Holy Bull: An Enduring Legacy of Brilliance
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 16, two divisions of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park offered qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby: Long Range Toddy reeled in Improbable deep in the stretch of the first division, while rapidly improving Omaha Beach handed previously unbeaten champion Game Winner his first loss in a thrilling finish in the second division of the Rebel, which looks like a key race on the Derby trail.
This Saturday, Fair Grounds in New Orleans hosts the $1 million, Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. On Sunday, Sunland Park in New Mexico will host the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby.
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.
1. Omaha Beach
Yes, I’m well aware Game Winner probably should still be No. 1, but I have been enamored with this colt since his second in a maiden race and am willing to take a shot with him as opposed to the logical choice. The facts are: he defeated a three-time Grade 1 winner and champion in the Rebel Stakes despite never having faced winners, never having raced around two turns on dirt, never having won on a fast track, and coming off a quarter crack, and he still was able to dig in gamely and hold him off, with Game Winner 8 1/4 lengths ahead of the third horse. You also have to take into consideration the amount of improvement he still has and the progression he’s on, and indicated by his continuously increasing Beyer Speed Figures – 62, 78, 80, 83, 90, 96. What I loved was the way jockey Mike Smith was sitting motionless on him at the top of the stretch while Joel Rosario was pushing hard on Game Winner, and Smith never went to the whip in the stretch. When Game Winner came charging up alongside him right before the finish line and looked to have him measured, Smith hit him once left-handed and he battled back, despite Smith losing hold of the reins, which were dangling as Smith tried to grab onto anything, including the colt’s mane. Omaha Beach was clearly in front one step past the finish line and quickly opened two lengths on the gallop out. I have been so impressed with everything about this colt — his class, his stride, his balance — that I had him ranked No. 6 off a maiden sprint score in the slop back on Feb. 5. When he came down with a quarter crack and missed a scheduled allowance race, I thought that was the end of his Derby chances, but he bounced back from that has been working lights out since. By missing the allowance race and being redirected to the Rebel, the pressure is now off for him having to finish first or second next time out.
2. Game Winner
Other than not winning, the Rebel was a perfect prep for the champ, and he is still the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May. This had to be a hard race on him coming off the layoff, and I’m just wondering how he would handle coming back in three weeks in the Santa Anita Derby. You have to admire this colt’s determination and desire to win. He was under pressure a long way out and just kept coming. He was relentless the way he went after Omaha Beach through a final sixteenth in :06 flat. Because of him, Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Long Range Toddy, we now have some stability and clarity on the Derby trail, as these two divisions of the Rebel looked to be the strongest and most formful races so far. You also have to remember that he and Improbable had their 3-year-old debuts delayed a week, had to ship to Los Alamitos to work, and then traveled all the way to Arkansas instead of training and racing in their own backyard. Game Winner lost the Rebel and his unbeaten record, but there is no doubt the champ is back and as good as ever, maybe even better. I just felt it was time to swim against the tide and go with a fresh face for a change, one who could be any kind.
Like Game Winner, he did everything right except win, and other than losing his unbeaten record, there is no way you couldn’t be thrilled with his performance in the first division of the Rebel Stakes. Breaking from the outside post he lost all chance to save ground when Galilean, directly inside him, broke slowly and rushed up on his inside, keeping him out in the four or five path. He remained four wide the entire race and just got nailed at the finish line. I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up with the best Thoro-Graph figure of all of them because of how much farther he had to travel. If you had him ranked No. 1 before this race, there is no reason to lower him. Remember, these are prep races and he got a lot out of this race, as did Game Winner. But again, when you have only two preps, you have to make sure nothing goes wrong, and the San Felipe Stakes cancellation and Santa Anita closing could have proved disastrous for both colts. Yes, City Zip normally would need help from the dam regarding getting the classic distances, and Improbable’s maternal great-grandsire Stravinsky was strictly a sprinter, but the tail-female family as a whole is inundated with stamina. I would still like to see him keep his head a little straighter in the stretch, like he does in his works, but all in all this was a great first step back.
4. War of Will
He will become the first of the leading contenders to complete his Derby preps when he runs in Saturday’s Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby in an attempt to sweep Fair Grounds’ big three preps. But then it’s six weeks to the big race and no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby coming straight from the Louisiana Derby. But this colt will have seven races at a mile or longer under him, so the time off might very well do him good. With such a strong foundation and all the stamina in his pedigree top and bottom, I can see him coming back sharp and relatively fresh and sitting on a big race. He showed his sharpness working a half-mile in :47 3/5 and looks ready for another big effort. He has excellent tactical speed and a high cruising speed and just has to make sure he doesn’t get too headstrong. He drew perfectly in post-position six in the field of 11, so he should be able to put himself in good position with very little speed in the race. He would need a really impressive performance to stay ahead of Long Range Toddy, who is breathing down his neck.
He’s been knocking on the door against seemingly lesser-quality horses, but chalk one up for the home team. He’s won four of his last six starts, had traffic problems in the Southwest Stakes, and he really unleashed a powerful late run after being right up with the pace most of the way, even having a head advantage at one point. What made this result surprising was that his last four Thoro-Graph figures going into the Rebel ranged from 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 with no improvement, and those figures were not even in the same ballpark as Improbable and some of the others. But the more I watch the Rebel, the more impressive he looks, especially the acceleration he showed in the stretch after being up with the pace early. When he swung out, he looked to have zero chance of catching Improbable. One of his main strengths is that he has the ability to be right up there with the pace and then just settle into stride and let horses pass him as he bides his time before coming on like a fresh horse in the stretch. That is a rare quality. In the Rebel, he let a 27-1 shot go on with no problem, then just sat there kindly as Galilean and then Extra Hope passed him. He still appeared to be in no hurry when Improbable charged by him on the turn. At the head of the stretch, Jon Court steered him off the rail, found a seam on the outside, and he unleashed an impressive turn of foot. He still had three lengths to make up on Improbable but really leveled off and was striding out powerfully in the final furlong, coming home his final sixteenth in 5 4/5 seconds and running through the wire, as they say. The only negative is that had Improbable not had such a wide trip throughout, he probably would have won the race. But that is pure speculation. This was an amazing performance.
I moved him up from last week because he looks to be sitting on a big race in the Louisiana Derby and I have been touting him since his maiden victory. The key point with him is how quickly he can mature into a professional racehorse who is not going to cost himself a victory by running like a drunken sailor in the stretch, as he did in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. I’ve only seen him do it that one time, so he gets a pass. What I would prefer to focus on in his maiden victory, in which he had to overcome a disastrous start before putting in a devastating run to win going away. I also want to focus on the speculation that had he run a straight course in the stretch in the Risen Star he might very well have run down War of Will. I really believe the talent is there. He just has to catch up to it and put it all together before we get to Churchill Downs. Country House is a big, strong horse, and you don’t want to get him stopped. Fair Grounds is a track that is forgiving of wide trips and you often see horses charging late down the middle of the track. Horses do have a tendency to get in trouble down on the inside, so with his size and running style, and still being a little immature, it is imperative that he does not take the inside route. Better to lose ground and be second or third than get shut off on the rail. But we’ll see how the race shapes up. Sometimes you can get lucky.
7. Win Win Win
After you get past the top five it is a total crapshoot, so I am still going to stick with this guy until he proves me wrong. And he’s not going to do that until I see what he does when he breaks sharply and is allowed to put himself in a position where he doesn’t have to make up a ton of ground. I still want to see what he can do racing closer to the pace. It could be he doesn’t want to go a mile and a quarter, but he hasn’t shown any indication of that and there are too many things I like about him not to give him a chance under ideal conditions. But he will have to make his own good luck by breaking sharply for a change and getting into the fray earlier. He is not going to mow horses down in the stretch like a confirmed late closer. Both his grandsires had exceptional cruising speed sitting just off the pace, and that is what I want to see from him. I have too much respect for this horse and his ability to lose faith in him now, and there were enough things to like in his two-turn debut in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby to keep him up this high.
This is the time of year with the big preps coming every week that horses move up, down, on and off the Derby Dozen. I know he moved down several places, but I still feel the Tampa Bay Derby was just the tip of the iceberg. The main reason he dropped is the lack of experience he will have going into the Kentucky Derby. Four career starts is not ideal. Of course, he can still win the Derby, becoming only the fourth horse in the last 101 years to win with four or fewer starts, but he still looks to be a work in progress and I’m not sure how he will handle big fields and traffic the way he was running with his head up. Frankly, his Tampa Bay Derby score came as a big surprise considering all he had going against him, but he was able to leap from a pair of “8s” on Thoro-Graph last year to a “3 1/2,” just as Long Range Toddy made a big leap in the Rebel Stakes. Three-year-olds can get good quickly this time of year. The question is can he build off that and keep improving? There is no doubt the talent is there and winning that race was pretty amazing, but I just want to see it one more time and also see how he continues to move forward and mature with experience.
I was very impressed with his most recent workout in which he went five furlongs in 1:01 flat. As is his habit, he wanted to go well before the pole and was throwing his head in the air, but once he broke off he quickly dropped his head and leveled off beautifully. He was striding out with good extension while doing it all on his own. We certainly haven’t seen the best of this horse. He seems to be improving in all facets of the game and is on course to be peaking Derby day. Looking back at his Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes, I liked the way he accelerated on the far turn and then eased out. He was getting a bit tired late in the final furlong, but I’m sure trainer Shug McGaughey has left a lot in the tank. This was a huge rebound effort off his dud in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes and he looks to be a different horse now. And you know I’m a sucker for horses who run big in the Champagne, and he certainly did that coming off only one six-furlong maiden race. There aren’t many trainers better than McGaughey at getting horses to peak on a particular day.
The big question with him going into the Rebel Stakes was whether he could improve on his three straight “4 1/2” Thoro-Graph numbers and how he would fare against top-class horses in open company. Unfortunately, he had his head up at the break and got off slowly, and then was rushed up into contention. That took just enough starch out of him that he didn’t have the kind of closing punch you wanted to see. He could have settled into a comfortable position just off the leader down the backstretch, but what made matters worse was Mike Smith charging up on his outside with Extra Hope making a big early move. Flavien Prat now had to keep riding him to keep his position and on top of that wound up stuck between horses, making the colt even more on the muscle. So he never got a breather. By the time they reached the quarter-pole, he had used himself more than you’d want him to, and as a result he could only run evenly in the stretch. But he did run hard and never backed off and was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths. This was his big class test coming off all those California-bred races and he acquitted himself admirably all things considered. He has one more prep and we just need to see what he can do with a better trip. He’s been having easy trips against easy competition, so it is hoped this race will toughen him up and he will improve off it. I also don’t think 1 1/16 miles is his best distance and he will appreciate the extra furlongs and not having to use himself for such a long, sustained period.
I had to drop someone that didn’t deserve to be dropped because Spinoff is running March 23 in the Louisiana Derby and I just have a feeling he is going to run a huge race despite drawing post 10 of 11. Both he and Country House are live horses if you’re looking to upset War of Will. I put him in the Top 12 off a maiden win at Tampa Bay Downs at the expense of a number of top-class horses and I’m not going to back off now. That is something I normally would not do, but I like everything about this horse. He won’t have it easy breaking that far out, but the three horses directly inside him have no speed so I can see him sitting just off War of Will who will break from post-position six. Again, my one reservation is having him go into the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff and with only four career starts, two of them at five and 6 1/2 furlongs. So he doesn’t have a lot of miles under him. I would like to see him face some adversity, deal with traffic, and get a lot out of the race. But the flip side is that he has to finish first or second to be assured of getting in the Derby. If he does get in trouble and finishes a good third, Pletcher may have to do the unthinkable and run him back in three weeks in the Lexington Stakes to try to pick up 20 more points. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If he can deal with adversity and traffic and still run first or second, then we’re looking at a serious horse on the first Saturday in May even with the four career starts.
12. Bourbon War
He is another who was dropped several places only because of the mish mash we have this year, resulting in horses jumping all over the place. I still can’t get a grasp of the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and at this point at least, most of those horses didn’t look nearly as good as the top two finishers in each of the Rebel Stakes divisions, mainly because of the fast early fractions and late pace collapse. But he has shown enough promise, is definitely on the improve, and demonstrated enough of a closing kick in the Fountain of Youth to suggest he will be a major player in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby. I could easily have put one of a half-dozen horses in this final slot, but the major preps are about to begin, so let’s just see how these horses sort themselves out. He did show me a lot in his allowance win the race before the Fountain of Youth when he put in a strong run on the turn and split horses turning for home. His pedigree is a bit unusual for a Derby horse, being out of an Artie Schiller mare, but he is inbred 3x4 to A.P. Indy, not through his daughters, but through his sons Pulpit and Malibu Moon.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Yes, I realize it was a bold move dropping Mucho Gusto from the Top 12, especially considering he had been placed fairly high up some weeks. But things are always temporary and for now it is only for one week. I had to make room for Long Range Toddy, and I stubbornly refused to drop Spinoff. Mucho Gusto is running in a race this weekend he really should win and win impressively, unless synthetic superstar Anothertwistafate, who worked six furlongs in 1:14 at Golden Gate Fields, is something special on dirt. Other than the Golden Gate shipper, there is no one in the Sunland Derby field he shouldn’t be able to handle rather easily. He drew the rail, but with other speed in the race, he should be able to take back, save ground, and then motor home like he did in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. So I am not sure what the Sunland Derby is going to prove. Even if he does win impressively, how will he handle the six-week layoff to the Kentucky Derby?
We will know a lot more after we see if he in any way resembles a Kentucky Derby horse and can win again from off the pace, despite drawing the rail. If he does what he is expected to do then it is no problem putting him back in the Top 12 next week. Just consider this a slight detour right now until we can get the road straightened out. He had his final tune-up for the Sunland Derby, working six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 at Santa Anita.
I don’t know if Alwaysmining is going to stay in Maryland and point for the Federico Tesio Stakes and Preakness or shift to the Derby trail, but wherever this gelding shows up you better pay attention to him. This horse is a flat-out runner, who has now won five in a row following his 6 3/4-length romp in the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park. He is a confirmed front-runner who has already beaten Win Win Win, but he relaxes beautifully on the lead and has a very fluid way of moving. You had to love the way he was striding out in the stretch. He has run 11 times, but didn’t get good until turned over to trainer Kelly Rubley, who began stretching him out in distance. By Stay Thirsty out of an Anees mare, and being inbred to Fappiano and having Dr. Fager in his pedigree, he should be able to carry his speed a long way, and he sure seems to be improving the farther he goes.
With Omaha Beach the new No. 1 ranked horse, here is a back-story of interest. After parting ways by mutual agreement with his longtime bloodstock agent Tom McGreevy, Rick Porter decided to attend the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale with only trainer Larry Jones picking out horses for him.
Jones made up a short list of horses he liked and Porter wound up buying six horses. The one horse Jones really loved, a son of War Front, he did not include on the short list because he knew Porter wouldn’t be interested in a colt by War Front who had a reputation as a grass sire, and who he figured was going to sell for around $1.5 million, which was well beyond what Porter would want to spend. So, although he loved the colt, he didn’t mention him to Porter.
As it turned out, the colt for some reason did not meet his reserve at $625,000, well below what Jones thought he would sell for. Porter then received a phone call from Reiley McDonald, owner of Eaton Sales, which consigned the colt. Because Porter had bought Hard Spun from him as a yearling, McDonald called him to let him know that Larry Jones, who trained Hard Spun, told him he thought this colt was the best physical specimen in the sale. Because of that, McDonald felt Porter might be interested in him. Porter contacted Jones to confirm that he said that, and when he did, Porter called McDonald back and offered him $500,000 for the colt, but not a dime more. McDonald agreed, the colt vetted perfectly, and Porter had himself one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.
On another matter regarding Omaha Beach, Flavien Prat’s decision in the Rebel was not between Omaha Beach and Gunmetal Gray, as insinuated several times; it was between Omaha Beach and Galilean, a decision that was made a while ago after Omaha Beach had suffered a quarter crack and missed his scheduled allowance race. Galilean was already targeting the Rebel, and now Omaha Beach was also headed there as well. Prat, having chosen Galilean, was hoping they would draw in separate divisions so that he could ride Galilean and Omaha Beach, especially after working Omaha Beach six furlongs in 1:10 3/5, but Richard Mandella had named Mike Smith on Omaha Beach.
We have been witnessing a new breed of owner in the sport – young to middle-age men, many in the brokerage business and others building up huge billion-dollar companies, who are buying horses for big bucks and building up large stables and partnerships, mostly with big-name trainers. These owners are essential to the growth of the industry. But once in awhile on the Derby trail you find those old-school owners and breeders, whose longtime operation, like those of years ago, consists mostly of homebreds. Their main strength is their patience when it comes to their horses, knowing how to accept defeat, and being able to follow their horses from birth to the racetrack and knowing everything there is to know about them. This was the way racing used to be with sportsmen like C.V. Whitney, Alfred Vanderbilt, Ogden Phipps, John Galbreath, John Hay Whitney, George D. Widener, John A. Morris, and William Woodward.
There are few of those old school sportsmen left, but it is refreshing when one or two of them show up on the Derby trail with a live homebred. Like those mentioned above, with exception of Phipps, Galbreath, and Woodward, they have never won the Kentucky Derby and you have to feel the Derby gods will reward them one year, just as they rewarded Paul Mellon, Ogden Mills Phipps, Stuart Janney III, and Frances Genter after so many years in the sport.
This year we have Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation and William S. Farish of Lane’s End Farm, who own and bred Win Win Win and Code of Honor, respectively, And from Europe, we have the Wertheimer family, which has been prominent in the sport for 100 years. We can thank them for their contributions, especially to the stallion industry, with names such as Lyphard, Riverman, and Green Dancer. They also have given us two female Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners in Ivanjica and Gold River, French Derby winners Val de l’Orne and Roi Lear, and the great Goldikova, winner of three consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This year, the Wertheimer brothers, sons of Jacques and grandsons of Pierre, have the highly regarded Spinoff on the Derby trail.
We’ll see if the Derby gods will be smiling down on any of these iconic owners and breeders…for old times’ sake.
One other note on the Rebel Stakes, lost in the big efforts of the leading contenders and the two exciting finishes were the performances of Extra Hope, fourth in the first division, and Market King, third in the second division. Whereas Market King ran a strong race for a 48-1 longshot, Extra Hope proved he can be competitive with the best of them, making what appeared to be a premature move down the backstretch to battle for the lead and then hanging tough to finish fourth, beaten by only 3 1/2 lengths. He did show speed in his last race in the slop, but he had shown in his six previous starts that he wants to sit about two to four lengths off the lead, and blinkers no doubt have helped in his development. Mandella says he’s not the same horse he was earlier in his career, and he earned a shot to continue on the Derby trail. His owner Samantha Siegel can be put in the same category as Charlotte Weber and the others mentioned above, as she and her family have been class owners and breeders for many years.
With Bob Baffert finally getting his two jets off the ground at Oaklawn Park and Mucho Gusto heading to the Sunland Derby, the sleeper of the group, Roadster, breezed five furlongs in an easy 1:02 3/5 for the Santa Anita Derby. We’ll see if any of the California shippers to Oaklawn wheel back in three weeks to run in California’s biggest 3-year-old race, assuming it goes off without a hitch. Right now, it looks as if that is where Game Winner is heading, with Improbable returning to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby. But nothing is set in stone this year.
Although Baffert didn’t win his allowance race at Oaklawn either earlier on the card, he had to be happy with the race Dessman ran after getting left badly at the start, racing wide and then making a long, sustained run before running out of steam slightly in the stretch, finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind the Todd Pletcher-trained Last Judgment.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about one of my earlier top 12 horses, Nolo Contesto, a horse I still have not given up on and who should improve big-time with a better trip and more experience. He was beaten by Roadster in an allowance race last out, but looked uncomfortable trapped down on the inside and didn’t exactly burst through horses when an opening appeared turning for home. But he did seem to be gaining some momentum in the closing yards and, despite getting beat by 2 1/2 lengths, blew right by Roadster on the gallop out. He recently breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 in company at Santa Anita. It was a good workout, but you would like to have seen him do it a bit easier, as he was being pushed to try to beat his workmate, who was going easier of the two. In two of his earlier workouts, he blew by his workmate each time, but also was being pushed pretty hard.
I mention this because it is a perfect example of how you can’t always go by time or what you see in a workout. In those two earlier works, Nolo Contesto broke off about six lengths behind a 3-year-old filly named Encanta who was still a maiden after four starts. In his most recent workout, he was right off the flank of a tough and fast 5-year-old gelding named Acker who had won four races in a row, including a 1 1/8-mile allowance race run in 1:47 3/5 in his last start. And in his previous three works he had gone five furlongs in :59 4/5 and 1:00 1/5, and a half in :47 flat. So it seems apparent this work was meant to be tougher and make him work harder in preparation for the Santa Anita Derby, in which he will need to finish first or second to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby. He also will be nominated for the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets and Arkansas Derby as a backup.
The five-furlong bullet workout at Santa Anita went to San Vicente Stakes winner Sparky Ville, who went in 1:00 3/5, fastest of 24 workouts at the distance. Over at San Luis Rey Downs, Southwest Stakes runner-up Sueno worked six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. Trip handicappers will love him in that race after he was trapped behind horses turning for home in the Southwest before finally finding an opening and rallying to be second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Long Range Toddy. He could be very dangerous in here at a price.
On the Florida Derby front, Bill Mott breezed Hidden Scroll behind a horse, going off slow and coming home fast in an attempt to get him to learn to rate behind horses, something he did not do in the Fountain of Youth, wasting that opportunity. He also kept him directly behind his workmate turning for home to get dirt kicked in his face. He seemed to resent it at first until he was pulled out, and then came home strong. Going off his first quarter-mile in :26, with a pair of eighths in :13, he closed in :24 1/5 to complete the half in :50 1/5 before galloping out a strong five-eighths in 1:02 and change. It’s hard to believe that with only two career starts, he won’t be the most inexperienced horse in the Florida Derby. That dubious honor goes to the newly acquired Hoffa’s Union, who has run only once in his life, romping by 15 1/4 lengths at Laurel going 1 1/16 miles. The gelded son of Union Rags has since been sold and turned over to Mark Casse.
“If you look at his numbers he stacks up with all those guys,” Casse said. “It’s a tall task and a big jump up in class, but if he can come back and repeat the numbers that he ran in his first start, it puts him right there with the best of them. He was so impressive. He ran faster than older horses. He ran a good Beyer number and ran a good Ragozin number and just was impressive.”
Another horse coming out of the Fountain of Youth, third-place finisher Vekoma, also was on the workout tab, breezing a half-mile in :49 3/5 at Payson Park. Vekoma actually got the fastest Thoro-Graph figure in the Fountain of Youth, despite finishing third, beaten 2 3/4 lengths. One would expect him to improve in the Florida Derby. I just don’t know how far he wants to go.
One horse who has not exactly been on everyone’s lips is 29-1 Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes winner Harvey Wallbanger. The son of Congrats, who has never finished worse than second in five career starts, showed that he is fresh and sharp and ready to go, breezing five furlongs in :59 3/5 at Gulfstream Park in company with Signalman. He has to improve his Thoro-Graph numbers, which are still well behind the top-ranked horses. So we will see just how far he can move forward. He has to improve on his Brisnet figures as well, but did make a significant jump from his maiden victory to the Holy Bull. Does he have another big jump in him?
Trainer Kenny McPeek said that Signalman, a disappointing seventh in the Fountain of Youth, probably was under-trained for his debut and also threw a shoe in the race, and he expects a much improved performance in the Blue Grass Stakes. Signalman next to Harvey Wallbanger looked like David next to Goliath. He actually seemed to be doing it easier and still worked his five furlongs in a bullet :59 2/5, the fastest of 54 workouts at the distance. This really was one of the better workouts I’ve seen, and I’m just about ready to totally toss the Fountain of Youth, a race and a track that did not fit him at all. When you give a horse only two preps you don’t want to waste the first one by having him just go through the motions. The question is, can he get enough out of the Blue Grass Stakes to be ready for the Kentucky Derby? Don’t throw him out just yet. That was a serious workout.
Another horse who has not gotten a lot of ink is Withers Stakes winner Tax, who breezed a half-mile in :49 3/5 at Belmont Park in preparation for the Wood Memorial. Instagrand, a game third in the Gotham Stakes, was back in California, breezing a half-mile in :49 1/5 at Los Alamitos. We’ll see if he stays home for the Santa Anita Derby or returns to New York for the Wood. The former would seem the more likely of the two.
So Alive continued to progress toward the Blue Grass, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Palm Beach Downs. Todd Pletcher’s other top 3-year-olds were in action as well. In addition to Spinoff, Federal Case worked a bullet half-mile in :48 flat, fastest of 19 workouts at the distance, Cutting Humor worked a half-mile in :48 4/5 for the Sunland Derby, and Soldado, who is trying to rebound after a troubled trip last time out, also breezed his half-mile in :48 4/5. Intrepid Heart, who for some reason was selected to the Future Wager field over Omaha Beach despite having run only once in his life and missing four workouts, returned to the work tab, breezing a half-mile in :49 2/5.
Between War of Will, Country House, Spinoff, and Sueno, the Louisiana Derby should shake things up pretty good. But there are several other interesting horses entered. If you’re looking for a potential overlay who could close into the exotics and get a piece of it, don’t hold Limonite’s fifth-place finish in the Risen Star against him. A fast-closing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he had absolutely nowhere to go the entire length of the stretch as he tried to come through on the inside, which as I mentioned happens often at Fair Grounds. Brian Hernandez had to alter course several times, trying to find any kind of opening, but didn’t until it was way too late. He still managed to finish a respectable fifth. Although he has post-position three, and another deep closer, Roiland, has the rail, you can expect their riders to find an outside path and keep away from that precarious inside route. Another closer, Hog Creek Hustle, drew far outside in post 11. A new face to watch is By My Standards, an improving son of Goldencents who was impressive breaking his maiden by 4 1/4 lengths at Fair Grounds Feb. 16.