Saratoga Springs, NY, February 24, 2009--I cannot tell a lie and thus must admit that the Turf Paradise Derby was run without my attentiveness this past weekend.
I assure you it was nothing personal. I have nothing against the quaint track in Arizona, even if its takeout rates are among the highest in the country--22 percent W-P-S--and it resides in the state in which an anti-racing obstructionist, Senator John Kyl, resides.
But I must say that the list of Kentucky Derby winners prepping in the Turf Paradise Derby do not roll trippingly off the tongue. In fact, it seems every year, a trainer from Southern California (think Bob Baffert) ships in and takes home the money.
It happened again when Mayor Marv (Baffert again) finished ahead of Hidden Bounty and Just Jebicah, racing a mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.23. ‘Marv’ did not break through on any poll I’ve seen, although a Gulfstream allowance winner, Dunkirk, did on many, including HRI.
Dunkirk debuts this week ranked eighth on HRI’s 2009 Derby Ten ratings, finishing in a statistical dead heat with Hello Broadway, along with another newcomer, Mr. Fantasy, tied for 10th with Beethoven.
Dunkirk--in case you hadn’t heard--is a $3.7 yearling purchased by Team Tabor that remained undefeated in two starts, stretching from a sprint to nine furlongs, a race in which Eclipser Garrett Gomez flew cross country to ride. Gomez was impressed, he said.
This weekend will be significant and is likely to shake out a few pretenders from the group of aspiring classicists. There will be gates full of talent in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 one-turn Fountain of Youth mile; Santa Anita’s G3 Sham at nine furlongs, and the mile and-a-sixteenth Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park.
Old Fashioned, the Derby Futures Pool singular favorite at 7-1, remains the unanimous choice among HRI staffers Vic Zast, Bill Christine and executive editor John Pricci.
And if his impressive season’s debut in Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes is any barometer, it’s even money he’ll arrive in Louisville an undefeated winner of six lifetime starts and solid favorite for Kentucky Derby 135.
The 2009 HRI Derby Ten Week 2:
1-Old Fashioned (36): Until beaten, he‘s the one. Trainer Larry Jones keeps tip-toeing around his stall, knocking on wood at every opportunity. Next stop is the G2 Rebel Stakes, March 14, en route to the Arkansas Derby and beyond. How does Jones feel about him? “He’s a gift,” said Jones.
2-Pioneerof The Nile (25): Impressive Robert B. Lewis winner has experienced no hiccups. Recent five furlong workout at Santa Anita went perfectly, including prompting by a couple of unintended work mates. Baffert beaming confidence. No dirt until Derby. Education continues in March 14 San Felipe.
3-Stardom Bound (20): Her Derby participation still depends in large measure on how owner’s Patena performs in Louisiana Derby. Made an eye-opening season’s debut winning the Las Virgenes, and goes next in March 7 Santa Anita Oaks. If all goes well, it’s the Santa Anita Derby. Indeed, two of HRI’s top three have no dirt form.
4-Capt. Candyman Can (17): Showed improved maturity winning seven furlong Hutcheson Stakes and takes the next logical step in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth, a serious test. If recent Palm Meadows move is an indication, he continues learning to relax. If he wants to go on, he had better.
5-Midshipman (15): Reports on this colt from the United Arab Emirates have been spotty. He has started back slowly but owns enough foundation as a dual G1 juvenile winner which earned him the title. Runs a week from Thursday at Nad Al Sheba Race Course in nine-furlong Al Bastakiya. Might get final prep back home.
6-Friesan Fire (14): The “now” three-year-old given his 2-for-2 sophomore slate, is getting better with every start according to Larry Jones. Very well seasoned--the good and the bad news--and everyone, including his trainer, will know more following the March 14 G2 Louisiana Derby.
7-Desert Party (12): Won the recent U.A.E. 2000 Guineas with style and appears to have all the tools. Runs next in the nine furlong UAE Derby, March 28. Has pedigree, acts on disparate surfaces, and proved his graded class state-side as a two-year-old.
8-Hello Broadway (5) TIE: Ran all the way in good second to Capt. Candyman Can and runs next in March 14 Tampa Bay Derby. Continues to train right along, has the right tools and Derby-winning connections. Doesn’t need to win in Tampa but must acquit himself well around two turns.
8-Dunkirk (5) TIE: Showed unusual ability to handle class and distance rise in second lifetime start vs. solid rivals. Will receive baptism of fire in March 28 Florida Derby as trainer Todd Pletcher has little choice but to choose that spot. Needs graded earnings and experience, so expect a peak effort, with another five weeks until Kentucky Derby.
10-Beethoven (4) TIE: Excellent effort in tough-trip Holy Bull Stakes and came out of it bucking, forcing Derby-winning trainer John Ward to get a little more aggressive with him. Turns back to one-turn mile in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth and only needs to make a good effort to remain on schedule.
10-Mr. Fantasy (4) TIE: New York-bred is undefeated in two starts with the trips and competition proving little. But he, too, handled a class and distance rise, has speed to burn and is a great moving racehorse, owning an efficient stride. Somewhat surprisingly the Gotham Stakes is coming up strong. He’ll be in it and we’ll all know more, March 7.