JC / Railbird

Paulick Derby Index

Where Mo Goes

Jerry Bossert hinted on Monday that early Derby fave Uncle Mo might start at Gulfstream on March 12, instead of at Tampa in its eponymous Derby on the same day, if a suitable race were written. Such has happened:

Gulfstream Park racing secretary Dan Bork has written a one-mile overnight handicap for 3-year-olds to be run here March 12. The race, called the Timely Writer, will offer a $100,000 purse and will carry no conditions, which makes it open to all 3-year-olds, including reigning division leader and Eclipse Award champion Uncle Mo.

Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole are very interested; the camp will commit to a race next week. “We’ll talk it over after he works and we’ll let people know on Monday or Tuesday,” Repole told the Blood-Horse.

Making the Timely Writer more likely: “Elliott Walden says WinStar looking at March 12 Tampa Bay Derby (gr II) next for Brethren,” tweeted Janet Patton.

As prepping goes, if Uncle Mo were to start in the Gulfstream special, then the Wood Memorial (which has been mentioned as a target), his schedule would look much like Big Brown’s in 2008. Before winning the Kentucky Derby, he started in a one-mile allowance on March 5 and then the Florida Derby on March 29. The sequence worked for Big Brown, the first horse in more than 30 years to win off one two-turn start as a 3-year-old, but he was exceptional in a weak crop — Uncle Mo’s contemporaries seem like a more promising bunch.

Elsewhere: This week’s Paulick Derby Index. Brethren moves from #7 to #4, but doesn’t make anyone’s list as #1 following the Sam F. Davis.

2/18/11 Addendum: John Pricci sees payback in Mo’s Timely Writer.

Feeling Feverish

The first installment of the Paulick Derby Index is up, and the top three horses are no surprise. Not that I can judge! I too made Uncle Mo #1. As for the consensus #3, Dialed In, I left him out, although I might not had I looked at the Holy Bull winner’s fractions per DRF Formulator before compiling my top 10. After a slow first quarter of :25.78 during which he fell more than 10 lengths off the lead, the colt ran the second quarter in a strikingly quick :21.58 and then finished faster than the rest of the field with a final quarter of :24.16. Speed and raw talent are certainly there, and I may have to concede after Dialed In’s next start (possibly in the Fountain of Youth) that dismissing him now was sheer contrarianism on my part. Re: my #10, that’s supposed to be Heron Lake, a Bernardini-sired Gulfstream maiden winner trained by Nick Zito, not any of the three Herons listed by Equibase, none 3-year-olds.

2/2/11 Addendum: “At this point, no one is saying that Dialed In is a good as the 2010 juvenile champion …” Nice to hear there’s a limit to the giddiness.

The Return of Dublin

Dublin, dropped from my PDI top 10 after the Arkansas Derby, returns this week at #1, a move driven by Eskendereya’s withdrawal from the race and a few hours with the past performances. Last week, when the field was looking set, I was intent on figuring out who would run behind Eskendereya — I know, I should feel more embarrassed to admit that. Every wise guy out there has been complaining about how with the loss of Esky, all the odds on the horses they were really planning to play have plunged. Whatever. The colt had the two best Beyer speed figures of this bunch, a perfect prep season, a fitting pedigree. He’s also physically impressive — watching at Aqueduct on Wood Day, I was struck by how much more mature and robust he looked than the other starters (check out his chest and shoulders in this photo by Sarah K. Andrew). Watching the Wood replay, what grabbed my attention was how much he reminded me of Big Brown (and I wasn’t even a Big Brown fan), exhibiting a similar control and ease as he took the lead and drew away. I was going to bet the chalk on Saturday, and happily.

As for Dublin, I still have some concerns he won’t relish the Derby distance, but then, ten furlongs seem questionable for several of this year’s expected starters, who, for the most part, haven’t made much of an impression on me. His track work this weekend could also suggest problems: After attempting to bolt during a Saturday gallop, Dublin drifted out around the final turn in his Sunday work. What’s more, DRF clocker Mike Welsch noted, “the failure to gallop out with any serious energy cannot be taken as positive signs less than one week out from the big event.” A factor in his favor, though, is the relative toughness of the Oaklawn preps, in which Dublin ran well. Off a second in the Southwest, a third in the Rebel, and a fast-closing third in the Arkansas Derby,* he could be poised to move forward.

Devil May Care, coming into the Derby with a competitive profile and a slightly faster time in G2 Bonnie Miss Stakes than Ice Box in the G1 Florida Derby on the same day, moves to #2 and Sidney’s Candy to #3. Lookin at Lucky remains at #4, despite his exceptional qualities. I would rate him higher, but for his tendency to find trouble, and he’s only had two preps this year. There’s also the matter of blinkers-on, blinkers-off: Trainer Bob Baffert is still trying to figure out the colt, and he’s running out of time. But then, the new Derby favorite worked brilliantly this morning. (Trying to sort it all out this evening, Bill Finley’s see-no-works, hear-no-works approach to Derby week suddenly seems a very sensible one.)

PDI top 10 for 4/27/10: 1) Dublin 2) Devil May Care 3) Sidney’s Candy 4) Lookin at Lucky 5) Endorsement 6) Awesome Act 7) Jackson Bend 8) American Lion 9) Discreetly Mine 10) Stately Victor

Call it the Twerby? The 2009 Derby was the first in which Twitter played a real role, even if it was mostly to inspire an ongoing debate about the usefulness of the service. This year, however, Twitter has been a source of fast-changing news (see Ed DeRosa’s tweets Sunday on Eskendereya skipping work, doubtful for the Derby, out of the Derby), close-ups of contenders (see Frances J. Karon’s pictures of Dublin and Devil May Care), as well as workout times. Thanks to Dana Byerly of Green But Game for pointing out this Blood-Horse article on Monday’s Derby works, which cites tweets from Churchill’s media department. Observed Vic Zast, by tweet of course,

Not amazing that Esky out of Derby. Favs can drop out in last week. What’s amazing is how fast social networking sites passed news along.

How much a scene can change in just a year, and for the better.

*I was asked last week about column 15, “Key Derby Preps,” on the historical criteria spreadsheet. The numbers that appear there are simply how many such races a horse started in while prepping. Qualifying races were determined by the total number of Derby starters that emerged from each race, as well as the total number that finished ITM in the Derby, 1998-2008. A dozen races rated highly on both counts. It’s a quick measure of contenders’ preps, based on recent trends. Kevin Martin of Colin’s Ghost has done much deeper research on Derby preps: I recommend his work for more insight into using historical trends for judging prep races.

Thursday Notes

Since Odysseus is now #3 on my Kentucky Derby top 10, it was with some relief that I read trainer Tom Albertrani plans to give the Tampa Bay Derby winner, not a seven-week layoff, but another prep before the Kentucky Derby:

We’re probably going to work him either Thursday or Friday, see how he is, and then make a choice between the Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby.

With Rule dropping to #7, largely due to his apparent inability to rate and subsequent third-place finish in the Florida Derby last Saturday, Eskendereya moves to #1. We’ll find out in the April 3 Wood Memorial, which drew 61 nominations (PDF), if the position is deserved.

PDI top 10 for 3/23/10: 1) Eskendereya 2) Lookin at Lucky 3) Odysseus 4) Dublin 5) Sidney’s Candy 6) Caracortado 7) Rule 8) Awesome Act 9) Discreetly Mine 10) Fast Alex Noble’s Promise

The Louisiana Derby is the most significant of three Derby preps scheduled this weekend. Thirteen are entered, including Risen Star winner Discreetly Mine. Not among the starters, intriguing allowance winner Fast Alex: The colt suffered a shin injury and “might be sidelined for a couple months.” (For more about this weekend’s races, sign up for the HRF Derby Prep Alert emails.)

In non-Derby news: David Milch’s “Luck” starts filming at Santa Anita on March 29. “Mr. Mann expressed a strong desire to shoot much of this pilot while we were running live.” The pilot is expected to air on HBO in early 2011.

(Possible) Derby Contenders

The Paulick Derby Index returns, and I’m pleased to be taking part once again. Is it a little early to start ranking possible Kentucky Derby contenders? For sure; the 2008 Derby winner, Big Brown, hadn’t even recorded his first workout of the year (for those interested, a spreadsheet of Kentucky Derby winners’ preps, including works, from 1998-2009) and eventual champions Curlin and Summer Bird were still maidens at this time. But, a few up-and-comers have made an impression. (Hello, late-running Ron the Greek!) Consider my first top 10 a watch list; I want to see more from all on it.

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