With five 3-year-old stakes on the docket, this is easily the most important weekend of the Triple Crown prep season so far. After Saturday, I believe we will be able to separate the men from the boys and have a good idea of who the major contenders are as we creep closer to the first Saturday in May. I will offer my first top 10 list of the year early next week.
Let's take a closer look at some of the major races:
Fountain of Youth
There is no doubt that from top to bottom this is the deepest prep field we've seen so far. I think you can make a major case for almost any of these 3-year-olds, though I'm going with one who has already proven himself for more than 10 months: Jackson Bend.
Jackson Bend has done almost nothing wrong in seven races. His Holy Bull try was exceptional, as he dueled with Winslow Homer in the stretch and was well clear of the rest of field. Since that race he has ripped off two monster works, including a four-furlong breeze in :47 flat on Saturday. All indications are that Zito will have him cranked for his second start of the year. He has the right running style for a nine furlong race at Gulfstream, that is, tactical speed that will keep him close to the pace. I have my reservations about this colt getting 10 furlongs in May, but I think he is the one to beat here. His class and speed numbers solidify that too.
Buddy's Saint might be more of a threat come May 1, but I'm not sold on him in this spot. It is very difficult for a 3-year-old to make his season debut off a 2 1/2-month layoff going nine furlongs. He certainly has shown the ability to get the distance and we have seen the talent, but I think he will be more cranked for the Florida Derby. We'll see.
I'm going to use Eskendereya, Pulsion, and Zito's other horse, Ice Box, underneath. Pletcher is more optimistic about Eskendereya than he is Aikenite, which was confirmed when he gave the mount to first call rider John Velazquez. Eskendereya ran a solid number in his allowance win and should be near the pace again. Pulsion comes off an extended layoff, but has been working better than Buddy's Saint. He was entered in the Holy Bull but scratched because of mucus in the lungs. His closing style could benefit him if the pace is hot. Ice Box is the only horse in the field to have won at nine furlongs this year. That allowance win last month wasn't great on paper, but he's won two straight and seems to be an improving horse. We'll see if he's over his head or not.
At seven furlongs, it's not really a true Derby prep in mid-February but this field came up very strong and a couple of these horses have a chance to stretch out next time. A Little Warm comes off two big wins, including the Spectacular Bid on Jan. 9. He certainly deserves consideration here, as does the runner-up, Wildcat Frankie, who came back to win an allowance less than two weeks ago.
Rick Dutrow's horses are the ones to beat though, in my opinion, especially D' Funnybone. Yes, he failed terribly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but you know the synthetic track wasn't to his liking. He has already won convincingly at this distance when taking the grade II Futurity at Belmont last fall and is probably the fastest horse in the race. Radiohead is very intriguing in this spot too. He makes his first start for Dutrow after finishing seventh in the BC Juvenile. This is his first start on natural dirt after winning a group II on turf at Ascot. I'll take a look at the tote board before I do anything with him.
Right now I'd lean toward D' Funnybone, but I'll also consider Pletcher's horse, Ibboyee, who disappointed last out in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct. He has already won twice under Velazquez.
Deep field here with Lecomte winner Ron the Greek, impressive optional claiming winners over the same ground, Hotep and Stay Put, fast maiden winner Tempted to Tapit, and the horse I like, Drosselmeyer.
I was at Gulfstream for his allowance win on Jan. 31 and it was a strong, visually impressive effort, especially in his first start on dirt. This horse is built for two turns. All five of his starts have come at one mile or more, which gives him a big advantage. He will be tested for the first time here but I think he's up to it. Bill Mott has been been red hot at Gulfstream this meet too. I think Drosselmeyer is a star in the making.
As you know, I wrote about Tempted to Tapit a couple weeks ago and I'm anxious to see him face stakes company. I'm not sure if he can handle it yet, so I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach, although Im hopeful. As a price horse, I like Letsgetitonmon in this spot. He was very average as a juvenile on turf and synthetics, but both starts in 2010 have been good on dirt and he has improved his speed numbers in his last five starts. I like horses coming from off the pace at Fair Grounds and he was certainly doing that in the Lecomte. Remember, Asmussen does not have a Derby horse yet. Is this the one? At any rate, I like him in this spot at what will probably be a pretty big price.
The addition of this rescheduled race put the icing on the cake this weekend. D. Wayne Lukas was the happiest person at Oaklawn when the race was redrawn and Dublin moved from post 10 to post 3. I liked Dublin last weekend and still do now. Lukas claims the horse is much better since his surgery and his works seem to indicate that, but we'll find out on Saturday. Dublin is now likley to go off as the favorite with the new post and also because expected pacesetter Conveyance loses Garrett Gomez and must break from post 9 instead of post 2. Neither are particularly good changes.
Finally, I know she'll be the favorite and maybe even odds-on, but I like Devil May Care to win big in the Silverbulletday. This Malibu Moon filly showed her talent when winning the Frizette but then kind of slipped off the radar a bit after her poor BC performance. Don't let that bother you. She didn't like the Pro-Ride. She has been training exceptionally well at Palm Meadows for Todd Pletcher while working in company with Rule and Aikenite. My prediction is that she wins big here and will face the boys in the Louisiana Derby. We'll see.
Who do you like this weekend?
Don't forget to join Tom and I for the live blog on Friday at noon EST.