Finally something to write home about! This past weekend we saw a throng of Derby preps that gave us a better idea of the contenders and dreamers galloping up to the big day. In Arkansas we saw Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas put exclamations on their renaissance relevance on the Derby Trail. In California we watched a horse tower above his competition despite his evident greenness. In Louisiana we gazed as a blue-blooded colt teach a highly-regarded field that pace still makes the proverbial race. Lastly, in Florida we experienced the first ‘break-out’ race of the year by a sophomore, stamping himself as the top of his current division.
It must be stated, as many reports have fluffed upon, that the dangerous Todd Pletcher was victorious in three of the four states, and now holds what must be considered the strongest pre-Derby hand since D. Wayne Lukas’ 1995 trio of Serena’s Song, Timber Country, and Thunder Gulch (who would go on to finish 16th, 3rd, and 1st on the first Saturday in May). The most impressive of these was Eskendereya, who has been on top of my Derby list since September. Eskendereya’s style is similar to the aforementioned Derby winner, Thunder Gulch. He has enough speed and ease to place him anywhere they wish, and his grinding, devastating efficient action puts horses away before he even has a length in front of them. If you do not believe me, take a look at the 1995 Travers Stakes.
Eskendereya is a rarity in that he is exactly what his pedigree says. By Giant’s Causeway, he has the type of tenacity you would expect from a sire whose grit was only eclipsed by one horse (Tiznow) in his career. He is out of a Seattle Slew mare, meaning his cruising speed is ridiculous. The final, and perhaps most vital for the rest of his season, is his bottom female line. His second dam, Altair, is by Alydar. Alydar infuses into his progeny a push-button acceleration (see: Easy Goer, Alysheba, Criminal Type). Altair’s dam is Stellar Odyssey, a Northern Dancer (do we really have to explain that influence?) mare out of Queen Sucree, by Ribot. The last part is the most important. Queen Sucree is not only by the most influential cross-pond stamina influence (and one of the best racehorses in history) in Ribot, but she is a half sister to Halo. Halo is one of the most versatile sires in history, with his progeny winning on any surface or distance (see: Devil’s Bag, Sunday Silence, Saint Ballado, Glorious Song, Sunny’s Halo), wet or dry. So, there you have it, the perfect pedigree with the closest inbreeding being Northern Dancer at 4x4! Wow. Let’s hope he lives up to my hype. In the meantime, check out his domination of the Florida Derby here.
Another who impressed me this week was D. Wayne Lukas’ Dublin, who regained good form in his Southwest placing, behind Bob Baffert’s Conveyance. I have been hoping Lukas would take the pedigree hint (Dublin’s sire is Afleet Alex) and drop him back to make one run, and finally it happened! Conveyance may have won the race on pure speed and class, but Dublin ran like a horse who is going to be ready for a fruitful First Saturday in May. Check out the race here, and watch how Dublin drops back and makes a huge 5/16mile run.
In Louisiana, like Arkansas, the most intriguing finish was the place, not the winner. Tempted to Tapit has been highly regarded by this writer since his Maiden Special Weight romp at Aqueduct in January (earning a fantastic 100 Beyer Speed Figure). He was then put into arguably the toughest of this past weekend’s Derby preps, the Risen Star Stakes. A front-runner, he broke flat-footed, and had already lost position to eventual winner and pace dawdler, Discreetly Mine. David Cohen, his jockey, did a great job of relaxing the horse and teaching him how to rate, given the circumstances, and he made this giant jump in class look easy as he finished a valiant second. Watch out for him in his next race. When he is able to get the rail and dictate the pace, he is going to be one tough animal to run down. His only question mark is stamina. He may not be ready for ten furlongs at this moment in his development.
The last horse that caught my eye this weekend was back at Gulfstream in the Hutcheson stakes. Spectacular Bid Stakes winner A Little Warm made a fantastic effort to run down heavy the heavy favorite, D’Funnybone (see the race here). This colt seems to be screaming for more distance, but this seven furlong step was a necessary one, if they expect him to go two turns next out. His speed figures for his last two races were 100 and 97, so he is fast enough and has the right style. I would like to see Anthony Dutrow take him to the Tampa Bay Derby, and then give him a long stretch to look at in the Illinois Derby (1,320 feet of Hawthorne’s stretch is over 100 feet longer than Churchill Downs’).
As far as your three other winners, Connemara and Discreetly Mine proved that their class and pedigrees were, indeed, congruent, winning with everything going their way, despite some minor green habits by the former. D’Funnybone stamped himself as a possibly great miler this year, in a division that seems to only have one other possible great miler (Noble’s Promise). Lastly, Conveyance proved that he can move up the ladder, but also put fear in those who once thought he looked like a ten furlong horse.
My Current Kentucky Quatorze:
2. Super Saver
3. Sidney’s Candy
6. A Little Warm
8. Tempted to Tapit
9. Lookin’ At Lucky
10. Buddy’s Saint
11. Dave in Dixie
12. General Maximus
13. Discreetly Mine