Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin presents his Derby Dozen this week with a look at his leading contenders for the 145th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4.
Last Saturday, March 9, rising contenders scored in three preps that offered qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby: Haikal in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct; Tacitus in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs; and Somelikeithotbrown in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. This Saturday, Oaklawn Park hosts the Rebel Stakes, a Derby points race that will probably be split into two divisions in order to accommodate horses shipping in from California who originally intended to start in the now-cancelled San Felipe Stakes.
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1. Game Winner
Bob Baffert’s big two are living on the edge as both this one and Improbable are headed to Arkansas for Saturday’s Rebel Stakes. When you have athletes primed and ready to compete in their own backyard and they don’t, then have to ship to another track to work and wait a week and ship cross-country, it usually disrupts the entire routine. They still should be okay because of their raw talent, but it is still a tougher road. Game Winner worked again with Dr. Dorr, going five furlongs in :59 4/5 and going wide on both turns. His last work had him primed for his debut and I’m sure Baffert didn’t want him going too fast. He did stick his head in front at the wire without any urging, as if he knew where the finish was, and then galloped out about a dozen lengths ahead of Dr. Dorr. Once again, he’s not as smooth as Improbable, but does it his way and now he doesn’t have to face Improbable first time out. I also loved his gallop at Los Alamitos the day before. It was a good three-minute gallop and he was picking it up pretty good and kept getting stronger.
Los Alamitos or Santa Anita Park, it doesn’t matter, his five-furlong work in :59 1/5 was yet another sensational move, again flicking his ears and striding out beautifully, and he had the rider’s feet in the dashboard on the backstretch trying to pull him up. As I keep saying, his works are a thing of beauty to watch. Judging by works alone he probably should be No. 1, but it’s kind of late to switch them now. It’s time to show it in the afternoon. The only problem is that this last work should have been the San Felipe Stakes, and he’ll have to keep that razor’s edge for another week. He’s already shipped to Churchill Downs after one six-furlong maiden race and blew his field away going a mile in the Street Sense Stakes, so shipping should not be a problem. To show how important it is to get used to a new track, in his gallop at Los Alamitos the day before he spent the entire stretch run with his head cocked to the outside checking out his new surroundings. That wasn’t the case the next day when he had his mind on business. He’s already been at Los Alamitos, romping in the
Cash Call Futurity back in December. The Rebel will be his fourth start and fourth different track.
3. War of Will
So far, he is the only consistently fast horse on the Derby trail. His Thoro-Graph figures improved with every start last year, and he made a fairly big jump winning the Lecomte Stakes to register one of the fastest figures of any horse this year. But despite the jump and a potential “bounce,” he paired up that figure in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, the only horse to do so this year. He has now won three in a row and is undefeated on dirt. As I have stated, I’m not a big fan of the timing of the Fair Grounds series of preps, with the six-week gap from the March 23 Louisiana Derby to the Kentucky Derby, but if he can run a third straight big number and even improve on his last two in the Louisiana Derby, perhaps the six weeks will benefit him. From a visual standpoint, he is a striking individual, very professional, puts his opponents away at the head of the stretch, and hasn’t shown any flaws. And his pedigree is very strong, being inbred to stamina influence Forli and his dam being inbred to the excellent producer Lalun through her sons Bold Reason and Never Bend. If you follow the Brisnet figures he does need to get faster, so that contradicts the Thoro-Graph figures, which takes into consideration more variables than Brisnet or Beyer Speed Figures.
Going into the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, he was the second-slowest horse in the field on Thoro-Graph and Beyer Speed Figures, hadn’t run in four months since breaking his maiden by a neck in slow time, had only two career starts, was breaking from post 10, and was made to look slow by Hidden Scroll, who toyed with him in their works. Yet he wins like a seasoned pro in stakes-record time. Go figure. I’m not crazy about any race where the first seven finishers are within 4 ¼ lengths of each other and the horse setting very fast fractions is still right there at the sixteenth pole and only gets beat three lengths. But I have no idea where Tacitus’ performance came from, and it was as if he won the race despite still being a baby, running with his head a bit high, and has a ton of improvement still left in him. But the actual race he ran was very professional, especially the way he split horses in the stretch, using his big long stride to power home. This was like Bill Mott unveiling some powerful secret weapon that isn’t even perfected yet. So we could be seeing bigger and better things from him. One historical note: he will be trying to win the Derby off four lifetime starts, and in the past 101 years, only three horses have done it having four races or fewer, and two of them, Justify and Big Brown, were freakishly talented and didn’t come along in the strongest of crops. As for his pedigree, his dam Close Hatches earned $2.7 million, winning five Grade 1 stakes and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. His broodmare sire First Defence was a top-class sprinter who was out of a top-class sprinter in Unbridled’s Song. But also consider he is inbred to two Triple Crown winners and also to Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. All in all, a fascinating colt.
5. Win Win Win
Call me stubborn, but I have not lost faith in this colt one bit. The Tampa Bay Derby was his first two-turn race, he got squeezed back at the start, raced wide the whole way, running almost 30 feet farther than the winner on Trakus, ran his second and third quarters in a rapid :23 1/5 and :22 4/5, and still was able to find another gear in the final yards, surging to get third. We still don’t know what his best running style is, but when you run your second and third quarters in :46 flat and have 11 lengths to make up and you’re still running strongly at the end, going your final sixteenth in :06 1/5, there definitely is hope for the future. Remember, this horse had a ton of early speed going 5 ½ furlongs in his first two career starts, then came from far back in his next two starts only after breaking slowly, which he did again in the Tampa Bay Derby. I really would love to see what he can do and where he can place himself with a clean break. He has natural speed and I believe he would prefer being just a few lengths back and use that speed tactically instead of having to turn in long sustained runs from far back. Basically, what I would like to see is him employing the same running style as his two grandsires, Sunday Silence and Smarty Jones. Both were deadly with their tactical speed. I hope jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. learned something about him and sticks with him.
He has plusses and minuses as a potential leading Derby candidate. His Thoro-Graph and Brisnet figures in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes were not particularly fast and on both he duplicated his figure from the Champagne Stakes last fall, where he ran second. On the positive side, he did leave himself with room for improvement and in this crop he doesn’t need a big jump next time to put him right there. Although many consider him a horse who will relish the mile and a quarter because of his sire’s family, it must be noted that his half-brother Big League was a sprinter, his dam Reunited was a pure sprinter, his second dam Tivli was a pure sprinter who equaled a course record at five furlongs, and his second dam’s sire Mt. Livermore was a stakes-winning sprinter. Code of Honor’s third dam is by the very fast Bold Forbes, a rare sprinter who could carry his speed long distances, out of the stakes-winning sprinter Faneuil Hall, who set a track record at 5 ½ furlongs and is by the pure sprinter Bolinas Boy. So, pedigree-wise and speed figure-wise, he is a bit of an enigma. He runs like a horse who wants to go on and will improve, but he did come home very slow in the Fountain of Youth, so, again, we’ll have to wait to see what direction he’s heading. I still haven’t gotten a grasp on him yet. If he does have the stamina, there’s nobody better to bring it out than Shug McGaughey, who will have him peaking on Derby day, as he did with Orb in 2013.
7. Bourbon War
I thought his Thoro-Graph figure as the runner-up in the Fountain of Youth would be faster than the winner’s, but not only was it a little slower, it was a significant step backward from his previous race. Perhaps he merely “bounced” off his big jump last time and will move forward next time. He also regressed slightly on his Brisnet figure. These are merely handicapping tools and you can’t knock his race from the way he closed to nab second, but his Brisnet late pace figure was 11 points slower than the one he posted in his allowance win. He did, however, run faster early despite being much farther back. So in short, from his speed figures I really don’t know what to make of him, just as I don’t know what to make of his pedigree. Again, we have to wait until his next race to see just how accurate the eye test has been compared to the fluctuation of his speed figures. Everyone is basing their opinion of him on his big closing move in the Fountain of Youth, but I believe the race to look at was his previous race when he was right there at the top of the stretch and split horses without even flinching.
8. Mucho Gusto
Well, you can’t say he’s not sharp and raring to go. He has sort of gotten lost in all the chaos surrounding Game Winner and Improbable, but he is sitting on a big effort after working five furlongs in :57 4/5 at Los Alamitos. Bob Baffert told XBTV not to pay attention to the times. He said he thought the poles were off and the track was lightning fast and the horses were just bouncing over it. He seemed to be on his way to the Rebel, but is now altering course and headed to the March 24 Sunland Derby. He really hasn’t been tested other than having Improbable run right by him in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity. His Robert. B. Lewis Stakes win was nothing more than a workout in the slop in a five-horse field. I can see him romping in the Sunland Derby considering there won’t be too much left from Southern California to go against him other than perhaps Nolo Contesto or Sueno. But I have no idea what their plans are. Now that we know he can win from off the pace and do it eased up, there really is no telling how good he is or what he is capable of. Distance doesn’t look to be a problem, so if he wins easily at Sunland he would be an enticing mystery horse at Churchill Downs. He could be another Firing Line who romped by 14 ¼ lengths in the Sunland Derby coming from the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and then gave American Pharoah all he could handle in the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
He worked a half at Los Alamitos in a bullet :48 2/5, out in a strong 1:01 under Flavien Prat, who gave him a long run to the pole. He wasn’t thrilled with that, tossing his head around wanting to go. Prat had to pull hard on the reins to keep him from breaking off too early. When he finally let him go, he leveled off and was smooth as silk. He does run with his head a bit high, but has that long powerful stride. He was moving so strongly past the wire he took the turn wide and kept going a long way on the gallop-out. He and Omaha Beach looked as if they had found a good spot in the Rebel to accumulate points until the unscheduled invasion of their fellow Santa Anita horses. Now they are going to have to run the race of their lives to pick up points regardless of which division they draw into. Game Winner or Improbable…pick your poison. Prat had his choice between Galilean and Omaha Beach and chose Galilean, who is such a physically imposing horse. At the time, Omaha Beach was returning from a quarter crack, so he was a little more iffy. Now with the race being split, Prat could wind up on both horses, as Omaha Beach’s trainer Richard Mandella will wait for the draw before deciding on Prat, who knows the horse well, or Mike Smith. Even if Galilean and Omaha Beach draw in the same division, Prat will ride either Extra Hope for Mandella or Gunmetal Gray for Jerry Hollendorfer. Both those horses cannot be in the same division as Galilean and Omaha Beach because of common interests. Did you get all that? The bottom line is that this will be a huge test for both horses.
10. Omaha Beach
He turned in a spectacular six-furlong work in 1:10 3/5, but it was the way he did it more than the time. Breaking three to four lengths behind his workmate, he took off on his own with no urging at all from Flavien Prat and was on even terms in a matter of a few strides. With Prat virtually motionless down the stretch, he cruised past his workmate and was far in front galloping out. That was as good a work as you’ll see. You can read the comments above to see what Omaha Beach’s options are in the Rebel Stakes, regarding his jockey. If Omaha Beach and Galilean draw in different divisions it could be a dream scenario for Prat. It was a tough decision who to ride, and he would love nothing more than to be aboard both horses. Richard Mandella’s excitement over Omaha Beach has rubbed off on owner Rick Porter, and when Mandella gets this excited over a horse you better pay attention. I have loved this horse since his second to Nolo Contesto in a maiden race. He just had a look of class about him, and he did finish eight lengths ahead of the third horse in excellent time for the mile. Although he is ranked just below Galilean, I consider them pretty much equal. Omaha Beach appears to be quicker and is improving at a rapid rate, while Galilean has three stakes (albeit for Cal-breds) under his belt and looks like a man among boys. Both could be special, but, boy, has the Rebel turned into a trial by fire.
11. Country House
I have no idea where he even stands now in his own barn. I do like the fact that we haven’t seen anywhere near his best as he still has a few minor things to iron out. He certainly has to keep a straighter course than he did in the Risen Star Stakes. I only moved him down because Galilean and Omaha Beach are running this weekend. Then it’s his turn the following week in the Louisiana Derby. As I said with War of Will, I’m not crazy about that six-week layoff to the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Bill Mott is as good as they come getting a horse ready after some time off. He breezed five furlongs in 1:02 2/5, which actually was the fastest of five works at the distance over the deep Payson Park surface. The talent is there, and I can definitely see him upsetting War of Will if he gets a solid pace. But even if he’s flying again at the finish and comes up short, that is still good enough to get him in the Derby, and then Mott would have a lot of time to work with him and let him mature. Like Tacitus, he could be peaking on Derby Day. Could Mott have three horses in the Derby?
I could have easily dropped him after one week to make room for his stablemate Outshine, who ran a terrific race in the Tampa Bay Derby, or Mind Control or Haikal. But I remain committed to this horse and he is going to have to prove me wrong. It was good to see him turn in a sharp work, breezing five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 in company. He broke off a half-length ahead of the highly regarded Federal Case, who was on his outside. I like the way he had his head down and was reaching out, and the way he cornered and switched leads turning for home. Down the stretch, he seemed to be going easier than Federal Case, yet finished a head in front. He was still going easier on the gallop-out, but opened up a couple of lengths on Federal Case, who is a darn good horse in his own right. Spinoff’s Brisnet figures are not quite up there yet, but they have improved with every start, from an 82 to 89 to 93. And as I said last week, his Thoro-Graph figure of “4,” a jump of 6 ¼ points from his last start back in August, puts him within striking distance of the leading contenders. I would love to see him have two more starts, not being a fan of four lifetime starts before the Derby and with him still being a bit green, but the timing of the Xpressbet Florida Derby on March 30 looks right and Todd Pletcher has made a habit of winning that race with lightly raced horses. Yes, he is a gamble at this point, but the Derby trail needs a fresh face and there is a lot about him to like.
Knocking On the Door
The Derby trail this year feels more like the yellow brick road, and I’m waiting each week to see what nasty little surprises the wicked witch of Kentucky has in store. So far, the second, third, and fourth-place finishers of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the first three finishers of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, the first two finishers of the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, and the winner of the Champagne Stakes all have been exposed to the poisoned poppies and have fallen asleep. So, until the good witch Glinda arrives and wakes everybody up we will just have to be patient and hope the (split?) Rebel Stakes, with its invasion of Southern California horses, clears up the muddled picture and provides us with Derby favorites we can get excited over.
Looking at the four fastest speed figures this year on Brisnet, one came in a sprint, one was by a former claimer, one was by a first-time starter, and one was on a synthetic track. The fastest figure last year and still the fastest this year was by a horse who still hasn’t even run as a 3-year-old. Not even the scarecrow with his new brain can figure this out.
The Tampa Bay Derby and the Gotham Stakes had one major factor in common, and it was that common denominator that prevented me from putting anyone other than the Tampa Bay Derby winner in the Top 12. In both races, one horse went out there winging on the lead, setting blistering fractions (in the Gotham) and very fast fractions (in the Tampa Derby), setting it up for the closers, yet both horses were beaten only 1 ½ lengths and three lengths, respectively. In the Gotham, the first four finishers were separated by only 1 ½ lengths and in the Tampa Bay Derby, the first seven horses were separated by only 4 ¼ lengths. So, the bottom line is, there is still a question of which horses from the Gotham want to go two turns, and whether or not to have three horses from the Tampa Bay Derby in the Top 12.
I do believe Outshine and Mind Control ran races worthy of a Top 12 placing and I feel both have the pedigrees to go longer. And you can’t deny the fact that Haikal has some motor in that final furlong. But with the Derby picture in such a mess I thought it best to keep them knocking on the door until we see what happens in the wild Rebel Stakes stampede next Saturday. With so much Top 12 activity I can certainly see Outshine joining his stablemate in what could be a big late push from the Todd Pletcher barn. Outshine was the one closest to the fast pace and quickly closed in for the kill, looking like a winner turning for home. But he had trouble putting the pace-setting Zenden away before finally asserting himself inside the final sixteenth, only to give way to Tacitus. It was a good effort, but I need to see a little more.
As I said, there were just too many horses within four lengths of the winner at the wire. To demonstrate what a late pace setup this was, 46.20-1 shot Sir Winston, the lesser half of the Mark Casse pair in the Tampa Bay Derby, closed from 15 lengths back nearing the quarter pole to be beaten four lengths, while finishing fifth. The huge disappointment was the 7-2 second choice Dream Maker, who never ran an inch after a rough start. Either I was dead wrong about this horse or something happened to him in the race.
I have to mention yet another gutsy effort by Mind Control in the Gotham. This colt just does not like horses passing him, and he once again dug in when challenged and repelled all attacks, but never saw Haikal flying down the middle of the track. Although his only poor effort came in his only two-turn race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he deserves another chance to prove himself going longer, considering he has 10 classic winners, three Travers Stakes winners, and seven Hall of Famers in his first five generations. This was his first time rallying from far off the pace and I believe he will be even tougher in the April 6 Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets, where the pace likely will be much slower and he can use his tactical speed to better advantage. Trainer Greg Sacco has done a good job in the mornings teaching him how to rate behind his horses. I’d like to see what he can do rallying on the outside for a change.
As for race winner Haikal and third-place Instagrand, they still have to prove they will be as effective going two turns. With a :26 2/5 closing quarter in the Gotham, it was set up for the only deep closer in the field. Haikal’s running style normally is indicative of a one-turn closer, and he does look like a horse who is heavily dependent on pace. But he deserves a chance to show he can duplicate that big stretch run going two turns. However, I want to see it first, as his sire was a Grade1-winning miler, and his half-brother Takaful, by Bernardini, was a Grade 1-winning sprinter. His second dam was a stakes-placed miler. His third dam was a Group 1-winning miler in Europe. And his fourth dam was a Group 1-placed miler in Europe. So he will have a lot to prove in the Wood Memorial as far as his ability to win top-class races going two turns. If he is flying at the end of that race, even if he doesn’t win, then he is a legitimate Derby contender. Remember, his paternal grandsire is Awesome Again and his two maternal great-grandsires, Forty Niner and Seeking the Gold, were bitter rivals in 1988, finishing noses apart in the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes. Both colts are by Mr. Prospector and grew up together at Claiborne Farm.
Instagrand obviously needed this race. It’s not easy bringing a horse back off a seven-month layoff in a hotly contested flat mile chasing a brutal pace. So he also deserves another chance. So many horses in the Gotham desperately need a two-turn race and they will only have one before the Kentucky Derby, which is not ideal. That’s not a lot of miles under them to go a mile and a quarter. The big question with Instagrand is whether he not only is effective going two turns, but whether he will have enough bottom and experience to handle the Kentucky Derby. And you can read above the record of horses with four career starts or fewer going in the Derby.
Looking at the Fountain of Youth again and the Florida horses in general, and what Tacitus did in the Tampa Bay Derby, I am certainly not counting Hidden Scroll out in the Florida Derby. As much as I have concerns about him making only his third career start, if he can rate kindly behind horses with another rider aboard, he could win that race. However, be aware that he took a big step backward on Thoro-Graph in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, dropping from a “negative-2” in his heralded debut to a “4 ½” in his fourth-place Fountain of Youth showing. That is quite a bounce. If he can get anywhere near that first race figure he will take a lot of beating. But it is just another of the many questions that need answering this year.
Juddmonte Farms, which earlier this century finished second in the Kentucky Derby with Aptitude and Empire Maker, has been looking to make a splash on the Derby trail since Bobby Frankel's death. They came up with a superstar in Arrogate, but he was a little late for the party. Now they have a dynamic duo that have but five starts between them, so they are cutting it pretty close.
Juddmonte manager Garrett O'Rourke remembers Hidden Scroll and Tacitus well.
“Both colts were always lovely lookers, both big and handsome,” he said. “Obviously Tacitus garnered more attention as he had the 'stallion’s pedigree,' but Hidden Scroll had a lot of character added to his good looks, and in appearance and behavior he reminds a lot of Empire Maker though he obviously has Hard Spun speed. You don’t always get the desired blend of sire and dam/damsire in equal parts but this one came out as ordered!
“Tacitus always had that beautiful stride he displayed on Saturday, but Hidden Scroll could have run last fall at Keeneland but cut a hind leg in the Churchill Downs shedrow and came back to the farm briefly to heal and went to Payson Park from there. At least he got some Churchill Downs experience.
“And both colts have Bobby Frankel-trained damsires – he’s still working for us!”
The Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton in England could have a bearing on the Kentucky Derby picture, as the English-bred Jahbath, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, scored his fourth consecutive victory on the all-weather surface, winning by two lengths and earning a trip a to Dubai for the March 30 UAE Derby. The son of Mukhadrim is bred mostly for the grass, but his sire is out of a mare by Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Timber Country and his second dam is by the 2-year-old champion Lord Avie, winner of the Florida Derby, Champagne, Cowdin, and Young America Stakes.
We’ll see what Aidan O’Brien does with Western Australia after his second-place finish in the listed Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland. Although bred for the grass, the son of Australia handled the all-weather surface at Dundalk just fine, beaten only a half-length by Playa Del Puente, who has been pointing for the Hong Kong Derby. Third-place finisher Numerian, trained by Joseph O’Brien, has now finished first twice, second, and third in his last four starts at Dundalk, but he also is bred for the grass.
The Dubai Racing Club has the right idea scheduling the UAE Oaks much earlier than the UAE Derby and giving the Oaks winner the opportunity of running in the much richer Derby with the option of pointing for the Kentucky Derby or Longines Kentucky Oaks. As it turned out, the UAE Oaks winner Divine Image came back in the Al Bastikaya Stakes, the middle leg of the UAE Triple Crown, and demolished the boys by 7 ¼ lengths, with the big horse, Estidaaf, finishing far up the track. The daughter of Bernardini could run back in the UAE Derby, where she would be one of the favorites, but her connections are strongly considering heading for the Kentucky Oaks.
Here is the question of the week. What horse earned the fastest Thoro-Graph figure in last week’s Fountain of Youth Stakes? The answer is the third-place finisher Vekoma, who had the fastest Thoro-Graph figure of any 2-year-old last year, with a “zero” in the Nashua Stakes. Despite his flawed action and very late lead change, he no doubt is a talented horse and obviously needed the Fountain of Youth after a four-month layoff. But it also must be noted that his Brisnet figure was several points slower than the first two finishers and his late pace figures have not been strong. He may not be pretty doing it, but he runs hard and he runs fast. Just thought I’d throw all that in and make things even more complicated for you.
Robert LaPenta’s So Alive, named after the owner’s battle last year with Legionnaire’s Disease that almost killed him, has now turned in two excellent works after being absent from the work tab for three weeks. The son of Super Saver worked five furlongs in a sharp 1:00 3/5. The half-brother to 2018 Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso is coming off a well-beaten third to Well Defined in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, but managed to get the show spot by rallying from 15 lengths back following a horrendous start. He showed improvement and good tactical speed in an allowance victory at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 6 with the addition of blinkers and will aim for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 6 to try to earn his spot in the Kentucky Derby. In a bit of irony, it was Super Saver who denied LaPenta a Kentucky Derby victory when he defeated the unlucky Ice Box in the 2010 Run for the Roses. Most people believe Ice Box would have won that Derby had he not been stopped cold, nearly clipping heels, while making a winning move on the rail. He had to dramatically alter course to the far outside and was flying at the finish to be second. So, you can say the Derby gods owe LaPenta one, especially after knocking Catholic Boy off the Derby trail last year when the colt bled badly in the Florida Derby and having his Blue Grass winner The Cliff’s Edge throw two shoes on the sloppy sealed track in the 2004 Derby.
Earlier in the year, Chad Brown had four possibilities for the Kentucky Derby, but lost Network Effect to injury. Impressive 1 1/8-mile maiden winner Motagally has been missing from the worktab for quite a while, and last year’s Champagne Stakes winner Complexity got a very late start and dropped off the worktab after two three-furlong breezes. That leaves him with Standard Deviation, who is kind of interesting and shouldn’t be forgotten. This weekend is a month since his second-place finish to Global Campaign in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race, so the timing of the Tampa Bay Derby looked right, but he wasn’t entered. Efforts to contact Brown by text proved fruitless, so we’ll just keep an eye on the entries. He could be on course for the Louisiana Derby. He should improve as the distances get longer and did run a big race in last year’s Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, so he’s been tested for class and has a lot of bottom under him.
Catching up from last week, Stubbins, who had been very consistent sprinting on the grass at Santa Anita, stretched out to a mile in the off-the-turf Pasadena Stakes and appeared to relish the slop, drawing off to an eight-length romp in 1:36 flat. Bred mostly for the grass on his female side, he is by dirt horse Morning Line, who is by Tiznow, out of the A.P. Indy mare November Snow, winner of the Alabama Stakes and Test Stakes.
No one seems to be talking about Dessman much any more since he was placed on the vet’s list. Whatever that was all about, he did work six furlongs in a snappy 1:11 2/5 at Los Alamitos on Sunday. There aren’t many spots open for him and his stablemate Roadster that Bob Baffert hasn’t already filled. But these are two very live horses and we’ll just have to see what Baffert has in store for them.
The three other Santa Anita-based horses who have been redirected to the Rebel Stakes all had excellent works. Gunmetal Gray has been looking so good in his works, the way he is striding out, that I can see him flying at the end of the Rebel. He is really looking good, as evidenced by his latest gem, a six-furlong work in 1:12 3/5 at Los Alamitos, in which he pulled away from his workmate. Also at Los Al, Extra Hope, who is really coming around for Richard Mandella and looked terrific in his last start, drilled six furlongs in a bullet 1:12 flat. At San Luis Rey Downs, Easy Shot, third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, worked six furlongs in 1:12 3/5. So, Santa Anita’s Magnificent Seven who are headed for the Rebel all look sharp and ready to go.
New York-bred Frosted Ice, who looked sensational against state-breds in his last two starts, including a dominating 6 ¼-length victory in the seven-furlong Bertram Bongard Stakes, worked a half in :48 3/5 at Oaklawn Park for a possible start in the Rebel Stakes. Also at Oaklawn, which is trying to get 20 horses to enter for the Rebel and the privilege of running against Game Winner or Improbable and the other Santa Anita horses, the improving Comedian breezed a half in :49 3/5, Laughing Fox, a horse that I like a lot and touted last week, breezed his half in :51, and Jersey Agenda, who is better than he has shown, breezed a half in :49 1/5. Long Range Toddy, second in the Smarty Jones Stakes and third in the Southwest Stakes, had an easy half-mile breeze in :53 under jockey Jon Court. He will be one of several horses trained by Steve Asmussen in the Rebel.
We haven’t heard a lot from Withers Stakes winner Tax lately, as he awaits the Wood Memorial. But the son of Arch remains sharp, working five furlongs in :59 3/5 at Belmont Park. One of the big surprises this past Saturday was the last-place finish by Not That Brady in the Gotham Stakes. The New York-bred son of Big Brown, who finished a gutsy second to Tax in the Withers Stakes, stopped abruptly and was virtually eased in the stretch. We have to believe he was in some sort of distress and hope he’s okay. He did suffer a quarter crack in a workout in February, but has worked since. Also distanced in the Gotham was last year’s Breeders’ Futurity winner Knicks Go, whose form has fallen apart since his second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I have to believe something is not right with him either. Horses just don’t go from being that good to that bad without a reason.
I’m not sure if Anothertwistafate, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01 at Golden Gate Fields, will head to the dirt in the Sunland Derby on March 24 or wait until the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, but he is one of the more intriguing horses on the Derby trail after his stunning victory in the El Camino Real Derby. He is a beautiful mover with a huge stride and if he takes to the dirt like he has the Tapeta surface he could make things very interesting and might provide a tough opponent for Mucho Gusto if he runs at Sunland. The son of Scat Daddy has won his three starts at Golden Gate by a total of 16 lengths, but each one has been on the front end the whole way.
With the Louisiana Derby looming on March 23, we had several good works at Fair Grounds, highlighted by Limonite’s six furlongs in 1:12 3/5. Bankit also worked well, going five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. Nitrous worked five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 and could be headed to the Sunland Derby. Also, Chase the Ghost had another strong work, breezing a half in :47 4/5, and Gun It went five furlongs in a sharp 1:00 1/5.
Although he probably is more of a Preakness candidate, one horse to watch is the oddly named Hoffa’s Union, who won his career debut at Laurel Park by 15 ½ lengths going 1 1/16 miles. The gelding is a son of Union Rags, out of a Malibu Moon mare.