So, Larry Jones wasn't blowing smoke last summer when he told me Friesan Fire was the most talented 2-year-old he ever had in his barn.
After standing in the shadow of stablemate Old Fashioned for six months, Friesan Fire has established himself as Jones' top gun. This, after dominating the Louisiana Derby by 7 1/4 lengths and making what was considered by many as the deepest Kentucky Derby prep field look average.
There are many things to like about Friesan Fire - his pedigree, his new-found killer instinct, his connections, his stride, etc. - but what I like the most is his running style, which seems to be the right kind for a Derby winner. Unlike some of the other top contenders, he's proven that he doesn't need the lead to win and he won't fall too far off the pace. The A.P. Indy colt has the tactical speed to put himself in perfect position and clearly has the talent to put rivals away in the stretch.
There is no reason to believe Friesan Fire won't be a big factor on Derby Day. The biggest question now is, where does he go until then? Immediately after the race Jones said he could go to Keeneland, presumably to run in the Blue Grass, or he might just train him right up to the Derby. Stay tuned.
Give Papa Clem credit for setting the pace and having enough to hold off Terrain in deep stretch. It was another solid effort for a California shipper and another reason to believe that the negative synthetic-to-dirt angle might be overrated.
Patena and Giant Oak turned in the two most disappointing efforts. Patena's didn't surprise me. I think too many people were glowing over this colt because he belongs to IEAH and Rick Dutrow. Giant Oak's average effort did surprise me. The plan was to keep him out of trouble so he could make a clear run in the stretch. But I didn't expect him to be dead-last after a half-mile. He was way too far back.
The other favorite winning over the weekend was Pioneerof the Nile, although it wasn't nearly as convincing as Friesan Fire. Pioneerof the Nile didn't show the explosiveness he had in his other two graded wins this year and looked a little tired while beating a below average field. But the colt showed once again he refuses to lose, even if his winning margins aren't always impressive.
We'll find out what we need in the Santa Anita Derby when he takes on The Pamplemousse, Chocolate Candy and the rest of West. For now, Pioneerof the Nile did what he had to do.
Old Fashioned's loss to 56-1 Win Willy in the Rebel was stunning. It gave all his naysayers the perfect ammunition for what they had been preaching since the beginning of the year - that the Unbridled's Song colt isn't built for 10 furlongs. But I say, not so fast.
While I was surprised at how Old Fashioned tired in the stretch, I do think he had a couple of excuses. First, Ramon Dominguez clearly made an error by keeping him too close to a pretty quick pace. There really wasn't any reason to chase Silver City through a :46 half-mile and it cost him. He should have trusted him more, maybe kept him towards the outside. I'm sure Jones will have a long talk with Ramon about his tactics for the Arkansas Derby. Also, the track was labeled ‘good,' and it appeared Old Fashioned didn't care for the heavy surface.
Admittedly, it was a bad loss against weak company, but let's keep it in perspective. It was his first hiccup in five lifetime races. Let's see what happens in the Arkansas Derby. After all, the 1 1/8-mile preps are the real tests anyway. Old Fashioned is still a force to be reckoned with.
As far as the Tampa Bay Derby, well, it was an exciting race and a gutsy win by Musket Man, but I don't think any horse coming out of that race has a legitimate chance in the Derby. Hello Broadway's dull effort was disappointing.
Here's my new Top 10 with seven weeks to go:
1. Friesan Fire - Gets a slight nod over Pioneerof the Nile because he might have more upside. Peeking at the right time.
2. Pioneerof the Nile - San Felipe wasn't his best performance, but this colt still has done nothing wrong.
3. Old Fashioned - Rebel loss was unexpected, but he is still one of the upper-echelon 3-year-olds. Arkansas Derby is the real test anyway.
4. Theregoesjojo - Might have better turn of foot and more explosiveness than any Derby contender. He wasn't four lenghts worse than Quality Road in the Fountain of Youth. Desormeaux's poor ride cost him a lot of ground. Will turn the tables in the Florida Derby.
5. Imperial Council - A stretch putting him above I Want Revenge you say? Wait until the Wood and you'll see why.
6. Desert Party - Normally, I don't like putting any horse shipping from Dubai on my list. Too many potential problems. But if he wins UAE Derby he'll be one of the favorites on May 2.
7. The Pamplemousse - We won't know if he can carry the distance until the Santa Anita Derby, but his dangerous speed makes him a legit contender.
8. I Want Revenge - Let's see if he can do it again in the Wood. I'm skeptical.
9. Quality Road - See above. Substitute Florida Derby for Wood.
10. Chocolate Candy - Don't forget about this colt. He skipped San Felipe so he could be fresh for the SA Derby.
Honorable Mention: Dunkirk, Papa Clem, Terrain, Mr. Fantasy, West Side Bernie and Beethoven. And for the record, Rachel Alexandra would have been No. 5 on this list had the connections not said they were going to the Oaks. She galloped home in the final sixteenth and still put up the same time as Friesan Fire. Pretty special.