A Tell-Tale Weekend

Before handicapping each of the three Derby preps this weekend, let’s ask ourselves a hypothetical question: If Creative Cause wins the Santa Anita Derby, and/or Gemologist wins the Wood and carries an undefeated record to Louisville, will either or both of these be favored over Union Rags in the Kentucky Derby?

It will be interesting to see how it plays out and I guess it would depend on how each of them wins (if they do), but it might be a moot point anyway because if Hansen airs in the Blue Grass next weekend he will be favored over all three anyway, in my opinion. Anyway, it’s interesting to ponder as we get ready for a huge weekend of preps.

Wood Memorial

The pace could be swift in here with speedy sprinter The Lumber Guy likely to gun it from the outside under Cornelio and Teeth of the Dog probably showing speed as well. People are talking about how the race could set up for a mid-pack runner like Alpha or a closer Street Life—and it very well might—but Gemologist should also sit an ideal stalking trip just behind the front runners. Expect Castellano to let The Lumber Guy go from the outside and follow him around for three-quarters before taking over. From there, let the race begin.

I can’t say I was in the Gemologist corner last year even though he was undefeated in three starts. And even as recently as a few weeks ago I would have ranked him as Pletcher’s third or fourth top Derby contender (he might have too). But the Tiznow colt has really blossomed in the last few weeks and seems to be peaking . He couldn’t be coming into the race any better, so I will use him in all exotics. You have to take a stand against one of the favorites here and I’ll take mine against Alpha.

Street Life’s last two races were very impressive and he’s clearly an improving colt. He could be the one making that huge, late run (and I’ll probably use him in smaller tickets), but I think the biggest threat to Gemologist is My Adonis. If you throw out the Delta Jackpot at the Delta Downs bull ring, this colt has been very steady—finishing on the board in all of his other eight starts. He closed well in the Holy Bull, but a one-turn mile is not what he wants. In the Gotham he was beaten by Hansen (nothing to be ashamed of there), but was still running on in the stretch and finished six lengths clear of the third-place horse. If you take out the Delta Jackpot he has improved his Bris speed numbers in each of his last three races. He also trains at Aqueduct (bullet work on March 30) and just looks like a horse ready to fire his best effort. He’ll probably be the fourth choice on the board, so he’s going to be a fair price. I’ll play win/place on My Adonis and box him with Gemologist.

Santa Anita Derby

Creative Cause is the deserving favorite, though I think 6-5 is a little bit too heavy. He breaks from the rail, probably won’t be fully cranked since he doesn’t need earnings, and is removing blinkers after his San Felipe win. Because of all those factors I’m inclined to take a stand against him.

I’ll Have Another is the wild card in here. If he runs back to his Lewis off a layoff, everyone else is running for second. There is some speed in here, but not a ton, so he could get a nice, comfortable trip near the pace and have things his own way turning for home. There is the element of unknown with this colt though, since he is so lightly-raced and he comes off such a big effort. The possibility is certainly there that he regresses. Or, he might be the real deal. You’ll have to make a decision either way. I’m going to use him in my exotics.

For some reason I’ve been on the Liaison bandwagon in his last two races and he has disappointed both times. Maybe it’s because Baffert likes him so much, but either way I’ll give him one more chance. This is certainly the place to take a chance on him, since he is 8-1 on the morning-line and will probably be every bit of that by post time. I like that Bejarano gets back aboard; he’s the one that rode him in his three wins as a juvenile. I liked his six-furlong work at Santa Anita on Monday, and I like that Baffert has won this race six times (including last year with Liaison’s owner Arnold Zetcher—Midnight Interlude). Win/place on Liaison for me.

Baffert has three in here and I’m inclined to use Blueskiesnrainbows in exotics instead of Paynter, who I think is in too tough of a spot in his second start. Blueskiesnrainbows has some tactical speed too and distance should be no problem with his pedigree.

Illinois Derby

I really have no idea what to make of this race. Currency Swap is the 4-1 morning line favorite and the only graded stakes winner in the field; and just got drilled by seven lengths by Gemologist. I was impressed by Our Entourage’s turf allowance and he has been working very competitively against Pletcher’s top horses on dirt, so I think he’ll run a decent race. I just not sure he’ll have the same closing kick on dirt.

I do like Hakama a bit even though he got drilled in the Gotham two back. His last race on March 17 at Laurel was pretty good and he came back to work a bullet for Michael Trombetta at Fair Hill since then. He’s gone a route of a ground a couple different times and won both of them and has tactical speed. He has a chance to run a winning race here, so I’ll have some win/place money on him.

As a longshot how about Morgan’s Guerrilla? He’s also got speed and stretched out successfully in his last start. With Rosie aboard for Mike Maker, and at 20-1 on the morning-line, he looks interesting. I’ll be watching the tote board.

Good luck this weekend. Who do you like?

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