Horse Racing: 2013 Countdown to the Triple Crown- April 9, 2013

Even though Verrazano won the 2013 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack and Goldencents won the 2013 Santa Anita Derby, both this past Saturday, our Horse Racing 2013 Countdown to the Triple Crown list basically remains the same.

In the Wood Memorial, 4/5 favorite Verrazano sat just off the early leader (77-1 shot) Chrisandthecapper thru very slow fractions of 24.4 and 49.4 for the half. At that point, jockey John Velazquez, sensing the slow pace, put his mount into action and Verrazano took command of the race with a quick and breathtaking move.

The colt held a one length lead as they approached the far turn and he looked home free to me, but the other undefeated horse in the field, Vyjack, also began his run and quickly collared Verrazano

Verrazano, for whom track announcer extraordinaire Tom Durkin called it perfectly, was “tested like he was never tested before” and he passed the test fairly well in my opinion. The gorgeous colt by More Than Ready dug in and refused to let Vyjack, or the oncoming Normandy Invasion, pass and would go on to prevail by ¾’s of  length. Normandy Invasion would catch Vyjack for 2nd, by a neck and it was another 3 3/4 lengths back to Mr. Palmer. The final time of 1:50.1 which wasn’t exactly the time I was expecting.

In the Santa Anita Derby, Super Ninety Nine, winner of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes in February, took the early lead and ripped off suicidal early fractions of  :22.3, 46.2  and 1:10.2. From there, Goldencents would take over the lead but the gray Flashback was coming hard to his outside. It looked as though Flashback was going to go right on by but Goldencents had plenty left to hold off that rival by 1 1/4 lengths while Super Ninety Nine faded to 3rd, 8 1/4 lengths back. The final time was 1:48.3, which calculates to some 8 lengths faster than Verrazano albeit the surfaces probably had a lot more to do with that than anything else.

Please note, Flashback has been removed for the Kentucky Derby trail due to a bone chip discovered in his knee after the Santa Anita Derby

 

2013 KentuckyDerby Contenders:

 

1) Revolutionary- remains on top for this week because even though I saw Verrazano, Goldencents, Super Ninety Nine, Vyjack, Normandy Invasion and Tiz A Minister, all legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders, this weekend I didn’t see anyone who did anything to make me think any different.

I still love this colt’s breeding (War Pass-Runup the Colors by A.P. Indy), physique, poise, his late acceleration and, most importantly, his will to win.

Make no mistake, this year’s crop of three year old is wide open…the top 8 or 10 horses on this list are no slouches and, like every year, with less than 4 weeks to go the Derby its still anyone’s race.

 

2) Verrazano- I (arguably) leap frogged him over Orb based on his Wood Memorial win this past Saturday. That being said, there are two ways to look at how he performed in that race.

On one hand, he showed me several things that made me like him even more. One, that move he made from the 3/8’s pole to the quarter pole was nothing short of spectacular. When jockey John Velaquez asked him, he flat out exploded (watch the replay I posted again). Two, he showed me he has heart when he was looked in the eye down the stretch by a quality horse (Vyjack) and refused to let him pass. Three, he got the mile and an eighth distance and did not show me any signs that any further distance would be an issue and four, he came home the last eighth in a solid :36.1

On the other hand, after he did make that huge move at the 3/8th’s pole, I expected him to run away from the field but he didn’t. Why not?…also, I realize that the Aqueduct surface plays very slow but 1:50.1 for the final time? I think with a little training…(Ok, A LOT of training) I could run faster than that. Then, of course, there was the fact that Normandy Invasion was coming to him hard in the final 100 or so yards, what might have happened if the race (like the Kentucky Derby) was another 1/8 of a mile?

Here are a couple of explanations by his trainer (Todd Pletcher) and jockey (John Velazquez).

“I think he’s still learning” Pletcher said. “He has a tendency to idle a little bit and wait on company down the lane. (Very true from what I can see) I thought that today he did that a little bit. It was the first time he had horses real close to him at the finish of a race so hopefully every step we make is a learning experience for him and he learns to polish off these races a little better.”

“He hasn’t done anything wrong so far” Pletcher added….which is true also.

Velasquez said: “He was already going, and Vyjack came to him, I looked at him, but I never hit Verrazano. I was like; he’s running good enough that I don’t have to hit him,

So I went to hand-ride him and show him the whip and tried to keep his attention because I know he kind of waits, and he’s looking at the infield, and I just kind of got his attention. And all of a sudden Normandy Invasion got close at the wire and I never saw him. I didn’t hit Verrazano. I didn’t want to overdo things. He was doing enough to beat the other horse, anyway”

All in all, this is obviously a top notch colt….but the immaturity (waiting on horses and looking at the infield down the stretch) is cause for concern. I mean what happens if he looks at the infield, where there will be thousands of rabid fans at Churchill Downs, on Derby Day? Plus if he waits on horses down the stretch in the Kentucky Derby?…he’ll be a dead duck.

 

3) Orb- I know some people who have him ranked #1 on their lists and, I’ll tell you, I can’t argue that hard with them.

I’m still impressed with the four straight stretch running wins including that last one in the Florida Derby where he basically manhandled Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby amongst others.

I like and respect his connections immensely….it appears to me the tell-tale sign will be which horse jockey John Velasquez decides to ride in the Derby. (Velasquez is the regular pilot of both this colt and Verrazano). That, readers, appears to be an interesting decision.

 

4) Normandy Invasion- much, much better effort last Saturday than in the Risen Star Stakes and he didn’t run all that bad in that race.

Did you notice how he blew past Verrazano after the finish of the Wood Memorial? Some people put a lot of credence into that…some don’t…but either way, you had to take notice.

Also, he finished the last three furlongs in that race in the same time as Verrazano did (:36.1). 

He now has two races under his belt and, if you go by the horse racing rule of thumb that horses run their best after a lay-off in their third race back, you have no choice but to respect this colt by Tapit come Derby Day…I certainly will.

 

5) Goldencents- boy, I thought for sure Flashback was going to go right on by him at the quarter pole of the Santa Anita Derby but he didn’t….was it because it was then that Flashback injured himself (chipped a bone in his knee and will be laid up for a while) or was this colt just flat out better last Saturday?

The win and speed figure (105) were both impressive for sure but that last 3/8th’s in :38 and change had me cock my head a bit.

Of course, if you listen to what jockey Kevin Krigger, who remains the best rider no-one knows about, said it has to grab your attention.

“As I’ve said all along, I’ve started making history with this horse,” said Krigger after the Santa Anita Derby win. “This is just the start.”

Krigger said he had “no concerns what-so-ever” about the Derby’s 1 1/4-mile distance and that he didn’t even have concerns about going 1 ½ miles (Presumably in the Belmont Stales) for Goldencents.

“As long as I can get him to relax, his potential is untapped.” …. If Krigger is right and he is still “untapped” at this point, we could have quite a racehorse on our hands.

I know I moved him up huge (from “on the Bubble” to 5th) this week, but come on, he beats a strong field in winning the Santa Anita Derby and his rider gets off him and says he has “untapped potential”…I heard that wake up call, did you?

 

6) Itsmyluckyday- I’m still trying to figure out if, like is said a thousand times over the past few weeks/months, if this colt peaked out too soon after his monster wins in January and February or, like I suspect, he was trying to win the Florida Derby off of 8 weeks of inactivity and was just plain short on conditioning?

I’m not totally sure one way or another. I’ll be watching the work tab real carefully over the next few weeks and hopefully that will guide me a little better.

 

7) Vyjack- ran big in the Wood Memorial last Saturday, no question about that. He was behind a very slow pace, came to Verrazano in mid-stretch but could not get by. Was it because of the slow pace in front of him (which Verrazano was a part of) or is Verrazano just flat out better or did the bleeding that was reported after the race have something to do with it? I think it’s a little of all three actually.

Bleeding, being caught behind a slow pace all while trying to catch a possible monster in the making in Verrazano, all leads to finishing third

I still respect the gorgeous bay (I love bays) gelding…a lot actually….but the fact still remains he was, for the most part,  beaten fair and square by both Verrazano and Normandy Invasion.

 

8) Will Take Charge- Rebel Stakes winner has a long and effortless stride and, from what I understand, he’s put on weight and filled out a lot since that victory.

So let me get this straight, we have a colt that’s trained by D Wayne Lukas, with a pedigree that screams quality, a stride that’s tailor made for longer distances, that is coming off a big win and has been putting on weight lately? I’m sorry, but just too many positives to disregard.

 

9) Palace Malice- as long as he’s not still shell shocked from the nothing short of a nightmare trip in his last (7th in the Louisiana Derby), he should be fine.

I still believe this is an immensely talent horse that when he gets untracked, he’s going to turn a few heads.

He runs next in this Saturday’s in the Bluegrass at Keeneland where he must fair well to have enough points to even make it into the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby.

 

10) Uncaptured- will also be entered in what is shaping up to be a great Bluegrass Stakes this year.

I’m still a little annoyed towards his connections for putting him in the Spiral (a 1 1/8 miles race off a four month lay-off), even though he performed very well under those circumstances.

Last week he went five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 with jockey Miguel Mena in the irons.

Trainer Mark Casse was pleased with the effort. “I thought he relaxed well and finished up good,” Casse said. “The horse he worked with is a pretty good horse, too, and he handled him. When he got in front of that horse he started flicking his ears. He kind of does what he has to do. In fact, if you gallop him by himself, you’ve kind of got to get after him to get him to go around. He’s just a real laid-back horse.”

If he improves off that Spiral Stakes run (he finished 2nd) and runs big in the Bluegrass (and I suspect he will), the rest looks easier because a) he’s 2 for 2 at Churchill Downs and that surface is clearly his favorite and b) Like Normandy Invasion, the Derby will be his third start off a lay-off, which once again, is supposed to be when a horse runs the best…..we shall see…

 

11) Rydillic- is yet another heading into the Bluegrass and could be laying in the weeds….literally.

He’s torn up a few turf courses in his last couple of races and if he converts that turf form to dirt form? look out!….the Bluegrass this Saturday , albeit on the synthetics, should tell the story on this horse.

Last Sunday Keeneland clockers caught Rydilluc, a Gary Contessa trainee, going seven furlongs in 1:28 2/5. Under Edgar Prado, he went thru splits of :12 4/5, :25 4/5, :38 3/5, :51 flat, 1:15 3/5, and out a mile in 1:43 2/5.

“Nice, just right,” Contessa said. “It gave him a taste of the two turns on the Poly, nice and steady, perfect. Exactly what I was looking for. If you look at his works, that’s the way he is, he’s not like your :46, a minute flat, he’s just a horse that keeps going and going.”

Rydilluc will need a big race (a 1-2 finish) in the Blue Grass, which awards points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale, to make the field for the Kentucky Derby.

 

12) Departing- don’t laugh…I’m not giving up on this guy just because he suffered his first career defeated in the Louisiana Derby last time out.

Couple of things, one, he finished third, beaten just over three lengths to (#1 ranked) Revolutionary which is hardly embarrasing and two, he was 3, 4 and sometimes 5 wide during the running of that race. What happens if he gets a better trip next time?

In my mind, he still has a outside shot to run big on Derby Day. That stretch kick he possesses and that fluid stride (he seems to just skip over the track), makes me leave him among the elites.

 

13) Oxbow-has ability for sure….he’s posted numbers and times that are right up there with the top 3 or 4 horse on this list. Once again, I just don’t like that 2 for 8 life-time record.

Let’s see how he fairs in this Saturdays other key race, the Arkansas Derby.

 

On the Radar Screen

Govenor Charlie- impressive winner of the Sunland Park Derby, but he’ll have to improve even more to win or even run well in the Derby. Is he too late or peaking at just the right time?

Black Onyx- ditto Govenor Charlie except this horse won the Spiral Stakes…too little too late or peaking at the right time?….decisons….decisions.

My Lute- made Revolutionary work for his Louisiana Derby win….more questions though. Was it the removal of the blinkers that caused the about-face in form or is this horse getting good at the right time too?

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