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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, March 28, 2021 – A live crowd estimated to be from 1,600-to-1,800 Thoroughbred fans came to Gulfstream Park to witness history and were not disappointed—even if it was a altered version than what was promised.

In the end, no horse has swept Gulfstream Park’s graded-stakes series of Building blocks toward the Triple Crown classics when odds-on Greatest Honour could muster no better than a one-paced show finish behind impressive late bloomer Known Agenda.

But it did see the meet’s leading trainer and 2021 Hall of Fame nominee Todd Pletcher win a record sixth Florida Derby, giving Irad Ortiz Jr. his 138th victory at the Championship Meet, more winners than any other rider in history, surpassing previous record holder, Luis Saez.

Saez was not here to see his record being eclipsed. He was halfway around to world where, at Meydan Race Course, he took the Dubai World Cup with the gifted Mystic Guide. Judging by both his starts at 4, this horse is the real deal and will be a major player in the handicap division.

Two other Derby qualifiers were run yesterday and certainly the two winners gained Derby-qualifying points, G2 UAE Derby victor Rebel’s Romance and G3 Jeff Ruby Stakes-winning Like the King.

The former was extremely impressive, the latter workmanlike. Rebel’s Romance, stablemate of Mystic Guide, gives Godolphin its third member in the Derby Top 20. In fact, if trips are the measure, then Ruby runnerup Sainthood was probably best in the Midwest.

One small step for horse, 138 leaps towards a Championship meet record — Gulfstream photo

Several horses distinguished themselves in South Florida. Show finisher Greatest Honour never got to the outside where he prefers to be, but had no real excuse in a flat performance, likely reacting to pairing-up big figures in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth.

The good news is he was going in the right direction at the finish. Of the winner and the runnerup, Jose Ortiz had this to say: “[Known Agenda] was the best horse today, but we’ll turn the tables on them on Derby day, that’s for sure.”

Well, alrighty then…

Runnerup Soup and Sandwich was very good but is light on experience. There’s always the Lexington if Mark Casse wants to get him another run, but that’s not really the trainer’s style. If Casse has to train him up to the mile and a quarter, it will be tough for a horse that remained on his left lead through the stretch. The talent is there; the timing might not be.

It was annoying to hear a TVG analyst describe Known Agenda as “a little inconsistent.” My past performances show a record of (3) 2-0-1 at nine furlongs, the only dual winner at the trip, in which eight of the 11 Derby horses had no experience at the trip—and only one with a victory over Greatest Honour. The upset focus went to prematurely-hyped Collaborate.

Here’s a little 411 for all who underestimated Known Agenda, though in their defense no one outside the barn or HRI knew the reason for his disappointing too-late Sam F Davis rally. The colt came back full of mucous after the race, nothing which was apparent pre-Davis. It’s hard to maintain early contact when unable to catch one’s breath.

As a consequence, he was 10th or 11th of 12 in the backstretch run, virtually losing all chance, but video did show him finishing like a wild horse too late for fifth, beaten only 3-1/4 lengths for place by Nova Rags, a very good pressed-throughout fourth on Saturday.

Further, all indications were that he has grown up in a hurry. Blinkers helped him focus as evidenced by an 11-length allowance score the on Fountain of Youth eve, his Florida Derby indicating that he indeed could eat some dirt and still continue forward. As above, timing is everything.

Pletcher won three races on the Florida Derby card, as did Bill Mott, but was unlucky not to add a fourth at Turfway Park. When the winning Like the King made his 6-path sweep into the stretch, he lugged in brushing the runnerup, Sainthood, the real damage done when the long-striding Mshawish colt was blind-switched for a few strides immediately thereafter.

Once Sainthood found a clear lane outside approaching midstretch, he roared home and would have nailed the winner in a few more jumps. Not bad for a recent maiden breaker in a short-stretch mile and a sixteenth lacking both nine furlong and Tapeta experience. Not all horses handle that transition, e.g., see race favorite Tarantino.

Godolphin, unlucky to miss last year’s Derby with star-crossed Metfield, have undefeated champion Essential Quality likely already in with 40 points and have Proxy, on the bubble now with 34 points but with 100-pointers remaining. Its best chance likely is Rebel’s Romance but trainer Charles Appleby didn’t seem excited by Derby prospects for his gelding.

Much of this remains academic, of course, with the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial on tap this weekend and the Arkansas Derby the week after, the latter featuring protem Derby favorite, Concert Tour.

BETS ‘N PIECES:  Julien Leparoux was brilliant yesterday, winning two stakes, doling out sleepy fractions to steal the G2 Pan American turf marathon with nicely developing four year old Churn N’ Burn, to go with a last-jump score aboard War Like Goddess. To be fair, he should share part of the winner’s share of that purse with Irad Ortiz, who needlessly looked around twice in the final strides instead of staying on his belly with odds-on Always Shopping to the wire, the distraction very likely costing the connections a Grade 3 victory. Not to mention bettors in three horizontal pools. The public needs to be protected…   Annex won his second straight listed stakes to remain undefeated at 3, a top turf prospect for Bill Mott. This is a very good colt and we’re looking forward to future summer battles with contemporary Colonel Liam. Speaking of turf prospects, Mott unleashed a first-timer, Colton’s Command, who looked a winner before reaching the half-mile pole. He owns an excellent turn of foot, Junior Alvarado riding with great confidence; stable mail please… Ken McPeek made it two straight Florida Oaks victories with Crazy Beautiful who was crazy good while drawing away in the final sixteenth and winning in full stride. The man continues to have his training ways with fillies…  Kudos to Roger Attfield who had Gray’s Fable ready for his season’s debut in G3 Appleton, Alvarado again. Only annoying aspect watching this one is seeing how the normally aggressive Florida jockey colony allows early speed to get loose so easily on Gulfstream’s speed-favoring lawn… Basin showed some rust, and class, to win his season’s debut in his first start for Todd Pletcher. Expect forward progress next time… Speaking of surfaces, it appeared that both the turf and the main track, especially, could have used a little water to cut down on the prevailing cuppiness (read kickback) … The Rainbow 6 remains as popular as ever, with over $8 million in Saturday’s mandatory-pay pool, helping Gulfstream reach the $41.1 million handle plateau on the 14-race card.

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16 Responses

  1. I wonder if Shug perhaps was leaving some juice in the lemon in prepping for the Florida Derby, considering the 3 big races he had run prior, and how incredibly unlikely it would have been for Honour to have a forward move in him on Ky Derby day if he had run big again yesterday. With the timing of the Fountain of Youth start, he was gonna need a race in between that and May 1 anyhow.

    If I remember correctly, Orb despite winning the Florida Derby actually ran a clearly inferior race that day on figs than he did in the Fountain of Youth or the Kentucky Derby. I have no idea what Honour’s fig is going to look like from yesterday since it was such a strange track, but leaving Honour a bit short on conditioning between the Youth and the Fla Derby isn’t something I would put past Shug and his hall of fame bag of tricks. I could be reading too much into this of course.

    1. Your observation is valid. He was coming off two significant paired tops in his last two and indeed night have left something in the tank, believing proven class and added distance would compensate. Nothing sinister, simply might have bounced.

      Orb ran three FL races prior, but the first was an allowance race. I did write after the Holy Bull thought he would train up to FL Derby but when he ran in F of Y, guess he thought instead of training nine weeks to KY might as well run. Interested to see what he does with him between now and then. The colt is better than he showed Saturday///

    2. The incident with Life Is Good and his withdrawal from KY Derby illustrates how unpredictable this sport is. It seems unlikely that Shug would not want to add The Florida Derby to GH’s resume in light of the fact there are no guarantees the horse will even show up in Louisville. The Florida Derby is a big enough prize that all horses are trying to win. That’s how I see it.

      1. You’re right C, but the Derby is the Derby. Just surprised he went in three graded stakes. I wrote after Holy Bull would expect Shug to skip F of Y and train up to Florida Derby. Wonder if he’s second guessing a little now…

        1. I absolutely believe that he wanted to win the Florida Derby, but i do suspect he was hoping to get it the way he got it with Orb. Orb ran a 105 Equibase Fig in winning the FOY, dropped to a 98 fig in pulling off the Florida Derby, and then moved forward strongly to a 109 in taking the Kentucky Derby.

          It’s just food for thought: if Greatest Honour is dismissed too greatly on the board on May 1, having a possible reason to believe a big forward move is coming is reason enough to get it in. And on the other hand, if the Fla Derby result is ignored and Honour is a very short price, you have plenty of reason to say ‘nah – he peaked too early and the competition has already caught up. He showed us what he is in the Fla Derby’. Both rationales are legit based on what the board is showing on May 1. As much as I think he might have not been fully cracked on Saturday, if Honour is 5/2 on the board, I will dismiss him in my wagering without a second thought.

          1. Agree on virtually all counts. Think Monarchos. A killer at GP, followed by a soft late-finish third, followed by a Derby explosion.

            We’ve been saying that this crop in deep, even without Life Is Good, and there are four majors left and several major horses.

            Whoever becomes the Derby favorite, can’t believe any horse will be as low as 5-2 unless, say, Essential Quality or Concert Tour run off the screen. Right now, setting the over/under on Great Honour at 5-1 and, gun to head, would probably take over.

            No one is paid extra if the predict the Derby winner today, Futures pools notwithstanding…

    1. Yes, I did a double-take when I read it. Unfortunately for Ortiz and the colt, the competition in KY will be deeper and tougher… Only adds to usual intriguing race.

    2. Unfortunately for Jose, he will obviously have more rivals to think about than simply Known Agenda come May 1.

  2. Nice to read about Gulfstream’ s success in $ while the aficionado patrons were mostly away from the track which is a continual signal that bettors don’t necessarily have to be there to cash or lose bets as they become more accustomed to the reality of playing at home- office instead of traveling, parking, fighting traffic and time, besides being skeptical of who’s next to them-you- me as they cough, swear, drink and try to get anyone’s attention when they, supposedly, hit a combo bet. I’m glad that the big a ( small letters) ended this uneventful winter meet, and more importantly, that young Eric Cancel won 6 races outta’ 8 offered in Sunday’s program. I really hope that this young, fit serious young man gets the rides that he deserves at any distance and not play second fiddle to the Ortizes and a couple of other jocks locked up with big time trainers because, I believed months ago, that he is a big time rider with excellent intuition, anticipation and ability, much better than some other top ten riders of the New York area colony. If given the right possibilities, he shall prove that he’s better than most of them. It’s up to his agent(s) to be able to sell facts and not just possibilities by begging the prime outfits for rides in big races. I really wish him good luck and the opportunities to prove himself that he’s improved enough to stay away from longshots in those pitiful, cheap maiden races. His time has arrived… give this young stud a chance !

    1. Besides winning the riding title at Aqueduct’s winter meet on Sunday’s 8 race card he won 6 races and placed and showed in the other 2 races. Standing ovation, for sure! Bravo!

    2. Yeah Amazing performance by Cancel yesterday; in addition to the 6 wins on the 8 race card, Cancel’s mounts ran 2nd and 3rd in the 2 races he didn’t win. Jockey momentum is an interesting thing; Manny Franco appeared to have next when he was riding the wave of the Tiz The Law chapter, but quickly fell out of favor when Tagg took him off. With the big guns all back for Belmont, it becomes so much harder to regain that wave and hard to even keep decent mounts. With Irad, Rosario, Saez, and Jose Ortiz you have arguably the 4 best jockeys in the country, and you haven’t even gotten to Johnny V, Javier Castellano, Junior Alvarado, and Jose Lezcano yet. The math just isn’t there for the remaining jockeys.

    3. Yes, he is obviously talented, and when given the chance he delivers. Curious how you knew months ago that he is a big time rider? Was it one race you cashed on, or something you had seen in one of his few mounts that lead you to your conclusion.
      After his first year or two, I thought he would have been more of a staple in New York.

      1. Mark, your smart remark about me winning a ticket which changed my mind about E C is a juvenile one! I don’t bet or watch every race, esp at the winter meet of Aqueduct, never have. I have said complimentary things about Lescano and Alvarado while putting down M. Franco’s so called reputation. I don’t bet jockeys nor favs just because they’re there in a race, that’s foolish. I have said that Irad Ortiz is a very aggressive, winning rider somewhat like his older pal Angel Cordero was on his heydays, decades really, beating, scaring most other jockeys. I liked Cancel as a bug boy, maybe the last good bug in several years. Recently, over the course of a year or so, he seemed settled, more mature and I’m sure that several trainers have noticed that also. Will he be given a chance from others besides Ms Linda? Hope so, even if sometimes I’ll bet against him just like I have with Lescano, Alvarado. I chart. I don’t necessarily add points to a pick just because of a jockey but I Do Deduct points when I dislike one and Franco was/is one of them. Ps: I would Not trade with Any one so -called handicapper the way I Spot bet not with the way I usually manage the bet$ which in itself it maybe harder than picking the first, second or third favorite of each race.. It’s not How long you’ve been playing but how Profitably you’ve been Doing it and have you changed for the better or are you just stuck in the same puddle?…Never mind..😷

  3. Having watched the Florida Derby several times now. It’s pretty clear to these blue eyes that Shug did sent over a horse who was not firing his best shot. Call it what you want. Maybe he thought Greatest Honour at 80% was still good enough to win but we know now that was not the case.

    The fact Greatest Honour had the entire length of the stretch to catch Soup and Sandwich the second place horse. He was not able to do that is all the proof you need Shug sent over a short horse.

    Taking nothing away from the winner, who I bet, based on ability and odds. Known Agenda is a very nice horse, this is a very deep group despite the withdrawal of Life is Good. The fact Ortiz made the comment he did after the race is all the proof I need you’ll see the real GH on Derby Day.

    I’m not saying his best will be good enough to win in this very deep field but knowing what I know, I will feel very confident wagering on him.

    1. Can’t argue vociferously with anything you’ve said. In fact, you made a good case.

      I’m a big GH fan. Drove 90 miles to visit him last week. But I have no idea who I’m betting in the Derby.

      Just too much time and racing left. I want to cash, too old to be interested in bragging rights…

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