JC / Railbird

Dialed In

Guessing Game

Three weeks from the Kentucky Derby, and about all that’s safe to predict is that the winner won’t be predictable. With yesterday’s wins by 25-1 Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby and 19-1 Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass, the average win mutuel of the last four Grade 1 preps works out to $35.45. In the Arkansas Derby, if you had the ten-cent super, you cashed for almost $3000. In the Blue Grass, you signed for more than $6400. Jaycito, redirected to the Lexington after missing the Santa Anita Derby because of a foot problem, now sits on the Derby earnings bubble with $250,000, and jockey Corey Nakatani, second with Nehro at Oaklawn yesterday, has his choice of Derby mounts, but Calvin Borel has none. It’s anyone’s year.

The Factor was the latest favorite to falter. Taken out of his element from the start, out-hustled to the front by JP’s Gusto and Dance City, The Factor finished seventh as the 4-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby. I didn’t think the colt was a nine-furlong horse, much less a 10-furlong one, but I expected he’d be a pace factor at Churchill and it was a shame to see how little he did when taken back. Trainer Bob Baffert said The Factor may have flipped his palate. (In which case, he’s out of the Derby? “We’re just going to see how he’s doing.” Just like that, Midnight Interlude becomes Baffert’s best chance.)

All the upsets along the Derby trail have left Dialed In, the only prospect one of only two prospects* to have won two graded preps this spring, as the most consistent of the bunch and the likely Kentucky Derby favorite. (“I mean, who else?” said Derby oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.) Forgive me if I’m not wild with enthusiasm about a horse who won the Florida Derby by a nose dueling a 68-1 shot and running a final eighth in more than 13 seconds. And there is the matter of how trainer Nick Zito plans to bring Dialed In to the Derby with only one workout between April 12 and May 7, done in seclusion at Palm Meadows.

“Pardon me for being a wee bit cynical and not buying it,” writes Jeremy Plonk. “The last time seclusion and serenity were used as reasons for staying at Palm Meadows, 2010 would-be Derby favorite Eskendereya turned up lame.”

Pure speculation about Dialed In, of course, just as it is that Uncle Mo, diagnosed with an intestinal infection after the Wood, is being treated with antibiotics and still not feeling so hot, based on a Facebook update:

I want to run in the Derby sooooo bad!! Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike said ONLY if I’m 100%! I know they have my best interests at heart. I’m taking my medicine (I hate the taste)!!! Uncle Todd says if I take it, he will let me go out and play with my friends. I galloped today, and felt great. I’m eating a lot but not as much as Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike would like.

Hm … I don’t know what I’m going to do with this week’s PDI top 10.

If there were any chance he’d ship to Churchill Downs, I’d make Frankel #1 off his glorious romp in the Greenham at Newbury at Saturday (replay). In his first start of the year, and only 80% according to trainer Henry Cecil, Frankel brought his undefeated record to five with the four-length win. He’ll start next in the Guineas in two weeks, the overwhelming favorite.

*Thanks to o_crunk for the correction. Archarcharch is the other dual graded prep winner headed to Churchill. I assume The Factor is no longer a Derby prospect, but if he were, he’d be the third to have won two graded preps.

8:20 PM Addendum: Apparently, The Factor is going to Kentucky. The Derby, maybe. Beyer speed figure of 98 for Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby, 89 for the not-so Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass.

Triple Digit Hit

A sophomore standout going nine furlongs impressed at Gulfstream over the weekend, and it wasn’t Dialed In running the final eighth in :13.09 to beat 68-1 Shackleford by a head in the Florida Derby on Sunday. “For a lightly raced horse to do what he did is amazing,” cried trainer Nick Zito to Mike Welsch. Amazing seems a better word for R Heat Lightning in the Gulfstream Oaks on Saturday. The Kentucky Oaks prospect finished in :12.77, winning by 8 1/4 lengths under a handride. Her final time of 1:49.27, “less than one-fifth of second off of the time clocked by 4-year-old Awesome Maria in the Rampart,” was eight-tenths of a second faster than the time of 1:50.07 in the Florida Derby. For her brilliant effort, R Heat Lightning was given a Beyer speed figure of 100. Dialed In received a 93 for his final Derby prep. “Disappointing, considering he got the perfect setup,” the man himself reportedly said.

3/5/11 Addendum: “To me, even though they ran on different days, usually it’s not a good sign for the colts when fillies run faster,” observes Pletcher.

Friday Notes

As Ed DeRosa writes today in a piece about the importance of sanctuaries such as Old Friends, Joe Drape’s reporting on TRF has made the discussion about providing for racehoses when their careers end more public. It also seems to have made the conversation more urgent. The situations aren’t quite analogous, but there’s something reminiscent of the safety debate that followed Eight Belles’ death in the fresh attention on the retirement and rescue issue, a sense that racing has to come up with a solution to a problem that hasn’t been neglected — the work of hundreds of organizations attests to that — but is complex and will probably take collective action to solve. “The only chance that something good can come out of this mess is if this turns out to be a watershed moment in horse racing,” writes Bill Finley. He’s right.

Prepping for the Florida Derby, Dialed In worked four furlongs in :47.55 at Palm Meadows yesterday. Trainer Nick Zito, who said the colt “bounced” in his last race, “caught the final eighth in :11 flat.” Handicapper Mike Maloney calls Zito’s prospect one of three likely Kentucky Derby winners. “If he shows a decent finish in the FL Derby, even if not winning, I think he will be fine.”

Tomorrow is Dubai World Cup day, and Raceday 360 has an overview of every race. I wrote about the UAE Derby, a weak renewal this year, for the HRF Derby Prep alert, and only glancingly mentioned the remarkable entry of two Aidan O’Brien trained starters in the race, the first in six years. Like last year, I assumed that this year no UAE Derby finisher was likely for the Kentucky Derby — Sheikh Mohammed seems have given up on that path for Godolphin 3-year-olds after the disappointments of Regal Ransom and Desert Party in 2009 — but Alan Shuback proposes Coolmore could be using the race as a Derby prep for Master of Hounds or Alexander Pope. “It would be a large irony, indeed, if Magnier & Co. pulled a Kentucky Derby runner out of the UAE Derby hat in Sheikh Mohammed’s backyard.”

Sweet Ducky, recently sold and transferred to trainer Herman Brown, is apparently possible for Churchill Downs, though, if he runs big in the UAE Derby. “It would be tough to turn it down if he runs a great race.” That would certainly be an interesting move, considering the colt’s new ownership. Would Kentucky license Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, called by the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, “a Stalin of our times“?

Black Caviar made it 11-for-11 in the William Reid Stakes.

Thanks to Pull the Pocket and The Knight Sky for posting about Kentucky Confidential. Have you pledged? We hope you’ll consider it.

A Quiet Weekend

on the Kentucky Derby trail. Stay Thirsty gets a Beyer speed figure of 89 for winning the Gotham Stakes, Dialed In finishes second to a stablemate in a two-turn Gulfstream allowance. “I would have liked to win, but I have to be happy,” said trainer Nick Zito. At least Dialed In will get a third start before the Derby, unlike several prospects on a two-prep schedule. “It’s just interesting how in a trade to keep their charges fresh,” muses Mike Watchmaker, “several high-powered barns seem willing to operate without a safety net.”

Thursday Notes

The March 12 Timely Writer drew 36 nominations, including 13 from trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn. (Even if Pletcher has to saddle the entire field, he’ll ensure the race fills?) Early Derby fave Uncle Mo heads the list; maiden winner Cal Nation is an intriguing possible. Dialed In is also among the nominees. If the Nick Zito trainee does start, the match-up could make the ungraded one-mile Timely Writer the most significant Derby prep yet this season. [Never mind. The Tampa Bay Derby is looking more likely. Dialed In will start in a two-turn Gulfstream allowance on Sunday.]

Every year around this time, someone’s Derby fever turns to Derby delirium. Flashpoint’s trainer, unlike his owner, is just a little hot.

Undefeated top-rated Frankel has a big year ahead as a 3-year-old, rider Tom Queally told a UK radio show. “[H]e’s trained on nicely, we think. I’ve seen him and he seems to have done very well.” Support for the even-money 2000 Guineas favorite has been “relentless,” said a Ladbrokes spokesperson.

More recognition for Jaimy Gordon’s racetrack novel, “Lord of Misrule,” now a 2011 PEN/Faulkner award finalist. It goes up against “Nox” on March 14, in round one of the Morning News Tournament of Books.

This again? The constant strife in this game is a real downer. As is having to keep two ADW accounts. Magna, Churchill ADWs are at odds over signals.

Saturday Notes

Azeri’s second foal, a 3-year-old filly by Giant’s Causeway named Arienza, is readying for her debut at Oaklawn. “We are starting to raise our sights a little higher, but then again, you remember she hasn’t won anything yet.”

The Timely Writer is back on the table for Dialed In. “I’m not happy with the distance of the race since they changed it to a mile from a mile and one eighth…. But at the moment we don’t have that many options.”

Handicapping the Fountain of Youth: “You try to beat To Honor And Serve, and I’ll try to beat Soldat.” In the Davona Dale, try to beat Dancinginherdreams.

Mo In, Dialed Out

Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole announced today that Uncle Mo will make his much anticipated 3-year-old debut in the ungraded one-mile Timely Writer at Gulfstream on March 12. “We both feel that the Timely Writer will set him up perfectly for the April 9 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct,” said Repole. There could hardly have been less suspense to the news: From the first report that a race other than the Tampa Bay Derby — which Pletcher and Repole said was still possible if the Timely Mo doesn’t fill — it’s seemed a foregone conclusion that the softer spot for getting started would be the pick. I don’t doubt that the Gulfstream racing secretary is already hustling entries.

One horse that won’t be drawn is Dialed In. Trainer Nick Zito — sounding miffed, reading between the lines — said the Holy Bull winner would pass on the Fountain of Youth this weekend, and with the distance of the Timely Writer shortened from nine furlongs to eight, would also skip that race in favor of another, unspecified, two-turn start, reports Mike Welsch:

“Fortunately, he has enough graded earnings from winning the Holy Bull that it looks like he’ll get into the Derby, so our main focus at the moment is the Florida Derby and how to get him there,” Zito said.

Record-setting San Vicente winner The Factor — who won’t be seen going a route soon — isn’t the only good horse trainer Bob Baffert has sent to work at Hollywood Park. On Monday, Jaycito, prepping for the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 12, worked seven furlongs handily from the gate in 1:24.80 over the Cushion Track. Does the colt also need the quiet found there?

The most impressive sophomore winner of the weekend just past was Bind, given a 105 Beyer speed figure for his debut at the Fair Grounds on Saturday. Along with Cal Nation, Pletcher’s flashy first-timer at Gulfstream last month, he’s not one likely for the Kentucky Derby. “If you all get [owner] Seth [Hancock] to do it, I’ll ride that train, but I’m not going to ask him,” Claire Novak quotes trainer Al Stall telling media after the race. Bind’s next start likely will be a one-other-than allowance at the Fair Grounds or Keeneland.

Reunited: NBC will air all three Triple Crown races this spring.

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