The three weekend preps will separate the men from the boys and give us a pretty good idea of the handful of legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders. There's plenty to cover, so let's get right into it.
As a reminder, the live blog chat will return to its usually time of Saturday at noon EDT. For those of you who have not tried it, it's a lot of fun. We mostly cover the weekend action and talk about all the Triple Crown happenings, as well as make fun of our public enemy No. 1, Draynay. This weekend, I'll be joined by Dick Downey from the TheDowneyProfile.com. Dick has been one of the most respected professional handicappers for many years.
Now onto the races...
I just saw that I Want Revenge was installed as the 4-5 choice. Wow. There are an awful lot of people out there who think this colt is the real deal, and based on his Gotham romp he may very well be. In his first start on dirt I Want Revenge fired a near-perfect race (114 Beyer) and was so impressive that IEAH Stables shelled out millions for a 50% share. He might be as good as advertised, but I'm going to try to beat him.
The horse I'll try to do it with is second choice, Imperial Council. Don't mistake this one as a closer, even though that's exactly what he did in the Gotham, when eating up ground like a freight train in the final furlong. Rajiv Maragh rode him that day, and even though he's a capable jockey, it's not the way Shug McGaughey wanted him ridden. In his first three starts under Edgar Prado, Imperial Council was right near the pace, showing very good speed. With Prado aboard again, he should be right near the pace, along with I Want Revenge, Lord Justice and maybe Just a Coincidence.
I thought Imperial ran a very credible race in his first stakes effort and first try around two turns. He has all the looks of a horse that will improve off of that start, especially since Shug is a master at stretching horses out. His bullet work on March 29 in Florida proved to me that he is ready to step forward in a big way. His pedigree says that 1 1/8 miles will not be a problem.
I'll play a small win bet on Imperial Council (2-1), but since we won't be getting great value on him either, I'll also toss in a few exotics. I like Kelly Breen's coupled entry of West Side Bernie and Atomic Rain, who are both stakes tested. If you're willing to throw out Bernie's poor Lane's End effort, you can take comfort in knowing he has fired in all five of his other starts. All six of his career starts have been at more than a mile. Atomic Rain also is distance tested and even though he doesn't win a lot, is a consistent horse. He ran well over this strip when taking second to Old Fashioned in the Remsen and has good tactical speed. Plus, the jocks on both Bernie (Stewart Elliott) and Atomic Rain (Joe Bravo) know this track well.
I'll also use Lime Rickey, who makes his first start on dirt after nine on turf, and Just a Coincidence, who seems to be putting it together at the right time for Zito. I'll play an exacta box Imperial Council WITH Lime Rickey, Just a Coincidence and the coupled entry of Bernie and Atomic Rain. If I Want Revenge finishes third or worse it's an easy, cheap way to make a sizeable score. If not, oh well. I'll let an odds-on beat me.
Santa Anita Derby
Maybe the most highly-anticipated prep of the season, as the showdown between The Pamplemousse and Pioneerof the Nile is finally here. Unlike last week when Pletcher's rabbit scratched out of the Florida Derby, Baffert's rabbit, Z Day, is likely to go. Z Day, along with Feisty Suances, should be able to make The Pamplmousse work for the lead for the first time this year. How will he react?
My guess is that The Pamplemousse will regress a bit. He will still run a good race, but he'll face his stiffest challenge yet and could feel the effects. Pioneerofthe Nile has been near perfect so far, as his three straight graded wins have proven. It's hard to find a chink in his armor. If there is one, it's that this will be his first start at nine furlongs, although all of his previous seven races were two turns. It shouldn't be a problem. I expect Pioneerof the Nile to be right there at the end, but because he and The Pamplemousse will both likely be under 2-1, I have to try to beat them. It's in my nature.
So I'll go with probable third choice, Chocolate Candy, who has been flying under the radar a bit. All he has done is win four of his last five, including his last two in graded stakes company. Because he won his last two up north at Golden Gate, Chocolate Candy has been getting less hype than the other two. But Jerry Hollendorfer purposely kept his colt out of the San Felipe so he would be fresh and now he has about seven weeks between races. Chocolate Candy is a versatile horse, as he's won by staying close to the pace and also showed a big, late kick when losing to POTN by 1 1/2 lengths in the CashCall. The knock on him is that he's too slow, but we'll see. He's already got a win on the Pro-Ride when breaking his maiden last year.
Besides a small win bet on Chocolate Candy, I'll play a trifecta box with Chocolate Candy, Pioneerof the Nile and Feisty Suances, who ran a big one against POTN last out and could improve.
It's unlikely that the winner will have a major bearing on the Derby, but it looks like a good betting race nonetheless. I'll start by tossing Musket Man, who looks like a nice horse but not at that price. Who knows if Giant Oak will finally put it all together, but I feel like he has to be part of the exotics scenario based on his class edge. Darley's entry of Stormalory and Florentino also has a good shot. Stormalory comes off a turf win and Florentino has nice early speed. I loved Skipadate last year but his form has been off in his last two starts. Al Khali also has to be respected. Pletcher has won this race three times since 2001 and this colt won in his first U.S. start last month. He could get even better.
That leaves me with my choice - Perfect Song. He's a lightly-raced son of Pleasantly Perfect who is a head away from being unbeaten in three starts. He might be the fastest horse in the raced based on his wire-to-wire optional claiming win at Laurel three weeks ago. He also ran six furlongs in 1:09 when breaking his maiden at Philly Park. He'll be stretching out past a mile for the first time for Michael Trombetta, but we all know how well early speed has done in recent Illinois Derbys.
I'll play a small win bet on Perfect Song (6-1) and play an exacta box - Perfect Song, Al Khali, Stormalory and Giant Oak.