JC / Railbird


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.

Eskendereya Skips Work Out of Derby

Trainer Todd Pletcher9:25 AM Update: Eskendereya is out of the Kentucky Derby. “He’s got some filling. We’re not sure of the extent of what we’re dealing with. But he’s not going to run,” trainer Todd Pletcher said, describing the colt as “slightly off.” (Right: Pletcher, speaking to the media this morning at Churchill Downs. Photo credit: Reed Palmer Photography.)

What changes with this news? The filly Devil May Care seems more likely to enter, Jackson Bend has a real shot of making the field, and Lookin at Lucky takes over as expected post-time favorite.

10:00 AM: Bettors are already adjusting to Esky’s withdrawal: Eskendereya’s odds are drifting, Lookin at Lucky’s shortening (And at 11:00 AM, with Eskendereya out, Lookin at Lucky is 7-2, Sidney’s Candy 5-1.)

3:55 PM: Jennie Rees has reactions from Derby trainers: “My stomach right now hurts for them. I know what they’re going through. I know what Todd [Pletcher] is going through. You’re not safe until you put the saddle on and hear My Old Kentucky Home. ”

– – – – – 

No workout for Eskendereya this morning, and now the status of the likely Kentucky Derby favorite is uncertain.

On Saturday, Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form reported there was evidence of “some issues” plaguing the colt:

Eskendereya had a workout planned for Saturday postponed because of wet weather, and while Eskendereya did have a routine gallop, there is at least circumstantial evidence that Pletcher is trying to nurse Eskendereya through some issues. After training hours on Saturday, every horse at Pletcher’s barn who was walking the shed row had their training bandages removed except for Eskendereya. This follows a postponed final prep, from the Florida Derby to the Wood Memorial two weeks later, and the addition of front bandages for the Wood Memorial.

Earlier this morning, there was some doubt about whether he would work today. From Ron Mitchell of the Blood-Horse:

Meanwhile, shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday, trainer Todd Pletcher said he was undecided about whether Derby favorite Eskendereya and Derby possible starter Interactif would breeze following the maintenance break.

“I am going to watch a couple of sets and see,” Pletcher said. “It’s pretty hard right now.”

Minutes ago, Ed DeRosa of Thoroughbred Times, at Churchill Downs, tweeted:

Eskendereya did not go to track. #KYDerby participation in serious doubt.

Developing …

The Issue Is Timing

Owner Ahmed Zayat on why Eskendereya will start in the Wood Memorial next month, and not the Florida Derby this weekend:

“The main issue is timing,” Zayat said. “I’m not really comfortable off the six weeks. If I’m genuine about the Kentucky Derby, I need to give the prep I want to make sure he peaks on the right day.”


“I think the Wood is coming up a very tough race and I don’t mind that,” Zayat said. “I think this colt will win a Grade 1. Am I missing a Grade 1 [Florida Derby]? I think he’ll get more out of the Wood than the Florida Derby.”

Refreshing, hearing a high-profile connection with a top Kentucky Derby prospect putting an emphasis on prepping to win the race, not merely on getting to the gate. (Or is something else afoot? 3/18/10: No.)

Related: Mike Watchmaker approves of the move. “I have to say, I like it. A lot.”

3/18/10 Addendum: “Fool,” says Paulick.