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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

DERBY STAGE IS SET; A GOLDEN AGE FOR RIDERS, AND CHAMPIONS RETURN ON THE GOOD FOOT

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 17, 2022 – The last stop on the long and winding road to Louisville on May’s first Saturday reached its final destination yesterday in Lexington.

Upon arriving at the finish post, Tawny Port exited at Gate 11 on Derby Points Road after Saturday’s Lexington Stakes. The field is now set, barring health issues or a change of heart from connections in the final days prior to Derby.

Allowing for untoward events, we’ve listed 23 horses in points order for the 20-horse contest. It wouldn’t be the first time that horses drew into America’s Race from a “points also-eligible” list

1. Epicenter (164 points)

2. Zandon 114

3. White Abarrio 112

4. Mo Donegal 112

5. Tiz the Bomb 110

6. Cyberknife 100

7. Crown Pride (JPN) 100

8. Taiba 100

9. Simplification 74

10. Smile Happy 70

11. Tawny Port 60

12. Barber Road 58

13. Un Ojo 54

14. Early Voting 50

15. Morello 50

16. Messier 40

17. Zozos 40

18. Summer Is Tomorrow 40

19. Charge It 40

20. Happy Jack 30

AE-21. Pioneer of Medina 25

AE-22. In Due Time 24

AE-23. Ethereal Road 22

Six trainers have multiple entries, with Todd Pletcher and Brad Cox topping the list with three each.

Those six horsemen account for 14 runners and the elite stables have two obvious benefits; keeping as much of the competition at bay and the fact that if you can qualify many for the Derby, those two-year-olds will keep right on coming.

Of the horses in the Top 20, I question the Derby Day appearance of only two:

Morello, in our view, has no business in the race coming off his last non-effort following a poor start. If he were mine, my choices would be, in order of preference, the Peter Pan or Preakness.

As previously stated, we believe Tiz the Bomb is better suited to Royal Ascot turf rather Louisville dirt. Admittedly, if I were born a hard-boot, and had never won “America’s Race,” I’d be shot-taking, too.

Further, we recognize previous Derby futility of horses shipping from Japan and Dubai and realize, too, that in a period of six weeks, one will have been shipped from the Middle East to the Far East to the Midwest.

But Japanese connections cannot be second-guessed for their participation given their success on the international stage over the past six months, especially considering their domination in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Right now, HRI is working from a list of nine, again in points order, and would be shocked if the eventual winner didn’t come from among Epicenter, Zandon, White Abarrio, Mo Donegal, Taiba, Simplification, Smile Happy, Early Voting and Messier.

All that remains now is the waiting and watching.

MUSICAL JOCKEYS IN A GOLDEN AGE

I most recently was reminded about the changing face of American racing, mostly but not exclusively as it pertains to jockeys.

Some migrations are seasonal. I was reminded of this in different ways. A press release from Tampa Bay Downs, reminding us–sadly for me–that the 2021-2022 meet comes to an end Derby day.

According to Tampa’s Mike Henry, perennial leaders Daniel Centeno is on his way to Laurel MD while Antonio Gallardo is moving farther north, Toronto to be precise.

Change has been in the air since the stunning announcement that Flavien Prat and Umberto Rispoli would leave Southern California to ride in the East and Midwest. After Keeneland, and Derby week at Churchill Downs, it will on to the Big Apple for both.

Not long thereafter, Junior Alvarado announced that he would leave New York to ride in South Florida full time. He and Prat have gotten off to very fast starts in the new environments.

Midwest stalwart Ramon Vasquez will call the Southern California circuit home for the foreseeable future.

And, of course, Johnny Velazquez surprised everyone when he said he would winter in Southern California, albeit pre-Baffert suspension. Joel Rosario has been based at Oaklawn with Steve Asmussen, keeping a close eye on Epicenter, Echo Zulu and Jackie’s Warrior

With Javier Castellano riding in top form again in New York, and with Tyler Gaffalione making an appearance at every top national venue depending on the season, the modern era is looking very much like the Golden Age for riders.

BETS ‘N PIECES

As all know, Chad Brown learned from a master and has become one himself. However long it takes, his grass horses sometimes have come back from infirmities better than they were before injury. Lady Eli is the stuff of legend.

His work with Regal Glory, winner of Saturday’s G1 Jenny Wiley, Brown’s record fifth, is not in Lady Eli’s class, nor Sistercharlie for that matter. But to develop into a middle distance two-turn mare at the Grade 1 level was spectacular work…

After a roughed up three-year-old championship sprit campaign, Jackie’s Warrior made his belated 2022 debut in the G3 Count Fleet over a sloppy Oaklawn Park surface and once again dominated with his speed. Know that the connections want another crack at the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Kudos to Steve Asmussen who brought two champions back [Echo Zulu] to win their seasonal debuts…

Plum Ali was super sharp in her return for Christophe Clement taking Aqueduct’s Plenty of Grace with a strong late surge, looking very professional in doing so. Favored runnerup Technical Analysis was too keen in her first start of the year, running well, but without apparent excuse…

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