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Monday, April 10, 2006

What to Make of Wet Wood?

- OK, I admit it. I was not at the Wood Memorial on Saturday; me, Mr. I Love the Big A. A horrible cold, rainy day, parental responsibilities, and the lure of watching and wagering from the comfort of my home (not to mention the Rangers playing in Boston on NBC), added up to my first missed Wood in quite some time. With some deft juggling of the DVR, I was able to watch, almost live, both the race and Michael Nylander’s overtime winner for the Blueshirts that spared racing fans being greeted with another hockey shootout when they tuned into the Santa Anita Derby telecast. At least Team Belmont was at the Wood, and the photos here do a good job of conveying what it’s like to be at a soggy Aqueduct on its biggest day with only 6636 hearty fans in attendance (no thanks to me).

Derby preps run on a sloppy track such as the Wood always create some doubts about their credibility and meaning for the big race itself…..assuming that the track is dry on Derby Day, which we always seem to do. This Wood raises further questions because of the fact that the two front runners slowed to a virtual walk as they came to the wire. After three-quarters in 1:11, it took over 40 seconds for them to get home (as a comparison, Brother Derek cruised the last 3/8ths in 36.79 seconds despite being shut down at the finish); 14.06 ticks for the final furlong. It was somewhat reminiscent of last year’s Champagne, in which First Samurai slogged past an exhausted Henny Hughes under similar track conditions. Todd Pletcher, refusing to concede any distance limitations for Keyed Entry, sees that as a possible excuse.

''Originally, I thought the sloppy track was a blessing. I don't know if that was the case, considering they went the final eighth in .14. It looked like they all were laboring. We'll see how he comes out of it." [Boston Globe]
But Edgar Prado, in what is likely a more honest assessment, said "He tried hard, but a mile and an eighth appears to be too long." [NY Times] Sounds like he’s already narrowed his Derby options down to Barbaro and Strong Contender. Keyed Entry set an honest pace, and he did fight back, but it’s hard to picture him getting a mile and a quarter now.

Bob Baffert changed his tune on Bob and John after the race; he had said beforehand that he was worried about running in the slop, but afterwards he said "I wasn't worried about the footing….A good horse handles anything. This was a good test." [Phila Inquirer] Give this horse a lot of credit; he left his comfortable California setting and raced on a new track under adverse conditions, but still got the job done, final time notwithstanding. (This was the only two turn race of the day, so it will be interesting to see what the Beyer guys come up with and how they do so.) As Baffert said, "The only thing you learn…is the horse is a good horse." [Washington Post] And that he is; he’s never run a bad race, and perhaps the experience, assuming that the track was as tiring as it appears to have been, will be of more benefit to him for the rigors of a mile and a quarter than was Brother Derek’s public workout that Baffert avoided. ("Just goes to show you that there is so much speed in California, it's like a vacation when you get away from there.") [Newsday]

As for Jazil, I can picture Haskin already erecting a shrine to this one. I’ve said before that I like his style and love his breeding (both of which probably contributed to this effort in the slop), and his close for second place may indeed indicate that his poor performance in the Fountain of Youth was a fluke. But I wouldn’t get too carried away. He trailed the field, conserving all energy as the two front-runners went for the win, saved all the ground, and was simply the only one still running in the final furlong. Iggy Puglisi on TVG pointed out that it can be a far different result when a horse like Jazil lays back and just tries to pick up pieces rather than being ridden to win. That doesn’t preclude the Derby falling apart like last year and allowing a horse like this to win; but Jazil could get significantly overbet off this race if he does go to Churchill.

- As for Brother Derek, there’s no disputing how impressive he was in dispatching some nice horses with sheer ease, and under a long hold late. Alex Solis, who called him “a monster,” said he didn’t have much to do. "He came out of the gate like a cat, glided up there and I didn't have to do anything." [NY Times]

If there’s anything to criticize here, it’s that it may have been all too easy; and in fact, perhaps his entire campaign this year has been too. He hasn’t left the friendly confines of California, has faced a total of just 13 horses in his three preps, and surely won’t be allowed to dictate the race unopposed as he was on Saturday. Trainer Dan Hendricks is realistic about what lies ahead:
"It's a 20-horse field, it's going to suit a horse that comes from off the pace, and a horse that maybe wants to go that route….If we get the suicidal pace, it's going to hurt us. We'll pray that won't end up the scenario, but with 20 horses it just makes it hard." [USA Today]
That scenario is likely, as Hendricks well knows, even if there are no Spanish Chestnuts aiming for the race, and Brother Derek is going to have to show a different dimension if he’s going to wear the Roses. But he’s done nothing wrong thus far, and will be the deserved favorite on May 6.

- As for the Illinois Derby, Cause to Believe may have gotten most of the pre-race hype, but the bettors weren’t fooled and pounded Sweetnorthernsaint down to the solid 6-5 favorite in the closing minutes, despite his ten post. And though he stalked a 27-1 shot through a slow pace, he drew off impressively and, like Brother Derek, came home in real racehorse time – the final three furlongs in 36.72 seconds in the final eighth in 12.08 while being ridden out. Kent Desormeaux pointed to his third place finish in the Gotham as “the day he became a man,'' [Chicago Sun-Times] and trainer Michael Trombetta said that he built on the experience here. "There was always a question of ratability. He showed today he can do whatever [Desormeaux] wants him to do." [Thoroughbred Times]

Jerry Hollendorfer is not giving up on Cause to Believe, who could only rally for third.
"I'm not going to make any excuses, but we didn't get the kind of pace we needed today….I didn't expect to run third, but he did gallop out well after the race and came back to the barn in very good shape." [San Francisco Chronicle]


Anonymous said...

I'll stick with point determined in the Kentucky Derby and hope Barbaro or someone put's some pressure on Derek and brings him down off his high horse. He sure looked good this weekend and thanks to Walter I had him both ways with point determined. I will continue to go against Lawyer Ron as well, but he will prob. win on Saturday as well. Looking for Stepenwolfer to improve and finally get to see Strong Contender. It will be interesting to see what Edgar does if strong contender runs good. Byanose

thecalicocat said...

The racing guys in Philly on the radio last night were surprisingly dismissive of local favorite Barbaro and Brother Derek. Most of the praise went to the Illinois Derby winner.
I guess if you see enough fluky Derbies, you start to dismiss favorites who don't come home like gangbusters.
I sort of like the Jazil type who isn't tiring at the end. If you bet across the board and he shows you still can come out ahead in dollar terms.

Anonymous said...

I agree about Jazil, Only the slow time worries me. Perhaps it was the slop. I sure do like his running style. That is what I had hoped to see from point determined and what I will hope for from Stepenwolfer next Saturday. Byanose

Anonymous said...

...i disagree taht Brother Derek needs to show another dimension in the Derby...he can obviously lay off the pace if need be, though he should certainly be forwardly placed...sure, an overly fast pace might compromise his chances, but you could say the same thing about most of the other contenders...besides, i know i keep repeating this, but i saw Brother Derek come from about 7 or 8 lengths out of it in his debut, and that was going 4 1/2 furlongs...certainly he can do the same thing going 1 1/4 miles, though obviously Solis will likely keep him closer than that...i guess what i'm trying to say is that he's not a speed-crazy need-the-lead type...i just think that's how the majority of his races have set up lately...i'm guessing he won't set the pace in the Derby, but who the hell knows...