MIAMI, Jan. 31, 2014--New Yearâ€™s Day, the high-weight in the Experimental Handicap released this week, didnâ€™t make it to, well, New Yearâ€™s Day, before going to the sidelines.
Shared Belief, co-second high-weight, is dealing with hoof problems. He has had his planned season debut in the Robert B. Lewis on Feb. 8 delayed at least a month.
Havana, rated equal to Shared Belief, must have issues, too. The blueprint now is to launch his 3-year-old campaign in the seven furlong Swale on March 1 instead of the two-turn Fountain of Youth a week earlier.
Honor Code, fourth in the Experimental rankings, bruised his ankles. He also will skip the Fountain of Youth, which had been penciled in as his first step toward Louisville.
Itâ€™s hard to take the Experimental seriously when it ranks Cairo Prince six pounds below Honor Code on 2-year-old form. They were a nose apart in the Remsen, when Cairo Prince conceded six pounds to Honor Code, had a tougher trip and still might have won but for a poorly judged ride.
But the Experimental does identify the horses expected to be the major players as Derby season dawns.
The developments with the leaders illustrate how quickly the Derby picture can be scrambled. A week ago, Top Billing was just another promising colt still eligible for an entry level allowance. One eye-popping last-to-first win last Saturday has vaulted him onto most Top 10 (if not Top 5) lists. Poor Commissioner. He beat Top Billing in a Gulfstream allowance and nobody is talking about him.
So you never know at this time of year when the next would-be star is going to materialize. This needs to be kept in mind while assessing the three stakes for Derby-age horses on Saturdayâ€™s docket: the Hutcheson, the Sam F. Davis and the Withers.
It would appear unlikely a major new shooter for the spring classics will emerge. The seven furlong Hutcheson is composed mostly of horses whose future is around one turn. The Sam F. Davis, a mile and a sixteenth around two turns, has only one horse with more than a single win, and that was in a restricted Canadian stakes. The co-favorites in the Withers are New York-breds trying open company for the first time.
Probable Hutcheson favorite Wildcat Red is in the race only because a minor sickness knocked him out of last weekâ€™s Holy Bull. The way Cairo Prince ran, it might have been a fortuitous illness.
Wildcat Red crossed the finish line first in his first three starts (although he was disqualified in one), then ran second in the Gulfstream Derby. But the first three were sprints and he was passed in the stretch for the first time attempting a mile. Turning back to seven furlongs, he should be right in his comfort zone.
If there are to be horses to come out of the Hutcheson and go on to longer distances, they likely will be from the loaded (whatâ€™s new?) Todd Pletcher barn. Vinceremos broke his maiden at a mile, gamely overcoming an adventuresome trip. Todd thinks enough of him to have cross-entered him in the Sammy Davis.
The Todd Squadâ€™s other contender, Trail Blaze, was the talk of New York when he broke his maiden. But he was off the board at 6-5 in the Spectacular Bid. It wasnâ€™t an easy trip so heâ€™s eligible to come back big.
The runnerup in the Bid, C. Zee, is attempting more than six furlongs for the first time in his fourth career start.
Mighty Brown won a small stakes at Tampa at the Hutcheson distance then misfired in a special event in Ocala. However, the sales company track in Central Florida can leg up horses for top efforts subsequently.
Wesley Wardâ€™s Pablo Del Monte looked like a prospect when he won his first two starts going short. But he has been a non-factor in two attempts at a mile, one on turf. Perhaps significantly, his two wins were on synthetics.
If Todd opts for the Davis with Vinceremos, he will likely be an underlay solely because of his connections. Pletcher has another impressive maiden breaker, Harpoon, entered. He was second three times before breaking through and was within three lengths of Cairo Prince when the new leader of the division broke his maiden at Belmont.
Asserting Bear from the potent Reade Baker outfit has the strongest credentials outside of maiden breakers. He has been in the money in three restricted Canadian stakes, all at more than a mile. Baker must feel there is more to be gotten. Heâ€™s putting blinkers on. A caution: Asserting Bear tries real dirt for the first time.
Another Woodbine-based colt, Matador, was last behind Asserting Bear in his most recent start but he did win the restricted Cup & Saucer, albeit on grass. He, too, will be on conventional dirt for the first time.
New York-bred Noble Cornerstone could be the sleeper. He galloped first time out at Aqueduct then ran a fast closing second in a 12-horse , $250,000 stakes at Remington. Blinkers come off and a rejuvenated Kent Desormeaux comes in to ride.
New York-breds figure to dominate the open Withers at a mile and a sixteenth. Samratt, a son of Noble Causeway, looks like he could be any kind. Heâ€™s three-for-three, capped by an almost 17-length front-running laugher at a mile and 70 yards. He might not need an edge but he has been training at Palm Meadows, which often is an advantage over horses who have had to deal with New Yorkâ€™s winter, which has been especially brutal this year.
Uncle Sigh, also bred in the Empire State, is coming off a ridiculously easy win, too, a 14 Â˝- length maiden romp at a mile and 70. Gary Contessa said if no one else takes it to Samratt, his son of Indian Charlie will.
The stranger danger in the six-horse field is Honorable Judge, shipping in off an open allowance win at Parx.
The Withers is one of four stakes on the Saturday Aqueduct card. This might seem a bit much for the first day of February but battalions of sports fans will be in town for this big football game across the river on Sunday.
How could any racing fan not like a team called the Broncos?