by Tom Carley
The KENTUCKY DERBY picture cleared up tremendously over the first April weekend with three more major prep stakes races: BLUEGRASS STAKES, WOOD MEMORIAL, and SANTA ANITA DERBY. Several horses distinguished themselves in their quest to race in the KENTUCKY DERBY by earning points. With just one more weekend left to earn those points, the field is starting to shape up. Next week, I will begin in-depth analysis of the major players.
This week’s Featured Four:
I. Stakes Recap
There were three 3-year-old stakes races over the past weekend.
This stake was predicted by many to be the confirmation of Carpe Diem as a major contender for the KENTUCKY DERBY. His performance did not disappoint, and he won with ease. Danzig Moon made a major rally from the rear of the pack at the 3/8ths pole to run second, and was actually gaining ground on the winner in the stretch. Horses that caught my eye:
Carpe Diem has now won both prep races entered in his three-year-old season. He looks stronger with each start. He laid right off the leader and made one controlled run as the horses turned for home to win easily. He is thought of by many as a major KENTUCKY DERBY contender.
POSITIVES for Carpe Diem:
- Showed stamina needed to win the KENTUCKY DERBY, looking strong in the “gallop out” (time and distance the horses slow down from their racing speed to a stop).
- His connections have been eyeing the KENTUCKY DERBY since early January.
- The KENTUCKY DERBY will be the third race in his cycle (the third is usually the strongest race after time away from the racetrack).
NEGATIVES for Carpe Diem:
- Still difficult to load in the starting gate after acting up, as the horses were led into the tunnel from the paddock to the racetrack.
- Poor record for his breeding line. Sired by Giants Causeway, who is out of famous sire Storm Cat. Horses with Storm Cat in their pedigree have a record of 0 wins for 44 entries in the KENTUCKY DERBY
Danzig Moon closed strongly and now has the necessary points to run in the KENTUCKY DERBY. Despite a lack of media attention, he showed improvement, running second to Carpe Diem. He caught my eye with the way he ran the last 3/8ths of a mile.
POSITIVES for Danzig Moon:
- Showed improvement and closed on the winner in the last 3/8ths of a mile.
- Clocker reports from Florida noted Danzig Moon might be peaking at the right time.
- Distance will not be a concern.
NEGATIVES for Danzig Moon:
- Has yet to show that he can beat the major players of this 3-year-old division
- A “come-from-behind” running style that may leave him a lot of work to do in the last half mile of the KENTUCKY DERBY.
The WOOD MEMORIAL was thought to be the race where Daredevil would show his form and earn enough points to get into the KENTUCKY DERBY. But it just didn’t happen that way: he ran a distant third. Right now he is on the outside looking in as at least 24 other horses have more Derby points than he does. Tencendur took over the lead after the first 1/2 mile and carried the horses deep into the stretch where he was caught by a fast-closing Frosted. The race was not visually appealing to watch and once again will not produce a Derby winner. The first two runners got bids to the KENTUCKY DERBY, while many, including myself, do not feel that either was a legitimate contender. Horses that caught my eye:
Either Frosted finally put it together, or he just triumphed over a group of lesser horses. Time will tell, but the way in which this race was run really did little to make me feel any more comfortable about this horse’s stamina.
POSITIVES for Frosted
- Proved he could be victorious over at least a moderate level field of 3-year-olds.
- Made a nice closing run in the stretch to get the victory.
- Earned enough points to be assured a spot in the KENTUCKY DERBY, which was his goal for the spring.
NEGATIVES for Frosted:
- Questionable whether this horse has the stamina to win at 10 furlongs.
- Proved he can win on the Aqueduct outer track. However, the KENTUCKY DERBY is run at Churchill Downs.
Tencendur still has only won a state-bred maiden race. However, for a long portion of this competition, I thought he was going to steal this race because he ran unchallenged. No matter the result, he earned enough points to get into the KENTUCKY DERBY.
POSITIVES for Tencendur:
- More closing kick than shown in prior races.
- Did not quit once he got the lead; showed a lot of effort.
NEGATIVES for Tencendur:
- Only one win for five starts.
- Appears to me to be at least a step slower than the elite of the division.
- Stamina is a question in the way he faltered in the deep stretch.
Daredevil should have outclassed this group based on what he showed last fall. He appeared very ordinary to me in this race and finds himself without enough points to get into the KENTUCKY DERBY.
SANTA ANITA DERBY
Dortmund continues to show his dominance of the California horses as he won easily in gate-to-wire fashion to remain undefeated. Many will question the quality of horses that he competed against in this race. Expected challenges from Propsect Park and Bolo never materialized. Not sure if Dortmund is that good, or the rest of this field was just mediocre. Horses that caught my eye:
Dortmund continues to win and is thought of by many to be the leader of this year’s 3-year-olds.
POSITIVES for Dortmund:
- Remains undefeated.
- A very large physical horse.
NEGATIVES for Dortmund:
- The last 1/8th of a mile and 3/8ths of a mile were fairly slow. This might be due to the fact that Dortmund was so far in the lead that he did not really have to run.
- Yet to show that he can surge past a beaten horse of quality when he passes them. The great ones don’t just pass rivals, they pull away from them (for an example see the 1973 BELMONT STAKES when Secretariat passes the field and goes on to win by 31 lengths).
- Larger horses have trouble navigating the compact 20-horse field of the KENTUCKY DERBY.
One Lucky Dane
One Lucky Dane has earned enough points to get a trip to Louisville. This will give trainer Bob Baffert three horses in the KENTUCKY DERBY. One Lucky Dane might be a late developer, but I just have not seen enough of him to form an opinion. I will be paying close attention to how he trains under the Twin Spires.
POSITIVES for One Lucky Dane:
- Ran second to the winner when other horses were given a much better shot.
- Achieved the pre-race goal of earning enough points to make the Derby field.
- Trainer Baffert has won 3 Derbies in the past.
NEGATIVES for One Lucky Dane:
- Has yet to beat any horses of any significance.
- I just do not know enough about this horse to form an opinion.
- As the #3 player in the Baffert barn, will not get the preferred-rider, groom, etc.
II. KENTUCKY DERBY ATTRITION CONTINUES FIELD SHIRNKS BY ONE
The attrition due to injury continued this week. The winner of the SPIRAL STAKES, Dubai Sky, suffered an injury and is not only off of the Derby Trail, but also is out for the entire year.
III. CURRENT POINT STANDINGS
As we are less than 4 weeks away from the KENTUCKY DERBY, the point’s picture has become very clear. There are only two prep races left: ARKANSAS DERBY and LEXINGTON DERBY). The LEXINGTON DERBY provides only 10 points to the winner, and will provide little to the horses needing points.
Prep Race Left
One Lucky Dane