Haskin’s Derby Dozen for Feb. 21

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The field for the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 17 hits midstretch, with race winner Bravazo (second from left) and runner-up Snapper Sinclair (second from right) dueling for the lead. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin presents his Derby Dozen for the week, which offers an opinionated overview of leading contenders for the 144th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 5.

The President’s Day holiday weekend featured three races offering qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. On Saturday, Feb. 17, Bravazo scored a 21-1 win over fellow longshot Snapper Sinclair in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, while Paved, a filly, won the El Camino Real Derby. On President’s Day, Feb. 19, California shipper My Boy Jack won the Southwest Stakes for the trainer-jockey sibling tandem of Keith and Kent Desormeaux. The Risen Star offered Derby points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale, while the other two races offered a 10-4-2-1 distribution.

The upcoming weekend is bereft of Kentucky Derby preps, the final calm before the storm of major qualifying races begins, starting with the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 3 and lasting through mid-April. Check out America's Best Racing's Triple Crown page to keep up to date with stories and statistics on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Eclipse Sportswire

1. Good Magic

With the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes now only two weeks away, his string of strong five-furlong works continued with a 1:00 2/5 breeze, as he progresses toward his debut. He broke inside workmate Economic Model, established a length lead and was dogged again, refusing to let him pass under no urging and then pulling away by four lengths on the gallop-out. The question is, with only one career victory, does he need to win both his starts to maintain his role as the Kentucky Derby favorite? With the way things are going this year, let’s just hope he runs big and gets a lot out of the race. There are only a handful of major dangers out there right now. He’s just in an extraordinary position, with so little to really go by. It’s an impressive résumé, but way too short to get a true indication of who he really is.

Eclipse Sportswire

2. Bolt d’Oro

His connections are really starting to get serious with him at Santa Anita Park. On Feb. 20 he worked five furlongs in 1:01 1/5. That followed a Feb. 14 drill of a bullet five furlongs in :59 2/5, fastest of 21 works at the distance, where he broke some eight or nine lengths behind a workmate. He collared him and was being pushed along in the stretch, with his rider throwing a couple of crosses on him and then just waving the whip at him. It appears as if he is all caught up. Missing the San Vicente Stakes, while not what you want to see, will not compromise his chances on the first Saturday in May. He is a powerful moving colt, and if he ever runs back to his FrontRunner Stakes romp over Solomini, I doubt there is a horse in the country who can beat him. Let’s just say the narrow gap between him and Good Magic has narrowed even more, based on his having more experience, and also his horrible trip in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. New rider Javier Castellano is a major plus, so he has a lot going for him.

Chelsea Durand/NYRA

3. Catholic Boy

He has his backers who forgive his defeat in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and he has his detractors who can’t see past that loss. Last week, I stated the numerous factors that went into that defeat, and if you liked him after his resounding Remsen Stakes victory, there is no reason to be down on him now. The only form comparisons this week is the Remsen third-place finisher Vouch’s third-place finish behind Magnum Moon in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance race. Like with Good Magic and Bolt d’Oro, he will have only two starts prior to the Kentucky Derby, and now that he’s had one of those races already and got a lot out of it, he will need to be right there in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby on March 31, assuming trainer Jonathan Thomas sticks to his original plan. For those thinking he must win that race, while it would certainly boost confidence in him, remember his sire Super Saver lost both his preps, but ran well in both of them, so it is imperative that he’s right there at the wire again next time and shows he’s moving forward.

BENOIT photo

4. McKinzie

He worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:12 3/5, fastest of 18 works at the distance. It is obvious this colt has unlimited ability and his form was boosted by My Boy Jack’s victory in the Southwest Stakes, coming off a 7 ½-length defeat in the Sham Stakes. But the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity form took a slight hit when Instilled Regard finished a no-excuse fourth in the Risen Star Stakes. There have been four major Derby preps run so far at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, and Southern California shippers have won three of them: Instilled Regard (Lecomte Stakes), Mourinho (Smarty Jones Stakes), and My Boy Jack (Southwest Stakes), with McKinzie having beaten two of them. But Instilled Regard and Mourinho then returned as big favorites, and both finished a disappointing fourth. So is there any consistency and do we really have a clue who the best horses are? Speaking for McKinzie, a showdown with Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10 would be special, but we’ll have to see if trainer Bob Baffert goes that route with McKinzie or sends Solomini there for another crack at Bolt d’Oro. He could, of course, run both, but will he want his two big Derby horses knocking heads this early or will he split them up, especially without having the same weapon in Mourinho he had at Oaklawn before the Southwest?

5. Solomini

Working in blinkers again and this time breaking off on the outside of his workmate and with jockey Flavien Prat aboard in his most recent workout, he was better than last time, but still threw his head up briefly turning for home and ducked in. This time, he changed leads more smoothly and was being ridden to complete the five furlongs in a bullet :59 2/5, fastest of 57 works at the distance. Despite his little issues turning for home, he still is turning in powerful works and is improving and moving forward. If he stays in California he still has to prove he can handle Bolt d’Oro. You can’t get too excited that he finished ahead of him in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, considering how much farther Bolt d’Oro had to run. With three of the top five Derby Dozen horses based at Santa Anita, all we can hope is that the form holds up better there than it has in Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and provides some sense of stability.

Eclipse Sportswire

6. Audible

He’s one of many horses on this year’s Derby trail of whom I simply cannot get a grasp; at least not until he shows signs he wants to go classic distances and that he didn’t peak too early. His Holy Bull Stakes score was the most brilliant win so far, but we’ve seen this many times before from Todd Pletcher’s barn. Where does he go from here? I would love to see the Damascus line produce a Derby winner, even on the dam’s side, but Gilded Time and sire Timeless Moment have proven to be a sprinting branch of the Damascus line, and is one of the few left. And it would seem that being by Into Mischief, as dominating a sire as he’s been, he needs some stamina from the dam’s side. The question is, does Audible get the stamina he will need as the distances stretch out? And running as fast as he did as early as he did in the Holy Bull is not going help him peak on Derby Day.  What he does have going for him is that no one knows just how good he is. He may be special, but he will have to be.

Eclipse Sportswire

7. Free Drop Billy

He’s back on the worktab, breezing a sharp half-mile in :48. For a horse who didn’t run, this was a good weekend for him, as his form was boosted when Bravazo, who he defeated by four lengths in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last fall, won the Risen Star Stakes at 21-1, and others he beat last year, Transgress and Lone Sailor, both turned in strong second-place finishes in top-class allowance races. And Sporting Chance, who nipped him in the Hopeful Stakes, finished a troubled third in the Southwest Stakes in his 3-year-old debut. So things are really falling into place him after his strong second to Audible in the Holy Bull Stakes, erasing the blot on his record from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Right now, he looks to be the horse with the best value in the future book, with the expected improvement, his sharpness in his debut, and having a pedigree that will easily get him the Derby distance. And he is the one 3-year-old in Dale Romans’ once powerful arsenal that is moving in the right direction at this time.

8. Vino Rosso

The key is whether he has one or two more races before the big one. Five career starts gives him a better chance historically, considering the fact that only three horses in the last 100 years have won the Kentucky Derby with four career starts or fewer. But in his favor is that one of those three horses was Always Dreaming last year. Two of his stalemates, Noble Indy and Magnum Moon, may be trying to emulate that as well. What he has going for him is a powerful pedigree top and bottom, and his sire, Curlin, did finish third in the Derby off only three lifetime starts, then won the Preakness two weeks later. Vino Rosso ranks higher than the other two Todd Pletcher horses at this point because it is my opinion he faced tougher opponents in the Sam F. Davis, where he finished third, than they did, although the quality of the Risen Star field is still uncertain.

Joe Labozzetta/NYRA

9. Avery Island

I wish I could get a better grasp of the New York form. He’s won three of his last four starts, including a pair of graded stakes victories at Aqueduct. A lot depends on how good Catholic Boy and Firenze Fire are. Avery Island needs to run faster and that’s hard to do at the Big A. He hasn’t worked since winning the Feb. 3 Withers Stakes, but then neither has Firenze Fire. The more I watch his performance in the Withers Stakes, the more good I can take out of it, mainly his professionalism and cruising speed. But I just would like to see a bit more kick, because it’s going to be difficult for him for to out-close the top closers with his grinding style of running. It is just so hard to get a good gauge on time and closing fractions at Aqueduct because the track has been playing so slow, so I don’t know how legitimate his slow speed figures are. Even on Thoro-Graph, he has a ways to go to be competitive speed-wise with the top horses.

Eclipse Sportswire

10. Flameaway

How can you not admire a horse who has won five races at five different racetracks on five different surfaces (Polytrack, mud, slop, grass, and fast dirt), at four different distances (from 4 ½ furlongs to 1 1/16 miles), and has been ridden by four different jockeys? And he’s been consigned to three different sales, selling twice as a yearling for $150,000 and then $400,000 a few months later, indicating he must have shown great improvement in that time. It is also important to note his Beyer Speed Figures keep climbing with every race. To go over his career, he won at 4 ½ furlongs on Polytrack at Woodbine, 5 ½ furlongs in the mud at Saratoga, 1 1/16 miles in the slop at Keeneland in a gutsy performance, 7 ½ furlongs on the grass at Gulfstream Park in another gutsy performance, and 1 1/16 miles on a fast dirt track at quirky Tampa Bay Downs in a gutsy performance and breaking the Sam F. Davis Stakes record. Now that is a horse every trainer would love to have in his barn. His only knock is that his one bad performance came at Churchill Downs. But everyone is entitled to throw in a clunker one time as long as he bounces back. It would be difficult to believe, knowing his record, that the one bad race had anything to do with the track.

Coady Photography

11. Bravazo

I’m actually not putting him in the Top 12 because of his recent Risen Star victory, as much as I am for his pedigree, his second-place finish to Free Drop Billy in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, and the fact that he has actually won two races in a row, which is pretty rare from this crop. Okay, his :23 4/5 and :06 1/5 closing fractions in the Risen Star didn’t hurt. That is legitimate. I also like the fact that he defeated a horse, Noble Indy, who came into the Risen Star undefeated and off one of the fastest Thoro-Graph numbers of any 3-year-old this year. I also know that the connections of runner-up Snapper Sinclair were very high on this colt. With that said, I still have no idea how good a race the Risen Star was, and it must be noted that no Risen Star winner has ever won the Kentucky Derby. Like Flameaway, his worst race came at Churchill Downs when he just didn’t fire at all that day. But on the bright side, he did break his maiden by almost five lengths at Churchill Downs going a flat mile. So, again, it’s not the track. I’m still not sure he is the top horse in the D. Wayne Lukas barn, with Sporting Chance running an excellent race in the Southwest Stakes, but this colt has been more professional, and, of course, his breeding says 1 ¼ miles will be a piece of cake.

12. Instilled Regard

I admit I had no idea what to do with him after his disappointing effort in the Risen Star Stakes. I usually don’t give up on highly ranked horses who finished as close as he did. But the way he was ducking in from right-hand whipping and was all over the track has to be cause for concern. Could he have “bounced” combined with traveling twice from California to Louisiana? Might he be better off now staying home for his final prep?  All I know is that, considering the pace battle up front, he looked like an absolute lock nearing the head of the stretch as he closed in on Snapper Sinclair and Bravazo. But once turned for home, there was nothing there, as he ducked in from a right-handed whip, then drifted out slightly, then ducked in again from another right-handed whip and kept drifting in nearing the wire. But it must also be said that he was striding out smoothly and strongly and just missed catching Noble Indy by a neck. With all that, he still was only beaten 2 ¼ lengths, while finishing 3 ½ lengths ahead of the fifth horse. And that’s with doing everything wrong in the stretch. Because of that, and his exceptional performances in the Lecomte Stakes and Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, I am keeping him in the Top 12 and will give him another chance. But he better stop pulling those antics in the stretch and return to his previous form.

Knocking At the Door

I have to admit, this is the most perplexing bunch of 3-year-olds I can remember at this point. Many horses look either too slow or too inconsistent, and most of them are a complete stab in the dark. But the best definitely is yet to come, and we should see a much brighter picture after the Fountain of Youth and San Felipe when the stars finally come out. It also seems as if the horses who have been the most impressive have been those who have gotten too late a start to get really excited over as true Derby contenders. How unusual has this group been? I have a horse ranked No. 1 who has won one race in his life.

Because there are so many questions concerning the Risen Star Stakes, and because of the severe rail bias and quicksand-like surface in the Southwest Stakes, there seems to be three choices regarding this weekend’s stakes in the context of the Top 12. You can either frazzle your brain trying to decipher both races, make believe they never happened and forgive the favorites, or simply look elsewhere. I have chosen to give the slightest edge to the Risen Star, even with its Derby history.

Starting with the Risen Star, runner-up Snapper Sinclair ran an excellent race, coming home in :23 4/5 and :06 1/5, running the 1 1/16 miles in a sharp 1:42 4/5, and getting beat the scantest of noses. The first two finishers simply never came back to the field after running one-two the entire race. On the other hand, their half-mile and three-quarter fractions were a full second slower than the Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the final time of that race was only two-fifths slower than the Risen Star at 1:43 1/5. And the Mineshaft Handicap for older horses was run in 1:42 1/5, and a 3-year-old allowance race on Monday was run in 1:42 2/5, so it appears as if the track was fairly lively all weekend. Bravazo did return to his form in the Breeders’ Futurity, in which he finished second to Free Drop Billy, so we know he is legitimate, and he’s bred to run all day, unlike Snapper Sinclair, who is by City Zip, out of a Yes It’s True mare, so that is a speed-oriented pedigree top and bottom. Of Course, Bravazo did throw in a real clunker in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

As for Risen Star third-place finisher, Noble Indy, you can’t fault his race, although he did have a ground-saving trip, having the rail open up for him in the upper stretch and running evenly the rest of the way without threatening the top two. But it wasn’t the smoothest of trips, as Instilled Regard moved up down the backstretch to keep him trapped inside and behind horses when he wanted to run, and he did lose some position. And he was only making his third career start, which means we have another who is on target for only four career starts if he runs in the March 24 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. As mentioned earlier, Noble Indy was coming off a huge Thoro-Graph number that puts him right there with the fastest 3-year-olds in the country. We’ll see if he regressed off that number, which would be understandable. The bottom line is that I am going to ponder all this about him a little longer and see if any changes are warranted in the next week or two. I just wasn’t blown away by any of these horses. But he definitely has a right to improve, and Bravazo and Mr. Lukas have to be taken seriously. We’ll see what next week brings. The big disappointment was the uninspiring 7th-place finish by Principe Guilherme, who looked to be something special following a pair of runaway victories to start off his career.

Moving ahead to the Southwest Stakes, the winner, My Boy Jack, who did an amazing impression of Exaggerator romping through the mud, was coming off a well-beaten third to McKinzie in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, but that was a race in which somebody had to finish third. There really wasn’t much behind the winner. And My Boy Jack is a talented grass horse, with five straight grass races before the Lewis, and we all know that grass horses usually run huge on sloppy or muddy dirt tracks. Furthermore, My Boy Jack rode a golden rail the entire race and was set up by a third and fourth quarter in :25 4/5 and :26 over a track Kent Desormeaux said was like peanut butter. I’m not saying this son of Creative Cause is not a legitimate Derby contender. I just need to see more considering all he had in his favor in the Southwest and with so many good horses not handling the track at all. Runner-up Combatant ran a big race having to take the overland route, while the winner skipped through on the rail, but he has now run three consecutive seconds and needs to show just a little more in the final furlong. He is another who should keep improving.

Sporting Chance (Eclipse Sportswire)

The horse I like the most coming out of this race was third-place finisher Sporting Chance, who did ride the rail most of the way, but swung out for the stretch run and once again pulled one of his antics in the stretch, shying from Mourinho drifting out and then ducking back in abruptly when he nearly ran into Combatant on his outside. He jumped back to his left lead, but then switched back to his right lead on his own. I thought he had no shot to collar 6-5 Mourinho for third, but somehow he did get up for the show spot. All in all, this was a good return having been out since he beat Free Drop Billy in the Sept. 4 Hopeful Stakes, but I want to see more professionalism in the stretch. There is no doubt the talent is there. Mourinho broke a step slowly and was rushed up to take the lead, then unlike in the Smarty Jones Stakes, found himself in a battle up front with Road to Damascus, who was tracked by Ezmosh. Those two would finish next to last and last, respectively, while Mourinho was just nipped for third by Sporting Chance, who sat right behind the leaders the whole way. Like many others this weekend, he deserves another chance, especially with the adverse track conditions, but it’s difficult to keep him in the Top 12 until he learns to rate off the pace. We’ll see if Bob Baffert sends him back to Oaklawn or looks elsewhere.

I was anxious to see New York Central take on Baffert shipper Zulfikhar, as well as  Dream Baby Dream, Transgress, and Tiz Our Turn in a tough allowance optional claimer the race after the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. In mid-stretch, it looked like Transgress had New York Central beat, but the latter came back and nipped him on the wire. I have always liked New York Central, especially his race against Higher Power last time out, but you can’t know for sure whether his coming back in the stretch was 100 percent gameness or whether he was aided by being down on the rail, which definitely looked like the golden path. It sure was in the Southwest Stakes and Razorback Handicap won by Hawaakom. Dream Baby Dream ran another strong race, closing fast to finish third, beaten 2 ½ lengths. But he’s only won one of his seven starts, and his pedigree suggests classic distances will not be his strength, although he surely runs like he wants to go on.

Magnum Moon (Lauren King/Coglianese Photo)

Even though Todd Pletcher's top horses this year were late developing, we all knew what was to come following their maiden, and in some cases, allowance victories. Not only have we seen the emergence of Vino Rosso, Marconi, and Noble Indy as serious Derby contenders in their stakes debut, but like last year with Always Dreaming prior to the Florida Derby, we saw a serious horse come out of an allowance race when Magnum Moon captured a mile and 40-yard event at Tampa Bay Downs on Thursday. Now, we know it is a far cry jumping from an allowance race at Tampa against only five opponents to graded stakes company, but you have to get excited over the way he won the race. One phrase we use often after a victory is “it was a workout for him.” In most cases that is an exaggeration. Well, in this case, the best thing you can say about Magnum Moon's performance is that it looked exactly like a workout, with jockey Luis Saez sitting chilly behind two “workmates,” and then cruising by them without ever as much as moving his hands, and Magnum Moon’s ears up the entire stretch run. And despite that, he missed the track record by only 11 one-hundredths of a second, while defeating Vouch, who was good enough to finish third in the Remsen Stakes. But the runner-up, stablemate Hyndford, had just broken his maiden in a $50,000 claiming race.  He will need to have two more starts before the Derby and I don’t know just how Pletcher would accomplish that without running him in three weeks somewhere along the line. And even if he does he will have to get a lot more out of those next two races than he did in last week’s race. And of course he has the good old Apollo curse to overcome as well, having never run at 2. So while he has a definite hill to climb, so far so good. He appears to be very light on his feet, is extremely responsive, and has a great mind. I just wish he had one more start or had this race a week or two ago, because he was the most impressive horse I saw all weekend…at least in a two-turn race.

Pletcher has moved his $2 million baby Marconi from New York to sunny Florida following his third in the Withers Stakes, and the son of Tapit had his first work at Palm Beach Downs, breezing a half in :49 3/5. I went against my rules by putting a maiden winner in the Top 12 opening week, and although others have forced him off, I have not given up on this colt by any means. He just has a lot of learning and maturing to do. We’ll know how much after his next start, for which there are numerous options now.

On the international front, Godolphin’s Gold Town took another huge step forward by romping in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas by 10 ½ lengths. He overcame pressure from both sides early, shook off both horses and powered clear, remaining on his left lead the rest of the way. He’s not nominated to the Triple Crown, so we’ll see how he takes the next step in the UAE Derby. By Street Cry, his pedigree is loaded with European classic stamina on top and bottom, and he is inbred to Northern Dancer’s dam Natalma through Northern Dancer (twice) on bottom and Raise the Standard on top.

In Japan, Ruggero, who captured the Cattleya Sho to earn Derby points, could do no better than third in the Hyacinth Stakes, at about a mile, never threatening the winner Sumahama, who stalked the pace and drew off to score by 2 ½ lengths after winning his two previous starts on the front end. Although the grandson of Sunday Silence and Afleet earned 30 Derby points, he is not nominated to the Triple Crown. Should his connections decide not to come to Churchill Downs, Ruggero, who is nominated, would get the invitation with his 16 points.

I’m not even going to tease you by going into sensational after sensational detail on Justify’s career debut romp at Santa Anita, because by making his first start on Feb. 18, there is no way you would think of him as a Kentucky Derby horse. But that doesn’t mean he’s not. Yes, it’s happened before where brilliant horses are thrust into the Derby picture this late with no chance to have more than three career starts going into the big race. And Bob Baffert has done daring things like this before, running Paynter in the Santa Anita Derby off one 5 ½-furlong maiden race in his life. We have seen it with Curlin, who went into the Derby off three career starts, although he was beaten eight lengths at Churchill Downs, using the race as prep for the Preakness. There is no doubt that Justify is a monster in the making following his 9 ½-length romp in a blazing 1:21 4/5. Okay, one tease – this was absolutely flawless. The son of Scat Daddy showed an excellent turn of foot, switched leads like an old pro, and drew off all on his own without even a glimpse of the whip. And he was a dozen lengths clear shortly after the wire. As I’ve said in the past, it is so frustrating seeing horses with so much God-given talent come along so late. We saw it to a lesser extent the week before with the Mark Casse-trained Telekinesis, who won at Fair Grounds on Feb. 9. Coincidentally, Telekinesis is a son of Ghostzapper and Justify is out of a Ghostzapper mare. It is interesting that Justify debuted in blinkers, but that’s for another time. All one can say is that Bob Baffert keeps churning them out as if off an assembly line, and this new product could be the most special of them all if he is as good as he looked in his debut. Facing winners is the key test.

In other action over the weekend, the improving Dark Templar scored a wire-to-wire victory in a mile and 70-yard allowance race at Fair Grounds, defeating he multiple stakes-placed Lone Sailor. In two stakes races that will have little or no bearing on the Derby, the filly Paved beat the boys in the El Camino Real Derby on the artificial Tapeta surface and Heck Yeah remained undefeated with a workmanlike victory in the California Cup Derby.

Another brilliant colt who got a bit of a late start, Strike Power, winner of the Swale Stakes in his second career start, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Gulfstream. The son of Speightstown looks to be headed to the March 10 Gotham Stakes, run at a flat mile this year, just like the old days.

The one Baffert colt who has been under the radar, but seems to have a future is Restoring Hope, who worked six furlongs in an un-Baffert-like 1:16. Baffert often has his horses ridden out to the wire, but Restoring Hope was on  loose rein in the stretch and the rider never moved his hands. I do love the way this colt runs with his head held low and good extension to his fluid stride. Baffert’s most frustrating horse could very well be Regulate, who ran so well when narrowly beaten two races back, but hasn’t shown much in his two subsequent starts. He does show glimpses of talent in the morning, as indicated by his :46 4/5 work last week.

Godolphin’s Holland Park, following a pair of seconds, found the winner’s circle for the first time, winning a 1 1/8-mile maiden race by a half-length at 2-5, run in a wickedly slow 1:57 2/5. Is the Aqueduct surface really that slow?

I’m still trying to figure out what happened in the Holy Bull Stakes in regard to the form of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Bravazo, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club, beaten a dozen lengths, comes back to win two in a row, including the Risen Star Stakes at 21-1, but the one-two finishers of the Kentucky Jockey Club, Enticed and Tiz Mischief, get beat by more than 10 lengths in the Holy Bull Stakes, both coming up empty. Is Audible that spectacular or did both horses just turn in inexplicable clunkers? Although Enticed has yet to be seen on the worktab since the Holy Bull, Tiz Mischief turned in a brilliant half-mile breeze in :47 2/5 at Gulfstream, third fastest of 68 works at the distance. I haven’t a clue what to expect from him next time, but my guess would be we’re going to see a different horse…I think.

I’m also trying to figure out the New York form. I want very badly to have Firenze Fire back in the Top 12, but his Beyer numbers have been regressing since winning the Champagne Stakes last fall and I just want to see a jump somewhere to show he’s back in the right direction, especially considering there is a question regarding his breeding. He also hasn’t had a work since the Withers Stakes, where he finished second to Avery Island. I can forgive his Withers defeat, coming back in only three weeks, and he did run his eyeballs out as he always does. I just don’t know how to interpret these low Beyer Speed Figures by all the New York horses and the lack of brilliance; horses basically grinding it out without much turn of foot. Could it be the tiring surface, which likely chased Marconi out of town? However, in Firenze Fire’s Thoro-Graph pattern, he has thrown in a pair of pretty decent numbers that have both been followed by a regression, once when he was sick after the race. You can make an excuse for both of those. It is time to see another bounce-back number and then either pairing it up or improving off it. Once we see that, then he likely will be back in the Top 12. I have as much admiration for this colt as any on the Derby trail.

One of my under the radar horses to watch, Personal Time, a full-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Orb, breezed a half in :49 3/5 over the deepish Payson Park surface. Although he is still a maiden, he is coming off an excellent performance on Jan. 27 at Gulfstream, closing fast from far back going a mile. He’s run three times and is improving with each start. He would have to break his maiden next time to even have a remote chance of making the Derby, or more logically the Preakness, if he’s that good. Another maiden who has been knocking on the door, with two seconds, a third, and a fourth, is Concur, who drilled six furlongs in a solid 1:13 4/5 at Santa Anita.

Keeping tabs of Higher Power, who I featured last week, he followed up his :50 breeze with another half-mile breeze in :51 for Donnie Von Hemel. It’s all about timing now and how quickly he can get sharp and fit following his slight setback.

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