Derby Trail: Three Rising, Three Trending Down


Samraat outfinished Uncle Sigh and In Trouble to remain unbeaten with a win in the Gotham Stakes on March 1 at Aqueduct. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

Below is a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose Derby chances are not quite as strong as they once were.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard

Heating Up

1. Samraat

Eclipse Sportswire

Samraat’s Gotham Stakes win was impressive for a number of reasons. If you read this week’s Inside the Trip blog from our friends at Trakus, you’ll know that Samraat raced significantly wider than runner-up Uncle Sigh and third-place finisher In Trouble. So not only did Samraat run faster in the Gotham, he ran farther, too. Even more importantly, for me, is that we have proof from his last two races – a one-length win in the Withers and the Gotham – that Samraat is battled-tested and a fighter. When I’m looking for a Kentucky Derby horse, I want a fighter. Samraat improved from a 95 Equibase Speed Figure in his 2014 debut to a 103 in the Gotham, a step forward but not quite equal to the career-top 108 he posted as a 2-year-old ... so there’s still room to improve.

2. In Trouble

Adam Coglianese/NYRA

In Trouble was making his first start in a race longer than three-quarters of a mile (six furlongs) in the Gotham Stakes and also was returning to the races for the first time since winning the Grade 2 Futurity Stakes on Sept. 29 at Belmont Park. Given the circumstances, I thought he performed admirably in finishing third, beaten by a half-length by one of the top Derby hopefuls. In Trouble’s Equibase Speed Figure was a new career-best 103 in his first time in a two-turn race. While I don’t love his pedigree for classic distances, I do think In Trouble has a shot to win a key Derby prep race.

3. Spot

Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

All eyes were on the talented No Nay Never in the Swale Stakes on March 1, but it was a Nick Zito-trained gelding who stole the spotlight in the stretch. Spot closed from well off the pace to win the Swale by an easy 2 ½ lengths and in the process rolled right on by No Nay Never, who is a Group 1 winner in Europe on the grass and almost certainly better suited to turf racing. Still, Spot beat a nice opponent in the Swale, posted a career-top 99 Equibase Speed Figure, and was visually impressive in doing so. Is Spot a real Derby threat? Let's not get carried away off a win in a seven-furlong race. But he definitely looks like a 3-year-old to add to your Virtual Stable.

Cooling Off

1. Harpoon

SV Photography

I was sky high on Harpoon after his fast-finishing second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 1. His fifth-place finish in the Gotham, beaten by 5 ¾ lengths, did not inspire optimism. It’s certainly possible that he just didn’t care for the inner track at Aqueduct, but I think we also have to consider the possibility that he might just be a cut below the best 3-year-olds right now. This is still a very nice colt with a bright future, but he still has only one career win and has much to prove on the Triple Crown trail.

2. Bond Holder

Eclipse Sportswire

I really like Bond Holder’s pedigree for the classics, but this week’s Tampa Bay Derby marks the second planned start he has missed for trainer Doug O’Neill. Bond Holder, winner of the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at two, was withdrawn from the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 22 after he was injured on the flight from Southern California to New Orleans. Now at Tampa Bay Downs, he has not recovered sufficiently to contest the Tampa Bay Derby. That’s a lot of travel without a race to show for it this year. Give credit to O’Neill for not pushing Bond Holder, whom he clearly thinks very highly of, but there is a lot to do to get this Mineshaft colt Derby-ready and time is running out.

3. Havana

Eclipse Sportswire

Havana was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male in 2013 after winning the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes and finishing second in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It was a little surprising when trainer Todd Pletcher said the seven-furlong Swale was the choice for his season debut, but I could see the logic behind starting him back off a long break in a sprint. Unfortunately, a quarter crack in his right front foot caused Havana to miss the race. This is a quality horse who proved an elite runner at two, but on the path to the Kentucky Derby any setback is a big one. It’s going to be very tough at this point to have him ready to run a career-best race on the first Saturday in May.

Curry's Derby Top 10

1. Honor Code

Solid recent workout, on track for Rebel Stakes on March 15.

2. Cairo Prince  

Probably the best credentials of anyone on this list.

3. Conquest Titan 

Returns Saturday in Tampa Bay Derby, like his chances on Derby trail.

4. Top Billing 

Eager for next race, didn't learn much from Fountain of Youth

5. Candy Boy

Right now, looks like probable Santa Anita Derby favorite.

6. Tapiture

A lot to like, but still not sure he wants 1 1/4 miles.

7. Samraat 

Gotham was impressive; he does not back down from a fight.

8. Intense Holiday

Getting better ... closer with puncher's chance in Kentucky Derby.

9. General a Rod

A quality 3-year-old who could be tough in Florida Derby.

10. Bayern

If he runs how I expect him to Saturday in San Felipe, look out!

Four on the bubble: Shared Belief, Constitution, California Chrome, Rise Up

Racing Terms

Allowance race – A race for which the racing secretary drafts certain conditions to determine weights to be carried based on the horse’s age, sex and/or past performance.

Also-eligible – A horse officially entered for a race, but not permitted to start unless the field is reduced by scratches below a specified number.

Apprentice – A rider who has not ridden a certain number of winners within a specified period of time. Also known as a “bug,” from the asterisk used to denote the weight allowance such riders receive.

Blinkers – A cup-shaped device that limits a horse’s vision. Blinkers, often used to try to improve a horse’s focus, come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow as little or as much vision as the trainer feels is necessary.

Bullet – The fastest workout of the day at a track at a particular distance.

Claiming race – A race in which each horse entered is eligible to be purchased at a set price.

Closer – A horse that runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace.

Connections – Persons identified with a horse, such as owner, trainer, jockey and stable employees.

Disqualification – Change in order of finish by stewards for an infraction of the rules.

Dam – The mother of a horse.

Entry – Two or more horses with common ownership that are paired as a single betting unit in one race.

Front-runner – A horse whose running style is to attempt to get on or near the lead at the start of the race and to continue there as long as possible.

Furlong – An eighth of a mile.

Graded race – A non-restricted race with added money or guaranteed purse value of $100,000 or more which has been run at least twice under similar conditions and on the same surface and has been assigned graded status for the year contested by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Handicap – This race type refers to a race where the weights are assigned by the track’s racing secretary or handicapper based upon past performances.

Length – A measurement approximating the length of a horse, used to denote distance between horses in a race.

Off track – A track that has a wet surface and isn’t labeled as “fast”.

Pacesetter – The horse that is running in front (on the lead).

Past performances – A horse’s racing record, earnings, bloodlines and other data, presented in composite form.

Prep – A workout (or race) used to prepare a horse for a future engagement.

Post Parade – Horses going from paddock to starting gate past the stands. The post parade provides spectators with a chance to get a final look at the horse before the race.

Post Position – Position of stall in starting gate from which a horse begins a race.

Rabbit – A speed horse running as an entry with another, usually a come-from-behind horse. The rabbit is expected to set a fast pace to help the chances of its stablemate.

Rank – A horse that refuses to settle under a jockey’s handling in a race, running in a headstrong manner without respect to pace.

Scratch – To be taken out of a race before it starts.

Silks – Jacket and cap worn by jockeys.

Sire – Father of a foal.

Stakes – A race for which the owner usually must pay a fee to run a horse. The fees can be for nominating, maintaining eligibility, entering and starting, to which the track adds more money to make up the total purse. Some stakes races are by invitation and require no payment or fee.

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