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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Three 85 point (50-20-10-5) Derby preps this weekend. One is sensational, another is pretty good and the third doesn’t deserve the points nor to even be considered a Derby prep.

The San Felipe used to be part of the supporting card for the Big ‘Cap. Now it is the Big Deal Saturday.

Unfortunately, the Pegasus and the two outlandishly endowed Middle East races for older horses have reduced the event that used to be the national highlight of the winter season to just another stakes race.

Accordingly, the million dollar purse in effect for more almost a quarter century has been deflated to $600,000, which is still more than the fields of recent years have merited.

The 2020 renewal might be the weakest yet. Gift Box was kept away from the multi-million bonanza races to bid to join Game on Dude, Lava Man, Milwaukee Brew and John Henry as multiple winners of the Big Cap.

Lava Man and John Henry are, of course, in the Hall of Fame and Game on Dude was just announced as one of this year’s nominees. Gift Box, who will be heavily favored Saturday in what might be the weakest Big Cap field ever, will have to do a lot more to even be considered for such an honor.

To return to my main point, the San Felipe has at least a pair and possibly more contenders I could see doubling in the Kentucky Derby. The challenge is to figure out which of the two big horses is “the other Baffert.”

Authentic takes it to you right out of the gate and dares you to test him. His Sham Stakes was extraordinary. It’s way too early to make such a comparison but he brought back memories of Dr. Fager in the way he just ran away and hid, increasing his margin with every stride, despite running like a goofy kid in a playground through the stretch.

My thought then and now is if he ever totally figures it out, how can he be beaten?

Thousand Words is the exact opposite. He has no flash. He just finds a way to win. He has done it three times while never winding up more than a length to the good. He’s an alley fighter, which might be a more desirable trait in a Derby hopeful than pure dazzling speed.

West Coasters have been anxiously awaiting the return of Honor AP since he blasted maidens by 5 ½ with a big fig in his second career start in October. The regally-bred colt will have to be as special as his backers think to come off the shelf after five months and beat this bunch.

You have to wonder if he’s jumping into the deep water because opportunities are fritting away to get Derby points.

Then there’s Storm the Court. You know the Eclipse champion can fire big off his triumph in the BC Juvenile. However that has become a negative key race. The first four finishers have been off the board in their next starts. This doesn’t even take into account Dennis’ Moment.

Tampa Bay Rematch

The Tampa Bay Derby lucked into an appealing rematch when Saffie Joseph Jr. pulled Chance It from last Saturday’s Fountain of Youth because he drew the outside 12 post, a near impossible situation going 8 ½ furlongs at Gulfstream.

“Horses can’t protect themselves, so we have to protect them,” Joseph explained. It’s no accident he’s the hottest new trainer to come along in years. No problem with the post this time. He’s snuggled comfortably into the four slot.

Ete Indien won the Fountain of Youth wearing saddle cloth 11 but he was actually in the 10 hole because of another scratch. Florent Geroux stole the race by gunning Ete Indien to the front by the time they had made the short run to the first turn.

Keep in mind, Chance It would have been one slot outside him and if they both tried what Ete Indien did, the result might have been different.

For some inexplicable reason—OK, maybe a winning race over the track—Sole Volante is the morning line favorite for Tampa Bay’s showcase race.

But before Sole Volante ran past Independence Hall in the stretch of the Sam. F. Davis, he was unable to make up any meaningful ground against Chance It, who was involved in a gut-wrenching stretch-long duel with As Soon On Tv, in the Mucho Macho Man.

What’s more, Chance It was coming off a four-month layoff and Joseph said he feared he didn’t have him totally cranked. The winner of four of six should be tighter for the Oldsmar race.

The others are mostly maiden breakers stepping up. Two of these—Market Analysis and Texas Swing—will be saddled by Todd Pletcher. A third Pletcher, Unrighteous, is still looking to crash the winner’s circle.

Pletcher has won this race five times but on none of those occasions was it with a 3YO coming directly from a maiden race. That said, all three are highly regarded and if this feat is going to be turned, Pletcher is a prime candidate to do it, with Market Analysis the most likely to turn the trick.

Gotham Over-Rated

If the Gotham were being run anywhere but at a NYRA track, it would probably be dropped out of the Derby points rotation. For one thing, it is a one-turn mile and one-turn races are supposedly not to be considered. Indeed, the only other one-turn races that offer Derby points are in NY, the Champagne and the Jerome.

One of the excuses offered for why Gulfstream’s Mucho Macho Man doesn’t carry Derby points is that it is a one-turn mile. But every year it attracts a stronger field than either the Jerome or the Gotham.

Given the fields the Gotham has drawn—the past five winners are Haikal, Enticed, J Boys Echo, Shagaf and El Kabeir—it’s absurd that it remains a basically “win and you’re in” Derby prep, thanks to its 50 points to the winner.

In keeping with this trend, the 2020 renewal is basically a glorified sprint featuring horses who have given little indicaton they can get the spring classics distances.

Mischevous Alex, coming off a pair of seven furlong wins, looks like the best of them. What’s more, the winner of the Swale will be fresh off the plane from Florida, a strong angle in any race this time of year.

Using the same theory, Attachment Rate, is a live longshot for Dale Romans. How special would it be for Romans, who hit bottom last week with Dennis’ Moment, to vault back into the Derby picture with a colt who received no hype the past few months?

Although, as I said, I can’t see anything coming out of this race and making an impact in Louisville.

Untitled, a well beaten fourth in the Swale, will present a line on how good Gouvernor Morris (my long range Derby pick) is. Since the Swale, Untitled led most of the way in a mile and 40 yard allowance at Tampa, only to offer little resistance when the Gouvernor kicked into gear. Turning back off that race and back to one turn, Untitled is probably the horse Mischevous Alex has to beat.

The best that can be said for the Gotham is that while it is the least interesting Derby prep of the past month, the 11-horse field makes it the best betting proposition of the three.

One Final Thought

Interesting that Saudi Arabia leveled draconian punishments to Mike Smith and Irad Ortiz for using the whip too much in the $20 million race last Saturday; this from a nation that barbarically whips human beings in the public square for the amusement and intimidation of the citizenry,    

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3 Responses

  1. Interesting point about one-turn miles, TJ, but even if they haven’t been particularly productive Derby preps since Secretariat’s Gotham, winning at the distance still enhances stud value.

  2. Irad’s drunken sailor ride on Mucho Gusto deserved a penalty flag so I’m ok for the one he did receive for whip abuse. And, it probably cost horse place and definitely show. Nice try, I-man!

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