By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
It's a quiet weekend on the
Road to the Kentucky Derby, which means we can turn our attention to a smaller
stakes race at Sunland Park.
The $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby might not offer qualification points
toward the Kentucky Derby, but the 1 1/16-mile race does serve as a local steppingstone
toward the Mar. 22 Sunland Derby (G3). A handful of Triple Crown-nominated
youngsters have been entered in the Mine That Bird Derby, so let's take a
horse-by-horse look at the field and see if we can't come up with the winner:
#1 Top Draw (6-1): Former
Todd Pletcher trainee scored his lone win sprinting six furlongs at Zia
Park, a hard-fought victory that produced a 48 Beyer speed figure.
Subsequent efforts against tougher company have been a bit less inspiring; his
first start around two turns produced a fourth-place finish in the Riley
Allison Derby at Sunland, beaten eight lengths. A son of Into Mischief, Top Draw is
conditioned by high-percentage trainer Miguel Hernandez, but looks like a
longshot to crack the exotics on Sunday.
#2 Stackin Silver (3-1): Stoutly-bred son of Union Rags is 2-for-2 since
stretching out in distance, winning a $50,000 maiden claiming event at Del Mar
by 5 1/4 lengths before claiming an allowance race at Santa Anita by a similar
margin. Stackin Silver has plenty of tactical speed and figures to set the pace
while breaking from the rail, but this could be problematic for a couple of
reasons. For one, Stackin Silver will almost certainly face face pressure from
Sir Rick and Tappin Fora Dance. For another, outside runners tend to have an
advantage at Sunland, so Stackin Silver could find himself in a tough spot racing inside. He
still warrants respect while shipping in from California, but I'll use him
underneath rather than on top.
#3 Exaulted (7-2): It's
not every day one feels compelled to play a maiden running in a stakes race,
but I believe Exaulted is the best horse in the Mine That Bird Derby field.
Trained by Peter Eurton, Exaulted broke slowly in his debut sprinting 6 1/2
furlongs at Santa Anita last month, but rallied smoothly up the inside under
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to finish second. Exaulted was no match for the
winner, but hey, the winner was Nadal, an early Kentucky Derby favorite who
came right back to win the San Vicente (G2).
Even in defeat, Exaulted
earned big Beyer and Brisnet speed figures that stamp him as the horse to beat
in the Mine That Bird Derby. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles is a question mark,
but Exaulted's sire Twirling Candy is responsible for plenty of long-winded
runners, including Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Gift Box and Belmont Oaks (G1)
winner Concrete Rose. Exaulted figures to sit a perfect trip off the speed
before rallying in the stretch, and take note, Mike Smith is making a rare trip
to Sunland to retain the mount. To me, this suggests Exaulted is a
highly-regarded colt with a bright future. He's my clear choice to win.
#4 Sir Rick (2-1): Formerly
trained by Steve Asmussen, 2-1 morning line favorite Sir Rick is thoroughly familiar
with the winner's circle, having emerged victorious in three of his five
starts. But two of those victories came in five-furlong sprints, and while Sir
Rick successfully stretched out to a mile at Sam Houston last month—leading all
the way to win an allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths with a 70 Beyer—he benefited from securing an
uncontested lead over a wet track. Sir Rick is 2-for-2 on off going, and his
ability on dry footing might be better reflected by his third-place effort two starts back in
the 1-mile Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs. Perhaps new trainer Robertino
Diodoro can build on the momentum Sir Rick generated under the care of
Asmussen, but I'm hesitant to back this colt since he's lining up against two serious pace rivals.
#5 Tappin Fora Dance (10-1): Led all the way to win his debut sprinting six furlongs
at Sunland last month, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths with a 66 Beyer. A son of
Tapiture, Tappin Fora Dance is relatively untested for two-time Mine That Bird Derby-winning trainer Joel Marr, but he's also stretching out 2 1/2 furlongs in
distance and figures to engage Stackin Silver and Sir Rick in potentially
destructive battle for early supremacy. On the bright side, Tappin Fora Dance
Marr has drawn outside his main pace rivals—a favorable setup at Sunland—and
Marr strikes at a 22% rate with last-out maiden winners. Consider using Tappin
Fora Dance in the trifecta and superfecta.
#6 Jungle Runner (4-1): Winner of the 7-furlong Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington
Park, Jungle Runner seems to have reached a plateau in terms of Beyer
and Brisnet speed figures, but that's not necessarily his fault. He's been
competing against tougher company on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and was
compromised by a slow pace and a speed-favoring track when finishing eighth in
the Smarty Jones Stakes last month. The Mine That Bird Derby is an easier spot,
and trainer Steve Asmussen (who has won this race six times since 2001) will
equip Jungle Runner with blinkers on Sunday, which should help the colt stay more
involved early on. As a son of Candy Ride out of a Tapit mare, Jungle Runner is
bred to improve with maturity, so I'm optimistic the drop in class will help
Jungle Runner find his best stride.
1. Exaulted (7-2)
2. Jungle Runner (4-1)
3. Stackin Silver (3-1)
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Mine That Bird Derby?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.