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Monday, April 17, 2006

Preps Provide Just A Few Clues

- 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.

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.
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?

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."

"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]
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.

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.”
“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]
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.

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.


thecalicocat said...

As a total amateur handicapper, I will bet across the board on a Steppenwolfer (definitely) or Jazil (maybe) because I am psychologically unable to see my horse fold up in the long Derby stretch run.
I want a horse with something left at the end and if he comes up short so be it.
I think maybe all the favorites will have trouble at the Derby distance after a quick early pace that is almost assured.

Anonymous said...

No Zito, Pletcher's best horse for the derby is an Honor and Glory miler, and Baffert has three entries, none of which look overpowering on paper. Should make for an interesting derby, ton of early speed, the big question is will Brother Derek rate? He is a nervous sort, has'nt been pressed early nor had a horse ahead of him in any of his wins. I am betting he won't....Lawyer Ron's comparison's to Smarty Jones are really a little unwarranted, check the times on those preps, Smarty's times for all three were much faster. I am looking at a 6 horse tri box. I still think the Illinois and Santa Anita Derby horses will be strong contenders. John Sheriffs may have A P Warrior peaking at just the right time. Cause to Believe is my long shot(especially after what Sin Min did) and Sweetnorthernsaint's races breakdown to show a serious racehorse. He has good early speed to get position and relaxes quite nicely outside of other horses. Dont you love the Derby? So many horses, so many opinions. Nick

Anonymous said...

DRF has the Beyer figs on the this weekends preps, Lawyer Ron got a 98. Sin Min a 116....that number puts him at the top of the food chain. I guess they bought into the Baffert post race comments on his horse. He doesnt get loose on the lead in the Derby. Alan is right, jockeys will be looking to hook him early. 6 F in 109 and change and calvary charge around the last turn. Nick

Anonymous said...'s simply not true that "Brother Derek hasn't had a horse in front of him in any of his wins" recently as the Santa Catlina, he had Latent Heat and Mister Triester in front of him while he stalked from the outside...and Latent Heat is one damn fine racehorse...he also came from slightly off the pace in his Hollywood Futurity win...and going back to his sprint efforts, he came from WAY out of it in his debut...that's 3 times by my count...obviously the Derby is different because those who aren't on the lead (or right on top of it) are gonna be forced to deal with traffic issues...but i'm very confident Brother Derek will rate effectively...i might also add that his jockey (Solis) has ridden in more than a few Derbies, and thus knows what to me, Brother Derek projects for a better trip than just about anyone, at least without knowing the post positions yet...i also think Discreet Cat (if he comes) and Lawyer Ron can work out nice trips...Sweetnorthernsaint may be able to as well, though i'm not too familiar with his past performances beyond the Ill Derrby and Gotham...Barbaro seemed to havew a nice stalking style on grass, but hasn't really shown that on dirt yet...may just be a any rate, it's hard to see Sinister Minister going hell-bent-for-leather on the lead and lasting 1 1/4 miles with those kind of horses stalking him...if he can do it, more power to him...but i think the jocks aboard the other forwardly-placed contenders will be cognizent of what happened in the Blue Grass, and won't afford him too easy a for horses coming from way out of it in the Derby, sure, it happens occasionally...but even if they have enough horse to run down the leaders, they're gonna have to negotiate an obstacle course in the process...i feel confident the Derby winner will be within 5 lengths of the lead as they turn for home...that's generally how it works, i think...

Anonymous said...

Pace makes the race. You took my remark about him never having a horse in front of him too literally. All his three year old preps show him within a head or a neck at 1st call and second call, thats pressing the pace.I have never seen his the first two starts of his career, but I have seen all the others and in those he has never taken dirt in his face, and in the Derby if you dont want dirt, you are either on the pace or racing wide like he was in BC Juv where he couldnt make the lead and faded in the stretch. Brother Derek did not rate or stalk relaxed a couple a lengths off the lead in any of his preps. He was a little broke out and on his toes for the SA Derby too. He rated but was still into the bridle pretty good without any pressure at all. Brother Derek may be the fastest three year old, but watching him, especially in his last race, Solis (a great jock) will have his hands full on Derby day, 20 horse field, the crowd and the all the hoopla, I am of the belief he will implode and be so on the bit, he will perish on the pace. You forgot to mention that the derby has on many occasion been a race that has fallen apart in the stretch. Thats when Giacomo types win. Last year's fractions (22.28, 45.38, 1:09.59, 1:35.88, 2:02.75) could very easily be repeated this year. This is what I truly like about the Derby day, the opinions, the judging of the race, trying to envision it as to how it will unfold. As bettors we know how difficult the process can be, I respect everyone's opinion and am happy to hear them, on occasion salient points made by others have changed my mind too. Nick