Derby Trail: Three Rising, Three Trending Down


Constitution (inside) outfinished Wildcat Red to win the Florida Derby on March 29 at Gulfstream Park. (Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park)

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. Constitution

Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

The Florida Derby on March 29 was a make-or-break Kentucky Derby prep race for Constitution. A good performance in his stakes debut would earn the Tapit colt a starting Derby berth and a lackluster effort probably would have meant a seat on the sidelines for the first jewel of the Triple Crown. Not only did Constitution nail down his Kentucky Derby spot but he overcame some adversity to get the job done. He was in tight quarters between a determined Wildcat Red and the rail in the stretch but battled bravely to prevail. His 101 Equibase Speed Figure essentially paired the 103 he earned on the Fountain of Youth Stakes undercard, so with five weeks rest he has every right to move forward on May 3 with a big performance.

2. Wildcat Red

Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

I was still skeptical of Wildcat Red, even after his Fountain of Youth Stakes victory. But he proved again in the Florida Derby that he is a really determined horse. He fought all the way to the finish line and came up just short. He did take a small step back from a 106 Equibase Speed Figure to a 101 in the Florida Derby, but this was his fourth straight triple-digit speed figure. I don’t think he has the stamina to win the Kentucky Derby, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in front turning for home and we know he will fight to the finish line.

3. Vicar's in Trouble 

Eclipse Sportswire

Vicar's in Trouble was outside my top 20 entering the Louisiana Derby but he jumps back up thanks to a front-running, 3 ½-length romp in the Louisiana Derby on March 29. He has now won three of his last four starts entering the Kentucky Derby and earned triple-digit Eqibase Speed Figures in each of those wins. The reason he didn’t move higher is that I still have stamina concerns with this colt. He ran a final furlong in :13.62 after setting a solid but not especially brisk pace. That won’t get it done on Derby day when he has to go an extra eighth of a mile and is sure to have more pressure for the early lead.

Cooling Off

1.Cairo Prince

Gulfstream Park  

Cairo Prince sure picked a bad time to toss in a dud. He probably needed a third-place finish in the Florida Derby to guarantee a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby but could only manage to finish a non-threatening fourth by 3 ¾ lengths. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he was training really well leading into the Florida Derby, so the disappointing effort was surprising. He still could rebound in five weeks. In fact, from a speed figure perspective he’s alternated slow and fast performances and would be on a pattern to run a big one in his next start. But that’s probably just an oddity, and at this point in the year racing fans are looking for a 3-year-old on the rise. Cairo Prince was at or near the top of almost every analyst’s top ten a week ago, now he might be on the outside looking in without enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. McLaughlin said the day after the race that his team was "disappointed, almost shocked," and that pretty much summed up my thoughts about his Florida Derby performance.

2. Intense Holiday 

Eclipse Sportswire

Intense Holiday has been the subject of much debate following his Louisiana Derby runner-up finish. I’ve heard quite a few reasons why we need to forgive his performance, including that he encountered some traffic nearing the final turn and then brushed the rail and kept cross-firing (kind of a disjointed gait) in the stretch. I don’t deny that any of this is true, but to me this demonstrates a lack of maturity more than a viable excuse. If a 3-year-old doesn’t do everything right in the stretch on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, he has virtually no shot to win. I liked his Risen Star win enough to keep him in consideration on Derby day, but he regressed from a 106 to a 98 Equibase Speed Figure and did not make up ground on a winner who was crawling through the stretch. It would be tough to pick Intense Holiday on top in the Kentucky Derby after this final prep race.

3. In Trouble 

NYRA Photo

The last spot here was a toss-up between In Trouble, who finished fourth and was disqualified to fifth in the Louisiana Derby, and Florida Derby seventh-place finisher Spot. I landed on In Trouble because I really expected him to improve off of a solid third in the 1 1/16-mile Gotham Stakes, in which he returned from a 5-month layoff and posted a career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure in his first try in a race longer than six furlongs. Instead, he regressed pretty significantly in the Louisiana Derby. I still believe this is a very nice 3-year-old but he ranks 29th on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard and appears out of the mix for the first jewel of the Triple Crown.

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Curry's Derby Top 10

1. Candy Boy 

Will meet speedy California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday

2. California Chrome

Takes on top one on Saturday in Santa Anita Derby. Should be telling.

3. Social Inclusion  

Enters Wood Memorial Stakes on Saturday off dazzling win.

4. Samraat

Unbeaten in five career starts, will be tested in Wood Memorial.

5. Constitution

Can talent overcome inexperience? Florida Derby a reason to be optimistic.

6. Hoppertunity

Rebel winner comes back quick in Santa Anita Derby, but prefer the top two.

7. Conquest Titan

Can't jump off his bandwagon now; looks like Arkansas derby is next.

8. Wildcat Red 

Showed me more in defeat in Florida Derby than in Fountain of Youth win.

9. Cairo Prince

Florida Derby inopportune time for a clunker, Kentucky Derby spot in question.

10. Chitu   

Sunland Derby winner has speed, but does he have Derby stamina?

Six on the bubble: Vicar's in Trouble, Tapiture, General a Rod, Intense Holiday, Ring Weekend, Bayern

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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