Spare yourself the trouble of ranking Kentucky Derby contenders and play the quick pick, with Green but Game’s random top 10 list generator.
I left Uncle Mo #1 on this week’s PDI, feeling contrary, if not enthusiastic. “[L]et’s keep it in perspective; he was beaten 1 1/4 lengths, not 5 1/4 lengths,” notes Jason Shandler. “I still think [Uncle Mo’s] a very good horse and he’ll bounce back,” said trainer Bob Baffert. Many thought post-race that Mo looked less than fit in the Wood stretch, but not trainer Todd Pletcher. “I do not believe he was a short horse the other day. Maybe I’m wrong,” he tells Jay Privman. “Sometimes, making up for if you felt like you didn’t have him fit enough and going the other way would be a mistake.” So, no Mo tightening?
Enough about the Derby; “#KYOaks should be one helluva race!” Joyful Victory is the latest filly to announce herself an exciting prospect, following up her win last month in the Honeybee with a seven-length romp in the Fantasy Stakes, a race that’s turned out a Kentucky Derby runner-up (Eight Belles) and two Oaks winners (Rachel Alexandra, Blind Luck) in the last three years.
This is a huge development: Citing the increasing internationalization of racing, and the success of the steroids ban, The Jockey Club backs RCI’s call to end raceday medications. It’s time. Janet Patton tweeted on Monday, “KHRC vice chair Tracy Farmer says it will happen in Kentucky.”
4/13/11 Addendum: Well, trainer Nick Zito isn’t inspiring much confidence with his Derby approach for Dialed In either. “Zito plans to train Dialed In up to the Derby in nearly the same manner he got him ready to win the $1 million Florida Derby earlier this month — with a series of long gallops and just one more sharp five-furlong work between now and May 7.” That’s it?
So, Uncle Mo lost. Considering the self-flagellation, told-yas, schadenfreude, and hearsay diagnoses that flooded the web immediately after the race, you would think the Wood Memorial was The Greatest Trouncing in the History of American Turf, and not a 1 1/4-length defeat by the 1-10 favorite to Toby’s Corner and Arthur’s Tale, the second- and third-favorite respectively. (For that matter, the horse bet fourth, Norman Asbjornson, finished fourth. Aside from an excess of Mo-thusiasm, bettors pretty much got the Wood right.)
So, Mo can lose. And look remarkably unexceptional while doing so. After leading the field through a half in :47.98 and three-quarters in 1:12.28, the previously undefeated colt displayed neither fight nor interest when jockey John Velazquez asked him to pick things up in the stretch, running the final eighth in :12.88. Toby’s Corner closed quickly, finishing in :11.97. “Oh, I’m surprised. But no longer is [Uncle Mo] such a dominant force, and it just opens up the entire picture [for the Derby],” said winning trainer Graham Motion.
It would seem so. Less than four weeks to the Derby, and only the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby are left now to make sense of this 3-year-old crowd, following Midnight Interlude’s upset in the Santa Anita Derby. By the margin of a head, he went from a maiden winner to G1 victor, giving trainer Bob Baffert a third Derby prospect. “The Kentucky Derby was once a horse race,” groused Bill Dwyre of yesterday’s results. “Now, it has become a crapshoot.”
In an era when conditioners seem to be competing on who can bring the freshest horse to the Derby, could it become anything but?
Trainer Todd Pletcher reported this morning, via text to Darren Rogers, that Uncle Mo will ship to Churchill Downs on April 18, which should help put to rest rumors that the former Derby favorite is out of contention. He’s expected to work twice before the Derby. How he trains will determine whether or not he starts, but it probably won’t answer the questions many were already asking about Uncle Mo’s light prep schedule. As Paul Moran writes:
Apparently, the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream, a combination publicity stunt and public workout, was insufficient to propel Uncle Mo to a Grade I, even in the absence of proven Grade I company, which beyond the bowed favorite was lacking in the Wood. Almost certainly, the Wood will leave the light-bodied Uncle Mo short of an effective effort at 10 furlongs in Kentucky on the first Saturday of May.
That’s got to be the concern of anyone who backs him going forward. “We’ll see if we can get him prepared to step up,” Pletcher said this morning. “It was not a typical Uncle Mo performance, but I do not feel like the mile and an eighth was an issue.” Maybe the Wood was just the gut check he needed.
Beyer speed figures: 94 for Toby’s Corner and 92 for Uncle Mo in the Wood; 95 for Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby; 93 for Joe Vann in the Illinois Derby; 87 for Lilacs and Lace in the Ashland Stakes.
6:00 PM Addendum: “If not Mo, who?” That is the question this weekend.
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.
Beyer speed figures of 89 for Uncle Mo, making his 3-year-old debut, in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream on Saturday; 83 for Watch Me Go, upset winner of the Tampa Bay Derby; 96 for Premier Pegasus in the San Felipe at Santa Anita; and 82 for Joyful Victory in the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn. The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated.
Beyer speed figures of 102 for Flashpoint in the Hutcheson Stakes and 96 for Soldat in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday; 98 for R Heat Lightning in the Davona Dale. The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated with charts and replays.
The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated with weekend results. Beyer speed figures of 102 for The Factor and 100 for runner-up Sway Away in the San Vicente at Santa Anita yesterday; 94 for Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Saturday; 83 for Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the same distance over the same track; 95 for It’s Tricky in the Busher Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday; 89 for Archarcharch in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Monday.
It’s become fashionable to say that we haven’t seen the Kentucky Derby winner yet, the “yet” referring to any race for 3-year-olds in January, but looking over the prep schedules of the last four Derby winners, it occurs to me that we may not have even seen the winner work yet. Super Saver posted the first work of his sophomore year on January 24, 2010; Big Brown didn’t get started until February 24, 2008; Street Sense worked for the first time on January 29, 2007. All three, plus Mine That Bird, then had only two prep races, none earlier than Mine That Bird’s start in the February 28, 2009 Borderland Derby at Sunland.
Despite the trend, Derby watchers can’t help getting excited over allowances such as that won by Soldat at Gulfstream on Friday over a sloppy track (replay). The race, which Jeremy Plonk predicts will produce at least two winners of major Triple Crown preps, lost a little of its shine when trainer Nick Zito scratched maiden winner Dialed In because of the track condition. The colt will now point to the January 30 Holy Bull. “It’s not what I wanted to do, but it looks like that’s what we’re going to do,” said Zito. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said that Soldat could start next in the February 26 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. [Soldat was given a Beyer speed figure of 102 for the win.]
Foolish Pleasure rounds up today’s interesting 3-year-old runners, leading with the Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream, which drew trainer Ken McPeek’s Kentucky Oaks filly Kathmanblu. She’s making her return to turf after winning the Golden Rod at Churchill last November. “I want to keep her around two turns and get a race into her, and then get her back to dirt,” said McPeek. At the Fair Grounds, Aide, fourth in the Golden Rod, returns for trainer Al Stall in the Silverbulletday Stakes. She’s the one starter out of eight who didn’t win her last race. The Fair Grounds also features the Lecomte Stakes on today’s card with its five-horse field headed by the “quirky” Justin Phillip, getting blinkers on. For a much more comprehensive preview of the Lecomte and other prep races, subscribe to the Hello Race Fans! weekly Derby Prep Alert emails. (I do contribute to the site and the DPA; I get nothing for the plug, other than the pleasure of steering people to a genuinely good Derby Trail resource.)
Trainer Bob Baffert will be at Oaklawn for the February 21 Southwest Stakes. He’s still considering with which horse he’ll be making the trip.
At the CHRB board meeting on Thursday, there was little interest in rescinding the January 1 takeout hike on exotic wagers that’s infuriated horseplayers. “That would have to come from the tracks themselves and from the TOC,” said commissioner John Harris. There was no sign from Santa Anita last week that track executives would be requesting a rollback, despite a handle drop. “We’re where we want to be, but that’s something that’s we’re looking at every day,” track president George Haines told Steve Andersen.
Speaking of the Santa Anita handle numbers, about which there’s been some uncertainty, Mark Thurman gave a presentation on CHRIMS, the accounting and settlement system used by the track (and other California tracks), during Thursday’s CHRB meeting. Of interest to those following the numbers, Thurman said that CHRIMS was working on making “a small database” of handle figures available on CalRacing. Asked when that database might be online, Thurman replied, “Our goal is to have it up within two weeks.”
Oaks prep, Derby preps, and two big stars making their first starts of the year:
The NTRA, which unveiled a fresh new web site look last Friday, launches a new feature, NTRA Live!, a series of webcasts hosted by Randy Moss, this Saturday. Beginning at 6:00 PM, racing fans with an Internet connection anywhere in the world will be able to watch a live video stream — free! — of both the New Orleans Ladies and Santa Margarita Handicap. Very cool. (And not just because the video venture was inspired by “Take Back Saturday!“)
Also Saturday: 2009 Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man tries something new, starting in the five furlong Turf Dash Stakes at Tampa (4:57 PM). Musket Man, making his second start off a long layoff, has never finished out of the money, but he’s also never raced at less than six furlongs or on turf. [9:50 AM: Just saw this post on PaceAdvantage, in which someone familiar with the connections’ intentions reports Musket Man has breezed over turf once before and that the race is a prep (a prep they expect to win) for the Carter at Aqueduct. DRF shows trainer Derek Ryan with a .38 percentage (out of eight starters) in turf sprints; Musket Man is the 5-2 morning-line favorite.]
Three potential Omnisurface Stars to watch: In the New Orleans Ladies, Zardana — trained by John Shirreffs, shipped in to take Rachel Alexandra’s measure — makes her first start on dirt [in the US]. The 6-year-old mare won the 2009 G2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood (Cushion Track) and the Swingtime at Santa Anita (turf). Also trying dirt for the first time is Noble’s Promise, who makes his first start of the year in the Rebel Stakes. Noble’s Promise won the G1 Breeders’ Futurity last fall at Keeneland (Polytrack), and broke his maiden over the Ellis Park turf. At Santa Anita, Interactif makes the move to synthetics in the San Felipe Stakes. The Todd Pletcher-trainee won his maiden debut on the Monmouth dirt and boasts two 2009 turf stakes wins, the G3 With Anticipation at Saratoga and G3 Bourbon at Keeneland.
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