JC / Railbird


Wrapping Up

Stunned, Blinkers Off visits the backstretch, seeking an explanation for a most inexplicable Derby result. After talking to trainer Todd Pletcher and Action Andy, our correspondent learns …

In the final analysis, either the Kentucky Derby, America’s greatest horse race, was deeply defiled, bought and sold for the sake of a fabricated, fly-by-night cable series, or somebody needs to call Andy Beyer and tell him he might want to revisit those New Mexico speed figures.

Read the complete Blinkers Off post.


Noticed while skimming the Derby PPs, updating the historical criteria chart

– Since 2002, every Derby winner has worked a bullet in their penultimate or final workout; since 1998, eight of 11 winners have done so. (Kennedy, helpfully, has real stats on this.) This year, six starters have bullet works: Friesan Fire, Regal Ransom, I Want Revenge, Atomic Rain, Dunkirk, and Summer Bird. The last time Friesan Fire worked a bullet was before winning the Louisiana Derby; Dunkirk has worked three straight bullets since the Florida Derby. The anti-bullet? Pioneerof the Nile: In his four works at Santa Anita listed on the pps, every one was the fastest or second-fastest at the distance. His two works at Churchill were fourth and eleventh, both at five furlongs.

– The game of musical jockeys continued through Tuesday, ending with 10 rider changes — seven of those new pairings: Chocolate Candy (Mike Smith), Desert Party (Ramon Dominguez), General Quarters (Julien Leparoux), Mine That Bird (Calvin Borel), Mr. Hot Stuff (John Velazquez), Nowhere to Hide (Shaun Bridgmohan), Flying Private (Robby Albarado). That’s the most since 2003, when six horses, all longshots, went to the post with new riders. Between 2003-2008, 22 horses, none at final odds of less than 10-1, started with new riders on Derby day. Of those, none won, and only two — Bluegrass Cat, second in 2006, and Imperialism, third in 2004 — finished in the money.

Notes for 2009-04-13

– Few changes to the top 10 this week, with all adjustments in the second tier. Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem, who’s been bumping around the lower third since February, moves to #6, replacing runner-up Old Fashioned, now off the Derby trail and likely done with racing due to a slab fracture of the knee. General Quarters appears at #8 following his win in the Blue Grass, making him the second to come out of the Tampa Bay Derby and take a stakes. I had trouble coming up with a tenth prospect, narrowing the possibles down to Chocolate Candy, Musket Man, and West Side Bernie, all on the cusp. Although Twitterverse sentiment was 4-to-1 for ‘Candy, I settled on Musket Man, who followed up on his Tampa win with another in last week’s Illinois Derby.

Top 10 for 4/14/09 PDI: 1. I Want Revenge 2. Quality Road 3. Pioneerof the Nile 4. Desert Party 5. Friesan Fire 6. Papa Clem 7. Dunkirk 8. General Quarters 9. Regal Ransom 10. Musket Man

– Chocolate Candy worked yesterday morning with new rider Mike Smith up, going five furlongs handily in :59.20 at Santa Anita. “I was happy with the work, said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Of course he was. Trainers are almost never quoted as anything but thrilled with their charges, especially three weeks before the biggest 3-year-old race of the year. The colt does look pretty good in this video of his Sunday move, though.

Dunkirk and Quality Road also worked over the weekend, with Dunkirk breezing four furlongs in :49.06 at Palm Meadows, and Quality Road doing the same in :48 at Belmont Park. He then galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.85 (according to DRF; Belmont clockers credited Quality’ with a five furlong breeze in 1:02.19). NYRA posted a short video of the work, showing the Jimmy Jerkens-trained colt going fine, apparently untroubled by the quarter crack found earlier in the week.

On the distaff side, watch mail brought notice that Music Note, third in her final 2008 start, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Classic, is back in training. The 4-year-old filly breezed three furlongs in :37.40 at Keeneland on Saturday. No news yet on where she might debut this year. Possibly Belmont, in a race such as the June 13 G1 Ogden Phipps Handicap?

– It might be too early to start speculating on possible Derby pace scenarios, but with Old Fashioned and The Pamplemousse out, who goes to the front? There’s not a lot of early speed among the remaining probables.

– BSFs: 99 101 (upgraded) for Papa Clem, 95 for General Quarters.

Top 10 Shuffle

Kentucky Oaks-bound Rachel Alexandra drops off my PDI Derby top 10, while Quality Road zips from #7 to #1 on the strength of his Florida Derby win. It wasn’t that long ago I would have dismissed Quality Road for the five-week layoff between his final prep and the Kentucky Derby and for being too lightly raced, but Big Brown and Barbaro have nullified those concerns, and the Jimmy Jerkens-trained colt does meet what I’ve come to consider the minimum-required historical criteria: He started as a 2-year-old, has made three starts as a 3-year-old, and has raced around two turns and in fields of more than 10 starters.

Dunkirk, an impressive second to Quality Road, moves from #8 to #7, a slight bump that reflects my dislike for how he’s being prepped, tempering my enthusiasm for his potential Derby ability. That he’s on the earnings bubble with $150,000 and may miss the Derby is a shame, but then, trainer Todd Pletcher shouldn’t have treated the Florida Derby as a Win and You’re In race for his talented gray. A little jiggering of the schedule could have had Dunkirk start in two graded stakes before May.*

I dropped Friesan Fire to #6 from #2 (and it’s possible he’ll fall further after the Santa Anita Derby and Wood) since trainer Larry Jones’ plan to train the colt up to the Derby seems a little out there the further away we get from the Louisiana Derby — I’m ready to concede a five week layoff is no longer a problem, but seven weeks off seems still too much.

Desert Party drops one spot, to #4, after finishing second to Regal Ransom, who reappears at #8, in the UAE Derby. I didn’t reverse the two, for reasons similar to Steve Haskin’s assessment:

If Desert Party had run the exact same race in one of the final preps in America, I would consider it a solid effort that should set him up for a peak performance on May 2…. Desert Party was the only non-speed horse to make up any ground late, and he finished 15 lengths ahead of the third horse …

Regal Ransom and Desert Party will ship to Churchill Downs early in April. Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said a decision would be made closer to the Derby as to whether both will start or whether one will be held back and pointed to the Preakness.

Top 10 for 3/31/09: 1. Quality Road 2. Pioneerof the Nile 3. I Want Revenge 4. Desert Party 5. Old Fashioned 6. Friesan Fire 7. Dunkirk 8. Regal Ransom 9. Imperial Council 10. Papa Clem

*The annual graded earnings debate flares anew, this year with a twist in Mafaaz scoring a guaranteed spot as the winner of the Kempton Kentucky Derby Challenge. “And so it has come to this,” Gary West fulminates,

The horse who won an insignificant stakes on an artificial surface at a minor racetrack in England has a reserved spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, and the horse who ran second in the Florida Derby may not even get a chance to race for the world’s most famous roses.

While I don’t agree with West that Mafaaz taking up a spot is a problem, I’m with him and almost every other observer in believing that using graded earnings to allocate precious Derby stalls is a flawed method. Dunkirk isn’t going to be squeezed out by a stunt winner, but by colts such as Square Eddie (#2 on the earning list with one start in 2009), West Side Bernie (#12 and showing no progression this year), or possibly Charitable Man (tied at #21 with Dunkirk and making his first and only pre-Derby start in the Blue Grass Stakes). A points system, such as the one Mike Watchmaker proposes in his latest DRF+ column (similar to Handride’s scheme), would not only have the benefit of weeding out the pretenders who racked up stakes monies as 2-year-olds or in winning minor stakes with inflated purses, but would discourage connections from making the sort of all-in gamble that Pletcher did with Dunkirk. It would give trainers reason to prep their charges through a series of races, making the Kentucky Derby more sporting all around.