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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM

BEST AT THEIR BEST IN FLORIDA AND LOUISIANA DERBIES

ORB AND REVOLUTIONARY MOVE FORWARD...BUT IS DREAMING OF JULIA ANOTHER RACHEL ALEXANDRA?


By Jim Hurley:

With the exception of the disappointing performance by Shanghai Bobby in the Florida Derby, things went pretty much as scripted in Saturday’s two American* Derby Prep Races, the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream and the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fairgrounds.

At Gulfstream, Orb demonstrably showed that his rousing Fountain Of Youth Stakes victory on February 23 was no fluke as he was once again reserved off the pace as John Velazquez patiently waited in mid-pack before making the only true move of any horse in the race.

At the Fair Grounds, Revolutionary had a much easier time of it than he did in his eventful Withers Stakes win in his prior. On Saturday, rather than having to navigate the obstacle course as he did in the Withers, Revolutionary was held in-hand, broke at the back of the pack form his inside post position (3 of 14), was taken on the overland route by jockey Javier Castellano and responded in the way a professional and talented distance horse should.

There is no question that we saw two legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders in action on Saturday in what is likely the final prep for each, but the day also provide a coming out performance "of sorts" for the highly regarded filly Dreaming Of Julia.

The 3-year old daughter of A.P. Indy, out of the Wild Rush mare Dream Rush solidified her spot in the Kentucky Oaks with easily the most dominating performance of any 3-year old in the nation on Saturday (male or female) when she won the Gulfstream Oaks by 21 ¾ lengths over legitimate opposition. Her margin of victory was only part of the story as she also covered the 9 furlong distance (the same as the Florida Derby) in 1:49, just shy of 10 lengths faster than the time it took Orb to conquer his field...more on that below.

All in all we definitely brought the 2013 Kentucky Derby more clearly into focus and of course will know even more the next two Saturdays as they contest the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby (April 6) and the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby (April 13.)

ORB MUCH THE BEST ON EVERY LEVEL IN FLORIDA DERBY

I’ve often said that every race stands on its own. But when it comes to Kentucky Derby Preps it is incumbent on any serious handicapper to evaluate the before and after of each race and how that plays forward to the first Saturday in May at Louisville. With that being said, Orb stands on his own, among the 10 runners who left the gate in the Grade I Florida Derby.

Given the eventual pace of the race, especially in the early going, Orb, based on his past performances and rallying win over the same Gulfstream surface in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes five weeks earlier, would, should he have needed them, had excuses had he not be able to catch the pronounced pace setters and pressers in the race. On the other hand, both Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby had no excuses whatsoever for their performances, given how soft the fractions were in the early going.

In fact, that the two pace setters, confirmed sprinter Merit Man (had never gone longer than 7 furlongs and never won beyond 6) and 103-1 outsider Narvaez (last out was a one turn entry level allowance win) finished third and fourth respectively, passed only by the tracking (last out) Holy Bull winner and 8-5 favorite Itsmyluckyday.

Against the slow pace, Orb might have been compromised, but instead Velazquez confidently meted out the quarter mile segments and got just what he wanted as the son of Malibu Moon out of the Unbridled stakes winning mare Lady Liberty. Three-year olds with versatile stalking ability and cruising speed who easily run more or less even fractions over a distance of ground have a huge edge in the Kentucky Derby. So it is significant that Orb easily prevailed after running his initial four quarters in :25, :24 1/5, 24, and 24 3/5 with his final 3 panels in 37 3/5. Translated to 10 furlongs of the Kentucky Derby, one can see why trainer Shug McGaughey is brimming with optimism a day after the Florida Derby.

"I’m pretty excited about the first Florida Derby I’ve ever won," McGaughey said. "I’m just glad to see the horse take another step, and we’ll go from there."
Runner up Itsmyluckyday had emerged suddenly and brilliantly on New Year’s Day when he won the Gulfstream Park Derby by 6 ¾ lengths and followed that up with a decisive victory over BC Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby when that one made his sophomore debut in the January 26, Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.

On Saturday, especially given the soft early fractions of the Florida Derby it appeared as though Itsmyluckyday was going to make it three straight. He stalked the pace three wide and never farther than 2 lengths off the pace-setters before taking over in the stretch. He was still clear at the furlong marker but had no answer when Orb came calling. After an unpressured half mile in :48 4/5 and six furlongs in 1:13 flat, the son of Lawyer Ron should have gone on rather than plod through his final 3 panels in :38 2/5. Although the 40 second place points bring his total well within qualifying range for the Kentucky Derby, trainer Ed Plesa will have to determine if his colt might have peaked in January.

Speaking of peaking, perhaps Shanghai Bobby did that as a juvenile. In his second of two 3-year old races he not only failed to move forward off his place finish in the Holy Bull but was quickly dispatched after trying to match strides with his supposedly lesser classed front running opponents, but plummeted backwards after 6 furlongs and made no impact whatsoever. We’ve seen trainer Todd Pletcher recoup before, but there seems to be something amiss with the son of Harlan’s Holiday.

None of the others gave any indication at all that they belong in the Kentucky Derby, or at this point any Stakes Race conversation. Even Frac daddy, who disappointed in the Holy Bull following a promising juvenile campaign but started here following a series of brilliant works, left the gate slowly and never, seemed interested.

REVOLUTIONARY QUITE CONVENTIONAL IN CONVINCING LOUISIANA DERBY WIN.

Progressing towards the Louisiana Derby following a winning trip in the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct that might have been scripted by the directors of "The Amazing Race" (without the Hanoi segment) there were two questions that the Todd Pletcher trained son of War Pass had to answer. One, would he get passed the "green" tendencies he had exhibited in his last two wins and two, since his only two wins from five career starts had come on the Inner Dirt track at Aqueduct, was he a "horse for the course" wonder?

Given his professional win in the Grade II Louisiana Derby his tendency to act immaturely and get himself into jackpots is a thing of the past and he definitely can run (and win) on another surface.

Considering what it takes to either win or perform well in a traditionally crowded Kentucky Derby field in a race that often entails has much bumping, shoving and grabbing as an NCAA tournament game involving any Big East team, the connections have to feel very confident given how Revolutionary handled his trip throughout the 9 furlong Fair Grounds test.

When the field broke the gate jockey Javier Castellano found himself ahead of just one horse in the fourteen horse field and often that can spell disaster, especially from an inside post (he broke from gate 3.) But Castellan quickly maneuvered the colt to the outside. With 99-1 shot Hip Four Sixtynine and 15-1 shot Titletown Five jostling for and ensuring a fast pace through a quarter in :22 3/5 and a half in :46 1/5 into 6 furlongs in 1:11 4/5 the front contingent collapsed and the closers got into action.

Departing, who was in closest attendance to the pace of the top four finishers stayed the course and moved with Revolutionary past the 3 furlong marker. Departing would stay on for the show spot but by the time the race had completed six panels Revolutionary had uncorked a huge mid-race move that had made up 8 lengths and he was just getting rolling. Despite being 5 wide on the far turn he swept to the lead in the upper stretch and had to hold off a very game Mylute all the way to the wire as those two cleared away from Departing and Golden Soul, who rallied from dead last outside the 3 furlong pole to complete the superfecta.

Mylute, who grabbed 40 points for his second place finish, improved significantly from his seventh place finish, although beaten just 3 ¾ lengths, in the crazily crowded ending to the Grade II Risen Star Stakes in his prior. He is a son of Lute (the BC Sprint champion) who despite being a brilliant sprinter has sired a number of runners that have stayed on. In fact, the removal of blinkers by trainer Tom Amoss definitely relaxed the colt, who was making his sixth straight start at a mile or longer since the Arlington Washington Futurity last early September. He would probably need a few more points, which would mean another prep prior to the Kentucky Derby, which might be too much, but either way, Amoss might have a legitimate Preakness contender on his hands. He definitely bears following.

Finishing third was Departing, the rapidly developing son of War Front. The Albert Stall trainee had broken his maiden in his debut and won an entry level allowance in start number two (both at Fair Grounds) and then in his last easily took the Texas Heritage Stakes at Houston. He was well backed (went off at 4.60-1) by the public and ran a very credible third as he was the only horse to stalk the pace close up and finish in the top four. Unfortunately he will not have enough points to move forward to Louisville unless Stall runs him again between now and the Derby (not likely) but might very well be another prospect for the Preakness Stakes**

Golden Soul was another who showed some interest as he joined the first two finishers with a deep rally and once again Palace Malice, who had a rough trip in the Risen Star, was deeply compromised when he was walled off on the far turn while making a strong middle move ahead of the deeper successful closers and had to wait for more than a furlong before too many to deal with passed him before he could get out. It is not yet the time to give up on this colt, although he has lost all chance of getting enough points for the Derby.

SPEAKING OF ENOUGH POINTS - DREAMING OF JULIA MUST GO TO THE KENTUCKY OAKS

As mentioned above, a few hours prior to the Florida Derby, Dreaming Of Julia, a filly that, at least based on one race, could easily be mistaken for her Stonesider Stable partner, the brilliant Rachel Alexandra, won the Gulfstream Oaks in such dominant fashion that she would definitely jump into Kentucky Derby consideration...were she actually going to run against the boys.

One of the downsides to the new Churchill Downs Derby point system is that races restricted to fillies do not count. So the day before the Kentucky Derby, Dreaming Of Julia will be facing her gender rivals in the Kentucky Oaks. And hopefully her performance on Saturday doesn’t chase too many of those rivals away.

How dominant was she? Of course the aforementioned time differential between her victory and that of Orb (the almost 10 lengths faster performance at the same distance) speaks in part to how dominant. But as I’ve often pointed out, pace makes the race and in the Florida Derby a number of questionable at-nine-furlongs speed horses slowed the pace down significantly and the closers in kind bided their time. It is also noteworthy that the Gulfstream Oaks featured only six fillies so Dreaming Of Julia was able to "run on her own" so to speak.

All that aside, the way she opened up in the lane without being pressed or significantly asked plus the fact that she beat a filly in Live Lively that had beaten her five weeks earlier over the same surface. She’ll be a solid favorite in the race she’ll be relegated to on Friday, May 3...but after that, should things progress as they might, she could very well be part of that very possibly deep Preakness field I’ll discuss on Wednesday.

LINES OF BATTLE GIVES O’BRIEN ANOTHER SHOT

With his 100 points earned and solid resolute win in Saturday’s UAE Derby in Dubai, the Aiden O’Brien trained Lines Of Battle will in the near future be on a plane and headed to Louisville.

This will not be the first trip to the states for Lines Of Battle. He finished a tough trip 7th in last year’s BC Juvenile Turf after running into a few problems from the difficult to navigate post position 14.

In the UAE Derby he bided his time before commencing his rally in the about 1 3/16ths miles over the Tapeta Synthetic surface and prevailed despite drifting out a bit once he took the lead.

O’Brien has made this Europe to America or Desert to America trip before to no avail, but hope springs eternal so we’ll see him once again in Louisville on May 4.

*In Wednesday’s DERBY DOINGS column I’ll have more to report regarding UAE Derby winner Lines Of Battle, who is a Triple Crown nominee and by all accounts will be shipped to the states by perennial cross-the-pond conditioner Aiden O’Brien to Run For Roses on May 4.
With 4 Saturday’s remaining before the Kentucky Derby the "DOINGS" column will now be published at least three times weekly, so make certain you check these pages regularly.

**In Wednesday’s DERBY DOINGS I’ll also address the idea that the "unintended consequence" of the new Kentucky Derby points system might very well be that so many good horses don’t get into the race that there will be a packed the Preakness field.

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