LEXINGTON A FURTHER REMINDER THAT A SLEW OF UNCERTAINTIES HAVE THIS YEAR'S DERBY BETTORS IN A TIZZY...
DERBY PREPARATIONS RUN THE GAMUT FROM CONVENTIONAL TO GROUND BREAKING...
HURLEY HORSE OF MONTH PLUS WITHERS AND DERBY TRIAL GOES SATURDAY
By Jim Hurley and the Racing Staff
It wasn't as though anyone was seriously tracking any of last Saturday's Grade II Coolmore Lexington Stakes runners for Kentucky Derby contention any way, but when the two longest shots on the board ran one-two and completed a four-figure exacta, the result did remind us just how many imponderables are strewn along the 2007 Road to Louisville.
As we settle down to the nine day "watch-wait-watch-wait" daily program leading up to the 133rd Kentucky Derby on Saturday May 5, there is one thing we can be very certain of...there are a lot of uncertainties.
Of course the auditions began and ended long ago, the usual roles have been cast and the rehearsals are in the final stages as the folks at the Churchill Theatre in Louisville get set to raise the curtain on the 2007 rendition of "The Run For The Roses." Nobiz Like Shobiz, Scat Daddy, Any Given Saturday, Cowtown Cat, Sam P., Storm In May, Teuflesberg, Tiago and Zanjero have gone the conventional route of preparing for this year's contest while a number of others have bucked any number of traditions and trends in their "unconventional" preparations.
With apparently otherwise talented horses like Circular Quay, Curlin, Dominican, Great Hunter, Hard Spun, and Street Sense heading to the Derby off very light prep schedules this year's Run for the Roses is going to demand more scrutiny than ever.
Just look at last Saturday's Grade II Lexington Stakes at Keeneland if you want an idea of just how difficult it is going to be for the public to get a handle on things for Kentucky Derby 133.
Wire-To-Wire On A Closer's Race Course And The Two Longest Shots On The Board Destroy Legitimate Contenders
Was The Lexington A Sign Of Things To Come?
Given that none of its graduates will be factors in next Saturday's Kentucky Derby there is little reason to scrutinize last Saturday's Grade II Lexington Stakes beyond the fact that longshot Slew's Tizzy ran a BRIS speed figure of 94 after getting his wire-to-wire victory through splits of :23 4/5, :48, 1:12 2/5, 1:36 4/5 and a final time of 1:43 1/5 for the mile and sixteenth.
Compare that with the pace-setting times of :51 2/5, 1:16 3/5, 1:39 4/5 and 1:51 for the mile and an eight Blue Grass one week earlier for which the winner, Dominican, was given a 98 BRIS figure and one has to wonder how in the name of Silky Sullivan do you make heads or tails of any of the horses who recently ran at Keeneland...or for that matter, those that are training over that surface because so many conditioners love the fact that it leaves little, if any wear and tear on the horses.
Add to your upcoming speculative equations the fact that Slew's Tizzy clipped heels and didn't finish in the Grade II Risen Star and was 11 ½ lengths back in seventh at the finish of the Grade II Louisiana Derby in his two prior tries before leading the pack last Saturday, and that second place finisher Starbase had hit the board only once in four previous starts before his run (as the second longest and longest shots on the board) and you get an idea as to just how little you can glean from Keeneland form.
On top of that, with front runners dominating the race over a surface that has had little advantage for such style, there is absolutely no way a bettor can translate this info into Derby formulae.
Does that mean that Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, Cowtown Cat, Curlin, Dominican, Scat Daddy, and Teuflesberg, each of whom is working at Keeneland are indecipherable, or at a disadvantage? Does it mean that Hard Spun, who had a great five furlong breeze at Churchill Downs on April 12 before returning to Keeneland to continue his training has an advantage? Does it mean that Nobiz Like Showbiz, who like 2003 Barclay Tagg Derby hero Funny Cide, will remain in New York until a few days before the Derby, or Street Sense, who has been stabled and training at Churchill Downs for some time, or Sam P., who also shipped to Churchill from California and already worked over the surface have an advantage? How about Storm In May, who has trained nowhere else but Calder, yet has shipped to Gulfstream and Oaklawn for a combination of four 2007 Stakes races, or Grade I Santa Anita Derby hero Tiago, who has never left California...are they at a disadvantage?
The answer to each an every one of those questions is No...Yes...and Who Knows! The questions will only be answered definitively as reasons, explanations or alibis after the Kentucky Derby.
What the Lexington signifies, and what all of the work programs of these scattered contenders should tell you is, you better be on top of all of this if you want to do more than wager for the fun of it on Derby day!
Could It Really Make Sense? - He Asked Grudgingly
Note - Street Sense blisters Churchill Downs surface in final Derby work.
Every time I steel myself against abandoning the standards that I believe are serious prerequisites for separating the very serious from somewhat respectable Kentucky Derby contenders, along comes a workout such as the one Street Sense turned in on Tuesday, April 24.
As anyone with a Derby pulse knows, the juvenile eclipse winning Street Sense will be attempting to jump more than one traditional hurdle in next Saturday's Run for the Roses. As last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner he will attempt to become the first ever winning graduate of that race (and there have been plenty that tried) to win the Kentucky Derby and will also try and do so with only a pair of three-year old races as preps. You have to go back to Sunny's Halo in 1983 to find the only three-year old to do that in the last 60 years.
All well and good: but how do you turn around and throw out a colt like Street Sense, who won that BC Juvenile in dominant fashion, returned off a long layoff to win a gutsy head bob in the Tampa Bay Derby before losing a nose decision in a four horse blanket finish in the Blue Grass Stakes? The answer is, it ain't easy! Especially after watching the son of Street Cry turn in that sparkling five furlong work in :59 flat on Tuesday.
And that wasn't just "another" work either. The colt went perfectly in hand through panels in :12 2/5, :12 flat, :12 flat again, :11 2/5 through a half and :11 1/5 in his final eighth before galloping out six furlongs in 1:11 2/5. It doesn't get any better.
It has been discussed ad-nauseam; the fact that so many contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby crown are flaunting the standards and running on such light racing resumes. As one of the long time adherents to the value of standards I was, I must admit, caught short in last year's Kentucky Derby when I only used Barbaro in a supporting role because he hadn't raced in five weeks (after winning the Florida Derby) leading up to his Run for the Roses. So the two-part question for this year becomes...did the four week standard for last prep leading into the Derby fall because training methods are changing to favor lightly raced horses, and, does a one week difference in a last out prep signal that all foundational and conditioning standards should therefore fall?
I believe this bears a lot of thought. My initial reaction to Barbaro's destruction of his competition in last year's Kentucky Derby was simple. This was one colt that was so good he could have surpassed just about any of the difficult hurdles thrown in his way. He not only proved it on the race track, but proved it with his long and courageous battle against injuries that might have ended the life of any other race horse right on the track at Pimlico following the horrific Preakness breakdown. That initial reaction hasn't changed, so from my perspective the second part of the question would be answered in the negative...no, Barbaro's toppling of the four-week-out prep standard does not decrease the importance of conditioning standards when evaluating this year's Derby contenders.
However, and isn't there always a however? There are so many good (as in already accomplished) horses running against the standards in 2007 it might turn out that overcoming the hurdles could wind up a product of the widened anti-standard pool rather than the fact that there is something wrong with the standards. I know that sounds like a lot of hemming and hawing, but it is important to keep an open mind about that because ultimately you are going to have to deal with the small group that has met the standards in 2007 or thrown out all of those "rules."
Remember, Barbaro might have been racing five weeks out instead of four weeks out, but he was a well conditioned, accomplished race horse when he entered the gate at Churchill Downs. He was not only undefeated in five lifetime starts, but he had won on a fast dirt track, a sloppy track and on turf. He had also begun that five race career at a mile and never raced a shorter distance. In addition, all three of his sophomore races prior to the Derby were against graded stakes foes.
I don't mean to suggest that I know something that the trainers don't...that would be ludicrous...but if the trainers sending their horses into the Derby with less races than tradition prescribes or with a longer time in between races than history suggests is germane because they are encouraged by the fact that Barbaro did it last year, I would hope they are doing so for other reasons than just that. Because in my opinion, there aren't very many, if any, Barbaro's in this year's crew.
Cat, Daddy, Quay And Others In Tune - Pletcher Quintet Ready For The Show
A jazzed up Cowtown Cat made sweet music this past Saturday when the son of Distorted Humor blistered the Keeneland Polytrack surface with a five furlong work in :58 2/5. It was the third best of thirty-three drills at the distance...topped only by a pair of Stakes winning fillies, Cotton Blossom and Octave, who are also trained by Todd Pletcher and ran in :58 flat.
Cowtown Cat, a sharp Grade II Illinois Derby wire-to-wire winner in his last start, was joined in his serious trial by stable-mate Out Of Gwedda, who went his five panels in :59 flat.The work not only signaled the colt's edge, but also reminds us of his versatility. Although the Gotham and Illinois Derby may not have provided 'Cat with the top notch competition he will be seeing in Louisville, those two wins and the recent work showed his readiness. He settled nicely in the Gotham before coming off the rail and sweeping to victory and went all the way on the lead in Cicero.
Adding to the harmony in the Pletcher barn, the trio of Scat Daddy, Any Given Saturday and Circular Quay all tuned up Sunday, April 22 at Keeneland.
Scat Daddy, who has eclipsed the Grade II Fountain Of Youth and Grade I Florida Derby in his last pair breezed five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:15 under regular jock Edgar Prado.
The highlight of the day for Pletcher, however, was the five furlong drill turned in by Any Given Saturday. The Tampa Bay Derby runner-up (by a nose) to Street Sense was all business as he turned in a :58 4/5 drill. If you are one to get caught up in these works, and well you should, it might be important to note that it was equally as impressive as that of Street Sense. The son of Distorted Humor not only got the time easily, but also galloped out in the same 1:11 2/5 for six furlongs as his Tampa Bay Derby nemesis. Add in the fact that AGS has the requisite three sophomore preps, was a debut winner and graded stakes placed as a juvenile and can most likely be forgiven his third place finish in the recent Grade I Wood Memorial after getting caught wide on both turns, moving up to press Nobiz Like Showbiz before weakening, and doing so just three weeks after the grueling stretch battle in the Tampa Bay Derby. Garrett Gomez, who will ride the colt in the Derby got him to relax in the early going during the work and urged him through a final quarter in a quick :22 4/5.
The final work was turned in by the late closing Circular Quay. The colt will be running in the Derby following an eight week break since easily eclipsing the Grade II Louisiana Derby and breezed five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 before galloping out nicely in 1:13 flat. Pletcher worked the son of Thunder Gulch in tandem with his sharp filly Rags to Riches. It was the third in an every seven day series at Keeneland that saw CQ go five furlongs in :59 1/5 on April 8 and six panels in 1:13 1/5 on April 15.
One day later (Monday, April 23) Pletcher's "forgotten/ignored/devalued" (you fill in the adjective) colt Sam P. breezed five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:00 3/5. While that time might not appear "quick" compared to those turned in by the trainer's trio a day earlier at Keeneland it is worth noting that the drill was the second best of thirty nine at the distance over the glib and the son of Cat Thief finished his final quarter in :23 flat.
For all his accomplishments Pletcher is still looking for his first ever Kentucky Derby triumph. This group gives him as good an opportunity as ever.
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Even With Defections Derby Trial Shapes Up As Bettor's Bonanza
A full field of fourteen horses was assigned post positions for Saturday's 7 ½ furlong Derby Trail at Churchill Downs. And even if trainer Jerry Hollendorfer decides to bypass Saturday's easier spot in favor of the Kentucky Derby with graded stakes winner Bwana Bull and/or conditioner Jamie Sanders goes ahead and runs Teuflesberg in the Kentucky Derby as well, there will still be a dozen three-year olds heading to the gate in a very deep field.
Counting the aforementioned pair there are a pair of graded stakes winners, six graded stakes placed runners and seven non-graded stakes winners in the field.
Bold Start, who was steadied repeatedly, yet still finished a close second to Cowtown Cat in the Grade II Illinois Derby in his last after taking runner-up honors behind King Of The Roxy in the Grade II Hutcheson at Gulfstream before that cuts back to one turn. The Ken McPeek trainee also ran into trouble in the Hutcheson when he was blocked on the turn at the same 7 ½ furlong distance as Saturday's race and following a blistering :58 4/5 five furlong drill at Keeneland last weekend appears to have retained his edge and speed. Robbie Albarado will ride the son of Jump Start for the first time.
Obviously both Bwana Bull and Teuflesberg figure prominently if they stay in.
The former has been versatile enough to win from either on or off the pace and owns victories in the California Derby and Grade III El Camino Real on the Northern California circuit. He failed his class test in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby last time out, but should appreciate the drop in class and one turn distance of the Derby Trial. Mark Guidry rides for the first time.
With the kind of speed Teuflesberg has been exhibiting going longer vs better, the consistent and hard trying son of Johannesburg should find this a very comfortable spot if trainer Sanders resists the scent of Roses. The colt has won four of fifteen lifetime races and hasn't ducked the big boys. After winning the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in an upset of Hard Spun and others, Teuflesberg ran third behind repeat (Arkansas Derby) winner and possible Kentucky Derby favorite Curlin in the Grade III Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn before setting the pace to deep stretch in the Grade I Blue Grass and dropping a neck decision in that famous four horse blanket finish.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will send out Grade III Gotham Stakes runner-up Wafi City. The lightly raced son of E Dubai led every step of the way but the final hundred yards as he battled gamely before losing to Cowtown Cat, who flattered the colt by going on to win the Illinois Derby. While the pace of the Gotham was not all that quick, the colt did show that he can motor when necessary when he wired allowance foes decisively prior to the Gotham. At 8-1 on the ML he brings solid value to the race.
Also adding value and depth is Carnacks' Choice who was last seen upsetting the Lafayette Stakes at Keeneland at 10.40-1. The Greg Foley trained son of Carson City as another versatile runner who has won from off the pace as he did in the Lafayette or from a stalking position as he did when triumphing in the Turfway Park Preview Stakes in January. The colt has also run well over the CD surface where he broke his maiden vs special weights and followed up by running second behind Teuflesberg in an allowance race last fall. Hot jock Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard for all but one of the youngsters six races will take the reins.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will of course be represented as he saddles Stakes winning and grade stakes placed Out Of Gwedda. The son of Out Of Place did not move forward in upper level Pletcher fashion following his debut MSW win and victory in the 100K Tremont at Belmont last Summer. He was off the track for six months before running second in the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream in January, but he regressed in the Grade II Hutcheson (third by 7 plus lengths) and failed to fire in the Lafayette last time out. He turned in a solid five furlong drill at Keeneland last Saturday and on his best he is a threat to win this. John Velazquez will be aboard.
If you are looking for live longshots you might want to consider Awesome Hero at 20-1 on the ML or Barkley Sound at 30-1.
Awesome Hero has never been off the board in five career tries (3-0-2) and goes here following a gutsy and troubled trip win in the Hansel Stakes at Turfway Park. The Eric Reid trained son of Awesome Again has terrific tactical speed and could very well find himself in striking position off the turn. If enough of a speed duel develops he could be in the mix.
Even at 30-1, Barkley Sound wouldn't be a complete surprise. The Joan Scott trained son of Dixieland Band had a three race win streak snapped when he tried to rally from far back in the Lafayette last time out and had to settle for fourth. Although he flattened out a bit, he was very wide into the lane in that race and was only beaten a total of two lengths. In what could turn out to be a good move, the conditioner replaces James Graham with solid journeyman jock Cory Lanarie. A repeat of his sharp victory in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay two back puts him right there in this one.
Another combatant that could surprise is Izzie's Halo. The Tom Amoss trained colt was competitive vs good ones in both the Grade III Lecomte (second behind Hard Spun) and the Grade III Risen Star (finished a decent fourth behind Notional, Imawildandcrazyguy and Zanjero. He came up empty in the drive in the Lafayette last time, but a rebound to his Louisiana form could land him a supporting role.
Also exiting the Lafayette is Prom Shoes. The William Fires trainee was respected enough in that race to be sent off at 6-1, and though he failed to fire while down on the inside in the late going, he did bounce back to drill six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 over the CD surface last Saturday and draws Corey Nakatani for the engagement. He's just one more adjunct to this deep and competitive field.
Completing the field are U D Ghetto, who looks to regain the form that saw him win the Grade III Kentucky Cup Juvenile last year, Flying First Class, who wasn't a factor in either the Rebel or Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn in his last pair, Ceasers March, who steps up following a restricted Louisiana breds allowance win last out and Danny Sez, who has needed more vs this kind since winning an allowance at Mountaineer back in November.
Even this brief preview should show you just why the Jim Hurley Racing Network is chomping at the bit to take advantage of the tremendous payoff possibilities in this race.
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