Horse Racing: 2014 Countdown to the Triple Crown- March 12th

With now 52 days before Horse Racing’s single biggest race in the country, if not the world, the 2014 Kentucky Derby, I made a few changes in this week’s list.

1) Shared Belief– I’m leaving him at #1 for now but I’m starting to have serious doubts. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said that Shared Belief is “doing well” but may have found the Santa Anita training surface too hard and is training in northern California instead. Although he has been transferred to Golden Gate, the powerhouse gelding’s status is “day to day,” and without any Derby points on his resume, It’s starting not to look so good he even makes the Derby….none the less win it. He still doesn’t have a published work since Jan 3 and, at best, he’ll have one race…maybe two…before the Derby. I did see he is nominated to the Bluegrass Stakes on April 12.

2) Cairo Prince – Has been breezing weekly for his next engagement (March 29 FloridaDerby) as he went 4F in :49.2 last Sunday. I’m still not sure how I feel about having  just this race and the Holy Bull (where he won laughing) as the only two Derby prep races, but no denying his talent or chances of winning the Derby.

3) California Chrome jumps from #10 last week to #3 based off his tour de force win in the San Felipe, where he broke on top and cut sizzling early fractions (:45.2, 1:09.4 and 1:33.4) while increasing his lead at every pole. He won in hand by 71/4 lengths and stopped the clock in 1:40.2. If he runs like that on Derby Day, they’ll be no beating him.

4) Candy Boy– won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes two weeks by a conclusive 4 1/4 lengths. This colt for whom Gary Stephens called “super talented” worked 5 furlongs on March 6 in 1:01.1 and looked good doing it. He should be a force in his next race, the Santa Anita Derby on April 9

5) Honor Code– after suffering minor ankle injuries  earlier in the year, it appears trainer Shug McGaughey has him heading in the right direction with still enough time to get him to peak out come the first Saturday in May. Shug called an audible and, instead of running him in the Rebel this weekend, he entered him in an allowance race at Gulfstream on Wednesday. But the brilliantly fast colt, Social Inclusion, with only one six-furlong maiden race (win) in his career, blew him off the track while winning by 10.

“I knew how the race was going to set up,” McGaughey said. “(Social Inclusion) had speed and he had two 35 (second works) since he ran, so I knew he would go. The track was really fast this morning, and horses ran 1:08-and-change earlier in the day”.

“I’m disappointed he didn’t win, but we got a race into him and I don’t think (jockey) Javier (Castellano) killed him by any means. We’ll see if he goes forward off of this. I think the horse that won is a very, very special horse.”

It’s not time to push the panic button on this colt by any means, I didn’t think he’d fair that well being a bad position heading into the race (setup very well for the winner) and also was only coming into it with a handful of half mile works. His next race, the Florida Derby, should tell us a little more.

6) Samraat– unbeaten in now five races in his career as he won the Gotham in his last. He’s been in light training at Palm Meadows since. Next Start: Wood Memorial April 6

7) Intense Holiday– was 4th in the Remsen Stakes and Nashua Stakes last year and began this year with a good late running 3rd behind Cairo Prince in Holy Bull. He then comes from behind to wear down the early leaders and win the Risen Star three weeks ago. I mean, Stevie Wonder can see the improvement this colt has made over the past 6 months or so and it appears he is beginning to peak out, He went a half in :47.4 and he could have a coming out party in his next race the March 29 Louisiana Derby.

8) Tapiture– I moved him up from 11 to 7 as he is scheduled to run in the Rebel on Saturday. The more I watch that Southwest Stakes win the more I like him. He worked a half in an easy :50.2 yesterday in preparation for the Rebel, a race in which might prove to be his coming out party as well.

9) Wildcat Red– sports a 6-4-2-0 career record including winning the Hutchenson two starts back and was dead game in winning the Fountain of Youth in his last. In winning the FOY, he erased some of the doubt I had about him having distance issues. I’m still not completely sold he’s a Derby horse but you can not knock his record or his last two races/wins. He gets bumped up the list by simply staying in the barn with the upset in the Sam F Davis Stakes last weekend.

10) General a Rod– has never been worse than second in now four lifetime starts and battled Wildcat Red every step of the way in the Fountain of Youth only to get beat a whisker. He is another I’m not thoroughly convinced is a Derby horse but, again, you can’t knock his record or that FOY race. (Next Start: FloridaDerby March 29)

11) Conquest Titan– finishing fourth to a 14-1 shot in the Grade: 3 Sam F. Davis doesn’t exactly inspire confidence but he was coming at the end and it’s still  too early to give up on him completely. However, I had to pull him down a few spots

12) Uncle Sigh– listen, if you like Samraat (like me) you almost have to like this colt too. I mean he was step for step with Samraat in the Withers and Gotham.

13) In Trouble– speedster will tackle Samraat and Uncle Sigh once again in the Wood Memorial next month. Don’t be quick to write him off, he already proven he can hang and bang with those two.


Honorable Mention

Havana– won the 2013 Champagne Stakes and ran a bang up second in the BC Juvenile last year. He was entered in the Swale Stakes but was yanked from the race after a quarter crack was discovered. This will obviously cause him to miss valuable training time and races.

Bayern– appears to be a tremendously talented colt but bruised a foot right before the San Felipe and had to scratch. I took him out of the top 10 solely for the fact that he, like Havana, is going to lose precious training time and races due to this minor injury.

Strong Mandate-worked 5F in 1:03.3 this past week and must show me/us more this Saturday in the Rebel.

Vinceremos– came second in the Sam F Davis and was beaten by a 14-1 shot (like Conquest Titan). His talent level doesn’t overwhelm me but he does try hard and that’s always a positive.

Ride on Curlin– may be flying under the radar. He was 3rd in Champagne Stakes and the Street Sense Stakes last year but came back in ’14 to win an allowance race and then had a ridiculous trip, and ride, in the Southwest Stakes where he finished third after being some 7 or 8 wide at the quarter pole. If he gets a better trip (and anything would be better than his Southwest nightmare) he could make a bigger impression on us this Saturday in the Rebel.

Solitary Ranger-struggled early in his career but that John Battaglia win was huge….keep him on the radar for now.

Rise Up-this speedster opened his career by winning 4 out of his first 6, but he came a disappointing 7th in Risen Star Stakes. I’m going to give him a pass because the Risen Star was his first start of 2014 and trainer Thomas Amoss will add blinkers for his next start, which at this point is unknown.

No Nay Never– if the Kentucky Derby were a beauty pageant, you probably don’t even have to run the race this year…he wins it hands down. Absolutely GORGEOUS colt shipped from over seas and finished a not so bad 2nd in the Swale Stakes in his a) first dirt start and b) his first US start.

Spot-if you like No Nay Never, then you have to like this horse too, being he flew past No Nay Never in the upper stretch of the Swale to put himself (at the very least) on the 2014 Kentucky Derby map.

Social Inclusion– won his sprint debut impressively and then beat Honor Code by an eye popping 10 lengths while getting 8 ½ furlongs in 1:40.4. “He was doing it so easy. I wasn’t doing anything. He’s a tremendous horse,” said jockey Luis Contreras

“From the first time we trained him, we knew he was something special,” said owner Ron Sanchez. “The next step, we’re going to wait and see how he comes out of the race. We’ll take our time. We’ll wait until next week and decide, but we definitely want to go to the (Kentucky) Derby.”

“I really like this horse and I like everything he’s done since I’ve got him. I’m so pleased with him and I believe he’s going to keep improving,” trainer Manny Azpurua said. “I told my wife before the race, ‘You’re going to see him break out of the gate and they’re never going to catch him. They’ll be 10 lengths behind.”


On the Horizon

War Command is 4 for 5 in England, but never been on the dirt or beyond 7 furlongs. Of course, I’m not even sure if his connection are even thinking Derby but if they are, he’s intriguing

Toormore– is immensely talented and unbeaten (3 for 3 in England). Just to give you an idea of how good he is, he outran Outstrip recently and Outstrip won the 2013 BC Juvenile Turf. Ditto War Command, not sure his owners are thinking Derby.

Outstrip– could be a sleeper…he’s never been off the board in five career races and as I said a minute ago, he won the BC Juvenile Turf last year. Albeit he’s never run on the dirt either, it doesn’t matter all than much. Everything I’ve seen and read about him screams “runner”

Proceed– 3 for 3 in Mexico and won the Mine That Bird Stakes impressively at SunlandPark ….hey, didn’t Mine That Bird himself come from Mexico to win the Derby? Is there some sort of parallel there?

Ide Be Cool-is an undefeated 6 for 6 in his career in Louisiana and won the Pelican by 2 this past Saturday. The race before the Pelican Stakes he won by 9

Harpoon-came roaring down the stretch to get beat half a nose in the Sam F. Davis two starts back but couldn’t follow that up as he disappointed in the Gotham. He came fifth but did pass some horses in the stretch so all was not lost. He does, however need to start improving and quick.

Hartford-could not have been more impressive winning his racing debut by 5 ¾ at Gulfstream. He did it “in hand” and very professionally…certainly looks to have a bright future the clock is ticking and he may run out of time.

Vicar’s in Trouble- a bit of a head scratcher here because he looked tremendous in winning the Lecomte Stakes last month, yet just about quit running at the eighth pole in the Risen Star and finished a well beaten third. So which Vicar’s in Trouble shows up for his next race? (Next Start Louisiana Derby)

 Thanks for Reading…