2009 Kentucky Derby Prospects

Courtesy of Rob Fundter, The Amateur Capper




I'm writing this on early Tuesday a.m. Eastern.  The defection of G.1 Florida Derby winner QUALITY ROAD is known, narrowing my top prospect list from Part 1 to three:  FRIESAN FIRE, I WANT REVENGE, and PIONEEROF THE NILE.  Two of these three are the most accomplished with three graded stakes wins in 2009.

Enough has been written about them...this is about the understudies of what I term the "key" Kentucky Derby preps of 2009 and the winners of selected "important" preps throughout the world.  DUNKIRK, PAPA CLEM, CHOCOLATE CANDY, and DESERT PARTY would be headliners any other year except in this very deep crop.  An honorable mention will also go to SQUARE EDDIE, the top returning performer from the BC Juvenile.

DUNKIRK has developed so quickly in a short time.  The gray son of UNBRIDLED'S SONG was the runner-up in the G.1 Florida Derby after putting a big scare into QUALITY ROAD's rider JOHN VELAZQUEZ.  With the likely top two betting favorite declared, DUNKIRK would seem able to step right into the upper echelon of 3y.o.'s.  He'll be making the same five week turnaround that was so successful  for BIG BROWN last season.  The differences:  BIG BROWN on steroids, DUNKIRK none.  Both had three career races in preparation for the Derby, but DUNKIRK ran all three at Gulfstream Park this season while last year's Derby/Preakness winner debuted at Saratoga as a 2y.o.  DUNKIRK is missing a 2y.o. foundation.  As a son of UNBRIDLED'S SONG, a sire that gets brilliant but injury prone progeny, the delay in his career may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.  If DUNKIRK performs with the vigor many pundits are predicting, he may be the key that unlocks the secret to successfully campaigning his sire's progeny.

As for DUNKIRK's win chance, judgment should be made on whether the five weeks between races was enough to prevent a "bounce" or he repeats.  It takes a wonder horse like SECRETARIAT to improve along the Triple Crown trail.  That said, DUNKIRK would have been the Derby favorite if he'd won the Florida Derby over QUALITY ROAD.  After all, he was 6 lengths clear of 3rd.  With the Jimmy Jerkens trainee awaiting summer 3y.o. stakes at Saratoga, DUNKIRK is primed and ready to step into his leading roll.

PAPA CLEM is a fighter!!!  In the G.2 Robert B. Lewis he was the pace presser, put away his foe coming off the turn, only to be passed in early stretch by I WANT REVENGE.  Coming off a maiden win vs. more experienced colts, PAPA could have tired to third and his supporters would still have been tickled with the result.  Yet the son of SMART STRIKE, sire of '07 Preakness and BC Classic winner CURLIN (en route to HOY honors), battled on down the lane to regain the advantage over I WANT REVENGE but was passed in the final 100 yards by PIONEEROF THE NILE.  He didn't have a great plane trip to Louisiana for the G.2 Louisiana Derby and then he didn't handle the sloppy going well down the lane.  Despite tiring, he was game to hold off one-paced TERRAIN for 2nd.  Last out in the Arkansas Derby, PAPA CLEM found himself in an uncustomary positiong, chasing from mid-pack while OLD FASHIONED turned on the jets to an uncontested lead.  As great horses do, PAPA found the energy to rally wide on the turn and keep fighting down the lane to notch his second career win.  More importantly, he earned his way into the lineup with a win despite a less-than-ideal circumstances.  Recent workout information has him doing rather poorly at Churchill Downs...if you like him, watch the next few days to see if he regains his energy.

CHOCOLATE CANDY has been victimized twice by PIONEEROF THE NILE (G.1 SA Derby, G.1 CashCall Futurity).  He went up north to gain winning confidence, which he did in capturing the California Derby and G.3 El Camino Real.  After a freshening, he was unable to run down his arch rival in the G.1 SA Derby but was a closing 2nd that suggested he'd see every bit of the  1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby distance.  However, coming from the back of the pack and running wide on the turn, will be two excuses should he run poorly.  First off, if he breaks as tardily to race at the back of the field, he sure had better want to eat some dirt (something most synthetic-reared runners have been loath to do).  Second, he makes his sustained, sweeping move leaving the far turn which could make him some 8-10 horses wide coming into the lane.  That will result in his being shuffled back for 1/16 mile until the field straigtens for the stretch run.  Is he of strong enough constitution to overcome these obstacles?

At what price does CHOCOLATE CANDY become a viable "win" play?  His papa, CANDY RIDE, was a freak on the dirt the only time he tried it; he blazed to a G.1 Pacific Classic win.  The switch to a fast dirt track may produce the same awakening in CHOCOLATE CANDY.

From Dubai comes DESERT PARTY, a son of STREET CRY who was campaigned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the navy blue silks of his GODOLPHIN STABLES.  So envious was the Shiekh after the '07 Derby win by STREET SENSE (also by STREET CRY) that he purchased him from James Tafel and retired him to the Breeding shed.

While DESERT PARTY didn't win the G.2 UAE Derby, I believe that he stands a better chance at staying the 1 ¼ miles of the Kentucky Derby than his front-running stablemate REGAL RANSOM even with the defection of QUALITY ROAD.  I heard from ALAN BENOWITZ of THORO-GRAPH sheets on JASON LEVIN's INSIDE RACING radio program, that REGAL RANSOM had gotten back to his 2y.o. top figure (2 ½) in the UAE Derby.  With the winning margin just ½ length, that would put DESERT PARTY at a nice developmental pattern with around a "3" after running a then-new top of 6 and a paired 5 in his two prior '09 races.  By comparison, Benowitz stated that I WANT REVENGE regressed to a 3 in his troubled Wood Memorial win after running a zero in the Gotham.  The Dubai road will eventually produce a Derby winner, so would around 20-1 be fair odds to take a swing?

Lastly, SQUARE EDDIE's chances have been enhanced by the scratch of QUALITY ROAD.  He doesn't need to be as far back as he was in the G.2 Lexington...in fact I envision, depending on his post position, a stalking trip in 2nd or 3rd just like he ran in the BC Juvenile.  He really impressed me that day.  Usually foreign horses regress big time 2nd out in the U.S., particulary when shipped from different time zones.  Yet this colt ran fast and was game to hold 2nd on a day I wouldn't have held that against him.  His shins were probably already sore but undetected when he was 2nd in the G.3 San Rafael.  Last out, prepping on the Polytrack considering his eventful trip was like running 1 1/8 miles on dirt.  His wind should be good considering the works and race along with the underwater treadmill preparation he's been getting.  The slower fractions without QUALITY ROAD will allow him to gallop and conserve his energy for the first mile, then he'll make that turn move that wins so many Kentucky Derby renewals.  I'll want somewhere in the 25-1 range to take a swing.  That's highly possible in this field...he sits at 30-1 on the TBA "unofficial" odds line.

However you enjoy this Kentucky Derby, please understand what a talented group this is.  There are many entrants I didn't cover that could surprise me.  In fact, GENERAL QUARTERS and MUSKET MAN have several times.  I'll take the eight that I've featured into battle against the other 12.

Good luck.

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