Derby Trail: Three Rising, Three Trending Down


Tapiture impressed in winning the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 17 at Oaklawn Park. (Photo by Coady Photography)

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.

Heating Up

1. Bayern

Benoit Photo

This Offlee Wild colt now has two wins in as many starts by a combined margin of 18 ¼ lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Yes, I know he did not race as a 2-year-old so therefore he can’t blah, blah, blah, ridiculous historical anomaly, blah, blah, blah ... Did you see his 15-length romp on Feb. 13 at Santa Anita? This could be a rare talent from an incredible family. His third dam (maternal grandmother) is 1983 Broodmare of the Year Courtly Dee, who produced seven group or graded stakes winners. His grandam (maternal grandmother) is Grade 2 winner Aguilegia, a full sister to champion Althea, who defeated males in winning the 1984 Arkansas Derby in then-track record time and is responsible for a host a standouts as a broodmare, including Grade 1 winner and sire Arch. OK, I’ll step quietly off my soapbox now. 

2. Tapiture

Coady Photography

I liked Tapiture’s 2-year-old season-ending win in the 2013 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes because of the ease with which he won and because it was at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is held. But I wasn’t blown away by that race, especially after seeing his modest 93 Equibase Speed Figure. After his 4 ¼-length runaway win in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 17, I am on board. He posted a new career-top speed figure of 104 and still looked like he had room to mature. I think he’s just starting to figure things out.

3. Tamarando

Vassar Photography

I admit I still really don’t know where Tamarando belongs when comparing him with the rest of this group of 3-year-olds, but his El Camino Real Derby win on Feb. 15 showed me he can run a big race at 1 1/8 miles. And, he closed from far out of it despite a dawdling early pace.  I don’t know that he’s fast enough – at least yet – to win a Triple Crown race, but I think he has a very good chance to be doing his best running late in the stretch on Kentucky Derby day. With a little luck, we could see him finish on the board on the first Saturday in May.

Cooling Off

1. Strong Mandate 

Eclipse Sportswire

There is no shame at all in finishing second in the Grade 3 Southwest his first start in 3 ½ months. I love his pedigree for classic distances and his Hopeful Stakes win in 2013 was a goose-bump race for me, I guess I was just expecting quite a bit more in his 2014 debut. We had heard how well he was doing leading up to the race and the buzz was building. Then when he hit the top of the stretch with a chance to win in the Southwest, Strong Mandate didn’t accelerate like I’d expected and swerved greenly through the stretch. This is a really nice horse, but I thought for sure he was one of the best of the 3-year-olds. I didn’t see that in the Southwest.

2. Enterprising

Benoit Photo

Enterprising entered the El Camino Real Derby with a turf stakes win and a nice second going 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields in the California Derby, a performance that earned him a career-best 104 Equibase Speed Figure. He was sent off as the 1.30-to-1 favorite in the El Camino Real Derby and finished a respectable third, beaten by 2 ¾ lengths. I think we’ll see him again on the Derby trail in a race on a synthetic track, but I think based on his pedigree, long term, this is an elite turf horse.

3. Entire Southwest field besides Tapiture

Coady Photography

Maybe I’m alone here, but I was really excited about the Southwest because there were so many promising 3-year-olds that I thought had a chance to really step up. I was warming up to Smarty Jones Stakes winner Tanzanite Cat and a big fan of Bourbonize. I thought Remington Springboard Mile Stakes winner Louies Flower had a chance to be a good one; Kendall’s Boy, Paganol and Walt were a couple of my sleepers; and I was willing to give Ride On Curlin another chance. But when the race was over, other than Tapiture, I didn’t have a whole lot to get excited about — no really fast horse who just got gassed in the final strides and no closer charging powerfully from off the pace for a nice second or third. Strong Mandate was the only horse within 10 lengths of Tapiture. That surprised me.

Curry's Derby Top 10

1. Honor Code

Still think he’s the best of division

2. Top Billing

Excited to see him in Fountain of Youth

3. Conquest Titan

Will be there in the stretch on Derby day

4. Candy Boy

Impressed with Robert B. Lewis Stakes win

5. Cairo Prince

Sensational in Holy Bull

6. Tapiture

Southwest convinced me he is for real

7. Shared Belief

Champ would be 1st had he not missed so much time

8. Rise Up

Expecting big effort in Risen Star

9. Bayern

Think he has a chance to be a superstar

10. Samraat

4-for-4; he’s a winner

Four on the bubble: Vicar’s in Trouble, California Chrome, General a Rod, Tonalist

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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