Handicapper's Edge Derby and Oaks Notes 04/09/10

KENTUCKY DERBY REPORT

APRIL 8, 2010

by James Scully

ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway) ran away in the stretch of Saturday's Wood Memorial S. (G1), winning by only 9 3/4 lengths due to the restraint of John Velazquez, who took the prohibitive Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite in hand with a furlong left to run. He was clearly saving something for Churchill Downs.

In other Saturday highlights, SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy's Ride [Arg]) enhanced his credentials with a convincing 4 1/2-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). The front-running colt avoided the trouble behind him as he drew off on the far turn, with LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) nearly suffering disastrous consequences due to a retreating rival. The two-year-old champion was fortunate to salvage third.

AMERICAN LION (Tiznow) ensured his participation with a wire-to-wire victory in the $500,000 Illinois Derby (G2). He finished 2 3/4 lengths clear of 6-5 favorite YAWANNA TWIST (Yonaguska), with BACKTALK (Smarty Jones) another 11 1/4 lengths back in third.

Wood Memorial

Eskendereya separated himself from the rest of the three-year-old division with a masterful performance in the Wood, registering a 110 BRIS Late Pace rating despite never being asked by Velazquez. Trainer Todd Pletcher offered an ominous observation for the colt's 19 rivals in the 1 1/4-mile Derby.

"It's amazing. The further he goes, the stronger he gets," Pletcher said. "There was more there than what we saw, even as impressive as it was."

Eskendereya rolled to an 8 1/2-length win in his previous start, the February 20 Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

"He ran as well as he did in the Fountain of Youth," Pletcher said. "The thing Johnny (Velazquez) did today was take pretty good care of him from the eighth pole to the wire."

Eskendereya must still enter the starting gate and face the potential hurdles in an oversized field with a mad dash to the first turn, but the chestnut's athleticism is a major asset. Velazquez has more than one gear at his disposal and will go around horses if necessary, utilizing his mount's natural speed to secure positioning behind the first pack of runners.

If he settles into a comfortable trip, Eskendereya appears poised to carry his momentum forward in the Derby.

JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil) raced with Eskendereya until the far turn and never quit after being left in the dust, outfinishing AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again) by a head for runner-up honors. Second in the Fountain of Youth, the hard-trying colt will now head to Louisville, Kentucky, for two-time Derby winner Nick Zito. Ten furlongs may not be his optimal distance, but Jackson Bend is the type who puts himself in position to make an impact in the stretch drive.

Awesome Act lost a shoe when stumbling at the start and was hurt by the moderate early pace (:24 1/5 and :49 1/5). A smart 1 1/4-length winner of the Gotham S. (G3) in his dirt debut, the chestnut's BRIS Speed ratings dropped from a 102 to a 92 on Saturday, but this wasn't a true indication of his abilities. Jockey Julien Leparoux was too close during the early stages, within three lengths of the pacesetter after the opening half-mile, and Awesome Act was left with little late punch due to the adverse trip. The one-run closer should receive the perfect set-up on May 1, so don't be surprised to see the Jeremy Noseda-trained colt rebound with a much-improved showing, and Awesome Act looms as an intriguing upset candidate due to his run style.

The connections of fourth-placer SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Stephen Got Even) severely compromised the colt's chances of making the Derby field by opting for the Wood over the Illinois Derby, where he would've had an excellent chance to finish at least second against a much lesser field. With only $137,500 in graded earnings, the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) runner-up appears more likely to join the Triple Crown fray in the Preakness S. (G1).

Santa Anita Derby

Sidney's Candy will bring terrific form into the Derby for John Sadler. He stylishly kicked for home on Saturday, registering a 116 BRIS Late Pace rating as jockey Joe Talamo cruised from midstretch to the wire, and the well-built colt has now posted three straight convincing stakes wins at Santa Anita.

The Sid & Jenny Craig Trust homebred has a lot going for him, but he'll need to change tactics while making his dirt debut in the Derby. After stumbling slightly at the break, Sidney's Candy flashed to the front in the Santa Anita Derby and received no pressure for the second straight start, establishing pedestrian splits of :24 and :48 2/5 on an uncontested advantage. In his previous outing, the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe S. (G2), he got away with an unopposed six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 en route to his first victory at two turns. The front runner won't be setting the pace in the Derby -- there's too much quality speed in this year's field -- and all four career victories have come on or very close to the lead. In his lone attempt rating off the pace, albeit following a slow start in a December allowance, Sidney's Candy finished a non-threatening fourth.

Despite concerns about his running style, Sidney's Candy remains a top contender for at least a top three finish. He's accomplished everything this year in spectacular fashion.

After racing in last most of the way, SETSUKO (Pleasantly Perfect) offered a commendable rally for second, notching a 118 BRIS Late Pace number, and the one-run closer is in good hands with Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. A maiden winner in mid-December, the up-and-coming colt will still have class concerns if he makes the Derby field with only $180,000 in graded earnings. However, with the possibility of a blistering early pace, Setsuko would have at least a puncher's chance for the exotics.

Lookin at Lucky nearly came to a stop on the far turn as jockey Garrett Gomez checked his way out of trouble, and his awful trip started a chain of events that included Gomez throwing a punch at jockey Victor Espinoza and Bob Baffert publicly chastising his rider for a "horrendous" ride. The bay colt showed once again why he's the perfect candidate to overcome trouble in a 20-horse Derby field, recovering nicely to post his sixth consecutive triple-digit Late Pace rating (106), but Lookin at Lucky will no longer compete for favoritism with Eskendereya following the third-place effort. He's still very dangerous. With the perfect run style and Baffert in his corner, Lookin at Lucky is a prime candidate to get involved when the serious running begins.

Illinois Derby

After establishing early splits of :24 4/5 and :49 1/5 on about a one-length lead, American Lion came under pressure from Yawanna Twist on the far turn of the Illinois Derby. The pair entered the long Hawthorne stretch locked in a head-to-head battle that looked like it could go either way, but Yawanna Twist began to run out steam upon reaching the eighth pole, allowing American Lion to drive clear late.

The jockey switch to David Flores paid immediate dividends with the speedy colt, who proved unwilling to rate comfortably in his first two starts this year. With Rule (Roman Ruler) and Endorsement (Distorted Humor) already firmly within the earnings bubble, owner WinStar Farm is now guaranteed (barring injury) at least three starters in the Kentucky Derby, with the possibility of a fourth in Arkansas Derby (G1) contestant Super Saver (Maria's Mon). American Lion garnered a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating on Saturday, but it's difficult to envision him sustaining his speed on Derby Day.

New York-bred Yawanna Twist was a late nominee to the Triple Crown, but the Richard Dutrow runner will have serious class and distance concerns if he somehow makes the Derby field with $147,000 in graded earnings.

Backtalk got up for third in the shadow of the wire, a long way back of the top two finishers, and was fortunate that fourth-placer TURF MELODY (Maria's Mon) experienced trouble on the first turn. He may make the field with $225,916 in graded earnings, but the late runner hasn't earned a BRIS Speed rating better than 91 in his last six starts.

Upcoming

Two big stakes, the Blue Grass S. (G1) and Arkansas Derby, will be offered this Saturday, and Pletcher will remain in the spotlight with top contenders in each event.

He'll send out both AIKENITE (Yes It's True) and INTERACTIF (Broken Vow) in the Blue Grass, and the latter will take some beating off his excellent second in the San Felipe. The deep field will also contains Tampa Bay Derby hero ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon); Florida Derby (G1) runner-up PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King); multiple Grade 1-placed MAKE MUSIC FOR ME (Bernstein), who opened his sophomore campaign with a victory in the grassy Pasadena S.; and PADDY O'PRADO (El Prado [Ire]), who broke his maiden in the recent Palm Beach S. (G3) on turf.

Grade 1 winners NOBLE'S PROMISE (Cuvee) and DUBLIN (Afleet Alex) both have at least one start over the track and neither would be a surprise in the $1 million Arkansas Derby, but I like the Pletcher-trained SUPER SAVER wire to wire from the rail.

 

Bubbles ready to burst as nine enter Blue Grass

Three weeks out from the Kentucky Derby (G1), there are a lot of places owners and trainers of classic hopefuls would rather be than on the bubble. For the nine colts entered in Saturday's $750,000 Blue Grass S. (G1), the nine-furlong Polytrack heat at Keeneland offers an opportunity for most to shed that status and lock in a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 1.

As was the case in last week's Ashland S. (G1), the filly counterpart to the Blue Grass, a California-based runner with positive experience on synthetic might prove to be the biggest danger. INTERACTIF (Broken Vow) is hoping to become the latest Todd Pletcher pupil to join the Derby field, and has a strong chance of doing so if able to repeat his second in the San Felipe S. (G2), where he finished a mere half-length behind subsequent Santa Anita Derby (G1) romper Sidney's Candy (Candy Ride [Arg]). Interactif has already displayed his talent once before a Keeneland throng, winning the Bourbon S. (G3) on the turf in October, and should be well-placed throughout by Rafael Bejarano.

Another West Coaster, MAKE MUSIC FOR ME (Bernstein), still has a bit more to find on synthetic. Multiple Grade 1-placed at two, he found the switch to turf more to his liking when taking the Pasadena S. at Santa Anita last time for career victory number one. The Alexis Barba pupil was only fourth in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) over the main track last fall.

AIKENITE (Yes It's True) could be the wild card based on his narrow second-place finish in the Breeders' Futurity. Though he failed to keep up with his contemporaries in Florida over the winter, the Dogwood Stable colorbearer's fondness for the Keeneland surface makes him a major threat. ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon), meanwhile, is already a major prep winner having taken the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) with an improbable-looking re-rally in the stretch. Unfortunately, he could run himself out of the Derby picture if unable to adequately handle Polytrack in his first attempt.

PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King), the 3-1 morning-line favorite off a tough beat in the Florida Derby (G1), lost a maiden claiming race here by five lengths in October, which is a cause for concern. Perhaps a better case could be made for FIRST DUDE (Stephen Got Even). Though only fifth in the Florida Derby, the Dale Romans charge closed well for second in his maiden special weight debut over this strip. PADDY O'PRADO (El Prado [Ire]) tries this kind of surface for the first time off a 2 1/2-length win in the Palm Beach S. (G3) on turf, where he beat subsequent Lane's End S. (G2) victor Dean's Kitten (Kitten's Joy).

Synthetic specialist CODOY (Bernstein), who was disqualified from first in the John Battaglia Memorial, is a potential sleeper though his deep-closing style might not work given how the track has played during the first several days of the meet.

An deeply talented group of fillies and mares will contest the $200,000 Jenny Wiley S. (G2) over 1 1/16 miles on the turf, led by 2008 champion turf female FOREVER TOGETHER (Belong to Me), who won this race last year and concluded her 2009 campaign with a third as the defending champion in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Another champion from 2008, STARDOM BOUND (Tapit), will be trying turf for the first time after a poor effort on her preferred Santa Anita Pro-Ride in the La Canada S. (G2).

CARRIBEAN SUNSET (Ire) (Danehill Dancer), who ran Forever Together to a head in the Diana S. (G1) last summer, has been idle since the Palomar H. (G2) on September 9 but might prove to be the biggest threat if she fires her best off the bench. WASTED TEARS (Najran) and QUIET HARBOR (Silver Deputy), one-two in the Honey Fox S. (G3) last time, have each been in outstanding form for months, while Grade 2 heroine SALVE GERMANIA (Ire) (Peintre Celebre) enters off a strong second in a Gulfstream allowance. Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) winner HOT CHA CHA (Cactus Ridge) probably has a few lengths to find on her elders.

Only five were entered in the $250,000 Commonwealth S. (G2) at seven furlongs. TOGETHER INDY (Not for Love), NOT FOR SILVER (Not for Love), RAVALO (Mutakddim), IMPERIAL COUNCIL (Empire Maker) and CONGRESSIONAL PAGE (Orientate), will enter the gate in that order.

Course and distance specialists CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE (War Chant) and SILVER TIMBER (Prime Timber) are the top draws in the $100,000 Shakertown S. (G3) at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Both are previous winners of the Woodford S., which is contested at the fall meet, while Chamberlain Bridge was a only neck behind in third in this race a year ago.

 

Odysseus takes to the track after early morning rain

On a soggy Thursday morning at Keeneland, the waiting game was on at Barn 33.

"We are going to wait it out," said Dan Blacker, assistant to trainer Tom Albertrani and exercise rider for Padua Stables' ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon), the 7-2 morning-line second choice for Saturday's Blue Grass S. (G1). Odysseus will break from post position 1.

Instead of going to the track just before 7:30 a.m. (EDT) as has been his norm this week, Odysseus cooled his heels back at the barn. By 9 a.m., the rain had diminished to a drizzle and by the time Blacker and Odysseus hit the track, the precipitation had stopped.

Odysseus jogged a mile and then stood at the paddock runway for a few minutes.

"He's got great composure, and if you let him, he would stand there for an hour. He loves to watch everything," Blacker said.

Odysseus then galloped 1 1/2 miles, picking up the pace the final half of the exercise.

"He basically did a two-minute lick the last three-quarters and picked it up the final quarter mile," said Sasha Sanan, son of Padua owner Satish Sanan. "I got him in :14, :14, :14, :14, :13 and :13."

Should Odysseus pass his Blue Grass test, he could give Padua its fifth starter in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

"We had Curlin and Any Given Saturday in partnership in 2007," Sanan said. "That was quite a crop. We also had Quintons Gold Rush (in partnership) in 2004 and Exchange Rate (in 2000)."

A Kentucky Derby starter every three or four years is not bad, "but we'd love to have one every year," Sanan said with a smile.

In other Blue Grass news:

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King), the 3-1 morning-line favorite who will break from post position 6 for Saturday's Blue Grass, galloped 1 1/2 miles in the rain Thursday morning under exercise rider Brian Pena. Trainer Wesley Ward, who was at Gulfstream Park, was expected to return to Lexington, Kentucky, later Thursday.

Donegal Racing's PADDY O'PRADO (El Prado [Ire]), listed at 10-1 on the morning line for the Blue Grass, galloped 1 1/2 miles under Mary Doser before the heaviest of the morning deluge hit. Paddy O'Prado will break from post position 7.

Todd Pletcher is pleased with the outside post positions for his two starters in this year's race, according to assistant trainer Ginny DiPasquale. Dogwood Stable's AIKENITE (Yes It's True) will break from post 8 with Garrett Gomez aboard, and INTERACTIF (Broken Vow) will start from post 9 under Rafael Bejarano.

"Aikenite tends to like to be on the outside," DiPasquale said about the colt, who was second in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) here last October. "It seems like when he's inside, he gets in a little bit of trouble. This will hopefully keep both horses freer to run on. Interactif is a good closer anyway. Hopefully, they can get tucked in before the first turn and they're not hung out nine wide."

On Thursday, Aikenite walked through the paddock and galloped about 1 1/4 miles with exercise rider Melvin Hernandez. Interactif is currently at Churchill Downs and will be vanned to Keeneland on Saturday morning.

Ellen and Peter O. Johnson Sr.'s MAKE MUSIC FOR ME (Bernstein), who arrived at Keeneland Tuesday afternoon from Southern California, galloped 1 3/8 miles with Andy Durnin aboard.

"He was very comfortable," said Durnin, who has worked with trainer Alexis Barba for 14 years since she was an assistant to the late Eddie Gregson.

Durnin said that he and Barba had not talked about a race strategy for the colt, who drew post 4.

"He's a pretty straightforward horse, so tactically there's not really much to discuss," Durnin said. "He's going to go out there and run his race."

Durnin said he expects Barba to be here Friday morning to watch the colt train. Mike Smith, who has ridden Make Music for Me in his last three races, will be aboard in the Blue Grass.

Bred to Win Partners LLC's CODOY (Bernstein) also toured the paddock on his way to the track, where he galloped about 1 5/8 miles with Mimi Davis aboard. The colt, who drew post 5 with John Velazquez aboard, and STATELY VICTOR (Ghostzapper) both are 30-1 longshots on the morning line.

"I hope he doesn't run like he's 30-1," Codoy's trainer, Mark Hubley, said with a laugh. "Most of these horses have run second to a good horse. We'll see what happens. Listening to the handicapper (morning line oddsmaker Mike Battaglia), I got a little intimidated (with him) extolling the virtues of everybody else's horse, but I think this race is pretty wide open, really. It'll be fun. It'll be exciting. We're ready to go."

 

Colt tries to live up to Promise in Arkansas Derby

NOBLE'S PROMISE (Cuvee) held the lead in the stretch of Oaklawn Park's Rebel S. (G2) on March 13 while making his seasonal bow, but was just caught on the wire and nipped by a head for the victory that day. Three lengths farther back in that 1 1/16-mile test came DUBLIN (Afleet Alex), and the pair will pick up where they left on Saturday in the feature event of the Oaklawn meet, the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).

The Kenny McPeek-trained Noble's Promise racked up three straight wins last year, breaking his maiden on the turf at Ellis Park before capturing the Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile S. at Presque Isle Downs and Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity (G1) over those tracks' respective synthetics. The bay colt was not only making his seasonal debut in the Rebel last out, but he was also trying a conventional dirt surface for the first time. He had Robby Albarado aboard for that experience, and will get the rider back in the saddle Saturday while going for yet another first -- making his initial start at nine furlongs.

While Dublin will be also debuting at 1 1/8 miles in the Arkansas Derby, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee has spent his entire career running on dirt surfaces across the country. Though his last win came in the Hopeful S. (G1) at Saratoga in September, the chestnut colt has been doing well in two races this year. He ran second by three parts of a length in the Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn before going in the Rebel, and hasn't stopped firing bullets over the track since mid-February. Jockey Terry Thompson, who was in the saddle for the Southwest, will retake the mount.

Like Noble's Promise, SUPER SAVER (Maria's Mon) ran an exceptional race in his belated three-year-old bow last out, finishing a half-length back in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) after dueling throughout. The Todd Pletcher runner obviously needed the tightening that event provided and is the likely pacesetter here. Super Saver will reunite with Calvin Borel, who guided the bay to a five-length trouncing in last season's Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2).

Lane's End S. (G2) runner-up NORTHERN GIANT (Giant's Causeway), Rebel fourth UH OH BANGO (Top Hit) and Grade 1-placed PULSION (Include) are the only other runners in the Arkansas Derby with prior stakes experience. Two of the remaining three entrants -- NEW MADRID (Rock Hard Ten) and BERBERIS (Southern Image) -- broke their maidens in their last race while California shipper LINE OF DAVID (Lion Heart) scored in a turf allowance.

Two races later on the Saturday's closing day card, a field of eight sophomore fillies will take to the track in the $75,000 Instant Racing S. going one lap around the mile oval. Grade 3 queen DECELERATOR (Dehere) will look to add another Oaklawn stakes to her resume following a victory in the Martha Washington S. in mid-February. The dark bay miss tried to lead gate-to-wire in the Honeybee S. (G3) last out, but faded to fourth on the wire. Thompson has piloting duties on Dublin's stablemate.

TIZ MIZ SUE (Tiznow) and BELL'S SHOES (Mineshaft) are also exiting the Honeybee, having run fifth and sixth, respectively, as well as the Martha Washington, where they filled the respective fourth and third spots.