PREPPING FOR THE DERBY – 2014
Volume V…Number 9
Friday, March 7, 2014
FULL FIELDS AND A FEW SIDE-STORIES ARE HIGHLIGHTS ON DERBY PREP TRAIL SATURDAY
Tampa Bay Derby And San Felipe Stakes
Set To Qualify At Least Two More Hopefuls
In the headline above, the subhead reads that Two More Kentucky Derby Hopefuls will be Qualified. Given the size and competitiveness of both the Tampa Bay Derby (10 entrants) and the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita (now 9 entrants with the withdrawal of Bayern) about the only definitive statement that can be made is that based on the new points awarded in chosen Derby Preps System, there will be two more qualifiers set since based on last year’s qualifiers the 50 points awarded to the winner of each race will be more than enough to guarantee them a place in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
For the pundits who choose the exemplary short lists of Derby contenders, these races will help to give a clearer picture of just who is progressing and who is regressing. For those of us who do the same on the Journey to Louisville these races are ultra important. But in the here and now the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe Stakes also present a great opportunity to TAKE SOME PROFIT in everything from straight bets to exotics so let’s take a look at the two races.
VINCEREMOS FACES TOUGH TASK WITH KENTUCKY DERBY SPOT AND $1 MILLION BONUS ON THE LINE.
Although the folks that run Tampa Bay Downs have made their prep races much more enticing by offering a $1 Million bonus to any three-year old that wins both the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby at their locale and then goes on to win the Kentucky Derby, it is likely that Winstar Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher are not looking beyond Saturday’s Grade II second leg for the Davis winner Vinceremos. After all, the Davis is not a point qualifying race and right now the son of Pioneer of The Nile needs points or he might not even get to run in the Derby.
In fact, more than any other recent prep race, the mile and a sixteenth Grade II Tampa Bay Derby’s deep contention makes the 50 points awarded to the winner and 20 to the second place finisher a precious commodity. Of the ten runners still set to go on Saturday only East Hall with the 5 earned for his 4th in the Grade II Fountain Of Youth just two weeks ago and Conquest Titan with 4 earned for his 2nd in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes back in January have any qualifying points.
There are many serious contenders for the necessary first and second pace points so let’s take a look at the field from the rail out.
Ring Weekend (15-1) – As proof of just how contentious this race is you can start with this ML Longshot who just broke his maiden vs special weights in his fifth career start last out. With a number of his competitors already multiple winners and/or stakes placed the jump from the maiden ranks to a Grade II might seem a bit of a climb but trainer Graham Motion has done this before in his storied career and if the maiden breaker is any indication the well bred son of Tapit (sire of recent Southwest Stakes winner Tapiture among others) has improved his speed figure in each of his races as he has added distance at the same time. It often takes these youngsters time to figure it out and the colt showed significant maturity in getting that last victory at the same distance as the TB Derby despite being fanned 5 wide in the early stages. Motion will have to replace jockey Alan Garcia, who rode him in the last two but gets the services of strong local rider Daniel Centeno. This live longshot is a player.
Surfing U S A (3-1) – The first of the two uncoupled entrants from the always crowded Pletcher barn the son of Roman Ruler makes his stakes debut after running second at the distance in an entry level allowance at Gulfstream on January 25. The colt is one of a number of them that are either pace setters or pressers and will likely be among the early goers from this inside post. He has had 4 half mile breezes at Palm Meadows since the allowance race and will have the services of Jose Lezcano as his regular rider and one of Pletcher’s top go-to guys Javier Castellano has chosen to jump back aboard Cousin Stephen for Chad Brown. That alone might be a more indicative answer to some of the questions as to this guys status at this point…especially when it comes to finding out after the gates open if he is ready to handle this kind at such a short price. The conditioner always needs be respected and the colt has to be considered but you’ll do so at a shorter price than he probably warrants.
Matador (8-1) – It has already been mentioned more than once how competitive this race is and this Mark Casse trained son of Malibu Moon is a prime example. In his most recent he was beaten just one length in the Grade III Sam F. Davis here. Although the best he could do was finish fourth behind Vinceremos and Cousin Stephen, each of whom he’ll face again it isn’t beyond the realm of cogent analysis to make the case that he got the most out of the race. It was his first start since November 17, first start on conventional dirt after beginning his career on the synthetic and turf surfaces at Woodbine and his trip might have compromised his chances in the Davis. The colt broke off the pace early on, had to wait a bit for room once the serious running began and willingly split rivals in the lane to be going best of all late. It was also the first experience for jockey Julien Leparoux, who figures to be better prepared this time. This is also the perfect example of how close the past performances of the Tampa Bay Derby runners indicate this field is. Nine of the ten entrants garnered between a 90 and 93 BRIS speed figure in their last race and seven of the ten either won their last or finished within a length of the winner in their most recent. And among those that didn’t win or finish that close are Conquest Titan, who finished second to Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull and East Hall who was fourth behind Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth and either Cairo Prince or Wildcat Red would be the off-time favorite in this race.
Coltimus Prime (15-1) – The Milwaukee Brew colt is tough to gauge as he will be making his first start since December 8 at Woodbine. But if class means anything then the second place finish in the mile and a sixteenth Display Stakes should count for something. The Justin Nixon trained colt has been here since January and following a series of sharp works at the training center went to the main track and breezed 5 furlongs in 1:01 2/5 last Saturday. Based on his last two races it would appear that jockey Gary Boulanger will have him in and among the early pace players where he’ll likely contribute to some honest early numbers and hope to take the field deep into the stretch.
Conquest Titan (7-2) – If Cairo Prince is at this juncture indeed one of the Top 5 Kentucky Derby front runners then this son of Birdstone, by virtue of his rallying second to that one in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on January 25, should be a major threat to grab the valuable 50 or 20 available points. Like his stable mate Matador the Mark Casse trained colt was a stakes winner in Canada and given his closing style the case can be made that his second to Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull, over a GP surface that more often than not plays t speed was an excellent race. Another plus is the company that he has kept. In the Holy Bull he rallied past Intense Holiday, who returned to win the Risen Star Stakes at FG and earn 50 points two Saturdays ago and also rallied past Fountain Of Youth runner-up a 20 point earner General A Rod when he won an allowance race at CD at the end of November. Admittedly he did turn in a horror show in the BC Juvenile at SA but he also raced that day without lasix for the only time in his career and appears to be a much more definable runner at this point. Shaun Bridgmohan, who has been aboard for the last two, the best two of his career gets the call and unless something unpredictable happens you’ll see him rolling up late.
Vinceremos (4-1) – The lightly race son of Pioneerof The Nile was resilient in coming back on to claim a nose victory in the Grade III Sam F. Davis after it appeared as though he was going to retreat. However, a close look at that finish shows that he’ll need to be quicker in his end game as the projections call for lots of contention early and late resilience to hold off some of the legitimate closers. As was stated earlier regarding trainer Todd Pletcher’s other entry, Surfing U S A, in this case also the visibility of the connections, Pletcher and regular rider Edgar Prado, will contribute to a shortening of the price as the public gravitates in that direction. It also worth questioning those runners coming out of the Davis seeing that this guy had a comfortable lead before being almost run down by another of his stable mates, Harpoon before that one was a most disappointing 5th in last week’s Gotham Stakes.
East Hall (10-1) – By far the most conditioned and experienced in the field the Bill Kaplan trained son of Graeme Hall has met the starter 11 times and compiled a 2-1-4 mark with his last being a mild but unengaged rally for fourth in the Grade II Fountain Of Youth just two weeks ago. There is little question that he’ll be looking to topple them all from far back and depending on how fast the gang of projected pace setters and pressers go early on his recent tries, in which his speed numbers have gotten better, do indicate that he could grab a minor award under the right circumstances. Regular rider Juan Leyva will be aboard
Cousin Stephen (9-2) – The lightly raced son of Proud Citizen flashed good speed in the Sam F. Davis and could move forward off that effort. But it is also noteworthy that he wasn’t very steadfast in the latter stages and that was the second time from both sophomore starts that he wilted in the lane when under pressure. Two races back he was in position to take over the lead in one of those key early 9 furlong allowance races at GP but fell back to fifth behind the well regarded duo of Commissioner and Top Billing, but was also passed by still-eligible for NW1X allowance level colt Hy Kodiak Warrior who will break from the gate outside of him on Saturday. He definitely has much to prove, especially as to his heart, but if you are a glass half full type you can be optimistic that leading jockey Javier Castellano has chosen this guy over the Pletcher runner Surfing U S A. He’ll need to run his best yet but it isn’t out of the realm.
Hy Kodiak Warrior (10-1) – The son of Kodiak Kowboy is another worth-serious-look longshot. Although only a one time winner from 6 career starts, he has failed to hit the board on only one occasion and off a series of three straight bullet drills since 2/15 at Calder looks to be ready to battle for a piece of the action as he goes postward for the first time for new trainer Marciel Navarro who has won 6 of 21 starters (29%) in 2014. The colt racked the pace and closed in late to finish second in a one turn mile allowance at GP to end his juvenile campaign and then at two turns over the same surface ran evenly through the stretch to finish a close up third behind Commissioner and Top Billing in an allowance race on January 3…either of whom would gather significant support were they entered in here. He has shown good enough tactical speed to conjecture that he’ll lay off the early pace setters but have the first crack at closing in the stretch. If he gets good position and moves forward he might get that aforementioned piece.
Tuscan Getaway (20-1) – If there has to be a biggest ML number then this guy is the logical choice. While all the others have run in the 90’s on the BRIS number barometer in recent races this son of Stroll has yet to surpass an 89 in his career. That being said, those speed figures are a tricky read because they have come on synthetic and on the turf where the Ricky Griffith trainee has plied his craft for the last five races. The gelding also has consistency on his side as he has never been other than first or second at first and second call in all of his career races and has posted a 7-2-2-2 mark. He is another that figures to be in the early mix and his steady and impressive work slate at GP for his 2014 debut (his last race was an allowance win at WB in mid-November)…especially a clock-stopping best of ten 5 furlong drill in :57 3/5 on February 18 are indicative of a horse on the muscle. If jockey Joe Rocco can cross over and get the lead and then get him to relax…well who knows.
In summation we can only repeat that this is a wide open race of significant import to the gaining of Kentucky Derby qualifying points…but for a bettor looking for Value Payoffs it could prove even more significant.
DOES BAYERN DEFECTION PUT AN EVEN BRIGHTER SHINE ON CALIFORNIA CHROME?
Although the Grade II San Felipe still stacks up as a very competitive race, the last minute defection of the highly visible Bayern, who would have been the post time favorite following his 15 length allowance blowout in his 3-year old debut on February 13 does change the betting dynamics a little bit and likely sets up the favorite’s roll for the equally recent dominant runner California Chrome.
But before you accede to the general public opinion and take it for granted that the brilliant performances in winning restricted King Glorious Stakes and Cal Cup Derby by daylight margins in his last two make the son of Lucky Pulpit the shoo-in the projected off-odds might indicate it is probably a good idea to take a brief look at the 9 set to go to the post in the mile and a sixteenth test that will be run as the 5th race on Santa Anita’s heavily stacked Graded Stakes day.
Home Run Kitten (20-1) – Tried the main track for the first time in his career in the Robert B. Lewis and was beaten 9 lengths at 31-1. It doesn’t get any easier in here for the David Hoffman’s trained son of Kitten’s Joy. If there is anything to hold on to it is that sooner or later most of the sons of Kitten’s Joy do improve into being nice race horses. That being said, this spot demands the improvement comes significantly and right now.
Unstoppable Colby (15-1) – “Wayne off the plane.” Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas always wants to get involved so he ships this last out MSW winner (at Oaklawn in his fifth try) out here to try and get the genie out of the bottle. The son of Pulp[it is bred for the class and bred for two turns but he still needs to prove he can improve another 10 lengths or so, which he’ll need to do to factor in here. But it is Lukas.
Prettyboyfloyd (12-1) – Trainer Denise Breuer must have been encouraged by the third place finish in the Grade II San Vicente here three weeks ago even though the runner didn’t pick up any ground in the lane (beaten 6 lengths.) And this is just the third of the career for the son of Dixieland Band, the first around two turns and the ridgeling is still a maiden. Perhaps the best argument for those that believe is that Corey Nakatani climbs back aboard after riding in career start number two.
California Chrome (9-5) – Based on his last two performances, in which he toyed with his Cal-bred peers in the King Glorious Stakes and the Cal Cup Derby when he tracked just off the pace and blew by his rivals and opened daylight on each occasion he should be difficult to withstand with a repeat of either. Yes he will be facing open company this time but his 101 BRIS in the King Glorious is the best any of those in here have ever run and his 94 in the Cal Cup Derby has only been surpassed by two of his rivals. He has the perfect tactical speed for the way Santa Anita is playing and will be a tough customer under current rider Victor Espinoza (aboard for the last two stakes wins.)
Sawyers Hill (20-1) – Another lightly race runner (only two career starts) who is also still a maiden after a pair of third place finishes in MSW sprints, his most recent behind the other competing maiden Prettyboyfloyd.
Kristo (5-2) – Trainer John Sadler has had a terrific meet and might very well have this son of Distorted Humor sitting on a huge race. The colt made his first start since October in the Grade III Sham in his most recent and set all the pace before giving way late to Midnight Hawk, who followed that up with a third place finish in the Robert B. Lewis 4 weeks ago. Although the colt hasn’t raced since the January 11 Sham his works have been uninterrupted and brilliant since with a best of forty-seven 5 furlong bullet in :59 1/5 on February 10 followed by three straight 6 furlong works that include a bullet 1:10 4/5 on Feb. 24 and his last just 5 days ago. If the colt runs to his works he could be tough to beat.
Schoolofhardrocks (9-2) – There is little to know what to expect from the second of two uncoupled entrants from the David Hofmans barn. The son of Hard Rock Ten has turned in scintillating works since he returned to training in January, including a number of fast 6 furlong drills. But this will only be his second career start since winning his debut back in late August over the Del Mar synthetic. Sharp local rider Joe Talamo is a plus but what is likely to be your best guide is whether he gets support on the tote come race time…which would be significant given Hofmans’ 9% win record at the meet.
Midnight Hawk (5-2) – This will be just the fourth career start for the son of developing young sire Midnight Lute and if you can forgive his antics when he was a bit rank early and pulled at jockey Mike Smith before settling for third as the 13-10 favorite in the recent Grade II Robert B. Lewis here and look instead to his MSW win in his career debut and win in the Grade III Sham to begin 2014 you’ll likely see him in a favorable light. He has worked well since the Lewis, has the tactical speed and proven class necessary and a reversal of fortune would not be a big surprise. And Smith remains faithful.
Recanted (20-1) – Doug O’Neill enters the son of Empire Maker with hopes that a complete change of direction will turn his charge into a contender. After beginning his career with 4 grass races in Europe, a maiden win in his debut and little else when he faced graded and class company, the colt moved to O’Neill’s care and in his NA debut was a no-show fifth over the downhill turf course. This will be his first dirt try and even though he has worked steadily over the Santa Anita main track since that allowance race on January 16 he has not drilled beyond 5 furlongs and has not exactly wowed the timer. Much remains to be proven.
By Saturday night at least two and possibly four runners from the Tampa bay Derby and the San Felipe Stakes will have gathered enough points to put them in position for Kentucky Derby qualification.