Sunday, April 15, 2007
Outstanding Performances Highlight Final Major Prep Races
For months, we've been writing about how much we like and respect the three-year-old class of 2007. Once again, they didn't fail to live up to my lofty expectations.
Once and for all, all now know that Curlin is a special racehorse. He remains undefeated in three starts, going from a soft-paced front-running maiden win at seven furlongs, to an off-the-pace authoritative score in a Grade 3 at a different racetrack and into a whole new dimension yesterday, a drawing-away nine furlong tour-de-force in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
Curlin now has won three lifetime starts by an aggregate 28-1/2 lengths. It was the most dominating Kentucky Derby prep performance since Bellamy Road decimated the Wood Memorial field two years ago in New York.
In the Toyota Blue Grass, meanwhile, all Street Sense lost was a horse race. In fact, the margins separating the first four finishers; Dominican, Street Sense, Zanjero and Teuflesberg were a nose and two heads, respectively. All ran very well, Great Hunter, stopped cold in midstretch, notwithstanding.
And so Dominican jumps onto everyone's Derby radar with a strong-finish score coming from last off laughably slow fractions. (More on Keeneland's Polytrack surface later this week). Derby newcomer, trainer Darrin Miller, needed a big performance from his horse which lacked sufficient graded stakes earnings. That's no longer an issue.
Only next weekend's Lexington Stakes remains as a viable Derby prep. It might produce another starter, depending on who starts, how he performs and--the most significant variable--how he comes out of the race.
Twenty days. And counting.
Written by John Pricci
Friday, April 13, 2007
To Win Or Not, That Is The Question
When trying to win a unique event like the Kentucky Derby, it often better serves the purpose for horses not to give their best effort in their finale prep.
If you ask trainer Carl Nafzger, which turf writers have been doing since February, whether it's mandatory to win today's Blue Grass Stakes, he'd tell you he'd like to since he's never won the storied fixture, but not at the expense of the ultimate goal three weeks hence.
In a perfect world and from a performance-figure perspective, a repeat of the last race run by Street Sense would be perfect. And it wouldn't matter if that effort resulted in defeat. The idea is to maintain energy in reserve for the next battle.
Trainer Doug O'Neill might require more from the talented and dangerous Blue Grass second choice, Great Hunter. Like Street Sense, this will be his second and final Derby prep. But it probably would serve O'Neill better if his horse moved forward again, just like he did in his three-year-old debut.
By today's standards, Great Hunter was heavily raced as a juvenile. He's not running for the experience today, like Nobiz Like Shobiz in last week's Wood Memorial. He needs to improve because, thus far, Street Sense has proven the faster, better horse.
Great Hunter needs to make up several lengths on his rival. Since only three weeks remain to the Derby, O'Neill ought to have Great Hunter at near Derby pitch. In this deep three-year-old crop, there's little room for error. This is an interesting tightrope that classics' trainers walk this time of year. It's part of what makes the Triple Crown chase so fascinating.
Written by John Pricci
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Dawning of the Age of the Apprentice
Last year, Julien Leparoux. This year, Jospeh Talamo.
Leparoux caught my eye last year at Churchill Downs, where he dominated the jockey's standings just like he had at Turfway Park. I noticed him because ever time I looked up, he was beating me in the last jump. And he wasn't just winning with favorites. He was getting his mounts to outrun their odds.
The more I studied, the more I found to like. Great, soft hands and an excellent sense of pace. His mounts finished strongly, benefitting from excellent timing. Shug McGaughey said of him: "He's Pat Day with five pounds." My word: spooky, as in appearing from nowhere. I had not seen an apprentice like him since the great Steve Cauthen in the late '70s.
Talamo has been no less impressive, I think. Have not seen him as much as I had seen Leparoux. But what I have seen has been impressive. Horses run for the 17-year-old. Like Leparoux, there appear to be no major holes in his game. Both are wise beyond their years on the grass, a surface that makes subtle demands of a rider's skills.
On Sunday, Talamo came from last in a field of nine three-year-olds to win the San Pedro Stakes at 6-1/2 furlongs. He settled mount Try To Fly nicely and didn't rattle as the leaders sped away. He bided his time, awaited a hole to open, then sent his horse on through to a strong finish. Indeed, an eye-opening way to break your stakes maiden at Santa Anita.
We're not comparing Talamo to Cauthen yet. Not even to Leparoux, until more evidence is in. But he is a special young rider, one whose future is anticipated with great interest.
Written by John Pricci