Final prep races Saturday then it’s on to Louisville
The KentuckyDerby is finally in the sights of many as March turned to April. The 100 point races have begun and after Easter, the field for the Running of the Roses will be in place. And, the amazing thing is that through the prep races, there is no clear cut favorite. Yes, there have been horses who have won the races and in many ways, have looked the part, but unlike other years, there has not been a dominating performance to hang one’s hat on.
Take the Florida Derby for example. The favorite was Upstart and he couldn’t get past Materializing at the end, in a race where both colts staggered to the finish line. On paper, it sure looked like these two could be primed to win the Kentucky Derby, but both were gassed in the final eighth mile, and with that comes the major problem. The Florida Derby is 1 1/8 miles, 1/8 mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby. The winning time of 1:52.30 was painfully slow and watching the colts go 39.79 for final three furlongs and 13.73 for the final eighth was downright disturbing.
The Louisiana Derby saw International Star finish strong, but his winning time of 1:50.67 was far from impressive, but the difference was that the colt pulled away impressively and certainly looked like he could have run longer and perhaps faster. Still, if you were looking for a star to emerge from last Saturday, you didn’t get that. But, that doesn’t mean that some horse won’t emerge and it might even take until after the Kentucky Derby for that to happen. But, if you’re hoping for the Triple Crown drought to end in 2015, good luck. Unlike last year, there is no California Chrome looking the part to come to Churchill as a clear cut favorite.
The word being used to describe the current crop of three year olds is mediocre, and from what we’ve seen, that can’t really be denied. That said, if one of the mediocre horses could win the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, nobody would care. But, don’t hold your breath. This week, there are three more prep races—the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Bluegrass at Keeneland and the Santa Anita at Santa Anita. All it would take is a dominating run by one horse to raise the eyebrows of the horse racing fan. The Bluegrass should see a return to prominence now that Keeneland has gone back to dirt and because of that will be more telling of a race to the betting public.
The best performance might have been Firing Line in the Sunland Derby. The colt ran well, surged when asked, pulled away nicely and ran a nice time of 1:47.39, but the Sunland Derby has never been regarded as a major prep race, despite producing 2008 Derby winner Mine That Bird, even though the gelding didn’t win the Sunland.
Dortmund was impressive in winning the San Felipe Derby at Santa Anita in 1:41.65 for 1 1/16 miles, but that win was at the said distance of 1 1/16 miles, so we’ll have to see how he does as the favorite in the 1 1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby this Saturday. He is unbeaten, but for me, he has to impress this weekend if he can look the part of favorite in Louisville. He’ll face just five others at SA, but as mentioned, this race is more about him than the field.
The Wood Memorial is the New York path to Churchill and we all know how cold the winter has been in New York this year. All of the New York prep races, the Jerome, Withers and Gotham were contested on the inner track at the Big A and with the main track now open, who knows what to expect come Saturday for the running of the Wood. The obvious hope is that the track will be thawed and ready to go for Saturday. El Kabeir won the Jerome in 1:44.69 for a mile and seventy yards, while Far From Over rallied from last to first to beat El Kabeir in the 1 1/16 Withers in a decent effort of 1:43.93. El Kabeir outclassed the field in the Gotham getting 1 1/16 miles in a somewhat dawdling 1:45.56. The Wood has been a major Derby prep race for decades but the last Wood winner to win at Louisville was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. And, despite the coming of spring, the forecast for Saturday in Queens is 51 degrees with rain. In one word: Yuck. Add to that misery is the recent news that Far From Over is off the Kentucky Derby trail with a bone chip in his leg. A field of seven will contest the Wood, and truth be told, a case could be made for all of them.
The Bluegrass Stakes features Carpe Diem who has won three of four starts and in his only start this year, won the Tampa Bay Derby. He is a curious one simply because he may not have peaked yet. Most potential Derby starters will have had three races going into the first Saturday in May, so Carpe Diem could dominate at Keeneland, surge at Churchill or come up short tomorrow and then hit his stride in the Derby. He is the even money favorite at 1/1, so those in the know are expecting him to roll through the reinvented Bluegrass on the dirt.
The top 20 point earners will make it and there is some wiggle room for some of these starters in these three races and next week’s Arkansas Derby. Tiz Shea D, a probable Wood starter is on the outside looking in, but a first or second at Aqueduct would get him in the field. The races on Saturday are 100-40-20-10, so a win secures your spot. International Star is the leader with 171 points.
There is the Lexington Stakes on April 11, but that is only a 10-4-2-1 race, at Keeneland. After tomorrow, the field will be set and the hype will begin slowly but steadily. And, given the winter most of us have had, May and the Derby will be a welcome sight.
Until next time.