What a bittersweet weekend of racing. It was the best day of Triple Crown preps we've seen to date, with the Tampa Bay Derby and Rebel both being decided by a nose, and the San Felipe by a half-length. Unfortunately, things soured a bit as we watched Rachel Alexandra get upset by Zardana. And the next day the Rachel camp confirmed what we all suspected--she would not go to the Apple Blossom. More on that later.
As for the Derby trail, I was very impressed with the top 3 in both the Tampa Bay Derby and Rebel. Only time will tell, but I have a feeling we saw the Derby winner on Saturday. All but two horses in my original top 10 stay, but in a much different order. At least the most important spot didn't change--No. 1 Odysseus. I was happy to see him confirm his potential and prove he is a legitimate contender. For all those that doubted him before, we are happy to have you on the bandwagon.
1. Odysseus - As presumptuous as the call by Tampa Bay track announcer Richard Grunder was ("Odysseus will have to wait for another day"), he did look like a beaten horse around the turn. That's what makes this effort even more impressive, especially in his first stakes try. His ability to re-rally and his determination in deep stretch while trying to weave through traffic is exactly what you are looking for in a Derby horse. I hope the connections decide to run him in the Wood because I don't want to see him going into the Derby without a try at nine furlongs and off seven weeks rest. Either way, he proved he is a major contender.
2. Lookin At Lucky - What a terrific effort while overcoming several hurdles. Ran well returning from layoff; certainly answered questions in first start on dirt and first time trying blinkers; and more than anything showed he has a lot of grit while overcoming trouble in backstretch and running down Noble's Promise in deep stretch. Baffert says he'll have him even better for next race.
3. Eskendereya - Worked an easy five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 on Sunday. Fountain of Youth was still most dominant effort by any 3YO this year. Florida Derby will let us know if he goes into KY Derby as the favorite.
4. Noble's Promise - New. It was an oversight to leave him off my original Top 10. Ran a huge race in his first start off a long layoff and first start on dirt. Proved himself big time against a very good field and figures to only get better in his next. Has terrific cruising speed. Major, major player.
5. Awesome Act - New. I am skeptical about any big effort on the inner track at Aqueduct, but after watching his Gotham a few more times I have to admit I am impressed. The Wood is shaping up to be the best Derby prep. Looking forward to seeing this colt as much as anyone.
6. Interactif - For the third straight race ran well but lacked that killer instinct nearing the wire. However, it was a very nice effort on synthetics and he was closing well at the end in a fast final quarter. This colt can run on any surface. I still like him as a major contender, mostly because I really believe he is best suited for 10 furlongs.
7. Drosselmeyer - I may be one of the only people who hasn't dismissed him. Will have one more shot to get enough earnings, either in Louisiana Derby or Sunland Derby.
8. Super Saver - Good effort in first start back. Was forced to go to the lead without any early speed, then finished gamely during a frantic stretch. Looks like he'll go to the Arkansas Derby. That will tell us what he's all about.
9. D'Funnybone - Drops a few spots without running, which I don't usually like to do. But others moved up and still have questions about his ability to get distance.
10. Caracortado - Closed pretty well into a slow pace, but certainly regressed a bit from his last. Willing to give him a mulligan and another chance in Santa Anita Derby.
10a. Schoolyard Dreams - Showed an impressive turn of foot in Tampa Bay Derby and it took a huge effort by Odysseus and some bad luck to beat him. Still needs some earnings.
The Best of the Rest
Christine Daae - Drops off the list only because Biancone said she will be going to Bonnie Miss and not against the boys. Still think she is as talented as any 3-year-old colt. Absolutely my Oaks pick right now.
Dublin -Drops off the list after consecutive losses. Ran a little wide into the first turn again, but had no real excuses. Has to prove he can win in the Arkansas Derby.
Rule - He probably should be in my top 10. What's keeping me from thinking this colt is for real?
Conveyance - I might be the only one that doesn't have him in the top 10. I just don't think he will get 10 furlongs.
Sidney's Candy - Good front-running effort in San Felipe, which gives him two prep wins in a row. But like Conveyance, I don't think his style fits the Derby.
Radiohead - Impressive allowance win. Let's see what he does next.
Discreetly Mine -Very slow work on Sunday. Not crazy about him.
Tempted to Tapit - He'll get one more chance.
Jackson Bend -Ten furlongs doesn't seem what he wants.
Stay Put - Like Drosselmeyer, he will get another chance to prove himself. A lot is riding on Louisiana Derby.
Now, a few words about Rachel and Zenyatta.
First of all, it was extremely disappointing to see the news today that Rachel would not be pointing toward the Apple Blossom any longer. But is anyone really that surprised? First they weren't going, then after Jess Jackson handpicked the date he wanted they were, and now they are not again. Extremely predictable and frustrating. Are they doing right by Rachel? Probably. If they say she is not ready, we have to take them at their word. But it still doesn't help lessen the disappointment.
As for the race, let's be honest here. She got the perfect trip and wasn't good enough. Give credit to Zardana. She was game. But if we are going to throw around accolades when horses excel, we must also keep it real when they underperform. Steve Asmuusen must take much of the blame here. He didn't have her ready.
That was evident in the first half mile. Rachel was extremely head strong and did not rate as well as she has shown in the past. She was too fresh. Borel held her as long as he could until he had to let her go just past the half-mile marker. And she didn't have enough left in the final furlong.
You could see in some of Rachel's prior works, especially the one two weeks ago, that she was too head strong, and as some say, unfocused. It was Asmussen's job to get her ready for this race and he failed. He admitted as much after the race. Somewhere, I'm sure Hal Wiggins is laughing to himself.
I still think Rachel ran a good race. For a filly making a return off a six-month layoff it was gutsy. Most likely, she will be better when and if she returns. Who knows when that will be.
As for Zenyatta, what a sensational performance. She did what she always does, find a way to win. She also did it with a lot left in the tank. Even without Rachel in the Apple Blossom, it will be an exciting event--going for 16 straight wins will guarantee that.
Maybe the rivals will meet somewhere down the road. At this point, I wouldn't bank on it.