It was apparent that Super Ninety Nine would be hard pressed to hold the lead and surely Flashback, sitting a perfect pocket trip beneath Garrett Gomez, would swept up three wide and make amends under the patient handling he didn't receive in the San Felipe.
But Goldencents and Kevin Krigger, just like last year when Mario Gutierrez was guiding I'll Have Another to a minor upset for trainer Doug O'Neilll. would repeat that performance in Louisville four weeks later.
Last year, O'Neill rewarded Gutierrez' loyalty with a winning Derby mount. This year he'll try to do the same with Goldencents, who ran 9 furlongs in 1:47.52 off a strong early pace. By comparison, it took Verrazano 1:50.27 to get the same trip--but that happened as the result of a half-mile of :49.62 and six furlongs in 1:13.74.
And to think that there are some pretty good horses lined up to run in next weekend's Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby, the 2013 renewal of America's Race just might be one for the ages. The cream of this division just keeps coming to the top.*
Of Bridges and Musical Jockeys
Very seldom has a horse race lived up to its billing. The Wood Memorial did and then some.
For openers, Verrazano went from a maiden first-time starter on New Year's Day to the winner of four straight, including a million dollar Grade 1.
And once again, he passed a two-turn test and his first serious gut check. Whether he idles when in front or not, he had a right to be beaten but Verrazano refused to be denied.
With Johnny Velazquez looking over his left shoulder more than the front end as he approached the far turn, he withstood the challenge of the formerly undefeated Vyjack and strong finishing Normandy Invasion.
The latter needed at least a second place finish to qualify for the Derby on points and he earned 50 points, winning the biggest place photo of his young life. More importantly, he was going in the right direction at the finish.
Now that the Wood is in the books, let the jockeying for position begin.
Velazquez made his plea on national television, saying he'd like to wait about a week, see how Orb and Verrazano are training and then make a decision. He is in demand. Then so is Orb and Verrazano.
It's likely that if Verrazano comes back none the worse for the wear, he will stick with Todd Pletcher's undefeated colt. Besides, if he gives him up, it opens the door to the Pletcher barn even wider for Castellano and his super-agent Matt Muzikar.
Castellano, who finished like a wild man to get Normady Invasion up, saving the place and Chad Brown's Derby dreams, but is committed to the Pletcher trained, Winstar-owned Revolutionary, who obviously has a very big chance on May's first Saturday.
Joel Rosario, the rider of Vyjack who did not commit to that colt beyond the Wood, could ride him back, is in the conversation to ride Normandy Invasion, and has ridden Orb to victory.
The strong finishing Rosie Napravnik could get a leg up, but the weight of media attention and high expectations might be too much to bear for the colt's active owner, Rick Porter. And it was Normandy Invasion who was gobbling up ground during a final three furlongs that went in a very lively :36.53
Or will Jose Lezcano, a victim of circumstances in the Risen Star, get a leg back up?
This much is clear: Verrazano, Normandy Invasion and Vyjack, a little skittish in the paddock pre-race, put on a terrific show in Queens, especially the winner.
In the elevator back to the press box, I asked a colleague what he thought might happen based on what he saw from the Wood horses in the paddock.
"If Verrazano runs to his looks," he said, "they're going to name a bridge after him."
Arrogance Finishes Second in Bay Shore
Overreacting to the the speedy surface, Javier Castellano had the Swale winner--yes, the one that made a 4-path sweep to win the Swale--yes, that 7 furlong Grade 3 at Gulfstream Park--right on top of the hottest pace of the day (:22.03, :44.70), put away two speed rivals who were racing on the turn then had to ward off mid-moving The Truth and K G into the stretch.
Well, he put him away, too, but could not hold off Declan's Warrior under a strong finishing well judged ride from Jose Lezcano.
Declan's Warrior clearly raised his game, coming off a preliminary allowances at 7-1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream in which he defeated Narvaez, who came back as an extreme longshot to finish a surprisingly good fourth in the Florida Derby. A neck defeat to Park City in his season's debut is the only blemish after four career starts.
Close Hatches Remains Perfect
Gamblers have an expression that it's often better to be lucky than good. I was lucky. Close Hatches was good.
You will read in the next few days how the undefeated Bill Mott trainee took advantage of a live and speedy inside to get the job done. Well, the southwest wind might have had something to do with that speedy bias. But those guts don't help in two turn races.
As race caller Tom Durkin intoned, "Walkwithapurpose is in perfect position," sitting a pocket-rocket trip as Close Hatches was behind hounded on the lead by Let Me Entertain U.
Well, at the finish, it was daylight back to Walkwithapurpose in third and Close Hatches dispatched the perfect tripping Princess of Sylmar and won the class battle down to the wire.
This is a good filly. And the suspicion is Close Hatches will be better with a target. Imagine that, trying to improve on perfection.
When Hear the Ghost came up lame 72 hours prior to the Santa Anita Derby, the air went out of the race for me. Who's Flashback going to lose?
Then the Equiform data arrived and wasn't I surprised to see that the game San Felipe runnerup was not a layover, that as many as three different horses had a better than puncher's chance to pull off the upset.
Now what, back to Handicapping 101 and plot how the race would shape out and who would be in the best spot? Would speed have the edge now? After all, Flashback wasn't going to the lead.
That's what got Julien Leparoux fired. But with rail position, clearly GG would have to establish position or get shuffled off to Van Nuys.
Well, we'll find all this out later.
Right now, Todd Pletcher, with seven minutes to post is 6-5 to win the Gazelle. We think the crowd has it wrong; Close Hatches is the best of this group.
Let's see if we're walking around lucky?
*computer repair edits made on 04/07/13, 10:34am