My concern about I Want Revenge on Saturday, in terms of his validating his Gotham romp, getting a useful prep, and proving himself to be a true top three contender for the Kentucky Derby, was that there simply wasn't enough competition in the race (skeptical of Imperial Council as I was). But the horse created his own adversity with his lethargic start by which he spotted the field several lengths. And, in overcoming that handicap to win the Wood, his connections lucked into an absolutely perfect prep. Not only did the son of Stephen Got Even affirm his tactical adaptability, he took some (real) dirt in the face, encountered the kind of traffic blockage he's likely to find in a 20 horse field, and demonstrated a fierce will to win in accelerating through a narrow opening and bursting through to victory.
And, on top of all that, he left a lot in the tank; at least according to his jockey and trainer.
“He actually had a great trip,” said Talamo... “He was on the rail the whole way and got to save ground."After lagging behind the field, running his first quarter in 25.71, I Want Revenge ran subsequent splits of 23.72 and 23.58, slowed to 24.53 as he waited for room, and then re-broke to a final eighth of 11.96. Standing in the winner's circle after the race, amidst a large group of undoubtedly new owners after his half-sale to IEAH, the horse looked more like he'd just arisen from a nap rather than run a mile and an eighth. This could certainly be your post-time favorite at Churchill.
“I thought today was a fairly easy race for him,” [Jeff Mullins] said. “To be honest, he only ran the last eighth of a mile, so I don’t think it took too much out of him." [NY Times, as Joe Drape takes a break from this to actually write about a horse race]
After the scratch of The Pamplemousse (lower body injury; the owners would not specify which leg so that his rival horses would not be tempted to kick him in it next time), and the subsequent scratch of potential rabbit Z Day, Pioneerof the Nile also faced the scenario of his final prep not being as useful as he might need. In this case, not only did the colt break well, but he again proved to be tough for Garrett Gomez to handle, tugging him up to the lead as the pace dawdled down the backstretch. In the stretch, he seemed all out to hold Chocolate Candy safe in a hard driving final quarter of 12.50 (final 3/8ths in 36.77).
Unlike Jeff Mullins and Joe Talamo, this colt's connections expressed disappointment with the way the race went. Bob Baffert said: "We wanted an honest pace....This horse has been taken out of his game the last two races." And Garrett Gomez explained:
“I feel it was a carbon copy of his last race, and we weren't trying to accomplish that...There's enough uncertainly surrounding this son of Empire Maker to start with given the fact he's never run on the real stuff. Given what I thought was an uncertain final prep, I'm thinking that I'd want odds in the region of 8-1 come Derby day, and don't think I'm going to get it.
“I was just a little disappointed I wasn't able to get it done the way we wanted to....You're always happy to win the Santa Anita Derby, but just knowing the next step for him, I was trying to get a little more preparation for the next step....I wasn't able to accomplish that.” [SignOnSanDiego.com]
And a highly disappointing third place finish for Stardom Bound in the Ashland, and I guess I'll have to eat a serving of humble pie on this one, defending her desperate win in the SA Oaks and ridiculing the decision to take her off the Derby Trail as I did. No excuses here, and now she doesn't even sound certain for the Kentucky Oaks. With the benefit of hindsight, the 24-1 odds on winning Hooh Why, compared to the 7-10 on a filly who beat her by two noses last time out, has to be the overlay of the year. Hooh Why is by Cloud Hopping, a Mr. Prospector mare who is apparently either dead or residing in some foreign land, as he's not listed in the Stallion Register.