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Monday, March 26, 2007

Derby Top Ten

- Here's the LATG top ten of horses and people I think will be making headlines on or around the first Saturday in May.

1) Any Given Saturday, along with Street Sense, have been the subject of much discussion in the week since their scintillating stretch duel in the Tampa Bay Derby. There are compelling arguments either way as to which of the colts was more impressive. Any Given Saturday conceded ground on the turn, at which point John Velazquez spurned an opportunity to get a jump on his rival, instead peeking back and waiting until he saw the Juvenile winner move. Street Sense saved all the ground, but the inside was said to be a disadvantageous path on that day; and after all, it was his first race in 4 ½ months. He also conceded a race over the track to his rival on a surface that not every horse cares for.

Who knows what would have happened if Any Given Saturday was the one with the head in front. Would he have allowed Street Sense to get by? As it is, he seemed to be getting to the champ in the final strides, and may have even won if the wire was 10 feet closer or further. I rank him on top based on his tactical speed, consistency, and the sense that he can improve.

That's right, improve. There's been tons of talk about he and Street Sense coming out of the race worse for the wear; that they could bounce in the Blue Grass, and even regress going beyond that. On one hand, it seems almost an illogical argument; these are young, healthy, and maturing young colts who are both lightly raced; Street Sense has run six times, Any Given Saturday five. Yet, in 2007, it's a perfectly reasonable argument. I don't imagine this would be an issue if it were 1977.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, I fretted along with Frank Lyons on TVG that the race could take more out of Any Given Saturday (Lyons felt before the race that the colt seemed to be "too fit" at this stage to start with). I was worried because of the extra ground he had to cover as compared to Street Sense. But upon further review, while Pletcher's colt may have run a little extra ground, like Street Sense, he really didn't do much real running until the final quarter mile. If that's enough to knock either of these colts off their perch, it's a troubling sign indeed for the state of the breed.

2) Great Hunter - No news is good news when a horse is between races...though it wouldn't hurt to see a workout, with his last race more than three weeks past, and the Blue Grass still almost that far off. Overlooked a bit I think is perhaps the most unorthodox campaign of them all. Doug O'Neill will have to crank up Great Hunter for two races in four weeks, after having just one in 5 1/2 months; that his easy win over an outclassed field in the Bob Lewis. At least he'll be put to the fire right off, facing the two abovementioned colts in one of the most definitive Derby preps we've seen in quite some time.

3) Street Sense - The two rail-skimming victories by Carl Nafzger's colt get him so used to being on the inside that he refuses to come out of his stall until two stablehands produce a section of the inner rail and carry it around by his side. But he comes into the Derby off just one prep as he draws the 12 post for the Blue Grass and is a late scratch due to an anxiety attack.

4) Attorney General Alberto Gonzales still has the backing of the president despite the revelation that he'd personally conducted warrantless surveillance of the Bush twins' emails. The embattled AG denies any role by himself or the White House in the firing of eight stewards at various U.S. racetracks. But subsequent emails reveal that Karl Rove had complained about one of the dismissed officials who was involved in a disqualification that cost him a $2 quinella at Evangeline in 2005.

5) Nobiz Like Shobiz continued to tune up for the Wood, blinkers added since his last race, with a workout Monday morning; five furlongs in 59.80 at Gulfstream; that's identical with his work last Thursday during which he was accompanied by Funny Cide.

"I wanted to work him in company and there aren't many I could send with him other than Funny Cide. I knew 'Funny' would get a little tired at the end and 'Nobiz' went past him and he didn't go over on him. He doesn't lug in in the mornings. I don't know why he's done it in his races." [BRIS]
Tagg had once said that the colt shied away from crowd noise, which would explain why he doesn't do it in the morning, and also why he ran more professionally in his races in New York, where there is no crowd, and no crowd noise. That may help him in the Wood, though he's liable to try and make a dash through the infield come Derby Day. He still seems like he could be the one to step up and dominate his peers; perhaps the blinkers will do the trick.

6) Circular Quay, having trouble getting sleep amidst the excitement in the Churchill backstretch, takes some Ambien with near-disastrous results. He hops into a pickup, and goes through a McDonald's drive-thru, picking up some fries from the wary workers. He then tries to crash the annual star-studded Barnstable Brown Gala before returning to the barn. He misses one day of training with a stomach ache.

7) Hillary Clinton, after being presented faulty intelligence from TVG and Hank Goldberg, comes out in favor of Wayne Lukas' Flying First Class as her Derby pick. But come Derby Day, the colt is nowhere to be found, and it becomes apparent that it's been years since Lukas' Derby program has been operational. However, Mrs. Clinton refuses to apologize for the pick. "I have taken responsibility for that pick," she said. "It was based on the best assessment that I could make at the time."

8) Hard Spun solidifies his position in the standings with his solid win in the Lane's End. He doesn't move up, just gets to stay here. Check back after his test for class in the Blue Grass.

9) Notional is another one for which there's not much doing of late. Doug O'Neill raced him monthly from October to February, but it will be a seven week break before he runs in the Florida Derby on Saturday; then another five weeks to the Derby. Remember the five week thing? Barbaro has made it so that you don't hear about that at all this year. However, just because one horse, who may very well have been an extraordingary one, breaks a long-term trend, that pattern doesn't become automatically meaningless. While Notional has been out of action, others have been running three-digit Beyers in important preps; this son if In Excess has much to demonstrate on Saturday.

10) Rudy Giuliani plays the 9-11 exacta.


Superfecta said...

But is Bloomberg the dark horse?

Anonymous said...

Keep your eye on Adore the Gold this weekend, buddy...

Alan Mann said...

Yeah, I saw that; five furlongs in 57 4/5, eh? Nice. I know that the barn has no doubt about his ability to stay (he writes from Tampa Airport, on his way home...)

Anonymous said...

Darn that Rove! Always messing with the quinella pool!

Anonymous said...

It really has nothing to do with his workout, although i was pleased to see it. I thought he ran a superlative race in the Swale, and then he backed it up big-time while stretching out to 1 1/8 miles in the Fountain of Youth. With his terrible post and the hot pace up front (in addition to the dramatic stretch-out), i thought he ran about as well as he possible could. Certainly better than i was expecting him to. Now, with the race under his belt (and very likely a softer pace), i think he's gonna be very tough to beat. Should run a huge race. Incidentally, i've seen a couple of comments from his connections indicating that they're not really approaching this race as a prep. The big workout over the weekend seems to back that up. Again, i like him quite a bit in this spot. I think he's the horse to beat, and he'll likely be the third choice in the race.

Anonymous said...

I like Adore the Gold in this spot but think he'll be played strongly at the windows. I'm expecting 9-2 or so. Any concern that Prado elects to ride Scat Daddy, or does he have obligations to Pletcher? I'd feel a little better if he wanted to keep the mount on ATG. Although I can't blame him for taking the horse that won the FOY.

Alan Mann said...

Prado is riding Scat Daddy with John Velazquez in Dubai. Cornelio Velasquez picks up the mount on Adore the Gold

Anonymous said...

Watch the filly FOLK in Dubai this weekend. She wins and she is headed to the Derby, supposed to be a freak.

Tough year for a filly considering the depth and quality of this year's crop (does anyone remember a year like this? been a long time), but if she wins this weekend she will have an impact on the Derby, if nothing else keeping a quality colt out of the race.

Anonymous said...

Anybody concerned about Any Given Saturday's graded earnings? He absolutely can't have anything go wrong (ala Circular Quay in the Risen Star) in his last prep or he probably won't have enough to get into the starting gate at Churchill.