Shackleford blistering in work// Animal Kingdom sharp// Twice The Appeal and Mucho Macho Man not ideal

Shackleford after his workout. CTD 4-30-11

Today’s hectic Kentucky Derby workout tab at Churchill Downs included a little bit of everything, including a huge throng of marathoners running through the infield during the 8:30am session, somewhat simulating the atmosphere that is expected in a week.  You had a sizzling bullet (Shackleford), an immature work (Mucho Macho Man), an encouraging first time dirt move (Animal Kingdom), and a generally unimpressive effort (Twice The Appeal).  In-depth analysis below in the links, but I will make a few backside observations of my own.  Shackleford was an absolute standout and had quite a presence on the track.  His front action seemed a little high but he was inhaling the track with each stride.  You could hear the whip on Mucho Macho Man from two furlongs away, as he needed encouragement to start his work.  Mike Welsch at the Daily Racing Form claims Twice The Appeal galloped out well after his subpar work, yet along the backside I caught several missteps that appeared as though he was not taking hold of the track.  Animal Kingdom was quickly tracking his workmate and moving well, but did not leave quite the same favorable impression as others reported// Over at the Churchill Trackside training center Twinspired put in a work that was described as mere “maintenance” move// Todd Plecher held a small press conference outside of barn 34.  He indicated that Uncle Mo’s appetite continues to improve, and the old Mo seems to be back.  He was anxious to see his work Sunday to validate the feeling.  Pletcher also revealed he was seriously considering Calvin Borel for the mount on Stay Thirsty, but decided to stick with the familiar Ramon Dominguez// Machen, who was once a buzz horse along the Triple Crown trail proved that shorter distance is more in his wheelhouse by winning the Derby Trial Stakes Saturday// more…

Archarcharch impresses in work// Decisive Moment so-so// Soldat ready to go

Archarcharch was the star of the day for Friday April 29th based on his lightning 5-furlong work. Mike Welsch claims the move was so good he now considers the colt to be among the top Kentucky Derby contenders// Decisive Moment did not fair as well.  Not only was the overall clocking mediocre, apparently he was switching leads several times down the stretch// Soldat put in his final work before the Derby in Florida.  There are no official clockers this time of year at Palm Meadows, but according to this trainer Kiaran McLaughlin Soldat worked a half in 49 and galloped out in 1.01:40.  McLaughlin was just short of exuberant// Mike Welsch commented that Santiva and Twice The Appeal did not leave a good impression during their gallops and jogs, while Uncle Mo continues to look strong.

As expected, Garret Gomez was given the mount on Master Of Hounds.  The rumor just last weekend was that Calvin Borel would get the job, but he apparently decided to go with a colt that was definite at the time in Twice The Appeal.  That decision caused a little drama between the connections of Twice The Appeal and his former jockey Santiago Reyes.  The LA Daily news reports Reyes’ agent was not pleased over the late announcement, not only because it’s the Derby, but also because they gave up six mounts at Hollywood thinking they would be in Louisville// more…

Zito Dialed In for Kentucky Derby// Master Of Hounds likely, Mr. Commons could sneak in

Dialed In’s official four furlong workout time at Palm Meadows Thursday was a solid 48.40, but Mike Welsch at the Daily Racing Form claims he was “never asked to exert himself at any time”. While some question whether Dialed In’s light workout pattern and short four-furlong moves will have him ready for the mile and a quarter test May 7th, Zito claims the horse is ultra fit, ready for the challenge, and won’t be short.  Soldat, also stationed at Palm Meadows, will have his final work Friday and then join Dialed In on the flight to Louisville Saturday// Master Of Hounds was officially withdrawn from Newmarket’s 2,000 Guineas, which means the Kentucky Derby is very likely.  Garrett Gomez is still considered the frontrunner to get the mount// Archarcharch and Decisive Moment are set to put in their final works Friday// With all of the recent movement and defections among the all important graded earnings list, lightly raced Mr. Commons now sits at spot #23.  What was once an unthinkable scenario for a colt with only $120,000 in earnings, qualifying for the Derby now doesn’t seem entirely far-fetched.  Trainer John Shirreffs decided to work the recent Santa Anita Derby third-place runner an extended seven furlongs at Hollywood Park just in case he stretches out to a mile and a quarter May 7th// TVG is reporting that Derby winning jockey Mike Smith will have the mount on Twinspired// I’ve always enjoyed reading the transcripts from the DRF chats just days before the Derby, seeing as it always provides valuable info from some of the game’s best handicappers.  Christmas came a little early as DRF laid out several Derby questions for their columnists. A must read// more…

Borel gets Kentucky Derby mount, will pilot Twice The Appeal// Anthony’s Cross the latest bubble horse

After a whirlwind day of major Kentucky Derby developments, Wednesday proved to be much calmer: there were no official workouts or defections from the top 20. However, several important decisions were still made, lead by the announcement that Calvin Borel secured a Derby mount. He will ride a longshot colt who was born May 10th, once raced in the claiming ranks, and made his way to Louisville via the Sunland Derby route.  No, they’re not allowing five-year-old Mine That Bird to run again in the Derby, Twice The Appeal will get the honor. It was also reported that Borel was recently offered the mount on Illinois Derby winner Watch Me Go but passed on the opportunity// Bob Baffert confirmed Victor Espinoza would stay on Midnight Interlude, despite first-call jock Martin Garcia losing his Derby mount due to The Factor’s defection.  Baffert said Espinoza’s timely use of the whip was reason to stay the course// Silver Medallion, the next in line for a Derby spot, was declared out which puts Anthony’s Cross on the bubble// Upcoming works include Dialed In Thursday, Decisive Moment Friday, and eight or nine moves for the weekend// The Derby weather forecast seemed to get some attention Wednesday.  As of now forecasters are predicting cool temperatures and rain, but of course that is all subject to change//Brad Free at the Daily Racing Form discusses the potential pace (or lack thereof) for the Derby. He claims with a tepid pace, the race could suit Midnight Interlude and Soldat// As expected, Larry Collmus was named as the race caller for the Triple Crown.

For a little detour from the daily news on horses, jockeys, owners and trainers check out Sarah Kelly’s “ABC’s” of the Derby in the Louisville Eccentric Observer.  It offers a realistic-- if not entirely flattering-- picture of what to expect if you happen to attend// more…

Kentucky Derby drama starts before dawn; Tuesday brings defections, major workouts, jockey decisions

The Derby drama started early Tuesday-- 5:45 AM early.  Trainer Todd Pletcher decided to beat the rain and send out Uncle Mo nearly three hours prior to the scheduled Derby/Oaks training session. From that moment on, major developments affecting the Kentucky Derby field, pace scenario, and jockey assignments seemed to be announced by the minute. The Factor and J P’s Gusto were confirmed out of the Derby field (along with the expected defection of Astrology). That allows Shackleford and Twinspired to slide into the top 20.  It also helps Shackleford deal with two less potential front-runners.  Spots 21 and 22 are now Silver Medallion and Anthony’s Cross, with the latter booked for a flight to Churchill next Tuesday// Some believed Calvin Borel would be named to ride Stay Thirsty, but Ramon Dominguez was confirmed instead.  The rumor of Borel landing on Master Of Hounds continues to grow.  Derby winning jockey Mike Smith was named to ride new entrant Twinspired// As for the workouts, Pletcher was clearly thrilled with Uncle Mo’s five furlong drill.  Jockey Johnny Velazquez and DRF analyst Mike Welsch claimed the old Mo is back.  Welsch did comment he could have galloped out stronger, but admitted that was “nitpicking”.  Midnight Interlude worked a bullet six furlongs, but according to Welsch had some trouble catching up to his workmate.  Santiva, who worked four panels, pleased his trainer Eddie Kenneally but did not impress Welsch// Uncle Mo’s owner Mike Repole held a press conference today and offered strong words to the press on questions related to Uncle Mo and full disclosure// Tom Durkin, the voice of the Kentucky Derby the past 10 years decided to bow out of contract negatiations for this year’s call on NBC.  Rumors are that Larry Collmus, track announcer at Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park will assume the duty// Although not Derby related, it is worth noting that during all of the excitement this morning at Churchill Downs there was also tragedy.  Gilded Gem, a workmate of Kentucky Oaks contender Plum Pretty, was fatally injured during the Derby/Oaks training session.  Trainer Bob Baffert, who recently withdrew two horses from the Derby field, had to deal with the biggest blow of them all// more…

The Factor returns to track for first time since surgery, uncertain for Kentucky Derby// Nehro, Comma work

The backside whispers of The Factor recently undergoing minor surgery for flipping his soft palate turned out to be true as Bob Baffert confirmed to the Daily Racing Form on Monday.  The Factor was out on the Churchill Downs track for his first gallop since the myectomy and appeared to be moving well.  As for entering him in the Derby, Baffert was non-committal and opened the door for just about every possible next race scenario: Derby, Preakness, Met Mile, sprint, and "insert race name here"// While Nehro’s official workout was clocked at a slow 1:02.80, Mike Welsch claims the colt looked comfortable on the muddy Churchill track.  He did have his head cocked towards the infield and had to navigate through some traffic nearing the finish. In the workout report video he also touches on several key works and observations from the last few days.  Interesting notes are that Stay Thirsty and Pants on Fire did not gallop out very well and Archarcharch didn’t seem to like the muddy surface. Most impressive of all to him was Soldat last Thursday at Palm Meadows// No word on Comma To The Top’s workout at Hollywood.  The final time was not quick, but no other details available at the moment.

J P’s Gusto is still possible for the Kentucky Derby and a decision should be announced by Wednesday// Mike Watchmaker handicaps this year’s Derby preps, which offers a unique angle.  Although the lowest odds are not for the Arkansas Derby, he does note it as his first preference, which I would agree// There is still an outside chance Master Of Hounds will race this Saturday in the Two Thousand Guineas as opposed to the Derby// Uncle Mo and Midnight Interlude are scheduled to work at Churchill Tuesday (weather permitting)// An updated graded earnings list is linked below and Astrology is back on, although as we reported yesterday he is still doubtful for the Derby//

Several nice background articles today: Brilliant Speed’s upbringing at Live Oak Stud, Rosie Napravnik’s confidence and success in Louisiana, and breeder Carole Rio’s tales of Mucho Macho Man// more…

Jaycito latest off the list, Astrology still possible?// Churchill based contenders enjoy the mud// Pletcher feels good about Mo

Jaycito is no longer being pointed to the Kentucky Derby.  The news is not a real shocker seeing as he has been battling a bruised foot and missed several planned prep races and workouts.  The Belmont Stakes could still be in the cards.  His absence allows Watch Me Go to enter the Derby scene with Shackleford on deck// Interestingly, Churchill Downs published an updated graded earnings list on their website Sunday that had Astrology back among the top 20.  It was quickly removed, but when CTD asked Director of Communications Darren Rogers for clarification, he responded Astrology was “unlikely, but let’s wait and see if Derby Fever hits”//

Another rainy Louisville morning didn’t stop two contenders from putting in official works.  Stay Thirsty blazed a bullet five panels in a minute flat with Calvin Borel aboard.  While it was stated publicly that Borel was testing the colt for his rail-skimming ability, there were also rumors he has the inside track to run European invader Master Of Hounds in the Derby. Mucho Macho Man took an extended seven furlongs, but wasn’t pressed too much.  Trainer Kathy Ritvo says it was merely a maintenance move.  He seemed to enjoy the messy track while kicking his front legs very high. Midnight Interlude was also swishing around and seemed to be playing more than working.  He needed some encouragement to leave the track as he was having too much fun.  Decisive Moment continues to get low whisper praise as he glides over the wet conditions effortlessly// Jennie Rees was able to get some newsworthy quotes from Todd Pletcher.  He sounds very positive on Uncle Mo’s recovery from a GI tract infection// more…

Derby Kitten takes Coolmore Lexington, Silver Medallion left out of Derby// Contender workout results vary

Derby Kitten                                                             Photo:
Derby Kitten prevailed on a rainy and miserable day at Keeneland.  His win, and Silver Medallion’s 4th place finish pretty much guarantees the latter will not enter the Kentucky Derby gate// Adios Charlie outran an impressive field in the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct that included Astrology and Cal Nation.  The Derby impact is minimal and winning trainer Stan Hough did not indicate a Triple Crown race was in the plans// Animal Kingdom’s work at Keeneland this morning was a mess.  Trainer Graham Motion blamed it on his workmate who didn’t want to train.  Animal Kingdom ended up going solo and the result was a poor final time.  It’s a situation you don’t want to deal with two weeks before the Big Dance, but he will have another work Saturday at Churchill// Shackleford had a much better effort 70 miles down the road at Churchill.  Trainer Dale Romans was pleased and now just needs two defections to make the Derby field// Pants On Fire had a toned down work compared to his last one eight days earlier, which is what trainer Kelly Breen wanted// PVal is booked to ride Comma To The Top which pretty much ensures he’ll set the Derby pace// more…

Borel: Hired Derby gun// Twice The Appeal not appealing in work

Calvin Borel is scheduled to work Stay Thirsty on Sunday.  Trainer Todd Pletcher emphasized that he is not definite for the Derby mount, but it opens the door for the possibility of the same team repeating last year’s Derby scenario, when Borel guided “Todd Squad” B-lister Super Saver to a muddy win.  Apparently, Ramon Dominguez who has ridden the colt before and currently does not have a guaranteed Derby mount, decided to look elsewhere so Borel may very well be in the driver’s seat.  What makes the situation even more intriguing is the three-time Derby winner is not even a third call jockey for Pletcher any other time of the year// Sunland Derby winner Twice The Appeal worked a so-so 6 furlongs at Churchill// Jeremy Plonk warns to discount the Bluegrass Stakes at your own peril. He points out last year’s runners had money finishes in all three Triple Crown races// Nice background story on Jon Court’s long journey to ride in the Derby// Uncle Mo’s first official serious work since the Wood Memorial is scheduled for Tuesday// Speedster Flashpoint will skip the Derby Trial and point to the Preakness// more…

Mixed signals on The Factor// Soldat sharp// Nakatani goes with the “now” horse

George Bolton, co-owner of The Factor, feels it’s unlikely his colt will be entered in the Kentucky Derby.  However, a recent quote from Bob Baffert suggests the door is by no means closed, as he raved how well The Factor galloped at Churchill// Soldat had a sharp work at Palm Meadows that had trainer Kiaran McLaughlin thinking roses.  If the rain never ends in Louisville, The French Soldier could get some serious consideration based on his January effort in the slop at Gulfstream. Alan Garcia was also confirmed as the Derby rider// In other jockey news, Corey Nakatani has chosen to ride Nehro over Comma To The Top// With impending rain in Louisville Saturday, Animal Kingdom’s workout will be moved to Keeneland// Todd Pletcher reports Uncle Mo’s appetite is getting better// As a point of clarification, I said yesterday Silver Medallion would enter the Derby picture with a win or place in Saturday’s Lexington Stakes.  A place would put him in spot #22, so no guarantee, but he would still have a realistic shot with impending defections// Aidan O’Brien still has May 7th circled on the calendar for Master Of Hounds and plans to ship the horse to Louisville May 3rd, which doesn’t give him much training time on dirt// more…

Watch Me Go to the Derby// Jaycito absent from Lexington// J P's drama

When entries were drawn for the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, the anticipated main attraction was missing from the small field of six.  Jaycito, who has recently assumed the role of this year’s “wise-guy” horse—more for what he hasn’t done than what he’s actually accomplished—was deemed unfit by trainer Bob Baffert.  Amazingly, he’s still pointed for the Kentucky Derby where he will run off of an eight-week layoff and questionable bruised foot.  The Lexington field does include Silver Medallion who needs a 1st or 2nd place finish to qualify for the Derby// Another graded three-year-old stakes, the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, drew a competitive field of former CTD Trackers.  While there are no Derby implications, it will be an important tune-up for Astrology whose connections hope to move on to the Preakness// Apparently The Bloodhorse has a vested interest in Blue Grass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed. They published two articles today touting his pedigree and making excuses for his poor dirt tries// Derby mount-less jockeys are in the news again and we can expect to hear much more on that as draw day nears.  Derby winners Calvin Borel, Mike Smith, and Edgar Prado, plus top money earners Ramon Dominguez, Garrett Gomez, and Martin Garcia are all in limbo// Watch Me Go, currently #21 on the Derby list, worked at Tampa Bay today and was declared headed to Churchill. His team will be rooting against Silver Medallion Saturday plus will need another defection.  Midnight Interlude, guaranteed a spot in the Derby field, put in his final California move (a bullet) before boarding a plane to Louisville// The connections of J P’s Gusto have provided the best soap opera along the Derby trail this year.  The colt has been plagued by knee-jerk decisions from his owners and trainers (emphasis on the plural) and nothing has changed close to two weeks from Derby.  Current trainer Joe Petalino had no idea of the whereabouts or Derby intentions for his horse and surmises he may no longer train him// more…

Kentucky Derby: Eennie meenie miney Mo

The national press is picking up on the parity in this year’s Derby.  An ESPN article goes so far as comparing it to a local dog race and betting your favorite numbers.  We get it, it's wide open// More maybes and probably nots today.  Comma To The Top and Watch Me Go, once thought to be out of the Derby picture, are now back in the mix.  The Factor was labeled as “probable” by trainer Bob Baffert and J P’s Gusto is still a possibility according to his owners.  Meanwhile, Jaycito is still not recovering well from his foot injury and doesn’t look likely for Saturday’s Lexington Stakes or the Derby.  With all of the uncertainty and possible defections, Anthony’s Cross, currently #25 will train in hopes of making the field.  While a bland 5th place finish in his last race might not seem enticing, he has proven himself on the Churchill strip and evenly stacks up with most of the prospective field// Jason Shandler in his Bloodhorse Blog suggests not overlooking the turf and poly horses. I’m still going to do so seeing as they have proven to be inferior on dirt, even in maiden company// Todd Pletcher was in Louisville to monitor Uncle Mo’s morning gallop, in which we never really heard much about how he looked on the track and how he was actually doing.  Instead Pletcher gave more vague quotes about appetite issues (not necessarily with Uncle Mo) and the wait-and-see approach we’ll be hearing a lot about in the coming weeks// Winning Beyer speed figures from two Derby preps were increased today.  Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass changed to 93 (from 89) and Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby is now 97 (from 95)// more…

Kentucky Derby decisions: Who's in, most likely in, out, and undecided?

I’ll admit, yesterday’s headline was a little misleading.  I intended to paint a picture of the Derby field being somewhat set with the last major preps out of the way and the final 20 in graded earnings just about solidified.  Monday reminded me how much will change-- or at least be in question-- all the way up to approximately 6pm on May 7th.  

The news today for multiple Kentucky Derby prospects is difficult to keep track of, especially seeing as various outlets ran conflicting stories // Astrology, one of CTD’s favorite prospects, was officially ruled out of the Kentucky Derby.  Trainer Steve Asmussen said his return race at Sunland was a rough one, and he’s already too far behind in training.  The news was not surprising and obviously the right decision, but adds another chapter to the “what could have been” for Kentucky Derby 137.  For the moment, he is pointed to the Jerome Stakes in two weeks with the Preakness after that.  With that decision, Santiva, who had a lackluster performance in the Blue Grass Stakes, now assumes spot #20 for the Derby// The graded earnings chart could still change depending on the outcome of the upcoming Lexington Stakes.  Silver Medallion could be headed there and would crash the party with a 1st or 2nd finish// News varied slightly on the status of European contender Master Of Hounds. As it stands now, all signs point to Louisville, but his connections stopped short of 100% confirming him for May 7th saying he “still has a few pieces of work”// Animal Kingdom, the winner of the Spiral Stakes at Turfway will work Saturday at Churchill where the results of that dirt try will determine if he’s to be entered in the Derby.  While that may sound like a possible window of opportunity for those on the outside, it’s usually the case the horse will be Derby-bound regardless// Interesting that Jay Privman says J P’s Gusto and The Factor are not likely to run in the Derby as I haven’t heard anything close to definitive from either trainer// Uncle Mo safely settled into his new stall at Churchill Downs.  A disappointing last race apparently costs you a police escort and a line of fans waiting for your arrival. Quotes from Todd Pletcher don’t sound especially encouraging for Uncle Mo to fully recover from his GI tract infection in time for the Derby// The Preakness has been confirmed for Norman Asbjornson, who finished 4th in the Wood Memorial// more…

Kentucky Derby field becoming clear, contenders migrate to Churchill

Sunday was a day for planning and moving on.  The top two finishers from the Arkansas Derby (Archaracharch, Nehro) and Blue Grass Stakes (Brilliant Speed, Twinspired) appear headed to Louisville, where all but Twinspired are guaranteed a spot in the Derby gate.  Brilliant Speed will wait until just a week before, while the others will arrive this week.  As for the show horses and also-rans; The Factor, J P’s Gusto, Brethren, Dance City, Sway Away, and Santiva are also shipping to Churchill with only the first two being within the top 20 in graded earnings.  Bob Baffert is still undecided if he will enter The Factor based on his dull performance and the possibility of surgery for a displaced palate// Speaking of graded earnings, the all important official list was released late Saturday and a link is below// Archarcharch earned a 98 Beyer speed figure in the Arkansas Derby which is the highest of all last-round Derby preps, but still sub-100 which gives more support to the “less than mediocre” tag on this year’s crop// Decisive Moment appeared to relish the muddy track at Churchill by firing a bullet work. Stay Thirsty also breezed a quick four panels// Below are links to some nice blog postings on Saturday's preps and justified questions on the relevancy of the Blue Grass Stakes// more…

Graded Earnings List (Top 20 qualify for Kentucky Derby)
·       Official 4/16 (Churchill Downs)

Archarcharch stuns again// Brilliant Speed noses out Twinspired in Blue Grass

We’ve read this script before:  Highly touted favorite disappoints in key Kentucky Derby prep.  The latest chapter was written by The Factor, who was absolutely no factor in the Arkansas Derby.  As we’ve also read before, there was an excuse.  Add flipped palate to a long list that includes GI tract infections, quarter grabs, lost shoes, and broken teeth.  Whether it actually happened-- which would cause difficulty in breathing-- or not is unclear.  What is clear is that The Factor was simply out-jumped leaving the gate and never comfortable trailing horses.  The winner, Archarcharch deserves all praise that can be given, which will probably not be much considering many will say he benefitted again from closing off a cooked pace.  This horse is the only Derby contender who has won two graded preps going two turns in 2011 and the only to finish in the money in three stakes this year.  2nd place finisher Nehro was almost equally impressive barreling down the stretch and continuing on past the winner after the wire.  If these guys can navigate their way through a 20-horse field on May 7 look out.

The Blue Grass Stakes assumed its usual role of big priced ho hum winner.  Brilliant Speed just out-nosed Twinspired at the wire to guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate.  Twinspired could join him with a few other defections.  Both horses have raced on true dirt just three times and were beaten by a combined 52 lengths, which begs a debate on changing the criteria of qualifying for the Derby.  As respectable as the Blue Grass Stakes was (produced more Derby winners than any other race), its relevance since the change to Polytrack is lower than a maiden race at Gulfstream.

Mucho Macho Man worked a long seven furlongs in Florida.  All reports were positive and he is on his way to Louisville for a Sunday arrival//more…     

The Factor deserving of favoritism// Elite Alex overhyped// Pants On Fire working like it

Ragozin figures suggest The Factor deserves his low odds and should come away the winner in the Arkansas Derby.  Handicapper picks and general online comments suggest many are still high on Elite Alex.  As much as I like the colt, I’ve decided to take a stand against him seeing as I’m guessing he will not go off at fair odds for a horse who has finished a well beaten 4th and 3rd in his last stakes.  The addition of blinkers and attempt to alter his running style also does not offer encouragement to me as it does for others// Sounds like Jaycito is back on track and still headed for the Lexington Stakes// Brian Zipse makes a case for respecting Toby’s Corner, which I tend to agree// Pants On Fire zipped a quick 5 panels in preparation for the Kentucky Derby// more…

Mo diagnosis, Mo questions// Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass offer hope for many

Headlines and stories based on the same press release issued by the connections of Uncle Mo highlight the different ways writers interpret or choose to spin vague facts.  The only thing we know for sure is that he has a GI tract infection and has resumed training.  The fallout ranged from some believing it was a minor blip on the radar to others claiming he is doubtful for the Kentucky Derby.  I am neither a veterinarian nor a trainer, so do not know the severity of a GI tract infection, the average recovery timeframe, or how much it would affect the performance of a horse.  No article from today has adequately described the condition or the performance of other horses that raced with the same infection.  However, let’s say that it does affect the overall performance. Then we would be led to believe Uncle Mo’s showing in the Wood Memorial was extremely impressive considering it was a close third in a Grade 1 race. Moreover, if he were to recover quickly, then he should be back to his dominating ways. The probability that a horse can overcome such an ailment in a short period of time and win the most trying contest in all of horse racing remains to be seen. Also worth noting, a rumor of an undisclosed injury and subsequent surgery just after the Breeders Cup in November seemed to boil over today as well.  All of this drama presents too many unknowns.

More news today on the upcoming major Kentucky Derby preps. The Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes offer last chances for promising unlucky colts and well known jockeys trying to secure Derby mounts// Plus handicapper picks and more…

Sizable fields for Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass// Two more Derby Trail withdrawals

The Factor was a made a heavy 7-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby, which drew 13.  Saturday’s most intriguing prep includes several looking to live up to their original hype (Elite Alex, Sway Away, Brethren) and others looking to move up quickly in their first tries in stakes company as Midnight Interlude did last Saturday (Alternation, Dance City)// A full field was drawn for the Blue Grass Stakes lead by Santiva at 3-1. While the race appears competitive on paper, Santiva is the only real contender who has been mentioned in the same breath as Derby, mostly due to the others specializing in turf or artificial surfaces.  The first place check of $450,000 would push forward whoever wins, regardless of their background.  In the four runnings of the Blue Grass on Polytrack, the shortest priced winner was 8-1, so it will be interesting to see if the favorite disappoints again. Swift Warrior was expected to be entered but was injured during his three furlong workout on Wednesday// The Kentucky Derby seems to still be a very likely spot for European runner Master Of Hounds, much to the dismay of those sitting just outside the top 20 in graded earnings// Arthur’s Tale, one of those who were on the cusp, was ruled out of The Run For The Roses due to an injury// more…

Kentucky Derby attention turns to early odds and big upcoming preps

The Factor arrives at Oaklawn (Photo: Oaklawn Park)

I made a decision today to discontinue posting links to analysis and opinion on Uncle Mo’s performance in the Wood (aside from Steve Haskin’s weekly blog).  With an apparent clean bill of health and all signs pointing to him running next in the Kentucky Derby, it’s time to move on to other trail doings for the time being.  Not only are we coming up to the final weekend of major prep races, but Churchill Downs also decided to release odds this afternoon for the Kentucky Derby if it was held today.  The purpose apparently was to merely start a conversation, and within an hour it was clear mission was accomplished.  Opinions were as varied as they were for last Saturday’s prep results. Among them were that no horse in the wide-open crop should be lower than 5-1, Uncle Mo’s odds at 4-1 were way off line, and oddsmaker Mike Battaglia had generally lost his mind. I’ve pasted his odds below.

The Factor, a possible favorite in the Kentucky Derby, returned to the Oaklawn grounds today.  Two of his competitors for the Arkansas Derby, J W Blue and Archarcharch put in their final works// With the torrential downpour occurring in and around Kentucky, Blue Grass Stakes probable Swift Warrior had his scheduled work delayed until Wednesday// Dialed In, another potential favorite for the Derby, had his first work since winning the Florida Derby.  Nick Zito seemed pleased and stated the colt will only have one more serious work for the Derby, which is unorthodox, but a formula that has proven to be effective// It sounds like Astrology may be pointed to the Preakness instead of the Derby due to falling behind in training and racing// more…

Kentucky Derby odds (if held today)
The Factor (7-2); Dialed In (4-1); Uncle Mo (4-1); Soldat (10-1); Toby’s Corner (10-1); Midnight Interlude (12-1); Mucho Macho Man (12-1); Animal Kingdom (15-1); Pants On Fire (15-1); Santiva (20-1); Shackleford (20-1); Comma to the Top (30-1); Jaycito (30-1); Stay Thirsty (30-1); Astrology (50-1); Decisive Moment (50-1); J P’s Gusto (50-1); Master of Hounds (50-1); Twice the Appeal (50-1);and Watch Me Go (50-1)- Mike Battaglia

Arkansas Derby could get 13// Blue Grass loses 1// Mo opinions on Wood

The latest official graded earnings list was released today.  As expected, Midnight Interlude and Toby’s Corner are guaranteed-in-the-gate newcomers while a slew of others hover around the 20th and final spot hoping for either more defections or no further surprises.  If colts other than The Factor, Santiva, or J P’s Gusto finish strong in the upcoming Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass Stakes, the impact could be felt by those in spots anywhere from 17 to 25.

As it stands now, the Arkansas Derby looks to have 13 starters, just one shy of a full gate//The Blue Grass lost a probable starter in Data Link who was injured during his final workout.  Two other contenders, King Congie and Wilkinson put in their final works// Jaycito, one of Baffert’s three Derby hopefuls and a scratch in Santa Anita Derby due to a sore foot, returned to the track and seems likely for the Lexington Stakes//

More analysis and opinion on the Wood Memorial.  As usual, Gary West offers an intriguing and thorough take// While Uncle Mo’s disappointment and Toby’s Corner’s triumph have been the main focus, overlooked second place finisher Arthur’s Tale finally grabbed some attention in articles and rankings today. There are even a few who feel he may be peaking in similar fashion to his sire Bernardini, but I don’t see it.  Arthur’s Tale has been racing since July and only began showing promise in December.  While his finish in the Wood was a big step forward, it in no way compares to Bernardini’s quick ascent to dominance and brilliance// Several good points from various blogs today, including A Saturday Afternoon Horse, who wonders if Victor Espinoza’s hard handling of Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby could cost him four weeks down the road in the Derby// more...

Dust settles with diverse opinions on Uncle Mo, jumbled Derby picture, case of fever

As disappointment from yesterday’s prep races still lingers, it’s time clear the fog and try to keep our eyes on the trail.  Just because the next “great superhorse” failed to deliver in only his second start of the year, going the farthest he’s ever gone, doesn’t mean the Kentucky Derby is in shambles or less enticing.  There are positives: Odds and payouts will undoubtedly be juicy and you can now make a case for almost all of the entries.  Plus, who knows-- with the rapid improvement we’ve seen in the last two weeks from horses like Shackleford, Toby’s Corner, and Midnight Interlude, the sport’s next big thing could be lurking.

Here’s what we learned from yesterday:
-       Toby’s Corner, winner of the Wood, ran the last 1/8th in less than 12 seconds, the fastest of any Derby contender going a route distance this year.
-       Toby’s Corner will ship late to Churchill and continue to train on Tapeta surface.
-       Despite rumors, Uncle Mo seems to be fine and will ship to Churchill on April 18. He grabbed a quarter, the size of a nickel, and will heal quickly.  Nonetheless they will pull blood work Tuesday to verify his soundness.
-       Opinions on Mo’s performance and future ability vary greatly as expected— all the way to the point of some thinking he’ll never race again to others thinking he’s still the Derby favorite. I’ve included several blog posts that hit different parts of the spectrum.
-       Comma To The Top’s trainer was fairly adamant about not running in the Derby before the Santa Anita Derby, but the tune has changed Sunday. Sounds like he’s probable.
-       Beyer Speed figures:
o   Wood Memorial: Toby’s Corner 94, Arthur’s Tale 93, Uncle Mo 91
o   Santa Anita Derby: Midnight Interlude 95, Comma To The Top 95, Mr. Commons 91
o   Illinois Derby: Joe Vann 93, Zoebear 86, The Fed Eased 85

In other news, there were quite a few works for the Blue Grass Stakes today including 3 from Todd Pletcher trainees; Praetereo, Sensational Slam, and Quesns’splatekitten// The Factor put in his final work ahead of the Arkansas Derby where he will be the short-priced favorite. A big performance there and he’ll likely be the favorite for the Kentucky Derby// more...

Day of upsets, where does this leave us?

Tobys Corner wins Wood Memorial, Photo:
It was not a question of if he would win, but by how much and in what manner.  However, as the Wood Memorial and horseracing in general have proven before, nothing is a sure bet. The once guaranteed favorite for the Kentucky Derby, Uncle Mo, ended up looking as average as the rest of the 2011 three-year-old stakes crop. Setting honest fractions, not responding to the whip, and ultimately tiring to third you could probably hear a pin drop at Aqueduct after the race. Apparently, Uncle Mo did grab a quarter (stepped on himself and tore off a piece of tissue), but tests and time will tell just how much of an excuse it was.  The winner, Toby’s Corner, was the second choice and able to capture the same race his sire Bellamy Road dominated six years ago.  Wearing blinkers, he was shuffled back in the beginning but managed to relax behind horses on the rail.  Down the stretch, he swung wide and picked off Mo and eventual second place finisher Arthur’s Tale.  He will move onto Louisville as well as Arthur’s Tale, the latter only if $200K will be good enough to qualify. As for Uncle Mo, Todd Pletcher remained non-committal for the Derby and said he needs to see how the colt trains at Churchill before making a decision.  Many will question Pletcher’s 2011 conditioning and race strategy for Uncle Mo, but I’m thinking it may have set him up nicely for the big one.

Midnight Interlude(Left), Photo:
Midnight Interlude advanced from maiden winner to Grade 1 winner in one step by nipping Comma To The Top in the Santa Anita Derby.  He was able to overcome traffic issues and greenness in the stretch to stamp himself a legitimate threat to the now wide-open Kentucky Derby. If Jaycito still remains pointed to the Derby, Bob Baffert could have three Kentucky Derby entries.  Comma To The Top, who set quick fractions and only lost by a head, ran perhaps the gutsiest performance but remains unlikely for the Derby. Mr. Commons, another first-time stakes entrant took 3rd but will probably fall short of the Derby gate.

Joe Vann won the lower regarded Illinois Derby.  Its relevance to the Kentucky Derby is probably negligible as he only picked up $180K and is not nominated for the Triple Crown// 5 big workouts by Arkansas Derby contenders Alternation, Brethren, Truman’s Commander, Dance City, and J P’s Gusto.  Alternation, who flipped in the gate for the Rebel has been progressing faster than his trainer Donnie Von Hemel anticipated.  He now seems likely to run in Oaklawn’s premier race along with the others// Mucho Macho Man fired a bullet at Gulfstream and will ship to Churchill next Sunday// Santiva and Willcox Inn took their final workouts ahead of next Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes// more…

Hits keep coming: Jaycito out of Santa Anita Derby, To Honor And Serve off trail// Mo show rambles on// Caleb’s Posse works towards last-ditch effort

The rigors of the Kentucky Derby trail are starting to materialize.  After Thursday’s dissapointing news on Premier Pegasus, the Santa Anita Derby gets another scratch from the next inline favorite Jaycito.  He’s out with a foot abscess and will try to make the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland instead.  Silver Medallion takes the role of favorite// To Honor And Serve, the impressive 2 year-old and questionable 3 year-old is officially off the trail with a suspensory injury// The press loves Uncle Mo and the articles show it// Caleb’s Posse worked 5 furlongs in standard time ahead of the Arkansas Derby// more…

Santa Anita Derby complexion changes// Uncle Mo set for Saturday workout?// More blinkers for Arkansas Derby

The Derby trail lost a big one today in Premier Pegasus, who suffered a hairline fracture during a Thursday gallop.  Not only was his last race in the San Felipe spectacular, but his connections offered an intriguing story for the always layered Kentucky Derby picture. As far as hype, he was pegged as a top 3 candidate in most polls and considered a legitimate challenger to Uncle Mo. Now as the Daily Racing Form explains, the Santa Anita Derby is a “whole new race”// Mike Watchmaker points out that Uncle Mo’s low Beyer speed figure from his last race is still faster than any Beyer earned by his upcoming competition in the Wood Memorial.  Sounds like he just has to show up// Add Sway Away as yet another possible entry in the Arkansas Derby who will try blinkers.  He joins Elite Alex and J P’s Gusto as horses that will try the hood in hopes to change their luck// Shackleford and Stay Thirsty were the latest Derby hopefuls to settle in at Churchill Downs// more…

Uncle Mo leads cast for three big preps// Elite Alex altering running style for Arkansas Derby

A big day of entries for three Kentucky Derby prep races today.  Healthy field sizes for all, but each race will have its own short-priced favorite// The Uncle Mo show opened in New York today, as the colt’s every move both in-flight and de-boarding were monitored like OJ’s white Bronco.  His opposition looks less than imposing but the race did draw a sizable 10 total entries.  It would be nice to see a hot pace, dirt flying, and maybe some minor traffic issues in order to get a read on how Mo will fair in the Derby// Brian Zipse discusses how important earnings from the Santa Anita Derby will be for all of the entries.  Even notable Kentucky Derby contenders Premier Pegasus (the favorite at 8-5), Jaycito, Anthony’s Cross, and Silver Medallion need an extra boost to secure a place in the gate// The Illinois Derby, Saturday’s opening act, drew a full field of 12 lead by Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go.  It looks as though any other winner besides him would still fall short on cash needed for May 7 at Churchill Downs// Reports on Elite Alex’s work in blinkers today were all glowing.  Trainer Tim Ritchey admitted they are trying to alter his running style from a closer to showing more speed for the Arkansas Derby.  To me, that sounds a bit risky heading into his final attempt to make the Derby, especially considering The Factor will set a quick pace.  J P’s Gusto will also sport blinkers in the Arkansas Derby, while Caleb’s Posse could potentially forgo the race and head to Keeneland for a last-ditch effort in the Lexington Stakes// Be sure to check out Matt Gardner’s piece on comparing different speed ratings among Derby contenders// more…

Uncle Mo faces flight delay, possible wet track in Wood// Astrology crawls in work// Dosage index explained and debated

More notable than Uncle Mo’s travel hiccup Tuesday is that storms are forecast again for Saturday, which would force the early Kentucky Derby favorite to run on his first wet track.  It may prove telling as the Derby seems to always have a 50/50 chance of mud// You may or may not know much about the dosage index, but it’s perceived importance in measuring Derby potential in a horse seems to diminish more each year.  Nonetheless, Scott Jagow, a student at the University of Louisville Equine program, does a fine job explaining how the number is derived// Astrology, who cracked the CTD Top 5, worked a slow 4 furlongs in 51:80.  Silver Medallion, an anticipated starter in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby worked more than 3 seconds faster in the same breezing fashion. While that race will be his first on dirt, he apparently has been responding well to it in the morning//more…

Dialed In earns 93 Beyer// Blue Grass field looking crowded// The Factor quick in 6 panel workout

Dialed In received a 93 Beyer speed figure from his win in Sunday’s Florida Derby.  While that puts him below other contenders’ winning numbers, the Daily Racing Form points out 3 of last 6 Kentucky Derby winners fired sub 100 Beyers in their final preps.  Zito is in no hurry to ship the colt to Kentucky, while second place Shackleford and fourth Soldat could head to Louisville soon.  Stay Thirsty, Uncle Mo’s stablemate who finished an unimpressive 7th, is also pointing for the Derby and will ship to Churchill on Wednesday// Many new rankings today.  Uncle Mo, Premier Pegasus, and Dialed In assume the top three spots in most (including mine), in no particular order.  I’ve noticed Jaycito sits at #4 in several, which is something I’m having a hard time understanding given his bland last performance and horrendous Breeders Cup. The usually glass-half-full Steve Haskin has surprisingly nothing good to say about To Honor and Serve’s Florida Derby, which I tend to agree// 10 to 11 colts are probable for the Blue Grass Stakes.  A majority of those have turf or synthetic backgrounds, which means none would be taken too seriously in the Kentucky Derby, aside from Santiva// Watch Me Go, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, is definite for the Illinois Derby on Saturday// The latest graded earnings list was released.  It appears the magic number for making the Derby will be around $250,000, but that’s always a moving target.  The connections of Shackleford are keeping fingers crossed for no long shot wins over the next two weekends and that Master Of Hounds and Comma To The Top stay home// more…

Dialed In up in time for Florida Derby, field called into question// Uncle Mo ‘perfect’ in work, favored in KDFW Pool 3

Dialed In wins Florida Derby 4/3/11                                                                                                         Photo:

General consensus was the Florida Derby offered the most loaded field of all Kentucky Derby preps so far.  General consensus seems to suggest it did not live up to expectations. Yet, peel back the layers and there was more to the outcome than unimpressive splits and dissapointing results by highly touted Derby contenders.  68-to-1 shot Shackleford finished second, and his ability to almost steal the race on the lead combined with his unappreciated past performances were the main reasons some were calling the race a sham. However, dissecting his prior race (with some of the same foes) shows he had excuses: worst post, bad break, raced wide.  He redeemed himself on Sunday by holding off most of a stellar field.  For a horse that showed promise early in the year, he may be peaking at the right time.  Hopefully he has enough earnings to make the Kentucky Derby gate.   

As for the winner, the final time may suggest otherwise, but flip the coin over and you have an impressive closer who did what no other horse was able to do at Gulfstream Sunday: pass all others from starting far off the pace.  As we’ve seen in some recent Kentucky Derbies, that style can be an advantage where the pace is usually strong.  Nick Zito was emotional and as someone who circles the first Saturday of May on the calendar bigger than anyone else, it’s nice to see the trainer have yet another shot.  Soldat and To Honor And Serve, the latter who Garret Gomez stated he could have given a better trip, will most likely move on to the Derby with lighter bandwagons// Travelin Man was a clear winner in the undercard Swale Stakes.  Todd Petcher indicated they'll stretch him out in the Cliff's Edge Derby Trial, which means no Derby Fever// Uncle Mo worked a quick 4 furlongs in 48.20 today in preparation for Saturday’s Wood Memorial.  Pletcher called it “perfect” and also sent out Kentucky Derby contender Brethren who worked the fastest of all others at 5 furlongs// Speaking of Uncle Mo, he closed as the 3-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby Future Pool. Dialed In went all the way down to 5-1, which is probably close to what you’ll get on Derby Day// Wilburn, a popular recent maiden winner from Santa Anita, didn’t like dirt in his face from his allowance test and finished off the board// more…

To Honor and Mott featured// PrePeg shoots a bullet for Santa Anita Derby// Florida Derby picks

I’ve posted a lot of handicapper picks for the Florida Derby over the last several days.  In a profession geared towards taking a stance even if it means ignoring other reasonable possibilities, it’s refreshing to read Gary West’s analysis. With young three-year-olds still maturing, going new distances, and experiencing different pace scenarios he says it would be best if experts sometimes said, “I don’t know”.  He still makes his picks in the end, like any handicapper should, but it illustrates the numerous angles one can take in the Florida Derby// Several nice background articles on To Honor And Serve and Bill Mott today// A decision has finally been made for Jaycito. Trainer Bob Baffert has opted to stay home in the Santa Anita Derby.  He’ll face Premier Pegasus who worked a brisk 5 furlongs in 59:20 today.  It was the fastest of all works at the distance. Trainer Myung Cho says the long delay between his last race and first work was by design seeing as the horse routinely gallops 2 miles.  There are some really striking photos of PrePeg and other Santa Anita Derby contenders this morning taken by Alex Evers. I’ve put the link below// Watch Me Go, who didn’t enter the Florida Derby as planned due to a scope with mucus, may go the Illinois Derby route. That race’s field is questionable- yes, both in field size and overall Kentucky Derby potential// more…

Zito oozing with confidence ahead of Florida Derby, Ragozin numbers suggest otherwise// KDFW Pool open, The Factor bet down

Nick Zito couldn’t be higher on a horse than Dialed In.  If the “Gift from God” doesn’t come flying home to win the Florida Derby be prepared for a signature depressing post-race interview from the trainer// Zito must not be a Rag guy. According to Ragozin numbers, Stay Thirsty could be the value play of the Florida Derby and Dialed In is a toss-out.  Handicapper picks are pretty spread out between the three main attractions and Flashpoint// The Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool #3 opened today with Uncle Mo and The Factor getting the most attention.  The latter is currently down to 9-2 from starting at 6-1// For the Arkansas Derby, Caleb’s Posse and The Factor are confirmed// Impressive allowance winner Prime Cut could go to the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and look to the Preakness after that.  Wilkinson, sixth-place in the Louisiana Derby may go to the Blue Grass Stakes// more…