Derby Doings: Major Preps Finished - Let The Derby Countdown Begin
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Volume V - Number 5
Wednesday, April 17
OVERANALYZE AND JAVA'S WAR DEEPEN DERBY FIELD WITH CONVINCING FINAL PREPS
Palace Malice And Frac Daddy Finally Run To Expectations
MAJOR PREPS FINISHED - LET THE COUNTDOWN BEGIN
Before this weekend If you asked 50 handicappers to rank their TOP 4 2013 KENTUCKY DERBY CONTENDERS and give 4 points to the best and down in rating to 1 point for the 4th best, I'd be more than willing to speculate that VERRAZANO, REVOLUTIONARY, ORB and GOLDENCENTS would come up with a total rating that would be rather tight.
Then even more dynamics were added this past Saturday. First Java's War verified his sharp second place finish behind Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby with an amazing last to first performance against a moderate at best pace in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. A short time later Overanalyze returned to the dominant juvenile form that saw him win the Futurity at 6 furlongs and the Remsen (becoming a key Derby Juvenile indicator...more on that below) at a mile and an eighth as he swept past his rivals to easily win the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
To the obvious eye that increased the"Top Of The Heap Toss-Up Contention" to at least six bona-fide Kentucky Derby winning prospects. But those are, as I say, the easiest to list. Also making a strong case is Normandy Invasion, who's second to Verrazano in the Wood last week was the signal that his solid performance despite a troubled trip in the Risen Star was a strong positive.
So here we are less than three weeks form the Derby with only the Grade II Lexington Stakes this coming Saturday perhaps adding or not adding a horse to the 20 that will go postward on May 4 and with no disrespect to the multitude of pundits and handicappers who will most likely stick with the Verrazano, Revolutionary, Orb, Goldencents and Normandy Invasion I would suggest to them that they beware of their certitude.
With that in mind let me proceed to my updated DERBY TOP TEN.
JIM HURLEY'S DERBY TOP TEN PREVIEW
With 19 days remaining until the 2013 Kentucky Derby, with the exception of Saturday's Grade II Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, the Major Prep Races are finished.
There is still much to do in the way of preparation both on the part of the barns and yours truly before the horses draw post positions and make final adjustments for the Run For The Roses. And though the TOP FIVE are of course well-serving of being on the list, I would stress that my SECOND FIVE are, based on the probability of running their best race in the Kentucky Derby (something every trainer truly wants their 3-year old geared for) and doing so at a HIGH VALUE RETURN.
It is also paramount that you keep in mind how huge in payoffs the Exactas, Trifectas and Superfectas of most recent Kentucky Derbies have been and why so many of the talented runners that have the credentials to perform beyond consensus expectations will be considerable overlays in those exotic combinations.
So now is the time to update my DERBY TOP TEN.
SEGMENT ONE - THEIR REPUTATIONS PRECEDE THEM
REVOLUTIONARY - Flip him with VERRAZANO if you want to, you won't get any argument from me, but someone has to be number one and the reason I chose as justification for separation is that this well foundationed (especially on the all-important female side) son of War Pass-Runup The Colors (A. P. Indy) won both his sophomore preps, the Grade III Withers and the Grade II Louisiana Derby despite circuitous trips. One can surmise that he will be even better with a good trip in his third off the layoff. Obviously being conditioned by Todd Pletcher the colt is in good hands, but I will reiterate: these TOP LISTS are based on performance to date and I truly believe that even those such as REVOLUTIONARY, who have shown supreme talent, are subject to very deep contention in 2013. With that in mind I'll leave you with this, his final prep was his Louisiana Derby victory. In the last 5 years there have been 7 Derby runners that exited the LAD. In 2011 Nehro ran second and then three weeks later ran second in the Arkansas Derby and followed that with a second in the Kentucky Derby. Also in 2011 Mucho Macho Man finished third in the LAD, trained up to the Kentucky Derby and finished third in Louisville. None of the other LAD graduates hit the board in the Derby. I don't bring this up to detract from REVOLUTIONARY, but he will have 5 weeks since his last and run in Louisville after he needed 4 races to break his maiden and has had just a pair of 3-year old preps...and he is listed on top.
VERRAZANO - So far so good for the undefeated (not just other, but another) Todd Pletcher trained colt. He has won at four different distances and over three different surfaces and all four races have come since January 1. What is particularly attractive is that he easily doles out even quarter mile fractions while remaining engaged in the race. He has made a habit of breaking just off the pace in the early going, taking the lead at second call and maintaining it to the wire. Some have questioned his Beyer figure in the Wood Memorial and the relatively slow time of the race compared to lesser runners in other races on the card but I have long held that space makes the race and as long as this son of More Than Ready out of the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock ran"his" race the final time is just a number. In fact, with a race a month since January and no over-the-top extended to win efforts on his resume, he likely has plenty left in the tank.
ORB - He was a winner as a two-year old and has won four straight races. Going by the"old standards" of conditioning his three sophomore preps is a huge plus. In addition, he is conditioned by one of the best horsemen and individuals in the game Shug McGaughey. All this makes it easy to put him on the list. In his Grade II Fountain of Youth win two races back he benefited from a wicked pace and came from off the pace to victory. But in his Florida Derby win he answered whether he could close against any pace by breaking closer to a slower pace and resolutely wearing down his rivals before pulling away by a convincing margin over the well regarded ITSMYLUCKYDAY. McGaughey has done a solid job with the son of Malibu Moon and will send the colt in the Derby off a five week break. For all the accomplishments it must be noted that there are still a few questions. ORB has definitely come into his own, but he is 3 for 3 at Gulfstream and only 4-1-0-1 combined at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. In addition, the Florida Derby has been less than a"breeding" ground for Kentucky Derby success of late. Since Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby following a six week break from the Florida Derby (it has been moved to within 5 weeks the last three years) a total of nine graduates of that race have gone forward in the Derby with only Ice Box in 2010 hitting the board...and included among those failures were the likes of Union Rags, El Padrino, Take Charge Indy, Shackleford, Dialed In, Stay Thirsty and Dunkirk.
GOLDENCENTS - I guess we have to put at least one west coast horse on this list, especially since last year it was a 1-2 sweep with I'll have Another and Bodemeister, although the latter did make his final preps at Oaklawn. After this son of the rapidly emerging young sire Into Mischief (a horse who might have been a Triple Crown threat himself but for injuries) broke his maiden by daylight at Del Mar trainer Doug O'Neil figured he had another Derby winner on his hands and sent him east to run in the Grade I Champagne at Saratoga. That kind of move early in a colt's career backfires much more than it succeeds so his second to eventual BC Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby was as good as it gets without winning. The colt followed up with a win in the Grade III Delta Jackpot in Louisiana and back in Southern California he opened his sophomore campaign with an easy win in the Grade III Sham Stakes in early January. But then the wheels came off when after a 9 week break GOLDENCENTS turned in a subpar performance with a 4th place finish in the Grade III San Felipe. Interestingly O'Neil had been working the colt long and hard before the San Felipe only to back off a bit after that race and have his charge rebound in a big way with a convincing press and draw clear win in the Santa Anita Derby. Maybe the trainer does"Have Another" after all.
NORMANDY INVASION - If his connections believe in the adage that the best possible scenario is to save the best performance for the Kentucky Derby then they couldn't be faulted for being confident that they have a monster on their hands. The late running son of Tapit has only run one bad race, and that was his 6 furlong debut back September. If you are looking for a true definition of"a race you can toss" then that was it. He never settled, was rushed up and flattened out late. As we have since discovered, distance is his game and all four races since have been virtually the same race. He breaks off the pace and tracks to the top of the lane before kicking it into high gear. I have often discussed his horrendous 7 wide trip following a bad gate start in the Risen Star when he traveled an extra sixteenth of a mile and was beaten just 1 ½ lengths. That certainly stamped him as the player so many thought he would be after his second place finish in the Remsen Stakes last November. But it was his strong rally against a demonstrably slow pace in the Wood Memorial that truly stamped him as"ready."
Also Ran For the Top Five...
JAVA'S WAR - His come from the clouds victory in the Blue Grass Stakes was as visually impressive as it was from a pace standpoint. He absolutely proved that his longshot second in the Tampa Bay Derby behind VERRAZANO was no fluke and his bloodlines (especially being out of the rainbow's Quest mare Java) suggest the longer the better. And should Julien Leparoux stay aboard both running and riding style are well meshed. Trainer Ken McPeek couldn't have asked for a better day last Saturday as just short of an hour after this guy won his Derby Prep the trainer's FRAC DADDY rediscovered his juvenile form and ran a bang up second to OVERANALYZE in the Arkansas Derby.
OVERANALYZE - After his Arkansas Derby win I can't put him in Segment Two, but he has been so erratic throughout his career that I'll just leave him suspended for now.
SEGMENT TWO - DO THEY SNEAK UNDER THE RADAR?
Listing numbers 6-10 borders on in some ways being just as arbitrary as organizing the first five with the one distinction being that I firmly believe each of these five horses will be"overlooked" to the degree that while some will see them as fully capable of filling out the bottom of the exotics, very few will see them as legitimate UPSET CANDIDATES. NOT ME!
PALACE MALICE - Call me stubborn, but after his tough trip 3rd (beaten a half length) in that stampede finish in the Risen Star II used him on top in the Louisiana Derby only to see him run into even more trouble as he was bottled up and jostled about for more than a furlong as he continually tried to muscle into position. Undaunted I came back to him on top in Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes with JAVA'S WAR underneath and hit the Exacta in the reverse box. The son of Curlin had no excuses in the race as he got good position early saved ground before angling out in the lane and after putting his head in front was collared late by JAVA. The hard core will question his inability to stay on, but I believe he finally got the experience and confidence he needs and as a son of Curlin might even appreciate even more ground. At this point the only question is, will Pletcher, who already has VERRAZANO, REVOLUTIONARY and OVERANALYZE on the Derby lineup card also send this guy. I would have to say yes. After all, each of the four comes from different ownership and it would be difficult to think of Dogwood Stables not running with a bon-fide contender.
MYLUTE - Call me stubborn, part two. This was the third of three exiting runners from the Risen Star that I came back to in their next race (NORMANDY INVASION and PALACE MALICE were the others) when I considered him in a supporting role in the Grade II Louisiana Derby and he rewarded the faith with a clean trip workmanlike rally from 11th of 14 and came within a neck of replacing REVOLUTIONARY in the top spot. The Tom Amoss trained colt definitely has plenty of foundation built in as the LAD was his 9th career race and fourth vs Graded foes (4-0-1-1.) His bad trip in the Risen Star and a flat fifth in the Grade III Arlington Washington Futurity, his first beyond 6 furlongs following his maiden breaker were his poor efforts whereas his most recent and good enough losing-ground 5 wide third to GOLDENCENTS in the Delta Jackpot gave hints of what he might be as he matured. If he indeed steps forward off his Louisiana Derby effort he could be one of the many in line for a strong surprise showing.
BLACK ONYX - I do believe in syndromes so beyond this guy's solid Spiral Stakes victory there is also the Animal Kingdom Syndrome in which that one ran the same Gulfstream Turf allowance to Spiral Stakes to Kentucky Derby fame in 2011. So let's include him as a possible Upsetter even though it is worth cautioning that the only two genuinely Derby level considerations were his last two, an allowance win on the turf at Gulfstream and the Spiral victory over the Turfway Park synthetic Polytrack. It could simply be that he has come into his own as he's matured and also gotten less compromised...he did wear front wraps in the first three races of his career...but in off-the-turf conventional dirt races at Belmont and Aqueduct he did manage a second and win with rather soft (70 and 89 respectively) BRIS speed numbers and in a two turn conventional dirt allowance race at Gulfstream on January 1 was beaten 19 lengths. He's on the list because he might be another Animal Kingdom, but caution is advised.
FRAC DADDY - Call me stubborn, part three. As the son of Scat Daddy worked brilliantly up to the Florida Derby following a disappointing kick-less effort in his three-year old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream I was convinced that he had a good shot at upsetting that field if he ran back to his juvenile form. But he was equally bad in the Florida Derby so I filed that one away in the misery locker. No sooner had I closed the padlock than trainer Ken McPeek sent him right back to the track for a clock-stopping best of thirteen 5 furlong breeze at Gulfstream 7 days after the Florida Derby fiasco and shipped him to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby. I have never known McPeek to be one to ship for the sake of shipping and running so I opened the padlock, reached into the locker and took a chance on another dose of misery by tabbing FRAC DADDY to run second behind OVERANALYZE. The colt indeed rediscovered his juvenile form and those two finished in the predicted order. Perhaps he just didn't like running over the Gulfstream track in the afternoon. By the way, this colt ran the best two races of his career at Churchill Downs when he broke his maiden by 9 ¾ lengths with a 101 BRIS number and followed that with a neck beaten second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club. On the assumption that McPeek did everything he could to get this colt into the gate to run over his favorite surface on May 4 is it any more fanciful to think he could pull of what Giacomo or Mine That Bird or Animal Kingdom or I'll Have Another have done in recent years?
GOVENOR CHARLIE - After all the early depth, after all the promise of the next Bodemeister, it appears as though trainer Bob Baffert is left with this one viable Kentucky Derby entrant. But that doesn't mean that the conditioner is all but on the bench. This is another son of BC Sprint Champion Midnight Lute and the recent convincing winner of the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park, where of course Mine That Bird made his final prep before turning the 2009 Kentucky Derby on its head. The colt was making just his third career start in the New Mexico race after breaking his maiden in lifetime start number two 5 weeks earlier at Santa Anita. As mentioned above, the sire might have been a sprint champ but his sire Real Quiet was of course a Derby winner and this one's female line is all class and stamina passed on through the multiple Grade I winning Storm Cat mare Silverbulletday. The lack of experience might present a problem but if this colt grows quickly into his bloodlines and builds on the very impressive 5 length victory in the Sunland (pressed a 1:09 4/5 six furlongs and ran the final 3 panels of the mile and an eighth race in :37 3/5 under a hand ride) he would once again leave the big Derby Prep venues as an afterthought.
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