SOUTH OZONE PARK, April 6, 2010--It’s always special when the star of the show leaves the crowd wanting more. And that’s exactly what Eskendereya did when he won the Wood Memorial in a laugher last Saturday at Aqueduct.
And not only was the crowd impressed, but so were the people closest to him, Todd Pletcher and Johnny Velazquez.
“There was more there, even as impressive as it was,” said the man who trains him. “A lot of times [horses] improve to a certain point then level off. He keeps on doing it.”
“This is the kind of horse where you hold him together, let him go when you want and he responds the right way,” said the man who rides him.
“When I gave him his head he just went up and up and up from the horses. He was just galloping. It was a good feeling.”
Now all the Pletcher-Velazquez team need hope is that this good feeling will last and that the next four weeks will be uneventful, that indeed there is more left in that considerable tank.
And that’s not only because of the way he wins, which in his final two Kentucky Derby preps has been, at once, facile and dominating, but the fact there’s probably at least one more growth spurt left. It’s still early spring, after all.
But it certainly appears that what’s there now is plenty good enough.
Unquestionably, Eskendereya is the best chance this outfit, which has been a dominant player in this millennium, has to break through with that elusive Derby victory. There’s a symmetry to this trainer and rider achieving it as a team.
Of course, there will be more than five runners in the Churchill Downs starting gate. And the pace will be much hotter than he’s encountered in recent starts. But he’s a high-cruising galloper and he appears very much to be the pushbutton type. That could become key if he gets himself into a dogfight.
On the left coast, meanwhile, the former unquestioned leader of the division and his connections will need to regroup after their Santa Anita Derby debacle. What happened to Lookin At Lucky last weekend really shouldn’t have.
And whatever Garrett Gomez might say in his defense is only part of his story. In his heart of hearts, he must know that he messed up. He was 4-5, not 45-1. It will be interesting to see how Gomez handles that question come Derby week in Louisville.
For unforgiving observers who thought ‘Lucky’ should have held second following his re-rally--after dropping back from fourth to eighth on the turn while a quality speed horse galloped along in front--is not being fair-minded.
The kind of move that would have snatched victory from certain defeat at the point Lucky was checked is just not possible on a synthetic surface given Saturday‘s circumstances.
It took ability and heart just to reach second with a furlong remaining. ‘Lucky’ had every right to get caught from behind for the place.
Meanwhile, as with Eskendereya, there’s no telling what Sidney’s Candy’s limitations might be. We don’t believe it was possible to catch ‘Sidney’ on Saturday no matter what kind of trip the favorite might have worked out.
At the point where most horses are asked for the best to maintain whatever advantage they have entering the homestretch, in the area of the five-sixteenths pole, Sidney’s Candy gave willingly to Joe Talamo willingly without being asked. He seemed to accelerate all by himself.
While Talamo might not be waiting to win his first Derby as long as Pletcher and Velazquez has, it’s certainly been a long year since his 2009 Derby favorite, I Want Revenge, was scratched the morning of the race. And could that name be more apt?
Even though there is no shortage of speed horses headed to Louisville, Sidney’s Candy performance was enough to vault him into third on HRI’s Derby Power 10, Week 10 edition. He just might have developed into what racetrackers affectionately call “a freak“:
1. Eskendereya (36) Now back at his Palm Meadows, South Florida base, which has served recent Derby winners very well, he’s scheduled to arrive in Louisville April 20 and likely to receive a blowout before shipping and another five days before the race.
2. Lookin At Lucky (26) Gomez should not have positioned the SA Derby favorite where he was but he was in that hole and Victor Espinoza allowed his mount to drop in, for which he was suspended. Baffert said the colt came out of this race better than he did the Rebel. We shall see.
3. Sidney's Candy (25) One every talented animal but clearly Derby 136 didn’t need another speed horse. But this might be “the speed of the speed,” thus discouraging all others. The way horses have been bouncing off the synthetics this spring has to encourage his connections.
4. Noble's Promise (20) It’s all about Saturday’s Arkansas Derby for this guy, one of the premier three-year-olds who forged his reputation by forcing Lookin At Lucky to his utmost last year and this. The Derby race-shape certainly suits his sit-and-pounce style. Trainer McPeek would like to win on Saturday, but is more concerned he has something in reserve for Louisville.
5. Interactif (14) So now we’ll see if Pletcher can put a crimp in ‘Noble’s’ plans in Lexington on Saturday. Been preparing for the Derby on synthetics but has handled dirt previously.
6. Ice Box (11) Zito and LaPenta will not use Jackson Bend as a rabbit in the pure sense of that term, but his presence in the gate keeps another rival out and he could pressure the leaders into stepping on the gas prematurely. Has had three 9-furlong preps.
7. Endorsement (10) Just can’t forget this Bill Mott* trainee's recent powerhouse finish at Sunland. Just as Jackson Bend could help Ice Box, Illinois Derby-winning American Lion, another tactical speedster, can pressure the speed as Winstar tries its best to help, well, Winstar.
7. Odysseus (10) As stated last week, one more prep following his Tampa Bay score makes sense and the Blue Grass is it. This colt needs to advance his conditioning and mental readiness. There’s no questioning his ability and determination, however. A few dollars more in graded earnings wouldn't hurt either.
9. Dublin (8) Continues to work professionally for Lukas and could vault several notches with a victory in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. Has the looks, pedigree and ability, but must finally put it all together. That’s what this Saturday’s about.
10. Awesome Act (6) It was the kind of one-paced finish that have served previous Wood show finishers well in Louisville. He blew a tire at the break and got the “Euro Bounce” out of the way. His turn of foot can make things very interesting in speed-heavy Derby.
*Correction made 04072010 at 4:25 p.m.