Quality at the Top of HRI’s Derby Rankings
Hallandale Beach, Fla., March 30, 2009--Will the Grade 1 Florida Derby produce its second consecutive Kentucky Derby winner and third in the last four years? How about the UAE Derby? Will one of its exacta finishers take Louisville’s roses back to the desert?
The popular axiom is that you cannot know how good a particular three-year-old class is until you see how they fare against older horses in the fall. As far as this group is concerned, however; so far, so good.
Looking at the talent level of the top seven horses on HRI’s Power Ten, it’s undeniable that there are some real good colts among them. Some even might turn out to be great. That’s why races are run.
It’s been a long time coming but Quality Road is now getting his due. His Florida Derby created a small bandwagon, considerably larger than the handful of cultists that have followed him closely since breaking maiden in his initial start.
Only now everyone knows that he can relax off a leading rival, handle two turns as good as one, and pass the eyeball test when hooked by a serious rival.
Many will mitigate the track record clocking as the product of a speed-favoring Gulfstream oval but that wouldn’t be fair. Speed favoring? Yes. Speed biased? No.
Indeed, all nine main track winners were forwardly placed. But shouldn’t it count for something that five were favorites, two co-favorites, and two second choices? The surface did not enable impossible horses to win the races. The victors were supposed to win.
As to Todd Pletcher’s remarks about had he known about the track’s speed favoring nature he would have scratched highly regarded Dunkirk and sent him to New York for the Wood Memorial.
But I’ve never heard a trainer say that had he known the Kentucky Derby track would be different than the one their horse trained on for a couple of weeks that he would have scratched and shipped to Baltimore.
Lamentably, tracks are manicured to produce fast times on big-race days. That doesn’t make it right, only a fact of racing life.
I prefer to think it was either frustration in the heat of the moment that engendered Pletcher’s nationally televised remarks, or loyalty to the game that he didn’t want to punish fans who came to see a budding Derby star. Fanciful, perhaps, but not impossible.
However, if Pletcher believed Dunkirk’s chances were truly compromised by the surface then he should have declared his horse. Otherwise, tip your hat to the winner and move on.
Had anyone bother to ask trainer Jimmy Jerkens or jockey Johnny Velazquez when they thought they had the race won, they might have said “in the walking ring.”
Clearly, Quality Road out-looked his major rivals. He was warm but not “hot” on the humid South Florida afternoon. By comparison, Dunkirk was not only hot but tucked up behind. Not knowing the individual, however, that just might be him.
Quality Road carries his flesh well, is more thickly-bodied than fleshy, but not in a blocky, sprinter kind of way. He’s simply a good lookin’ SOB with, from what we’ve gleaned from two sightings, a disposition to match.
Considering the questionable tactics, ‘Jojo’ ran pretty well. He had some trouble, of course, but certainly not enough to alter the order of finish. His inability to keep pace with the winning leader and the rallying place finisher at headstretch was the real problem.
In Dubai, Regal Ransom benefited from clever handling and a speed favoring, damp course to defeat Desert Party. He rated nicely while in company on the lead, shook loose, then for the first time held his mate safe, who finished gamely, albeit a bit one-paced.
While disappointing, Desert Party could benefit from the effort. For both, it’s now a matter of shipping back to the States where they‘re sure to find the competition a whole lot tougher.
The HRI Derby Ten, Week 8:
1-Quality Road (30): Deserves top billing by virtue of his Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby sweep. Two turns proved to be a problem, he’s fast, likes to mix it up with rivals, he rates, looks the part and is being expertly handled by Jerkens the Younger, who‘s been pushing all the right buttons.
2-Friesan Fire (27): Training quietly since sweeping the New Orleans road to Louisville. It’s up to Larry Jones to keep the ultra sharp sophomore where he is, a challenging feat considering that he’ll race in the Derby off a seven-week layup and never beyond 8.5 furlongs.
3-I Want Revenge (26): Gotham winner in very fast time gained a larger cheering section now last week now that he’s been purchased in part by Sheikh Iavarone. Has trained strongly since his Grade 3 score. Anxious to see if he can repeat in Saturday’s Wood Memorial.
4-Pioneerof The Nile (24): It’s Game On for Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. Dirt form notwithstanding, this colt has nothing to prove. Should he lose to his rival at nine furlongs Saturday, the knockers will be heard from, loud and clear. Baffert said yesterday that he’s tightened the screws.
5-The Pamplemousse (17): As stated last week, it will a good Derby-week comeback story with Solis’ career interrupted by serious injury. Has a tactical speed advantage over his Santa Anita Derby rival. Julio Canani said his colt doesn’t need the lead. We need to see it to believe it.
6-Old Fashioned (13): Rick Porter’s people have gone out of their way to insist the switch from Ramon Dominguez to Terry Thompson was Larry Jones’ call. As the kids say, whatever. Won‘t be able to knock the jock the next time he gets beat--not likely to be in the Arkansas Derby.
7-Dunkirk (11): Gained stature in defeat, making strong wide rally to reach even terms before succumbing late to a very good colt in Florida Derby. On the Derby earnings bubble; Pletcher now says he might not run him back in the Preakness, either.
8-Desert Party (8): Useful runnerup finish in UAE Derby, finishing ahead of the show horse by a short pole. Preparation is complete; now comes the little matter of shipping back home.
9-Imperial Council (5): Virtually in same boat as Dunkirk; needs graded earnings and at least a runner-up Wood Memorial finish. Assistant trainer Buzz Tenney said on a national conference call he believes the bigger main track will help the colt’s running style.
10-Regal Ransom (3) [tie]: True, the speed favoring nature of the Nad Al Sheba course was to his benefit in UAE Derby, but that doesn’t diminish his ability. Had a useful American campaign as a juvenile and can relax while battling up front. Still a tall order, however.
10-Win Willy (3) [tie]: Beat Old Fashioned with a strong finishing kick, has sufficient pedigree, and hails from capable outfit. Must prove his Rebel victory was no fluke and, at least, must run well again to be taken as a serious contender.
Written by John Pricci - Comments (5)