HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 11, 2013—When the nation’s three-year-olds enter March each year, the races really begin to heat up.
Photo by Mike Sekulic
Hear the Ghost taking the G2 San Felipe Stakes
But in 2013, when a newly conceived Derby Playoff system is working like a playoff system is supposed to work, horses are beginning to either raise their game or demonstrate that they indeed own one.
Such was the case this weekend as Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer jumped into the fray with a long-striding late-runner named Hear the Ghost while the uber talented Verrazano underscored that a 16-length one-turn allowance win might only have been the tip of a giant iceberg.
Winning your first start at Tampa Bay Downs by overcoming adversity while making a two-turn debut is an impressive parlay. And for such a huge individual to show the kind of athleticism to jump over heels outside was a revelation. On Saturday, Verrazano's deal just got a little more real.
On the Left Coast, Hollendorfer, winning with just about everything he sends out lately, saw his gelding, which he owns in part with Halo Farms, run down the trip-compromised Bob Baffert-trainee Flashback in the final strides of the San Felipe Stakes.
Resultantly, Hear the Ghost debuts in the HRI Power 10 at #7; Verrazano moved up to second; Flashback dropped out, making room for another Baffert runner, Super Ninety Nine.
However, Orb held on to his opening week lead but by a smaller margin. Here’s how this week’s voting shook out:
1. ORB (37): All’s quiet in the Shug shed as the Phipps-Janney runner moves inexorably closer for the Florida Derby in three weeks. But the dinner talk at the Velazquez household where agent Angel Cordero Jr. often finds himself must have been pretty interesting last night. Johnny rides for both McGaughey (Point of Entry) and long-time client Todd Pletcher (Verrazano). Indulto doubts Johnny’s locked in anywhere yet; agreed. Can’t have too many live mounts on the Road to Louisville. It’s a very tough slog, just ask Keith Desormeaux.
2. VERRAZANO (32): At HRI, where action never sleeps, Jicha proposes a very interesting over-under proposition. If Verrazano can remain undefeated in his final prep, seemingly the Wood Memorial at this point, what will be higher on Derby day, Verrazano’s post-time odds or the Verrazano’s round-trip toll? Not only does the editor believe he has the answer but might win bar bets all the way back to Queens. If the guy you’re betting has EZ Pass, take Over the toll ($10.66); if he doesn’t, you’re on your own. At $15, Under is the right favorite-- but it might be thisclose.
3. ITSMYLUCKYDAY (26): Trainer Eddie Plesa alternating those long, slow gallops/breezes with speedy condition-maintaining 5-furlong breezes at his Calder base efforting to bring his fast and classy sophomore up to the Florida Derby the right way. The Gulfstream Derby winner and G3 Holy Bull repeater still owns the best back-to-back Equiform Energy Figures around two turns this year. Undefeated in two starts on the Gulfstream main track, his up-close stalking style fits the shape of the race and the Hallandale oval’s profile.
4-tie SHANGHAI BOBBY (23): If you watched any races at Fair Grounds this weekend, you probably noticed that Rosie Napravnik was very photogenic all weekend long. Yes, success is all about the quality of the mounts. But her talents suit the quirky surface and this country’s longest stretch perfectly, and since the Louisiana Derby is the same afternoon as Florida’s Derby, doesn’t it take a lot of confidence in the juvenile champion to abandon all those chicken dinners in Nawlins and ship to SoFla? It’s not like she won’t find any good rides here but it’s unlikely to be the favorite in most every race?
4-tie VYJACK (23): If I were the owner of this late runner with the big engine, I don’t know if I would be completely unhappy to learn that Verrazano is coming to Gotham for the Wood. The more speed, the merrier, right? True, there’s the undefeated mystique to protect, but if you happened to beat the other undefeated mystique? Makes you Big Colt on Campus, yes? There there’s this: With both having 50 points, with the real Big Dance to come, it doesn’t really make sense to have him at 100% anyway, right?
6. REVOLUTIONARY (19): This guy has only 10 points so, as opposed to Verrazano, he must run big or it’s Baltimore here we come. He already has demonstrated that he’s in the conversation for best broken field runner in the history of Kentucky Derby prep races. Now he must prove that he can get there faster. The new points system has eliminated the possibility of any no-chance speedy sprinters entering the Louisville starting gate. So while the Derby pace will probably be fast, per usual, I wouldn’t be suspecting any meltdowns.
7. HEAR THE GHOST (17): Jumped into HRI’s Derby Power 10 in a big way and just wish there were a hidden camera to see Corey Nakatani laughing his head off as he watched Kevin Krigger and Julien Leparoux commit equine suicide-by-pace in the San Felipe. So, yes, he had the right set up. After that, all he needed to do was outfinish an equally fresh rival on his right shoulder while trying to train his sights on Flashback who was still there are Goldencents said no mas. Looks like a promising runner but we must get validation at 9 furlongs.
8. UNCAPTURED (12): On last week’s NTRA conference call, Mark Casse was there to discuss the chances of Dramatic Sky vs. Verrazano et al in the Tampa Bay Derby. First, however, he was asked about his leading Derby contender that has yet to race this year: “Uncaptured worked as good as a horse can work and we’re very excited to get him started,” Casse said. Mark Casse doesn’t get excited often but the winner of six of seven juvenile starts including two at Churchill Downs would get most trainers excited. “I feel like he’s training better than ever.”
9-tie SUPER NINETY NINE (6): It is probably sophomoric to toss Flashback out off a very good placing after getting fried on the early pace like that but the romping winner of the G3 Southwest in the Hot Springs slop will get a chance to validate his first appearance in the Power 10 in Saturday’s talent-laden Rebel Stakes. He’ll be facing much better this time around a hopefully the surface will be dry. Sure does continue to train well, giving no indication of being a runoff as some of his speed efforts might suggest. Can’t wait for Saturday’s barn burner.
9-tie NORMANDY INVASION (6): There very little Chad Brown can do about the jackpot he’s in and play the hand he’s dealt, meaning that he might have to treat the Wood like it’s the Kentucky Derby. A second-place finish worth 40 points in the final round Grade 1 just might be enough for him to crack the bottom of the Derby 20. Like Vyjack, the presence of the speedy Verrazano helps with the pace scenario but makes the overall task a lot more difficult. The potential of a big field for this late runner is yet another concern.
And to think that the fun has only just begun.