Courtesy of Rob Fundter, The Amateur Capper
An Embarrassment of Riches: Part 1
Kentucky Derby winners in this case, possess the ability to adapt to different
circumstances and win. This year's
Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands 3y.o. crop, thanks to the absence of
Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, has quality that we haven't seen in
years. There is more than one contender
deserving of the adjective "legitimate" which will make selecting a winner on
May 2 a challenging prospect.
At the top of
the heap, in order of ultimate prep race dates, are FRIESAN FIRE, QUALITY ROAD,
I WANT REVENGE, and PIONEEROF THE NILE.
Each of these colts has risen above the race circumstances to win their
final prep race. In fact, they will go
into the Derby with at least two straight graded stakes wins.
FRIESAN FIRE was
first in the Kentucky Derby clubhouse.
His Louisiana Derby (G.2) win on March 14 completed a sweep of the
graded stakes program at Fair Grounds that included the Risen Star (G.3)
February 7 and the Lecomte (G.3) January 10.
The Lecomte win was his second in blinkers which seems to have brought
out the potential that his breeding suggested.
His first two graded stakes wins featured a Larry Jones trainee that got
the lead into the stretch and increased the margin from the stretch call to the
wire. However, the Louisiana Derby was
his definitive race this winter. The son
of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. INDY sailed home 7 ¼ lengths best over a sloppy
Fair Grounds main track. While the
surface was an excuse for well-bet also-rans PATENA and FLYING PEGASUS, FRIESAN
FIRE got his final 2 ½ furlongs in :30.02.
That fraction was 5 lengths better than the come-home time he earned in
the Risen Star win. The result of the
Louisiana Derby was flattered by PAPA CLEM's win in the G.2 Arkansas Derby
April 11. Third place TERRAIN finished 4th
in the Blue Grass (G.1) while fourth place GIANT OAK ran 2nd in the
Illinois Derby (G.2). All three are
expected to be part of the 20 horse cavalry charge on Derby day. LARRY JONES has a live shot with FRIESAN FIRE
to improve on his two consecutive runner-up finishes (HARD SPUN in '07, EIGHT
BELLES last year).
answered the two-turn question with an emphatic Florida Derby (G.1) win March
28. The son of ELUSIVE QUALITY, sire of
2004 Derby winner SMARTY JONES, confirmed to his doubters that his Fountain of
Youth win was no fluke. He sits at or
near the top of many Kentucky Derby contender lists. What sets QUALITY ROAD apart from the others
in this discourse is his speed, agility, and respiratory capacity all rolled
into a massive 17 hands package. In the
Gulfstream Park signature prep race, JOHN VELAZQUEZ extricated his steed from
the rail before traffic engulfed them into the first turn. The JIM JERKENS trainee tracked a fast pace,
cruised effortlessly to the lead on the far turn, and idled awaiting his
rider's instructions. While Velazquez
searched for DUNKIRK, GARRETT GOMEZ launched his mount on a winning sneak
attack some four or five wide. Velazquez
realized his mistake and frantically asked QUALITY ROAD for his best. His colt responded like champions do,
quickening at the top of the stretch to match DUNKIRK's momentum, then outran
his foe to the wire with a solid :12.44 final furlong en route to a track
record. With THE PAMPLEMOUSSE and OLD
FASHIONED out of the picture due to injury, UAE Derby (G.2) winner REGAL RANSOM
will be QUALITY ROAD's pace foil.
Nothing comes easy in the Kentucky Derby, that's why it's such a special
feat and a race that crowns champions.
I WANT REVENGE
authored the most eventful Derby prep of the year when he won the Wood Memorial
(G.1) on April 4 in dramatic fashion.
The son of STEPHEN GOT EVEN put the hearts of DAVID LANZMAN, IEAH, and
JEFF MULLINS into their stomachs when he got left at the gate. JOE TALAMO
recounted that his mount was startled when a neighboring starter rammed
the gate just prior to the bell. The
young rider showed the composure of a 20
year veteran, allowing I WANT REVENGE to find his best stride. He picked off the back markers with
successively faster ¼ mile splits but ran into a roadblock coming off the
turn. So special is this colt that
Talamo was able to dial down to a simmer despite being ready to boil. Showing that luck is needed even when you're
10 lengths best, I WANT REVENGE was fortuitously bounced out to the four path
while trying to find running room. He
shot through a seam and was gone in a blink.
Realistically it took him :11.96, the fastest 9f final 1/8 of the prep
season...FROM A STANDSTILL! Don't be
surprised if he's the starting favorite...he's already seen just about everything
bad that can happen and overcame it all.
certainly not least is PIONEEROF THE NILE, twice the conqueror of I WANT
REVENGE. The BOB BAFFERT trainee is on a
four race win streak that includes the Hollywood Futurity (G.1) on Cushion
Track, widely considered the synthetic track most like dirt. Who can argue with the success of I WANT
REVENGE at Aqueduct. PIONEEROF THE NILE
has gotten no love in my sample polls. When
asked which contenders were the most likely Triple Crown Winners, the son of
EMPIRE MAKER got a measly 5 votes while QUALITY ROAD led the lot at 17. FRIESAN FIRE, THE PAMPLEMOUSSE, and I WANT
REVENGE tied for second at 11 tallies. All
PIONEEROF THE NILE does is win, any way his rider pleases. His San Felipe (G.2) win has proved a key
prep, with I WANT REVENGE emerging as the New York kingpin and PAPA CLEM
winning the Arkansas Derby. His final
1/16 in the San Felipe was the fastest final fraction of the '09 preps at 8 ½
furlongs. That day he made two distinct
moves. The first was matching the second
¼ fraction of the leader (:23.83) after a personal opening fraction of
:24.68. He idled to :24.47 when the pace
of the race slowed markedly (:25.07) to the 6f mark, but accelerated again with
a :23.41 fraction to the mile mark while racing wide on the final turn. His subsequent races showed his ability to
adapt against slow fractions. GARRETT
GOMEZ allowed him to press the leader on the backside in both the San Felipe
and last out in the Santa Anita Derby.
The tandem even got the lead at the ½ mile mark last out instead of
allowing his outclassed competition to put them into a precarious
position. Don't sleep on PIONEEROF THE
NILE...he may send your Derby wagers up the river without a paddle.
Enjoy the next