In the last couple of blogs we've talked about the plethora of Kentucky Derby contenders in the barns of Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher. Let's continue with that theme and take a look at the contenders from another mega-trainer, Steve Asmussen.
Asmussen may not have as many contenders as Baffert and Pletcher, but he has three pretty good ones in Daddy Nose Best, Sabercat, and Z Dager. None of them are at the top of anyone's Derby list right now, but that doesn't mean they won't be by May. All of them have potential to be major factors, especially with Asmussen, who regularly wins meet titles at Churchill Downs and sent out runner-up Nehro a year ago.
Daddy Nose Best won the El Camino Real on Saturday at Golden Gate Fields. It was an impressive victory from a couple different perspectives. He didn't have the most ideal trip, as he broke from the rail and was stuck on the inside for most of way. As usual, Julien Leparoux did an excellent job of finding an opening as they came off the final turn and gave him a chance to run after patiently rating. Once he found room, Daddy Nose Best dueled for the entire final furlong with a salty colt, Lucky Chappy, and somehow found the wire first even though his rival had more momentum. To get a 1 1/8-mile win on his résumé and bank $120,000 of graded earnings was key.
Most people still consider Daddy Nose Best a turf horse. He made his previous five starts on turf and the Tapeta at Golden Gate certainly plays more like turf than dirt. But don't forget, he ran a good second in his career debut on the Churchill Downs dirt, his sire (Scat Daddy) won the Florida Derby, and his broodmare sire (Thunder Gulch) won the biggest 3-year-old dirt races around, including the Derby and Belmont. Here are the thoughts of Scott Blasi, Asmussen's assistant who takes care of the colt in California.
"We've just been waiting to run him longer. He broke his maiden on the grass and put himself in position to keep running on grass in the Breeders' Cup, so that's what we did. We're very excited about getting him to (win) at a mile and an eighth, and I think he'll only get better as the he goes longer.
"He had a pretty good race on the dirt at Churchill, but that was sprinting. I think the Animal Kingdom thing was last year throws all that (turf/synthetic) stuff out of the window. I don't know what we'll do with him yet; there are several options. He came out of it great. You have the Spiral, the Blue Grass, the Sunland Derby, the Santa Anita Derby. There are so many options for him, especially now that he has $120,000 of earnings. What Steve usually does is work him back after the race and then plan from there."
Perhaps the more logical Asmussen Derby contender is Sabercat, who won the Delta Downs Jackpot in November and will make his 3-year-old debut next month. Sabercat, by Bluegrass Cat, took four tries to break his maiden, but has won three in a row since. He is a colt who clearly wants more ground and has shown an exceptional turn of foot in his victories. Even with its lucrative purse, the Delta Jackpot certainly has not been an important race on the Derby trail but it does give the connections a chance to map out their road without having to worry about earnings.
Blasi has been working Sabercat steadily at Santa Anita, and the colt will most likely make his next start in the March 10 San Felipe, with his final prep coming in the Santa Anita Derby. Sabercat has had six starts with a different rider in every one, so don't try to predict who will get the mount in any of his future races.
"I thought the Delta Jackpot was pretty impressive as far as the way he got stopped into that short stretch and kept going on," Blasi said. "It's a hard thing to do at Delta when you lose your momentum at that point in the race. The horse is coming around nicely. I don't think we're looking for a lot from him in his preps; we're looking for the Derby to be his third off a layoff.
"We were waiting for the races to get long enough for him as a 2-year-old. That's why we tried him on the turf at Saratoga because it was at least two turns. He wasn't going to do any good sprinting and you could tell that early on. We knew he had talent, but he needed the races to stretch out for him.
"He had a little break in December where we didn't do much with him, but he hasn't lost much fitness. He hasn't been out of training very long. In the three works I put in him (in California), his energy level has increased in every one. I think he has potential to fit with this group of 3-year-olds. He just has to get back in the game and do it."
The third Asmussen horse, Z Dager, will be getting back in the game this weekend in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds where he'll face the highly-regarded El Padrino, as well as the Larry Jones pair of Mr. Bowling and Mark Valeski. It was Mr. Bowling that defeated Z Dager by a head in the Jan. 21 Lecomte, but Mr. Bowling certainly had the better trip of the two horses. Z Dager was inside most of the way and after weaving his way through his traffic, was making up ground on the winner until the very end.
That was the stakes debut for Z Dager, a son of Mizzen Mast who broke his maiden in December. Unlike Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat, the colt is based at Fair Grounds with Asmussen's assistant Darren Fleming. He's had four works there since the Lecomte--none of them earth-shattering--but that's not Asmussen's style. The Risen Star should tell us what kind of horse he is.
Finally, don't forget to check out this year's edition of bloodhorse.com's Triple Crown Preview, which goes on sale Wednesday. It's a downloadable report that takes a look at 40 of the top Triple Crown contenders. We've made some improvements from last year, and the new one includes a full page devoted to each horse, Steve Haskin's ratings and comments, my analysis and evaluations, complete BRIS past performances for each horse, a 4-Cross Pedigree Chart for each one, TrueNicks pedigree ratings, dosage profiles, and helpful facts and stats to know about each contender and their connections.