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Friday, April 15, 2005

Blue Grass in a Red State

- If you listen to Bobby Frankel, tomorrow’s Blue Grass doesn’t necessarily mean that much.

"The Blue Grass won't tell us much because Keeneland is a gimmick racetrack," he said. "A horse can win there by 10 lengths and then not run at all at Churchill." That's not all hyperbole. The only Blue Grass winner to take the Derby in the last 25 years was Zito-trained Strike the Gold in 1991. [FOX]
Sounds like he’s already making excuses. He also sounds like he really doesn’t expect High Limit to have the lead: "They all can't be on the lead but I won't give any instructions…..because we don't know if he can outrun Consolidator and some of the others." [FOX]

Like High Limit, Consolidator has not been flattered by the subsequent races of horses he’s beaten, and also ran on a track that may have favored him that day. But I don’t know where this talk of Consolidator being a committed front runner came from. If you look at his PPs, it seems he really prefers to sit a bit off the pace, as he did in his Grade 1 win in the Breeders Futurity on this very surface. Even in the San Felipe, he was wide on the first turn and found himself just off the pacesetter throughout in a race that didn’t have tons of early speed, on a hard, wet track that he may have thrived on. Lukas compares him to another son of Storm Cat he trained, Tabasco Cat. "He's exactly like him….He's chestnut. He's got those bug-eyes, with the white around them.” [Courier Journal] You could see those eyes bugging as he charged impressively down the stretch in the San Felipe.

The only other confirmed speedball, I think, is Spanish Chestnut, who has just not proven that he’s this good. Bandini seems to be able to go either way, but listening to Pletcher, who is quite bummed over his outside post, it sounds like John Velasquez will be more concerned about trying to get a good spot going into the turn.
"We've just got to hope a couple horses will clear, and a couple will fall back, and Johnny will be able to move over and save some ground into the first turn….Everybody knows you don't want to be hung outside on the first turn at Keeneland - or the second turn, either, for that matter." [Daily Racing Form]
Bandini has not had good luck of the draw, having been hung wide in the Fountain of Youth as well.

And then there’s Zito’s Sun King, who I just don’t know what to make of. Zito is optimistic, maybe a bit more so than he usually lets on. "We are really confident." [CNN/SI] Forget his last race on the lead, when there was no one else to run with him through a :48 3/5 half; he should be able to draft right behind the leaders. But what has he done to earn his lofty reputation this year? He had a sparkling win in a 104 Beyer around 1 turn at GP, beating Survivalist; and then his facile Tampa Bay win in a good time for that track, but a relatively slow fig of 91. His two G1 distance efforts last year were thirds in which he was not gaining at the end. However, Dave Liftin in the Form has a fascinating comparison.
Recall that third time out last year, the Nick Zito-trained The Cliff's Edge came from far back to win the Blue Grass with a 111 Beyer that was a 21-point improvement off his previous race, and 10 points better than his previous top. No one should be surprised if Sun King runs a 110 or better in this spot. [DRF]
Hmmm! Nonetheless, figuring that he’ll be the favorite or close second choice, I’m prepared to take a stand against Nick Zito, which seems about as appealing as taking on Karl Rove these days.

Mr. Sword is worth a mention; his jock blew the Lane’s End with a premature move, he switches to Bailey, and worked 5f in :57 4/5.

Nonetheless, I come back to High Limit. I don’t think he’ll have to encounter quite as much speed as people think, and that it could be limited to Spanish Chestnut. If he can’t sit behind that one if necessary and collar him by the second turn, then he doesn’t belong in the Kentucky Derby. I get the feeling he does belong, and I like him to win the Blue Grass, holding off Consolidator and Bandini in deep stretch. Frankel hopes he doesn’t do so too impressively. "I'd like to see him win, but not improve…..I don't want him to hit his peak right now. But he's sharp, I'll tell you that." [CNN/SI]