- I think Bandini is the most serious threat to Bellamy Road, though I still waver on him a bit due to the slow come-home time in the Blue Grass, as well as that race’s poor record as a prep in recent years. (Perhaps the latter was why I threw out Lion Heart for the Derby last year after he ran second in the Blue Grass at 4-5, costing me the exacta as I had Smarty cold on top with 3rd place finisher Imperialism among others.) He did have a pretty perfect trip other than being 3-4 wide both turns (not an insignificant matter), sitting behind a tiring speed horse and another doing something unfamiliar, and drawing off after a sustained drive. But I do put a lot of importance on the closing fractions in the preps when trying to project how the horse will handle the extra furlong, and under other circumstances, it might turn the tide against him for me.
But two factors I think make up for the negatives - Todd Pletcher, and the way that the horse so clearly improves with every race - who knows how much more he could improve with another race and with the distance he should love. He passes all the standard tests - he’s had four races this year, will go in off of a 3 week layoff, and just barely passes the crucial raced-as-a-2yo requirement with a weak debut in November. Check out Pletcher’s defense against the critics of the Blue Grass:
Everybody made a big deal after the Blue Grass,'Oh Bandini didn't run as good as everybody said because Spanish Chestnut was in there as a rabbit.' Well, he was a rabbit for the whole field. He cleared the field. High Limit got a perfect stalking trip right off of him, which they said before the race they wanted to do, and had absolutely no excuse. We were parked three wide on both turns and ran by everybody and now they're saying, 'Oh, the Blue Grass wasn't a good race, Keeneland's a bad racetrack, and I didn't want to win the Blue Grass anyway.' Geez. There have been a lot of horses that haven't necessarily won the Blue Grass that come back to win the Derby, but I wouldn't think too many of them were beaten double-digit lengths." [Bloodhorse]So far at Churchill, he seems to be lurking in the background a bit; Afleet Alex is getting more press due to the more compelling human interest angle in the stories of their owners and trainer. He has not worked out since the Blue Grass, and is scheduled to work out for the first time Sunday morning (TVG, 11:30 A.M. Eastern). Mike Welsch of the Form reported today that ‘Bandini galloped aggressively for the third straight morning while again throwing in a few extra bucks and kicks for good measure.’ [Daily Racing Form]
There’s also the matter of his breeding, as he hails from the Mr. Prospector/Raise A Native line that has been so successful in recent Derbys. He’s by Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, and is inbred 3x4 to Northern Dancer. He has Seattle Slew and Belmont winner Coastal in his dam’s pedigree. His second dam is SA Oaks winner Hail Atlantis, who’s produced some modest stakes horses including sire Stormy Atlantic. His third dam is stakes winner Flipper, but if you back to the 4th and 5th dams, you find the real serious stuff. Moccasin was a co-horse of the year in 1965 and successful broodmare, and 5th dam Rough Shod was an incredibly prodigious producer, having foaled stakes winners such as Lt. Stevens and Ridan, and from whom names such as Sadler’s Wells, King Pellinore, Gamely, and Drumtop, among others have descended.
And finally, there’s his trainer Todd Pletcher. We hear how he’s never won a Derby, but he’s only 37; Nick Zito was 42 before he even went to the Derby, with Thirty Six Red in 1990. The way Pletcher has become so dominant, you know it’s only a matter of time before he wins this race, and Bandini gives him a great shot.
- Pletcher also sends out Flower Alley. He’ll add blinkers and he says he hopes he’ll be further back than we’ve seen him.
I think what's happened in the last couple of spots is that he's broken, put himself in a good position, and then, because he's a little bit green, he starts looking around. He gets a little bit of dirt in his face and he starts to back up, so (jockey Jorge) Chavez has been 'no, you can't back up now, I need to you to stay here.' I think in this race (the Derby) we need to let him back up a little bit. If he wants to back up into 12th, 14th, whatever it is, let him back up. Let him get comfortable and then make a run. We can't chase them for a mile and a quarter. [">Bloodhorse]Someone on TV, I believe it was Randy Moss said that the Pletcher barn feels this horse is as talented as Bandini, but Pletcher acknowledges that he’s “">still a pretty green colt.”
None of the horses he beat in Lane’s End have particularly distinguished themselves since, and he was no match whatsoever for Afleet Alex at Oaklawn. Yet he did beat Andromeda’s Hero, who I've been following, in both races. He also hasn’t worked out since his last, but the clocker reports have been favorable. He’s by Distorted Humor, thus also from the Raise A Native line - he’s inbred 3x3 to Mr. Prospector and 4x4 to Northern Dancer. He’d really have to improve a lot to be a factor, and I think the fact that Pletcher adds blinkers and changes tactics indicates that he’s just taking a shot.
- I saw some of last week’s works on The Works just now. High Limit was going so easily; his rider was absolutely motionless. Afleet Alex and Andromeda’s Hero both seemed pretty hard-ridden compared to High Limit; in fact Frank Lyons said that Rose was waving his whip at him. Bellamy Road looks magnificent.