Is Dunkirk the Real Deal?

The Florida Derby is this weekend, which means we are starting to hit the home stretch. After this weekend and next, which gives us the Illinois Derby, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, we will finally have a good idea of the half-dozen or so horses with legitimate chances at taking the roses. It's starting to get exciting.

The Florida Derby may be the most intriguing prep of the four, mainly because of all of the talented, but unproven horses likely to start.

Will Quality Road be able to stretch out to nine furlongs and duplicate his fantastic Fountain of Youth? Can the explosive Theregoesjojo get a better trip and turn the tables on Quality Road? And will Beethoven stay closer to the pace and make his big, late move a winning one?

All of those questions are going to be interesting to see answered, but the most anticipated question of all revolves around Dunkirk. Is he as good as most of the "experts" think he is?

I have to admit, I am absolutely shocked that Dunkirk was not only favored at the close of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2, but that some of the leading "experts" in the country have him ranked as their No. 1 Derby horse. They do realize he has just two starts, right?

All of the commotion is over Dunkirk's Feb. 19 allowance win at Gulfstream Park, when he won by nearly five lengths. If you haven't seen the race, here it is.

I've watched the race several times. Each time I do, I come away thinking the same thing: It was an impressive win, but I didn't see anything that makes me think he is a "freak," like many do. What I saw was a horse who was caught five-wide on the first turn, lost some ground, showed a lot of talent to overcome that and then pull away for a nice win - all in his second career start. Admittedly, it was impressive.

But I never really saw any explosiveness and his final time of 1:50.15 was nothing special.Plus, none of the horses that came out of that race have turned out to be Derby contenders.

A lot of people want to compare Dunkirk to Big Brown because they were both lightly-raced horses that exploded in Gulfstream allowance races. We won't know if Dunkirk is as talented as Big Brown for another five weeks, but my gut instinct tells me he isn't even close.

When I saw Big Brown's one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream last year I was blown away. Here was a horse who ran three-quarters in 1:09.87 effortlessly and showed an explosive turn of foot that was breathtaking. One race later his final time in the Florida Derby was 1:48.16 - a full two seconds faster than Dunkirk's allowance win.

Maybe I'm missing something. It seems that every person I ask about Dunkirk has the same opinion: That he is a special horse who will win the Florida Derby and become the horse to beat in the Kentucky Derby. Then I go back and watch the race again to see what I am missing. And I don't see it.

Then I also ask those same people how they can rank a horse who did not start as a 2-year-old and would only have three starts going into the Kentucky Derby as their No. 1 contender. They tell me Big Brown only had three starts heading into the Derby and just one start as a 2-year-old. I tell them Big Brown was an exception, not the rule, and that I'll take a horse with a 2-year-old foundation and more experience as my Derby horse any day. Then they tell me to wait and see.

I can't wait for the Florida Derby. I want to see Dunkirk run more than any horse in recent memory. I want to see if all the "experts" are right about him. I want to see if I have been missing the obvious this whole time. If I'm wrong, I'll be the first to admit it.

I'll be back later in the week for a complete analysis on the Florida Derby. Until then, how many think Dunkirk is the real deal?

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