After racing’s final major prep weekend, there was a big winner; Todd Pletcher, who ranks three among the Derby Power 10 and has five possible Derby starters including Blue Grass runnerup Palace Malice (50 points) and third finisher Charming Kitten (20).
A significant loser was Bob Baffert, whose over-hyped, inexperienced Arkansas Derby favorite War Academy lost his action with half the race remaining and was eased out of the race.
At least War Academy was able to walk off under his own power, leaving Baffert with one viable Derby contender, Governor Charlie. Baffert later confirned that the Sunland Derby winner would be his only Kentucky Derby starter.
There are two last ditch preps remaining the next two weekends, Saturday's Lexington and the following Saturday's Derby Trial, but horsemen wishing to take advantage of these 20 point races they can forget about bringing a fresh runner to Louisville.
Parenthetically, Saturday's G3 Illinois Derby could produce a runner or two for the Preakness,
The perception is that with each passing weekend, the stock of those remaining on the sidelines has kept rising. Here, then, the HRI Power 10 rankings for Week 7, consensus points in parenthesis:
1. Orb (40) has lost arguably America’s best big-race rider in Johnny Velazquez, committed to Verrazano, but picks up America’s hottest rider of 2013, Joel Rosario, whose move to the New York-South Florida circuit has advanced his reputation significantly. Rosario, of course, has ridden the colt before.
2. Verrazano (38) has retained Velazquez, who rides this colt for main client Todd Pletcher with complete confidence. Velazquez is expected to return from injuries suffered in a spill the Wednesday of Derby week, cutting it a bit close. Jockeys are known for sometimes returning to the saddle too soon--hopefully will not be the case here.
3. Goldencents (30) won the fastest recent Derby prep at Santa Anita last weekend and looked good doing it, showing none of the distance concerns raised by his prior efforts. With the perceived lack of “sprint speed” signed on for Derby 139, his tactical gas can serve him very nicely.
4. Revolutionary (24) has lost Javier Castellano to Normandy Invasion and there are a number of names on Pletcher’s short list to serve as a replacement. Well let’s see, who won Todd’s first and only Derby for Winstar and three in all with his mastership of the Churchill oval? And who would fit this colt’s broken-field running capability better than Calvin?
5. Overanalyze (23) won the Arkansas Derby with drawing-away authority but did so in slow time over dubious competition, including the race favorite and Oxbow, whose form remains better than his recent wide-running or premature moving or very-rough trips indicate. Rafael Bejarano lobbied to retain the mount following the Derby; he probably need not worry.
6. Normandy Invasion (17) had a very good week on the sidelines. First, Javier Castellano decided to remain with this Wood Memorial runnerup (Castellano is 0-for-6 in the Derby) and Overanalyze, who narrowly defeated him in the Remsen, won the Arkansas Derby in visually impressive style. Given the buzz, Chad Brown runner could be the underlay of Derby 139.
7. Itsmyluckyday (15) still has had only one member of the current Derby class run as fast as he has around two turns this year--Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents. His non-competitive Florida Derby placing can be mitigated somewhat by the two month absence preceding it. Still, can he replicate his Gulfstream Park form elsewhere?
8. Will Take Charge (14) has earned this ranking based on his strong come-from-behind Rebel score, his Derby style, and connections. Still, with the Coach’s decision to train him up to the Derby, he will enter the Churchill Downs starting gate off a lengthy absence and without a 9-furlong race in his resume.
9. Java’s War (11) doesn’t seem to be getting the respect he deserves following his Blue Grass score. He came from last with a sustained run, overcoming a poor start, proving his versatility and class, as he did his prior start when finishing a strong second to Verrazano. There are just not many three-surface performers around; this is a good horse.
10. Oxbow (6) If Normandy Invasion is capable of being overbet in the Derby, this guy has the running lines to be underappreciated. He runs either too wide or too soon or too late, definitely too unlucky in any case. Absolutely never had a chance in the Arkansas Derby for which, to his credit, Gary Stevens stepped up and took the heat. Colt's excellent turn of foot will work to his advantage, maybe even on Derby day.