Florida-Based Runners Dominating the Preps
And Super Saturday’s big winners were…wait for it…Always Dreaming and the Florida-based three-year-olds of 2017.
In fact, HRI’s Kentucky Derby Hi-5 voters think the Florida Derby winner is simply perfect, and he amassed all four first-place votes among HRI staffers and contributors.
Super Saturday was an entertaining day of sophomore racing, and anytime you can make a few dollars and learn something while doing so is a good day in this game.
At Aqueduct, Irish War Cry at once confirmed his Holy Bull form, stamped his Fountain of Youth an aberration and punched his ticket to Louisville.
Does that mean he’ll win the Derby? Of course not, but he deserves to be in the conversation about serious Kentucky Derby contenders.
And it’s heart-warming that come-backing Rajiv Maragh could go from the despondency of physical rehabilitation to perfect partner for Irish War Cry. And props to Graham Motion; the switch to a figure-8 allowed Maragh to ration his colt’s speed.
His fans had to love that he rated rounding the first turn, remained in the clear 3-wide down the backside, used a gear to reach stalking position close behind Battalion Runner approaching the half-mile pole, shadowing him from close range until given his cue.
Maragh snuck three peaks back before entering the straight and at headstretch—love and hate that tack—before riding his mount out fully to the finish, winning in full stride.
The gallop-out and final time were not spectacular but the colt did what he needed to do and returned to the winners’ circle accompanied by a pony, so his post-race energy level was good.
Runnerup Battalion Runner did well considering his lack of racing and two-turn experience and obviously has some upside, though it’s doubtful he’ll catch up by May’s first Saturday.
So much for pre-race consensus handicapping. Everyone with an opinion, myself included, agreed that the Blue Grass, on paper, was the most contentious prep to date. Now the blinkers on-blinkers off-on-and-off-again Irap is no longer a maiden. Go figure.
Lone speed is as lone speed does. Practical Joke, forced into a premature wide move approaching the five-eighths, had the entire length of the stretch to catch Irap but couldn’t, likely a combination of needing his LAY-2 layup and perhaps distance limitations.
Still think that Practical Joke might get the trip someday, just not in time for Derby, although he should move forward off the Blue Grass. But he’s not the only one who will improve.
I must disagree with all the shade that many have thrown at McCracken. His Blue Grass third to me was reminiscent of Gunnevera’s Florida Derby third: All he lost was a horse race.
In only his second start of the year, he was too fresh on the first turn and entering the backstretch racing close to the pace early, not his best game.
And when Practical Joke moved passed him approaching the far turn, Brian Hernandez did the right thing and steadied him, saving something for the run home. To his credit, McCraken was coming on at the finish from untenable position for most horses.
“He came back blowing, he was dead tired,” said Ian Wilkes, who said early last week that his colt needed to have a good hard race. And that’s exactly what he got. Now he can train him up to the Derby over a track where he has shown his best turn of foot.
For McCracken’s fans, yesterday’s defeat only will help get them a better price on May 6.
As for the other highly regarded Blue Grass runners; J Boys Echo made up some ground late and should march forward, although not sure Robby Albarado is the right fit. Tapwrit--even if he Blue Grass was an intended bridge race—was very flat and did not run well.
Irish War Cry was able to rebound in his final prep. Derby horses seldom rebound off poor final preps, making Tapwrit a tricky call four weeks hence.
The horse that did all the dirty work in the Santa Anita Derby, Battle of Midway, who engaged in a three-pronged challenge throughout and gamely battled to save the place, looks like a horse that will be a divisional player at some point.
Jerry Hollendorfer’s colt deserves props, as does Victor Espinoza’s skillful handling of the winning Gormley by engineering a perfect trip behind the speed, as well as trainer John Shirreffs’ clever management and knowledge of what his colt needed; patient handling.
In the end, the Santa Anita Derby did two things: It kept Bob Baffert on the Derby sidelines, who truly was unlucky with California’s best colt, Mastery—Travers anyone?—and likely will shut out California-based three-year-olds on May’s first Saturday.
It’s not that the 9-furlong running time of 1:51.16 was ordinary, which it was, but a glacial final sixteenth of 13.61 doesn’t send visions of 10-furlong roses dancing through many handicapper’s heads.
Speaking of running times, we went back to take another look at the Florida Derby vis a vis Always Dreaming and was reminded that no fractions were posted during the Florida Derby and the running time--shared with reporters after the race--was a rapid 1:47.47.
The splits were never made available to reporters.
Distrusting all off it, given the plethora of Trakus timing inconsistencies during the Gulfstream winter meet and the lack of an official human timer as a fail-safe, I called on HRI’s Mark Berner and his four decades of experience to time Always Dreaming’s run.
Berner timed the race thrice and here are his fractions and final time readings:
23.98 24.04 24.08—an average of 24.03 for the opening quarter-mile
23.78 23.67 23.69—average second-quarter of 23.71
23.27 23.23 23.37—average third-quarter in 23.29
24.58 24.64 24.59—average fourth-quarter of 24.59
1:47.81 1:47.83 147.82—average Florida Derby final time on HRI’s watch: 1:47.82
While 35/100s faster, the official posted time of 1:47.47 was close but should have been closer. Either way, the Arkansas Derby winner has a big time-target to match. At this juncture, Always Dreaming is the legitimate early-line Derby favorite.
Here’s how the HRI staff voted, in their own words:
1-Always Dreaming--Every time they run another prep his Florida Derby looks better.
2-Gunnevera--I like his Florida Derby more than McCraken's and Tapwrit's Blue Grass.
3-Thunder Snow--Why not? Dubai was a big race for him. Did you see anything Saturday that looked better?
4-Irish War Cry--One of the few to win two major preps. Still don't see him getting 10 furlongs fast enough.
5-Classic Empire--Supposedly back at top of his game. We'll find out Saturday.
1-Always Dreaming won Florida Derby impressively and did it in racehorse time.
2-Girvin looked good in Louisiana and has room for further advancement.
3-Gunnevera regressed after Fountain of Youth win but can rebound from Florida Derby.
4-One Liner looked good in Southwest victory and working well towards Arkansas Derby.
5-Irish War Cry redeemed himself with authoritative win in Wood Memorial.
1-Always Dreaming is the to beat
2-Irap improved dramatically to defeat top-rated competitors
3-Irish War Cry is back on track for main event
4-Girvin is a consecutive major prep winner
5-Classic Empire is flattered by BC Juvenile starters on Kentucky Derby trail.
1-Always Dreaming comes from best prep to date and may still have upside
2-McCraken’s race was better than it appears and Churchill Downs awaits.
3-Gunnevera looked better on Sunday’s replay than he did two weeks ago.
4-Irish War Cry’s Wood Memorial was a truer measure of his talents.
5-Girvin appears the most promising and gifted among the lightly raced.
HRI’s KENTUCKY DERBY HI-5, April 9
1. ALWAYS DREAMING (24)
2. GUNNERVERA (12)
3. GIRVIN (6)
4. IRISH WAR CRY (5)
5. (tie) McCRAKEN (4)
(tie) IRAP (4)
Written by John Pricci - Comments (22)