Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from the $500,000 Alabama Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course and other key developments last weekend as horses continued to prepare for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve:
AVOIDING THE LAW: Swiss Skydiver’s 3 ½-length decision in the 140th running of the Alabama was so impressive that trainer Ken McPeek and owner Peter Callahan might be tempted to send the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes runner-up against Tiz the Law in the Kentucky Derby. Or not. “Peter and I will sit down and talk about it, but we’re leaning pretty hard to the (Longines Kentucky) Oaks,” McPeek said. “Tiz the Law’s race here last week (in the Runhappy Travers Stakes) was ultra-impressive, and if you hold the two against each other, I’m not sure we want to be up against him yet.” The Sept. 4 Oaks will likely offer a hugely-anticipated matchup between Swiss Skydiver and Gamine. McPeek is optimistic about that outcome, noting that Swiss Skydiver is more proven at the 1 1/8-mile distance and trains at Churchill Downs.
FLYING HIGH: Pneumatic has the qualifying points necessary to advance to the Derby after soaring in the $150,000 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes by 2 ¼ lengths at Monmouth Park for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. He ranks 11th on the Churchill Downs leaderboard with 45 points after the Pegasus. While it is unclear what the connections will decide, jockey Joe Bravo sounded as though he would gladly be Kentucky bound. “I don’t know what their plans are going forward with this horse,” Bravo said, “but I’d like to say he did this very effortlessly and well within himself.” The relative ease may be a key element in the decision because the Derby is a scant three weeks away. UPDATE: David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, told Daily Racing Form that Pneumatic would be pointed to the Preakness Stakes on Oct. 3 as his primary option.
WORTHY PROJECT: Domestic Spending, long a project for trainer Chad Brown and his staff, rewarded their efforts in a big way. He withstood Gufo’s tremendous rally by a head in the $500,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational, the opening leg of the New York Racing Association’s Turf Triple series. “He was real quirky when he was younger. We had to geld him just to get him to train willingly,” Brown noted. “Every month that’s gone by this year, I’ve seen him really mature. In the paddock, I was confident that he would run a big race because he’s never acted better or more confident. I was real proud of the horse.”
SHARP DERBY TUNEUP: Honor A. P., considered one of the top threats to topple Tiz the Law in the Derby, produced a sizzling five-furlong work in 59.40 seconds on Saturday at Del Mar for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith. He went on to blaze six furlongs in 1:11.40 and seven furlongs in 1:23.80. “It was a terrific move,” said Del Mar clocker Toby Turrell. “You could just as easily have given him a six-furlong time and his gallop out was outstanding. His seven-furlong time is the best gallop out we’ve seen here this summer.” The Honor Code ridgling is looking to rebound from a disappointing second-place finish to Thousand Words in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.
SHARP DERBY TUNEUP II: King Guillermo, owned by former Major League All-Star Victor Martinez, turned in a bullet five-furlong move in 59.40 at Churchill Downs on Saturday, fastest of 46 horses at the distance. With jockey Miguel Mena aboard, King Guillermo recorded splits of 24.40, 36.80 and 48 seconds flat for four furlongs. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:12. “He went super easy over the ground and it was fun breezing him,” Mena said. “He’s a naturally fast horse.” King Guillermo, trained by Juan Avila, has made only two starts as a 3-year-old. He placed second to Nadal in a division of the May 2 Arkansas Derby after emerging as a surprise winner of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.