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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM

PREPPING FOR THE DERBY – 2014
Volume V…Number 8
Friday, February 21, 2014

DERBY PREPS STARTING TO GET SERIOUS…
14 SET TO GO IN RISEN STAR AT FAIR GROUNDS
13 MORE AT GULFSTREAM IN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH


From the looks of things, at least this Saturday, there will be no shortage of Kentucky Derby hopefuls lining up for a crack at the 2014 Kentucky Derby.

It looks as though a full contingent of 14 will load into the gates for the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds for the second leg of the Louisiana Kentucky Derby Prep Series, which began with Vicar’s In Trouble winning the Lecomte Stakes and concludes with the Louisiana Derby on April 5.

In Florida, another full field will spread around both the horizontal and vertical pool money as 13 three-year olds look to continue moving forward on the Derby path. Like the Risen Star, the Fountain of Youth is the second of a three race Gulfstream Park Derby Prep Series that began with the Holy Bull Stakes on January 25 and concludes with the Grade I Florida Derby on March 29.

Time is now becomes an issue as the connections of Triple Crown and Derby nominated runners look to not only move forward in improvement but also garner the necessary qualifying points to be eligible for one of the 20 coveted gate slots for the Derby. That as much as anything is why these two races, which are the first to begin apportioning series points…until now the 2104 preps have offered 10-4-2-1 points to the first through fourth place finishers whereas the Risen Star and Fountain Of Youth will bestow a generous 50-20-10-5 to the same first through fourth finishers. So obviously the races have drawn much attention and such deep fields demand close scrutiny if one is to take serious wagering profit from the correct combinations.

There is a lot to look at so let’s get right to it.

RISEN STAR NOW HORSE VICAR’S IN TROUBLE COULD BE JUST THAT AS HE TRIES TO WIN FROM HORRIBLE POST

We’re going to take a look at all 15 runners of the Grade II Risen Star, to be run at a mile and a sixteenth as race 11 at Fair Grounds on Saturday. 15 are currently entered…there were originally 16 but the Doug O’Neil trained Bond Holder has been scratched…which included two also eligible runners so a maximum of 14 could meet the starter with no additional late developments. But before we take a look at the entrants, as we usually do, from the rail out, we’re going to begin with the 13 post because that is where Lecomte Stakes winner and Now Local Derby Contender Vicar’s In Trouble will leave from.

The history of horses running at 8 ½ furlongs from such a far outside post does not bode well at any race track in America but is particularly negating at Fair Grounds.

Vicar’s In Trouble, who has been established as the 5-2 ML favorite based on his commanding win in the Lecomte here on January 18 has raced three times in his still developing career. The son of Into Mischief, who had what appeared to be a brilliant career in the making cut short by injuries as a three-year old has nonetheless turned into a very useful sire and has apparently passed on his solid tactical speed to Vicar’s In Trouble. After running third in his career debut over the synthetic at Keeneland he rebounded at Fair Grounds in mid-December and blitzed MSW rivals by 13 widening lengths with an impressive 103 BRIS speed figure. His next and last start was the Lecomte victory in which he once again broke sharply, pressed the early pace and drew clear when asked to complete the mile and seventy yard test by 6 ¾ lengths.

The colt will once again be ridden by leading local jockey Rosie Napravnik, but there is still much to prove. Even in his maiden and Lecomte wins the colt raced greenly and erratically at times. Given his past form he will likely want to be near the front end and to get there will have to extend himself early. If he is not focused he could open it up for any number of his rivals. Has he shown he belongs as the ML favorite? Yes he has. Will he be a shorter price than he should be given the obstacles he’ll need to overcome to win or even place? Absolutely! Are there others who present a legitimate challenge? Let’s take a look.

Albano (12-1) – After breaking his maiden at FG in late November and following that up with a win in the Sugar Bowl Stakes here on December 21, the Larry Jones trained son of Istan was virtually ignored in the Lecomte at 11-1. Perhaps the fact that it was his first two turn race gave bettors pause but the colt broke in third, tracked the leaders, including Vicar’s In Trouble and continued on to grab place honors. He has since worked tremendously, including a 5 furlong bullet breeze in :59 3/5 on 2/10 and a 5 furlong breeze in 1:00 this past Monday. With a likely pace setter drawn directly to his outside and in the four hole and a deep closer in post 3 he should be able to get a good enough position early into the first turn. He would not be a complete surprise.

Rise Up (4-1) – The speedy son of Rockport Harbor figures to be the pace setter and has already proven he knows what to do on the lead with 4 wins from 6 career starts, including Grade III Delta Jackpot to conclude his juvenile campaign. Trainer Tom Amoss has done little wrong at this meet, winning at a 27% clip. The only question that the speed ball has to answer is whether he is ready for his first race since the 11/223 Delta Jackpot. He has turned in a quartet of solid drills since returning to training on 1/26 and could be ready at first asking.

Flat Gone (30-1) – The Keith Desormeaux trained son of Flatter has a lot to prove and the connections have chosen a tough spot for the colt to do so. He enters here following a last out maiden breaker in career start number seven. He did run as a maiden in a series of Stakes races but faced Rise Up twice at Delta Downs and was beaten 13 lengths and 28 lengths by that one. With little to recommend him he would be a colossal story should he impact this race.

Vigorish (50-1) – If Flat Gone would be a colossal story should he impact the race, what can we say about a 6 time maiden that has yet to break through? Oh yeah, it’s D.Wayne Lukas. Interestingly, if one did want to hold onto anything it could be that in his last the son of English Channel ran his first race ever over a fast main track at two turns and garnered by far his best speed number when he finished second in a MSW test at Oaklawn. Nonetheless he would have to improve off that number and given his propensity to want to be on or near the lead will be facing speedier and classier horses in the early going. But it is Wayne Lukas.

Gold Hawk (8-1) – The Steve Asmussen trained son of Empire Maker disappointed as the 6-5 favorite in the Lecomte. He was hard to load at the gate, broke sluggishly and managed to get the show spot without ever really being a threat. He was well regarded for the Lecomte after winning his first two career races, including a good allowance around two turns in his second career start but his last has left the colt with something to prove. He has worked steadily if not over impressively since his last so the most salient thing to hold onto for someone that still sees the glass half full is that Asmussen has gotten the services of Corey Nakatani. This is another with talent and question marks…a combination that makes this race as tough as it is.

Interchange (30-1) – Another member of the longshot brigade, this Thomas Clark trainee might not be as bereft of possibility as his ML odds suggests. The son of Fairbanks began his career at Delaware by winning his career debut in a MSW sprint and followed that with a hard fought win in the one mile minor Whirling Ash Stakes. Off since that September triumph he made his return in an allowance/optional claimer here on 1/24 and after racing 3-4 wide on both turns in that mile and seventy yard test flattened out in the lane. If he got anything at all out of that race and returns to the competitiveness he showed as a juvenile he could run much better than 30-1.

Hoppertunity (8-1)Bob Baffert ships the lightly race son of Any Given Saturday here following a maiden breaker in career start number two on January 30 at Santa Anita. The colt was off slow and 5 wide in his debut and failed to hit the board but improved significantly in winning the mile test in his last. He is another that will likely want to be in the early mix from either a pressing or tracking position and Baffert is sending Martin Garcia along for the ride so the colt must be given a serious look…although it is also worth noting that for a Baffert runner this guy has been very quiet at the windows.

Intense Holiday (8-1) – If one is a handicapper that gives heavy weight to the class of the company a horse has faced than this Todd Pletcher trained son of Harlan’s Holiday moves to the top of the list. In his last he circled the field and took the show behind Cairo Prince in the Grade II Holy Bull, before that ran 4th behind Honor Code, Cairo Prince and Wicked Strong in the Grade II Remsen and prior to that ran a close enough 4th in the Grade II Nashua behind Cairo Prince, Financial Mogul and Noble Moon. He is not meeting any of that kind in here and Mike Smith takes the reins. If he goes off at anywhere near his ML he could be the steal of the month. 

Son Of A Preacher (20-1) – The Pulpit colt checked in second here behind Gold Hawk in a mile and seventy yard allowance race on December 27 and then shipped to Oaklawn where he ran 4th in the Smarty Jones Stakes on January 20. Given that the three that ran in front of him that day Tanzanite cat, Walt and Coastline managed collectively to finish fourth or worse in this past Monday’s Southwest Stakes would leave him wanting against some of the better ones in here. It is also worth being cautious given that his last published work for trainer Bret Calhoun was a slow half mile drill in the slop on February 2.

Quick Indian (20-1) – The well bred son of Indian Charlie has yet to exhibit much of the brilliance of his sire. Yes, he did break his maiden two starts back when he was put up via disqualification and followed that up with a two turn entry level allowance/optional 50K claiming victory on January 24, but he has yet to exhibit the kind of speed numbers that would make taking much less than his ML price should you believe he will improve yet again. The Merrill Scherer trainee has turned in a pair of good breezes since the allowance win but will need another step forward to claim a piece of this.

Xtra Luck (50-1) – His maiden breaker came in career start number three his best BRIS speed number in a four race career is a 74, and in his most recent he was beaten 9 ¼ lengths by Quick Indian in that one’s allowance win. He’ll actually need Xtra, Xtra  Xtra, Luck.

Commanding Curve (20-1) – Although it took the Dallas Stewart trained son of Master Command 4 tries to break his maiden, his last three (all over a fast surfaces at two turns at CD) all showed enough talent to at least find out if he is good enough to live up to his Triple Crown and Derby nomination status. To his credit he has worked nothing short of brilliantly for his first race since the maiden breaker on November 30. However, like the aforementioned Vicar’s In Trouble, the colt has drawn a difficult post and even if he is ready to prove he deserves to be among these jockey Robbie Albarado will have to carve out the perfect trip. All that being said, at such a decent price he is worth a look in an underneath role.

Vicar’s In Trouble (5-2) – See opening of this preview.

Emmett Park (20-1) – Originally on the AE list he moves into the main body with the scratch of Bond Holder but how much impact he’ll have from this outside post, especially given some hurdles remains to be seen. This is only the third career start for the son of Bob And John and although he is undefeated in those starts he will be making his first start on conventional dirt after winning a MSW and entry allowance race (each at one mile) over the synthetic surface at Turfway. Based on his running style he will also likely be shuffled back behind a wall of horses early and need to circle many opponents to be a factor.

Teniente Coronel (30-1) (AE) – The Colonel John colt needs at last one more scratch to get into the race but even if he does it will be, like the few inside him from a brutal outside post. The Paul McGee trainee will also have to hope that the addition of blinkers, which will likely, should he get into the race, propel him to a hard early run towards the lead, a maneuver that could have him used up by the time the field is midway down the backstretch. Given the circumstances it wouldn’t be the worst thing if he didn’t get in.

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A NUMBER OF SLEEPERS COULD GET WAKEUP CALL IN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

If there is a theme around which to build the running of the full 13 three-year old field of the Grade II Fountain Of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday it might be “lots of traffic jams on the front end.”

The most difficult task in breaking down the mile and a sixteenth Fountain Of Youth is deciphering which of the multitude of runners that prefer to either travel in early pace or stalking position in order to gain advantage. Have a few of these early and tactical speed runners established themselves as better at it than some of their other competitors or could the race turn into such a brutal front end battle that the few closers in the race wind up in the cat-bird’s seat?

While the best running style from a production perspective has been that of the early pace type since the current meet got under way in late June, at a mile and a sixteenth only 21% of winners have gone wire to wire. And with as many early pace types as are signed on for the Fountain Of Youth, nine of the thirteen meet this designation, it is probably advisable to not rely on any historical tendency as a determining factor.

Through the years the Fountain Of Youth has not only been a springboard for the influential Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby but has also highlighted a number of runners that have gone on to significant careers. Let’s take a look at this year’s field.

Commissioner (3-1) – One of the main contenders the Pletcher trained son of A.P. Indy has begun his career with 3 straight races at a mile and further, which is certainly explainable given his blood lines. The colt also figures to benefit from the preponderance of speed as he draws the rail and is one of the few in here that figures to be coming from off the pace. In his last he was all out to prevail as a neck winner over the equally well regarded Top Billing, who he’ll meet again today. Pletcher has given the colt plenty of time since that January 3 triumph, which in turn was his first since a MSW win at Saratoga. The works have been tight and John Velazquez is aboard. The only question is just how much he’ll be extended as he is asked to essentially circle the crowded field from off the pace.

We Miss Artie (8-1) – One of the many interesting though as yet completely defined runners in the field he is another from the deep Pletcher barn. In his most recent he finished a head beaten second on the Gulfstream turf in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes. That was his first try since an adventuresome trip in the BC Juvenile when he finished 7th but was only 4 lengths back after bobbling at the start and getting steadied while awaiting room. He is also a winner of the Grade I Breeder’s Futurity over the Keeneland synthetic and broke his maiden on the Saratoga turf. So versatility is definitely one of his strong points. Joe Bravo will ride for the first time and figures to hustle this guy early from this inside post.

Medal Count (15-1) – The Dale Romans trained son of Dynaformer also figures to try and attend the early pace but the question he has to answer is whether he is fast enough or can handle traditional dirt. He began his career by breaking his maiden on dirt at Ellis Park but did so vs a slow field with a very slow speed number. His next was a flat effort in the Grade III Bourbon Stakes on the Keeneland synthetic and then the connections tried the BC Juvenile to no avail. He made his first start of 2014 a winning one but had to go back to the grass in an allowance race and though he was victorious the final time in the 7 ½ furlong test over the course here left much to be desired. He might be in too deep.

Wildcat Red (6-1) – The speedy son of D’Wildcat has gone to the post five times, has won four races (although placed second by disqualification in one of those) and his only under-the-wire loss was a second place finish (beaten a head) in the Gulfstream Park Derby. Unless trainer Jose Garoffalo has made some unsuspected changes in the three weeks since his charge blistered the track since winning the Grade III Hutcheson Stakes here three weeks ago the colt is going to be in the mix early and by the time they settle on the backstretch will likely be challenging the front runners to out gun him to the lane. How he goes on from there, however, remains to be seen as this is his first test around two turns. He may or may not carry the speed all the way but in the process will dismantle many of his rivals.

General A Rod (5-1) – Another of the inside speedballs the son of Roman Ruler will look to build on his victory over Wildcat Red and East Hall, each of whom he’ll meet again today, when he pressed just off the pace and battle for a hard fought head tally in the mile Gulfstream Park Derby. The Mike Maker trainee has worked well since the January 1 GP Derby and has the breeding to get the mid-range distance. He figures to be another of the many serious pace players in here yet also like many of his rivals is also going two turns for the first time. Leading GP jockey Javier Castellano climbs aboard for the first time.

Casiguapo (30-1) – The Sightseeing colt from the under-the-radar Mario Morales barn is far from the worst longshot you could find in a graded stakes race. In his career debut he rallied from well back to finish third at 55-1 in a MSW sprint at Calder. In career start number three he shipped to Saratoga and ran second in the slop at 31-1 in the Grade I Hopeful. He followed that race by finishing a respectable fourth behind Havana, Honor Code and Ride On Curlin, the first two who are division leaders. In his juvenile final he was “only” 7-1 but claimed place honors in the Grade III Delta Jackpot. Three weeks ago he made his 2014 debut in blinkers for the first time and finished a non-threatening 5th in an allowance sprint. He now takes the blinkers off again and if the last was what it appears a workout, don’t say we didn’t warn you if he jumps up again at a big price and grabs a minor share.

C. Zee (12-1) – Just what the race needs…more speed. The son of Elusive Bluff exits the Grade III Hutcheson where he was a no match second behind Wildcat Red. The Stanley Gold trained colt figures to showcase his speed once again and if he can relax enough to extend his pace-stalking style around two turns, which he’ll be travelling for the first time, might get a bit of help with battling pace setters and have first run at them in the lane. He’ll need to improve, but like so many in this field might have yet to run his best race.

Almost famous (10-1) – The son of Unbridled’s Song brings even more speed to the battle but unlike many of his competitors he has already flashed that solid speed around two turns twice vs strong opposition. In the Grade III Holy Bull, his most recent encounter he went right out of the gate to contest the pace with the speedy Coup De Grace. Almost Famous beat that one into submission before himself wilting to fourth behind Cairo’s Prince but his :46 3/5 half and 1:10 flat 6 furlongs, if duplicated will prove strenuous contention for many of his rivals. The only question might be, since he was making such progress as a juvenile and did well enough in the Holy Bull in his 3-year old debut, is it of concern that he has only worked once in the month since the race? Calvin Borel takes the return assignment.

Best Plan Yet (20-1) – The second of the uncoupled Stanley Gold entrants this son of Hear No Evil has yet to transfer his decent enough Calder form to Gulfstream Park. After winning a pair of minor stakes races around two turns at Calder in September and October the colt made his 2014 debut New Year’s Day in the Gulfstream Park Derby and was beaten 20 lengths by a number of rivals he’ll meet again today. Undeterred Gold ran his back in the Holy Bull and he did show some improvement, although he was still a no factor fifth. If the colt wants to be even a major factor in here he’ll have to improve again as much to this race as he did from the GP Derby to the Holy Bull so he is more likely than not a tough one to support.

Our Caravan (30-1) – The Michael Dilger trainee was most impressive in breaking his maiden vs special weights in his career debut when he professionally rallied from off the pace in a mile and a sixteenth test her in mid-December. Following that triumph the conditioner sent him out in the Grade III Holy Bull in his only other career race. The son of Dasher looked as though he was going to move as they exited the back stretch but faltered through the lane and wasn’t persevered with. The colt has since turned in three solid breezes and though the resume is thin he is bred to handle the distance and if Dilger, who is a solid 25% plus trainer the last year plus with his select number of runners and doesn’t enter just for the sake of it, has reason to be optimistic, this is another sleeper that might leave the public scratching their heads when the race is finished.

Hesinfront (20-1) – The Dale Romans trained War Front colt has shown that he does like to be near, if not exactly in front as he has managed but one win from 5 career starts and was well beaten by one of the top prospects in here, Top Billing, in an allowance race here last time out. In addition to the difficult post position the colt, who appears to be much better suited to the grass and synthetic he has raced on other than the allowance in last, his speed numbers are collectively considerably slower than just about all of his opponents in here.

Top Billing (7-2) - If Top Billing and it is a big if, is able to outrun this difficult post, and do so behind what has already been discussed as a crowded front-end but moderate pace he will move up even further on a short list of serious contenders he is already on. Trainer Shug McGaughey has been as patient with this guy as he is with most of his charges and was last year with Orb. As a son of Curlin his ability to get this and longer distances is not a question and certainly his three race resume in which he won his career debut with a late start this past December at Laurel and followed up with a second, beaten a neck by Commissioner, the ML favorite and rail horse in here in an allowance in start number two on January 3 and a two-turn allowance win here on January 25 does it from behind a moderate pace, he certainly deserves to be one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby at this early stage. Of course, he is considered just that on many lists today. Regular rider Joel Rosario is aboard to help guide this logical contender to an off-the-pace late run.

East Hall (20-1) – The most prolific runner of the thirteen the son of Graeme Hall has faced the starter 10 times in his career and has posted a 2-1-4 record. His best performance to date was a third behind General A Rod and Wildcat Red in the one turn mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day when he stalked the early pace and flattened out through the lane. He does like to be closer rather than farther back in the early going of races but so far has not shown the late heart that would be needed against the better ones in here…especially from this post.

Now all that’s left is for the numerous contenders in both these key Derby Prep races to begin defining exactly where they belong in the 2014 scheme of things. By late Saturday we’ll have a few more answers.

Don’t forget to sign up for Jim Hurley’s Derby Prep Package! Not only will you get the winners of these races, you’ll be able to build bankroll all the way to the Derby itself on May 3!

 

 

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