By John Piesen:
Another example of how great minds think alike:
Last week, I printed my first Derby Top Ten in this venue, and topping the list were Itsmyluckyday, the winner of the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, and Normandy Invasion. who is working lights out at Palm Meadows for his 3-year-old debut.
Well, lo and behold, I just picked up Saturday's edition of Daily Racing Form, and, sure enough, there was Andy Beyer's Derby rankings, and the top two were Itsmyluckyday and Normandy Invasion.
Considering, there are 300 Derby nominees at this point, the odds against this are about the same as a meteor 10 times more powerful than an A-bomb landing on Russia.
Surely, a lot can happen and will in the next two months, but at least I'm in good company. Or, to be truthful, Andy's in good company. I've picked a dozen Derby winners in print; Andy might still be a maiden, or at best eligible for non-winners of two.
Itsmyluckyday will make his next start (and final Derby prep) in the Florida Derby on March 30, and no doubt will face a full field. That will be a matter of course because of the new-fangled points system for Kentucky Derby access.
This weekend is a perfect example. The fields for the Risen Star at Fair Grounds and the Fountain of Youth at Gulf are about twice the size of recent renewals of these races, and that's thanks to the new point system.
If you understand the new system, good for you. If you don't, I don't blame you..
As for Normandy Invasion, he'll be a tepid favorite in a field of 15 (before scratches) in the $400,000 Risen Star. But he's far from a gimmee.His come-from-behind style from post nine over a speed-favoring FG track puts the Rick Porter-owned NI at a severe disadvantage against the likes of Oxbow, Code West, Departing and Palace Malice, not to mention Mylute and Proud Strike.
None of these six have national reputations, but all show tremendous potential, and all are in the best of hands.
And, most importantly, all have speed.
For my selections for the Risen Star, Fountain of Youth, Aqueduct and Oaklawn Park, click here to get these winners online or call the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283. You can get my Daily Best Bets here and ALL the remaining Derby Preps including Saturday's 2 races right here.
Admittedly, the Hot Line tossed a clinker last Monday when Always In a Tiz hit a brick wall in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn...but (and there is a but) post-race results discovered a lung infection.
Shades of Afleet Alex exiting the 2005 Rebel with a lung infection, and we know what happened with Alex. Just saying.
I don't know if anyone was going to beat Super Ninety Nine in the Southwest anyway.
With any other trainer than Baffert, the Supester would have been 4-1 or 5-1. Instead he was even money, and Baffert wasn't even there to watch him win the race by 11 lengths. Bullet Bob was watching on TV from his Mexican vacation retreat.
Now Baffert must avoid his two best Derby horses -- Super Ninety Nine and Flashback -- from cooking each other in the Derby.
We should all have such problems.
As should, trainer Pletcher, who, at last count, has seven of the top 13 Derby players in his various barns.
We'll see two of them on Saturday. One is Palace Malice, a promising type from Dogwood Stable. And wouldn't it be an above the fold story if Cot Campbell, the master of Dogwood for a half-century, should produce a Derby winner in his twilight years?
The other is Violence, who will be a short-priced favorite in the Fountain of Youth.
In any other year, Violence, by virtue of earning 335K for his victory in the CashCall Fuuturity back in December at Hollywood Park, would already have enough winnings to make the Derby.
But now in this new age of points, Violence has to do serious winning in the next two months to even make the Derby.
TheToddster says publicly "not to worry".
Then again, why does a guy like Todd need to worry about anything?
Violence is drawn well in the three-hole in a field of 11 horses, many of whom appear severely overmatched, and seems destined to work out the same kind of perfect trip he got in the Cashcall.
And it's worth repeating that this is a terrible time in American history for a horse named Violence to conceivably dominate pre-Derby conversation..
The Fountain of Youth will be one of those rare times that Pletcher and Johnny V will be in opposite corners.
Pletch obviously is running the favorite, while Johnny V will ride a legit contender in Orb for trainer McGaughey. Other possible players are Cerro, Majestic Hussar and Tampa Bay Derby winner Falling Sky.
Some of the trainers of the above are running in the Fountain of Youth because of the points at stake. Otherwise, they might be waiting for the shorter Swale, which, being a sprint, carries no such points.
The Risen Star and Fountain of Youth both anchor multi-stakes cards.
At Fair Grounds, Rosie, who rides Palace Malice in the Risen Star, lands on the favorite in two of the three supporting stakes -- Mark Valeski for Team Jones in the 150K Mineshaft Handicap, and Unlimited Budget for the Toddster in the 200K Rachel Alexandra.
(I hope we're getting the legit news on Rachel's improvement in Kentucky).
In the fourth stake at the Fair, Rosie, who has already locked up her third straight FG title, rides longshot Two Months Rent in the 150K Fair Grounds Handicap. Optimizer is the one to catch and beat for the red-hot Lukas/Court tandem.
At Gulfstream, the Toddster's Dreaming of Julia will be the shortest-priced favorite of the day in the 250K Davona Dale, and the Shugster's Data Link will be tough to handle in the 150K Canadian Turf Handicap.
As for Aqueduct...
For the second straight Saturday, there will be no stake, and the prediction of a wintry mess would play havoc with the card, producing another succession of front-end blowouts.
Such was the case on Thursday when eight of the nine winners were in front at the stretch call, and the ninth was second at the call.
The Big A no longer publishes attendance figures, but the reality of a 21K Pick Six carryover means that the on-track crowd was less than 2,000.
The Thursday evening harness card across the river at The Meadowlands produced something I've never seen or heard of before -- back-to-back five-figure winners: Jailhouse Rockie in the fourth at $122.00, and Joyful Years the fifth at $142.60. Alas, there was no double, and the Pick Threes went hitless.
Last Monday produced yet another example of a "name" jockey failing in his first experience at an out-of-town track.
In this case, Irad Ortiz, a top gun in New York, shipped to Maryland to ride Brigand for Baffert in the 250K General George at Laurel.
Brigand was 6-5. and the speed from the rail in a five-horse field. Only Brigand broke slowly, dropped a horse while catching up, settled for second -- and was DQd to fifth for the infraction.
Of course, Baffert didn't stay angry long. An hour later, he watched Super Ninety Nine blow 'em out in the Southwest, but the thousands who played Brigand had to be steaming.
Incidentally, Il Vilano, trained by the daughter of Monmouth Park regular Charlie Harvatt, finished second in that race, and needs to head up your Horses to Watch list this summer at the Jersey oval.
Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, enjoy the Oscars, and make sure you join me Saturday...I'll see you back here next Friday.
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