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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Derby Prep Recap - Who's Second Best?

- During ESPN’s excellent telecast yesterday, much was made of Bandini’s aggressiveness with his opponents, and how his Fountain of Youth was compromised by his wanting to bite High Fly. Todd Pletcher had to deal with that in addition to the bruised foot that kept him out of the Florida Derby (and talk about an injury being a blessing in disguise...Bandini now goes into the Derby off of a more traditional and historically successful 3 weeks). The trainer is understandably excited about his potential first Derby winner. "This was considered the toughest Derby prep..... Top to bottom, there were supposed to be more legitimate contenders than any of the other races. So when my horse drew off and won, that will give us much more confidence going into the Derby. [LA Times]

"This is the most legitimate mile-and-a-quarter horse I've had going into the Derby....You've got the pedigree there that's going to get you that extra eighth of a mile. I loved the way he finished, not only today but in the Fountain of Youth.

"He's got all the right ingredients. He likes to mix it up a little bit. He's not intimidated by other horses. If anything, he wants to intimidate other horses. He's got great movement, great stride. I'd say, yeah, at this point, he's the best chance w e've ever had. [Louisville Courier-Journal]

Pletcher seems to have a light schedule in mind for Bandini over the last 3 weeks. "We'll bring him to Churchill and maybe breeze him once.” [Daily Racing Form]

As for runner-up High Limit, his jockey Ramon Dominguez was thrilled at his ability to rate behind Spanish Chestnut.
"He had no problem running from behind..... He ran strong down the lane. He is still very young, but this was a good learning experience. He beat the rest of the field fairly easy." [Courier Journal]
The effort no doubt bodes well for High Limit’s future and I think validates his effort in the Louisiana Derby; though whether he’s progressed enough to win in 3 weeks is questionable. Nonetheless, Frankel was satisfied and will move on. "He ran all right.....He ran second. He might have been a little too sharp. I don't think it changes anything (for the Derby.)" [Courier-Journal]

Wayne Lukas seemed undeterred about 5th place finisher Consolidator, but considering he seemed similarly unfazed by Going Wild’s 41 length defeat in the Wood, that’s no surprise. He also criticized his jockey.
This race has never been conclusive. You hope to get something out of it and salute the winners, but you can't tell with this one."
"We got too far back.....All of his races that are good he lays right up there. Rafael made a decision to settle back, and it wasn't a good one." [Courier Journal]
He also said, “We are committed to the Derby and we haven't deterred from that. I'll have to defend that all week, but I've done that before." [Herald-Leader]

Zito will also proceed to the Derby with Sun King.
"For some reason he just didn't fire today, so that's the way it ..... "You're disappointed because this is obviously one of our favorite horses. But we'll try and regroup and that's all you can do. It might be a different story (in the Kentucky Derby)." [Herald-Leader]
Jockey Edgar Prado said, "There was not enough pace to close into. We didn't break bad. He just didn't have it today." [Herald-Leader] Considering the slow final 3/8’s, I’m not sure what kind of pace Prado is hoping for. Zito added: “Nothing went right today, that's all. I'm not discouraged in Sun King, I know that." [NY Daily News]

- As for Afleet Alex, shame to those of us who doubted the lung infection excuse for his effort in the Rebel. He just swept past the slow pace 4 wide on the turn and stormed home with a purpose.
"This was the first time in a major race that I got a clean trip aboard him," [jockey Jeremy] Rose said. "I only hit Alex twice he was going so strong, and I only did that because it was a million-dollar race, not because he needed it." [Courier-Journal] Reminded by reporters that it was five times in the stretch, Rose said jokingly, "It was a $1 million race. I was being nice." [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
As for trainer Tim Ritchie, it was some sweet vindication. "It's very satisfying to silence the doubters....Winning solves everything. Now it's on to Kentucky." [Thoroughbred Times]
"This puts him back where he should have been....It's been a ride, that's for sure. I am just satisfied that he ran the race that I knew he could. Everybody thought he couldn't go two turns, his pedigree is all wrong on the bottom side, but I think he silenced his skeptics today." [Courier Journal]
Greater Good’s connections said he just didn’t fire, and his jockey John McKee said that he wouldn't change leads going into the first turn. [Dallas Morning News] It was a surprising development given how well he had been training and his consistency in the past. Of course, it’s not easy closing into a final 3 furlongs of :36.02 seconds.

I don’t think they’ll be any doubt as to who is the Derby favorite. "Bellamy Road will be the favorite," Pletcher said. "But a lot of things can change between now and the next three weeks.” [Courier Journal]

I guess they’ll be some debate as to who will be the second choice, but I would come down squarely in favor of Afleet Alex. Bandini may have the bloodlines, but Alex was considered by many to be the favorite once Declan’s Moon dropped out; then came the lung infection thing. So if you throw that out, he’s really right on track to be the main challenger to the Zito contingent.

Speaking of which, Andromeda’s Hero got third and earned enough money to qualify, so it’s still very much possible that Nick Zito will account for 25% of the Derby starters! There should be antitrust laws against that!

- Of course, there is one more horse that will have a chance to make his own comeback, and he worked out at Oaklawn on Saturday.
Clockers credited Rockport Harbor with a 5-furlong work of 1:02.05, galloping out threequarters of a mile in 1:14.71 and a mile in 1:41.62. "That was a hell of a work," Velez said. "He was willing every step of the way."

Rockport Harbor covered his opening eighth of a mile in : 12.77, a quarter-mile in: 24.67, three-eighths of a mile in: 37.18 and a half-mile in: 49.97.

Servis said Rockport Harbor will be flown to Louisville, then vanned to Keeneland. He will probably jog Monday and gallop up the race, Servis said. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

- Great front page story by Joe Drape in the NY Times today about George Steinbrenner’s breeding and racing operation, Kinsman Stable, and it shows a whole other side of the sometimes irascible owner of the Yankees. "I don't know if winning is the absolute purpose," said his daughter, Jessica Steinbrenner.
The trainer Bob Baffert, who has won three Kentucky Derbys, told of how Steinbrenner rolled out the red carpet for him each time he had a horse poised to sweep a Triple Crown: Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002. Until recently, Baffert had never trained a horse for Steinbrenner, but during those three trips to New York for the Belmont Stakes, Baffert and his family were guests in his suite for a Yankees game.

And each time his horse came up short, Baffert received a letter from Steinbrenner on Yankees letterhead, telling him to keep his head up, that one day he would complete the sweep.

"If he fired me tomorrow, I wouldn't be offended for all he has done for my family," Baffert said by telephone. "He's been at this a long time, and it's a numbers game. I hope this is his turn." [NY Times]