|Creative Cause winning the San Felipe.|
With just eight weeks left until the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, many fans and handicappers begin to separate the real contenders from the pretenders. Oftentimes, the pretenders still make the Derby gate, and in some cases actually win the Roses if the stars align. Still, the process of arranging prospects from the top shelf to the bottom is not only an enjoyable exercise, but time saving come Derby week.
Saturday and Sunday offered four graded stakes for 3-year-olds hoping to take the next step towards Churchill Downs in May and also an opportunity for us to compare and assess where things stand. Undoubtedly, the toughest field of the weekend and possibly all year belonged to the San Felipe (G2) Saturday at Santa Anita. The group consisted of both accomplished horses and exciting new prospects and for the most part did not disappoint with the top two betting selections dueling it out in the stretch.
The second favorite and eventual winner Creative Cause possessed a solid foundation and multiple graded wins, while favored Bodemeister came into the race off an eye-popping maiden victory. Although both horses had a difficult time running straight down the stretch, they were moving quick and well ahead of the rest of the group. Creative Cause earned an impressive 102 Beyer Speed figure with Bodemeister just a point less at 101.
Doubters have noted both horses ran greenly and were aided by a “soft pace”. I disagree, especially with the pace excuse. An opening quarter of 22.95 is honest for a route, not to mention Creative Cause began the race off the pace in the middle of the pack and had to chase down Bodemeister who was in a better spot. As for running crooked, plenty of Derby winners have failed to run a straight line. it is especially of no concern for Bodemeister who was making just his third start and at his longest distance yet. Creative Cause’s veering brings more caution seeing as it was his 7th race, but he corrected himself late and hit the wire very strong to get the job done over a talented bunch.
Midnight Transfer was more than two lengths back of Bodemeister for a third place finish- not bad for a two-turn debut, but I still can’ see him ever catching up. Grade 1 winner Liaison put in a decent effort for 4th, but I would keep him on the mid to lower shelf as he has not proven much on dirt. Empire Way was perhaps the biggest letdown finishing next to last. The full-brother to Breeders’ Cup winner Royal Delta is not a true contender. Creative Cause and Bodemeister will most likely stage a rematch in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) next.
With the defection of Take Charge Indy, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) lost some luster. The field was mostly a combination of the same mid-level cast from the Sam Davis (G3) and unproven maiden and minor stakes winners. Prospective just missed winning the Sam Davis, but got his revenge Saturday by gutting out a stretch duel that went back and forth with Golden Ticket. His Beyer number came back 88, which is not only in stark contrast with the San Felipe, but well below the average figures for recent preps. Even if you don’t subscribe to the numbers, it’s hard to argue Prospective beat any serious contenders. Nonetheless he now has enough earnings for a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate.
Todd Pletcher’s Spring Hill Farm, a maiden winner, was the post time favorite, but had a rough start when he hit the gate and was pushed in tight. He could improve from the 4th place effort next time out, but time is running out for any Derby dreams to come to fruition.
The star attractions for the short 7-furlong Swale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream were graded stakes winner Motor City and graded stakes placed Ever So Lucky, yet it was another quiet graded stakes placed runner Trinniberg who stole the show. Anyone who followed the juvenile stakes in the Summer and Fall will remember Trinniberg was very game and just missed in the Hopeful (G1) and Nashua (G2). The 4-month layoff seemed to help as he was in control the entire running of the Swale and ended up a dominant 6-length winner. Trainer Bisnath Parboo says all options are open for Trinniberg’s next race, and he could try a stretch out. Looking at his pedigree, Trinniberg may not relish anything past a mile.
Longshot Hello Prince finished second with Ever So Lucky getting the show. The latter’s trainer Jonathan Sheppard was pleased with his effort and said it will serve the colt well next time out going longer. Motor City was a non-factor and finished 8th.
You normally don’t expect serious contenders to come out of the Palm Beach Stakes (G3), which is on turf at Gulfstream Park, however Sunday’s running could produce two prospects. Howe Great had a perfect stalking trip on the inside and convincingly held off a grinding Dullahan who did come four wide on the far turn. Howe Great and Dullahan will both point for the Bluegrass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland before hopefully heading to the Derby. Dullahan already has the earnings and has shown he fares well on dirt when finishing 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Union Rags, Hansen, and Creative Cause. Howe Great won his maiden on dirt, but still has question marks on that surface against tough competition. He did remind us he can rate just off the pace, which was a different style from his previous two wins and a good one to possess for the Derby.
In other weekend news, loads of leading Derby contenders were on the work tab, including early favorite Union Rags and both Southwest (G3) winners Secret Circle and Castaway. Stories and times below// It’s worth noting Overdriven had his first official workout since his injury. The undefeated Grade 2 winner hasn’t raced since July and is not listed on the current Graded Earnings list so it’s unlikely he’s a contender// In surprising news Gemologist, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), will make his 3-year-old debut in a one mile allowance at Gulfstream instead of the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn. WinStar Farm who owns the colt were quoted as saying they like the small field size of the allowance and did not like the fact Gemologist would have to van back from Arkansas. He’ll face Hopeful (G1) winner Currency Swap, who will also be making his sophomore debut// Gemologist’s defection from Rebel could open up a spot for promising maiden winner Kid Sidney, although he’s still on the outside looking in of the expected full field.
San Felipe (G2)
Winner: Creative Cause
Trainer: Mike Harrington
Beyer: 102 (Preliminary)
Tampa Bay Derby (G2)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Replay: Bloodhorse Video
Beyer: 88 (Preliminary)
Swale Stakes (G2)
Trainer: Bisnath Parbhoo
Palm Beach Stakes (G2)
Winner: Howe Great
Trainer: Graham Motion
Updated Contender List
After the wire 3/11 [video] (Bloodhorse)
Brief homecoming for Derby hopeful Hansen (Cincinnat Enquirer)
Good crop, bad crop (Equispace Blog)
Union Rags works towards Florida Derby (Bloodhorse)
Union Rags works towards Florida Derby (Bloodhorse)
The fear of losing (Bloodhorse Blog)
Owner reaffirms Wood Memorial for Hansen (Bloodhorse)
Longview Drive- HOL- 6F- 1.14:60- H- 11/12
Daddy Nose Best- SA- 5F- 1.00:20- H- 8/43
News Pending- GP- 5F- 1.00:95- B- 8/19
Chips All In- SA- 5F- 1.02:80- H- 3/3
Isn't He Clever- SUN- 5F- 1.01:00- B- 3/21
Consulado- HOL- 4F- 46:00- H- 1/37
Castaway- SA- 6F- 1.11:60- H- 1/10
Secret Circle- SA- 6F- 1.11:60- H- 1/10
Hogy- HAW- 5F- 1.02:20- B- 5/28
Hakama- FH- 4F- 48:00- B- 1/7
Cyber Secret- OP- 5F- 59:40- B- 1/57
Fort Loudon- CRC- 4F- 49:00- B- 13/87
Reveron- CRC- 5F- 1.01:00- B- 2/29
Jake Mo- OP- 5F- 1.00:60- B- 6/57
Atigun- OP- 5F- 1.00:60- B- 6/57
Alpha- PMM- 5F- 1.01:21- B- 10/18
Currency Swap- GP- 6F- 1.11:40- H- 1/3
Scatman- OP- 5F- 1.01:00- B- 6/27
Union Rags- PMM- 4F- 50:76- B- 21/23
Overdriven- PMM- 3F- 39:88- B- 9/9
2012 Derby Failure Five (Greg Calabrese Blog)
Notes and bits from web and Twitter:
“Lightbulb finally back on for Currency Swap looked great 6 furs. gate 1:11.55 w/Maragh last 1/2 :46 and 2 by far his best this winter”- Mike Welsch via Twitter
“Union Rags at Palm Mead. easy half in :50.76 out 1:04.40 broke 4 behind mate, fin. 1 in front cruising”- Mike Welsch via Twitter