by Tom Carley
This week’s column provides the first in-depth ranking of Derby contenders. These are my rankings, but I’ll give you my thought process also. The first Derby preps have been run around the country and now we are getting ready to see the Derby points increasing from 10 points to 20 points for a win. A horse having 25 points should have enough to get in the Derby gate, so a win in the next level of prep races gives a horse’s trainer the luxury of setting his training schedule knowing he/she only needs a minor showing to get enough points to end up in the KENTUCKY DERBY.
This week’s Featured Four:
1. Stakes Recap There were two Florida 3-year-old stakes races over the past weekend.
HOLY BULL STAKES
Historically, this stakes race, named for a famous Kentucky sire, is the first major 3-year-old prep. The advent of the major 2-year-old fall season stakes races (DELTA DOWNS JACKPOT, CASH CALL FUTURITY and BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE) has diminished the importance of this race slightly. Pletcher sat this race out with his numerous contenders, but it still allowed us to see some horses that were important players in the New York 2-year-old scene. Horses that caught my eye:
Upstart: I have liked this horse since trainer Richard Violette worked him twice at a 1 mile distance as a 2-year-old.
POSITIVES for Upstart:
- Rated and won professionally with ease.
- Given the limited work tab compared to CHAMPAGNE & BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE – might have only seen the tip of his potential.
- Overcame a tough post position. Before Saturday’s race, horses breaking post #8 and outward at the HOLY BULL distance had won 7% of the time.
- Recorded first win at 2 turns.
NEGATIVES for Upstart:
- Critics will question the quality of the competition in this race.
- Pletcher and other major Florida 3-year-olds skipped this race.
Frosted: I have questioned this horse’s ability to win given that he came in second in 3 out of 4 races. Frosted continued this race in his runner-up fashion; however, he really had no real chance of beating Upstart in this race.
POSITIVES for Upstart:
- 6 bullet works (best work of the day at the distance) in his last 12 published starts. As a trainer once told me, “you can’t teach speed.”
- Overcame speed favoring racetrack in the Remsen.
- Brisnet speed figures continue to improve with each race.
- Distance is not a concern as he improves as races get longer
NEGATIVES for Upstart:
- Finds a way to lose each race.
- Could not win HOLY BULL when he broke from post #1 which has been winning at 25% in this meet.
High Noon Rider: I really liked this horse coming into the HOLY BULL stakes. Given his poor showing, I think he is off the Derby Trail.
Best thought of as the race for the 3-year-old boys at Gulfstream that are playing catch-up in their training as this race is held at 7-furlongs. While the HUTCHESON offers contenders no Derby points, it did springboard Wildcat Red into the KENTUCKY DERBY last year. This is an interesting race, as the pace was strong at 22 4/5 seconds for the first quarter and 45 1/5 for the half mile. Barbados won very impressively.
Barbabos: Stayed within 2 lengths of the leader as he set a fast pace. At the 3/8ths mile pole, he just drove past the leader and was able to defeat his foes without any real urging or use of the whip by the jockey.
POSITIVES for Barbados:
Rated and won professionally with ease.
Won 3 races in a row.
Has now won at 7-furlongs. Previous wins were at 6-furlongs.
The record is “3 for 3” since changing from turf to dirt surfaces.
NEGATIVES for Barbados:
- There is some question as to whether he will have enough stamina to race further than 1 mile.
Richard the Great: I really liked this horse’s chances coming off his previous 2
Wins at Gulfstream Park. Showed very little in this race.
NEGATIVES for Richard the Great:
- Two straight poor races probably have taken this horse off the Derby Trail.
Stanford: I question why this horse that cost $550,000 was scratched from the race. This race was to serve as his comeback since the August 10 SARATOGA SPECIAL. Since this horse was not ready to run today, it really makes his ability to be ready to get the 10-furlong distance and earn enough points to get into the Derby doubtful. Look for this horse late in the year to run in major stakes races.
II. Workout Report A couple of notable works were held this week among the division leaders.
Worked earlier this week at Oaklawn Park. Notable because he once again lugged out during the work. This behavior cost him in the SMARTY JONES.
Worked 7/8ths of a mile in 1:23 2/5 on January 21. He worked with fellow Baffert 3-year-old Lord Nelson. Lord Nelson was given a two length head start
All that Dortmund could do was work with him evenly. I still do not see all the hype about this horse. I do like that Baffert is working him 7/8ths of a mile, but he should be outworking the other horse by four lengths.
III. Updated rankings: Now that prep races have been run on every major circuit, I will update my top 15 list of Derby contenders. A few of them are trained by Texas-based Steve Asmussen, who has trained two Horse of the Year winners; Curlin and Rachel Alexander.
I use the term “trip” in my columns. In horseracing terminology “trip” refers to “the course followed by a horse and rider during the running of a race and describes the ‘trouble’ encountered. A horse that had a ‘good trip’ did not encounter any unusual difficulty. A ‘bad trip’ might involve racing wide, or being boxed in by other horses.” (from www.anddownthestretchtheycome.com)
- Blofeld: Won FUTURITY at Belmont (ran final quarter mile in 22 4/5 seconds) and then won the NASHUA in the mud (beat El Kabeir by five lengths). He did not have the best of trips in the NASHUA. He is prepping for his 2015 debut, but might be a little behind schedule.
- Upstart: His win at the HOLY BULL only made me like this equine even more. Loved the dual 1-mile workouts in prepping for the CHAMPAGNE and BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE where he was the best horse, just ran 3rd due to a tough trip. Have not seen the bottom of this one’s tank yet.
- Carpe Diem: Won the BREEDER’S FUTURITY at Keeneland (by 6-lengths over Mr. Z). He had his first work of the year 2 weeks ago.
- Daredevil: Won the CHAMPAGNE (over Upstart) and his debut. Had a rough trip in the BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE. Wintered at Win Star and is now back in training.
- Imperia: Not on many top contender lists. Started his career on Turf. Finished 3 lengths from the winner in BREEDER”S CUP JUVENILE TURF. Then Imperia’s connections (his owner, trainer, jockey, etc.) decided to change conditions, and tried him on the dirt in KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB. There he surrendered five lengths to the horses setting the pace (spotted them 5 lengths) out of the gate. Imperia started the stakes like a turf race, dropping back to pace himself and conserve his energy. He ran a wide “trip” but eventually gained on the field and came in 2nd.
- Texas Red: Improved in the 2 dirt races after beginning his career on synthetics. Surprise winner of BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE. Good work 2 weeks ago. These are noted in prior editions of BABYTALK.
- El Kabeir: Won the KENTUCKY JOCKER CLUB in wire-to-wire fashion on a racetrack biased against speed. In the JEROME he broke bad and was without his regular rider, but rated and looked professional in winning.
- Mr. Z: Has run in 7 straight graded races. Has amassed a record of 5 seconds with only 1 win. Lugged out in stretch in SMARTY JONES & again in a work this week. Needs to learn how to win.
- Far Right: Impressed me by rallying to be 3rd in DELTA DOWNS JACKPOT after suffering a horrible trip. Won the SMARTY JONES in last out at Oaklawn. Had caught the eye of Mike Smith who chose to fly across country and ride him instead of Mr. Z who he had ridden in the BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE. Has improved in every race.
- American Pharoah: Had to miss the BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE with a foot injury. Still was voted Eclipse Award for 2-year-old colt. Has dominated prior races on the front end. Will see if he can rate in future Derby preps. Pointing to the REBEL at Oaklawn.
- Tiznow RJ: An Asmussen horse who got a rough trip in the LECOMTE. He is improving and showing good works in the mornings.
- Dortmund: Many (not I) believe that he is the best of the division. Won 3 races as a 2- year-old, including a 1-turn race at Churchill Downs on the KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB undercard. Future pool wagering favorite. Next will race in the ROBERT LEWIS.
- Frosted: Ran against rail bias in REMSEN and won easily. Then came back and ran 2nd in the HOLY BULL. Impressive workout tab with 6 of the 12 works being bullet works.
- Bold Conquest: An Asmussen horse I have been high on since the Saratoga meet. He has been growing and working well at Fairgrounds.
- Ocho Ocho Ocho: Impressive winner of DELTA DOWNS JACKPOT, stretching out for the first time. Continues to improve in the mornings. Curious where connections will prep this horse at.
IV. Ones to Watch These horses did not make my list, but they do deserve some attention:
Lord Nelson: Baffert thought enough of this one to ship him to Churchill and run him in the KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB. He had a “tough trip”, coming in 5th. Caught my eye last week when he gave Dortmund all he could handle as a workmate. Either Lord Nelson is that good, or Dortmund is not what others have hyped him to be.
I Spent It: A $600,000 2-year-old at purchase. He won the SARATOGA SPECIAL and finished 2nd in the Hopeful. Has not been seen since the Champagne Stakes. Watch the worktabs. He could be a player win this division if he returns to his 2-year-old form.
Calculator: Ran runner-up twice to American Pharoah in the FRONTRUNNER & DEL MAR FUTURITY. Broke maiden in the SHAM STAKES against a poor field. Question is this one’s ability to get a distance. We will find out in the BOB LEWIS.
International Star: Won the LECOMTE when the pace fell apart. Won the GREY (Grade 2 ) on poly and a grade 3 on grass. I just do not know if dirt is his best surface. Ramsey will run this in the Derby if he has enough points.
Conquest Bigluck E: Won an Allowance race at Churchill. Then he got sick and had to miss the KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB, as well as a lot of training. Now he is back training for Mark Casse in Florida. Don’t know if he will be ready for the preps.
Ami’s Fletcher: In his 2nd start, he made up ground to run 2nd on speed favoring track in Mucho Macho Man to Bluegrass Singer who ran 3rd in last Saturday’s HOLY BULL.
The Great War: Ran 4th in the BREEDER’S CUP JUVENILE. Has been working well at Turfway.
Eagle: Ran 3rd in KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB. Stock dropped with a poor LECOMTE performance. His next start, the RISEN STAR, is critical to justify continuing on the Derby trail.
Good Horses with Distance Questions
Bayerd: Ran 2nd in SMARTY JONES, but 1-mile is as far as he wants to go.
Bluegrass Singer: Ran 3rd in Holy Bull, but fell apart in the stretch.
Catalina Red: Won the Pasco at Tampa Bay. XY Jet set the pace and won that race and tired in last Saturday’s HUTCHESON STAKES at Gulfstream.