Will Brethren put away a seemingly overmatched field and continue his ascent to the top of the division? Who will shoot to the top of the class in California? And will Uncle Mo begin his season in style? These are the questions that we await the answers to on a busy and important weekend of racing. Let's get right into it.
Tampa Bay Derby
Brethren devoured the Sam F. Davis field last month and will be an odds-on favorite to do so again in the Tampa Bay Derby. There is really no reason to think he won't do it again over the same track, at the same distance, and with the second, third, and fourth-place finishers returning as some of his biggest threats.
I won't pick again Brethren here. He should get the same kind of stalking trip as last time against an underwhelming field. About the only thing that was unimpressive about the half brother to Super Saver in that last start was his Beyer, and they are proving to be more and more dubious with each passing weekend (see Apriority and Calibrachoa last weekend). I will overlook his speed numbers and trust my eyes, which told me Brethren is pretty good.
Free Entry is probably the biggest threat to Brethren based off his last two and his close to the pace running style. Fourth to Uncle Mo in his debut last summer at Saratoga, the Tale of the Cat colt broke his maiden sprinting at Gulfstream in January and followed up with a professional first-level allowance win going a mile over the same strip, He stretches out to two turns for the first time, but has shown enough to warrant a serious look. Alan Garcia keeps the mount.
Striding Ahead, an impressive two-turn maiden winner last out over the wet Tampa dirt, and Beamer, who is better than his fourth-place effort in the Sam Davis would indicate, are the other horses I would use to fill out my exotics. But I think Brethren remains undefeated.
Unlike the Tampa Bay Derby, the San Felipe is a very intriguing race. We are still waiting for a California-based horse to separate itself from the rest of pack and this could be the race that does it. Most people think it will be Jaycito, winner of the grade I Norfolk who will be making his season debut for new trainer Bob Baffert. The colt has been working exceptionally well and I believe he will run well. I also think that when all is said and done, he will be the best 3-year-old to come out of California this year. But in this particular spot, I won't pick him on top. He's coming off a layoff, making his first start for Baffert (who has a low percentage with horses in this category), and they are still trying to figure out his best running style. He will probably be cranked for the Santa Anita Derby, so I'll wait for that race and take a stand that he is just a little short here.
Runflatout is the buzz horse here after his sensational maiden win, but I'm more inclined to use another maiden winner--Albergatti. He looks like more like a stretch out horse to me than Runflatout does and I like that he will be making his third start of the year, as opposed to two. And Gomez chose to ride him over Runflatout.
I also like Baffert's other starter, Awesome Patriot. He is also making his season debut, but he last raced on Dec. 29 and got a good test. It was only a three-horse field when he won that allowance race going a mile at Santa Anita, but he outdueled Riveting Reason in a good-looking effort. Baffert, who has said all along that he will be better at two turns, is still a little unsure about what to expect from what he calls an "immature" runner, but he is talented enough to use.
Premier Pegasus is the other horse I will use. He tries a route of ground for the first time after running a good third to The Factor in the San Vicente, his only loss in four starts. This is an exceptionally fast colt who worked five furlongs in :57 3/5 last Saturday and seems primed for another big effort--if he can avoid a speed duel.
If you think the race will break down from all the speed, consider using Surrey Star, the fourth-place finisher of the San Vicente in his first start on dirt. I haven't even mentioned Comma to the Top, Jakesam, or the undefeated Bench Points, which shows you how wide-open this race really is.
It remains to be seen how much Uncle Mo will face and how he will look doing it. As of now, Wesley Ward is planning on scratching Madman Diaries, and if he does I suspect that Mo will just jog around the track en route to an easy win.
It would be interesting to see Mo face a speedster like Madman Diaries. This is a colt that can run :21 and change and :44 and change at the drop of a hat. He ran poorly in the Hutcheson because of a failed blinkers off experiment, but Ward said he would put them on this time and just send him to the front, if he goes. That would allow Mo an opportunity to rate and also have to work a little bit. But if Madman Diaries doesn't go there is no other horse to challenge Mo up front.
Either way, it will be exciting to see the Derby favorite finally make his season debut. We may not learn too much from it (or next month's Wood Memorial for that matter), but there will still plenty be plenty to analyze in the coming weeks.
Good luck this weekend!