Saturday, April 19, 2008


Racecar Rhapsody Music to My Ears; Tomcito Deserves Derby Berth


Since next Saturday’s Derby Trial hasn’t been a meaningful Kentucky Derby prep since the Calumet days and, these days, more a harbinger of Preakness form, today’s Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington is absolutely the last chance for connections of Derby aspirants to qualify for the big dance.

The only member of the 11-horse field we can take seriously as a potential major Derby player is Peruvian champion Tomcito. We’re not disparaging colts such as Atoned, Salute The Sarge or Racecar Rhapsody--our choice to win the race. At this point they appear a notch below the top Derby contenders.

But the jury is still out on Tomcito. It’s not so much that he’s already won at the Kentucky Derby AND Belmont Stakes distances--pretty damn impressive, that--but there is the matter of his U.S. debut. It was very good.

I’m well aware he was third, beaten by 12½ lengths by Big Brown and Smooth Air in the Florida Derby. But the race was run in 1:48 and a couple of ticks. And he came from last to be third, 3¼ lengths in front of Hey Byrn, who came back to win the Holy Bull last Saturday. In fact, the Florida Derby was key, producing two winners from two subsequent starters.

Before the race, much was made of the fact that posts 11 and 12 were zero for life since the Gulfstream Park track was refigured. But how many horses win in Hallandale Beach coming from last of 12, last of anything for that matter? It might not be zero, but it’s pretty close.

Today, Tomcito goes postward second-time Lasix for trainer Dante Zanelli. That’s never a bad thing. Jorge Chavez will ride him back; he must have learned something last time, right? And how about this? We’ve noticed that horses making their debuts on Polytrack run much better if they work fast on it. Not just good, but fast.

After a maintenance breeze at Churchill Downs, presumably testing out that strip to find out what his energy level is coming out of South Florida, Zanelli shipped him to Keeneland and sent him a half-mile from the gate in :46 3/5.

Not only was that move the best of 35 the morning of April 15--and remember that’s compared to most workers that have a run-up start--but it was the fifth fastest work at the distance by a three-year-old of the 134 to work all week. It should put him in the race a little sooner. Even on Polytrack, that’s never a bad thing.

Keeneland this past week has been playing almost like a dirt track. Speed horses had a chance, if they were the best horse. Some even won, which hardly ever happens in Lexington anymore.

With betting handle off double-digits, perhaps the word went out to tweak the surface a bit, giving speed types some chance instead of no chance at all.

Tomcito needs to run well as he can use the graded earnings. And if he does earn his way into the race, it does two things: It gives the Derby another layer of mystery--like the 134th renewal needs one--and it would only help grow the legend of the undefeated upstart, Big Brown. Given his accomplishments, Tomcito deserves to be in the field more than a half dozen I could name, but won’t.

They know who they are.

I’ll likely wager on Racecar Rhapsody to win the Lexington if I can get at least early line odds of 9-2. I don’t think it’s outrageous to believe that if they ran 100 Lexingtons he could win 18 of them.

Racecar Rhapsody is yet another member of this sophomore class that’s been competitive in graded company but hasn’t stepped up. But given his Equiform development line, he appears poised for a forward move in his second start following a layup. That start was a mid-move, semi-troubled, semi-short-of-condition fourth in Adriano’s Lane’s End, beaten four lengths. He should move forward off that, too.

So, if I might steal a line from Cary Fotias, for me it will be Racecar Rhapsody for the Lexington money, with Tomcito the emotional hedge.

Written by John Pricci


Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
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