Derby Details 2021 Edition 5

Happy winter morning workout at Berkley Farm in Darlington, MD

Derby Details 2021 Edition 5

The Winter Blues

by Tom Carley

February 1, 2021

The Eastern half of the country is under a serious snowstorm dumping as much as 2 feet of snow on Aqueduct Racetrack and the major Eastern cities.  While fans are snowed in, they can think warmer thoughts by focusing on the Mint Juleps and the pastel colors of the Kentucky Derby come the first Saturday in May.  Seeing the roses in bloom lets one’s heart know that spring is in the air and that we are under 90 days from Derby Day.  You will see the activity pick up dramatically on the Derby Trail over the next three weeks.  

Weekly Developments   

The Derby trail lost its first major contender this week.  Mutasaabeq, trained by Todd Pletcher has suffered a minor shin injury.  The injury will heal with rest and the missed training will cause him to miss the Kentucky Derby. I always hate when horses get hurt this time of year.  However, the injury appears to have been caught early and we will see him on a racetrack later this summer.

The early nomination period for the Triple Crown ended on January 23.  The list of nominations has not been made public yet.  Future horses can be nominated at a cost of $6,000 compared to the early nomination fee of $600.  Last year there were 347 total nominations from all three nomination periods.  

Last weekend’s Kentucky Oaks prep races were both won by fillies who were running in their first stakes races.  “The Oaks” is a race in which qualifying points are not needed, so the better 3-year-old fillies have not made their season debuts yet.  This further reiterates the point I made two columns ago that trainers are waiting until February or March to have their better horses make their first start of the year.

The Doug O’Neil trainedhorse named The Great One broke his maiden convincingly in his 5th career start last week.  The horse appears to be improving and O’Neil stated his next race would be a Derby prep race.  This horse might be the first of the late Derby contenders to emerge this year.

Recap of last weekend’s Prep Races

Holy Bull Stakes:

The Holy Bull was run last Saturday at Gulfstream Park.  This Gr III, 1 1/16 mile race is considered by many to be the first major prep race of the 3-year-old season.  Most handicappers though Todd Pletcher-trained Prime Factor would continue his development and earn his first stakes win as he raced two turns for the first time.  He was sent off at odds of 6/5 and was on the lead all the way up the backstretch.  Rounding the turn he was passed easily by Greatest Honour who very impressively drew off from the field winning easily.  Tarrantino passed a tiring Prime Factor to run 2nd.   

Takeaways from this race:

Greatest Honour is trained by Shug McGaughey, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb.  The winner of the race has the same path through Florida to the Derby that Orb had in 2013.  It really came across in a post-race interview how much Shug wants to win another Derby.  We will see how the winner progresses as the better Florida based horses enter the future Florida prep races.  WATCH THE RACE here: https://www.horseracingnation.com/blogs/zatt/Shug_McGaughey_only_runs_good_ones_in_the_Kentucky_Derby_123

Prime Factor was very disappointing in the way that he did not fight back as the horses passed him entering the stretch.  This horse was a $900,000 purchase as a yearling.

Sittin on Go, trained by Dale Romans appears to be a one turn horse.  He stumbled at the start and ran toward the rear of the pack.       

The future Florida prep races will feature some of the leading Derby contenders and Florida could send up to 4 horses to comprise the Derby field. 

Robert Lewis Stakes:

The Robert Lewis Stakes was run last Saturday at Santa Anita.  The race shaped up to be a duel between Hot Rod Charlie, who ran 2nd in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and Medina Spirit, who had run second in the Sham Stakes behind barn mate and the leading West Coast Derby contender Life is Magic.   Medina Spirit typically likes to lay slightly off the leaders and run a stalking style race making one run.  He drew the #1 post position and had to be aggressive at the start of the race.  He led at the outset and faced two rivals the first half mile.  Once those rivals tired, the remaining horses in the short 6-horse field took aim at Medina Spirit.  The stretch was a three way duel which ended in a close photo finish.  Medina Spirit hung on, Roman Centurian was 2nd and Hot Rod Charlie was 3rd.  WATCH THE RACE here: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Robert+Lewis+Stakes+2021+video&view=detail&mid=30EA92F6C2010C8462CE30EA92F6C2010C8462CE&FORM=VIRE

Takeaways from this race:

Medina Spirit  is trained by Bob Baffert, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby.  This is the ninth time that Baffert has won the race.

Only 6 horses were in the field.  This will not help these horses prepare for a large field they will face in the Derby.

While most in the media described the race as a good prep race, I thought all of the top three finishers galloped out very weakly.  This Gr III race was only 11/16 miles and is a sign that all three of these might have some distance limitations as the races get longer.  

Hot Rod Charlie once again hit the board, but found a way not to win.  This continues to be a very obvious trait with this horse.   Horses are herd animals and some horses simply do not like to lead the pack.  Do not rule this horse out of filling out the 3rd and 4th slots in the Kentucky Derby.  He should be high odds and this could boost exotic payoffs.

Spielberg, trained by Bob Baffert struggled to run 4th.  This horse simply is not progressing positively and might have run his last Derby prep due to the large number of Derby contenders in the Baffert barn.  

Watch which horses Baffert decides to ship to Arkansas, New Mexico and elsewhere to pick up Derby points.  This should start this month with the Oaklawn prep races.

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