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Old 03-17-2008, 09:44 AM   #51
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Default Massive Drama
Massive Drama Readied for Dubai. Trainer Dale Romans said Zayat Stables’ Massive Drama has flourished since arriving in South Florida from California last month.

The colt had a workout yesterday at Gulfstream Park ahead of a trek to Dubai for the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby on March 29, breezing six furlongs in 1:15.60 (3/5).

“He finished strong and did just what we wanted him to do,” said Romans, who took over training of Massive Drama from Bob Baffert. “We wanted to get him one good tightener before we ship.”

Romans successfully shipped to Nad al Sheba to win the 2005 Dubai World Cup with Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Roses in May. He said he's following a similar methods with Massive Drama. “I can tell you we’re not doing anything different,” said Romans. “All the advice we got going over there with Roses in May was get all your training done before you get over there. That’s what today’s work was all about.”
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Old 03-17-2008, 09:52 AM   #52
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Default Tampa Bay Derby aftermath article
Sunday, March 16, 2008

OLDSMAR, Fla., March 16, 2008--

The horses for the 28th Tampa Bay Derby were filing into the paddock, one by one. With arms outstretched and fingers wrapped around digital cameras, the assembled among a record crowd of 12,746 waited for the star to arrive. And the champion is always the last one to enter the ring.

Atoned, glistening with health as he walked by, and the businesslike Big Truck, were already taking their turns around the saddling enclosure. Shortly thereafter, there began a stirring in the crowd, which turned into a buzz, which turned almost immediately hoots and howls.

“What’s all the noise about?” asked stakes coordinator Duane Dube, his question directed facetiously toward Barclay Tagg. Tagg laughed, Dube smiled, but he never broke stride as he worked his way down the line, one stall at a time.
War Pass entered the ring looking like a champion. He stopped just before stepping into the paddock area, pricked his ears and turned his head, surveying the crowd. All this took a couple of seconds, before he continued his walk toward stall number 3.

Before Nick Zito and longtime assistant Tim Poole moved in for the girth-tightening procedure, War Pass took a circumference or two of the enclosure, Zito, game face on, shared a few moments with owner Robert LaPenta until his cell phone interrupted their visit.

Horsey paparazzi, some credentialed, some not, were everywhere, shooting anything that moved. A small group of people, either the connections of one of the horses or visiting dignitaries, got as close as they could get to stall number three. When the moment was right, they began clicking or buzzing away. Some apparently had flash capability, a big no-no when pent-up racehorses are the subject.

Moments later, a young, well-dressed man with a lovely child perched atop his shoulders, approached the group and said in a nice way to no one in particular: “I love all you people to death, but please don’t flash pictures of the horse. It just sucks all the energy right out of them.”

A racetracker for more than four decades, that was news to me. Maybe it’s because I don’t know the difference between a view-finder and the backside of a horse. Just then my cell phone began to vibrate. I flipped the lid open to see whether I should take the call immediately or call back when, staring me in the face, I noted the moment in time: Sat, Mar. 15, 5:38 pm.

The Ides of March. Hmm.

The horses left their enclosures for one final tour of the ring. War Pass didn’t turn a hair, as the racetrackers say, a real professional racehorse. Either that, or he could be a little flat. It happens without rhyme or reason sometimes. Not knowing the individual well, I can’t say.

Atoned was the last horse to leave the ring. Later, he would lead the Derby pack into the stretch, absolutely running his eyeballs out. It would take a big truck to run over the top of this guy.

The horsemen followed their charges out of the paddock. As the trainer of the favorite walked by, I was tempted to say what I always say: “Run good and come back good.” But luck almost always has nothing to do with it. So instead, I said: “Have a safe trip, Nick.”

“You said it right,” Zito replied. “That’s the only thing that really matters.”

Luck, both good and bad, did have something to do with it: Bad because of the start, the brilliant speedster breaking two lengths slow away from the barrier; good in that nothing untoward happened to the colt. But War Pass and Cornelio Velasquez were buffeted about soon after the start, and were in uncomfortably close quarters on the first turn, Velasquez forced to steady as the leaders straightened away into the backstretch.

Meanwhile, Johnny Velazquez, as if reprising his winning ride on the filly in last year’s Belmont Stakes, had Atoned comfortably out in the middle of the Tampa Bay straight, way out, in fact, moving into the four path on the final turn as Velazquez attempted to pull the rug out from beneath his rival’s hooves, surging to a clear advantage into the stretch.

At this juncture War Pass also was outside in the clear but obviously struggling over the surface and going nowhere. The early favorite for the Kentucky Derby was no longer going to be an undefeated champion, and his performance will be sure to open the flood-gates of Derby possibilities in coming days even wider.

As Atoned began to open his lead, Big Truck, appearing a bit heavy-headed, was being pushed on by Eibar Coa as they began their run for second. Leaving the quarter pole, as the horses came into view, Tagg ran toward the outside paddock railing and jumped up on a fence post, straining to see Big Truck’s outside rally that reached even terms with Atoned before finally pulling away with 40 yards to go--all while trying to maintain his balance.

“When they left the three-sixteenths, I was standing on the fence screaming and trying not to fall off,” said a smiling, reflective Tagg in the winners’ circle amidst a media semi-circle. “You just never know. You’re not supposed to beat War Pass going a mile and a sixteenth. But when I looked up and didn’t see him, I thought he had on the wrong colors.”

Tagg and owner Eric Fein’s concerns about graded earnings should not weigh on them too heavily, Big Truck’s $180,000 share of the purse should be enough. Knowing in earnest that they belong, Tagg and Fein have a serious interest in staying on the Derby trail with their Tampa Derby winner. A phone call to Zito had yet to be returned as this is posted.

If you believe in omens and legends, it appears the Ides of March have claimed another victim. Either that, or the reason why it’s called gambling.
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Old 03-17-2008, 09:31 PM   #53
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Default Good Read on Tomcito and Big Truck
Tomcito Comes to Gulfstream for Florida Derby Drill

Jet Set Racing’s Peruvian champion Tomcito slipped into Gulfstream Park Monday morning to turn in a ‘bullet’ workout that solidified his status as a starter in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on Sat., Mar. 29.

Trainer Dante Zanelli Jr. had planned on working the 3-year-old son of Street Cry at his Palm Meadows Training Center headquarters, but called an ‘audible’ Monday and put the colt into his personal trailer and drove to Gulfstream.

Tomcito responded with a quick five-furlong drill in 58 4/5 under jockey Christian Pilares. It was the fastest of 24 workers going five-eighths that morning.

“I was looking for something just under a minute and figured it would be quicker because he was at Gulfstream,” said Zanelli. “I wasn’t expecting 58, but he did exactly what we wanted with the way he finished, the way he came back to the barn, and with the way he’s cooling out.”

The Kentucky-bred winner of Peru’s 12-furlong, Group 1 Derby Nacional

( YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.) dominated in all but one of his five starts in South America, including two Group 1 wins against horses with considerably more development under their belts as older Southern Hemisphere-breds. His only loss was a troubled trip when second in the Peruvian 2,000 Guineas (G1).

Big Truck May Roll Into Holy Bull after Tampa Triumph

Assistant trainer Robin Smullen reported Eric Fein’s 3-year-old Big Truck returned to Barclay Tagg’s Gulfstream Park stable feeling fine early Sunday morning hours after the colt’s triumph in the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G3) Saturday.

The connections are mulling a start in the $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) here on Apr. 12 in its inaugural running at 1 3/16 miles. Tagg trained Elizabeth Valando’s Nobiz Like Shobiz to victory in the Holy Bull last year when it was run in early February at one mile.

“He’s (Big Truck) been going and going since last fall, but he’s none the worse for wear,” said Smullen Monday morning. “If he makes another start before the Kentucky Derby (G1), it would only be in the Holy Bull. Barclay could also train him up to it. Both plans are possible right now.”

Big Truck, a New York-bred son of Hook and Ladder, slugged out a neck victory over Dogwood Stable’s Atoned with 2007 2-year-old Eclipse champion War Pass fading to last in the first loss of that colt’s career in Saturday’s race.

It was the biggest payday of Big Truck’s career after a runner-up effort in the $200,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa on Feb. 16 and a fifth-place finish in the $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G2) here over a very ‘sloppy’ track on Jan. 5.

Big Truck has been racing once a month since last August except for a short break in December when he shipped from New York to South Florida.

“Fortunately, it looks like his last race was more of a progression,” said Smullen. “It’s not like his speed figure jumped by a whole lot, so we’re not as worried about a ‘bounce.’ He hasn’t gotten a break, but he’s gotten bigger after each start. The Holy Bull means he wouldn’t have to ship and he trains well over this track. Barclay will just see how he does and make a decision.”

Smullen sent Partingglass Stable and Three Colleens Stable’s Dave for a five-furlong workout at Gulfstream Sunday morning that might propel the 7-year-old son of Ends Well into the $150,000 Pan American Handicap (G3) on Sat. Apr. 5. He was clocked in 1:00 4/5, second-fastest of 18 workers at five-eighths of a mile.

The workout was supposed to be in company with Thomas Farone Jr.’s New York-bred stakes winner Factual Contender, but that 7-year-old mare wasn’t in the mood for playing with her fellow turf-running stablemate. She was credited with five furlongs in 1:01 4/5.

“I sent her out with Dave because she needed a good strong workout,” said Smullen. “He was just feeling so good and wanted to work today. Plus, he hates being inside, so she went on the rail and he went outside her, and he just ran away from her. They both got what they needed out of it. If we worked the two of them with him inside, she would have run off from him.”
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Old 03-17-2008, 09:44 PM   #54
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Default Misc. Articles
Santa Anita Park

Jockey Garrett Gomez will ride Grade 2 winner Court Vision
(Gulch) in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) at Aqueduct on April
5, according to Gomez’s agent, Ron Anderson.
Gomez was aboard Court Vision for the
first time in the three-year-old colt’s previous
start, a third-place finish in the Fountain
of Youth Stakes (G2) on February 24
at Gulfstream Park.
Last season, Court Vision won the Remsen
(G2) and Iroquois (G3) Stakes for
trainer Bill Mott.

Jockey Julio Garcia will soon rejoin the Santa Anita Park jockey
colony, according to his agent, Bob Meldahl.
“He’s been riding all over, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Mexico City,
but he wants to stay here,” Meldahl said of the 45-year-old native of
Puerto Rico. “He’s a very good rider and has had a lot of success here
off and on. Hopefully, we’ll make a good team.”
Garcia has been working horses for trainer Neil Drysdale at Hollywood

Turfway Park

Grade 3 winner Turf War (Dixie Union) and graded stakes-placed
stakes winners Cannonball(Catienus) and Halo Najib(Halo’s Image)
headline a list of ten horses probable for Saturday’s $500,000 Lane’s
End Stakes (G2), a 11⁄8-mile race for three-year-olds.
Other likely contenders are Grade 2-placed winner Racecar Rhapsody
(Tale of the Cat), Grade 3-placed winner Chitoz (Forest Wildcat),
Adriano (A. P. Indy), Duke of de Buqe (Dixie Union), Macho Again
(Macho Uno), Medjool (Monarchos), and El Aleman (Point Given).
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Old 03-18-2008, 09:54 AM   #55
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Default Field coming together for Lane's End
Field coming together for Lane's End

Turf War (outside), who disappointed as the favorite in the Southwest, could try to regroup in the Lane's End (Jeff Coady Photo)
On St. Patrick's Day, 10 three-year-olds were considered probable for Saturday's $500,000 Lane's End S. (G2) at Turfway Park. Entries for the 37th running of the Lane's End, which has evolved into an important stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby (G1), will be taken on Wednesday.
According to Turfway Park Stakes Coordinator Randy Wehrman, the current list (in alphabetical order) consists of ADRIANO (A.P. Indy), CANNONBALL (Catienus), CHITOZ (Forest Wildcat), DUKE OF DE BUQE (Dixie Union), EL ALEMAN (Point Given), HALO NAJIB (Halo's Image), MACHO AGAIN (Macho Uno), MEDJOOL (Monarchos), RACECAR RHAPSODY (Tale of the Cat), and TURF WAR (Dixie Union).

In addition, trainer Grant Hofmans is considering HALO'S KING (Halo's Image) for the Lane's End, but may send him to the $100,000 Rushaway S. instead. The 1 1/16-mile Rushaway is one of four other stakes races on the undercard.

Chitoz and Duke of de Buqe likely will represent Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the Lane's End in 2001 with Balto Star and in 2005 with Flower Alley. Both Chitoz and Duke of de Buqe have strong ties to Turfway, either in past performances or bloodlines.

Chitoz was second, beaten only a neck, in last year's Kentucky Cup Juvenile S. (G3) at Turfway. In his seasonal debut, the bay colt finished fourth as the favorite in a second-level allowance race on the turf at Gulfstream Park.

"Chitoz obviously ran well last year at Turfway over the Polytrack," Pletcher said. "With a race under his belt this year, we're hoping to see an improved effort on Saturday."

Pletcher's other Lane's End charge, Duke of de Buqe, has never raced anywhere but Aqueduct. He has two wins from four starts, all in dirt races restricted to New York-breds. The bay gelding, however, is out of the Devil's Bag mare Miss Livi, which makes him a half-brother to Balto Star.

"Duke of de Buqe is a horse we always thought would like the turf, and since he's a half to Balto Star, who could run on both dirt and turf, we think Duke of de Buqe will handle the Turfway Polytrack well," Pletcher said. "The Lane's End is a good option for him."

Trainer Dale Romans reports that his Lane's End contender, Halo Najib, is all set for the 1 1/8-mile race following a bullet five-furlong workout in :58 4/5 on Sunday at Turfway Park. Halo Najib left his Florida base for Kentucky a week ago.

Romans said the deciding factor in bringing the chestnut to the Lane's End was his undefeated record on synthetic surfaces. He broke his maiden at first asking last October over Keeneland's Polytrack and two starts ago won the O.B.S. Championship S. over the Ocala Training Center's synthetic surface.

Adriano's ninth-place finish from post 12 in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) on February 24 at Gulfstream Park was not exactly what Graham Motion was expecting, but the British-born trainer will give Adriano another chance in the Lane's End.

After a 6 3/4-length grass score in one of the most visually impressive performances of the current Gulfstream meeting, Adriano moved from allowance ranks to the Fountain of Youth for his first try on dirt. His bad luck started at the post position draw, where he drew the outside stall, and got worse from there, with first-turn trouble contributing to the lackluster finish behind Cool Coal Man (Mineshaft).

"He had a tough post, and I'm not sure he handled dirt as well as he handled grass," Motion said. "We were kind of experimenting with him. But I think he should handle the Polytrack and deserves one more shot at the big time."

Adriano's lone Polytrack effort resulted in a solid fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) last October at Keeneland. "He ran respectably that day," Motion said. "It was a big step up for him, after just breaking his maiden at Delaware."

Motion is also eager to give Adriano another try at the Lane's End distance. "I think that as the distances get longer it will only help him," he said.

Racecar Rhapsody is owned in partnership by Jerry Carroll, who owned Turfway Park from 1986 to 1999. After breaking his maiden over Keeneland's Polytrack last October, Racecar Rhapsody finished a close third in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs and concluded his juvenile season with a fourth-place effort in the Delta Jackpot S. (G3) at Delta Downs. The Kenny McPeek charge has been training forwardly at Gulfstream for his return to action.

The Lane's End will be the last of 12 races on Saturday. Gates open at 10 a.m. (EDT). First post is 1:10 p.m.
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Old 03-18-2008, 08:45 PM   #56
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Default LaPenta: War Pass was Perfect for Race
LaPenta: War Pass was Perfect for Race
Email Print RSS by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: March 18, 2008
Last Updated: March 18, 2008

War Pass was 100% healthy going into the Tampa Bay Derby.
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Photo: Coglianese Photos
Bob LaPenta and Nick Zito have always taken pride in their honesty, and with the nightmare of War Pass’ shocking performance in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) still causing them sleepless nights, LaPenta feels the need to address his comment after the race that the colt had a fever earlier in the week.
It was a comment LaPenta regrets making, mainly using a harsh word like fever, but he admits to being in a state of shock after seeing War Pass stagger home in last place. At the time, he wasn’t even aware of all the travails the colt had to endure, getting slammed into from both sides by two longshots, then being bumped hard again shortly after, and getting squeezed between horses going into the first turn. After that, the champ, who was bet down to 1-20 in the race, had little to offer after being swung to the outside by Cornelio Velasquez.

What caused the horse to run the way he did after all his troubles, whether it was physical or mental, no one knows. But if there is one thing LaPenta is sure of, it’s that War Pass was 100% healthy going into the race. And as a person who believes in integrity, in business and as a Thoroughbred owner, he now fears any repercussions that might question that integrity.

“I can’t believe I could have a catastrophe like I had on Saturday,” he said. “If there is one thing everyone who knows me will tell you, I’m an honest person. I put money into the game, I bring my family into the game, and we’re having fun and having some success. It’s a great thing. How that could go up in flames overnight is amazing to me. Believe me, if there’s one thing in my life I take pride in, it’s that I never go home and lose sleep at night because I didn’t tell somebody the truth. I may make a mistake, but I never, ever lie.

“War Pass is a hot-blooded horse and his normal temperature is a little higher than most horses – 100.3. On the Sunday before the race it was 100.6, yet he was eating and kicking the barn down. He was fine. It’s not like he had a 102 temperature and was sick. He wasn’t even given antibiotics.

“Does anyone think Nick or I would bring a horse like this to a $350,000 race and jeopardize his health and do something terrible to his reputation? We’d have to be out of our minds to send this poor horse out sick. Nick sleeps with this horse; he’s calling the barn all day and all night. He’ll wake up at two o’clock in the morning and call the barn. I have 24-hour guard service. Do you know how many times I spoke to the doctor last week and the doctor said ‘he’s fine; his blood count is fine?’ I just don’t want to see Nick get dragged through the mud. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with him in the last three months in which he said, ‘Bob, we’re not going to do anything with this horse unless he’s absolutely perfect.’”

Although the debate about disclosure still exists, especially with a 1-20 shot who is one of the top two favorites for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), LaPenta emphasizes the fact that there was never any hesitation about running the horse, who was given a clean bill of health and who was acting perfectly normal.

“I had 25 family members there and everyone was having a great time,” LaPenta said. “When the horse walked past the stands he looked like Adonis; he was gorgeous. We’ve got babies on our shoulders and the people are cheering, and then everything went wrong.

“I didn’t see what everyone saw on the head-on shots. And when this horse came around the turn and into the stretch the world came to an end. I almost fell down; I was standing there in shock. I had no idea what happened; no clue. We still have no idea. I mean, we’re going to the Kentucky Derby with the favorite. We get letters from Japan and from all over the world. To have that explode like that, do you think I was in my right mind five minutes after that race?

“He’s been checked over completely and we haven’t found a thing wrong with him. The whole day was a calamity of errors. I still haven’t been able to watch the replay, because I’ll throw up. But there is one thing I can guarantee you – going into the race, there was nothing wrong with that horse.”

So, for now, LaPenta and Zito will draw a line through the race and continue with their plan to run in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and hope War Pass rebounds in much the same manner Afleet Alex and Holy Bull did after their uncharacteristic bad efforts on the Derby trail.
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Old 03-19-2008, 08:22 AM   #57
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Default Good Read
LOS ANGELES, March 18, 2008--The short list of prominent West Coast hopefuls for the Kentucky Derby includes a gelding, a California-bred and, in what amounts to a double whammy, a Cal-bred gelding. There are few throw-outs when the Derby is more than three fortnights away, but backers of El Gato Malo, Sierra Sunset and Georgie Boy should know what they're up against. Every blue moon, a gelding or a Cal-bred wins the Derby, and a Cal-bred gelding has never won the Derby.

Should these horses actually reach Churchill Downs on May 3, their trainers will eventually be broached about their built-in albatrosses, and the stock answer will be, "The horse doesn't know." But the historians do.

Funny Cide, a gelding, won the Derby in 2003, and even more ridiculous he was a New York-bred, the first of its kind to win the race. Thus the Derby was exorcised of the Clyde Van Dusen Curse. Clyde Van Dusen, named after his trainer, won the 1929 Derby from the No. 20 post, and then 76 more geldings finished up the track at Churchill before Funny Cide broke through. Between the 2003 Derby and the Preakness, when I was ratcheting enough gumption to ask Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's crotchety trainer, about the celestial nexus his horse had with Clyde Van Dusen, he threw me out of his Belmont Park barn, while ranting nonsensically about how my hanging around was driving up his workers' comp costs.

It's been 46 years, or eight years after Jeff Bonde was born, since a California-bred has won the Derby. The last Cal-bred to prevail, in 1962, was Decidedly, who was the first since Swaps, seven years before. The only other Cal-bred to win the Derby was Morvich in 1922. Al Jolson tried to buy Morvich as a 2-year-old, for $75,000.

Bonde, who's based at Golden Gate Fields, is one race away from his first Derby after the Cal-bred colt Sierra Sunset won the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Brother Derek is the only Cal-bred to run in the Derby in the last five years. He was given a good chance, but drew the No. 18 post and didn't deal with the far outside nearly as well as Clyde Van Dusen. Brother Derek was next to last when the race was half over, and after a cross-country route to the wire, he finished in a dead heat for fourth, well behind Barbaro.

Sierra Sunset's owners bought him for $40,000 at the California Thoroughbred Breeders Assn.'s Northern California yearling sale in Pleasanton. Autism Awareness, recent winner of the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows but now on the injured list, was a $1,000 bargain at the same sale. For directions to Pleasanton, see Jeff Bonde. The son of a horseshoer, he was born there.

I talked to Phil Lebherz, one of Sierra Sunset's owners, shortly after he won the California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita in November. Lebherz told me about the "Bonde Scores," a mathematical evaluation that the trainer uses to help him buy horses. The way I understand it, Bonde X-rays a horse, measures the size of its heart and lungs, and then closely examines the feet and its way of going. Those combined assessments produce a number from 1 to 10. Bonde has never seen a 10, but Spain, who ran for him as a 2-year-old before Wayne Lukas saddled her to win the 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff, came close.

Sierra Sunset, a son of Bertrando and Toot Sweet, who won only two races, came in at "almost a nine" on the Bonde scale. "He had a tremendous heart, and a great set of lungs," Lebherz said.

Sierra Sunset couldn't keep up with El Gato Malo and Colonel John on the synthetic tracks in California, but at Oaklawn, on dirt, he's put together two solid races. In the Southwest Stakes, he was second to Denis of Cork, who inexplicably skipped the Rebel. Bonde is expected to keep his colt at Oaklawn, for the Arkansas Derby on April 12. Forty-three Cal-breds have run for naught in the Derby since Decidedly won it.

There is speculation that Georgie Boy, the Cal-bred gelding who's won the Del Mar Futurity and most recently the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, might also turn up in the Arkansas Derby. Racing over nothing but synthetic tracks, Georgie Boy has been awfully consistent, never worse than third in seven tries, and the San Felipe was his first test around two turns. He's trained by Kathy Walsh, whose only previous Derby trip, with the gelding Hanuman Highway in 1998, was preceded by a prep in Arkansas, where her horse, at 27-1, finished second, a head behind Victory Gallop, while outfinishing the previously undefeated Favorite Trick. Hanuman Highway finished seventh in the Derby.

Should Georgie Boy get to Louisville, the 68-year-old Walsh will become the first woman trainer to saddle a horse in the Derby twice. The Derby has had 11 female trainers, their best finish when Shelley Riley's Casual Lies finished second behind Lil E. Tee in 1992.

At Churchill, the media will treat Walsh as rara avis, but she is not likely to hum the second chorus. She was largely puzzled by the extra attention the first time around, as someone who's been chummy with horses for 60 years might be expected to react. She's been a head trainer since 1970, when her father died and she took over the family stable. Well, there were five years away from training when Walsh was married. "I found out I couldn't cook or sew," she said.
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Old 03-19-2008, 03:14 PM   #58
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Default War Pass loss among most startling in years
War Pass loss among most startling in years

By Jeremy Plonk

On the twentieth anniversary of one of the most upset-ridden, early-season Triple Crown trails comes last week's ultimate trail-trembler, War Pass' stunning last-place finish at 1-to-20 odds in the G3 Tampa Bay Derby. Whether you blame a since-reported (but later retracted) fever, a bumpy beginning, a lack of versatility or a herky-quirky Tampa Bay Downs racing surface, it's hard to wrap your arms around a good excuse for a once-though freight train being grinded to a halt by cellophane.

War Pass finished seventh and last, beaten by 23-1/4 lengths -- as seemingly measured through binoculars -- last Saturday in a race he had no business losing, much less conceding outright. The Nick Zito trainee, who had won all five previous starts, including last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is not the first big-name pony to have his reputation rattled en route to Louisville. But close inspection of the past two decades' Derby runners doesn't find anything nearly this startling.

Skip Away was "eased in distress" from his 1996 Gulfstream Park allowance comeback race, finishing last at 2-to-5 odds, probably the closest comparison in terms of shock value to War Pass' Tampa Bay Derby debacle. For War Pass' sake, he can take some solace in that Skip Away would rebound later that spring to win the Blue Grass Stakes and go on to one of the most stellar careers in Thoroughbred racing history.

Another disastrous pre-Derby attempt that turned out fine in the long-run was Holy Bull's 1994 Fountain of Youth, where he was beaten by 24-1/4 lengths (1 more than even War Pass) while finishing sixth as the 6-to-5 favorite. It proved to be Holy Bull's only bump in the pre-Derby road as he arrived in Louisville with a 7-for-8 lifetime mark. Like Skip Away, he flopped badly in the Kentucky Derby, but future racing endeavors turned out quite rosy, as he still earned '94 Horse of the Year honors after a summer/fall blitz.

Three springs ago, Afleet Alex was bombed by 12 lengths when sixth in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, finishing sixth as the 3-to-5 chalk. Later diagnosed with a lung infection, he erased his Rebel disaster with one of the most impressive Arkansas Derby victories in the event's steep history. Third in the Kentucky Derby, he registered the Preakness, Belmont and 3-year-old championship as the poster boy for what the War Pass camp hopes is possible.

Horses like Skip Away, Holy Bull and Afleet Alex prove that great runners get beat, and beat badly, sometimes. Most often, physical issues are behind the wheel. But sometimes the public simply gets it wrong, buying into a reputation built at age two, but not substantiated in the maturity process, or as the distances elongate for a Thoroughbred marching toward the Kentucky Derby.

One of the biggest springtime upsets of a Derby player came in the 1998 Arkansas Derby, when unbeaten 2-year-old champion Favorite Trick was drilled to 2-to-5 favoritism. With nine consecutive victories on his resume, the public dove in on a horse whose pedigree and running style leaned against success at nine, much less 10, furlongs. In a gallant effort, Favorite Trick was reeled in late by eventual Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop in Arkansas, tipping his hand to a tiring, eighth-place finish in Louisville.

Houston also fit that same bill as a hotshot speedball with a perfect record heading into the 1989 Santa Anita Derby, where his front-running wins had the fans ga-ga to the tune of 4-to-5 favoritism over the likes of Sunday Silence. He managed to beat only one runner when fifth by 16-3/4 lengths. Houston returned three weeks later to win the Derby Trial by daylight at one mile, but was overmatched at the big dance going a classic distance.

With distance questions in his pedigree, will War Pass follow along the lines of Favorite Trick and Houston, and simply not be up to the endurance challenge? It's probably too early to tell on that, given all the hub-bub that could have played into his Tampa Bay demise. But the Wood Memorial next month should un-categorically tell racing observers where War Pass stands on this all-important campaign issue.

Nick Zito, himself, has not been immune to this springtime bug. Just four years ago, his Birdstone ran an inexplicably poor fifth-place finish in the G2 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park, pummeled at the windows to 3-to-5 favoritism. Wallowing over a wet track some 10-3/4 lengths behind a one-hit wonder named Sinister G., Birdstone's impressive resume and 2-year-old form had been rendered meaningless in less than two minutes. Zito went back to the drawing board, trained the colt up to the Kentucky Derby without another prep race and ran into a traffic disaster and subsequent wet track in Smarty Jones' Derby score. But history always will remember his performance five weeks later when scoring the Belmont Stakes in a well-versed lesson in rebound and Zito-stable perseverance.

While most of these examples of great horses gone awry turned out with feel-good endings as their careers ensued, none were mentioned as being able to rebound and win the Kentucky Derby. If War Pass is to rebound for the roses, he can take a tiny slice of hope from the heavily favored, poor, single-spring efforts of Derby champions like Thunder Gulch and Unbridled. The former finished fourth in the 1995 Blue Grass at 6-to-5 in his final Derby tune-up and the latter fifth in the 1990 Tropical Park Derby at 6-to-5 odds to open his sophomore season.

And, who knows, maybe this spring will turn out as similar to the one that unfolded 20 years ago? In '88, upsets abounded early, but form came back to hold amongst the divisional leaders by the time the Triple Crown closed its curtain. Two decades ago, a bumpy road to Louisville possessed not one, but a quartet, of legitimate head-scratchers.

That was the season when Winning Colors lost the Las Virgenes at 3-to-5 in her only pre-Derby loss in six tries; Risen Star was upended in the Lecomte at 2-to-5, also his only pre-Derby defeat in a half-dozen starts; Seeking the Gold missed the mark in the Gotham at 3-to-5 to snap his unbeaten record; and Forty Niner fell short in Hutcheson at 3-to-5 to open his sophomore season after a 5-for-6 juvenile campaign.

But none of those star horses' narrow losses comes even close to the lackluster showing War Pass made on Florida's west coast. Whether we ultimately remember War Pass' Tampa Bay Derby two decades from now largely depends on what he does next -- either rebound in a big way, or fade into sophomore oblivion.
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Default Kentucky Derby Report

MARCH 20, 2008

by James Scully

In stunning fashion, two-year-old champion WAR PASS (Cherokee Run) suffered his first career loss with a last-place effort in Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby (G3). The Nick Zito-trained colt didn't display his customary speed after being squeezed at the start and wound up backing out of it at the top of the stretch, finishing more than 23 lengths behind the winning BIG TRUCK (Hook and Ladder). War Pass exited in good order, according to Zito, and will still be pointed toward the April 5 Wood Memorial (G1), but the Tampa Bay Derby exposed the one-dimensional front runner. By a champion sprinter and out of a speed-oriented Mr. Prospector mare, War Pass' pedigree was a big concern entering the season, and the Tampa Bay Derby served as his first start around two turns on a fast track.

Saturday turned out to be a big afternoon for state-bred programs in New York and California. Big Truck is a New York-bred, and the winners of the Rebel S. (G2) and San Felipe S. (G2), SIERRA SUNSET (Bertrando) and GEORGIE BOY (Tribal Rule), respectively, were both bred in California. Who would have ever expected such a thing?

Big Truck is coming on for Barclay Tagg. He drew high praise from his conditioner last summer when opening his career with a pair of impressive wins over New York-bred opponents, and the bay colt suffered his first setback over an off track in the restricted Sleepy Hollow S. at Belmont Park in October, finishing third by a half-length to GIANT MOON (Giant's Causeway). However, Big Truck was never a factor when stepping up to face open company in his juvenile finale, recording a fourth in the Remsen S. (G2), and his three-year-old season began poorly with a well-beaten fifth in the January 5 Hutcheson S. (G2) over a sloppy track at Gulfstream Park.

Big Truck rebounded from those debacles with a fast-closing second in the February 16 Sam F. Davis S., finishing a half-length back of FIERCE WIND (Dixie Union), and he rallied determinedly to catch ATONED (Repent) in deep stretch of the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby, winning by a neck. Big Truck hasn't earned a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating, but he registered a career-best 99 figure on Saturday.

Tagg mentioned training Big Truck up to the Kentucky Derby (G1), but left open the possibility of one more prep. His supporters have to be hoping for the latter. Big Truck raced close to the pace until the far turn of the Tampa Bay Derby, when he came under a ride, and the colt actually lost ground on the final bend as Atoned passed him on the far outside. He kicked it in after straightening into the stretch, but Atoned figured to be a little short coming back off a lengthy layoff. Big Truck, who is out of a Go for Gin mare, hasn't been nine furlongs yet, and he hasn't run well fresh in the past. Why wouldn't his connections give him another race to build upon before the Kentucky Derby?

Credit Atoned with a solid showing. Unraced since a troubled second in the Remsen, the Todd Pletcher runner traveled wide most of the entire way in the Tampa Bay Derby and surged to a clear lead in midstretch before being caught late. The stakes-winning colt hasn't run very fast yet (career-best 98 Speed rating), but Atoned owns plenty of foundation and is eligible to keep improving in his final prep race.

Sierra Sunset captured the Rebel in convincing fashion, rolling to a three-length score for conditioner Jeff Bonde, and the Northern California-based colt was the only winner of Saturday's three preps to earn a triple-digit Speed rating, posting a 103. He broke well under Chris Emigh and stalked the pace in second, racing well off the rail the entire way. It was clear entering the far turn that Emigh had plenty of horse under him, and Sierra Sunset swooped past the pacesetter and entered the stretch drive full of run, quickly opening up a daylight advantage. Maiden winner KING'S SILVER SON (Mizzen Mast), a 17-1 outsider, produced a brief run to loom as a threatening presence in midstretch, but Sierra Sunset went on to the wire as much the best.

Winner of the California Cup Juvenile S. and Bay Meadows Juvenile S. in back-to-back starts last fall, Sierra Sunset was no factor when wrapping up his juvenile season with a sixth in the CashCall Futurity (G1) and opening 2008 with a fourth in the San Rafael S. (G3). The bay colt dropped in class off those starts and headed to Oaklawn Park, where he finished second in the Southwest S. (G3) prior to the Rebel. The April 12 Arkansas Derby (G2) will be next, but Sierra Sunset, who is by Bertrando and out of a Pirate's Bounty mare, will have to outrun his breeding as distances increase. The competition also figures to get much tougher in his upcoming starts.

Z FORTUNE (Siphon [Brz]), the 3-5 Rebel favorite, was a huge disappointment finishing fifth. Stablemate King's Silver Son, who needed six starts before breaking his maiden in a slow time at Fair Grounds on January 21, finished a clear second in his first start against winners. Rebel third-placer ISABULL (Holy Bull), a near 27-1 outsider, finished far back in the Southwest and hasn't won a race since breaking his maiden on Polytrack last September. In hindsight, Saturday's Rebel looks like a very soft field.

Saturday's San Felipe was deeper in talent, but the top three contenders -- Georgie Boy, GAYEGO (Gilded Time) and BOB BLACK JACK (Stormy Jack) -- were all unproven around two turns. Georgie Boy passed the test with flying colors, rolling past Gayego in deep stretch to win the 1 1/16-mile heat going away by three parts of a length. The Kathy Walsh charge remains a complete unknown on dirt, but he's clearly a top-class performer on synthetic surfaces.

Winner of the Del Mar Futurity (G1), Georgie Boy returned from a five-month layoff to capture the seven-furlong San Vicente S. (G2), winning off by 3 1/4 lengths. He netted a 106 Speed rating for that effort. His Speed figure dropped to a 95 on Saturday, but Georgie Boy looked very good, with the exception of not changing leads in the stretch. His pedigree doesn't inspire much confidence in a classic distance, but Georgie Boy hasn't shown any distance limitations so far. He'll likely stretch out to nine furlongs in the April 5 Santa Anita Derby (G1), where he'll face the two other leading three-year-olds in California, COLONEL JOHN (Tiznow) and EL GATO MALO (El Corredor).

Gayego figures to go on to the Santa Anita Derby for Paulo Lobo, but trainer James Kasparoff plans to ship Bob Black Jack elsewhere, stating that the synthetic tracks don't suit his front-running style.


Saturday's Lane's End S. (G2) at Turfway Park is the lone graded event for three-year-olds this weekend, and a mostly unproven cast of 12 has been assembled. Top contenders include TURF WAR (Dixie Union), HALO NAJIB (Halo's Image) and CHITOZ (Forest Wildcat).

Top 10

1) PYRO -- He's on schedule for his next start in the April 12 Blue Grass (G1)

2) COLONEL JOHN -- Returned to the races with a game win in the Sham (G3)

3) EL GATO MALO -- No dirt experience but late runner is talented

4) COURT VISION -- Improvement expected in Wood off his late-running third in Fountain of Youth (G2)

5) VISIONAIRE -- Michael Matz runner rallied boldly for Gotham (G3)

6) GEORGIE BOY -- Closed strongly to win going away when making two-turn debut in San Felipe

7) BIG BROWN -- Smashing allowance winner will make stakes bow in Florida Derby (G1)

8) COOL COAL MAN -- Fountain of Youth winner is headed to Blue Grass

9) ATONED -- Owns two-year-old class and returned to the races with an encouraging showing in Tampa

10) DENIS OF CORK -- Will use a light schedule to prepare for Kentucky Derby
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By Jon White

What is with the radical decline in the Beyer Speed Figure department this month by undefeated 3-year-olds? Is this racing’s version of March Madness?

Giant Moon won his initial three career starts with Beyers of 83, 84 and 82 before a career-high 93 when he took the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 5.

And then, in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aquedcuct on March 8, Giant Moon suffered his first loss while recording a puny Beyer of 17. That’s right, a 17. Look, it’s tough enough to win a race at Penn National or Portland Meadows with a 17, let alone a graded stakes race like the Gotham.

J Be K registered a 99 Beyer Speed Figure when he broke the track record for 5 1/2 furlongs with a 1:03.13 clocking in his career debut at Saratoga last Aug. 29. He then earned a 91 when victorious in his 2008 debut against allowance rivals on a wet track at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 15.

But after a pair of Beyers in the 90s, J Be K dropped way off to a 67 when he finished eighth in the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 8.

The Beyer madness continued last weekend. War Pass, winner of last year’s Grade I Champagne Stakes and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on his way to an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male, went into Saturday’s Grade III Tampa Bay Derby undefeated and untested in five lifetime starts. There were comparisons by some, including Andrew Beyer of The Washington Post, to 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

War Pass earned an 84 Beyer Speed Figure when unveiled at Saratoga last July 28, followed by figures last year of 94, 103 and 113. That 113 is the highest in the history of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, surpassing the Beyers earned by such other winners of that race as Street Sense (108), Vindication (102), Johannesburg (99), Macho Uno (99 while defeating Point Given), Favorite Trick (101 en route to the Horse of the Year title), Unbridled’s Song (103), Timber Country (100) and Arazi (101).

Remember Arazi and his electrifying Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory in 1991? Well, from a Beyer Speed Figure perspective, it did not come close to what War Pass did last fall in the Juvenile.

After posting Beyers of 84, 94, 103 and 113 as a 2-year-old, War Pass earned a 97 when he kicked off his 3-year-old campaign in a 7 1/2-length allowance victory (which was essentially a paid workout) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 24.

And then, from that 97, War Pass earned a meager 53 Beyer while struggling home last as a 1-20 favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby. A 53 is a pretty good Will Rogers Downs-like number, not one generally associated with a champion.

Considering what has happened to Giant Moon, J Be K and War Pass this month, it’s probably just as well that the connections of undefeated Denis of Cork elected to skip last Saturday’s Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park since that race is in March. Denis of Cork instead is scheduled to make his next start in either the Grade I Wood Memorial or Grade II Illinois Derby. Fortunately those races are in April (April 5, to be exact).

And what about Big Brown? He earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure when he romped to an 11 1/4-length debut win on the turf at Saratoga last year, followed by a 104 Beyer in his monstrous 12 3/4-length victory in his dirt debut at Gulfstream Park on March 5.

Big Brown is to make his next start in the Grade I Florida Derby. The Florida Derby will be renewed on March 29. Oh-oh. Will the March madness continue and Big Brown’s Florida Derby plunge? We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, what in the heck happened to War Pass at Tampa Bay Downs? Yes, he was pinched back at the start. But that alone does not really explain such a poor performance. In a Daily Racing Form story Sunday by Mike Welsch, trainer Nick Zito said War Pass sustained “some cuts on his left leg” that the trainer surmises were a result of being jostled around leaving the gate.

On Monday, Zito told Jay Privman of the DRF that he remained “baffled” by the champ’s race.

Zito said: “We scoped him. Everything was perfect. We took X-rays. No change. We’ll keep taking more today. He’ll go back to the track on Wednesday. I’m baffled right now. We know that whatever happened, that wasn’t him. That we know.”

There has been quite an outcry over the widely reported characterization that War Pass competed in the Tampa Bay Derby after having a fever earlier in the week. That is what owner Robert LaPenta was reported to have told some members of the media immediately after the race.

I found that extremely hard to believe. Why would a great trainer like Nick Zito run War Pass if he weren’t right? That would be hard enough to believe if it were the Kentucky Derby, let alone the Tampa Bay Derby. With a plethora of Derby preps, there’s absolutely no reason for Zito to run War Pass in the Tampa Bay Derby if something were amiss.

“He did not have a fever,” Zito told Privman. “Fever means you’re sick. On my mother’s life, he never missed an oat. His temperature was a little high, just slightly, last Sunday [March 9], but he was fine the rest of the week. Just to make sure, we took a blood [test] on him on Thursday, and it was perfect. He did not have a fever. That’s not why he got beat. Why did he get beat? That’s what we’ve got to find out.”

As of now, Zito is inclined to dismiss War Pass’ Tampa Bay debacle and stick to the plan to run in the Wood Memorial on April 5. However, the Hall of Famer has reserved the right to pull the plug on that plan should he see something he doesn’t like in the colt’s training between now and the Wood.

Despite what happened in the Tampa Bay Derby, I still respect War Pass. He’s obviously a talented colt. Personally, I can picture him being a very tough customer in a race like the Met Mile. But even before War Pass ran a clunker at Tampa Bay Downs, I just couldn’t picture him winning the roses. As I wrote last week, in my opinion, Pyro looks much more like a horse capable of winning at 1 1/4 miles under 126 pounds on the first Saturday in May than War Pass.

While the focus understandably was on War Pass’ stunning loss in the Tampa Bay Derby, Big Truck deserves credit for winning the race, especially since he didn’t have the best of trips. Big Truck was shuffled back going into the far turn, then came on inexorably in the stretch to prevail by a neck at 7-1. Atoned ran second at 9-1.

Big Truck is a New York-bred trained by Barclay Tagg, who saddled New York-bred Funny Cide to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby. A son of Hook and Ladder, Big Truck earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in the Tampa Bay Derby. So it’s not as if the bar was set high for War Pass by the winner running some sort of huge Beyer. Big Truck is a grandson of Go for Gin, who won the 1994 Kentucky Derby for Zito.

In other graded stakes action for 3-year-olds last Saturday, California-bred Georgie Boy proved a punctual 7-5 favorite in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes for trainer Kathy Walsh. Another Cal-bred, Sierra Sunset, won Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes by three emphatic lengths for trainer Jeff Bonde.

Georgie Boy did not have an ideal trip.

“He was blocked in behind horses [turning for home],” Walsh said. [Jockey Michael Baze] had so much horse all the way around. When [Georgie Boy] got to the quarter pole, he was just waiting for a spot. He had no place to go, and he’s a smart enough horse he wasn’t going to run up on horses’ heels. Michael did a nice job on him.”

Walsh indicated Monday that Georgie Boy will probably run next in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 5, with the Grade II Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 12 as a back-up plan.

In the San Felipe, Georgie Boy earned only a 92 Beyer, down from his career-best 103 when he won the Grade II San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 10. The gelded son of Tribal Rule also took the Grade I Del Mar Futurity as a 2-year-old when earning an 88 Beyer.

Georgie Boy became only the third horse to win both the Del Mar Futurity and San Felipe. The other two were Your Host and Bertrando.

After Your Host won the 1950 San Felipe, he went on to win the Santa Anita Derby and break the track record for seven furlongs at Keeneland. He finished ninth as the 8-5 favorite in Middleground’s Kentucky Derby.

After Bertrando won the 1992 San Felipe, he finished second to A.P. Indy in the Santa Anita Derby. Bertrando did not start again at 3. He later would be voted an Eclipse Award as champion older male of 1993.

Sierra Sunset, a son of Bertrando, was clearly the Beyer Speed Figure star among sophomores last Saturday. He recorded a 99 Beyer in the Rebel.

Last year’s Rebel winner also earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. You may have heard of that colt. His name is Curlin.

Curlin, of course, would go on to win the Arkansas Derby (105 Beyer), Preakness Stakes (111), Jockey Club Gold Cup (114) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (119) en route to the 2007 Horse of the Year title.

What does the future hold for this year’s Rebel winner? Who knows? But Sierra Sunset is a very good 3-year-old who seems better on the dirt than on synthetic surfaces.

In his last three starts on the dirt, Sierra Sunset streaked to an eight-length win in the Bay Meadows Juvenile last Sept. 15, finished second to Denis of Cork in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 18, then won the Rebel.

In four starts on a synthetic track, Sierra Sunset finished ninth in the Grade III Hollywood Juvenile Championship last July 4, won the California Cup Juvenile at Oak Tree on Nov. 3, ran sixth in the Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 22 and finished fourth in the Grade III San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 12.

Sierra Sunset is to remain at Oaklawn Park to go next in the Arkansas Derby, which, despite being a Grade II instead of a Grade I as it should be, has become an increasingly key race in recent years.

Arkansas Derby winners Curlin (Preakness), Afleet Alex (Preakness and Belmont Stakes) and Smarty Jones (Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes) have won five of the last 12 Triple Crown races.

Z Fortune finished fifth as the 7-10 favorite in last Saturday’s Rebel. The Siphon colt, like Sierra Sunset, will likely make his next start in the Arkansas Derby, according to his trainer, Steve Asmussen.

With their losses last Saturday, War Pass and Z Fortune dropped off this week’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 list. They can earn their way back on it down the line. Georgie Boy returns to the list this week, while Sierra Sunset is appearing on it for the first time.

Here is this week’s list:

1. Pyro
2. Denis of Cork
3. Cool Coal Man
4. Elysium Fields
5. Colonel John
6. El Gato Malo
7. Georgie Boy
8. Big Brown
9. Visionaire
10. Sierra Sunset

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Old 03-20-2008, 08:50 PM   #61
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Ward: Cannonball Ready to Roll. Cannonball worked four furlongs Monday at Palm Beach Downs for trainer Wesley Ward. "It was the best work he's ever had,” said Ward. “It was beautiful, nice and easy. The exercise rider had to turn him over to the pony afterwards because she was so sore from pulling to keep him slow. He went a half in :48.40, and that was going as slow as he can on the turf."

Cannonball, a gelding, leaves West Palm Beach at 10:30 this morning and will go into Ward's barn at Keeneland before shipping up to Turfway on race day. Cannonball has earned good money in stakes, but only $9,300 in the graded variety.
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Default Big Brown a Must Read
By John Pricci contributor
updated 7:58 p.m. CT, Fri., March. 21, 2008

John Pricci

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Anyone who has spent time around Rick Dutrow probably would agree his disposition is described best with one word: unflappable. He doesn’t rattle easily, has an easy way of moving about and answers questions in matter-of-fact style, like he‘s been there, done it.

So, will he allow his first Kentucky Derby get the better of him, is there any anxiety about the pressure cooker he’s about to enter, will it alter the confidence he has in his training program?

That would be no, no and no.

“I’m going to follow his lead,” the trainer of Big Brown, one of the strong Florida Derby favorites, said in his stable office, Barn 22, at the Palm Meadows training center. “He’ll take us as far as we can go.”

From what he sees thus far, Dutrow believes, as does his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, who forsook a trip to Dubai for next Saturday’s World Cup festivities to ride Big Brown at Gulfstream.

‘Where Big Brown goes, Kent Desormeaux will go’
Desormeaux’s agent, Mike Sellito, said it best a few weeks ago when he informed his regular customers and the rest of the racing world: “Where Big Brown goes, Kent Desormeaux will go.”

For Desormeaux on Wednesday, that meant a short trip north on I-95, west on 595, then north on Florida’s Turnpike, about 30 miles and a couple of furlongs by car from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. He worked his Florida Derby mount five furlongs.

After working Big Brown five-eighths in a minute, like breaking so many sticks — “I told him not too fast, not too slow,” — Desormeaux got off the colt, walked into Dutrow’s office and said: “You know, the other day when he won, I was so high that I was saying crazy things, like he’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden. Now I think he really might be.”

Dutrow recalled Desormeaux’s words before showing the reporter his trainer’s log book, repeating exactly what he told the rider in response to his ‘best horse’ comment. First, some background:

Dutrow and the entire racetrack knew what he was getting even before Big Brown walked into his barn following a private purchase for a major interest in the colt. Big Brown had run exactly once, on the grass at Saratoga. He left the barrier so fast that he blew the first turn but, after settling into comfortable stride, Jeremy Rose pushed the button into the stretch and Big Brown drew off to win by 11¼ lengths.

Not long after the highly successful IEAH group outbid Darley Stable interests for Big Brown, he was turned over to Dutrow, who immediately pointed to the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Plans were scrapped when the colt developed a quarter crack. Back to the drawing board, Dutrow repeated the process this year but before the colt could return to the races he developed another quarter crack on the off side.

Following more rest and repair, Big Brown started shed-walking Feb. 1 until finally, on the 11th, with the crack almost completely healed, Big Brown began jogging two miles a day. Between Feb. 11 and Mar. 1, Big Brown had three workouts, all of the not-too-fast-not-too-slow variety: three furlongs, galloping out a half-mile; a half-mile, out five furlongs, and finally five furlongs, out three-quarters.

‘A turf horse AND a dirt horse’
“I always thought he was better on turf but when I worked him in company and (older stakes horse) Diamond Stripes couldn’t stay with him, I knew I had a turf horse AND a dirt horse.

“He worked an unbelievable five furlongs — I couldn’t imagine he was anywhere near 100 percent — but was fit and ready to run. I asked the racing secretary to write a race; turf, dirt, it didn’t matter. I told nobody about how I trained him. Then I called Bobby Frankel and said ‘listen to what I did, I must be crazy.’”

A mile turf race was written for Mar. 5 but rain forced it to be rescheduled on the main track. After stalking a :22 4/5 and :45 1/5 pace, Big Brown easily took the lead approaching the stretch beneath a motionless Desormeaux, was six lengths in front in a twinkling and 12¾ lengths to the good at the end of a 1:35 3/5 mile.

Two starts, two wins, by a combined 24 lengths. “Mike (Ivarone, managing partner of IEAH) called the night he won. I was so excited I couldn’t talk.”

“(Big Brown) is so laid back, unassuming,” said his trainer. “He doesn’t make you pay attention to him. On the track he does what you want and we let him do what he wants. He’s starting to come around, figuring things out. Now he wants to do more but we just try to keep him in hand.”

The Florida Derby is Saturday, Mar. 29. “He’ll work next on the 25th, same thing, another five-eighths.” Dutrow is not allowing himself to become too excited, and has no interest in trying to get to the bottom of Big Brown. “I’m just trying to stay out of his way.”
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3 Things You Won't Read Anywhere Else
Opinions are like a March Madness office pool. Sometimes the dweeb in the cubicle next to you comes off looking like a genius while you study your brain into mush and still wallow in ineptitude.

1 -- Stick a fork in WAR PASS. The seismic rebound needed after his Tampa Bay Derby debacle is insurmountable given his lack of versatility and fact he's gotten nothing out of not one, but two preps to this point. Shame, too, because I'm a big, big fan. Worse yet, you almost have to think something physically will show up down the road to explain it -- or was more present than what's been publicly alluded to so far.

2 -- I'm the first to want what's best for horseplayers, but a rule "demanding" the public know if WAR PASS had spiked a fever or not simply fails in its intent to protect gamblers. Do you want a shady trainer telling you the thermometer popped to get a better price on his own wager? Of course not, so this discussion cuts both ways. A horse's health is a necessary part of the gamble. Now, if a horse is moved off-site to a hypobaric chamber (ala Sweet Catomine a few springs ago), that's a different story...or, if the state veterinarian sees a particular horse, then that should be public record.

3 -- After a silent winter, don't be surprised to see multiple starters from Todd Pletcher on the first Saturday in May. Both ATONED and TEXAS WILDCATTER appear to be coming to hand with one prep left to go, and Pletcher often has a Keeneland late riser on the scene.

This Week's Fearless Forecast
This section includes a preview of the coming week's 3-year-old races to watch. Before we analyze the stakes action in Kentucky and Maryland, it's time to highlight a few undercard races of note this weekend.

Michael Matz's million-dollar baby ANEWDAY tops a 7-furlong MSW Saturday at Gulfstream. The third-time starter meets impeccably bred rookie FWHYEYE (Unbridled's Song-Rare Blend) for Kiaran McLaughlin and fast-working debuter ECTON ROAD for Dale Romans. Out west, Santa Anita has a sharp MSW turf mile Saturday where STREET ROYAL returns after a solid third to MEDJOOL. If the latter runs big in the G2 Lane's End earlier in the day, it might be an "all in" situation on this Bob Hess trainee in Santa Anita's fifth.

Also watch out for Tom Amoss' very versatile BOSS LAFITTE on the Fair Grounds turf Saturday in the listed Grindstone Stakes on closing weekend.

G2 Lane's End (Saturday/Turfway Park):
With a full field of runners and an extremely balanced potential pace scenario, expect the Polytrack-surfaced Lane's End to be run in very turf-like fashion. Several players should be in the mix at the top of the lane with a quick burst needed for the big prizes. Trip and acceleration should be atop your handicapping radar.

With John Velazquez staying at Gulfstream to ride the $200,000 Shirley Jones on a Jimmy Jerkens trainee, it leaves an empty feeling for Todd Pletcher's Lane's End reps CHITOZ and DUKE OF DE BUQE. Both look questionable at 1-1/8 miles, though CHITOZ ran what looked to be a winning race in last year's Kentucky Cup Juvenile over this track. I don't think he has the punch at 9 panels to out-kick some of the Lane's End top contenders, but he should be in the melee.

ADRIANO could daylight this field if he runs his A-race. His Gulfstream turf allowance win earlier this year was perhaps the best display of acceleration on the entire Triple Crown trail this season, outside of PYRO's Risen Star display. He was completely washed out prior to the Fountain of Youth and looked atrocious going to the gate, as though he had no chance. He ran as rank as he looked, and it should be noted that was on a date that had record-setting heat. Cooler temps at Turfway make me think that ADRIANO will bounce back in a major way, especially when you consider how this race shapes up in a very turf-like fashion.

MACHO AGAIN, though highly regarded by me, ran poorly on Polytrack at Keeneland in his only other plastics try, and he's a real question mark at 9 furlongs. This just doesn't look like a great spot for him. Also in a very tough spot are RACECAR RHAPSODY and TURF WAR, who both make their first appearances since December's G3 Delta Jackpot. Nine panels on a demanding surface is a hundred-foot hurdle of sorts without a foundation. Plus, the Jackpot alumni have been spitting pennies, not silver dollars, this spring.

CANNONBALL is extremely dangerous Saturday. His sire, Catienus, is one of the most successful sires since Turfway's Polytrack installation. Alex Solis comes east to ride in an interesting pairing, and CANNONBALL has kept fantastic running lines throughout his career.

Bettors will have plenty of love for HALO NAJIB and MEDJOOL, though the latter took the worst of a brutal post 12 draw. MEDJOOL is one of the west coast's most impressive maidens of 2008 and would be no surprise whatsoever if Michael Baze can work out a trip. But that could be nearly impossible if this balanced pace scenario plays out as it projects and the field does not spread out. HALO NAJIB hasn't figured out exactly what he is just yet, though we know he loves synthetic tracks. He's a pace wildcard, but has yet to show he really wants 1-1/8 miles or more. Given the likelihood of an under-laid price, he'll be a tepid toss Saturday.

Everyone's a Critic

This section includes a recap of last week's important performances in the 3-year-old division. So what do you want to make of WAR PASS and the Tampa Bay Derby? Let's start with last week's "good" before getting to the "bad" and "ugly."

Ala Smarty Jones in the 2004 Arkansas Derby, GEORGIE BOY earned his distance stripes and showed he could be world-class on the first turn, not the second, of Saturday's G2 San Felipe. Superstar horses are able to apply the brakes, relax, settle and make multiple runs in "push-button" style, and 'GEORGIE avoided problems on the San Felipe's first bend in a manner befitting a star. What's most impressive is he did it with back-up jockey Michael Baze on his back following Rafael Bejarano's injury. When Baze called upon him with three-sixteenths of a mile to run, 'GEORGIE responded with a fury despite not changing leads and still accelerating in razor-sharp splits of :23.56 and :05.78. Slow pace early or not, that's flying home, even on Cushion Track. He doesn't have the daisy-cutter efficiency of Smarty Jones in his sometimes-ugly stride, but just imagine if GEORGIE BOY's herky-jerkyness is a product of racing over a synthetic track he's not particularly fond of? This is THE one horse I can't wait to see train over the dirt at Churchill Downs on Derby Week. If he continues to progress in the Santa Anita Derby, and shows a smooth a.m. action in Louisville, look out. Stay tuned in the weeks to come.

As for the San Felipe runner-ups, BOB BLACK JACK had everything his way on the front end in splits that I wasn't sure he was capable of slowing to (1:13 for the opening 6 panels). That bodes well for him in future middle-distance stakes, showing he's not exclusively a 6-furlonger, but it shows a glaring weakness at classic distances given he still couldn't hold off his challengers in GEORGIE BOY and GAYEGO. The latter did what he was supposed to, pressing a soft pace and not letting anyone of lesser ilk come and get him. He's a worthy Santa Anita Derby starter, but his San Felipe did not show me that GAYEGO can factor with the likes of COLONEL JOHN and EL GATO MALO at 9 panels. Meanwhile, the choice to send BOB BLACK JACK to the G2 Arkansas Derby doesn't make much sense given the more-demanding nature the Oaklawn racetrack has on front-runners.

SIERRA SUNSET scored last Saturday's G2 Rebel at Oaklawn in what likely was his "derby" of 2008, capitalizing on a great draw and sweet trip behind a runaway leader incapable of carrying the day. His regional rise lends credence to his former west coast running-mates and goes to show that those synthetics alumni had better be respected. Runner-up KING'S SILVER SON has been one the COUNTDOWN's most talked-about breakout runners of the season, and he even outran my expectations with a strong-closing second in the Rebel. Remember, this is a horse who missed almost a month after his bulb-lighting maiden score at Fair Grounds. He's sitting on a huge performance in the Arkansas Derby, and rates the one to beat next month unless a national heavyweight enters the ring. Stablemate Z FORTUNE simply didn't cut it in his local debut, finishing a terribly disappointing fifth with no real relevant on-track excuses. I'd like to see him in the G2 Lexington at 1-1/16 miles next, but owner Ahmed Zayat appears to be fishing in deeper-stocked ponds this spring, so I doubt that will be the port of call. I'm not interested if he's back in the Arkansas Derby after seeing his OP unveiling.

LIBERTY BULL overcame a tough post draw and was clearly best in $600,000 WinStar Derby, but when a 3-race maiden runs second (SCREEN TO SCREEN for Bob Baffert), the "wow" factor fizzles. This is a very strong Ohio Derby, West Virginia Derby-type performer for Tom Amoss, but I'm not buying him for the bigger dances. The good thing for 'BULL is that Amoss historically doesn't have Triple Crown fever and has no shame in bagging six-figure stakes instead of force-feeding horses where they don't belong. LIBERTY BULL certainly deserves to get one shot against the heavies, most likely the Arkansas Derby, given his affinity for the OP strip.

Now, about that WAR PASS character. You don't see 1-to-20 shots everyday, much less those who run last while not in physical distress. The very reason I fell in love with WAR PASS last summer in his debut at Saratoga came back to bite him in the Tampa Bay Derby. At the Spa, he broke terribly, rushed up to contention and forgot to stop. He kept running all the way to the 2-year-old championship. Debut horses who break in a mess and rush up often retreat in the lane. WAR PASS proved to be different.

But WAR PASS' gate antics returned Saturday at Tampa, tossing his head before the start and breaking a step slow, which allowed 2 inferior horses to take his space. After watching the head-on replay about 842 times this week, the gate bumping has been vastly overrated in the racing press. Great horses overcome starts far worse than that. Watch Barbaro's Derby break and you'll get what I mean. Subway commuters take more devastating shoves on a daily basis than what WAR PASS witnessed at Tampa. His inability to overcome that in a route race separates him from his sprint debut success, and harkens back to War Emblem, whose minor stumble in the 2002 Belmont Stakes out-ed him as a classics fraud and one-trick speed pony. WAR PASS might come back and win the Wood Memorial with a clean trip and loose lead; remember War Emblem annexed the Haskell after being exposed. But demand perfect conditions.

BIG TRUCK scored the Tampa Bay Derby in a performance lost in the headlines. But he was just okay. So much for fancy analysis, huh? Remember, the horses running 5-6-7 throughout in this 7-horse field wound up 1-2-3 when longshot roulette duelers crapped out on the engine and WAR PASS went into retreat. Barclay Tagg would be the last trainer in America to get delusions of grandeur, and I can't imagine him thinking anything other than "we got away with one here." BIG TRUCK is a very serviceable, nice 3-year-old, and one with a summer date at short odds in graded races like the Leonard Richards at Delaware Park. He had the edge in recent efforts over runner-up ATONED, and it helped him in a dogged stretch battle. Of these two in a rematch, I would lean heavily to ATONED, who needed the Tampa race and figures to deserve a considerable look in his next start depending on whom he hooks. He's talented, but might be a slight cut below the best, regardless of seasoning.

In a light week of undercard races around the nation last week, easily the top performance went to the Steve Asmussen-trained KODIAK KOWBOY, who dominated a Friday ALW at Oaklawn. His final time of 1:10.21 for 6 panels was extremely fast over a decidedly dull surface, and he opened up 6 lengths through the lane over G3-placed SEBASTIAN COUNTY. Expect him next in the Lafayette at Keeneland, still sprinting.

As for 2-turn prospects, Bobby Barnett (of Answer Lively repute) has a late-running ace who could be an Illinois Derby factor in JAZZ IN THE PARK. He won his second straight Fair Grounds route last Friday, moving last-to-first despite miserably slow fractions and facing just five rivals -- factors that both typically lead to front-end dominance. He ran the final quarter-mile in a very stout :24.51 over that long FG lane and chased down the classy RILEY TUCKER, graded-stakes placed last year in the Saratoga Special and Arlington-Washington Futurity.

Rubber Necking
Each week, we'll give you a race video worth a second look. One runner familiar with Turfway's Polytrack surface before Saturday's G2 Lane's End is CHITOZ. The Todd Pletcher trainee ran a solid second over this track last fall. Let's take a look at that Kentucky Cup Juvenile performance. Video, courtesy of the Race Video Archive, here. My take? CHITOZ (wearing #9) looked comfortable in stride from the beginning and handled the track very well, but lost too much ground on both turns to finish with any flair. However, his running lines suggest he's often lacking late punch no matter the trip, so 1-1/8 miles will be tough for him Saturday.

Quick Hitters
Next week's menu includes the Grade 1 $1 million Florida Derby from Gulfstream, where potential stars BIG BROWN and HEY BYRN make their big-time debuts. Peruvian wonder-horse TOMCITO fired a bullet drill at Gulfstream last week in preparation for his stateside debut and those three make this one of the most intriguing preps of the entire season. BIG BROWN countered with a 5F bullet on Wednesday at Palm Meadows ... WAR PASS rose from 9-2 to 8-1 odds in the Wynn Las Vegas Derby futures book ... Look for Julien Leparoux to be aboard DENIS OF CORK in the Wood Memorial on April 5, a race in which Garrett Gomez has opted to ride COURT VISION instead of west coaster COLONEL JOHN, who gets Corey Nakatani back for the Santa Anita Derby.

High Fives
Jeremy Plonk's Top 5-rated performances this year by class. (Dec. 26-present)

Maiden Race
1. CROWN OF THORNS - Santa Anita 1/1 (injured)
2. ADMIRALTY - Gulfstream 2/21
3. UNDERSTATEMENT - Gulfstream 2/7
4. READY'S ECHO - Gulfstream 3/5
5. HOODS UP - Santa Anita 12/26

Allowance Race
1. WAR PASS - Gulfstream Park 2/24
2. TEXAS WILDCATTER - Philly Park 12/28
3. ADRIANO - Gulfstream 1/11 (turf)
4. HEY BYRN - Gulfstream 2/10
5. BIG BROWN - Gulfstream 3/5

Stakes Race
1. PYRO - Risen Star 2/9
2. EL GATO MALO - San Rafael 1/12
3. PYRO -- Louisiana Derby 3/8
4. GEORGIE BOY - San Vicente 2/10
5. COLONEL JOHN - Sham 3/1

Put 'Em In The Gate
Can't wait for May 3? This section ranks my Top 20 and puts horses in the gate if the race was this weekend. Remember, this isn't about how they'll be on Derby Day, but rather how they rate today with Derby ability at 1-1/4 miles a main factor. This will be a fluid list over the the spring.

Think I'm off my rocker? Send your Top 20 list to me,, and I'll pick one fan's list each week to appear in Countdown to the Crown right next to mine. Please put "TOP 20" in the subject line and include your state of residence!

JEREMY'S TOP 20: ELEVENTH WEEK OF 2008 SEASON1 Pyro 11 Ferragamo
2 Colonel John 12 Elysium Fields
3 Georgie Boy 13 Hey Byrn
4 Court Vision 14 Tale of Ekati
5 El Gato Malo 15 Cool Coal Man
6 Visionaire 16 Big Brown
7 Denis of Cork 17 Sierra Sunset (new)
8 War Pass 18 King's Silver Son (new)
9 Texas Wildcatter 19 Z Fortune
10 Blackberry Road 20 Atoned (new)

2 Pyro 12 Tomcito
3 Denis of Cork 13 Elysium Fields
4 Colonel John 14 Sierra Sunset
5 War Pass 15 Fierce Wind
6 Georgie Boy 16 Eight Belles (filly)
7 Court Vision 17 Texas Wildcatter
8 El Gato Malo 18 Hey Byrn
9 Cool Coal Man 19 Atoned
10 Blackberry Road 20 Big Truck
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Default Pyro Had the Look of a Winner Early On
Pyro Had the Look of a Winner Early On
by Jason Shandler

Updated: March 22, 2008

Pyro is the perfect example of how extraordinary Thoroughbreds can reveal their potential early with a certain look and feel that is different than your average horse.

“It wasn’t just because he had done anything amazing on the track, though. It was the way he carried himself," said Evan Downing, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, March 21 at Keeneland, where Pyro is training for the April 12 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).

Long before Pyro became a multiple graded stakes winner and the leading contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), grooms, exercise ridesrs, and jockeys alike knew they were handling something special.

"We could sense it," Downing continued. "(Regular jockey) Shaun (Bridgmohan) said that, too. As soon as he rode him for the first time, he said immediately that this is going to be a nice horse. And everybody else who rode him said that as well."

Downing spoke about the son of Pulpit as he calmly stood in Barn 36 at Keeneland, which will be his home for at least the next three weeks. Pyro, who is owned and bred by Winchell Thoroughbreds, arrived at Keeneland March 19, along with his other 40-plus stablemates.

“He’s a very adaptable animal. He has settled in very nicely,” she said. “He’ll have his first work (March 24) when Steve gets here, and he’ll work once a week leading up to the Blue Grass."

Downing said Pyro, who is out of the Wild Again mare Wild Vision, has matured a great deal as a 3-year-old. Aside from putting on about 250-300 pounds, Pyro has become more relaxed, she said.

“When he was a 2-year-old, he was a little bit of a boy brat, and he actually tried to kick the daylights out of me,” Downing said. “He could definitely act a little studdish. Now he is more relaxed and has taken on more of a manly look. But even though he acted up a little bit in the beginning, he has always been a very confident horse, and was like that even when he first came up to Churchill from Laredo (Texas, where Asmussen’s father, Keith, broke him).

"He has always been pretty sure of himself. He never had any type of nervous energy about him, which you see sometimes. Things just don’t seem to rattle him. When he gets excited it’s because he feels good, but he definitely doesn’t have fragile nerves.”

Pyro’s easy-going demeanor can be seen in his racing style. Usually breaking slowly from the gate, the dark bay colt seems to bide his time on the backstretch before unleashing his furious assault on the lead around the final turn and into the stretch. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Feb. 9 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), in which he went from last to first in what seemed like an instant. A convincing victory followed in the March 8 Louisiana Derby (gr. II).

Still, Downing said, his connections knew Pyro was capable of big things before those two wins.

“We felt he was going to do big things before he even raced,” said Downing, who has been an assistant with Asmussen for three years. “We had been working him with horses that were already graded stakes winners and he eyeballed them. We threw him into stout company right away and he always handled it. We kind of knew that this was a horse that we’d been waiting for.”
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Default Ky Derby Trail: Is Pyro Really Too Slow?
Ky Derby Trail: Is Pyro Really Too Slow?
by Steve Haskin

Updated: March 25, 2008

Despite being ranked No. 1 or 2 on just about every Derby poll, Pyro, for some reason, has been branded by many a slow horse and simply the best of a bad lot. Yes, the pace in his two starts this year has been slow, and his final times have not exactly set the Fair Grounds teletimer aflame, but is this horse really as slow as many of the experts say he is?

His Beyer numbers have been called “modest.” His speed figures have been termed “slow.” One line in a column referred to “Pyro’s two slow victories at Fair Grounds.” One pollster, who had him ranked No. 1 all year, dropped him to No. 2 in a week in which he didn’t even run, nor did the horse who replaced him atop the list. The pollster, upon second thought, had felt that perhaps the colt’s accomplishments were an “illusion,” and pointed out that he was a faster horse last year.

The odd part is that Pyro was 1-for-4 last year, losing three times to War Pass, and is 2-for-2 this year, winning both his starts by daylight.

On the Beyers, Pyro ran a 105 in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), a number that is only a few points below many Derby-winning figures. This year, he is slowly heading back to that number, running a 90 and a 95. Many people feel that 95 is still too low for a top Derby contender, and while that may be true on Derby Day, Pyro has shown he can run much faster, and no other 3-year-old has run higher than a 99 in two-turn stakes competition this year. So if Pyro’s Beyers are slow, whose are fast? Sierra Sunset (99), who is off the Derby trail, Cool Coal Man (98), Visionaire (98), Elysium Fields (97), Denis of Cork (96), and Nikki’sgoldensteed (96) are not exactly tearing up the track, and none of these have a triple-digit Beyer to fall back on, as Pyro does. Who wants their horse to tear up the track in February and March anyway?

On Thoro-Graph, Pyro ran a “negative-1” in the BC Juvenile. The only horse to run that fast this year going two turns is allowance winner Hey Byrn. The fastest two-turn stakes horses have been Denis of Cork with a “1/4”, Elysium Fields and Big Brown with a “1,” and Sierra Sunset with a “1 1/2.” Well, Pyro, who clearly has not been honed for his top effort, has run a “3 1/2” followed by a “2.” So, even though he still has a lot more improvement left in him, he’s already right there with the fastest 3-year-olds.

“He’s doing almost identically what Carl Nafzger did with Street Sense,” said Thoro-Graph’s Jerry Brown. “Both horses ran well enough at two to win the Derby. It’s not a question of having them improve; it’s just a question of having them get back to their best race. Both these trainers have clearly taken a path where they’re not going to have the horse expend any extra energy before then, and in both cases they decided to run on Polytrack in their last start before the Derby. Nafzger already knew his horse didn’t love the surface, and Asmussen is smart and knows that all he has to do is basically get this horse back to where he was. He’s clearly thinking about getting the horse to run his best race on Derby Day and I think he’s doing everything right. At this point, I believe he’s the most likely winner of the Derby.

“Everybody gets excited about races in February, and Derbys are not won in February. I think a lot of trainers these days are essentially manufacturing patterns, whether it’s the influence of speed sheets or not. Todd Pletcher seems to think that way, and Asmussen clearly thinks that way. Whether or not they’re looking at our data or Ragozin’s, they’re thinking in terms of a pattern.”

Asmussen’s pattern appears to have Pyro improving speed-wise every race without making a huge leap too soon and then having to resort to what Denis of Cork’s connections were forced to do, which is skip a scheduled race to await a later race, all because the horse made a big jump from a “6 3/4” to a “1/4.”

Garrett Gomez’ agent Ron Anderson, who follows the Ragozin figures, still fears Pyro and believes he’s in a class by himself. “The Derby is his race to lose, for me,” he said. “I think Asmussen is making all the right moves with him. Horses don’t accelerate on the dirt like he did in the Risen Star (gr. III). That was breathtaking. When people tell me he didn’t beat anything I just walk away. I think he’s unbeatable. If he should draw a bad post and runs into four blind switches, and has everything go wrong, then he can get beat. But if he only runs into three blind switches he’s still gonna win. I just think he’s a better horse.”

Pyro has been called by an opposing owner “a physical monster,” and you don’t want a physical monster flexing his muscles and lifting his highest weight before the first Saturday in May. By prepping on Polytrack, often times a much slower surface than dirt, all Pyro has to do in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) is pair up that “2,” give or take a half a point, and that should set him up for his peak performance, returning to the dirt on May 3..

Yes, it all sounds so simple, but we’re just exploring another aspect of handicapping the Derby before the major stakes begin next Saturday with the Florida Derby (gr. I). That’s when the regular season commences and we start separating the men from the boys, as they face stiffer competition and larger, deeper fields. Pyro’s detractors could prove to be correct, but at this point, he really hasn’t done anything wrong and has far less question marks than any of the other Derby contenders.

Has the Cork already been popped?

The more one examines the last-minute decision to skip the Rebel Stakes with Denis of Cork to await the Wood Memorial three weeks later, the more it appears to be an act that defies all tradition. Yes, the times definitely are changing, and numbers and speed figures have superseded logic, common sense, and plain old horsemanship. We’re now in an era where owners rely more and more on advisors, who tend to over-analyze and over-scrutinize. We can’t say for certain that the decision is going to severely compromise the colt’s chances in the Derby. What we can say is that the decision puts a much heavier burden on the shoulders of Denis of Cork, who is going to have to single-handedly rewrite the book on Derby preparation. If he is unable to, you cannot go back and start over.

We know owner William K. Warren to be a classy guy who loves the sport, and we’re sure he believes he’s doing the right thing, and maybe he is. But now we learn that jockey Robby Albarado, who rode Denis of Cork to victory in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III), has elected to ride Country Star in a one-shot deal in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) rather than ride a horse who is one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. Can anyone recall such a move?

So, Denis of Cork loses the benefit of a valuable prep race and his rider in the span of one week. All of a sudden the firm rope the colt was using to scale racing’s highest mountain has started to unravel.

At this point, there is no right or wrong. How the colt does in the Derby will determine which one applies here. The only question that exists is, can Denis of Cork go into the Derby off only one race in 11 weeks and only four career starts and accomplish something that hasn’t been done in 90 years?

With his talent, maybe he can, but if he can’t then Warren and whoever is advising him will have to wonder what might have been had they left the natural order of things alone.

Adriano joins the Poly party

Although Saturday’s Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) packed a purse of $500,000 and provided one lucky horse with a guaranteed starting berth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), most everyone was aware before the race that it would likely result in more questions than answers, regardless of the outcome.

It wasn’t so much that it was run on Polytrack (remember Hard Spun and Street Sense last year), it was that the field was made up predominantly of horses who had excelled on synthetic surfaces or grass and had not fared nearly as well on dirt. The only graded stakes winner – on any surface – in the field of 12 was the dead-heat winner of the grade III Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs on dirt. The other stakes winners had scored victories in the Swynford Stakes and Ocala Breeders Sales Championship on Polytrack and the King Cugat on turf. So, this certainly didn’t look like a major thoroughfare on the road to the Derby.

As it turned out, the Lane’s End Stakes was what it was -- a decent field that did not answer a single question regarding the Derby. The main question surrounded the impressive winner, Adriano, who has looked like a world beater on grass and Polytrack, but who was a major bust in his only appearance on dirt.

So, is this son of A.P. Indy a legitimate Derby contender or just a turf/Poltrack specialist? Who knows? That is the recurring theme of this year’s Kentucky Derby, as it will be in Derbys to come. Then you have the runner-up, Halo Najib, who was 2-for-2 on synthetic surfaces and 0-for-4 on dirt, and third-place finisher, Medjool, who has never seen a dirt track in life. The son of Derby winner Monarchos broke from post 12 and raced extremely wide every step of the way, suggesting big things to come.

But the winner was much the best, opening a clear lead on the turn and winning under wraps by 2 1/2 lengths with a final eighth in :12 2/5. Had this race been on dirt, he’d certainly make a huge leap up most everyone’s Derby lists. From a visual standpoint, he appears to be a horse who has the looks, the pedigree, and the action to be a serious Derby contender. Off the Lane’s End, it would be difficult to deny him a chance at the Derby, but they will be gambling heavily that his one dismal race on dirt was an aberration. There has been talk of running him in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II), but that won’t tell us any more than we already know.

The two other stakes over the weekend, the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway, won by Big Glen, and the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel, won by Double or Nothing, should have no impact at all on the Derby picture.

Court is back in session

The Fountain of Youth (gr. II) seems like ages ago, and one of the horses in the race seems to have faded a bit in our memory. That is Court Vision, who, believe it or not, was our early top-ranked Derby horse prior to his third-place finish at Gulfstream off a three-month layoff. Now, as live Derby horses seem harder and harder to find, the vision of Court Vision as a major Derby contender seems to be returning sharper and clearer.

After all, he did run third, coming from a dozen lengths back in last on a track that was favoring speed. And he did have to go seven-wide at the top of the stretch. And he did draw clear of the rest of the horses, finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher. By the time he leveled off and got in gear, Cool Coal Man and Elysium Fields were long gone. But because of how little running he actually did, combined with his average speed ratings and the fact that he’ll have only two starts before the Derby, he desperately needs a hard race in the Wood Memorial (gr. I).

This horse has proven to be tough and tenacious, and a relentless stretch runner who can overcome adversity. He showed that in his victories in the Iroquois (gr. III) and Remsen (gr. II) when he somehow was able to run down Halo Najib and Atoned, respectively, after appearing totally beaten.

He has the breeding and the 2-year-old foundation, and trainer Bill Mott says he’s been more aggressive in his training and is improving steadily. When Anderson and Gomez decided to take the mount on Court Vision in the Wood Memorial rather than ride Colonel John in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) the same day it brought Court Vision back into full focus.

So, why did they choose Court Vision? “He closed on a track that you can’t really be that far back on, it’s Bill Mott, he’s won at Aqueduct, he’s well seasoned, WinStar owns both horses, Colonel John has never run on dirt, and I think Kathy Walsh’s horse (Georgie Boy) is going be very tough in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I),” Anderson said. “It wasn’t an easy call, but I really like my horse.”

As for his race in the Fountain of Youth, Anderson said, “Garrett had it in his mind that if he let him run away from there early and he wound up going in the other direction at the end of the race, that would have been counter-productive for later on. He took probably a little more hold of him than he really wanted, because he hadn’t been out, but he put in a wicked run for a little while and then flattened out a bit like he needed the race. Billy thinks he’s coming on now, so that’s where I’m at.”

Don’t forget about Numaany

If next Saturday’s UAE Derby (UAE-II) is going to have any Derby implications it’s going to be with Godolphin’s Etched and Numaany or American invader Massive Drama. Etched, a brilliant 2-year-old in the States who was fourth in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas (UAU-III) in his 3-year-old debut, is bred to be a miler and must prove that he wants to go farther. The same applies to Massive Drama, who was given over to Dale Romans in Zayat Stable’s 3-year-old shake up earlier this year. And then we come to Numaany, who looks to be the one legitimate Kentucky Derby hopeful in this race – a horse who has the pedigree to run long and who looks to be coming around at the right time.

Many people remember Numaany for bolting in the stretch in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Aqueduct and somehow still winning by daylight in one of the most bizarre finishes you’ll ever see. Following an even fifth-place finish in the UAE Guineas at a distance shorter than his best, he stretched out to about 1 1/8 miles in the March 6 Mujahid Al Bastakiya and ran a terrific race to finish third, setting all the pace and battling hard the length of the stretch against two “older” horses from the Southern Hemisphere. Although he was in receipt of 13 pounds from the winner, Royal Vintage, who had finished second in the UAE Guineas, he did manage to improve seven lengths on the South African-bred. If he can lay off the pace, as he’s done in the past, and finish well in the UAE Derby, he could be an exciting addition to the Kentucky Derby picture. Running against all those tough Southern Hemisphere horses, he doesn’t have to win, just show enough improvement and be competitive again. If he should win or be right there, we’re looking at a “live” horse on Derby Day.

By A.P. Indy, out of the Nijinsky mare Munnaya, who in turn is out of an Alydar mare, Numaany certainly has the pedigree and is improving with each start. And more important, he’s a good deal more professional than he was last year. If he does make it to the starting gate on May 3 he would give Godolphin their best chance ever in the Run for the Roses.

If Etched should win the UAE Derby impressively, which he is capable of, then he would be their most serious Derby contender. But his pedigree is not nearly as strong at 10 furlongs as Numanny’s.

Derby Belles are ringing

Rick Porter, who had a ball on the Triple Crown trail last year with the indefatigable Hard Spun, has nominated his brilliant filly Eight Belles to the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) as an alternative to the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II). Porter also said he is seriously considering putting up the late nomination fee for the Triple Crown, due March 29. So, that certainly whets ones appetite, especially after Rags to Riches’ historic conquest in last year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

There is no doubt that Eight Belles is an exceptional filly following her runaway victories in an allowance race and the Martha Washington Stakes, followed by her first graded stakes victory in the Honeybee Stakes (gr. III), which she won much easier than the margin would suggest, while defeating two top-class fillies in the previously undefeated Pure Clan and three-time stakes winner Kadira.

While Eight Belles certainly looks capable enough of giving the boys a tussle, it must be noted that she has not been farther than 1 1/16 miles, and if you’re a Beyer pundit, her figures have gone from a 100 to a 96 to a 91. But she did run the same time as the colts in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) the day before, while winning eased up in a common gallop. It also should be pointed out that she is by Unbridled's Song and is inbred to Mr. Prospector and three times to Raise a Native.

There are plenty of Unbridled’s Songs who have been tough, sound horses, such as Octave, but you always have to tread a little carefully when you’re so heavily loaded with Raise a Native and Mr. Prospector. As of now, Eight Belles, with eight starts at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, looks to be a brilliant and sound filly.

If the Derby is being seriously considered, one would think the Arkansas Derby would be the way to go rather than have her stretch out from another 1 1/16-mile race to 1 1/4 miles. Also, running in a big field against the boys would give her a taste of what she’d be facing on Derby Day. It’s just a question of how Porter and trainer Larry Jones feel about running her back in three weeks. Whatever their decision, Eight Belles will spice up either the Derby or the Oaks, and her future is limitless right now.

In other Derby news:

Elysium Fields (six furlongs in 1:12) and Big Brown (five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 2/5) both are sharp for Saturday’s Florida Derby (gr. I). Colonel John worked five furlongs in :59 3/5 for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Also keeping sharp for the Santa Anita Derby was El Gato Malo, who drilled seven furlongs in 1:24 3/5, which should put a little more bottom into him. Denis of Cork continues to train well, breezing five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Fair Grounds.

Have there ever been three more intriguing and unusual horses in a grade I Derby prep than Peruvian superstar Tomcito and the spectacular, but untested, allowance winners Big Brown and Hey Byrn? With other intriguing unknowns in the field such as Face the Cat, the Florida Derby should provide plenty of fireworks.

Quote of the week: In a Q&A in the New York Post, famed basketball coach Rick Pitino, who campaigned Kentucky Derby starter A P Valentine, was asked: What would it mean to have one of your horses win a Kentucky Derby? Pitino’s answer: “It wouldn’t be that big a deal to me. It’s just a hobby, it’s a fun thing.”
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Old 03-26-2008, 11:34 AM   #66
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Default Good Read
INDIANTOWN, Fla., Mar. 25, 2008---

Using the leeward side of the viewing stand that overlooks the Payson Park training track to brace himself against brisk winds and 53-degree temperatures, the horseman stood trackside beneath a high sky awaiting the final horse in his second set of the morning to come into view.

On foot or astride his pony, Bill Mott never takes his eyes off the prize.

Extending my hand, I gave my standard wiseguy greeting to anyone who hadn‘t returned a recent phone call. “You must have me on your pay-no-mind list.”

“I’ve been a little busy,” said the youngest trainer ever inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, now moving away from the concrete windbreaker and ducking under the outside rail onto the Payson surface, stopwatch in right hand.

Almost at once, a gorgeous, long-striding chestnut came flying into view. “Here comes a horse that won the Sunshine Millions and finished second in the Big ‘Cap,” the trainer said.

“Go Between?” After Mott nodded yes, what I left unsaid was that Garrett Gomez gave him a brilliant ride in the Sunshine Classic, and that 5-1 was a square price.

In the next instant Mott was gone. “Going back to the barn. I’ve got one more set to go out. See you over there,” he motioned, pointing in the direction of barn 3-B.

I climbed the steps of the viewing stand to get a better view of the deepish, one mile oval. I asked Shug McGaughey if the gloves he was wearing were for sale. He smiled to acknowledge the not so facetious question but clearly never entertained the notion.

We chatted, lamenting the current quality of the day-to-day fare at Gulfstream Park. McGaughey worries that if present decline of top class racing at Gulfstream is allowed to continue another few years the track might never recover. His is not a minority view.

Returning to the stand’s leeward side where I first encountered Mott, Nick Caras and Humberto Chavez, both of the New York division of Race Track Chaplaincy of America, were informing horsemen there would be a worship service at 7:30 p.m. at the dorms by the basketball court.

Moving 20 feet in our direction, Christophe Clement walked over, extended a greeting, smiled, and said: “This looks like a good place to be, a handicapper on one side and a chaplain on the other.”

A regular kidder that Clement.

Back at Barn 3-B, Mott was making sure that Court Vision--a strong-finish Fountain of Youth third and who runs next in the Wood Memorial a week from Saturday--was comfortable, that the blanket was comfy snug but not too tight. “I thought he ran good in the Fountain of Youth. He was just too far back at [for Gulfstream]. But if he wants to give us a reason to go to the Derby with a good chance, he needs to run a strong race in the Wood.”

Majestic Warrior, who runs in Saturday’s Florida Derby, ”is doing very well.” On its face that would be trainer speak, but from Mott it’s high praise. “He made a big move in [the Louisiana Derby], got something out of it, and came back good. The race took nothing out of him, didn’t set him back.”

There’s no added pressure on Mott or the horse even if Majestic Warrior was bred by George Steinbrenner, who retains a major interest in the colt. “He would love to be in the [Derby], but not just to be in it.

“When I ran Blue Burner, it was my choice. He was second in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Wood and thought he earned his chance. We’ll see where we’re at with [Majestic Warrior] on Saturday and go from there. I‘m still learning about him, still trying to figure him out.”

In the stall directly adjacent to Majestic Warrior’s is Z Humor, Mott’s third Derby hopeful, who runs next in the Illinois Derby, same day as the Wood. “His effort will determine his [Kentucky Derby] status. We need to see where he fits.”

When conjuring up Bill Mott, what comes to mind is a deliberate demeanor that doesn’t offer more than is asked, probably the South Dakota in him. His words are measured, as if carefully thought through the instant before speaking. He gives the impression of a man constantly playing a game of chess with himself.

“I’m sitting on some nice horses,” Mott admitted. “I’ve been excited all winter. You get up in the morning thinking about what you‘re going to do that day. You need to do it right, and you’ve got to do it right for everybody. You have to figure out the best way to get them there.”

Then he allowed himself this. “I’d just like to be on the lead at the eighth pole in the Derby.” Then he threw his head back, and laughed.
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Old 03-27-2008, 02:32 PM   #67
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Default Time for True Contenders to Emerge
Time for True Contenders to Emerge
If you haven’t settled on your Derby pick, you are not alone. Finding a legitimate contender has not been an easy task. I don’t think we’ve seen a break-out performance for the sophomore class of 2008. The Triple Crown prep races to date have been mediocre at best, as shown by this year’s winners and their Beyer Speed Figures:

Crown of Thorns RB Lewis S: 93

Pyro Risen Star S: 89

Fierce Wind Sam Davis S: 89

Denis of Cork Southwest S: 96

Cool Coal Man Fountain of Youth: 98

Colonel John Sham S: 86

Pyro Louisiana Derby: 95

Visionaire Gotham S: 98

Big Truck Tampa Bay Derby: 93

Georgie Boy San Felipe S: 93

Sierra Sunset Rebel S: 99

Adrianno Lane’s End S: 92

So far no runner has shown himself to be able to run a 100+ figure over a 2-turn route, almost a prerequisite to be a Derby contender worthy of serious consideration. The lack of a top performance is an oddity in 2008. With Crown of Thorns and Sierra Sunset off the trail, the remaining 9 names up there may be the current top contenders, but they aren’t exactly going to scare anyone away on Derby day.

In most year’s, spotting the Derby contenders is a different exercise. By this point in the chase, there have usually been a number of brilliant performances at a mile or a mile and a 1/16th. Yet despite running 3-digit Beyer Speed figures at shorter distances, most of these precocious runners find themselves tested at 1 1/8th, and prove out of their element trying 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May. This year there haven’t been any brilliant efforts to ponder. Adrianno’s Lane’s End win looked awfully solid, and as a son of A P Indy, he looked positioned to be a perfect Derby contender. But by the Monday after the race, two things came to light: The race was slow (92) and his trainer, Graham Motion, considers the horse very unlikely for the Derby. If the trainer doesn’t believe, neither should you. So historically speaking, not a single 2008 prep would be considered an above average race (Sorry, Pyro fans).

So the best thing to do is ignore what you’ve seen so far and expect that the best is still to come. The remaining key races are:

March 29th Florida Derby

April 5th Wood Memorial

April 5th Santa Anita Derby

April 5th Illinois Derby

April 12th Arkansas Derby

April 12th Blue Grass Stakes

April 19th Lexington Stakes

Winning or gaining in the stretch of its final 1 1/8th prep is a key indicator of a horse’s Derby merit. Big Brown will get a lot of play in the Florida Derby this Saturday. His 104 speed figure in his most recent start going 1 1/8th at Gulfstream Park makes him look like a standout. But before you take short odds, remember that the horse earned his speed figure in an off-the-turf allowance beating just 4 other horses. Expect both Fierce Wind and Elysium Fields to put in a good showing. But if these runners can’t raise their game to the next level, they will not be a factor on Derby day even if they do win in Florida.
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Old 03-27-2008, 09:30 PM   #68
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Default Nakatani Back on Colonel John
Nakatani Back on Colonel John

Posted March 28, 2008

Corey Nakatani and Colonel John will reunite in the Santa Anita Derby on April 5. After two wins and a second in three races together last year, the pair was separated for the Grade III Sham Stakes on March 1 while Nakatani was recovering from a fractured right collarbone.

Garrett Gomez rode Colonel John to a half-length victory in the Sham, but Gomez committed to Court Vision in the Wood at Aqueduct, leaving the door open for Nakatani and Colonel John’s reunion under the leadership of trainer Eion Harty.

“Eoin knows what I think of the horse,” said Nakatani. “He knows I have the utmost confidence in Colonel John going into the Triple Crown races. I know how far he’s developed, and where he’s at. I thought he was probably at 80 percent in the Sham, so he should move forward in the Santa Anita Derby.

“Eoin probably was on the same page as me going into the Sham, and then I got hurt. Fortunately, I got him back, and I’m looking forward to the Santa Anita Derby and the Triple Crown races.”

Nakatani, 37, remains hopeful he will one day win the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby. He's winless in 12 tries in the Santa Anita Derby and has never won the Kentucky Derby, also in 12 attempts.

“Those are two goals I have to accomplish,” he said. “I’m still young and I’ve got a long way to go.”
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Old 03-27-2008, 09:52 PM   #69
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Default Good Read 3/28/08
It's Post Time
By Jon White

People understandably are still talking about War Pass’ shocking loss as a 1-20 favorite in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby on March 15. It’s one thing for such a heavy favorite to lose. It’s quite another for a favorite like that to lose by 23 1/4 lengths.

This certainly must rank high on the Kentucky Derby Prep Shock Meter. But is this the biggest shock in, say, the last 40 years? Let me be clear. I’m not talking about a shock in terms of an upset winner, such as when Brian’s Time won the 1988 Florida Derby 67-1, or when Bull inthe Heather won the Florida Derby in 1993 at 60-1. I’m taking about a shocking loss by a heavy favorite.

So here is my list of the Top 20 losses on the Kentucky Derby Prep Shock Meter in the last 40 years:

20. RISEN STAR, second in the 1988 Lecomte Handicap (3-10 entry in the wagering). Risen Star was coming off a 10-length allowance win in his 1988 debut. But in the Lecomte, he finished second when upset by Pastourelles. Risen Star went on to win three straight (taking the Derby Trial Handicap at the Fair Grounds, the Louisiana Derby at that track and the Lexington Stakes over Forty Niner at Keeneland) before finishing third behind Winning Colors and Forty Niner in the Kentucky Derby. Risen Star then took the Preakness Stakes and romped to a 14 3/4-length victory in the Belmont Stakes. The Lecomte was one of only three losses by Risen Star in 11 lifetime starts.

19. WINNING COLORS, second in the 1988 Las Virgenes Stakes (7-10). Because Winning Colors was a filly, it was not really realized at the time that this loss belonged on the Kentucky Derby Prep Shock Meter, or else this would rank higher. Winning Colors was three for three going into the Las Virgenes. She lost the Las Virgenes by a neck to Goodbye Halo. In the Santa Anita Oaks, Winning Colors won in isolated splendor by eight lengths, with Goodbye Halo third. Winning Colors then trounced males in the Santa Anita Derby, winning by 7 1/2 lengths. Four weeks later, she joined Regret and Genuine Risk as the only fillies to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Winning Colors was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

18. HOLY BULL, sixth in the 1994 Fountain of Youth Stakes (6-5). Holy Bull was five for five going into this race, yet lost by 24 1/4 lengths. This would rank higher on the list if Holy Bull had been a shorter price in the wagering. Also, the shock value was mitigated by the strength of the field, which included Dehere, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male champion, and Go for Gin, 8 1/2-length winner of the Remsen Stakes at 2. Dehere and Go for Gin finished first and second, respectively, in the Fountain of Youth. But this still was a shocking loss for Holy Bull in the context that it would be one of his only two defeats in 15 starts until he was pulled up with an injury against Cigar in the 1995 Donn Handicap. Holy Bull’s only other loss at 3 was when he finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby.

17. SWALE, third in the 1984 Fountain of Youth Stakes (2-5). Swale went into the Fountain of Youth with a four-race winning streak, having taken the Futurity at Belmont, Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands and Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park. But in the Fountain of Youth, Swale finished third behind Darn That Alarm and Counterfeit Money.

16. AFLEET ALEX, sixth in the 2005 Rebel Stakes (7-10). Afleet Alex had finished first or second in all seven of his starts going into the Rebel. In his 2005 debut, he had overcome trouble to win the Mountain Valley Stakes decisively by 2 3/4 lengths. So it was shocking to watch him struggle home in the Rebel. After the Rebel, trainer Tim Ritchey reported that Afleet Alex had come out of the race with a serious lung infection. The colt rebounded to take the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths. Afleet Alex then finished a close third in the Kentucky Derby before giving one of the greatest performances in Triple Crown history when he won the Preakness Stakes by almost five lengths despite clipping heels and stumbling badly coming into the stretch. He subsequently took the Belmont Stakes by seven lengths in what would be the final start of his career.

15. FORTY NINER, second in the 1988 Hutcheson Stakes (7-10). This was the 3-year-old debut for Forty Niner, who had been voted the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old following a campaign in which he won five of six starts. He had put together a four-race winning streak going into the Hutcheson, his initial start at 3. But in the Hutcheson, Forty Niner finished second, a length behind Perfect Spy. Perfect Spy would win only one other stakes race during his entire career, the Bay Shore. Forty Niner finished a fast-closing second in the Kentucky Derby, losing by a neck to Winning Colors.

14. SEEKING THE GOLD, second in the 1988 Gotham Stakes (3-5). Seeking the Gold was four for four going into this race. Racing for the powerful Ogden Phipps stable, the beautifully bred son of Mr. Prospector and a Buckpasser mare finished second to another undefeated colt, Private Terms, in the Gotham. Although Private Terms was five for five going into the Gotham, he was dismissed in the wagering at 11-1. That’s how strong Seeking the Gold looked, yet he got beat.

13. COPELAN, second in the 1983 Florida Derby (2-5). As a 2-year-old, Copelan won three Grade I races. In many cases, that would have been enough for him to be voted an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. But the Eclipse, appropriately, went to Roving Boy, who won the Del Mar Futurity, Norfolk Stakes and Hollywood Futurity. Copelan finished fifth in the Hollywood Futurity. “However, Copelan had been struck in the eye during the race by a pebble or small clod and lost all chance,” Joe Hirsch wrote of the Hollywood Futurity in the American Racing Manual. A son of Tri Jet and the great Susan’s Girl, Copelan went into the Florida Derby off a victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, his first race at 3. Heavily favored in the Florida Derby, Copelan finished second to California shipper Croeso, who paid $172 to win.

12. LORD AVIE, third in the 1981 Fountain of Youth Stakes (2-5). Lord Avie completed his 1980 campaign with consecutive victories in the Cowdin Stakes, Champagne Stakes and Young America Stakes en route to an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. After he won the Hutcheson Stakes in his 3-year-old debut, nearly everyone expected Lord Avie to win the Fountain of Youth. Hence, he was the 2-5 favorite. But he finished third, beaten by a nose and a head. Akureyr won, with Pleasant Colony second. Pleasant Colony would go on to win the Wood Memorial, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

11. FLY SO FREE, second in the 1991 Blue Grass Stakes (3-10). Fly So Free took home the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male of 1990 after winning the Champagne Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by three lengths. He continued on a roll early at 3, reeling off victories in the Hutcheson Stakes, Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby. But his five-race winning streak came to an end when he finished second to Strike the Gold in the Blue Grass Stakes. In the Blue Grass, the Eclipse Award-winning Fly So Free lost to a colt still eligible to run in race restricted to non-winners of two races lifetime. But Strike the Gold did parlay his Blue Grass victory into a win in the Kentucky Derby, with Fly So Free fifth.

10. SILENT SCREEN, eighth in the 1970 Flamingo Stakes (3-5). Silent Screen finished second when unveiled at Saratoga at 2, then put together a six-race winning streak. Acclaimed the 2-year-old male champion of 1969, he punctuated his campaign that season with victories in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (the richest race in the nation at the time), Cowdin Stakes and Champagne Stakes. But Silent Screen ran a clunker in the Flamingo, finishing eighth, 12 lengths behind the winner, My Dad George. Silent Screen previously had defeated My Dad George, albeit by only a half-length, in an allowance race at Garden State Park at 2.

9. RIVA RIDGE, fourth in the 1972 Everglades Stakes (3-10). Riva Ridge, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 1972, took a six-race winning streak into the Everglades. He won those six races by margins ranging from 1 1/2 to 11 lengths. But in the Everglades, Riva Ridge finished fourth on a sloppy track. He rebounded to take the Blue Grass Stakes by four lengths and the Kentucky Derby by 3 1/4 lengths, but again finished fourth on a sloppy track in the Preakness Stakes. Back on dry land for the Belmont Stakes, Riva Ridge won by eight lengths. The following year, in one of his better performances, Riva Ridge ran second to stablemate Secretariat in the Marlboro Cup. Riva Ridge was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.

8. SWALE, second in the 1984 Lexington Stakes (1-10). After finishing third as a 2-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth, Swale won the Florida Derby. When he then showed up for the Lexington, he was pounded down to 1-10 favoritism as he appeared to have his opponents at his mercy. But Swale a distant second to He Is a Great Deal, who splashed his way to an eight-length victory. A son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, Swale would rebound to take the Kentucky Derby by 3 3/4 lengths. He finished seventh in the Preakness Stakes, then rolled to a four-length triumph in the Belmont Stakes prior to his shocking death a week later.

7. JOHANNESBURG, second in the 2002 Gladness Stakes (3-10). Johannesburg compiled a perfect record at 2 while winning in Ireland, England, France and the U.S. After taking the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he was voted the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. Johannesburg made his first start at 3 in the Group III Gladness Stakes in Ireland. He lost by a nose. Johannesburg also lost the final two starts of his career, finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Group I Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.

6. FAVORITE TRICK, third in the 1998 Arkansas Derby (2-5). Favorite Trick won all eight of his starts at 2 en route to being voted Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old male and Horse of the Year. He made it nine for nine by taking the Swale in his 3-year-old debut. But Favorite Trick failed to extend his undefeated streak to 10 in the Arkansas Derby, finishing third. Victory Gallop won the Arkansas Derby by a head, with Hanuman Highway second, a head in front of Favorite Trick. There were those not sold on Favorite Trick at that time. Nevertheless, a loss by an undefeated Horse of the Year after nine consecutive victories certainly must rank high on the Kentucky Derby Prep Shock Meter.

5. GENERAL ASSEMBLY, second in a 1979 Hialeah allowance race (1-10). As a son of Secretariat, much was expected from General Assembly, especially after he began his racing career with a win at Belmont Park. General Assembly made six starts at 2, with three wins and three seconds. At 2, he finished second twice to Sepctacular Bid. When General Assemby made his 3-year-old debut in an allowance race at Hialeah, most thought he was unbeatable, hence his 1-10 price. But General Assembly lost the seven-furlong affair by a head to Coup De Chance. General Assembly later ran second to Spectacular Bid in the Kentucky Derby and won the Travers Stakes by 15 lengths.

4. WAR PASS, seventh in the 2008 Tampa Bay Derby (1-20). Prior to the Tampa Bay Derby, some, including Andrew Beyer of The Washington Post, had compared War Pass with Seattle Slew. Considering where the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2007 finished at such a short price in the Tampa Bay Derby after winning all five of his previous races by a combined 22 lengths, a case can be made to put War Pass even higher on this list. But on my Kentucky Derby Prep Shock Meter, there are three that rank higher.

3. FOOLISH PLEASURE, third in the 1975 Florida Derby (1-5). Going into the Florida Derby, Foolish Pleasure looked invincible to most people. Voted the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male of 1974, he was nine for nine going into the Florida Derby. But he did not emerge from the Florida Derby with his perfect record intact, having finished third behind Prince Thou Art and Sylvan Place. Foolish Pleasure had beaten Prince Thou Art by 1 3/4 lengths in the Flamingo four weeks before the Florida Derby. Following the Florida Derby, Foolish Pleasure regained his winning ways by taking the Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby. Foolish Pleasure finished second in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes before his match race with Ruffian in which the legendary filly broke down. Foolish Pleasure was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.

2. DEVIL’S BAG, fourth in the 1984 Flamingo Stakes (3-10). When Devil’s Bag, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 1983, went postward for the 1984 Flamingo, he did so with, I believe, more of an aura of invincibility than War Pass had going into the Tampa Bay Derby. Devil’s Bag was six for six going into the Flamingo, winning each of those races by at least three lengths. Devil’s Bag finished fourth (behind Time for a Change, Dr. Carter and Rexson’s Hope) in the Flamingo. It would be the only blemish on his record. After the Flamingo, Devil’s Bag won an allowance race at Keeneland by 15 lengths and the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs by 2 1/4 lengths. He was retired from racing following the Derby Trial.

1. SECRETARIAT, third in the 1973 Wood Memorial (3-10 entry). Going into the Wood, Secretariat, the 1972 Horse of the Year as a 2-year-old, had finished first in 10 straight. But in the Wood, he ended up third, beaten by stablemate Angle Light and Santa Anita Derby winner Sham. That loss by Secretariat was a shocker at the time. But, looking back at it 35 years later, I find it even harder to believe. It proves that anything can happen in a horse race.

Prior to the Wood, I felt that Secretariat would win the Triple Crown. As the sports editor of my high school paper, I had written in my column on March 22, 1973: “Going out on a limb and living dangerously, I daresay that 1973 will be a historic year as Secretariat will become the first Triple Crown winner since the great Citation in 1948.”

This is what I wrote after the Wood: “Secretariat lost, Angle Light did not win. That is the story of last Saturday’s $100,000-added Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

“You can’t throw out a horse because of one defeat. It takes more than that. A perfect example is last year when Riva Ridge lost the Everglades but came back strongly to take the Blue Grass Stakes, Kentucky Derby and grueling Belmont Stakes.

“So Secretariat lost some of his pride in defeat. But he’s still the one they have to beat May 5.”

It later came to light that Secretariat was hurt -- literally --by a painful abscess in his mouth when he ran in the Wood. And they didn’t beat him in the May 5 Kentucky Derby. They didn’t beat him in the May 19 Preakness, either. And in the June 9 Belmont Stakes, Secretariat rose to the occasion and delivered probably the greatest performance in the history of American racing to sweep the Triple Crown on his way to another Horse of the Year title. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.


This Saturday’s Grade I Florida Derby is shaping up as quite an interesting race. It is expected to attract two 3-year-olds currently on my Kentucky Derby list, No. 4 Elysium Fields and No. 8 Big Brown.

Elysium Fields, who ran a big race in defeat when second to Cool Coal Man in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:00 Tuesday at Gulfstream Park for trainer Barclay Tagg.

Meanwhile, Big Brown, undefeated and untested in two starts, drilled five furlongs in :59 2/5 Tuesday at Palm Meadows for trainer Rick Dutrow, who is exuding confidence in the colt going into Saturday’s race.

Big Brown won his career debut by 11 1/4 lengths in a 1 1/16-mile grass race at Saratoga last Sept. 3 while posting a 90 Beyer Speed Figure for owner Paul Pompa Jr. and trainer Patrick Reynolds. The Boundary colt then registered a 12 3/4-length victory and earned a 104 Beyer in an off-the-turf allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 5 in his first start after joining Dutrow’s barn due to IEAH Stables acquiring part ownership.

Dutrow said he “got goose bumps” when Big Brown drew away coming into the stretch on the dirt at Gulfstream. The colt was to have to run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Monmouth Park last Oct. 26, but missed that race due to a quarter crack on his left front foot.

On Dec. 22, according to Dutrow, Big Brown, then a 2-year-old, worked so well in company with Diamond Stripes, then a 4-year-old, that he realized Big Brown could be something special. Diamond Stripes worked six furlongs at Palm Meadows in 1:13 3/5, with Big Brown clocked in 1:13 1/5. Diamond Stripes had won the Grade II Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 5.

However, after one more recorded work on Dec. 28, Big Brown again was sidelined by a quarter crack, this time on his right front foot. He did not go to the track once during January, Dutrow said during an NTRA teleconference Tuesday. That made the colt’s March 5 all the more impressive in Dutrow’s eyes.

Remember, at this time last year, Curlin likewise was just two for two. And while he was unable to snag the roses on the first Saturday in May, he did win the Arkansas Derby, Preakness Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2007 Horse of the Year title.

There is only one change on this week’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 list. Rebel Stakes winner Sierra Sunset, who debuted at No. 10 last week, drops off the list after being sidelined by a small fracture in his left front ankle, as reported by Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini. Taking Sierra Sunset’s spot on the list is Court Vision, who was No. 1 early in the year before Pyro moved to the top after winning the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 9.

Here is this week’s list:

1. Pyro
2. Denis of Cork
3. Cool Coal Man
4. Elysium Fields
5. Colonel John
6. El Gato Malo
7. Georgie Boy
8. Big Brown
9. Visionaire
10. Court Vision
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Default Georgie Boy / El Gato Malo
I was told by a clocker that Georgie Boy work yesterday was almost the same time as El Gato Malo but the works wasn't even that close. Georgie Boy worked effortless and El Gato Malo was asked for his time in that work as he was ridden out to get the 1:12, as I stated before Georgie Boy is the class of Cali and he might not win the S.A. Derby but will be in the top 3. His running action reminds me of Barbora how he hits the ground so hard take a look at his prior races. The most sad thing is we have no idea how he will run over the dirt at C.H., I just hope Kathy Walsh will bring him in the Louisville for his final work or we will never know till the derby.

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Pyro Breezes in Company at Keeneland. Pyro continued his preparations for the April 12 Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes by working six furlongs in 1:14.60 (2/3), breezing, today at Keeneland.

Exercise rider Dominic Terry was aboard Pyro, who worked in company with stablemate Sonoma Cat. Pyro’s jockey, Shaun Bridgmohan, was on Sonoma Cat. The duo raced as a team, hitting the wire together with Pyro on the inside.

“I got him galloping (seven furlongs) out in 1:27 3/5 and the last five-eighths in 1:00 4/5,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi, who supervised the move for trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen was in Dallas this morning.

Keeneland clockers caught the pair going 23 seconds flat for the final quarter; 11.20 for the last eighth.

It was Pyro’s second work at Keeneland since arriving from Louisiana. He worked five furlongs on his own in 1:02.40 on March 24. Pyro hasn't raced at Keeneland but trained there last fall before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Monmouth Park.

“He looked great to me. I hadn’t seen him in six weeks,” said Blasi, who's been in Dubai with Curlin.

Sonoma Cat, a 4-year-old son of Storm Cat, was based at Fair Grounds with Pyro. He has a record of 5 1-2-2.

Also working for the Asmussen barn today was Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm’s Kodiak Kowboy, who worked a half-mile in :49.20 (14/29), breezing, in preparation for Sunday’s Lafayette Stakes.

Bob Black Jack to Toyota Blue Grass. In a rapidly-evolving and fluid runup to the Kentucky Derby, Bob Black Jack is out of consderation for the Grade II Arkansas Derby and will run in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes instead, his trainer said today.

In order to get into an overflow field, the Arkansas Derby gives priority to horses based on earnings.

“I can’t get in the Arkansas Derby because we don’t have enough money," trainer James Kasparoff said today. “We’re like 16th on the list of earnings. They’re going to run 14 and I’m 16th, and all those horses ahead of me intend to run, so it looks like he’s just going to stay on the plane and go to Lexington instead.”

On that plane will be Indian Sun and Gayego, who have more earnings than Bob Black Jack.

David Flores will retain the mount on Sunshine Millions Dash winner Bob Black Jack.

Court Vision Works at Payson. Trainer Bill Mott had Court Vision working today at Payson Park. He went a half-mile in :49.60 (2/8), breezing.

A winner of three of four starts as a two-year-old, including Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen on Nov. 24, Court Vision is expected for Saturday’s Grade I Wood Memorial. Court Vision exits a third-place finish in the Grade II Fountain of Youth, his only start this year.

Although Mott has a stable at Belmont Park, he is expected to ship Court Vision into Aqueduct on Thursday.

Wood Memorial Probables. The biggest and most intriguing name among the Wood’s prospects is War Pass. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ turned in a clunker in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby and quickly fell from grace on the trail to the Run for the Roses. Even so, the Nick Zito trainee could be the favorite.

Two others with enough graded stakes money to be assured a spot in the Derby starting gate, Court Vision and Tale of Ekati, will be there. Anak Nakal might have enough earnings, but plenty could happen to change that.

Texas Wildcatter, runner-up by a nose in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct; Giant Moon, last in the Gotham; Roman Emperor, fourth in the Wood, and late nominee Spurrier fill out the potential roster for the Wood.

Colonel John Works Strongly at SA. Grade III Sham Stakes winner Colonel John, one of the favorites for Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, worked six furlongs today in 1:10.80 (2/26), handily, at Santa Anita. Exercise rider Karine Lhuillier was up.

“He worked super,” said trainer Eoin Harty, just back from Dubai. “He went five-eighths in :59 and two or three and couldn’t have done it any easier.”

Santa Anita Derby Probables. The prospective field is now at 10. Coast Guard, Joe Talamo; Colonel John, Corey Nakatani; El Gato Malo, David Flores; Meetingwithdestiny, no rider; On the Virg, no rider; Polonius, Victor Espinoza; Rosso Corsa, Richard Migliore; Shore Do, no rider; Signature Move, Michael Baze; and Yankee Bravo, Alex Solis.

The Santa Anita Derby will be televised live on NBC Saturday from 5:00 to 6:00 ET.

Visionaire Confirmed for Blue Grass. Trainer Michael Matz confirmed today that Visionaire, winner of the Grade III Gotham on March 8, will make his next start in the Blue Grass.

Matz had been considering shipping the Grand Slam colt to the Grade II Illinois Derby this Saturday. Visionaire arrived at Keeneland yesterday.

“Obviously, I didn’t want to face Pyro and Cool Coal Man,” said Matz. “My big worry was having an extra week before the Derby, and I won’t get that now with going in the Blue Grass, but he won’t have to ship up there (to Hawthorne) and back again. He’s going to stay here now until he is shipped up to Churchill.”

Matz said Visionaire will work at Keeneland this week. Jockey Jose Lezcano will again be aboard Visionaire in the Toyota Blue Grass.

Visionaire faced Pyro for the first time on Feb. 9 in the Grade III Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Pyro won the race, with Visionaire running third

Matz currently has 24 horses at Keeneland, marking his largest string at the track to date. Street Sounds, whom he saddled to win the Grade II Stonerside Beaumont during the 2007 Spring Meet, is being pointed to the Grade II Vinery Madison on April 9 for her four-year-old debut. Bee Charmer, who finished second in Keeneland’s Grade III Sycamore last October, could start in the closing-day Grade II Fifth Third Elkhorn on April 25. Matz said he didn’t know whether Chelokee, who won his 2008 debut on March 29 at Gulfstream, would start at Keeneland during the Spring Meet.

Ten Late-Nominated to Triple Crown. Ten new runners, eight males and two females, were late-nominated to the 2008 Triple Crown. The 10 late nominees ran the overall total for this year’s Triple Crown races to 459, one below the record of 460 set in 2007.

With 449 early nominees at a fee of $600 per horse and 10 late ones at $6,000 per, total Triple Crown nomination fees amount to $329,400. That will be split three ways between Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont Park for distribution in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Late nominations closed Saturday, the same day as the Grade I Florida Derby.

The late nominees are:

Barrier Reef, owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Saeed bin Suroor.

BIG GLEN, owned by John T.L. Jones and trained by Frank Brothers.

HEY BYRN, owned by Bernard and Bea Oxenberg and trained by Eddie Plesa Jr.

JAZZ IN THE PARK, from James Metzger’s Russata Stable and trained by Bobby Barnett.

KINSALE KING, owned by Super Horse Inc. and trained by Jesse Mendoza.

My Pal Charlie , owned by B. Wayne Hughes and trained by Albert Stall Jr.

ROSSO CORSA, owned by Charlotte Wrather and trained by Darrell Vienna.

SPURRIER, owned by Peachtree Stable and trained by Todd Pletcher.

EIGHT BELLES, owned by Fox Hill Farm and trained by J. Larry Jones.

PROUD SPELL, owned by Brereton Jones and trained by J. Larry Jones.
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Default What can Big Brown do?
What can Big Brown do?
By Nick Kling, The Record
Big Brown's five-length victory in Saturday's

Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park was spectacu

lar. It was clearly the most impressive perform

ance of the year from a three-year-old pointing

toward the May 3 Kentucky Derby. Indeed, it is

possible there has been no Thoroughbred race of

importance on American soil this year which

exceeds what we saw on Saturday.

Some will dispute that, believing Pyro's win in

the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds was superi

or. However, race-watchers who subscribe to the

adage 'pace makes the race' know better.

For starters, Big Brown overcame what had

been an impossible post position bias. In the

four years since Gulfstream's main track was

transformed into a one and one-eighth mile oval,

no horse had won a race at that distance from

post 12 (or 11 for that matter).

When Barbaro captured the

2006 Florida Derby from post

10, his achievement was hailed

as special. How then should we

consider what Big Brown

accomplished? The field he

defeated contained the strongest

lineup of any three-year-old race this year.

Big Brown earned the victory with raw talent.

Trainer Rick Dutrow and jockey Kent

Desormeaux knew their best chance was to blast

the colt out of the starting gate and angle inside

for position. It is easy to plot that strategy; hard

er for the horse to execute. Big Brown did — in

spades. By the time the leaders reached the

halfway point on the first turn, the colt had taken

control of the race.

On a track where fractional times of 47 sec

onds to the half and 1:11 for six furlongs are con

sidered solid, Big Brown posted splits of 45.83

and 1:10.08. His final time was good —

1:48.16. Dominance on an unbiased racetrack

after setting a fast pace is the ultimate sign of

quality in a Thoroughbred.

Daily Racing Form says he will be assigned a

Beyer speed figure of 106. None of the other 24

horses on the Form's "Derby Watch" ratings have

earned a dirt route Beyer of 100 or higher in


Does this mean Big Brown is a mortal lock to

win the Kentucky Derby? Of course not. There

are four significant questions the colt has yet to


Big Brown raced with special shoes in the

Florida Derby. His footwear was a variation on

what are called glue-on shoes. The colt has had

issues with quarter cracks. These are the equine

version of torn fingernails, except in the case of a

horse, the animal has to stand or run on the

injured area.

Glue-on shoes don't require nails to hold them

to the hoof wall. In addition, the pricey ($550

per set) style Big Brown wore Saturday are sup

posed to provide some cushioning for tender feet.

A wise trainer once said, "No foot, no horse."

Things must go well for an animal preparing for

the Kentucky Derby. Empire Maker was compro

mised by a foot bruise in 2003. Big Brown's feet

have to remain healthy.

Then there is the issue of seasoning. That is,

will the three career races which Big Brown has

completed provide the colt with enough experi

ence to handle the tumult of a 20-horse field in

America's greatest race?

Three races weren't enough for Curlin. The

horse now acclaimed as the best in the world

went into last year's Derby with three starts.

Curlin won them by an aggregate total of just

under 29 lengths. Big Brown's comparable total

is exactly 29 lengths.

Curlin could do no better than third in the

Derby, finishing 8 lengths behind

winner Street Sense. The colt's

towering accomplishments since

have revealed two truths: 1) he is

a superior horse, 2) sometimes

superior talent isn't enough to

win the Kentucky Derby.

As with any horse entering the

Derby, the factor of the one and

one-quarter mile distance is an

issue. Pedigree and pace determine how a three-

year-old answers this question.

An excellent handicapper sent me his analysis

of Big Brown's Florida Derby shortly after the

race. This person judges a horse's ability to

ration his speed and energy. According to his fig

ures, Big Brown's final three-eighths of a mile

reveal the colt may not like ten furlongs.

A similar opinion was posted on Daily Racing

Form's Crist Blog page. This energy analyst cal

culated Big Brown's rate of deceleration at about

12 percent. The colt will have to cover the first

half-mile of the Kentucky Derby no faster than 46

seconds to have his best chance. That might not

be a problem. He rated kindly in the process of

winning a March 5 allowance race at Gulfstream.

Breeding is another iffy subject. Big Brown is

sired by Boundary, a son of Danzig. This is pedi

gree which suggests high speed and early preco

ciousness. Stamina might not be a positive trait.

However, that argument was also used against

Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, and Afleet Alex. The

first two won the Derby and Preakness despite

their sires, Distorted Humor and Elusive Quality,

respectively. The last dominated the one and

one-half mile Belmont Stakes, a race his father,

Northern Afleet, would have needed a bus ride to


Big Brown has Nureyev as his dam sire. That

could be his stamina saver. In addition, anyone

who still follows the 'dosage' method of stamina

handicapping will note that Big Brown has good

numbers and distribution.

Pending next weekend's Wood Memorial,

where War Pass will attempt to recover his repu

tation, I have Big Brown as my second-ranked

Derby contender. Here are the top five: 1) Pyro,

2) Big Brown, 3) War Pass, 4) Court Vision, 5)

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Wood Field Expanding. According to New York Racing Association Stakes Coordinator Andrew Byrnes, the prospective field for Saturday’s Grade 1 Wood Memorial is increasing. Entries close tomorrow.

Previously confirmed are War Pass, last year’s juvenile champion (trainer Nick Zito; jockey Cornelio Velasquez); Grade II Remsen winner Court Vision (Bill Mott; Garrett Gomez); Anak Nakal (Zito; Alan Garcia); Giant Moon (Richard Schosberg; Jorge Chavez); Roman Emperor(Steve Klesaris; Jeremy Rose); Spurrier (Todd Pletcher; Stewart Elliott); Tale of Ekati (Barclay Tagg; Edgar Prado), and Texas Wildcatter (Pletcher, TBA).

New shooters are Inner Light (Mott, C.C. Lopez), who will be coupled with Court Vision, and possibly First Commandment and Gattopardo.

Mott Says Court Vision Heading in Right Direction. Mott said he believes he has two horses heading in the right direction, Court Vision and Inner Light.

Court Vision, a son of 1987 Wood Memorial winner Gulch, closed out a 3-for-4 two-year-old season by winning the Grade II, nine-furlong Remsen by a neck over Atoned, who goes in the Grade II Illinois Derby on Saturday. In his only start of 2008, Court Vision was a distant third behind Cool Coal Man and Elysium Fields in Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Fountain of Youth on Feb. 24.

“It was his first race back and he ran well, considering he was on a speed-favoring racetrack,” Mott said. “He was pretty far back, and he wasn’t going to make up any kind of ground on that track. Still, he was the only one running at the end and he has been doing very well ever since.”

Inner Light, who like Court Vision is owned by IEAH Stable and WinStar Farm, is a son of Songandaprayer. He won a one-mile Gulfstream Park allowance on March 7 and could possibly help establish some pace in the Wood for Court Vision.

“We’ve kind of looked at the Wood for awhile for Inner Light, and we decided to give him a chance to play the game. He’s always been overanxious, but he seemed to settle much better in his last race. Will he handle two turns? We don’t know for sure, but he seems he is heading in the right direction.”

Court Vision and Inner Light will ship from Florida to Aqueduct tomorrow. Mott has a stable at Belmont Park.

“It didn’t make much sense to ship to Belmont Park and then ship again for the Wood,” Mott said. “This way, they ship in and stay for the race.”

Tagg Pleased with Tale of Ekati. Trainer Barclay Tagg said he was pleased with Tale of Ekati’s half-mile gate work of :47.40 (1/14), handily, at Palm Meadows yesterday. The Tale of the Cat colt will ship to Aqueduct Thursday with Court Vision.

Tale of Ekati, last year’s Grade I Belmont Futurity winner, has only made one start in 2008, and that resulted in a sixth-place finish behind Pyro in the March 8 Louisiana Derby after a poor break from the gate.

“He ran all right,” Tagg said of the colt’s effort in New Orleans. “The assistant starter had his head turned sideways at the start, so he got away from the gate bad and that ruined his chances.”

Edgar Prado has the mount on Tale of Ekati in the Wood.

First Commandment: 3-Year-Olds Unpredictable. First Commandment trainer Carlos Martin says that he is “50-50” about running in the Wood Memorial. A son of 1997 Travers winner Deputy Commander, First Commandment has only had three career starts, all on Aqueduct’s inner track. He lost his debut race in the mud but won his next two races.

“I nominated him to the Wood Memorial because this has become a very unpredictable year for three-year-olds,” Martin said. “We all know that War Pass is a terrific horse, but his race at Tampa Bay is a puzzle. Take of Ekati didn’t run so well off the layoff.

“This is one of these situations where you take a shot and if it works out, you look like a genius. We know we are taking a big step with a New York-bred, but like I said, this has been a year when good 3-year-olds suddenly are not running their races.

“War Pass could get on the lead and not look back, but he could also run a race like he did at Tampa Bay. You just don’t know. I know that First Commandment can get a mile and an eighth, and that is still a question with some horses. We have some time. I’ll probably bring him to the (Belmont Park) training track on Thursday, ask him to pick it up on the backside and see where his energy level is at.”

Big Truck to Keeneland. Trainer Barclay Tagg was at Keeneland this morning to oversee the arrival of horses that will be under his care in Barn 37. Included in the arrivals was Eric Fein’s Big Truck, winner of the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby in his most recent start on March 15.

Tagg had previously laid out three options for Big Truck’s next start, one of which was the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. With that option eliminated now, the remaining next-race choices are the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby.

Pyro Watch. Pyro was on the track at Keeneland this morning and galloped a mile under exercise rider Dominic Terry. Pyro had worked Monday at Keeneland and walked the shedrow on Tuesday.

Kentucky Bear in Blue Grass. Bear Stables’ Kentucky Bear, unraced since a seventh-place finish in the Feb. 24 Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, arrived at Keeneland on yesterday to begin preparations for the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 12.

Trainer Reade Baker said Jamie Theriot would have the mount on Kentucky Bear, who made his racing debut on Jan. 21 with a 6 1/2-length victory going a mile at Gulfstream Park.

Baker said the son of Mr. Greeley would work Sunday, Monday or Tuesday for the Blue Grass. Kentucky Bear has had three works at Palm Meadows since the Fountain of Youth, the most recent being a bullet, five-eighths move in :59.00 (1/20) on March 31.

Kentucky Bear jogged a mile today morning at Keeneland under exercise rider Cassie Garcia.

Unofficial probables for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes are Cool Coal Man, Cowboy Cal, Kentucky Bear, Pyro, and Visionaire.

Monba and Big Truck are possible.
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from synthetic tracks to Kentucky's dirt
By JEFF NAHILL - Staff Writer | Saturday, April 5, 2008 5:21 PM PDT ∞

Post your Comments Increase Font Decrease Font email this story print this story The Kentucky Derby is the great American horse race.

You can have the Breeders' Cup, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, or any other race you want to name.

Everyone in the thoroughbred industry wants to win one race on the first Saturday of May.

This year, West Coast interests are trying a new path. This is the first time all of the major Kentucky Derby preps in California are on synthetic tracks.

Will East Coast, Midwest and Southern interests have an edge on May 3 because their horses have been running on dirt tracks like the one at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.? That is a major question for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, the West Coast's last major prep race for the Kentucky Derby. Featuring 3-year-olds running 1 1/8 mile, the race from Santa Anita Park will be televised at 2 p.m. by NBC.

Oceanside's Jeff Bloom, vice president of West Coast operations for West Point Thoroughbreds, which entered El Gato Malo in Saturday's race, isn't worried "even a little bit" about the transition from synthetic to dirt should his horse make it to Louisville.

"I've always been of the opinion that good horses will run on any surface and overcome issues related to the track itself," Bloom said this week.

El Gato Malo, who is second on the morning line (5-2) to Colonel John (2-1), has won races at Hollywood Park (Cushion Track), Golden Gate Fields (Tapeta) and Santa Anita (Cushion Track). All are synthetic.

"This horse has shown he'll run on any surface already," Bloom said. "He trained extensively at San Luis Rey Downs (in Bonsall as a 2-year-old), which is a dirt surface, and had his initial workouts over that surface and he glided over it.

"There's a few unknowns (with running on dirt), but I always go back to a good horse will run through that stuff."

Craig Dollase, who trains El Gato Malo at Hollywood Park, believes he has the advantage of not having to worry about weather or track conditions.

"I had no hiccups along the way at all," Dollase said. "I'm a big fan of synthetic tracks, and whatever it takes to keep my horse sound and happy, that's where I'm going to be ...

"The horses tend to get a lot of fitness off these tracks. And I know because when Hollywood Park went ahead (last year) and put the synthetic track in, I think Santa Anita at the time had their dirt track in and I was running horses across town (from Hollywood Park), training them synthetic and running over there, and did very, very well."

Eoin Harty, the trainer of Colonel John, is in the same camp as Dollase. He believes the fitness gained on synthetic tracks is so positive that it outweighs any negatives to not having run on dirt before the Kentucky Derby.

"Sure, it's an unknown," Harty said, "but (Colonel John) moves well over Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. He has a fluid action. I think he can handle any surface out there."

But Harty, who was trainer Bob Baffert's assistant during the glory days of Silver Charm and Real Quiet, admits that he might send Colonel John to Churchill Downs some two weeks before the race to acclimate him to the new surface.

"Just to (put aside any fears) on my own behalf or on the part of the general public (that he can't handle the dirt)," said Harty.

In the end, however, getting to the Kentucky Derby is a crapshoot. It's just a little more so for West Coast connections.

"(Synthetic tracks), to me, is a very controversial topic right now," said Robert LaPenta, the owner of 2-year-old champion War Pass, who will race Saturday on dirt in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York. "Is it safer? Is it better? Is it changing the game? You know, we could probably spend five hours talking about that. So, I don't know what these (West Coast) horses are going to do."

Neither does anyone else.
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Default Ky. Derby Trail: Tale of the Colonel
Ky. Derby Trail: Tale of the Colonel
by Steve Haskin

Updated: April 7, 2008

Well, we’re down to our final two major preps, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and Arkansas Derby (gr. II), with the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) thrown in for good measure. The question right now is: what did we learn from last Saturday’s preps?

We learned that Colonel John is the undisputed king of the California 3-year-olds. We learned that Tale of Ekati and War Pass have righted their wrongs and are back on firm ground on the Derby trail. And we learned that the Illinois Derby (gr. II) once again produced a clear-cut winner who earned the usual high Beyer Speed Figure and closed his final eighth of a mile in fast time.

Unfortunately, we also learned that Denis of Cork, through no fault of his own or trainer David Carroll, became totally disoriented on the road to Louisville and, sadly, lost his way. It proves once again that when you hire a captain, you let him steer the ship.

But with every cloud comes a silver lining, or so they say. With the Denis of Cork cloud comes a much welcome return to Churchill Downs of Louie Roussel and Ronnie Lamarque, who have stirred the Derby pot twice before with Risen Star in 1988 and Kandaly in 1994. With their colt Recapturetheglory commemorating the 20th anniversary of Risen Star’s Triple Crown adventures with a runaway victory in the Illinois Derby, we can now look forward to more fun and frivolity – such as “Louie and Ronnie’s New Orleans Crawfish Bash,” which they held for the media on the clubhouse turn in ’94; and, of course, Ronnie’s studio-recorded songs about his horses – can anyone forget “Go, Kandaly, Go” sung to the tune of Do Wah Diddy?

The star of the weekend definitely was Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Colonel John, who, despite racing exclusively on a synthetic surface, looks as solid a Derby horse as we’ve seen this year. Forgetting for a minute about his having to make the transition to dirt and having only two Derby preps (something he shares with a number of top contenders this year), he has all the tools you look for in a classic horse – the stamina, the build, the toughness, the consistency, the closing kick, the temperament, and the connections. And as for having only two starts, that is misleading, as he ran Dec. 22 in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I). Add to that, both his starts this year were gut-checks, which he passed against fast, talented horses, assuring that he will have sufficient bottom and will be battle-tested.

The Santa Anita Derby was not an easy race to watch if you’re a Colonel John fan, especially when El Gato Malo went flying by him on the far turn, and then On the Virg passed him, putting him in ninth nearing the head of the stretch. One flaw he does have is that, with his big stride, it takes him a while to get in high gear. Another flaw, which he and jockey Corey Nakatani will have to work out, could be seen distinctly in the upper stretch. When Nakatani hit him numerous times left-handed, Colonel John drifted out and didn’t appear to be going anywhere. Then, when Nakatani switched and hit him right-handed, he took off in a flash, lengthening his stride noticeably, and it was that quick final surge that got him the victory.

With all that, he still managed to come home his final three-eighths in a sensational :35 1/5 (:23 1/5 and :12). Nakatani, apparently sensing that Colonel John had done his only serious running in the final sixteenth, wanted him to keep going and gallop out strong. He waved the whip at him crossing the wire, and then gave him a tap on the shoulder with the handle of the whip before pulling on his left rein and snapping the right rein against the colt’s shoulder. As a result, Colonel John was able to run through the wire and continue on at a decent clip without easing to the outside, as many horses will do when galloping out. It was a clever move by Nakatani, who has to make sure the colt doesn’t put himself in that position again in the Derby. He’ll have to quicken earlier, and can’t afford to let horses whiz by him at the three-eighths pole. That’s how you become swallowed up by the cavalry charge. And drifting out the way he did after turning for home is a no-no, so one would think we’ll see more right-handed whipping than left next time.

Bob Black Jack continues to improve the farther he goes, which is contrary to what most people thought would happen. The Cal-bred is fast, can rate going two turns, and can finish, which makes him a dangerous opponent. But he drifted in and out much more noticeably than did Colonel John. He was all over the track, which makes those final fractions hard to believe. Is this some Cushion Track/Pro Ride phenomenon, or are these two horses, and the pacesetting Coast Guard, really such strong closers?

Yankee Bravo saved ground all the way and had every shot to win in the stretch, but ran a bit flat in the final furlong to finish fourth, beaten four lengths. El Gato Malo looked awesome blowing by horses on the far turn, but couldn’t sustain his move, finishing fifth. The closest he got to Colonel John was when the winner drifted right across his path.

Diamonds and roses

Imagine at the end of last year, you were told that the Wood Memorial (gr. I) would have among its starters the winners of the grade I Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Champagne Stakes and the grade II Kentucky Jockey Club, Remsen, and Futurity Stakes. You no doubt would have been salivating at such a prospect.

Then imagine you were told that the winners of those races – War Pass, Court Vision, Anak Nakal, and Tale of Ekati – would go into the Wood having been beaten an average of 12 lengths in their previous start, with three of them finishing sixth or worse.

Well, that’s just what happened. Following an unpredictable turn of events this winter, the Wood, normally a match-up of leading Derby contenders, became mostly a means of redemption.

And in the end, all were redeemed, to some degree, as Tale of Ekati, War Pass, and Court Vision finished first, second, and third, respectively, with even Anak Nakal showing improvement, finishing fifth, beaten only 3 1/2 lengths, after two dismal performances.

Much to Tale of Ekati's credit, he put himself in position to be the first one to pick up the pieces after War Pass hit the proverbial brick wall nearing the eighth pole. But because he tried so hard to run through that wall after being hounded by a “rabbit” for the first five-eighths of a mile, War Pass received as many accolades as the winner.

Last year’s 2-year-old champion had much to prove after his shocking last-place finish at 1-20 in the March 15 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), in which he staggered home 23 lengths behind Tagg’s victorious Big Truck. No concrete explanation for his performance was ever found, and no one had a clue what to expect from him in the Wood.

Because of the red flares he had sent up at Tampa Bay, everyone’s eyebrows were raised when it was reported the colt needed three staples under his chin to close a wound suffered on the plane from Florida due to turbulence shortly before landing.

Owner Robert LaPenta was more concerned about seeing his champion restore his tarnished reputation, so he could officially put a line through the Tampa Bay Derby and chalk it up as an aberration.

“I’ve slept about a total of an hour and a half this week,” LaPenta said in the paddock before the race. “He looks good and acts well, but no one knows what’s going to happen. I’m more nervous now than I was before the Breeders’ Cup.”

Trainer Nick Zito said he was “Apprehensive, excited, happy, and cautious,” which pretty much covered the gamut of emotions.

Then there was trainer Barclay Tagg, who also was seeking redemption for Tale of Ekati, who was named after the Ekati diamond mine that was discovered in Canada’s Northwest Territory by the colt’s owner Charles Fipke. The son of Tale of the Cat – Silence Beauty, by Sunday Silence had embarked on the Kentucky Derby trail with a great deal of promise after his scintillating victory in the Futurity Stakes, but he was scheduled to have only two starts leading up to the Run for the Roses, which meant there was no room for error. So, when his first race back -- the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) -- turned into a fiasco after a terrible start, it put Tagg, who won last year’s Wood with Nobiz Like Shobiz, and Tale of Ekati in a precarious position. The colt had to rebound with a big performance to even be considered for the Derby.

Tale of Ekati came up from Florida in resplendent condition, and was a standout in the paddock. “He’s really doing well right now,” Tagg said as he watched the colt on the walking ring. “But you never know.”

Bill Mott, trainer of Court Vision, was another who didn’t know what to expect after his colt’s non-threatening rally from last to finish a distant third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). The son of Gulch also was scheduled to have only two starts prior to the Derby, and Mott knew the colt needed to be more competitive in the Wood if he was to be battle-tested enough to have any shot in the Derby. So, he reached into his hat and pulled out a “rabbit” named Inner Light, who was coming off a victory in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream, in which he tracked blistering fractions of :44 and 1:08 4/5 before drawing off to a two-length score. He, like Court Vision, is owned by WinStar Farm and IEAH Stables, so it was a team decision to use the colt as a sacrificial lamb.

The stage was set for a wild Wood, in which all the top names were treading on unsteady ground. Those who slipped, even a little, would be munching on hay in their stall at six o’clock on May 3.

If there was one thing that was certain, it was that Cornelio Velasquez would be gunning War Pass out of the five-post in the nine-horse field (First Commandment was a late vet scratch). Although Mott had given the usual pre-race quotes about how they wanted to test Inner Light around two turns, it was pretty obvious to everyone that the colt was on a kamikaze mission. Breaking from post eight, he would hone right in on LaPenta’s maroon silks.

When the gates opened, War Pass broke just a bit sluggishly and Velasquez pushed him to the lead as if he were in a sprint race. Then, to no one’s surprise, there was Inner Light charging after him from the outside. After the opening quarter in a scorching :22 2/5 over a heavy, drying out track that was listed as fast, War Pass had Inner Light latched on to him like a suckerfish attached to a shark. The pair had already opened up six lengths on Tale of Ekati in third. With a half in a testing :46 flat, War Pass was pretty much cooked at that point. By comparison, top-class older horses in the Excelsior Handicap (gr. III) went their half in :48 2/5, a difference of 12 lengths.

War Pass finally shook free from Inner Light, who would be beaten more than 40 lengths, but he still was rolling through three-quarters in 1:11 2/5, compared to 1:13 3/5 in the Excelsior. The champ, despite a few awkward strides, took a clear lead into the stretch after being brought several paths out by Velasquez, as instructed by Zito. But it was obvious at this point that he had little left and was crawling home (his final three-eighths in :40 4/5).

Tale of Ekati, under Edgar Prado, had never given up his pursuit and he began to close the gap from the inside. War Pass dug in and battled courageously, trying to hold off his pursuer, despite being on empty. But Tale of Ekati kept coming after him, with Court Vision, who had been as far back as 18 lengths, closing the gap, along with Giant Moon.

Tale of Ekati, himself a tired horse after running his half in :46 2/5, finally wore down War Pass in the closing strides to win by a half-length in 1:52 1/5 for the nine furlongs, with War Pass finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Court Vision, who closed well, but had no real excuse after failing to take advantage of the setup his stablemate had provided for him.

After the race, LaPenta put it simply: "The rabbit did him in, but he ran a great race." Even Mott saluted War Pass. "He's a very game horse and he ran a big race, because we pushed him along pretty good."

So, did we see the Derby winner in the Wood? When horses close that slowly in their final Derby prep, it’s a good reason to throw them out. But the first three finishers all desperately needed this race to bounce back and get much-needed conditioning. They all should improve with this race under their belt, but can they improve enough to compete against the best 3-year-olds in a 20-horse field going a mile and a quarter? Let’s just say it’s going to be a difficult assignment. Tale of Ekati and War Pass are brilliant colts with a great deal of talent, and they’ll need all of it, especially War Pass, who will no doubt become embroiled at some point with Bob Black Jack, Recapturetheglory, and the indomitable Big Brown. But he showed in the Wood that anyone who wants to run with him will pay the price. There's a reason why he's a champion.

Court Vision needs to find some speed and quickness between now and the Derby, but he does have the stamina and the drive, and he does close consistently. With a track more to his liking he still could be a legitimate Derby contender. Anak Nakal made a wide, steady move, and although he was never a factor, he may have run well enough to punch his ticket to Louisville.

Return of the ragin’ Cajuns

Recapturetheglory’s emphatic victory in the Illinois Derby at 15-1 was hard to predict by looking at the colt’s past performances. The son of Cherokee Run appeared to have some promise, but he had never run in a stakes and was coming off only one start this year – a third-place finsh in a turf allowance race at Fair Grounds. His most impressive credential was having run second to Cool Coal Man in an allowance race at Churchill Downs in November.

Yet, there he was out on the lead, setting slow fractions, with no one other than Golden Spikes paying much attention to him. By the time they did it was way too late. With a final three-eighths in :36 1/5, he was gone, drawing off to a four-length victory over Golden Spikes in 1:49 flat.

Once again, for some reason, the Illinois Derby was an impressive race on paper, with the winner jumping from an 80 Beyer to a 102. But let’s not forget Sweetnorthernsaint’s stalking 9 1/4-length romp and his 109 Beyer in 2006; or Greeley’s Legacy’s stalking 9 1/2-length procession and 106 Beyer in 2005; or Pollard’s Vision’s wire-to-wire victory and his 107 Beyer in 2004; or Cowtown Cat’s front-running victory and 98 Beyer in 2007. While none of those horses even came close to winning the Derby, we do have to remember War Emblem’s 6 1/4-length, wire-to-wire score and 112 Beyer in 2002. But that was at Sportsman’s Park. Hawthorne is a tricky surface that some horses love and others hate.

Recapturetheglory has a powerful stride and high kick, and he was really pouring it on in the final furlong, much like War Emblem did. That certainly is not meant to imply that this colt is in the same stratosphere as War Emblem, but there are some similarities.

As for Denis of Cork, he was on a perfect schedule heading into the Rebel, but instead was put in mothballs and allowed to rust for seven weeks. And all because of some obsession with speed figures. Trainer David Carroll had the colt’s winter and spring campaign all mapped out and then saw a big “X” drawn through it. He attempted to keep Denis of Cork on edge, but to be inactive for that long when you’re primed for competition, and then forced to return over a quirky surface like Hawthorne, it was an invitation to disaster.

Denis of Cork never at any point looked like the colt who had won all three of his races, in which he showed speed, power, and guts. Going into the first turn, it was difficult to see what happened, but jockey Julien Leparoux, in between horses, went flying up in the air and completely lost his balance and rhythm on the colt. That didn’t seem to affect the horse at all, but down the backstretch, it was obvious he was in trouble. He wasn’t moving with any authority and began losing ground over a track where you needed to be right there turning for home. It was sad to see such a talented horse struggle home a non-threatening fifth.

Now it’s a question whether he will have enough earnings to get in the Derby if that’s where they decide to go. He most likely will, but if several horses behind him run huge in the Arkansas Derby (including Carroll’s Blackberry Road) and Blue Grass, it could knock him out. But does he even have a chance to win the Derby off this race? Normally, you would answer an emphatic ‘no,’ but we’ve seen too many good horses bounce back from a clunker before the Derby, and the belief here is that this is a very good horse who just wasn’t given the opportunity to show it.

Because of the costly decision to skip the Rebel, Denis of Cork lost one of the hottest jockeys in the country in Robby Albarado, is now in jeopardy of not getting in the Derby, and will have to go in the race off only four career starts (the last horse to win the Derby off four starts was 90 years ago). His connections were afraid he’d "bounce" on the speed sheets in his next start. Well, he bounced all right, possibly right out of the Derby. Let’s just hope Carroll can get him back on track and show everyone what he’s capable of doing.

Atoned was a bit of a disappointment, especially with Denis of Cork not running his race, and he and runner-up Golden Spikes most likely will not have sufficient graded earnings to get in the Derby. Z Humor ran another steady, but unspectacular, race to finish third, and he’s in the Derby earnings-wise if Zayat Stables wants to run all their horses who qualify. Their others are Halo Najib and Z Fortune, who needs a placing in the Arkansas Derby to make the field.
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