Three Major Derby Preps


By John Piesen

No doubt the trip cost Union Rags the victory in the Florida Derby, but the bottom line is that his third-place finish changes the entire complexion of the Kentucky Derby a month hence.

No longer will Union Rags will be considered the proverbial cinch in the Derby.

Suddenly, he's vulnerable. And that's why Saturday afternoon's three Derby preps, all at nine furlongs, suddenly are so crucial.

They are the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita, and the $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

From a personal standpoint, I've had remarkable success (as usual) in the Derby preps, and I'm confident that I'll be on the money again Saturday. My picks in all 3 Derby Preps (as well as the Aqueduct & Santa Anita full cards) will be up and running online, and on the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283.

The Derby Trail has been very good so far, and although I didn't hit last Saturday's Florida Derby, in the 5 preceding weeks had at Least One Ticket Cashed In Each Race.

Mar. 17: Private Terms - Laurel -Raconteur- WIN $5.60
Mar. 17: Rebel - Oaklawn - Secret Circle- WIN $4.00
Mar. 10:Tampa Bay Derby- Tampa Bay Downs - Prospective Win $8.20
Mar. 3: Gotham Stakes - Aqueduct - Hansen WIN $3.60...My Adonis 2nd - Exacta $17.60
Mar. 3: John Battaglia Stakes - Turfway - State Of Play - WIN $6.00...Ill Conceived 2nd Exacta $36.00...Dynamical 3rd Trifecta $137.40
Feb. 26: Fountain Of Youth Stakes - Gulfstream - Union Rags - WIN $4.40
Feb. 25: Risen Star Stakes - Fair Grounds - El Padrino - WIN $3.60...Mark Valesky 2nd - Exacta $12.00
Feb. 20: Southwest Stakes - (Division I) - Oaklawn - Castaway - WIN $15.40
Feb. 20: Southwest Stakes - (Division II) - Oaklawn - Secret Circle - WIN $3.20
Feb. 19: San Vicente Stakes - Santa Anita - Drill - WIN $9.60
Feb. 18: El Camino Real Derby - Golden Gate - Daddy Nose Best - WIN $10.20...Lucky Chappy 2nd - Exacta $38.80

So are you ready for the rest of the Preps? Let's do it! If you haven't done so, CLICK's not too late to get on board and start winning now.

Let's take a look at Saturday's Derby preps, starting with the Wood.

In the first quarter of this year, trainer Pletcher is winning at a mere 33 per cent clip, and despite watching one top Derby prospect horse after another drop off the trail, he shows up in the Wood with the odds-on Gemologist, a blowout winner of his four starts.

How good is Gemologist?

Good enough that when the owner of Hansen, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion, pulled out of the Wood the day after Gemologist came in, and went to the softer Blue Grass, thereby making his final Derby prep on plastic.

Now that's what I call respect.

And Hansen would have been 3-5 in the Wood!

You will recall that Pletcher got his long-sought Derby winner in 2010 with Super Saver, and Gemologist hails from the same folks at WinStar Farm. (You'll have to forgive the New York Daily News for reporting this week that Pletcher won the Derby last year with Animal Kingdom).

Gemologist needs a one-two finish in the Wood to guarantee a spot in the Derby field. Which, in the wake of Union Rags' comeuppance in the Florida Derby, surely will attract the max field of 20.

That said, here is what will transpire in the first half-mile of the Wood: The Lumber Guy will make the lead under Cornelio from his outside post in the field of eight, and jockey Castellano, under orders from the Toddster, will be content to lay second on Gemologist. After all, if Gemologist finishes second to the loose-on-the-lead horse, it won't be a total disaster. A second is all he needs to punch his Derby ticket.

The main threat to the top two is Alpha, a new horse since trainer McLaughlin added Lasix two starts back. The owners are Godolphin, riding high after winning three stakes, including the $10 million World Cup, last weekend in Dubai, and the rider is Dominguez, who rushed his comeback from a broken collarbone to keep the mount.

The owners Hall and trainer Breen, who gave us Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice last year, are back in the Triple Crown hunt with My Adonis, who exits an OK second to Hansen In the Gotham.

And Street Life and Tiger Walk can not be eliminated from the gimmicks. But, above all, beware the two-speed number!

Like Gemologist, Santa Anita Derby favorite Creative Cause chased a major player from his race. That would be Bodemeister- to Hot Springs for the Arkansas Derby, which like the Blue Grass, will be run next Saturday.

Last time out, Creative Cause was life-and-death to beat Bodemeister in the San Felipe. No Bodemeister this time. No problem for trainer Baffert. He'll triple-team Creative Cause with Liaison, Paynter and Blueskiesnrainbows, and no doubt will instruct his riders to occupy the favorite at all times.

If the Beyer numbers float your boat, you will be impressed that Creative Cause, like Gemologist, owns a huge edge. And CC also owns a class edge (he was beaten a length by Hansen in the BC Juvenile), and he has the one-hole in the field of 10, normally a good thing going two-turns.

But that post also will make CC an inviting target for the Baffert troika.

Then there is Holy Candy, who has been favored in all four starts (a first and three seconds), but will be double-digits here. With Rosario naturally opting for Creative Cause, Alex Quinonez (Luis' kid brother) acquires the mount.

A minority owner of Holy Candy is a QB of note- a fellow named Drew Brees. Then there is the first-time Mike Smith angle.

Mike, bearing down on 5,000 winners, picks up the mount on Midnight Transfer, a two-back stakes-winner under Rosario. Last time out, with Espinoza up, MT had traffic problems closing for third to Creative Cause in the San Felipe.

The bad news is that CC gets a nine-pound swing off the San Felipe.

As for the Illinois Derby, you'll have the opportunity to read the putt.

Three weeks back, Gemologist beat Currency Swap by seven lengths in a seven-furlong Gulfstream allowance.

If Gemologist kicks butt in the Wood, that sure would flatter Currency Swap for the Illinois Derby an hour later.

Currency Swap was making his first start since Sept. 5, when he won the Hopeful at Saratoga. So surely he needed that race in Florida.

Besides his class edge, Currency Swap also looks like the speed of the 14-horse field, a major plus over the speed-favoring Hawthorne surface.
Remember War Emblem?

It does pay to note that jockey Maragh, on board for Currency Swaps' first three starts, gives up the mount Saturday in order to stick with Caleb's Posse in the Carter at Aqueduct.

Talk about a conflict!

Jockey Bridgemohan will sub for Maragh on Currency Swap, drawn well in post four.

Harry and Tom Meyerhoff, who once campaigned a nice colt named Spectacular Bid, will challenge Currency Swap with Hakama, who likewise has speed, and an inside post (two).

Trainer Trombetta won this race six years back with Sweetsouthernsaint, who then went on to become the longest-priced favorite in Kentucky Derby history.
The Toddster counters with Our Entourage, who is 2-2 on grass, and 0-for-3 on dirt.

Fellow named Repole pays the bills, and jockey Castro ships from New York for the call, replacing Johnny V, who has bigger fish to fry at Aqueduct- Tiger Walk in the Wood, Emcee in the Carter, How Do I Win in the Bay Shore, and Millionreasonswhy in the Comely.

Pletcher- natch- is also loaded at the Big A.

In addition to Gemologist in the Wood, the Toddster has Broadway's Alibi in the Comely, How Do I Win (inside to outside) in the Bay Shore, and Calibrachoa in the Carter.

Jockey Nakatani gives up several live mounts at Oaklawn to ride Jackson Bend for trainer Zito in the Carter, a field so strong that Preakness winner Shackleford may be the biggest price in the field of six.

Finally, despite his Florida Derby fiasco, Union Rags still heads by Derby Top Ten. Here goes:





1. Union Rags



Will need a better ride.




Needs to be 1-2 in Wood.

3. Creative Cause



Looks the best of the west.

4. Bodemeister



Takes the Hot Springs route.

5. Hansen



The champ goes to polytrack.

6. Went the Day Well



The next Animal Kingdom?

7. Oxidizer



D. Wayne back on the trail.

8. Mark Valeski



Lost some stature in La. Derby.

9. Daddy Nose Best



Steve will need new rider.

10. Secret Circle



Always the one to catch.


Thanks for tuning in. Don't forget the Hot Line, and see you back here next week for previews of the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass.


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