Courtesy of Becky Johnston
What does a horse have to do to get a little respect these days?
Pioneerof The Nile has a record of eight starts with five wins, including two Grade 1 and two Grade 2 victories. He has beaten everyone's Derby Darling, I want Revenge, in two of those races and Papa Clem was also a victim of his devastating late turn of foot in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, coming off a 49-day rest.
2009 Robert B. Lewis Stakes
I Want Revenge and Papa Clem had every chance to beat Pioneerof the Nile there. Yes, I know, "he's a synthetic specialist", not a dirt horse. Well, I would counter that this is an experienced colt. He has figured this game out and he will figure out the dirt too.
The I Want Revenge camp believe they have a horse that excels on dirt, but I would say that their colt probably benefited more because Pioneerof The Nile was not in the starting gate with him in his last two dirt starts.
The only knock I could come up with for Pioneerof the Nile was his immature efforts in two Grade 1 ra ces as a two-year-old. The Breeders' Futurity behind Square Eddie where he lollygagged near the back of the pack, came extremely wide and with Kent Desourmeaux aboard, appeared to know he had no chance and shut down to finish third.
Next was the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He had some minor traffic issues before he got to the stretch, but when he did get in the stretch, he was sandwiched between two horses that bounced him around. He fought back to defeat both of those foes and after that fifth place finish, the colt just grew up.
2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile
This was Pioneerof the Nile's next race, two months later. By this time, he had turned into a real fighter.
2008 Cash Call Futurity
The Nile's jockey in the last four contests, Garrett Gomez, all winning efforts, can't decide if he wants to ride him or a horse that has three starts, Dunkirk. Two of his races were against average competition. When faced with the task of defeating Grade 2 winner Quality Road in the Florida Derby, he wasn't up to the challenge. I know that trainer Todd Pletcher blamed the track condition, but he made a run and got past Quality Road, but there was nothing there. You be the judge.
2009 Florida Derby
Gulfstream's track bias aside, their speed favoring track works itself out with class and distance, in my opinion. Dunkirk was able to close and get in front, but Quality Road just reeled him back in. Sure it was a great move, but in the end, it was what it was, second place.
Now if Mr. Zayat were to ask my advice, which he isn't going to do. I would say get a jockey that wants to ride your horse and your horse only. There must be a long line of them that want to ride a horse that will be one of the favorites. A colt that hasn't put a hoof wrong all year. Tyler Baze is sitting right there and he has been riding "lights-out", sweeping the Santa Anita stakes last weekend. The goal would be to find a jockey with softer hands, that may not find it necessary to fight with the horse to impress his will upon him. Their last race showcased the relationship between Gomez and the colt. It reminded me of two men going after the same woman in a bar, which can only lead to one thing, a fight.
2009 Santa Anita Derby
Pioneerof the Nile has won two Grade 1 races, one as a two-year old and one as a three-year old. He is the only horse that appears in the top 20 earners that has accomplished the feat.
Bob Baffert's colt worked in 46 and change at Santa Anita this week and Gary Stevens indicated on HRTV that's too fast. The IEAH consultant noted that I Want Revenge's :50 for the same distance at Churchill Downs was just right. What if the times were reversed? Would the opinion be different.
Well, we're going to see. It will all be settled at some point in the next two months which one is the better of the two and it might be settled in two weeks.
Pioneerof The Nile has the breeding to get the job done. His dam can tell him a little about winning on Derby week. She won the 1997 La Troienne in the same week. His sire, Empire Maker, didn't fair too badly in the 2003 Run for the Roses, when he finished second to Funny Cide and then spoiled the gelding's effort to win the Triple Crown with a win in the Belmont Stakes.
Respect is certainly due for this colt.
A lot of experts seem to be dismissing General Quarters' win in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, but let's take a step back and look at his career thus far.
Keep in mind, this colt just won at a mile and an eighth. Now let's take a look at him in action as a two-year-old going four and a half furlongs at Churchill in May of 2008.
Maiden Race May 30, 2008
I don't know what led the Ramseys and trainer Wesley Ward to enter the horse for a $20,000 claiming tag, but I'm sure they had one. Thomas McCarthy was the lucky winner of a three-way shake for the gray colt by Sky Mesa out of the Unbridled's Song mare Ecology.
In General Quarters' next start, a Grade 3 Stake, he was very prominent when it appears he runs into a problem mid-stretch and begins to fade.
2008 Bashford Manor
It was another three months before the colt was heard from again. He came back with a couple of promising allowance efforts at Keeneland, a fourth and second placing followed by a disappointing turf try at Churchill. He found his way back to the dirt and finished third behind Clarence Scharbauer's promising colt Silver City.
The colt shipped to Tampa and ran two fast closing seconds from far back in six and seven furlong sprints. Three things happened for his next race, the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes . The front wraps came off, the blinkers he wore in every race were removed and the colt would go two turns for the first time.
2009 Sam F. Davis Stakes
What that race told me is this is a colt that has matured tremendously and a horse that wants a distance of ground.
General Quarters appeared next in the Tampa Bay Derby and if the owner had any nightmares about the trip he would have in the race, they all came true. Watch General Quarters, the #8. More importantly watch the interest the colt shows in finishing the race
2009 Tampa Bay Derby
Many called that a bad performance. I call it a lesson in survival.
In the Blue Grass, he further showed his hard-earned maturity in his eleventh start. The kind of maturity that Pioneerof the Nile has found in his eight races. The two colts are placed in contention (although wide) and he will find himself in the exact position the winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner will need to find themselves in two weeks.
2009 Bluegrass Stakes
The colt leveled off nicely in this race and I see no reason that this dirt and synthetic track winner can't be competitive on the first Saturday in May.
What do you think about these two?