- On Saturday, before the day’s Derby preps, Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park Press, worried that the coming races wouldn’t provide any new evidence.
But unless something out of the ordinary happens, unless First Samurai shows us he wants to go a mile and eighth, unless Lawyer Ron finally runs a bad one, we're right back where we started.That may be true, but I think that the Blue Grass, at least, did clear some things up. For one thing, Strong Contender will not be in the Derby. For another, if Todd Pletcher is to break his Derby winless streak this year, it would most likely be with Sunriver, if he could sneak into the field (he's 26th on the upgraded earnings list.). Though his post-race comments - "We'll have to regroup and see how he comes out of it.....The winner won one of those freaky Keeneland races" - seem to indicate that he’ll press on as he will with Keyed Entry, Bluegrass Cat should be voted out due to the 20 length rule, which states that any horse who loses his final prep by more than that margin is not going to win at a mile and a quarter three weeks later. I’m pretty confident about that one. In fact, I don’t want to hear the Keeneland excuse from any of the losers of this race, like we did from Nick Zito about Sun King last year. That horse didn’t seem to dislike the track on Saturday, did he?
Three weeks to go, and still we lack any solid evidence.
What if, say, Sinister Minister breaks sharply, gets out to a clear lead and never looks back in the Blue Grass? Then what've you got? Just another speed horse taking advantage of the conveyor belt that is Keeneland.
We also learned that as much of a sure thing as First Samurai not being a mile and a quarter horse, is that this year’s Derby will have a pace every much as hot as the one last year that led to a 50-1 shot rallying to win. Sinister Minister is said by his own trainer to be unrateable, and Garrett Gomez told Brisnet that the colt “had his mouth gagged over going into the first turn" before he let him just run. And given the perception, which will only gain credence in the next three weeks, that the winner’s tour-de-force was simply a product of the speed-favoring strip, it’s unlikely that the opposing jockeys will be afraid to go after him, especially in the run for the roses. Gary West, in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram, pointed out that in 1995, for example, Wild Syn won the Blue Grass in front-running, superhero fashion and then finished last of 19 in the Derby. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot of that. After six furlongs, Sinister Minister came home in 38.91 seconds, with a final eighth of 13.40; moderate numbers at best (though quick compared to Lawyer Ron).
So, is this another War Emblem, Baffert’s last Derby winner?
"Before the weekend of the Wood, I would have traded all of my horses for Brother Derek," Baffert said. "Not any more."And if he doesn’t, Baffert’s other two entries, Bob and John and Point Determined, may be amongst the beneficiaries. He goes into the Derby in a pretty good situation. In the space of four races, Sinister Minister has gone from graduating in a $62,500 maiden claimer to a Grade 1 winner and the presumed early speed in the Kentucky Derby. After the maiden win, he was purchased privately for "right around $300,000," [Lexington Herald-Reader] and it was the switch to two turns after a futile try against Too Much Bling in the seven furlong San Vicente that seems to have turned him around.
"I don't think Brother Derek can get in front of this guy....I don't think he wants to. We'll just let him do his thing and hope he holds on." [USA Today]
Gary Stevens is one who thinks that more than just the Keeneland speed bias was at work.
"If you need a jockey, I'm ready to lose 20 pounds," Stevens said. "That wasn't a speed-bias performance. That was a dominating performance. That horse is a lot better than people think. I looked at him in the paddock, and he looked like a horse who really wanted to run. He was stronger down the stretch." [Louisville Courier-Journal]The Arkansas Derby achieved less in the way of evidence. We already knew that Lawyer Ron was the best of this group, and he once again showed his adaptability by switching to Plan B when caught in an uncomfortable looking spot on the inside, and forged to the lead in what the race chart called some lively fractions.
His six furlong split of 1:10.98 was the fastest of the day on a less than all-star card, and his mile time of 1.37.76 was faster than the final time of 1:38.66 in a moderate three year old stakes; winner Admiral’s Arch was all out to get the money. So you could say that his final three furlongs of 40.48, final furlong of 13.62, and final time of 1:51.38 were explainable on this course that has played slow all meeting long. John McKee indicated that the colt was well within himself.
“He is just full of himself right now. On the backside, he just took a hold of the race. He never stopped running.”Still, though I haven’t yet seen the Beyer, it’s seems unlikely that it will be much of an improvement over his last two, nor in the neighborhood of 108 or 109. If that’s the case and you’re a big Beyer guy, I guess that makes him a throwout.
“In the stretch, I was a little concerned and hit him a couple of times and he just took off,” said McKee, who raised his whip in jubilation following his biggest career victory. “And it was like, ‘Wow !’” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
Steve Asmussen will hopefully spare Private Vow from a trip to Kentucky, even though he’s 8th on the earnings list. Steppenwolfer moves up to #14 with another solid closing effort. Trainer Dan Pietz had to be pleased with the developments both at Oaklawn and at Keeneland. His colt will get the distance and the pace that he’s said he’s been waiting and hoping for all along, and with another possible wild pace scenario, who's to say that he, or virtually anybody else, doesn't have a shot.