet to go two turns, but that is a mere formality. In a seven-furlong allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream, he dropped back in distance from a one-mile maiden score at Belmont after being away for six months and exploded by the leaders in the stretch, closing from last, almost a dozen lengths back after breaking slowly, to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths. It is true that the race was set up for him after some blistering fractions and a slow final eighth, but Sonneman looked sensational leveling off and making up a ton of ground to blow by the leaders. Also, his pedigree is inundated with stamina everywhere you look, including four English Derby winners (Sir Ivor, Mill Reef, Nijinsky, and Shirley Heights) and a French Derby winner, (Darshaan), as well as Sadler’s Wells, and you can add four American classic winners and the sire of two Kentucky Derby winners (Halo). So you wouldn’t think he would be effective sprinting. Also, his dam Zardana upset the great Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in Rachel’s 4-year-old debut. In his maiden win, he let horses go by him on the turn, and when Jose Lezcano finally asked him he swung extremely wide and mowed down everyone in the stretch, including a stubborn Cost Basis, who came back and broke his maiden in his next start at 4-5 for Chad Brown. What was most impressive was that Sonneman closed his final quarter in a rapid :23 3/5. He is a handsome classy-looking nearly black colt who has a fluid way of moving, keeping his legs perfectly straight under him. Watch out when he goes two turns.
Money Moves Todd Pletcher
Candy Ride—Citizen Advocate, by Proud Citizen
You can’t fault this colt after winning his first two starts at six furlongs and a mile in a very professional manner. He has a perfect stalking style, sitting just off fast fractions in his both his races, despite breaking last in his career debut at six furlongs in the slop, in which he was pushed along to keep up with the pace, fanned five-wide turning for home, and was stuck on his left lead through most of the stretch run. When he finally switched to his right lead nearing the sixteenth pole, he found another gear and surged forward to wear down the leader in the final strides. In his last start, he was much sharper at the break, and you had to love the way he came home his last quarter in a hair under :25, drawing off to win by almost three lengths in a sharp 1:35.30 after pressing a :45 3/5 half and 1:10 three-quarters from the inside, indicating he has a high cruising speed and can close off it. He also defeated several highly regarded maiden winners. At the top of the stretch, it looked as if he was headed by two horses, but responded to right-handed whipping and quickly asserted his superiority. He is another with beautiful action who drops his head and reaches out with good extension. His pedigree isn’t inundated with fashionable names and his dam was a sprinter, but I think there is enough there to get him classic distances. And if you want to feel old, he has Alydar in his sixth generation.
Hunt the Front Nick Zito
Revolutionary—Best of Times, by Mineshaft
He has had some tough luck in his last three starts, all second-place finishes with outside posts going two turns. All three times he broke last and the jockey angled sharply across the entire track to get to the rail, which I never like to see. Three races back, he actually made a huge premature move down the backstretch to get to within two lengths of the lead nearing the half-mile pole, but was bumped and dropped back, then had to alter course when the rail closed up on him after turning for home, and then altered course again in deep stretch when the winner drifted into his path. In his next start, he ducked to inside at the break, dropped far out of it, and had to be 20 lengths back of a strung out field down the backstretch. When he was asked for his run he put in one of the most explosive moves we’ve seen all year, flying by horses as if in another time frame. But the winner had opened up too big a lead in the stretch and he just had done too much to sustain that kind of run, yet still was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths. In his last race, on a sealed sloppy track, he broke slowly from post 12, fell 15 lengths back, then circled horses five-wide with another powerful move, but once again the front-running winner had opened a four-length lead at the eighth pole. He made up three lengths in the final eighth, coming home his final sixteenth in :06 1/5. He has as classic a pedigree as you will find, being inbred 3x3 to A.P. Indy and has the much-desired Rasmussen Factor (RF) being inbred 3x4 to Delaware Oaks winner Up the Flagpole through her daughter Runup the Colors, winner of the Alabama Stakes and dam of Louisiana Derby winner and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Revolutionary, and her daughter Prospector’s Delite, winner of the Acorn Stakes (G1) and Ashland Stakes (G1), and the dam of Horse of the Year Mineshaft. He is also inbred three times to Hoist the Flag.
Shooters Shoot Peter Eurton
Competitive Edge—Repeat, by Bernardini
Incredibly game effort fighting off a much more experienced horse who had finished first three times. Only reason he went to the lead in his last two were inside posts. Every time Blackberry Wine looked like he was ready to assert himself, Shooters Shoot found more and came back at him again, refusing to let him get by. The biggest margin between thm was when Blackberry Wine got a neck lead on the turn, but Shooters Shoot quickly was back on even terms. This was like the Jaipur-Ridan Travers with two horses at each other's throat every step of the way. This obviously is a horse who does not want to lose. He will rate and is improving with every start and he should have no trouble going longer. He is inbred 3x4 to A.P. Indy and inbred thre times to Seattle Slew. We now know the reason why Peter Eurton has always been high on him.
Blackberry Wine Joe Sharp
Oxbow—Classicism, by A.P. Indy
He may be the most hard-luck horse of all the 3-year-olds, with two accidental drug disqualifications, but battles every time and knows how to win. But this time he just got nipped by a very talented and dogged opponent who had the rail the whole way. And he did finish 5 1/2 lengths ahead of the third horse.
Skol Factor McLean Robertson
The Factor—Kaiserin, by Tiznow
If he can duplicate his two sprinting efforts stretching out, he should be a serious horse. Tons of ability and speed, can rate, and definitely has a bright future.
Earner Steve Asmussen
Carpe Diem—Devious d'Oro, by Medaglia d'Oro
Visually impressive maiden victory, but needs to get faster going two turns. He did run fast sprinting in career debut and looks to be very professional with good tactical speed.
Pit Boss Wayne Catalano
Union Rags—Town Flirt, by Speightstown
Love the way he was flying at the end of his runner-up performance to Earner in career debut. He just has to show a bit more early speed.
Candy Machine Chad Brown
Candy Ride—Viva Caria, by Giant's Causeway
Solid stalking maiden victory after good second in career debut. Bumping incident with Or’effice was inconclusive, so he was left up.
Or'effice Mark Hennig
Medaglia d'Oro—Grace Hall, by Empire Maker
Lost all chance against Candy Machine when he was bumped and had to take up on the rail, but camera angle failed to show if the winner was at fault. He is improving with every start.
Back to Knocking on the Door, ETE INDIEN and WELLS BAYOU are two speed horses who are right on the bubble, as is Modernist. The Arkansas Derby should change things dramatically before we hit the big lull.