I don’t know….last year I think I started my Horse Racing 2011 Countdown to the Triple Crown a little too early (Mid-January). This year (beginning of March) I might be starting the 2012 Countdown to the Triple Crown a tad too tardy. Maybe next year, when I start in February, the timing will be about right. I think I’ve been a little lackadaisical this year because I’ve known since last August that Union Rags was going to be the horse to beat in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
Anyway, my Countdown to the Triple Crown as of March 6, 2012 and remember, I’m sure this list will change a lot over the next few (eight) weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
1) Union Rags- stays at #1 based on three things. 1) The ease in which he won his three year old debut (the Fountain of Youth Stakes). Grant it, he wasn’t facing a star studded field but still, he cruised around the track, took command on the turn for home and drew away to win by 4 lengths while jockey Julien Leparoux simply showed him the whip once or twice. 2) I know it’s early but, thus far, his biggest competitior (Algorthims) was injured and has been knocked out of the Triple Crown Series. 3) Although trainer Michael Matz said before the FOY that Union Rags was “as ready as he’s going to be”, I believe this colt by Dixie Union was about 80% cranked up. That being said, I shutter to think how good he could be when he is at 100%
2) Hansen- last year’s two year old champion redeemed himself in a big way with his impressive win in the Gotham Stakes. Perhaps more importantly than the win itself was the fact that he finally showed he can relax off the early pace. I can’t stress to you how important that is for his success. In every one of his races prior to theGotham, he was a one dimension (speed) horse. If he continues to adhere to rating tactics, he will be very scary in the Triple Crown series
3) El Padrino- has just about all the pieces of the puzzle to be a classics’ winner. He is by Pulpit (A.P. Indy), showed enormous heart and determination in winning the Risen Star. (Mark Valeski gave him everything he could handle and this horse never quit), he can put back to back good races together, he finishes strong (he ran the last quarter in the Risen Star in :23 1/5) and is a quiet, easy going horse….what else is left?
4) Creative Cause- by super sire Giant’s Causeway, this horse has a nice stride and, just by looking at him, you can see the quality. Don’t overanalyze his 2012 debut in the San Vicente too much. After all, it was his first start since November and it was at seven furlongs. This horse is clearly a distance horse and not a seven furlong horse. I expect a much better showing in his next start (March 10 San Felipe)
5) Castaway- I might catch some heat for putting this horse so high on the list after just one major win (a split of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park). I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, I put him this high on the list because right before the Southwest I got a text to my phone saying he was going to “run big”. So, I posted he would run well and lo and behold, he won at 6-1….I cashed in big….but that’s not he reason why I am ranking him so high….. It’s not at all
The reason is along with that original text came a second and third text about the horses’ ability and someone close to the horse drew some comparisons to some mighty fine horses in the past. Are you getting my drift here? If not, listen to what I’m telling you. This horse is, at this point, a diamond in the rough. Readers, the Southwest was no fluke and, assuming he stays healthy, is about ready to bust out
6) I’ll Have Another- bursted on the Triple Crown trail with a dominating win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at an eye popping 43-1 odds and in a quick time (1 1/16 miles in 1:40.4). I believe he is for real but he’ll need another big win somewhere before the Derby in order to legitimize himself.
7) Alpha- was second to Union Rags in the Champagne Stakes last year but mailed it in (11th) in the 2011 Breeders Cup Juvenile. From there, he’s been beating up on inferior competition in New York while winning the Count Fleet Stakes and the Withers. Obviously a talented individual, but he needs run against some top flight three year olds to test is mettle. Ask and ye shall receive, he is being pointed towards the March 31 Florida Derby. We’ll know a lot more after that race.
8 ) Dullahan- was fourth in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year and I’m keeping him in the top 10 for right now even though a) it’s March and he hasn’t made a start yet this year and b) when he does start, it’ll be on the turf…huh? The turf?….whatever, not sure I understand that but plans after that call for the Blue Grass Stakes and then straight to the Derby. That’s certainly an interesting path, and I’ll guess we’ll see how it works.
9) My Adonis- ran a remarkable race in the Holy Bull Stakes (coming from 20 lengths out of it to get beat by 5) against Algorthims and Hansen, and followed that up with a solid second place finish in the aforementioned Gotham Stakes. He was much closer to the early pace in that race (the Gotham) and I’m not sure he was used to that running style. Personally, I need to see more of him but so far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen. That being said, the fact still remains that he’s been beaten twice in a row by Hansen so he’s going to have to improve more to move up the list.
10) Sabercat- really seems to be getting the hang of this racing thing. After starting his career with 3 straight sub-par efforts, he then rattled off 3 straight impressive wins including his last where he was super impressive in winning the Delta Jackpot (even though that was back in November). It remains to be seen if he can hang with the top three year olds but if he runs back to that Jackpot win, he should be right there with them.
11) Fed Biz- is oozing with talent and good looks (take a look at the picture below). You can add experience (Bob Baffert is his trainer) and great bloodlines (Giant’s Causeway out of Spunoutofcontrol) to his strong points. On top of all that his last win, albeit against optional claimers, was visually impressive. I’m looking forward to his next start, which is the March 10 San Felipe…we’ll definitely know where we stand with him after that race because it’s coming up very competitive
12) Bodemeister- named after trainer Bob Baffert’s son (Bode); he is another with good looks, talent and great bloodlines (by Empire Maker out of a Storm Cat mare). Although, he has just one maiden win out of two career starts I can’t ignore him. That one win was by almost 10 lengths while running a :23 4/5 second quarter and then each of the following quarters faster than the one before. That has to catch your attention.
13) Gemologist- with Algorthims, El Padrino and Discreet Dancer getting most or all of the attention in the Todd Pletcher barn, this guy could be lying in the weeds. I mean, he is by Tiznow, he is undefeated, proven at a distance of ground and has defeated two big fields already in his career. (Big field experience is priceless for a horse leading up to theDerby).
14) Mark Valeski- shame on me….Trainer Larry Jones, who also trains 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, has been talking up this horse for several weeks now and I didn’t listen to him. So what happens? He gave El Padrino, who is currently ranked #3 on my list, all he can possibly handle in the Risen Star Stakes on February 25. In that race, not only did he give El Padrino all he can handle, but he did it having never run further than six furlongs. (The Risen Star is a mile and sixteenth) If he’s runs back to that effort in his next race, which is the April 1 Louisiana Derby, he’ll catapult into my top 10.
15) Secret Circle- last years Breeders Cup Juvenile Sprint winner was thought to be just that….a sprinter. When he came second to the now injured Out of Bounds in the Sham Stakes I was 99% convinced he was just a sprinter. But then came his Southwest win (at one mile) at Oaklawn Park on February 20… So now what? …..So now I say he stays in the top 15 until I can see him in another distance race.
16) Liasion- I hate to put him so low on the list. I mean, after all, before his Robert B. Lewis Stakes disaster (lost his rider, while losing ground in the stretch) he is a grade one stakes winner. Bob Baffert still likes him and I’m going to give him a mulligan for that last race. If he bounces back and wins big in his next start (which might be the San Felipe March 10) I won’t be the least bit surprised. Again, I hate putting him this low.
17) Empire Way- was second to I’ll Have Another in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes last month and that was against a track bias that was not in his favorite. Yet another with the bloodlines to be a good horse (Empire Maker- Delta Princess by A.P. Indy) and deserves to be in the top 20 until proven otherwise.
18) Battle Hardened- is another I hate putting so low on the list as it appears this horse is starting to gather momentum as well. Although he finished second in a MSW race two starts back, his connections thought highly enough of him to enter him the Sam F. Davis Stakes (which is a Kentucky Derby prep race run at Calder Racecourse) and sure enough, he won it impressively. Overall, I think he deserves recognition and I respect him enough to want to see him run again (vs. better opposition, of course).
19) Discreet Dancer- is not as bad as his Fountain of Youth showed. This is probably too low on the list for his ability, but hey….we/I got 8 weeks yet to adjust it.
20) Exothermic- has been lights out in his brief career. By Empire Maker, he is 2 for 2 and both wins were very impressive. Albeit, one was a maiden race and the other an allowance race (both on turf). I will definitely be watching him when he runs on the dirt, especially after that huge work on February 24 (five furlongs in :58.4)
21) Najjarr- it appears this horse might be starting to get his act together too. After going 0 for 4 in his first four races last year, he is now 2 for 2 in 2012 and in both those wins he showed eye catching acceleration. I’m keeping an eye on him for now.
22) Jake Mo- by 50-1 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, this horse came second to Castaway in the Southwest Stakes in his last. Second behind what potential could be a budding super star? Off that fact alone he deserves to be mentioned.
Week 1 Notes: Algorithms (splint), Out of Bounds (condylar fracture) and Thunder Moccasin (being kept to sprint races) are all off the Triple Crown trail.