HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 05, 2024 – In the lead-up to last Saturday’s four-prep bonanza, we hypothesized that the decision to not comply with this year’s rescheduled Baffert Transfer Portal could mean that Kentucky Derby 150 will not be all that it should be.
After Saturday’s results, hypothesis became fact. Further, after this morning’s release of the National Thoroughbred Poll that placed Robert B Lewis winner Nysos and BC Juvenile runnerup Muth 1-2, the notion of fact was underscored.
Yes, lots or preps, including the all important 50- and 100-point preps of March and April, remain, but if Nysos does remain undefeated through April and if Muth enjoys a successful repeat of his three-year-old debut and beyond, the landmark Derby 150 without question will be less-than.
Baffert and Amr Zedan dropped its Medina Spirit lawsuit in the hopes Churchill Downs Inc. would either drop its Baffert ban altogether or, at minimum, rescind its barn-transfer edict that moved up the transfer date by one month compared to 2023.
Neither wishes came true.
Could it be CDI did not wish to allow Baffert an opportunity to reach the seven-Derby all-time victory plateau on such an occasion at the expense of legendary Calumet hardboot horseman Ben Jones, a special occasion that includes the unveiling of CDI’s new multi-million-dollar paddock ring?
Could it be that Baffert knows exactly what he has and does not want a possible seventh Derby winner from his barn to be officially credited to a designated trainer, with the added benefit of muddying the Derby waters for Churchill, rendering their landmark renewal less-than?
FOUR PREPS, TWO WET TRACKS, AND WHAT IT ALL MEANS
Surfaces were wet and sealed in both Hot Springs and Queens, New York. Can we glean anything truly noteworthy after a deeper dive into the victories of Mystic Dan and Uncle Heavy?
At Oaklawn, Mystik Dan, saving ground throughout after shifting in from post 10, rallied up on fence on footing that might have been fastest on the inside, making the most of his perfect trip.
Mystik Dan kicked on with a strong turn of foot approaching the furlong marker, making a very favorable visual impression. Liberal Arts finished very well out in the center, his sixth money finish in as many tries, including a G3 Street Sense victory at Churchill Downs, OCT. 29.
In New York, meanwhile, Parx regular Butch Reid made another successful foray into the Big A with Uncle Heavy, getting up in the very last jump to nail Grande O. Even money favorite Lightline grinded up for third in late stretch.
All three have questionable 10-furlong pedigrees, but Withers overlay wants to beat you, winning his third start in four lifetime attempts with a long, sustained rally, all at graduating distances. He’s already outrun his pedigree with Saturday’s nine furlongs.
The track was fast at Gulfstream Park, so the surface wasn’t an issue for Juvenile champion Fierceness. But he did have a valid excuse with a much-troubled start when solidly sandwiched between rivals. Indeed, was that the reason he was flat the rest of the way home?
Was he a short horse with seven published works, many of which were on the softer side? Those questions won’t be validated until he runs next. Will the next set of workouts be meant to sharpen his speed and ignite his competitive fire?
The BC Juvenile and Saratoga maiden score were fast, true indicators of rare, raw talent. But until he makes two great efforts back-to-back, how can he be trusted to bring his ‘A’ game to every dance? He forfeited that right on Saturday.
Winning Hades was good, taking the battle to all with his speed from pole position in his two-turn debut. He withstood a turn challenge from two rivals including Fierceness before withstanding a serious late-stretch challenge from Domestic Product, who was making his season’s debut with blinkers removed.
The tack worked. He finished strongly and nearly caught Hades, but the short-stretch finish line got there first.
Based only on these four prep races, the worthy Derby favorite ran at Santa Anita over the weekend. It was a serious effort from a serious colt which extended his undefeated record to three.
Always under restraint while into the bridle throughout, Nysos blew the Lewis wide open with an eye-catching turn-move, turning a competitive Grade 3 into a Poll-leading, dominating romp.
So, thanks to betamethasone and Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Racing Commission, Churchill Downs and Bob Baffert, Derby 150 miss out on the added excitement of the best horses meeting the best between the fences in Louisville on May’s first Saturday.
It’s not shocking that the biggest losers are horse racing fans and their sport, which already is mired in an existential battle.