Observers at the backside this week have given top marks to Pioneerof the Nile and the two Dubai horses, Desert Party and Regal Ransom, all who have had spectacular works over the surface. General Quarters seems to be a candidate for Most Improved since arriving at Churchill. The post position draw didn’t have any horrible shockers. I think the horses who will have the most to say are all in good position. Regal Ransom and Join In The Dance should be well poised to take control of the pace.
The last minute additions of Atomic Rain and Nowhere to Hide really don’t thrill me; they really can’t be considered more than gate fillers.
I’ll probably post who I’m backing at the windows tomorrow. I will for sure put money on Pioneerof the Nile, Advice and General Quarters, since I consider them Keeneland homeboys.
1. WEST SIDE BERNIE (O: George and Lori Hall, T: Kelly Breen, J: Stewart Elliott)
His two year old form hasn’t held up so far in his three year old season; after winning the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway he disappointed in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, then finished third in the Holy Bull in his first start as a three year old. He followed it up with a dismal showing in the Lane’s End, and while he redeemed himself a little in the Wood, he was still a non-threatening second to the sensational I Want Revenge. He’s outclassed here.
2. MUSKET MAN (O: Eric Fein & Vic Carlson, T: Derek Ryan, J: Eibar Coa)
It seems strange that the Illinois Derby winner might wind up overlooked on Derby Day, but that will probably be exactly the case with Musket Man. Since his third place finish to General Quarters in the Sam Davis, he’s won two in a row, including the aforementioned Illinois Derby. He hasn’t faced the level of competition that he’ll see in the Derby, but he’s a gutsy horse and could be a big price if he hits the board.
3. MR. HOT STUFF (O: WinStar Farms, T: Eoin Harty, J: John Velazquez)
Though he is a full brother to Colonel John, Mr. Hot Stuff hasn’t yet shown he can match his big brother’s accomplishments. His best efforts have been a pair of thirds on the Pro Ride racing surface at Santa Anita. In the Sham he fell victim to The Pamplemousse, and in the Santa Anita Derby he gave chase to Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy, both who just seem to be better horses at this stage. Both WinStar and Eoin Harty probably have a better shot with the other horses they have in the race.
4. ADVICE (O: WinStar Farm, T: Todd Pletcher, Jockey: Rene Douglass)
Advice came seemingly from out of nowhere to win the Lexington at Keeneland, a race he entered into off a fifth place finish in the Sunland Derby and with only a maiden win to his credit. Pletcher describes him as a horse who is just coming into himself and figuring things out, and if that’s the case, we haven’t seen the best of him yet and he could surprise in the Derby. In the Lexington he defeated a great horse in Square Eddie, but he still has a lot to prove to show he can handle the Derby field. Another deep closer, he will have to avoid traffic problems and get a good trip.
5. HOLD ME BACK (O: WinStar Farm, T: William I. Mott, J: Kent Desormeaux)
After a decisive win over a mediocre field in the Lane’s End, Hold Me Back closed well to finish second to General Quarters off a slow pace in the Bluegrass. His lone dirt effort was a poor one, fifth in the Remsen to Old Fashioned as a two year old, but he’s grown up a lot since then, and that race might not be a great indicator of how he’ll perform on Saturday. He should go off at a nice price and could be a horse to play in the exotics, though he probably doesn’t quite have the talent to win
6. FRIESIAN FIRE (O: Vinery Stables, T: Larry Jones, J: Gabriel Saez)
He’s three for three this year, and in mid-March he was the talk of the town and a dominant favorite, but Larry Jones’s decision to train him up to the Derby after his smashing win in the Louisiana Derby has cooled off some of the hype. The defection of Quality Road might put him back at the top of everyone’s lists, and if that doesn’t, an off track will. He was devastating in the slop at Louisiana after stalking Papa Clem and going on to win by seven lengths. The fact that he hasn’t been beyond a mile and a sixteenth concerns some, as does the 7 week layoff, but Larry Jones has been runner up in the Derby two years in a row (Hard Spun in 2007 and Eight Belles in 2008), and is following the same training schedule for Friesian Fire that he used with Hard Spun.
7. PAPA CLEM (O: Bo Hirsch, T: Gary Stute, J: Rafael Bejarano)
This horse could influence the pace, but as he proved in the Arkansas Derby, he doesn’t need the lead and might in fact do his best running when he stalks the leaders. This could be a horse peaking at the right time; after suffering defeats earlier in the year to Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis and Friesian Fire in the Louisiana Derby (after setting the pace on a sloppy track) his win over a tough Old Fashioned signaled a horse that is on the improve. However, his 7 furlong work at Churchill was not that encouraging.
8. MINE THAT BIRD (O: Double Eagle Ranch and Bueno Suerte Equine, T: Bennie Woolley, Jr., J: Calvin Borel)
Mine that Bird will likely come into the race as one of the longest shots on the board, and rightfully so. Though he was Canada’s juvenile champion last year, he hasn’t managed to find success in the US at three, with his best finish being a second in the Borderland Derby in New Mexico. In his only other prep race this year he was fourth in the Sunland Derby. He hasn’t had any success against the caliber of horses he’ll be facing here, and it’s doubtful he’ll find some on Saturday.
9. JOIN IN THE DANCE (O: Jake Ballis, Rashard Lewis, Reagan Swinbank, Reed Ballis and William Swinbank, T: Todd Pletcher, J: Chris DeCarlo)
Aside from Regal Ransom, Join in the Dance is probably the only other real speed in the race. Papa Clem can do it if he needs to, but his connections are probably going to look for more of a stalking trip if they can get it. With a second to Musket Man in the Tampa Bay Derby and a fifth place finish after setting the pace in the Bluegrass, this horse will likely have a say in what the pace will be, but don’t look for him to still be there at the end.
10. REGAL RANSOM (O: Darley Stable, T: Kiaran P. McLaughlin, J: Alan Garcia)
Dubai horses are always a little bit of a mystery, but this horse might have an important tide turning in his favor. Early in the season this race looked like it was setting up to have a murderous pace, but now with the last 20 standing, the opposite has happened. Regal Ransom, Papa Clem and Join In The Dance seem to be the only real speed in the race (and Papa Clem will likely not be looking for the lead), and that makes this horse much more dangerous than he might otherwise be in a field with a little more pace. He had everything his way in the UAE Derby and was impossible to catch on the lead. He’s had two great works over the surface, looks ready to go, and if he can get his way again at the front end he could very feasibly steal this race at what will likely be a nice price.
11. CHOCOLATE CANDY (O: The Craig Family Trust, T: Jerry Hollendorfer, J: Mike Smith)
If you want a sleeper horse with a great shot, Chocolate Candy is your boy. After two victories early in the season, both in California, he was a solid runner up to Pioneerof the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby after going five wide and making a sustained run in the stretch against a weak pace. He’ll have more to run at in the Derby, and if he can handle the dirt he will be very, very dangerous. He’s been working well over the Churchill surface, including an impressive :59 1/5 work on Monday that went as planned despite a loose horse and collision on the track that took place during the work. Didn’t bother him, and hopefully is a good indicator of what is to come.
12. GENERAL QUARTERS (O: Tom McCarthy, T: Tom McCarthy, J: Julien Leparoux)
He has perhaps the best sentimental story coming into this race, and the talent to back it up. His only bad race this year was the Tampa Bay Derby, in which he broke poorly and had traffic problems that resulted in a fifth place finish. That race is bookended by convincing wins in both the Sam F. Davis and the Bluegrass Stakes. If he gets a clean trip he could certainly get a piece of the pie. Because of his “feel good story,” (he is the only horse in owner/trainer Tom McCarthy’s barn), he likely won’t be a steal at the windows.
13. I WANT REVENGE (O: IEAH Stables, David J. Lanzman, Puglisi Racing, Winner, Charles, N., T: Jeff Mullins, J: Joseph Talamo)
It’s hard to say anything bad about this horse. He should be the favorite, and rightfully so. At the end of his two year old season and early this year he ran hard-knocking races against the likes of Pioneerof the Nile on the California synthetics, including a nose defeat in the Cash Call Futurity, before switching to dirt in the Gotham and turning into a superstar. His race in the Wood was nothing short of incredible; the only thing more impressive was Joe Talamo’s ride. After his troubled trip in the Wood, in which he broke a length behind the field and had to go five wide in the stretch, he’s proven he can handle just about any kind of diversity he can find. Perhaps the only question is whether or not he’s peaked too soon, but I don’t think so. If this horse doesn’t run huge it’ll be a shocker.
14. ATOMIC RAIN (O: George and Lori Hall, T: Kelly Breen, J: Joe Bravo)
15. DUNKIRK (O: Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, T: Todd Pletcher, J: Edgar Prado)
Like Big Brown last year, Dunkirk is loaded with talent but light on experience. Unlike Big Brown, none of his three starts came as a two year old, which won’t exactly help him in the Derby. He also does not yet have a stakes win to his credit, though his race in the Florida Derby was every bit as spectacular as the winner’s. He overcame a speed favoring track and went five wide and nearly collared Quality Road before eventually being beaten by 1 ¾ lengths. The horse is definitely something special, but this field is a lot deeper and has a lot more talent than last year’s, and he will be hard pressed to duplicate Big Brown’s feat. Experience will count for more this year, and he just doesn’t have it. Still, he should run a terrific race, and in the absence of Quality Road might very well be one of the favorites.
16. PIONEEROF THE NILE (O: Zayat Stables, T: Bob Baffert, J: Garrett Gomez)
Pioneerof the Nile has done everything right this year, though his critics have dogged him for being too slow and for never having run on dirt. Despite that, he’s had a perfect season so far, and is conditioned by Bob Baffert, a man who knows where the winner’s circle is on Derby day and how to get there. This horse is not flashy, generally just doing what it takes to win, but he does it every time. He’s already defeated the likes of Papa Clem, Chocolate Candy and I Want Revenge, and though he’s a proven closer, in the Santa Anita Derby he proved he’s versatile by taking the lead on the backstretch and holding off a very tough Chocolate Candy for the win. If that’s not enough for you, Garrett Gomez picked him over the highly regarded but lightly raced Dunkirk. As for the dirt question, his last work at Churchill was spectacular, and Baffert is happy with how he’s handled the track.
17. SUMMER BIRD (O: Kalarikkal K. & Vilasini D. Jayaraman, T: Tim Ice, J: Chris Rosier)
Though at first glance he’s an extreme long shot, Summer Bird scored a surprising third in his stakes debut in the Arkansas Derby, when he came roaring from 15 lengths back to be beaten only 1 ¼ lengths by Papa Clem. He only has three starts to his credit and one maiden win, so he has a lot to overcome to do well in the Derby. Still, his bold move in the Arkansas Derby might make him a horse to consider for the exotics, especially since his odds should be huge. Both he and Mine That Bird are sons of Belmont winner Birdstone, who in turn is a son of 1996 Derby winner Grindstone.
18. NOWHERE TO HIDE (O: My Meadowview Farm, T: Nick Zito, J: Shaun Bridgmohan)
19. DESERT PARTY (O: Darley Stable, T: Eoin Harty, J: Ramon Dominguez)
His second place finish to Regal Ransom in the UAE Derby came as a bit of a shocker to most, but like Dunkirk, there was a lot to like about the race. The track was speed favoring (as evidenced by Well Armed’s amazing World Cup win), and on a day when closers were not having much success he actually made up ground late and put away the third place horse by fifteen lengths. Steve Haskin made some interesting comments about the slow time of 1:50 (as well observations about the track bias that I just mentioned), and based on his own clockings actually believes the race went in more like 1:48 4/5. That puts a better light on this horse, though he still might be out of his league. With the speed setting up to favor Regal Ransom, of the two Dubai shippers he might be the better bet, although Desert Party has been working extremely well at Churchill, and has attracted a lot of notice as a result.
20. FLYING PRIVATE (O: Grand Slam Farm, T: D. Wayne Lukas, J: Israel Ocampo)
His pedigree screams Kentucky Derby, being a son of 2000 winner Fusaichi Pegasus and a maternal grandson of 1990 winner Unbridled. But his most notable effort on the Derby trail was a second to Hold Me Back in the Lane’s End, though his follow up effort in the Arkansas Derby was a disappointing fifth. Granted, he’s trained by the Derby Man himself, D. Wayne Lukas, but this horse will have to improve by leaps and bounds to run with the other horses in this field. He’ll be a huge price, so if you’re willing to take a chance on Lukas you’ll be well rewarded for your loyalty if he can get a piece of it.
To sum it up:
The Elite: I Want Revenge, Friesian Fire, Pioneerof the Nile
Smart Picks: Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, General Quarters, Regal Ransom, Desert Party
Overlooked, But Probably For A Reason: Musket Man, Advice, Papa Clem, Hold Me Back
High Priced Gambles: Flying Private, Summer Bird
Not A Chance: Join in the Dance, Mine That Bird, West Side Bernie, Mr. Hot Stuff, Nowhere to Hide, Atomic Rain
Tags: kentucky derby
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