Big-Race Showdown: Kentucky Derby Championship Series Visits Fair Grounds, Turfway
Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the $12 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, and looks at other major developments this weekend:
FALLING SHORT: Life Is Good’s disappointing fourth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup in his first try at a mile and a quarter raises questions about his ability to handle the classic distance. He shot from the gate and established a comfortable advantage only to weaken when the running became serious. The comments of Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm, also seemed to suggest possible distance limitations. WinStar has a financial stake in victorious Country Grammer and Life Is Good. Walden said afterward, “This is why we ran Country Grammer as well. Life Is Good didn’t quite show up like he could, but Country Grammer was a great option. We knew he’d get the mile and a quarter.” Life Is Good, a son of Into Mischief, lost for only the second time in eight starts. Walden also suggested that extended travel and a track he described as “a little dead” could have contributed to the outcome.
GAME SECOND: Hot Rod Charlie displayed his customary grit and determination in rallying for second in the Dubai World Cup, but he required some early urging from jockey Flavien Prat and trainer Doug O'Neill acknowledged it was not quite the huge performance he expected. “These are one of the few times that you wish horses could talk,” O’Neill said. “I think maybe blinkers need to go back on.” In 15 starts, Hot Rod Charlie owns four wins and as many second-place finishes with three thirds. He had been in Dubai since mid-January to make sure he was fully acclimated to the surroundings and prepped for the World Cup with a Group 2 victory there. He will be given significant time off before the connections map out a path to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Epicenter, trained by Steve Asmussen, vaulted to the top of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve leaderboard with 164 points after a decisive 2 ½-length victory in the $1 million Louisiana Derby. It was not the margin that impressed jockey Joel Rosario. It was the way it was accomplished in the colt’s final prep for the first Saturday in May. “He took a little dirt [Saturday] and he didn’t mind it. I shifted him out and he did the rest. Not only is he a nice horse, but he tries very hard,” Rosario noted. “He was off the pace and inside of horses. It seems like he can be special. The way he did it, the mile and a quarter shouldn’t be a problem. We will see what happens.”
STILL UNDEFEATED: Echo Zulu shook off the rust of a 4 ½-month layoff to win the $400,000 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks by a desperate nose against Hidden Connection to advance to the May 6 Longines Kentucky Oaks as a winner of all five of her starts and a clear favorite. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of her,” Asmussen said. “Her 2-year-old season, with three Grade 1 wins, was a big ask of her. We gave her a necessary break. She came back looking well and she narrowly proved the best.” Echo Zulu is owned by Ron Winchell in partnership with L and N Racing; Winchell is the sole owner of Epicenter. Asmussen swept the Fair Grounds Oaks and Louisiana Derby for the first time on the same day.
TAKIN’ ON THE BOYS: D. Wayne Lukas has embraced challenges throughout his training career, and he is doing it again. Star filly Secret Oath drew post six in a field of nine when she opposes males for the first time in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park. Secret Oath, who already has enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Oaks, drilled five furlongs in 1:01 on Friday in her final tune-up for the Arkansas Derby with regular rider Luis Contreras aboard. “It went exactly as planned,” Lukas said. “We said go 1:01, just let her catch her stride and take a couple of deep breaths. Actually, it was so easy on her that I wonder if I should have done a little more.” She has swept her last three starts by a combined margin of 23 lengths, all of them at Oaklawn. Lukas won the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby with the filly Althea in 1984, a week after she ran second in the Fantasy Stakes for fillies.