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Brisnet Handicappers Edge Kentucky Derby and Oaks Notes 3/19/10
KENTUCKY DERBY REPORT
MARCH 18, 2010
by James Scully
Nobody knew what to expect from the champ. After missing training time due to illness and wet weather, LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) had every right to be a little short off the near three-month layoff in Saturday's Rebel S. (G2). He wasn't working fast in preparation for his dirt debut and wound up experiencing a dreadful trip at Oaklawn Park, but the superb colt would not be denied.
The San Felipe S. (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby (G3) also highlighted an important weekend of Kentucky Derby (G1) preps.
He got slammed around leaving the starting gate and nearly fell upon the heels of a rival on the backstretch, but Lookin at Lucky recovered and dug in gamely to collar NOBLE'S PROMISE (Cuvee) in the shadow of the finish line, winning by a neck. After netting huge BRIS Late Pace ratings at two, he came home strongly once again on Saturday, registering a 106 number, and his career-best 102 BRIS Speed rating is very encouraging. Trainer Bob Baffert had every reason to be ecstatic.
"He's a horse that can overcome," said the Hall of Fame conditioner, who is pursuing his fourth Kentucky Derby trophy. "He's a great athlete and a great horse. He has that will to win, which is half the battle. He reminds me of Silver Charm in that you know he's going to show up every time."
A three-time Grade 1 hero, Lookin at Lucky never overwhelmed his competition last season, doing just enough to win five-of-six starts, and he continued that trend on Saturday while erasing any fitness concerns. The Rebel was just the starting point for Baffert, so we can expect further improvement over the next seven weeks, and jockey Garrett Gomez has a big chance to win his first Kentucky Derby this year.
The Derby is shaping up well for Lookin at Lucky with a preponderance of early speed among this year's contenders, and the talented late runner isn't the type to be knocked off his game in a bulky field. He resembles a hard-nosed fighter, one that's going to overcome adversity. Lookin at Lucky was practically mugged going into the first turn of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and never quit following an extremely wide and troubled trip, and he displayed plenty of athleticism to overcome near-disaster in the Rebel. Those traits should serve him well in the Derby.
Baffert will decide between the April 3 Wood Memorial S. (G1) and April 10 Arkansas Derby (G1) for his final prep.
Runner-up Noble's Promise deserves kudos for an excellent effort off the bench. Winner of the Breeders' Futurity (G1), the Kenny McPeek colt missed by less than a length when finishing second to Lookin at Lucky in the CashCall Futurity (G1) in his juvenile finale and trained forwardly at Gulfstream Park for his dirt debut in the Rebel. He sat a good stalking trip in midpack, advanced into contention on the far turn, and surged to the lead in upper stretch, putting away DUBLIN (Afleet Alex) before facing the oncoming Lookin at Lucky. He also received a career-best 102 BRIS Speed rating.
Noble's Promise is eligible to improve with a start under his belt and looms as a huge threat for the Arkansas Derby, especially if Lookin at Lucky goes to the Wood. Nine furlongs is probably within his scope, but 1 1/4 miles represents a major challenge. Sire Cuvee, a multiple graded winner up to seven furlongs, isn't a good source of stamina, and Noble's Promise is out of a mare by sprint specialist Clever Trick. He'll need to outrun his pedigree in the Derby.
A jockey switch from Terry Thompson to Corey Nakatani didn't do Dublin any favors on Saturday. After guiding him about five-wide into the first turn, Nakatani gunned the Southwest S. (G3) runner-up into contention with a premature move leaving the backstretch that left him with little left for the stretch run. He battled head-and-head with Noble's Promise in upper stretch before weakening to third in the final furlong, three lengths back of second, and didn't run poorly given the bad trip. However, there are growing concerns with a colt who always has an excuse and has never won at two turns.
Dublin is starting resemble the over-hyped prospect who never lives up to expectations. The D. Wayne Lukas pupil remains a threat to put it all together eventually, but he needs to show more in the Arkansas Derby.
SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]) made it two straight wire-to-wire stakes wins in Southern California, stretching out from an impressive victory in the seven-furlong San Vicente S. (G2) to garner Saturday's San Felipe S. (G2) by a half-length, and he's another promising front runner for this year's Derby. The John Sadler-trained colt cruised along on slow, uncontested splits before drawing off into the stretch, and he'll be the one to beat in the April 3 Santa Anita Derby (G1).
The chestnut hails from an outstanding female family and could be any type going forward. Visually spectacular in both starts this year, he benefited from a lack of pace in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe and must still prove himself going two turns under difference circumstances. Sidney's Candy didn't rate effectively when wrapping up juvenile campaign with a fourth in an allowance contest at Santa Anita, raising concerns that he's a one-dimensional speed type, but they've got to catch him to beat him.
He's capable of carrying his form forward in the Santa Anita Derby, but it's difficult to get excited about his chances in the Derby. Sidney's Candy won't have any dirt experience before arriving at Churchill Downs.
Following four straight turf starts, INTERACTIF (Broken Vow) switched to Pro-Ride and turned in an admirable runner-up effort in the San Felipe, closing ground in deep stretch while never threatening the winner. The Todd Pletcher colt can't be dismissed on any surface -- he broke his maiden on the dirt at Monmouth Park -- and there's a lot to like about an honest colt who has won three of his last five starts, with both setbacks coming by less than a length. Interactif will be dangerous in the Santa Anita Derby.
Third-placer CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams) suffered his first loss after opening his career with five straight wins, including the Robert B. Lewis S. (G2), but I'll give him a pass considering how poorly the race set up for him. Trainer Michael Machowsky will be able to regroup for the Santa Anita Derby, and the humbly-bred gelding is capable of better with a legitimate pace in front.
Trainer Eoin Harty added blinkers to AMERICAN LION (Tiznow) and the colt was predictably eager when the gates opened, but jockey Julien Leparoux refused to let the colt run, fighting him during the early stages. Why were blinkers added? That makes two straight disappointments for American Lion at Santa Anita this year, and he needs to start making some progress in order to be a viable Derby contender. A change in venue couldn't hurt -- the last thing American Lion needs is another disappointing showing in the Santa Anita Derby in which he's his own worst enemy -- but that won't happen given Harty's proclaimed love for synthetic surfaces.
DAVE IN DIXIE (Dixie Union) didn't run to expectations following his fast-closing second in the Robert Lewis, checking in a one-paced sixth in the San Felipe, but he was hurt by the slow pace. Sadler will ship him out of California for his final Derby prep, and the late runner needs to run well in order to have enough graded earnings.
Tampa Bay Derby
Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby (G3) was a strange race. SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Stephen Got Even) rallied boldly to the lead with a quick turn of foot leaving the far turn, appearing ready to win by a large margin, but he lost his steam and came back to his rivals. ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon), who raced close to the pace in second during the early stages, began to retreat nearing the conclusion of the far turn, dropping back to fifth before re-rallying in deep stretch.
"Odysseus will have to wait for another day," track announcer Richard Grunder exclaimed as it appeared that the colt was completely done about a half-mile from the finish.
It's difficult to gauge what impact the Tampa Bay Derby will have upon this year's Derby. At best, it could prove to be very important as one or more of the contestants continue to move forward and make their presence felt on Derby Day. At worst, it was an inconsequential prep, with longshot GLEAM OF HOPE's (City Zip) strong fourth-place effort serving as the perfect indicator. Seemingly overmatched beforehand, the 42-1 longshot threatened to win the whole thing on the far outside during the stretch run before falling only a length short as the field crawled home.
Odysseus does have a lot going for him. A maiden winner at Gulfstream Park in mid-January, the chestnut colt captured a 1 1/16-mile allowance by 15 lengths at Tampa before making his stakes bow on Saturday. He showed a lot of resiliency in battling back and registered a career-best 100 BRIS Speed rating, and he appears to have a nice future for Tom Albertrani regardless of what happens in the Derby. He'll be severely tested for class next time in the Wood.
Schoolyard Dreams will head to the Illinois Derby (G3) for Derek Ryan, and we're not sure whether he lost interest after striking the front on Saturday or was simply out of gas in the 1 1/16-mile event. Either way, he finished up slowly and doesn't look like a good candidate to handle 10 furlongs right now.
SUPER SAVER (Maria's Mon) enjoyed the perfect trip on an easy lead but lacked another gear when challenged on the far turn. He didn't change leads while tiring noticeably in the stretch, and he's retreated fairly easily after setting the pace in two of his three stakes starts. The Pletcher trainee posted an impressive win the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) last fall, so he likes the track under the Twin Spires, but he's been judiciously handled so far and doesn't look as far along as Pletcher's top Derby prospects. He's going to have run much better next time to set him up for his best on Derby Day.
The Florida Derby (G1) is Saturday's headliner, and the 1 1/8-mile event lost a top contender on Tuesday when Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway) was re-directed to the Wood. That leaves RULE (Roman Ruler) as the horse to beat. He'll bring a four-race win streak, including victories in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) and Delta Jackpot S. (G3), into the event, and his top rivals include recent allowance runners RADIOHEAD (GB) (Johannesburg), SOARING EMPIRE (Empire Maker) and FIRST DUDE (Stephen Got Even).
KENTUCKY OAKS REPORT
MARCH 19, 2010
We were spoiled in 2009. There's no other way of saying it. Between Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d'Oro) and Zenyatta (Street Cry [Ire]), not to mention international Breeders' Cup star Goldikova (Ire) (Anabaa), 2009 will probably go down as the year of the filly.
This season has yet to produce a sophomore superstar to rival those three. There have been some nice performances by the three-year-olds, most notably AMEN HALLELUJAH (Montbrook), and there are a couple of promising runners coming into their own, but only time will tell if 2010 will produce a filly capable of challenging either Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta down the road.
There are still plenty of opportunities left for the three-year-old fillies to showcase their talents, but for now I'm more interested in what they've already done. In less than 40 days the Kentucky Oaks (G1) will offer the perfect spot for these girls to strut their stuff, and it's time to get caught up on the preps that have already taken place.
The most difficult task in analyzing these races stems from the all-weather surfaces in California and various other locales around the country. The Oaks is run on a traditional dirt surface, but all of the Golden State's races thus far this season have taken place on the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita. That's going to leave some of these fillies either scrambling to get in one good dirt prep before the Oaks or entering the race with the huge question mark of whether or not they can handle dirt.
Santa Ysabel S. (G3)/Las Virgenes S. (G1)/Santa Anita Oaks (G1): CRISP (El Corredor) and BLIND LUCK (Pollard's Vision) are two of those facing the synthetic to dirt conundrum, though Blind Luck does have the advantage of breaking her maiden on Calder's main track last June. Crisp, on the other hand, has raced exclusively on all-weather tracks her entire five-race career.
Crisp began 2010 with a nice win in the Santa Ysabel on January 10, settling near the back of the five-filly field, as much as six lengths behind. The John Sadler charge angled off the rail rounding the turn and ran down the leaders with a nice burst of speed at the end. The bay is a very nice-looking filly, as she towered over her rivals in the Santa Ysabel.
Just one month later in the February 13 Las Virgenes, though, Crisp was on more even terms with her competition in relation to size, especially Blind Luck. Crisp and Blind Luck took up spots in the back of that five-horse field, but it was Blind Luck coming with a late run down the stretch to just nip Evening Jewel (Northern Afleet) by a nose on the line. Crisp didn't display the same kick that got her to the wire first in the Santa Ysabel, instead running a one-paced fourth throughout.
The pair faced off yet again in their most recent start, the March 6 Santa Anita Oaks, and Sadler opted to add blinkers this time around. Crisp showed a whole new dimension, tracking the pace set by ALL DUE RESPECT (Value Plus), engaging that one in upper stretch and just prevailing by a neck on the wire while holding off the late rallies of Blind Luck and Warren's Jitterbug (Affirmative). Crisp may not get a chance to perfect her new running style, though, as Sadler has indicated he's planning to train her up to the Kentucky Oaks on April 30. Hence Crisp will enter the Kentucky Oaks without the advantage of a dirt race.
Blind Luck, conditioned by Jerry Hollendorfer, put in another impressive late run, but it turned out to be a case of too little, too late. She'll need to stay a little closer to the pace if she wants to get back to the winner's circle. The chestnut lass will get the opportunity to not only try a different way of running, but also make her first start on dirt since last summer. Hollendorfer has the April 2 Fantasy S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park penciled in for Blind Luck's next start, where she could face Santa Anita Oaks runner-up All Due Respect. The Ashland S. (G1) on April 3 at Keeneland is an alternative option for Blind Luck.
Tiffany Lass S./Silverbulletday S. (G3): Fair Grounds has produced something of a surprise star in the form of JODY SLEW (Slew City Slew). The Bret Calhoun runner was sent off at 23-1 in the January 23 Tiffany Lass S. going a mile and 40 yards, but that didn't stop the bay lass from posting the half-length victory. Breaking from the innermost post, Jody Slew was settled in the rear as race favorite and Delta Princess S. (G3) victress QUIET TEMPER (Quiet American) maintained a close stalking position in third.
Jody Slew looked well-beaten nearing the turn, found herself circling the entire field and entered the stretch running down the center of the lane. She angled over throughout the stretch and just got the better of Bella Medaglia (Medaglia d'Oro) following a long battle. Quiet Temper, on the other hand, put in a strong move rounding the turn before backing up to finish eight lengths adrift in fifth. Many were willing to give Quite Temper a pass as she was returning off a 2 1/2-week layoff, but she received no such consideration next out in the February 20 Silverbulletday.
Quiet Temper moved up to take the lead from her rail post in the 1 1/16-mile Silverbulletday, while Jody Slew settled in a rear-guard position. Jody Slew began making her way forward nearing the final turn, was forced to once again circle the field, and put in a stretch-long run to just nip Quiet Temper by a nose on the wire.
Jody Slew was a private purchase and destined for turf events, but found herself running in the Tiffany Lass for lack of a better option. Now with two stakes wins under her girth, the lass could go for a sweep of the Fair Grounds stakes for fillies when lining up in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) against, you guessed it, Quiet Temper. Another likely entrant for the 8 1/2-furlong event is AILALEA (Pulpit), who captured last year's Tempted S. (G3) and ran sixth in her seasonal bow last out in the January 31 Forward Gal S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Martha Washington S./Honeybee S. (G3): Oaklawn offered up a pair of nice stakes for Kentucky Oaks hopefuls to test their mettle, but in the process has muddied the waters a bit. DECELERATOR (Dehere) has had her name down for the Oaks since capturing the Debutante S. (G3) and running second in the Pocahontas S. (G3) and Golden Rod S. (G2) under the Twin Spires as a juvenile. She opened her sophomore campaign with a promising nose second in the six-furlong Dixie Belle S. at Oaklawn, but proved more than capable of returning to the winner's circle with a length victory in the Martha Washington on February 13.
Decelerator took up a nice stalking position on the inside in the Martha Washington, swiftly took advantage of a hole on the rail entering the turn and grabbed the advantage heading into the stretch. She was kept to task but never really asked as she finished up under her own power. The Martha Washington win was supposed to have set her up perfectly for the Honeybee exactly one month later, but the D. Wayne Lukas runner found herself facing a new rival in that 1 1/16-mile affair.
Decelerator set a pressured pace up front in the Honeybee, while a little farther back in midpack a runner by the name of NO SUCH WORD (Canadian Frontier) was racing in midpack of her stakes debut. No Such Word found herself running in between and behind horses as she neared the turn, but swung out when her outside rival began dropping back and easily swooped to the front to gallop home for the easy 2 1/2-length score. The bay miss continued to gallop out well in front of her competition past the wire, and trainer Cindy Jones reported following the race that No Such Word was a handful in the test barn. "They couldn't hold her on the ground at the test barn after the race, she was so fresh," Jones admitted. "She just wanted to get back to the barn and eat."
Decelerator faded to fourth, just missing third late and is now likely to go on for the Fantasy, where she'll face not only No Such Word again, but stablemate TIDAL POOL (Yankee Gentleman). That Lukas trainee ran third in the Tiffany Lass to open her three-year-old campaign and schooled a group of allowance rivals by eight lengths at Oaklawn while going a mile. Tidal Pool will be looking to carry that form forward in the Fantasy as she attempts to secure her spot in the Kentucky Oaks starting gate.
Suncoast S./Florida Oaks (G3): DIVA DELITE (Repent) has stamped her mark on Tampa Bay Downs following wins in the February 13 Suncoast S. and Florida Oaks (G3) most recently on March 13, but trainer David Vivien has given every indication that he's going to skip the Kentucky Oaks with the dark bay miss. "I think," he prudently added. "You never know what you're going to do. She's run some hard races, and I've shipped her back and forth with two weeks apart and three weeks apart. She looks excellent, though, so I'm just going to play it by ear. See how she is in three or four weeks and we'll see what she'll do."
Thus, the real story from the Florida Oaks was the scratch of champion juvenile filly SHE BE WILD (Offlee Wild). Trainer Wayne Catalano opted out of the 1 1/16-mile race after a rain storm hit Tampa Bay Downs the day before the race. However, the track was listed as fast when the gates opened on the race. That'll leave She Be Wild with just one dirt prep for the Kentucky Oaks, as Catalano is now pointing his charge for the Ashland on Keeneland's Polytrack. She Be Wild ran a well-beaten fifth in the Forward Gal, her dirt debut, and will be returning to the site of her only other loss to date. She ran second in last year's Alcibiades S. (G1) at Keeneland to Negligee (Northern Afleet), who is expected make her sophomore bow in the Ashland.
Forward Gal S. (G2)/Davona Dale S. (G2): The Forward Gal produced a stellar seven-length winner in BICKERSONS (Silver Deputy), but the Kelly Breen trainee may be more suited to sprint distances following a well-beaten fourth in the one-mile Davona Dale last out. She set the pace in each Gulfstream Park test, ridden out in the Forward Gal but collared in the Davona Dale, and it looks like Breen was paying attention. Bickersons will cut back to six furlongs for Saturday's Cicada S. (G3) at Aqueduct.
Amen Hallelujah demonstrated that she is just as good -- if not better -- on dirt as she is on all-weather. The Richard Dutrow runner made her dirt bow in the Davona Dale, staying in close attendance to the pacesetting Bickersons while saving ground just off the rail. She dueled her rival into submission as the pair circled the turn and easily drew off to record a dominating 6 1/4-length victory. Amen Hallelujah captured the Santa Ynez S. (G2) on the Pro-Ride in January and is headed for Saturday's Bonnie Miss S. (G2) going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream.
I'd just like to point out a few more fillies, and the first one is JOANIE'S CATCH (First Tour), who is exiting runner-up efforts in both the Forward Gal and Davona Dale. In fact, the Barry Rose-conditioned chestnut has run second in six of her last seven starts and will be looking to break that streak with a win in the Bonnie Miss. Her numbers are more than respectable as compared with others she's been running against, and victory could be just around the corner.
DEVIL MAY CARE (Malibu Moon) is a very lightly raced three-year-old, owning just four lifetime starts, most of which came when she was a juvenile. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the bay miss captured last year's Frizette S. (G1) at Belmont Park and proved her dislike for synthetics when running 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita. She wasn't seen again until making her sophomore bow in the Silverbulletday, finishing fifth that day, but probably really needed the race off the 3 1/2-month break. Devil May Care is also starting in the Bonnie Miss and could revive her connections' Kentucky Oaks hopes with a good run.
CHRISTINE DAAE (Giant's Causeway) has been the buzz filly for quite some time, as trainer Patrick Biancone has been effusive in his praise and high hopes for the chestnut. She broke her maiden by 8 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream on January 15, and was scheduled to make her stakes bow in the Davona Dale. However, Biancone scratched her from that event and ran her in a nine-furlong allowance the next day.
Eager from the start, the gleaming lass hurried to the front from her far outside post, but allowed Kitty in a Tizzy (Tiznow) to take the lead on the backstretch. Staying within striking distance just to the outside of the pacesetter, she drew even entering the turn and slowly began pulling off in late stretch. Under a hand ride the entire race, Christine Daae never appeared to encounter any threat. She has a lot to live up to and will get her first shot on Saturday when she'll likely face her first real test in the Bonnie Miss.
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