Tiz the Law Barclay Tagg
Constitution—Tizfiz, by Tiznow
Despite the Derby Day assault by the Baffert Brigade, he holds on to the No. 1 spot as we head into the makeshift spring schedule beginning with the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) May 23. Whenever stakes are carded, such as this year’s version of the Belmont Stakes (G1), he will be ready, having remained in steady training, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 2/5. I love the way he cut the corner and hugged the rail down the stretch, doing everything on his own. This colt simply has no flaws. He remains the most complete package, although the domination by California shippers at Oaklawn May 2 is something to consider when assessing these 3-year-olds. Right now he looks like the only Easterner who has a big chance to repel the California challenge when you consider that Authentic and Honor A P are still waiting in the wings. In short, he is the one horse who has no question marks and is the most likely to stand in the way of another Baffert bonanza.
Nadal Bob Baffert
Blame—Ascending Angel, by Pulpit
He gets the nod over Charlatan because he was a bit more professional in the split Arkansas Derby (G1), beat a more talented and deeper field, did it from off the pace, and has a much stronger pedigree for 1 1/4 miles. What was most impressive was the acceleration he showed inside the eighth pole when hit right-handed after King Guillermo began to close in on him. Baffert’s workout regimen of breaking him far behind his workmates and not asking him until well into the stretch apparently paid off and he was able to settle beautifully off the pace for the first time in his career and merely cruised by the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Wells Bayou nearing the head of the stretch. This was a dramatic turnaround, as we saw him morph into a Derby horse. His previous running style was a complete contradiction to his pedigree. It did take him about eight strides to change leads, but other than that this was a flawless performance. I needed to see what I saw and am now a believer.
Charlatan Bob Baffert
—Authenticity , by Quiet American
His Arkansas Derby romp was a thing of beauty and stamped him as an extraordinary talent with a limitless future. The reason he is behind Nadal is that he had everything go his way, from barely getting in the race, drawing into the weaker division, breaking from the rail, having the only other speed horse scratch, and totally controlling the race with no one putting any pressure on him. He also came home his final eighth two-fifths of a second slower than Nadal off fairly similar fractions and was being ridden aggressively through the stretch, getting hit five times left-handed even after opening a big lead. He doesn’t have great extension, but is extremely light on his feet and just glides over the ground. His pedigree is a bit enigmatic. His sire was a pure sprinter but has sired several major stakes winners at 1 1/4 miles and his broodmare sire was basically a miler, but did sire a horse who came within a nose of sweeping the Triple Crown and is closely inbred (2x3) to the great Dr. Fager. He certainly looks like another who will carry his speed longer distances.
Honor A. P. John Shirreffs
Honor Code—Hollywood Story, by Wild Rush
Not only he did work five furlongs in a bullet 1:00, it was the fastest of 75 works at the distance. He picked up unscheduled company from another horse working a half with jockey Kenny Black aboard who got his head in front. Black told Shirreffs he was on a very fast horse. That forced Honor A.P. to keep to the task at hand, and as Shirreffs said, put him in a competitive mode. Shirreffs better hope Santa Anita opens soon and there is a race for him fairly quickly. Right now, this is a bulldozer of a horse, but by September he should be finely tuned; more streamlined and with quicker pickup. He does everything professionally, runs straight, and has no apparent quirks. He just needs to race and likely will take on Authentic again, this time hoping for some competition up front.
Authentic Bob Baffert
Into Mischief—Flawless, by Mr. Greeley
He still may very well be the best of the Bafferts, but right now you have to give the edge to the ‘now’ horses who both took a huge step forward and who have traveled cross country to win. Like Charlatan, he still has to show what he can do under pressure and if he can rate off the lead. But also like Charlatan he has such an easy-going stride he is anything but speed-crazy. And he and Charlatan still have to overcome a pedigree more geared toward speed and middle distances. But as mentioned earlier, they both look and move like stayers, and there is no reason to think they can’t continue to stretch out that speed even farther. With Santa Anita possibly opening soon, Baffert is cranking him back up, working him five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. Right now, Baffert has three extremely gifted colts, but in the same race they could easily compromise each other’s chances, so for the next four months the catchword in the Baffert barn is versatility. Get these three as far away from each other as possible or Baffert could have too much of a good thing.
Sole Volante Patrick Biancone
Karakontie—Light Blow, by Kingmambo
Despite his inactivity and his best races being at Tampa Bay Downs, I am still very high on him. I just love what I’ve seen from him visually. With the Derby still four months away, Biancone feels there is no point in rushing him. He hasn’t worked since March 15, but has been galloping every day at Palm Meadows and Biancone said he has had an excellent month of training. He is waiting for the upcoming stakes books to come out, mainly at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs, and then will plan a schedule to have him at the top of his game in September. For now he is just being patient. With so much early speed dominating the big races, he is the one closer who looks to have the early move to get in striking position and the powerful stretch kick to run horses down. He has a quick-footed stride that can put him in contention in a flash. And I love his pedigree. Right now he still would be my main future book bet.
King Guillermo Juan Avila
Uncle Mo—Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band
Although he wasn’t as sharp as he was at Tampa Bay Downs and was under pressure early, he did show that he was capable of running a big race away from Tampa and I really liked the way he was striding out in the final furlong of the Arkansas Derby behind Nadal, who did open up on him in the final furlong. In this race he had to do a lot more chasing and had to run harder to keep up with some talented horses. He did look for an instant like he was gaining on Nadal, but the winner found another gear, while he ran steady to the wire. But he wasn’t tiring and likely should keep improving. While I would have liked to seen a little more acceleration on the turn, his grinding style combined with his stamina-oriented pedigree should serve him well going a mile and a quarter.
Maxfield Brendan Walsh
Street Sense—Velvety, by Bernardini
I can’t remember having a horse jump around the Top 12 so much, but that is what happens when you’re dealing with a horse that hasn’t run yet and we’re already in May. And he hasn’t run in eight months after undergoing surgery and has had only two lifetime starts. So frankly no one can know for sure what to expect when he returns. I did love his six-furlong work in 1:13 1/5 at Keeneland, indicating he is sitting on a big race for his return, which is likely to come in the May 23 Matt Winn Stakes (G3). As I have been saying, if he can return and demonstrate that same explosive turn of foot that won him the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and do it against top-class stakes horses, then we know this is the weapon he will employ when he takes on the Big Bad Blazing Bafferts on Sept. 5.
Ete Indien Patrick Biancone
Summer Front—East India, by Mizzen Mast
It’s time to bring him back into the mix. His third-place finish in the Curlin Florida Derby (G1) was disappointing in that he went head and head and got outrun for second by a horse that had been sprinting. But you can’t ignore his three consecutive triple-digit Brisnet speed figures before that and his 8 1/2-length romp in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and second to Tiz the Law in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3). But there is way too much speed on the Derby trail this year to consider him a major threat unless Biancone can get him to settle off the pace and wait to strike like Nadal did at Oaklawn Park.
Gouverneur Morris Todd Pletcher
Constitution—Addison Run, by Unbridled's Song
The only chance he had to be competitive against Charlatan was to sit right off him and use his grinding style to keep plugging away. But once again he was back in fifth stuck between horses, and he just doesn’t have the turn of foot to get into contention once he’s clear, especially if there is a fast, classy horse loose on the lead. He was under a hard ride on the far turn and wasn’t going anywhere, but he did keep coming and just missed second by a neck. He’s probably not quite as talented as I thought he was last year, but I can’t give up on him until he gets the kind of trip I believe he wants. He doesn’t have the stretch kick to catch top horses or pull away from top horses, so he needs to be right there at the top of the stretch and have a clear outside trip to put him in position to grind horses down.
Major Fed Greg Foley
Ghostzapper—Bobby's Babe, by Smart Strike
I’ve been on his bandwagon for so long, since he broke his maiden, I have to keep him in the final Derby Dozen. He is improving, he’s versatile and adaptable, and he has as strong a pedigree as you will find. I thought he ran a remarkable race in the Louisiana Derby, dropping far back to last in the 14-horse field and then putting in a powerful wide run, getting bumped twice in the stretch, and still rallying to finish fourth, just missing catching Modernist for third. Considering that was only his fourth career start and he usually runs about three lengths off the lead, this was a very impressive performance. With his pedigree, he is going to relish a mile and a quarter. He is scheduled to work this week, then ship to Churchill Downs and run in the Matt Winn Stakes, where he could face Maxfield among others needing a race.
Modernist Bill Mott
Uncle Mo—Symbolic Gesture, by Bernardini
As well as he’s run this year he is one horse who should be much improved come September, He broke his maiden at a mile and an eighth over a dead Aqueduct strip before pulling off a 12-1 upset of a division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2). He was five-wide breaking from the 14-post in the Louisiana Derby and was wide turning for home, but still ran a respectable third. He is a big bruiser of colt who will be much more polished later in the year, especially with his stamina-laden pedigree top and bottom. And wouldn’t Mott love to win the Derby on the track instead of the stewards’ office.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
We had a couple of interesting races on the Arkansas Derby undercard. The California, and especially the Charlatan, form was boosted again when RUSHIE, coming off a 10 1/4-length drubbing at the hands of the Bob Baffert colt, captured a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer by 1 1/4 lengths over Fountain of Youth Stakes runner-up CANDY TYCOON, who rebounded after getting beat 21 3/4 lengths in the Florida Derby following a rough trip.
Also, in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race, the Nick Zito-trained HUNT THE FRONT, who we wrote about extensively a couple of weeks ago, put in another explosive move from far back to finally break his maiden over 6-5 favorite FRIAR’S ROAD following three powerful second-place finishes. Now that he has broken his maiden, keep an eye on him in stakes company. This son of Revolutionary has a spectacular turn of foot and makes up a lot of ground quickly. With his running style, he could be an exciting horse to watch throughout the spring and summer.
Hunt the Front is one of several new faces to watch come September, along with PNEUMATIC, DR POST, MYSTIC GUIDE, SONNEMAN, and MONEY MOVES. Don’t think because you’re not familiar with these late bloomers, all of whom have been written about in great detail the past few weeks, they won’t be major players by the time the Derby rolls around on Labor Day weekend.
Pneumatic worked five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Fair Grounds, Dr Post just scored an impressive allowance victory, Mystic Guide breezed a half in :48 3/5 at Fair Hill, Sonneman had an easy half-mile breeze in :50 2/5 at Gulfstream Park, and Money Moves has not worked since April 18. Keep a close eye on all these horses.
Another race of interest over the weekend was the three-length wire-to-wire victory of SUPERFECTO, a well-bred son of Constitution, out of a Ghostzapper mare, trained by Ralph Nix. Superfecto and runner-up HARD LIGHTING were coming out of well-beaten sixth- and fifth-places finishes, respectively, behind the aforementioned Dr Post in his maiden victory.
A couple of names you might have forgotten due to inactivity are MAX PLAYER, who hasn’t run since winning the Withers Stakes (G3) way back on Feb. 1. The son of Honor Code has been working six and seven furlongs steadily and most recently worked seven furlongs in a sharp 1:26 1/5 at Belmont Park, as he and trainer Linda Rice wait patiently for Belmont Park to open and possible date for the Wood Memorial (G2) or even a revamped Belmont Stakes (G1). With speed and more speed dominating the Derby trail, he would be a welcome addition with his big closing kick.
If you’re looking for competition for Authentic and Honor A.P. in the Santa Anita Derby, when and if that is ever run, don’t overlook the Richard Mandella-trained TIZAMAGICIAN, who was second to Honor A.P. in a maiden race, broke his maiden impressively going a mile, and most recently was beaten 1 3/4 lengths in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2). He was scheduled to run in the UAE Derby (G2), but that race was canceled. He has been working sharply, and in his last work turned in a bullet six-furlong drill in 1:12 3/5, fastest of 17 works at the distance. Perhaps by September this will be the horse to help Mandella forget the disappointment of Omaha Beach last year. He certainly is bred to relish the mile and a quarter with Tiznow on top and Dixie Union and Pleasant Colony on bottom. I’ll bet you can get monster future book odds on him.
With all the Baffert 3-year-olds scurrying about all over the country, the one who has been living in complete anonymity is the El Camino Real Derby winner AZUL COAST, who was second to stablemate Authentic in the Sham Stakes (G3) and has been working his little tail off. Since his designated target, the Sunland Derby (G3), was canceled he has been all revved up with no place to go. The son of Super Saver has turned in six-furlong works of 1:12 3/5 and 1:13 3/5 and five-furlong works in 1:00 flat and 1:00 3/5.
One horse I wouldn’t give up on is the LeComte Stakes (G3) winner ENFORCEABLE, who closed well in defeat in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2). A veteran of nine lifetime starts, seven of them two-turn races, he can afford to take it easy for a while before re-embarking on the Derby trail. He is still active, breezing a half in: 49 1/5 at trainer Mark Casse’s training center in Florida.
Todd Pletcher has had his ups and downs on the Derby trail this year, mostly downs. One of those downs was the horrendous 14th-place finish by PORTOS in the Louisiana Derby. But for the Withers third-place finisher that race was way too bad to be true. This is a horse that has already had four 1 1/8-mile races and broke his maiden by 10 3/4 lengths going nine furlongs. If you are looking to throw that last race out, be aware that he has trained brilliantly since his debacle at Fair Grounds, in which he merely ran around the track after having to steady early. You rarely see Pletcher horses working fast times, but his last two half-mile works were in :47 4/5 and :47 3/5, so it will be interesting to see how he fares next time out.
Another horse looking to bounce back from a dismal performance is AMERICAN THEOREM, who has turned in some of the best works we’ve seen all year. The runner-up of the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) last fall stopped to walk after chasing Nadal in the Rebel Stakes, beaten over 27 lengths, But he’s been tearing up the track in the mornings at Santa Anita since then, including a brilliant five-furlong work in :58 3/5 on April 17. But he hasn’t worked since then, so with a move that fast, keep an eye on the worktab to see if he shows up.
Remember GREEN LIGHT GO? Well, he’s still around, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 3/5. He is a talented horse who hasn’t had the best of trips, but there is a question whether or not he is geared for a race like the Derby. We’ll see in which direction Jimmy Jerkens goes with him.
I am aware there are many horses I didn’t mention, but space is limited and I wanted to catch up on horses I haven’t talked about much all year who have worked this week.
To conclude, I can only quote the one and only Porky Pig: “That’s all folks.” Enjoy the rest of this crazy Derby trail with lots of big prep races still to come, and good luck sorting through all these horses leading up to Sept. 5. It’s been a wild ride and I thank everyone for your participation.