With Saturday's Sham Stakes the only significant Derby prep this past weekend, all eyes were focused on Santa Anita.
The race itself did not disappoint, as Colonel John held off El Gato Malo during a stirring stretch duel, knocking the latter from the ranks of the unbeaten. However, although both 3-year-olds stamped themselves as legitimate West Coast contenders, I for one, did not get a whole lot out of the race - for a few different reasons:
1 - The Sham managed to draw just five horses, and let's face it, Colonel John and El Gato Malo were the only legitimate 3-year-olds in there. I won't go as far as calling it a match race, but neither colt had much in the way of competition, and they had the other three put away at the sixteenth-pole. It really wasn't a stiff test.
2 - The fractions were dreadfully slow. It's difficult to know how much Santa Anita's troublesome Cushion Track had to do with this (probably more than we think), but when I see a :25 quarter, a :50.04 half, 1:14.35 for six furlongs, and 1:38.27 for a mile, I do not come away being overly impressed. Especially when these times are compared to last week's Fountain of Youth (:24.03, :47.62, 1:11.52, and 1:36.32).
The final time of 1:50.15 was not terrible considering the fractions, but it still left me with questions.
3 - Perhaps the biggest problem I still have with these two is that they have now run all nine of their combined races on a synthetic surface. And with both likely headed to the Santa Anita Derby for their final prep, how am I supposed to have confidence in either come May 3, when they try dirt for the first time? I guess watching their works the week of the Derby will be more key than ever, but to a certain extent, it is going to be a crapshoot.
Take a seat, boys
I came away from this past weekend being most impressed with Absolutely Cindy, who took down ten 3-year-olds colts in the John Battaglia Memorial. The Arch filly made an explosive move coming out of the final turn and corralled Your Round in the final strides. If you didn't get a chance to watch it, do yourself a favor and check out the replay. It was a terrific performance.
Owner-trainer Ron Kinmon said he will skip the March 22 Lane's End Stakes with Absolutely Cindy, instead opting to put her back against the girls in the April 5 Ashland at Keeneland - probably because she is not Derby nominated.
With almost exactly two months to go, here is how I rank them.
- War Pass - Still want to see him when he has to fight for the lead in the late stages, but how can you not have him at the top?
- Pyro - Louisiana Derby will tell us a lot, but regardless of whether he wins or not, he should be a top contender come May 3.
- Court Vision - As you know from reading my previous posts, I like this guy a lot. With Mott's seasoning, he will be ready two months from now. We already know he has the desire.
- Blackberry Road - I am predicting that this colt steps up big-time in the Louisiana Derby. He had a bad trip in the Risen Star, so we'll see what happens this time. David Carroll (who also has Denis of Cork) is an underrated trainer.
- Anak Nakal - Don't give up on him yet. Zito is still high on him, despite the lackluster Fountain of Youth.
- Colonel John - Yes, I know what I wrote above. But you still have to respect his talent and breeding. Plus, I like Eoin Harty a lot.
- Z Humor - Another one I am not about to give up on yet. He already has enough earnings to get there, so it's just a matter of improving.