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Friday, April 08, 2005

Santa Anita Derby

- When I look at a race and can’t even figure out which horses will be on or near the lead, it usually leads me to pass, and there are no apparent speed horses whatsoever in the Santa Anita Derby. As psyched as I was getting earlier in the week about Don’t Get Mad, he needs a fast pace to run at, and I just can’t figure where it’s going to come from. It’s a race full of questions marks, as in, just about every colt in the race. If you discard the horses coming off of maiden races (and only one of those won!), none of these – the colts - were within two lengths of winning their last, and the two closest of those, Wannawinemall and Buzzards Bay, are coming out of the El Camino Real, in which they had a 1:09 4/5 six furlong pace to run at, and only achieved Beyers of 86, their lifetime bests. In fact, Sweet Catomine’s 102 Beyer from last year sticks out here like Tom DeLay at the Center for Ethics in Government; she's the only one to achieve triple figures.

Buzzards Bay actually did wire the field in the Golden Gate Derby three back, and General John B did the same in the Turfway Park Derby, but they were both on off tracks and atypical of their running styles. Brad Free in the Form has a possible “simple solution” to handicapping this race:

Wilko, whose career-best Beyer is 98, is fairly close on figures, and a sharp six-furlong workout last Friday hints at improvement. Wilko broke slowly in the San Felipe, but he possesses speed, and must use it from the outside post. Wilko might even be the pace of the race. If he utilizes his speed, the outside post will not be a hindrance.
Are there any fast horses in this year's Derby crop? And if speed is not the yardstick, what is? Perhaps this year it is the same principal factor used to handicap a turf race. Maybe this year, class is everything.

If so, it is possible that the exacta in the Santa Anita Derby is a cinch staring everyone in the face.

Imagine it. Wilko turns for home, leading the field. Sweet Catomine rallies wide, out where she likes to be.

And as the two Breeders' Cup winners pull away from the field, it all becomes clear. Perhaps the Santa Anita Derby is as simple as merely identifying the two best horses in the race. [Daily Racing Form]
But not everyone is convinced about Sweet Catomine. Gary West of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram discusses three necessary qualities a filly must have, as cited by Wayne Lukas, the trainer of the last filly Derby winner Winning Colors: she must be a “physical specimen,” have natural speed, and have as much talent as any of the males.
And on this tripod of requisite qualities, Sweet Catomine's Derby chances rest rather shakily. She's tall, but not particularly robust or powerful. Her owner, Martin Wygod, said she stands an inch or two over 16 hands, but conceded she "doesn't carry the weight of last year."
As for speed, she seems to have a moderate helping. In January, she stalked a lively pace on her way to winning the Santa Ysabel. But, more recently, she had to rally from next-to-last to win the Santa Anita Oaks. She rallied from ninth to win last year's Del Mar Debutante, from seventh to win the Oak Leaf and from seventh again to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie.
But since October, Sweet Catomine hasn't progressed, not so much as an iota. In her two races this year, against very modest competition, she hasn't demonstrated any conspicuous progression on the racetrack. And she certainly hasn't indicated she possesses as much talent as the leaders on the road to the Triple Crown -- Sun King, Consolidator and High Fly. [Star-Telegram]
Gary Stevens notes that “The filly she beat the other day, Memorette, is a decent kind of filly. But how far would Ruffian and Winning Colors have beaten her?” [Baltimore Sun]

I’m coming down on the side of the skeptics, especially given her anticipated short price. But I’ll be treading carefully, given the uncertain pace scenario. I still like Don’t Get Mad, but the race may not set up for him. He could run a non-winning race in a way that could set him up well for the Derby in terms of his betting price in that race in addition to his chances. But he may have to finish in the top two to earn enough money to get in. (I refer you again to the most excellent column on the earnings situation over at Equidaily.) He had little chance on the rock hard track in his last, and just seems to be crying for extra ground to close. Giacomo has shown enough tactical speed to stay close, but usually comes up short; he still only has his maiden win. I may play around with these two if the price is right, but this seems like a race to watch and enjoy.

- And you can watch and enjoy this race, as well as the Wood, Carter, and Illinois Derby on a two hour telecast on NBC. I heard this morning that an estimated one third of the population of this planet watched the pope’s funeral this morning. I don’t think quite that many people will be watching the races tomorrow; and I’m not going to get started here once again on my ideas to get people to watch; but it’s nice to see the network exposure nonetheless, and NBC will have all of their knowledgeable commentators on hand.

- Wilko's trainer Craig Dollase is a bit confident that his colt will improve: I think he'll move up 10 lengths from that last race." [FOX]