- This is the LATG Derby Top Ten of horses and people I think will be making the news on or around Kentucky Derby day.
1) Any Given Saturday. Well, I guess I'm kinda locked in now, eh? I can't think of a result that would make me feel (and look) worse than him winning after I went off of him. I read Dan Illman speculate in his Form Blog last week that perhaps John Velazquez was merely trying to keep the colt out of any possible trouble, to avoid any possible mishap, when he went four deep into the first turn of the Wood. Maybe; I do think the race was merely a conditioning prep for the colt, and that there perhaps was a reason for the ride. I know he needed to get at least third to qualify on earnings, but I think the connections were confident that he had the sheer ability to do so against that field regardless of whether he was cranked or not. But whatever the intent, I still think the race will serve him well in terms of conditioning and experience, and his work in 58.80 on Sunday only affirms that belief. Pletcher said: “To me, this was a good one because it was fast on the end. I hate to see horses go off really fast and then finish tired. I had him in the last quarter in 22 and four, which is pretty good.” [Bloodhorse] Man, I'm in deep with this one. But I think he has to be at least 12-1 to be worthwhile.
2) Hard Spun - Having given a nod of approval to Churchill in the form of a five furlong work in 1:00.20, this son of Danzig will run off a six week layoff. [And this morning, he worked a mile in 1:42 2/5, running the last half in :50 and the final eighth in :12.] As I've said, I'm really starting to believe that the layoff angle in the Derby will soon become as irrelevant as it seems to be becoming in the sport in general. I think this is the biggest change I've seen in the game over the years; once a reliable bet-against, now you oppose returnees at your own peril. It's really hit home to me while following this Keeneland meet; it seems that every day brings at least one horse that wins off a lengthy layoff, several months, at least.
You may feel I'm being inconsistent by dismissing the layoff, while at the same time downgrading (below) other horses on the basis of preps I deem as being insufficient.....on the logic of - at least they had preps. But Hard Spun has had three preps, and I think they've all served him well. He's demonstrated speed and stamina, and has gotten a taste of adversity, shown the ability to react to different situations and still make a move. What's that different between this and Barbaro's campaign? One extra week layoff, that's all.
3) Republican presidential nominee John McCain comes to town, and raises controversy on Derby Eve when, in response to a question about Barbaro, he launches into an impromptu rendition of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." "Bar- Bar- Bar-, Bar- Barbaro's dead....Bar- Bar- Bar-, Bar- Barbaro's dead," thus losing the endorsement of Dee Mirich.
The next day, McCain strolls through the infield escorted by half of the Louisville police force in full riot gear that clear out the betting windows and refreshment stands on his behalf, and later declares that you could indeed “walk freely” on Derby Day.
4) Scat Daddy has three preps, two of them graded stakes wins, and "only" five weeks off before the Derby; perhaps the most traditionally-correct preparation of anyone in the field. I like the way he's progressed with his Beyers this year and the versatility he showed surging to the lead earlier in the Florida Derby, and he seems ready to move forward to a big race, at least in my eyes. I really think that Pletcher has done a great job giving him racing experience in different situations. He worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on Sunday, and galloped out six furlongs in an easy 1:15 under jockey Edgar Prado. Pletcher said: “He’s had a lot of education, a lot of experience in his races. I was just afraid to put him in company. He might go too fast.” [Bloodhorse]
5) Chaos ensues at the under tack show for the May Barretts two-year old sale when a colt by Forestry breaks the sound barrier while working two furlongs in 3/5ths of a second. The resulting sonic boom causes several valuable horses to run off, including the speedy colt himself who is found along with his shaken rider in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee the next morning.
6) Street Sense - To me, the value of a Derby prep, particularly the final one (which will hopefully, in future years, not be the only one), is what the horse gets out of it in terms of preparing for the Derby. Street Sense loped along behind the glacial Blue Grass pace, and then sprinted for about 3/8ths of a mile; my thinking is that it was kinda like he broke off for a three furlong workout after an easy gallop. Though I still rate him at or near the top of the class in terms of talent, his already unconventional preparation was further compromised in my mind by this strangely run prep in which he also surprisingly displayed immaturity. Mix in the negative vibes of the Juvenile Jinx, and I'm thinking that he's one to stand against at a relatively short price; possibly the favorite.
7) Circular Quay also put in his final work on Sunday, and Todd Pletcher spoke about this colt and his eight weeks off before the Derby with Sean Clancy:
"With his style of dropping back and running the last half mile, it seems like good horses like that have a little more natural fitness than you give them credit for.”8) After hearing the news that he will be staying in Saudi Arabia, Premium Tap, citing the country's hideous record on human rights, applies for asylum at the U.S. Embassy. In addition to his complaints about rampant persecution and torture of political dissidents and the lack of fresh salad, he complains that he has been forced to read the Koran and assume uncomfortable kneeling positions in praying five times a day, and laments that the fillies are forced to wear burkhas.
“If this was any other race, any other grade one I was pointing for during the year, I wouldn’t run him back in four weeks so why would I change what works for me all the time, for this race. You should play to your strengths and that’s what I’m trying to do. This will be the longest layoff, we’ve had horses run well three weeks before and been like, 'I wish I had another week or two weeks,' but it’s hard to pass up.”
“I’d say, maturity, confidence, and just the fact of training long enough to build up some data and know what works for me. Sometimes you can’t explain why it works, but I know for sure, when I give my horses more time, I have a better feel of how they’re going to run. When I’m leading them over there two or three weeks, I’ve always got in the back of my mind whether they’re going to fire back. Bluegrass Cat didn’t run at all in the Blue Grass last year and ran well in the Derby. If you look at other people’s horses, the list of horses who have run huge races in the Blue Grass, good horses, Skip Away, Holy Bull, Hansel, Millennium Wind, Bandini, they’ve run their eyeballs out here and in three weeks, they’re not even close.” [Bloodhorse.com - The Inside Rail]
9) Nobiz Like Shobiz still seems like the three-year old with the most potential to achieve greatness down the road. The blinkers (or perhaps the lack of crowd noise) may have helped him run straighter in the stretch of the Wood, but he still looked green fighting Cornelio Velasquez's attempts to rate him early. Having said that, he eventually settled and did his thing, but in a short field, in familiar surroundings, and with his main rival in the race taking himself out of contention with an absurdly wide trip. Doesn't figure to present proper value on Derby Day.
10) Given a chance to redeem himself with another workout after his poor Illinois Derby and horrible work, Cobalt Blue puts in an even worse performance, stumbling and bumbling and even seeming to forget how to run. Though even his staunchest supporters urge him to drop out of the Derby, President Bush says that the workout has increased his confidence in the colt's Derby prospects.
Not on the list:
- Curlin: undefeated, undeniably talented, but untested and overbet
- Great Hunter: Bad vibes abound for Doug O'Neill these days, and if I don't think that Street Sense's Blue Grass was a proper prep, that's emphatically so for a colt who desperately needed the conditioning in his only prep in the nine weeks before the race.