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Friday, March 18, 2005

Sun King To Rain

- The Tampa Bay Derby looks like a bridgejumper's dream; the track and those around the country taking bets on it better be prepared to shell out. There not an opponent with a Beyer fig within 20 points of Sun King's, and it should be an easy tuneup for the classiest, thus far, of Nick Zito's Derby hopefuls (I give him an edge in class over Fountain of Youth winner High Fly by virtue of his two close thirds in Grade 1 events last year.)

- On the other hand, the San Felipe looks like a handicapper's nightmare with the forecast calling for showers today through tomorrow. Bob Baffert must be particularly unhappy that he did not ship Roman Ruler for the Gotham in NY, where the weather is perfectly clear.

Don't Get Mad (Stephen Got Even) has attracted a lot of attention with his late run in the 7f San Vicente; it's estimated he covered the final furlong in around 11 seconds. "This horse is unbelievable," [jockey Tyler] Baze said after jumping off the 3-year-old. "To be able to close like he did (after the leaders were) going that slow and easy is amazing." [LA Daily News] On the other hand, Brad Free pointed out a couple of weeks ago that he sure didn't have to do much running at all even to stay in contention for the first part of the race, so it wasn't surprising that he finished fast; I'm interested to see his theory tested. This will be his first try around two turns, and according to trainer Ron Ellis, "He's the type of horse that wants to go a mile and a quarter, not just two turns," Ellis said. [DRF] Nonetheless, he's being asked to do something he never has, so the price has to be right. He also is the only runner in the field to have won over a sloppy track (only he and Consolidator have even tried it.) His Tomlinson mud number is 408.

Giacomo (Holy Bull) comes off a third in the Sham in which he was 3 wide on both turns and lost a shoe. Some point at the final furlong, which took an embarrassing 13 4/5 seconds, but I still was impressed given his trip. He's proven his class with his second by 1 length to Declan's Moon in the Hollywood Futurity, and trainer John Shirreffs says "I don't think he could be coming into the race any better." [DRF] He's worked steadily since the Sham, and seems primed for a big race here. He has a Tomlinson mud number of 362.

Roman Ruler (Fusaichi Pegasus) will not be my selection, for reasons I posted yesterday. It's his first race since his 5th in the BC Juvenile.

Wilko (Awesome Again) makes his first appearance since his game 3rd in the Hollywood Futurity, in which he finished just a nose back of Giacomo despite not being 100%, thus validating his upset win in the BC Juvenile. Trainer Craig Dollase has said he doesn't have his colt fully cranked for this race, though we seem to hear a lot of that these days. Nonetheless, he's another one who's proven his class, and he's done it twice; Dollase hits 40% with 61-180 day layoff horses, and you gotta think he'll at least run well. Tomlinson: 370

Golden Shine (Touch Gold) tries stakes horses for the first time after a facile NW1 allowance against only 4 non-world beating foes with a perfect trip on the rail, and his owner John Amerman knows what he's facing here.

"To use a show-horse analogy, Golden Shine's last race was like jumping over three rails that were flat on the ground...This race is like a three-foot jump and the next one, if it's the Santa Anita Derby, is Olympic-sized." [FOX]
Tomlinson: 323

Wayne Lukas uses the "not-fully-cranked" excuse for Consolidator's 4th place finish in the Sham, in fact he said he "babied" him. But a look at the Form shows that he preceded that race with workouts of :58.3, 1:11.3, and :59 flat; so if that's babying him, I'd like to see the way he's treated like a man. He also had some trouble at the start in the Sham and was wide. I'd also say that he hasn't been quite competitive against this kind of company, based on his three futile tries against Afleet Alex last year. But I recall a few weeks ago Lukas saying "he's the one" about this colt, and a bounce back here would be a similar pattern to that of his Derby winner Charismatic. Tomlinson: 370

I like Giacomo, followed by Wilko and Consolidator.

- Size does matter; More Derby facts and figures from Gary West in the Dallas-Ft Worth Star Telegram today, regarding the size of Derby prep fields.
Field size does matter when it's taken as a measure of a horse's experience and education. A search of the past 40 Kentucky Derbies can't find a single winner who didn't have at least some experience racing in large fields of at least 10 starters. Many raced several times in fields of 12 or more.
Smarty Jones, for example, had raced three times in a field of at least 10 prior to winning last year's Kentucky Derby, and Funny Cide had the useful experience of the 13-horse Holy Bull Stakes and the 10-horse Louisiana Derby before winning in 2003. Monarchos had raced five times in large fields before his roseate victory in 2001. Even Grindstone, who had run only five times prior to winning the 1996 renewal, had faced 11 rivals in the Arkansas Derby.

"It's like playing a tough schedule before going into the NCAA Tournament," said Lukas, who trained Grindstone and three other Kentucky Derby winners. "You rarely see a horse do well in the Derby who isn't battle-tested."
None of the preps tomorrow have more than 9 horses, and in fact, most if not all of the preps this year have had short fields. If this pattern continues, than these stats may turn out to be meaningless this year.