Crowded at the Top
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 14, 2009--Once again, despite all the first rate care and pampering, injuries are a painful reality in this game. The bad news is that Kentucky Derby 135 lost its second early season headliner within a week.
The good news is that both will live to fight another day providing Arkansas Derby runnerup Old Fashioned makes a complete recovery from a non-displaced slab fracture suffered in the Arkansas Derby in front of 55,000 fans.
Meanwhile, if thoroughbred racing is on its last legs, there was no evidence in Hot Springs nor at Keeneland where almost 28,000 showed up to see General Quarters out-game and outrun 10 rivals en route to his first G1 win. His other significant victory came in the G3 Sam F Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, a race that's proven key.
Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem gives longshot players a glimmer of hope come Derby day. Finishing second to the highly regarded Pioneerof The Nile in the G2 Robert Lewis Memorial after breaking maiden, he subsequently placed to Louisiana Road sweeper Friesan Fire in their G2 Derby in the slop, his dirt debut.
Showing an affinity for a fast surface, the result was a game, new-dimension victory in Hot Springs, demonstrating continued development, a preference for added distance, and the ability to win a head-to-head tussle.
Nine furlongs in 1:49.01, with a final furlong in :12.26, wasn’t too shabby, either. He showed that a hot pace won’t compromise his kick, indeed, probably helps it. His spacing is excellent, he peaked in his final prep, leaving room for added development, and has an elite partner in Rafael Bejarano, who, on occasion, has owned Churchill Downs.
This year’s Blue Grass may not produce the inscrutable Derby form of recent years. General Quarters, able to handle quirky Tampa and now Polytrack, prepared for thr G1 by working lights out at Churchill Downs. It also marked the first time Eibar Coa partnered him home. They make a good team.
Showing speed from the start--which would have been highly desirable at the old Keeneland but not so much on the new version--the colt saved ground at no point, struck the front approaching the straight, and kicked clear from would-be ralliers without a serious challenge.
General Quarters is strong, athletic and tractable, showing no obvious weakness since turning three, losing when he was hindered by tough trips. He has all the pedigree you’d like and now has an accomplished race rider guiding his destiny.
Runner-up Hold Me Back, winner of the Lane’s End, was a good second and now has had two nine-furlong preps for the Derby. The question remains whether he will be as effective on dirt. His lone dirt try in last year’s Remsen very disappointing.
And so the final big weekend--Saturday’s Lexington Stakes notwithstanding--produced a couple of live price shots for Derby 135. Exotics, anyone?
The HRI Power 10, Week 10
1--Quality Road (30) After losing three days of training, Jimmy Jerkens’ colt worked very nicely on Friday, showing no discomfort from the quarter crack that will need monitoring right up until 6:04 p.m. Saturday, May 2. Fast, courageous and athletic, he holds a narrow lead in the HRI Poll with little more than a fortnight left.
2--I Want Revenge (27) The Mullins imbroglio technically has nothing to do with this colt. But horses are people, too, and HRI believes that negative energy is not a good thing or, at the very least, a major distraction for the barn. Maybe young Joe Talamo’s good karma will overcome all. An interesting side show.
3--Friesan Fire (26) Larry Jones suddenly down to one bullet with the unfortunate and untimely injury to his big three-year-old. And talk about negative vibes. This injury comes shortly after Jones’ 2008 Oaks winner, three year old filly champion Proud Spell, was retired. Repeat after me: Seven week layoff; never beyond 8.5 furlongs.
4--Pioneerof The Nile (25): There are few truisms in racing but one is “you never know until they try it.” So who is this Pioneer? The second coming of I Want Revenge, 0-for-2 vs. the Nile? Or his he Colonel John, the apparent class of the 2008 California three year olds until he stepped foot on the Churchill oval?
5--Dunkirk (14): So look who’s #18 on the money list of graded stakes winners? Hopefully he doesn’t move up again through attrition, although the horse at the top of the money list, win-and-in European Mafaaz, is no cinch to run. I know if he were mine, I wouldn‘t.
6--Chocolate Candy (12): Defections have helped this guy, too, in terms of his winning chances and it took only :59 seconds to get acquainted with Mike Smith in a weekend workout. He wasn’t a serious threat when second in the Santa Anita Derby, but six-wide entering, off that pace? The table will be set a lot better in Louisville.
7--Desert Party (8) [tie]:He’s back stateside now; let’s see how his training goes leading up to the dance. Two impressive wins then tough trip second to stablemate in UAE Derby. Classy here at two and seems to have developed over the winter. But I still don’t know what he beat in Dubai.
7--Regal Ransom (8) [tie]: Appropriate that the stablemate of Desert Party is in a dead heat with his better known mate. A maiden breaker in Saratoga at first asking followed by a tough-trip G1 in SoCal. A good looking athlete with some tools, but has not met the caliber he will face three weeks hence.
9--Papa Clem (7): Narrowly beaten by The Nile earlier this year before making an excellent transition to dirt. Developing, peaking at the right time, and has an excellent partner. Might keep the streak of recently accomplished Arkansas Derby winners alive beyond the first Saturday of April. Nice colt.
10--General Quarters (5): Normally the term hard knocking, or hard hitting, applies to the old pros of the game, but this guy looks like one of those throw-backs. We’ll keep an eye on his karma, too, as the story of the colt’s developer who was shunned in favor of his owner-trainer circulates. Another real nice colt.
Written by John Pricci - Comments (0)