While next week's racing calendar includes three key Triple Crown preps including the season debut of Kentucky Derby favorite of Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer, this weekend features only Saturday's Gotham Stakes from Aqueduct, and to a lesser degree a Sunday allowance race at Gulfstream that will serve as Dailed In's two-turn debut.
The Gotham is being billed as a race with only two real Derby contenders--Stay Thirsty and Toby's Corner. The outcome of the race will ultimately decide if that is the indeed the case, but even if one of the other seven starters were to pull an upset I'm not sure how serious they would be taken.
By all accounts, Stay Thirsty is training like a monster in South Florida for Todd Pletcher. He is working step-for-step with Uncle Mo and is said to be an improved horse from last year when he was runner-up in the Hopeful and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. When handicapping the Gotham however, the questions becomes: Does he stand so far above this field that he is worth betting as a likely odds-on favorite despite coming off a layoff, or do you try to beat him with a horse that might be in better form?
Stay Thirsty is the only Gotham runner without a start in 2011. Last week we saw a prime example of a superior horse being susceptible to two turns in his season debut in the Fountain of Youth when To Honor and Serve came up short, so it is certainly possible that Stay Thirsty needs a race. However, its probably pretty safe to assume that the Fountain of Youth featured a better field than the Gotham, and that is why I wont try to beat Stay Thirsty.
Stay Thirsty went wire-to-wire in his maiden win last summer at Saratoga and set the pace before finishing second to Boys At Tosconova in the Hopeful, but I don't see him have the lead here. There are two horses with decent speed on the inside, including The Fed Eased, a 7 1/4-length maiden winner at Aqueduct last who now breaks from the rail. I think Stay Thirsty, in the capable hands of Ramon Dominguez, will sit off of The Fed Eased and possible one or two others, including Norman Asbjornson. He should get a perfect set up and be good enough for these.
An upset is possible if The Fed Eased somehow gets loose on the lead and stretches his speed out for two turns, if Steve Asmussen trainee Dawly, a former claimer who looks to be improving, closes into an exceedingly fast pace, or if Toby's Corner takes a step forward. Graham Motion is cautiously optimistic about Toby's Corner, who ran a solid speed number when he pulled a minor upset in the Feb. 5 Whirlaway. I wrote about Toby's Corner in a previous blog as a horse that I was impressed with and may be a sleeper, but I cannot get past the feeling that they are all running for second behind Stay Thirsty.
One horse that I will mention as a potential exotics play is Starship Caesar. He earned his first win in a $25,000 claimer at Calder in January, but stepped up to score an impressive victory in a one-mile starter allowance last month at Gulfstream. His trainer, Bisnath Parboo, won at a 25% clip at Calder last year and new rider Eurico Da Silva has sprung an upset or two in his day. The colt has some decent speed and should sit a stalking trip to at least challenge for a piece at a big price.
As far as Dialed In goes, I'm not sure how much we will learn from his allowance race on Sunday, where he will face four horses (maybe), one of which is a Zito-trained horse that we can only assume was recruited to help fill the race. The goal is simple: Get a two-turn race into the horse before the Florida Derby. No matter what the result, it should only serve him well and give us an indication if he can handle a route of ground the same way he has sprinting. Either way, I won't form too much of an opinion about Dialed In until I see him in the Florida Derby, which by the way is shaping up to be the prep of the year with Dialed In, Soldat, To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty, and Sweet Ducky all possible to run.
For what it's worth, quick picks at Santa Anita:
Santa Anita Handicap: First Dude, Tweebster, Soul Candy
Santa Anita Oaks: Turbulent Descent, May Day Rose
Kilroe Mile: Jeranimo, Times Gone By, Caracortado
Good luck this weekend. Mike Repole will be back with another Uncle Mo blog on Wednesday.