With less than four weeks left until Derby day, and only a couple of important preps remaining, things are finally beginning to take shape.
What did we learn last weekend? Well, for one, Colonel John is legit. The son of Tiznow quieted all those who claimed El Gato Malo would have won the Sham had it not been for a poor trip. Fact is, Colonel John is just a better horse right now and is the undeniable best of the West. Only one question remains: How will he like the Churchill dirt?
The disappointing part of the Santa Anita was that Yankee Bravo, thanks to Bob Black Jacks drifting in at the top of the lane and cutting him off, is probably not going to make the first weekend in May. It's a shame, because I think this horse has a lot of talent and would have liked the 1 ¼ miles. He certainly was unlucky last weekend, but as we all know, luck is part of the game.
On the East Coast, we learned that War Pass' Tampa Bay Derby was in fact a throw out. The 2-year-old champion came back in the Wood and ran a big race. Had it not been for a rabbit pressing the pace in the early going, War Pass probably would have had enough left to hold of Tale of Ekati.
For me, having War Pass as at least a player in the Derby will make things a lot more interesting, so I'm glad. That being said, I still don't think he gets the 1 ¼ miles.
Take nothing away from Tale of Ekati, he ran a professional race and showed a lot of heart along the rail to get up and win. I just thought he had the perfect stalking trip behind a very quick pace, and things will not set up that well for him in the Derby.
As you know from my past blogs, I am a big Court Vision fan. And for the second straight time, I came away from his third-place finish very impressed. It was obvious from his poor start and from what Garrett Gomez said afterwards, that Court Vision did not take to the track. He was spinning his wheels the whole time. Most horses would quit under those circumstances, but he did not. In fact, if there was another sixteenth of a mile, Court Vision wins easily. I still say he will be a major player on Derby day.
The Illinois Derby told me nothing, other than confirming the fact that Denis of Cork is a toss out come next month. Recapturetheglory, while a nice story, will be nothing more than a pacesetter in the Derby.
Speaking of pacesetters, it seems that the Derby will now be loaded with early speed. Between War Pass, Bob Black Jack, Recapturetheglory, and possibly Big Brown, there will be some mean opening fractions. I say the race is shaping up for a big-time closer, ie. Pyro, Court Vision, Colonel John, Visionaire, Smooth Air, and maybe even Tomcito.
That being said, here is my top 7 with a month to go.
1. Pyro: Slow times, low Beyers, can't beat War Pass, blah, blah, blah. Right now, for me, he has been the most impressive 3-year-old. I can only go by what I saw, and other than Colonel John, is the only one that has proven his worth two races in a row. Blue Grass will be very interesting, but unless he doesn't show up, Pyro is still the one to beat in the Derby as far as I'm concerned.
2. Colonel John: Hey, I'm a believer. I love his heart, he has one of the most underrated trainers in the world, and he has answered every question. Like I said, his workouts on the Churchill surface will be the key.
3. Court Vision: I know, I know, I'm an idiot for having this high on my list, right? Wrong. Again he showed a powerful closing kick despite spotting the field 10-15 lengths. He is all heart. With the Derby setting up for a closer, he will be a major player. I still want to see him closer to the pace, but Mott will get him there.
4. Big Brown: No denying, he looks to have the most talent of this class. But, again, three races coming into the Derby probably isn't enough. I can't argue that he'll be a factor, but he wouldn't be the first horse coming off a big prep win to flounder. I'm still not completely sold.
5. War Pass: Look, he's a champion and he has tremendous speed. Do I think he can go wire-to-wire in the Derby? Not really. But you never know, he may have some other speed ahead of him and the race could set up perfect. For now, he deserves a spot on this list. He has earned it.
6. Visionaire: Looking forward to the Blue Grass. He still has a lot to prove, but I like his pedigree, trainer and closing ability.
7. Eight Belles: Don't be surprised if Larry Jones shocks everyone and enters her in the Derby. She is incredibly talented and is on quite a roll. The Fantasy win was very impressive considering her poor start. I would love to see her in the mix.