I’ve been watching the replay of the Derby more than Al Sharpton watches replays of himself, so I’m more than ready to move on to the second jewel of the Triple Crown. In no particular order:
- Afleet Alex stands to be the favorite and I think that’s legit even though he finished behind two others in here. For one thing, you can build a solid case based just on the fact he’s the most accomplished runner in the field and went into the Derby off of a lifetime, and field-best Beyer from which he may have bounced. His trip was ground-saving relative to the rest of the field, but some feel that the inside was the wrong place to be that day. And while some think Jeremy Rose moved too soon, he simply ran his usual race, and he ran it pretty well. His outside post could be a problem, but he figures to be closer to the front than two weeks ago and there’s no reason to think he won’t contend for the top spot.
Closing Argument won a lot of money as a 2 yo going 5-5 in the money in some rich races against less than top flight company in less than top flight times. But when he returned as a 3 yo, he advanced to a 98 Beyer defeating High Fly in the Holy Bull. After another 2 1/2 months off he ran 3rd in the Blue Grass over the Keeneland track, and according to all the losing trainers, we’re allowed to throw out any race there we want to. Closing Argument then ran his lifetime best in the Derby, earning a 99 Beyer that doesn’t even begin to tell you how good he was, bobbling at the start, going wide into the first turn, keeping pace with the suicidal front runners while a few lengths back, going wider than Giacomo on the final turn, and almost winning the whole thing. I think there’s no doubt he’s an improving animal who wins this with a similar effort. The question is whether the Derby took too much out of him; surprising Kiaran McLaughlin with his :49 breeze the other day indicates that it hasn’t and man, did he look good galloping on TVG last evening.
Giacomo, Wilko, Noble Causeway, and Greeley’s Galaxy all may have had their various misadventures along the way, but they all basically ran the same race for the first mile of the Derby. They were far back early, and all gained ground between the half mile and mile marker when the leaders were stopping. At that point the four of them were within 3/4 lengths of each other. One of them sustained his long rally, weaving for room and gamely running down the leader for the win. The other three were basically done, finishing at least 6 3/4 lengths behind the winner, all losing ground in the stretch. So unless there’s a really good excuse for the other three, I can’t see how you can nearly rate any of them ahead of Giacomo. Noble Causeway may have had the worst luck early having checked sharply, but he was still right there at the mile mark. He’s been in training straight through since late November and this is his 7th race since then. I think that if we were going to see a spring breakout from him we would have seen it already.
Wilko may have bled badly or maybe not, we just don’t know for sure based on his trainer's conflicting comments. I find that really galling after all the disclosure talk after the Sweet Catomine mess. Patrick at Pulling Hair and Betting Horses wrote I guess the question is "if you prick us do we not sometimes bleed kind of just a little even though it looks like a lot." I was starting to warm to him a bit but now I’m going to flip flop as well, and go back to the fact that he still hasn’t run back to his best Beyer as a juvenile. So, I’m not going to bet him and if he wins and Dollase starts talking again how he bled after the Derby, I’m going to get myself an attorney. Greeley’s Galaxy is the wise guy pick, but one of them, Steve Haskin, isn’t happy about that workout this morning.
I'm not as confident in the horse as I was before he worked three furlongs in :34 4/5, out in :47 4/5 over a wet track this morning. Talk about old school. No matter how you look at it, that is a pretty wild work the day before a race. So proceed at your own risk. I know I will. I can't go off him now, but there has to be some concern. [Bloodhorse]It’s true that his slow break put him in an unfamiliar spot after pressing the pace in his prior races. He was checked in the stretch and then was more or less eased, but he was going nowhere at that point anyway. It’s a testament to how slow everyone finished that his rider could stop riding him and he only lost by 8 lengths. His impressive workouts since have been in the slop, which he may prefer. But he should get a good pressing spot from the 4 post, and if he runs back to his Illinois Derby figure, that obviously puts him close. Giacomo is probably going to be further back than Mike Smith would like, given his 13 post. He should once again have at least an honest pace to close into. His connections seem supremely confident and I think he’ll fire again; the question is whether he’ll have enough time to get up at the shorter distance against horses that shouldn’t be quite as exhausted.
High Fly - Looking at his last two pp lines, it’s interesting to note that the pace he chased in the Florida Derby was only a couple of ticks slower than that of the Ky Derby. Of course, the latter was an eighth longer, he had a lot more company with him, and it was his first race in 5 weeks. From the 2 hole he should have no problem settling into a stalking trip, though he will have company again. He could rebound but would an effort comparable to his Florida races, in which he had relatively easy trips, be good enough to win this?
Scrappy T has shown distinct improvement at 3; he has good pressing speed, has demonstrated gameness – he’s never finished out of the money and comes in off a lifetime best 102 Beyer in the Withers. As you know that’s better than anyone ran in the Derby. He’s worked well, drew well inside, and could be battling to the end.
High Limit adds blinkers and gets Edgar Prado. Frankel said he got stepped on early in the Derby, but Ramon Dominguez, who is unlikely to ride for Frankel again any time soon, said he didn’t feel anything. He’s likely to go for the lead, and will probably get it with Going Wild outside of him, and the speed inside more of a pressing variety. With all that’s been said about the hot Derby pace, wouldn’t it be funny if the other riders become overly cautious about going too fast and leave him all alone on the lead? Galloping Grocer, Going Wild, and Hal’s Image should be around early to either push or stalk High Limit if he is indeed the leader.
Sun King and Malibu Moonshine round out the field.
Prior to the Derby I’d been totally dismissive of Closing Argument, and I was bemused when on the morning of May 1 I had a dream about him winning a big race that I thought might be the Derby, since I’d barely given him a second worth of thought. It must have been the Preakness instead. He seems to have come out of his outstanding Derby effort well, his tactical speed should land him a decent spot – certainly better than he had two weeks ago - and he can certainly win this if he runs back to that. If he continues to improve he could blow them away. To complete my exotics tickets:
(I may feel compelled to throw in High Limit at the bottom of my triples)
- Question to ponder: If Bellamy Road was pronounced fit after the Derby and ran in the Preakness, do you 1) think he'd be favored, 2) think there would be a full field, and 3) would you like him?