HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 2, 2021 — So, does the Kentucky Derby go through Bob Baffert, Brad Cox, or Shug McGaughey? Good question, right?
This instant, Bullet Bob has five prospects for the Derby and beyond: Life Is Good and Medina Spirit, both of which run in Saturday’s San Felipe; Concert Tour, going to Arkansas for the Rebel, and Freedom Fighter, a courageous runnerup to the latter, is headed to Gotham for this weekend’s Gotham.
But first, some unfinished business: Thinking on this for three days and have reached a conclusion; Greatest Honour’s Fountain of Youth was better than his Holy Bull. Yes, and if I had a lily, I’d gild it.
I gave the edge to Saturday’s performance because while he showed more brilliance a month ago with a turn of foot that ended the drama in the five jumps before reaching the Holy Bull headstretch. But Saturday’s test had a much higher degree of difficulty.
For one, the pace wasn’t as fast as it appeared on paper; it almost never is. Secondly, he took dirt, which he seemed to resent—we’re taking the rider’s word here, we couldn’t tell—but either way, it proved something. It proved that Greatest Honour can overcome adversity.
But it’s the power of his stride that takes one’s breath away. He snatched victory away from Drain the Clock, who appeared near unbeatable as he turned into the gimmicky first-finish-line stretch.
But once Jose Ortiz finally got his colt outside—and how often do you see a horse get looped on the turn, rally from behind a rival with momentum and beat that horse? Allow me to answer; you don’t.
After getting tattooed by Ortiz righthanded at headstretch–which might have gotten him fined in Saudi Arabia—and after applying one or two for good measure on the left side– ‘Honour’ lengthened stride perceptibly, powered past everyone, then was eased up in the final few jumps.
Greatest Honour is a good horse in the manner that old school good horses were–late runners who refuse to hang in the final strides, whatever the compromising circumstances.
“He was doing something he didn’t want to do,” explained McGaughey, “to run a mile and a sixteenth over this racetrack with the short pole… I’m just glad I don’t have to do that anymore,” before adding “it’s kinda’ fun to watch him run.” We disagree. We think it’s the big fun to watch him run.
JUVENILE CHAMP RETURNS IN A BIG WAY
The manner of Essential Quality’s victory was impressive in a different way than the Fountain of Youth winner. He appeared to be in control of his destiny throughout, he moved at the perfect time, separated himself and hit the finish in full stride.
What we noted is that for a long striding horse to handle the sloppy surface as deftly as he did speaks to his athleticism. As for the rest of it, he’s 4-for-4 lifetime while keeping top company. So what’s not to like?
According to Cox, the next stop is either Hot Springs or Lexington, possibly Florida if bad weather dictates.
As for the San Felipe, Medina Spirit worked his way into Saturday’s race last weekend. And Baffert has enjoyed uncommon success when his horses “tell him.”
We’re anxious to see how Life Is Good acts through the stretch. His antics in the Sham Stakes were a sign of immaturity and just won’t do when he meets stiffer opponents. It was Authentic’s Haskell all over again in his prelude to Derby. Better horses just might be the focus his mind needs. Looking forward…
IT’S TAMPA TIME
The seminal event at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday will be one of five stakes on the Festival Day program and the day’s fulcrum will have a gateful of 3-year-olds looking to have their Louisville tickets punched.
Returning for Bill Mott will be Sam F. Davis winner Candy Man Rocket. The 1-1/16 mile event is a Derby 50-pointer and the Hall of Famer will try to win his second Tampa Bay Derby in three years, taking the 2019 edition with Tacitus.
“It seems like he is doing equally as well now as he was before the Davis,” Mott told the Tampa press staff by phone after the colt worked a bullet 48 3/5 best of 36 at Payson Park, which is rolling along on that surface.
“He was on his own and I’m very pleased with him,” Mott continued. “He looked as smooth as silk. He is a good work horse anyway, but I liked the way he did it.” Junior Alvarado has the return call. Stablemate Nova Rags, the Davis runnerup, is on the fence.
Grade 3 winner Sittin On Go is shipping north for Dale Romans for his first start since a dull sixth-place finish in the G3 Holy Bull. Also expected are Hidden Stash and Boca Boy, 3rd, and 4th in the Davis, respectively.
Todd Pletcher, who has won the Tampa Bay Derby a record five times, will start Promise Keeper, a 5-length maiden winner going a flat mile on a sloppy Gulfstream track, and Unbridled Honor, a maiden winner at 1-mile 40 yards on the Davis undercard.
Gulfstream maiden winner King of Dreams, from the connections of last year’s winner King Guillermo, is an expected starter, as is Mark Casse’s Helium, 2-for-2 on Woodbine’s Tapeta including the Display Stakes.
Hello Hot Rod, 3-for-4 including the Jimmy Winkfield, is expected to enter as is Super Strong, a Grade 1 winner at Camarero on debut going 7 furlongs in the slop.
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
Couldn’t hit submit without a word about Monomoy Girl. Wow will do, not because she was brilliant or electrifying or anything like that. It’s enough to say that a 6-year-mare showed up, appeared a little rusty, and still won, her 12th straight victory, and is now 14-for-16 lifetime.
Said regular partner Florent Geroux of the two-time champion: “She always delivers, so it’s easy to appreciate a champion. I’m the luckiest jockey in the world right now.”