Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
PREPPING FOR THE DERBY – 2014
Volume V…Number 18
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
PRIOR TO WEDNESDAY’S KENTUCKY DERBY POST POSITION DRAW…LET’S LOOK AT ALL THE "WHY NOT’S"
On Wednesday Churchill Downs officials will draw post positions for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. With the recent withdrawals from consideration of Bayern and Ring Weekend we are left with 23 still committed runs with Commanding Curve garnering the final guaranteed qualification spot and Pablo Del Monte, Social Inclusion and Big Bazinga (in order of eligibility) slotted for the also eligible list with their connections hoping for additional drop outs.
On Thursday I’ll have my annual DERBY PREVIEW COLUMN as I evaluate each horse. But today we’re going to take a look at some of the little things that bear consideration.
Derby Day is Just A Few Days Away
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As I’ve said on many occasions, as much as you need to find reasons on the left side of the page for LISTING THE POSITIVES it is equally important to be aware that there is room on the right side of the page to LIST THE WHY NOT’S. In today’s edition of PREPPING FOR THE DERBY it is that right side we will focus on.
Below are the 22 colts and 1 gelding (Big Bazinga) that are still in consideration for Saturday. They are listed in qualifying points order with commentary regarding what could trip them up on their quest for Derby glory. The commentary will include only the Why Not’s. I’ll cover the WHY’S in Thursday’s Preview.
CALIFORNIA CHROME – One might think that any Why Not’s regarding this projected Kentucky Derby post time favorite would be spurious at best. But with all due respect to trainer Art Sherman, who could easily enter the handicapping game if he weren’t such a successful trainer, he took a gamble by keeping the son of Lucky Pulpit in Southern California and shipped on Monday with plans to only gallop and jog over a surface he’s never raced over. In fact the colt has never raced outside of California and Sherman only wins with 6% of his shippers. It is also significant that he is bred to be a mile speed horse and as dramatic as his dominant wins in California have been he has had the luxury of no contention in the lane in his two turn prep triumphs. It will not be that easy approaching the furlong marker this time.
VICAR’S IN TROUBLE – The Into Mischief colt is bred on both sides to be negligible beyond the mile to mile and an eight distance. Yes he did win the Louisiana Derby in sharp fashion but he did it on the front end and there appears to be a lot of speed once again this year so things won’t be as easy as they were in his LA Derby and Lecomte wins. Like California Chrome he has spent his development phrase entirely at one track (the Fair Grounds.) Perhaps most troubling of all was his most suspect 5 furlong breeze in 1:03 4/5 over the track on Saturday with the fact that he didn’t gallop out even more an issue than the slow time.
DANCE WITH FATE – The upset winner of the Blue Grass Stakes will get some attention but still has much to prove. Sire Two Step Salsa is yet another that passes on mile speed influence. It is also worth considering that his three career wins have come twice on turf and the other time on grass whereas his two races on traditional dirt ended with defeats in which he turned in the two slowest speed figures of his career other than his debut.
WICKED STRONG – He entered the Wood Memorial having never won beyond the MSW tally and never run a BRIS Speed Figure above 89. He ran down capable but unproven at a distance one dimensional speed horses in Samraat and Social Inclusion and is a very probable "bounce" candidate given the big jump up to a 103 BRIS in the Wood. In addition his trainer James Jerkens must also produce more than his 8% graded stakes win average and the Wood Memorial graduates have been a virtual no-show for the last 10 years.
SAMRAAT – Another in a long line of mile speed horses both his running style and aggressiveness could work against him in the Derby. The colt has found a comfort zone in the Big Apple and all his albeit impressive win record has been on Long Island at Belmont and Aqueduct. He will also be without a serious work and will race following a few jogs over the track. Although second in the Wood memorial in his final prep, it was mentioned above that the prep has not been very influential in recent memory and his final 3 furlongs in that race in :38 2/5 following a less than taxing half mile in :47 4/5 is problematic.
DANZA – Like Wicked Strong this Street Boss colt is as likely to "bounce" off his shocking 41-1 daylight victory in the Arkansas Derby as he is to duplicate the race. Prior to the Oaklawn win he had never been further than 7 furlongs and was still eligible for NW2L heading in. He was beaten 6 lengths two back by Myositis Dan in an allowance race and that one could do no better than third in the Derby Trial on Sunday.
HOPPORTUNITY – There is a lot of talk that this guy was just going through the motions and getting in a work when he leisurely checked in 5 lengths behind California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby. Be that as it may the Baffert colt still needs to make up those 5 lengths in the Derby and also needs to prove that his Rebel win wasn’t a fluke, coming as it did after he was a distant fourth in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds behind Intense Holiday and Vicar’s In Trouble.
INTENSE HOLIDAY – First and foremost and as odd as it sounds, this is another of the he Todd Pletcher trainees that has to overcome the dreadful overall Derby record of the Hall Of Fame conditioner. His Risen Star win notwithstanding the colt has been just consistent enough to not quite get there as he proved once again when he faded late as the favorite in the Louisiana Derby in a race he should have finished for the win. In addition, as accomplished as John Velazquez is, this will be the first time he has ever ridden the colt.
WILDCAT RED – As likely as he is to be the pace-setter he is, based on both breeding and past performances, equally likely to end his journey as they enter the stretch. The son of D’Wildcat has never given any indication he will rate and I have already mentioned the speed caravan signed on this year. He has also sent his entire career, since before his maiden win in his debut in mid-September, working and racing on the Gulfstream Park main track where he made his final drill in a pedestrian 1:04 2/5 on Sunday…a time that is questionable given his history of working much more quickly.
WE MISS ARTIE – This guy’s backers will remind people that Animal Kingdom won the 2011 Kentucky Derby after a deep close final prep win over the synthetic in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park so there is no reason this son of Artie Schiller can’t parlay his similar deep close win in this year’s Spiral Stakes to Derby upset greatness. The difference is, Animal Kingdom had already proven he could handle traditional dirt whereas the two races We Miss Artie has run on traditional dirt including a 17 lengths beaten effort in the Fountain Of Youth have been non-existent. In fact, he is more likely a mirror image of Java’s War who rallied from far back to win the Blue Grass Stakes last year but had no form at all on traditional dirt and never fired as he checked in 13th.
RIDE ON CURLIN – The son of Curlin has picked up checks in his last 4 graded stakes races. The problem is he has had opportunities to take the biggest one in all 4 but can’t seem to get over the hump, finishing 3rd in last year’s Champagne Stakes and 3rd, 3rd and 2nd in the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby respectively against rivals he’ll see again on Saturday. He is also conditioned by a trainer, William Gowan, who has but one graded stakes win in 16 tries.
CHITU – Another Baffert runner and another speedball whose sire Henny Hughes was a successful sprinter but little else. The conditioner has brought the colt along slowly but has made only 4 career starts and needed to go to the Sunland Derby to gain the qualifying points for this. He was beaten by Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis two back and that one was a major disappointment in the Santa Anita Derby and wasn’t exactly flattered when Midnight Hawk, who was second to him in the Sunland Derby was beaten as the 2-5 favorite by an allowance horse in the Illinois Derby two weeks ago. He’ll be part of the early pace brigade but experience and breeding are problematic.
TAPITURE – While his sire Tapit gives him some stamina on the male side the all important female bloodlines (out of the Olympio mare Free Spin) is all sprint influence and the colt probably showed that liability when he got headstrong after 7 furlongs in the mile and a sixteenth Rebel Stakes and then had no late kick when stretched out to 9 furlongs in the Arkansas Derby. His best races have been as the pace setter or pressing the pace. Did I mention there is an abundance of that type of runner in here?
GENERAL A ROD – Oh, by the way, did I mention that there is an abundance of early speed types in the Derby this year? This son of mile speed sire Roman Ruler is another lightly raced tactical speed colt that has been in the thick of three straight stakes at Gulfstream Park as a 3-year old. He won the mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s day, finished second when out-dueled by Wildcat Red in the mile and a sixteenth Fountain Of Youth and tracked but couldn’t get by Wildcat Red again in the 9 furlong Florida Derby as both of them were beaten by Constitution, who was making just his third career start and first vs stakes company. Although the connections are reportedly happy with his half mile drill in :49 4/5 breezing on Tuesday (4/29) morning it might be prudent to consider the necessity of going to the CD main track after a pedestrian 1:03 2/5 five furlong breeze 6 days earlier.
MEDAL COUNT – Despite the hype built around his win in the Transylvania Stakes to open the recently concluded Keeneland meet and his strong place rally 8 days later in the Blue Grass Stakes the son of Dynaformer doesn’t have the kind of average speed figures that match up with many of the top ones in the field. He has also yet to prove he can run at all away from synthetic or grass. He had no kick in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream (5th beaten 8 lengths) and was a disaster in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita (11th by 17) and this will be the third race in 4 weeks.
CANDY BOY – Like Medal Count his average speed figures are well below the upper echelon of this Derby filed. There were high hopes after he won the Robert B. Lewis in his 2014 debut but he missed training after that and made no impact at all in the Santa Anita Derby, which was only his second 3-year old start. Distance is also problematic with both sides of his bloodlines being mile speed developers at best.
UNCLE SIGH – Another of many in the field whose breeding suggest limitations at the distance he proved when a slow star took him out of the Wood Memorial that he is better engaged when on the pace early. But when in a front end battle in the Withers and Gotham prior to the Wood he was outgunned in both those shorter races by Samraat, who in turn could not withstand the late rally of Wicked Strong in their common final prep.
VINCEREMOS – The Pioneer Of The Nile colt might be forgiven for his Blue Grass Stakes disaster as he obviously doesn’t care for the synthetic. But in his prior two Derby preps he nosed out Harpoon and Cousin Stephen, two runners that were thought of early as Derby possibilities but couldn’t come close in subsequent Stakes races after the Davis and dropped out early and in the Tampa Bay Derby was no match for the last out MSW winner Ring Weekend who was withdrawn from the Derby field. Overall speed figures are also a cut below the best.
HARRY’S HOLIDAY – Appears outclassed on a number of levels. He hasn’t won a race since a 6 ½ furlong sprint triumph in an overnight stakes at Turfway Park four back. His best speed figure is lengths below the average for most of the field and he has raced on synthetic his last four races, including a no excuse 13th in the Blue Grass. In addition, trainer Mike Maker has a sub-par graded stakes percentage and the colt has no foundation at all in his female line.
COMMANDING CURVE – Checking in as the final points qualifier the Master Commander colt is another with very little breeding stamina from the important female line. But he has other problems as well. Trainer Dallas Stewart is 1 for 34 (2%) in graded stakes races, the colt needed four tries to break his maiden and was 6th (beaten 8 ¼ lengths) in the Risen Star and was 3rd (beaten 5 lengths) in the Louisiana Derby with rallies from far back that wouldn’t put him anywhere near the all important 2 ½ lengths of the leader at the furlong marker in the Derby.
PABLO DEL MONTE – The connections seem to have gotten a bit over enthused by his valiant third place effort in the Blue Grass. What that first ever two turn dirt effort showed was that he has some tactical speed but that speed is a cut below the competition he would face if he draws into the field. At Gulfstream he couldn’t run with either Wildcat Red or General A Rod at shorter distances and his breeding doesn’t suggest it well get better with more ground. And if his 6 furlong work in 1:11 1/5 last Friday proves anything it shows that he is a one dimensional runner that would need to win on the front end…if indeed that work didn’t leave it all on the track.
SOCIAL INCLUSION – His hurdles are briefly and pointedly noted. He would be the first unraced as a juvenile winner of the Derby since 1882 and in his first true test was caught by Wicked Strong and outlasted by Samraat in the Wood Memorial when he ran the final 3 furlongs in a very slow :39 2/5 seconds. He has always wanted the lead…first at first and second call and in the stretch in all three career races…and did I mention there is a lot of speed in this year’s edition.
BIG BAZINGA – Like Sheldon Cooper in "The Big Bang Theory" I keep waiting for trainer Katerina Vaselieva for the aptly named Derby Dreaming Stables to utter "Bazinga" after announcing that the whole thing was a joke. The trainer has not won a graded stakes (albeit from a small sample) but is also winless overall in 2014. The colt is also very slow compared to the field and his lone win came in his debut, a MSW victory at Woodbine last fall. He is also o-2 on traditional dirt, beaten a 12 lengths (7th) in the Delta Jackpot and 33 lengths (last of 11) in the Holy Bull. Bazinga!
That does it for the WHY NOT’S. They will draw post positions on Wednesday and on Thursday I’ll return with my Final PREPPING FOR THE DERBY column of 2014 as I take you through my preview. Check back then.