By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
Although there are no official Kentucky Derby prep races on the schedule for this weekend (which should be forbidden at this time of year, but I digress… :) ), there are nevertheless several intriguing stakes races for three-year-olds on the agenda, led by the $200,000 Swale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. The seven-furlong race has drawn a field of seven, and will feature the comeback of grade I winner Daredevil, who is expected to be heavily favored in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup. Let’s take a look at the entries!
Swale Stakes (gr. II)
||11th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||Ready for Rye
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||2nd Spectacular Bid Stakes (VIDEO)|
||11th Kitten’s Joy Stakes (VIDEO)|
||Eddie Plesa, Jr.
||1st Texas Glitter Stakes (VIDEO)|
||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
||X Y Jet
||2nd Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
On paper, Daredevil looks like a standout. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt began his career with a pair of impressive victories at Belmont, breaking his maiden sprinting six furlongs by 6 ¼ lengths before coming back to romp in the one-mile Champagne Stakes (gr. I) by 2 ½ lengths. In the latter race, he defeated an absolutely top-notch field that included Upstart, The Truth Or Else, and El Kabeir, and his final time of 1:36.62 translated to a Beyer speed figure of 107, the highest figure earned by any member of his generation thus far. Things didn’t go as planned in his final start of the season, as he was hung wide while chasing a fast pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and retreated to finish last, but given the circumstances, I believe this effort can be forgiven. Since then, he has been training sharply at Palm Beach Downs (his last three workouts have been bullets), and the seven-furlong distance of the Swale should be perfect for him.
Yet despite his good credentials, I’m going to try and beat him. He has drawn the rail, and as a front runner/pace stalker, this means that he will have to be urged from the start to avoid getting boxed in along the rail. Furthermore, there are several other speedy colts in the race that could ensure a fast pace, potentially setting the race up for a closer. But those aren’t the only reasons to try and beat him—don’t forget that both of his victories came over sloppy tracks, and he will also be conceding weight to all of his rivals in the Swale while making his first start since November. Additionally, I have come to believe that the rail has not been the place to be as of late at Gulfstream Park, and with Daredevil having drawn the rail, this could be a major concern. As a likely odds-on favorite, I think he’s worth trying to beat for the top spot.
So to pull off the upset, I like Souper Colossal. Trained by Eddie Plesa, Jr., this three-time stakes winner has won four of five starts in impressive fashion, with his only defeat coming in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In that race, Souper Colossal helped set a very fast pace while racing three wide, yet still managed to finish a respectable seventh, beaten just 6 ¼ lengths for second. He returned to win the five-furlong Texas Glitter Stakes at Gulfstream on February 7th, rallying from a couple lengths back to triumph by 1 ½ lengths in the solid time of :55.95. He should be even sharper for his second start of the season, and having drawn post five, he should be able to work out a perfect trip pressing Daredevil and/or Ready for Rye through a solid early pace, and from there, I think he will pull away to score a mild upset.
I also like the chances of Senor Grits as a late-runner to pick up the pieces if the pace is too hot. Last time out, he rallied from seven lengths back to win a six-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs in eye-catching fashion, but as he demonstrated in his maiden win last October, he is also capable of racing closer to a fast pace if necessary. He might be worth a look to round out the exotics at a solid price.
Other Races to Watch
On Saturday at Turfway Park, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) fourth-place finish The Great War will attempt to take another major step toward the Kentucky Derby when he starts in the one-mile John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. The Wesley Ward-trained runner scored a romping victory last month in the 96ROCK Stakes at Turfway, winning by 7 ¼ lengths with very little urging. The stretch-out to a mile shouldn’t be much of a concern, and from a Beyer speed figure perspective, The Great War figures to face little opposition on Saturday. Pepper Roani, who broke his maiden impressively at Turfway last time out, looks like a logical candidate to round out the exacta, and Candy Charger could be in the mix as well if he rebounds from his poor showing last time out, when he broke slowly and raced wide in the 96ROCK Stakes.
Back at Gulfstream Park, the one-mile Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III) for three-year-olds on the turf has drawn a large and competitive field of eleven, including stakes winners Dubai Sky and Night Prowler. However, the colt I have my eye on is Divisidero, who broke his maiden first-time out on February 7th with a spectacular late rally. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I think that Divisidero has the talent to be something very, very special, and I will be looking forward to seeing him run on Saturday.
The seventh race at Gulfstream on Saturday is also worth a look. A one-mile maiden special weight for three-year-olds, the expected favorite is Wisecracker, a Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt that finished a strong second in his debut sprinting seven furlongs at Gulfstream. The winner that day was Khozan, who came back to win an allowance race at Gulfstream in dominating fashion to stamp himself as one of the favorites for the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Kentucky Derby. If Wisecracker runs anywhere near as well on Saturday as he did against Khozan, he should win this maiden race without trouble.
Who do you like this Saturday?
In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!