Now we have nothing against or New Mexico, for that matter. How can you hate anything a.k.a. the Land of Enchantment? It’s a spiritual place, unlike its next door neighbor, Arizona, Land of Repressive Law.
Anyway, thanks to the casino dole, a Grade 3 in New Mexico will have a profound effect on the Kentucky Derby. Whoever wins it, know that there only will be 19 remaining stalls in the Louisville starting gates once the race is made official.
With half of the $800,000 purse going to the winner, whoever finishes first is virtually guaranteed a spot in America’s Race. Who knows, we could be talking about the next Mine That Bird, winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby at triple digits?
Now, we have nothing against Chip Wooley, either, a good man and capable horseman, but did anyone ever take his horse very seriously before or after the big day? It took a sloppy track and death-defying rail skimmer from Calvin Borel to get that job done.
And, of course, that was the last victory of his career. In fact, until Animal Kingdom won his turf return at the current Gulfstream Park meet, Big Brown was the last horse to win a race subsequent to the Derby, but I digress.
It likely is that Mine That Bird will prove to be the exception; the Sunland Derby winner repeating in Louisville. Everybody knows this, but he will be there trying if he comes back well.
The point is this that as it stands now, the Grade 3 Sunland Derby is as important to Derby eligibility as the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby, traditional final Derby preps in which good horses must face other good horses.
The Sunland Derby winner does not have to beat one serious divisional contender to punch his ticket to Kentucky. Does that sound like the Kentucky Derby will be all that it can be?
Of the eight starters, only two are graded winners this late in the game, each with one victory in that class; Castaway, a division of the G3 Southwest Stakes, a prep for the prep for the Arkansas Derby, and Daddy Knows Best, winner of the G3 El Camino Real Derby on Golden Gate’s Tapeta surface.
The connections, however, are more significant than the horses. Bob Baffert also entered an uncoupled stablemate, Stirred Up, who has more than a puncher’s chance. Todd Pletcher entered Ender Knieval, with a puncher’s chance,
Steve Asmussen, meanwhile, will try to make it two straight with Daddy Nose Best, who is a worthy Derby candidate, to be sure. But the thing is that a first, or even second-place finish in some cases, by any of the big three trainers would allow them mega-multiple Derby horses, to the exclusion of others with more demonstrable class.
As it stands now, if Gemologist or Alpha, rated among the Top half-dozen on just about anyone’s list, do not pick up a lion’s share of a graded purse next out, then they won’t be dancing on May’s first Saturday. Why do you think Alpha has been re-routed something like four times? He’s proven his class but lacks the graded money.
Does that make sense? Does the graded earnings eligibility rule make sense? Since the Derby has become the only race America pays attention to anymore, Derby eligibility rules shouldn’t be skewered to getting the best of the best in the gate six weeks from now?
Deja Vu All Over Again
Or circle marks the spot, as New York-bred Went The Day Well took the lead at headstretch and, despite racing greenly, gathered himself a furlong from home and drew out to a clear cut score in the G3 Vinery Spiral Stake.
In taking the half-million Turfway Park centerpiece, Went the Day well emulated stablemate Animal Kingdom, who parlayed his Spiral victory last year into a Kentucky Derby title. The victory gave Johnny Velazquez a sweep of the Bourbonette Oaks and Spiral.
Unlike Animal Kingdom who had no dirt experience going into the Derby, Went the Day Well broke his maiden on the dirt at Gulfstream Park March 3. Todd Pletcher’s longer half of his uncoupled entry, Holiday Promise, finished second while the better regarded entrant, Heavy Breathing, the pressured pace setter was third.
Handsome Mike, the anticipated pacesetter, broke tardily from the extreme outside in the two turn event, raced very wide while well back into the first turn, but rallied gamely in deep stretch and finished a very respectable fourth.
So, what about this colt, Mr. Motion, any plans beyond this?
"I was very impressed with him,” said Motion. “Apart from a little greenness (in the stretch) he couldn't have been better. When Animal Kingdom won this race last year, he was very explosive, but this horse was a little explosive, too
"The beauty of this race is you have the option to run him one more time or not run more time. Probably the only option is the Lexington Stakes. "I feel confident telling you this horse will run in the Kentucky Derby," Motion continued…
Extra, Extra, Read All About It
Newsdad, cleverly ridden by Julien Leparoux and in receipt of six pounds from main rival Simmard, won the G2 Pan American Stakes by two lengths over Hailstone, who finished a neck ahead of second favorite Simmard in 2:24.93 for the mile and a half in a field reduced to four after two program scratches.
“It’s definitely tougher to ride in these types of races with short fields,” said Leparoux. “You can either go and try and clear on the lead or take back. Bill’s other horse [Motion, trainer of the winner] seemed to have a little more speed so I took back.”
“It was the weight,” said Simmard’s trainer, Roger Attfield. “Under allowance conditions, we won a Grade 2 and they haven’t, so we give them six pounds at a mile and a half. We got beat by a good horse.”