As we head into week four of a nine piece series leading up to the 2012 Kentucky Derby, this upcoming weekend looks to be a very exciting one.
With the Grade: I $1 million Florida Derby (Saturday) and the Grade: II Louisiana Derby (Sunday) being run, I expect several changes to next week’s Horse Racing 2012 Countdown to the Triple Crown.
#1 ranked Union Rags will take on #4 ranked El Padrino in the Florida Derby and #12 ranked Mark Valeski looks to be a solid favorite in the Louisiana Derby.
2012 Countdown to the Triple Crown
1) Union Rags– if you look at his final work last weekend in preparation for Saturday’s Florida Derby it doesn’t look all that impressive on paper, as he went a half mile in :49 flat. However, when I saw he went the last eighth of a mile in a shade over :11 seconds…I sat back in my chair. Obviously he is coming up to Saturday’s race in good order. That’s good, because he is going to need to be at or near his best as he squares off against #4 ranked El Padrino.
2) Creative Cause- after his San Felipe Stakes win, trainer Mike Harrington said he was “concerned” that this son of super sire Giant’s Causeway may be peaking too soon. I was concerned about that too, but my feelings dissipated slightly after seeing he worked five furlongs in :59.4 at Hollywood Park last week. That, readers, is a sign he is holding his form.
3) Hansen– had his plans changed last week. He was being pointed towards the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York (April 7th), but now his plans call for him to “stay home” and run a week later in the Bluegrass Stakes (April 14th) at Keeneland in Kentucky.
Listen, whether his next race is in New York, Kentucky, China, or racing against Santa Claus’ reindeer at the North Pole, he needs to stick with the rating off the early pace tactics. That, folks, is what I’m more concerned about than anything else about this horse. Nice work the other day (5 furlongs in 1:01.1)
4) El Padrino- Trainer Todd Pletcher called his final tune up for the Florida Derby (a half mile in :49) “solid”. He better be in solid shape to take on Union Rags, that’s for sure and he’s got a punchers chance, there is no doubt about that. He tries his best every time out as his 6-3-2-1 record indicates. If he is ever going to defeat Union Rags, it might be this Saturday as he seems to be coming into this race “tighter” than Union Rags. (El Padrino has had two tough races, while Union Rags had one easy race so far this year).
5) I’ll Have Another– after a seven furlong work (in 1:26) and a mile work (1:42.3), he seems to be humming along. Trainer Doug O’Neill is certainly giving him enough time between races (he hasn’t run since winning the February 4th Robert B. Lewis Stakes). I look forward to his next start (the Santa Anita Derby, April 7th) where he takes on Creative Cause. In SA Derby, he doesn’t necessarily have to win, but a good performance is a must.
6) Alpha– his pattern of taking the easy road to the Derby continues. With the announcement that Hansen was staying home in Kentucky, his connections changed their plans and he is now heading towards the Wood Memorial as opposed to the Louisiana Derby as originally planned. Blatantly ducking the competition is quite annoying if you ask me, but this horse is brimming with talent, has an excellent trainer and is by Bernardini. So we/I have no choice but to continue to follow him. Super good work last weekend (5 furlongs in 1:00.4).
7) Bodemeister– did you folks see that melee when he was on the track for his last work? If you didn’t, let me sum it up for you. Just as he was breaking off for his half mile work, like 8 to 10 other horses were all doing the same thing. It looked like a Calvary charge on the track. Yet through it all (the traffic issues, other exercise riders chirping to their mounts, and the other overall distractions etc), this horse was able to rip a half mile in :46.4. Trainer Bob Baffert said he got “racing experience off what set out to be a simple workout”…and that’s probably true.
8 ) Dullahan– I’m still impressed with his three year old debut race in the Palm Beach Stakes a couple of weeks ago. He ran the last quarter of a mile in less than :23 seconds, which is unbelievably fast. But what puts the icing on the cake is that he did that in his first start in 4 months. He is now setup pretty well for his next start (April 14 Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland) and I expect an improved performance, but then again, how does a horse improve on a sub :23 last quarter mile?
9) Gemologist– I’m still impressed with this horse’s last race too. “He came off the layoff with a great performance. He was amazing. He did it on his own. He did it so easy,” Javier Castellano (His regular rider) said. “I was very impressed; he did it the right way and he’s heading in the right direction.”
I know it was just an allowance race but Castellano was right…he did it so easy (He won it by 6 lengths under wraps late and was pricking his ears in the last several yards of the race) and with plenty in reserve. Overall he has a lot going for him. He’s still unbeaten, by Tiznow, and has won over the Churchill Downs surface already. Next stop the April 7th Wood Memorial at Aqueduct where he will lock horns with Alpha.
10) Secret Circle– as crazy as it sounds; this might be the most intriguing horse in my Countdown list. I’m not kidding…he’s done everything that has been asked from him so far. He’s won from on the pace as well as winning from a stalking position, he’s been asked to run 6 furlongs, then 7, then 8 (a mile) and then 8 ½ . For the most part, all he’s done is win. I’m still not totally sold that he’ll get a mile and quarter on the first Saturday in May, but he has surprised me 2 or 3 times before. Hope you’re not sick of hearing me say this but its true….we will know a lot more after his next race (Arkansas Derby, April 14th).
11) Mark Valeski– trainer Larry Jones said this horse was “doing great” and says he’s “even better now” than he was before running his eyeballs out when almost beating #4 ranked El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes. Don’t forget, the Risen Star was this horse’s first race at any distance over 6 furlongs.
“We wanted him to work somewhere between1:00 and 1:01, but he went along pretty nice and (jockey) Rosie (Napravnik) said he sure did it easy,” Jones said. “He’s doing very well. We’re sitting pretty good right now. Numbers-wise, he’s ahead of where Hard Spun and Eight Belles were at this time, and actually Friesan Fire too. So we feel like we’re right where he needs to be”.
Wow, Mr. Jones, you are mentioning this horses name with some of the other darn good horses you’ve trained in the past. Hard Spun?….Eight Belles? Are you saying this horse is better than those two? Or am I misreading your quote? Either way, he should be a rock solid favorite in the Louisiana Derby this Sunday.
12) Castaway– was nothing short of a huge disappointment in the Sunland Park Derby when he checked in a tired seventh. I have to put some of the blame on his jockey (Raphael Bejarano) for getting him hooked up in a suicidal early speed dual.
First of all, what’s he doing on the lead early when his best running style is coming from off the pace? Secondly, if you are going to put him in front early, what’s with the fractions he set? (:22.2, :46.1 and, 1:10.4) ? …a :22.2 first quarter in a mile and an eighth race? I’m not calling for Bejarano’s head here; I’m just saying I expected a better ride or a better game plan. I dropped him from #5 to #12 but he could easily jump right back in the top 10 with a bounce back performance in his next start. (At this writing, his next start is unclear.)
13) Went the Day Well– makes his debut on the list for 2 reasons. 1) Albeit greenly, he looked good winning the Vinery Spiral Stakes last weekend. 2) If you read my Vinery Spiral preview you’ll see my sources told me this horse is good. Evidently my connections are correct. I’m not sure if running him again (in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes in April 21st) is good or bad. Does he need another race? Maybe….but do I want to run him just 2 weeks before the Derby? And hypothetically, if he wins the Derby, you would have to go in the Preakness 2 weeks after that right?…so let’s see, that would be 4 races in an 8 week period? Wow…that’s asking a lot.
14) Sabercat– finished up the track in his three year old debut in the Rebel Stakes two weeks ago. He did, however, run a much better race than I originally thought. He made up a ton of ground late in the race while dodging “traffic”. His next start is the April 14 Arkansas Derby where he’ll meet up with Secret Circle, which in turn, should make that an interesting little horse race.
15) Optimizer– was flying late in the Rebel and nearly caught the winner (Secret Circle) at the end (at 28-1). If what trainer Wayne Lukas says is true (and it probably is), that this horse will only get better as the distances get longer, then I’ll move him up the list quick. His next start is Arkansas Derby too and I’ll need to see that big closing run again before I totally drink the Kool-Aid…you know?
16) Daddy Nose Best– also new to the list and debuts at #16 based off his Sunland Park Derby win last weekend. Not a real big fan of this horse ….yet….but he’s has my attention. He’s big, good looking, almost broke the track record in winning the SPD, he ran a mile and a eighth 3 seconds faster that Went the Day Well and it was over 7 lengths back to the show horse, again, in the SPD. I’ll keep my eye on him for now.
17) My Adonis– not sure why I have him this low. He’s, at the very least, been competitive when he was in there against Hansen and Algorthims (before he got hurt). He has the right running style for the Derby (deep closer). I just hope he’s not one of those “always the bridesmaid and never the bride” type horses. He is yet another heading to New York for the Wood Memorial on April 7th.
18) Prospective Still like his Tampa Bay Derby win as he showed great guts and determination after being passed in the stretch and fought back to regain the lead and win. As I said last 2 weeks, guts and determination are just as important as speed and talent in this sport. He needs to stay on the radar screen for now.
19) Liasion- I’m going to give him one more chance in his next race, which just so happens to be the Santa Anita Derby where he’ll face Creative Cause and possibly Bodemeister. He doesn’t need to win (actually, I don’t expect him too) but he does need to run well or I have to drop him.
20) Discreet Dancer– needs to bounce back big after a tiring third to Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth Stakes several weeks ago. Another, that at this writing, it is unclear of where or when his next start will be.
21) Najjarr- was last in the Rebel and, at one point, he was some 19 or 20 lengths behind. Yet, he unleashed quite a run from about the half mile pole to home and finished just over five lengths behind the winner. Bottom line is he made up some 14 or 15 lengths and that, readers, is a fact we must respect.
22) Jake Mo- see Najjarr, except he wasn’t that far back. He made a run towards the end of the Rebel and at the finish; he was not beaten by all that much (less than four lengths). That said, I’m just not sure he is flat out good enough. I mean, he’s a good horse but is he among the elite? Doubt it….by the way, did you know he hasn’t won a race since last July? That is a scary fact.
23) Trinniberg- still impressed with his Swale Stakes win as it was dazzling. The problem is he’s never been beyond six furlongs. If he can stretch out (in distance) effectively, he’ll climb the list quickly.
On The Bubble
*** Howe Great- won the aforementioned Palm Beach Stakes and conquered #9 ranked Dullahan in the process. The problem is that race was on the turf and his owner said he is “a better turf horse than anything else”. I still have to respect that effort and the fact he has a nice stride. If he can convert his grass form onto the traditional dirt surface….look out.
*** Battled Hard- disappointed in the Tampa Bay Derby after his big win in the Sam F Davis Stakes prior to that. He desperately needs a big effort in his next race to get back on the list. He will be up against it, because his next start will be in the Wood Memorial where he will be facing Alpha and Gemologist….good luck with that.
*** Street Life– I’m told he might be a sleeper. He’s on schedule to run in the Wood Memorial as his next race and I will be taking a much closer look at him that day.
Removed from the Triple Crown series
Algorithms (popped a splint)
Out of Bounds (condylar fracture)
Thunder Moccasin (being kept to sprint races)
Fed Biz (hind end problem)
Spring Hill Farm (fractured knee)
Empire Way- (connections had a change of heart and the Derby is no longer their primary goal).