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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Derby Top Ten

- Here's this week's LATG Derby Top Ten of horses and people who I think will be in the news on or around the first Saturday in May.

1) Great Hunter - Doug O'Neill's colt is chilling I guess; no workouts since his win in the Bob Lewis, but it's only been since March 3, and he's not supposed to run again until April 14. That means he will have gone four months before his three-year old debut, then another six weeks until his next scheduled start, the Blue Grass. And then just three weeks until the Derby. That seems like the most radical plan of the two-preppers, unless Stormello chooses the Arkansas Derby (according to the Downey Profile, trainer William Currin is also considering the Grade I Florida Derby or Group 2 UAE Derby on March 31, the Santa Anita Derby on April 7).

During all that time, he'll prep and race strictly on synthetic surfaces: the Cushion Track at Hollywood, where he's apparently been thriving, and the Polytrack at Keeneland. A Derby win could portend a whole new way of thinking about matters not solely related to the number of preps.

And the news comes that there's a lien on Great Hunter regarding the horse's past owner, the wife of a man convicted several times in the 1980's and 1990's for fraud in Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. [DRF] I don't see where there should be a big problem. After all, she can just pick up the phone, and make the CashCall!

2) Any Given Saturday - Thanks to reader Kevin for boosting me back on the bandwagon by reminding me that Bluegrass Cat took the same route to the Derby last year, and ran second to Barbaro (we won't consider, for now, the fact that Bluegrass Cat benefited from a picture perfect trip that day). Still, it is at odds with Pletcher's oft-repeated preference to have more than three weeks. But he's still my top Toddster pick. Putting aside, just for a moment, the little matter of quality, I think his demonstrated versatility as to running style makes him a far more likely Derby winner than either Scat Daddy or Circular Quay.

As to that quality, we'll find out more on Saturday when he meets Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby. The Juvenile champ breezed a half mile in 51 seconds at Palm Meadows. He had been picking up the pace in prior breezes. Carl Nafzger said: "This is a race we need to go on...If we don't win it, it doesn't mean we are dead, but we would like to win it." [Albany Times Union]

3) Scooter Libby, pardoned by the president, celebrates at the Derby. But he tells Steve Haskin that Gary Stevens' wife, Angie Athayde-Stevens, is an undercover agent for the TRPB. And whatsmore, it was she who sent husband Gary to Great Lakes Downs to investigate the suspected race fixing that still has jockeys barred from some tracks. Later, Libby says that he doesn't recall his conversation with Haskin, saying he was too preoccupied handicapping the $1 million Pick Four.

4) Circular Quay replaces Scat Daddy on the list, on the basis of what I deem to be a superior performance in the Louisiana Derby as opposed to Scat Daddy's FOY. The truth is, I'm not really crazy about his Derby chances because of his lack of early speed; but he earns a spot on merit. If I had any guts, I'd put a horse like Chelokee, who earned a 91 Beyer for his troubled win at Gulfstream, in this spot instead. But as Pletcher pointed out, "The Derby is always a super-hot pace...If that's the case, this horse will benefit." [AP] If he can weave his way through traffic, that is.

5) Nobiz Like Shobiz - Blinkers do the trick, as Barclay Tagg's colt puts on his game face and runs straight and true in the Wood in a devastating Bellamy Road-like performance. The change of equipment make him so focused on racing that he's seen studying race replays of his rivals, poring over the Racing Form, and practicing lead changes in his stall.

6) Holy Roman Emperor, retired to replace George Washington in the breeding shed, proves to be infertile himself. He returns to training, but only briefly, as he's called on to help out Coomore again, this time as a temporary replacement for the assistant cafeteria manager while she's away on maternity leave.

7) Notional - Quibble if you must over lackluster speed figures, name me one other contender who has run and won twice in 2007, both in graded stakes. He's proven he can run outside of California, and with the Florida Derby scheduled to be his next start, he will come into the Derby off of a natural progression of distances - the mile of the San Rafael, mile and a sixteenth of the Risen Star, and the nine furlong test at Gulfstream. And like O'Neill's other contenders, he's happily training on synthetic dirt. "I think the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park has been a godsend to keeping them sounder." [Thoroughbred Times]

I've taken Liquidity out for now, though O'Neill took the blame for his poor showing in the Louisiana Derby."I didn't train him as hard as I should have. He's better than that. He had a little belly on him, and he was a jerk to be saddled. He was way too fresh." Despite that, I would tend to downgrade Ravel, who beat Liquidity narrowly in the Sham, and who I'm not crazy about in the first place.

8) Hard Spun has arrived at Turfway, and on Wednesday, he got a taste of Polytrack (hopefully not literally) with a half mile work in 47.20. With the Lane's End still a week away, not much more to add for this well-bred son of Danzig, except to point out that he's still undefeated on tracks other than Oaklawn, a surface he was said to dislike.

9) Looking to get some extra bang for their buck this year, Yum! Brands brings their famed NYC Taco Bell rats to the Derby (here, if you really need to see the video again, yuck.) They sign autographs, perform some Latin ballads, and participate in an exhibition race, the Alberto Gonzales Stakes, to be run at 220 feet through the main dining room, FOR RATS AND WEASELS WHO HAVE NEVER TOLD THE TRUTH SINCE FEBRUARY 15, 2006. Though eligible under the conditions of the race, Scooter Libby is too busy doping out the ten cent superfectas from Hollywood Park to participate.

10) Rags to Riches - Sure, I'll bite. After all, if I had the plodding Jazil on the list at this time last year based on his stellar pedigree, I just have to have his half-sister on it now, especially considering that she's already proven herself to be a more handy horse. She has a ways to go, with only three starts under her belt, and seemed a bit green in upper stretch in her Santa Anita Oaks. But she was very wide on the first turn that day, and showed some push button acceleration while three wide on the second. And oh man, that pedigree is hard to resist.


Patrick J Patten said...

Notional #1 on the TBA standings

Green Mtn Punter said...

Alan, in the interest of emulating the Fox News motto of being "fair and balanced" on your latest Top Ten, may I suggest you amend your list to include Valerie Plame, a Paris Hilton wannabe who,with her book and movie deal obsession surely doesn't act like any James Bond secret agent I've ever read about, and her blow dried "Look At Me!", "Look At Me!" idiot of a husband. Hopefully we've heard the last of these awful gold diggers.

Alan Mann said...

She was supposed to speak in NYC today, and then be a guest of honor at a $1000-a-head fund raiser for one of the left wing PAC's. The Head Chef was hired to cater the cocktail party. But it was canceled; something to do with the CIA not having signed off on her book or any appearances connected to it.

Green Mtn Punter said...

Alan, sorry to hear the Head Chef lost business due to cancellation. That's the CIA for ya, close the door after the horse is out of the barn! Wonder when the Steve Wynn Vegas Road Show will hit town for a full court press in support of their franchise bid? I keep expecting rockets and spectacular fireworks, something really big and flashy to accompany the Wynn entry, don't you?