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Derby Preps Preview: Things Start to Get Serious

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The cancellation of the Southwest Stakes last weekend at Oaklawn has created a huge Saturday of Kentucky Derby prep races.  Buddy's Saint, Dublin, Drosselmeyer, Jackson Bend, Ron the Greek, and many, many more are all scheduled to take that next step towards a date in Louisville.  And while tomorrow's preps are not necessarily crucial to win, if you want to be a serious contender it will be difficult to recover from a major flop both in terms of graded earnings and, possibly, fitness. 

There is still time to get in on the Road to the Roses action.  Tomorrow is the first scoring day for the fantasy contest so if you want to get involved head on over to the Road to the Roses website and get signed up.  If you'd like to join the And Down The Stretch They Come league, use the information below:

League Name: And Down The Stretch They Come

League Number: 272695426

Activation Code: 2393559094

Now, let's look at each of the graded stakes races for three year old colts this Saturday:    


Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes

Gulfstream Park
7 furlongs
Three Years Old

1-Radiohead: Rick Dutrow takes over for the first time after this colt finished a uneven 7th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.  I can forgive that effort since it was his first try on a synthetic surface, but this colt's ability to win on something other than grass is a real question mark. 

2-City Trooper: He's cutting back to a more favorable distance today after trying a mile on the lawn last time out, but it's the class that's the major concern with this colt.  He's got a couple of wins under his belt but both of those came against races restricted to New York breds.  He could stalk the pace and get a nice set-up coming into the lane but it's  more likely that this one is burned out by the time the real running starts.

3-Ibboyee: Was heavily bet in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct on January 2nd and pretty much came up with nothing and no real "excuse" for the poor performance other than he just wasn't good enough.  The turn back to 7 furlongs could produce an improvement but like City Trooper, you wonder if he's lacking the class necessary to win at this level.

4-Sun Champ: Took a shot in the Spectacular Bid after a couple of scores at Philadelphia Park and pretty much came up with nothing as he just didn't have the speed to keep up with the front runners.  That race came over a sloppy and sealed surface so it's possible he just hated the slop.  If that's the case and he's able to improve off his races at Philly he might be eligible to grab a piece of the prize. 

5-Wildcat Frankie:  Ran a huge race in the Spectacular Bid only to lose by a length and a half to the 8-A Little Warm.  He followed that up with a nice win in an N1X race on February 6th that saw a quick early pace but a very, very slow finish.  If he runs back to his form in the Spectacular Bid he's got a shot but if he puts in an effort like his last he'll likely be well beaten.

6-Hear Ye Hear Ye: This colt has tried his hand against stakes company several times recently and every time he's come up with a sub-par performance with the exception of the Jack Prince Juvenile on November 14th, a race restricted to Florida breds. He runs best when he's out on the lead but he'll have a tough time doing that in this spot.

7-D'Funnybone: This colt did nothing wrong during his juvenile campaign, winning both the Saratoga Special and the Futurity in easy fashion.  He flopped badly after pressing the pace in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile which could be a sign that he didn't want the distance or that he hated the ProRide surface.  Either way, he shortens up and returns to dirt in this race and will probably be very tough to get by in the lane.

8-A Little Warm: Won the Spectacular Bid in the slop after crushing a Maiden Special Weight race at Philly Park in late December.  If D'Funnybone and Wildcat Frankie decide to get into it on the front end, A Little Warm should be right there to pounce as they roll into the lane.  This one looks fit, ready, and might just be the best value on the board.

Grade 2 Fountain of Youth
Gulfstream Park
1 1/8 miles
Three Year Olds

1-Aikenite: Don't know if this colt is going in the right direction to win a race of this magnitude.  He's run into some trouble in his last two efforts but at the same time he's never won a race against winners.  However, the added distance will suit him nicely and drawing inside is a lot better than drawing wide for this race.  Throw in the fact that he's run his best races when he's been asked to go two turns...could be an interesting play in this spot.

2-Buddy's Saint: Has never had another horse finish in front of him in a race (although he was DQ'd in his first race) and finished off his juvenile campaign with wins in the G2-Remsen and the G2-Nashua.  He's won on the lead, he's won off-the-pace, and he's won going two-turns, throw in an excellent drawn and he looks like the standout.

3-Pulsion: For me there are just too many negatives for this colt: never run on dirt, never beaten winners, and a trainer with light numbers off the layoff.  He should get a strong pace to run at which will give him a chance to pick off runners in the stretch; possibly an exotic play.

4-Pleasant Prince: Finished 2nd by half a length to 10-Ice Box in an N1X race at today's distance and track on January 18th.  He'll have to improve a lot from that performance to win here.

5-Jackson Bend: I was skeptical of this colt's true abilities prior to the Holy Bull as I couldn't see past the string of restricted Calder races on his past performance lines.  He proved me wrong with an extremely gutty performance in that race and could be eligible to produce a big number with the return to a route distance.  A sharp four furlong work in :47 flat at Palm Meadows on Saturday indicates that Zito has this one ready to roll.

6-Prince Will I Am: Only a maiden claiming win at Churchill Downs to his credit, this colt finished a tough luck 2nd to Drosselmeyer in an N1X back on January 31st.  He ran the final furlong in 12.74 that day, fastest of the field, but had given himself too much to do after an average pace.  There's no shame in losing to Drosselmeyer, a talented colt that will run in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds; this colt might be a bit of an overlay at 30/1 on the morning line.

7-Positive Split: Comes out of the same race as the 4 and the 10 where he set the early pace and then faltered to third in the stretch.  He hasn't beaten winners yet which is a concern, and he's going to have a bunch of company up near the lead.  Not sure where to rank this colt.

8-Eskendereya: An east coast horse that flopped in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but came back to run big when returned to conventional dirt.  He went wire-to-wire in his recent N1X score but he's shown the ability to win by coming off-the-pace.  It should be noted that his last race had a very slow pace on the front end, a situation he is unlikely to get today.  A son of Giant's Causeway out of a Seattle Slew mare, this colt should love the added ground.

9-Lost Aptitude: The likely pace setter has been running exclusively on the lawn prior to this race.  He finished second in the G3-Tropical Derby at Calder after getting slammed coming out of the gate and running over a course that was generously rated as "YIELDING".  The trip note on the past performance line says he drifted in the stretch...that's an understatement.  Lost Aptitude drifted halfway to the grandstand and was closer to the outer hedge than the inner one when they crossed the finish line.  He's going to have a tough time if he tries to take the field all the way around.

10-Ice Box: The second Zito horse in the field comes in off of a half length win over the 4 and the 7 last time out.  He's an improving colt but he's drawn the absolute worst post position possible in this race, especially for a horse that wants to be up near the lead early on.  He could be five wide heading into the first turn and, in the process, is going to lose a lot of ground.

 

Grade 3 Southwest Stakes
Oaklawn Park
1 mile
Three Year Olds

1-Kitty's Turn: Third by four lengths in his last effort in the one mile Smarty Jones at this very same track.  As a stone cold closer, this colt is going to need a hot pace and a clear trip to have a chance at an upset in this spot.  In that last race, he came home in with a final quarter mile of 26.29, the fastest of the entire field.  That's good that he finished up the best but that's not exactly lighting up the board.  The track was labeled as "GOOD" that day and the times suggest that the track may have been tiring at that point.

http://www.sbnation.com/javascripts/vendor/tiny_mce_3_0_7/plugins/pagebreak/img/trans.gifI'm not sure what to do with this colt: the race shape and track profile don't necessarily suit him but he appears to have some talent.  Might look good in an exacta or trifecta play.

2-Pleasant Strom: Another colt coming out of the Smarty Jones, and like the rail horse, this one closed from deep in the pack to finish second to the winner.  Two horses that made big closing moves in a mile race at Oaklawn?  That kind of tells me that the track may really have been tiring that day.  If that was the case I tend to upgrade Dryfly's performance and downgrade that of the two closers, Kitty's Turn and Pleasant Storm.

3-Dublin: Of all the entries in this field this is the colt that I really want to see.  A son of Alf eet Alex out of a Storm Bird mare, Dublin scored impressive wins at Saratoga last summer before going off form in the G1-Champagne and the G3-Iroquois.  He's had some time off to refresh and has shown a very solid line of works at this track leading up to this race.  I love the pedigree and the early talent he displayed but I'm a little concerned that he was so bad when stretching out to a mile.  Still, this will be his first attempt at two-turns which may provide the wakeup call that this colt needs.  And added plus: the re-draw of the race provided a big break as he moves from the 10 post to the 3.  He's 5/1 on the morning line but I doubt we'll see anything close to that come post time as I suspect he'll get bet down to around 5/2.

4-Dryfly: Controlled the Smarty Jones the entire way to earn a win at this track and distance on January 18th.  He draws right in the middle of the field which should allow him to negotiate good position heading into the first turn.  And while mile races at Oaklawn generally play towards speed, that Smarty Jones effort looks a lot better when you consider that he was the only speed horse to hold his position throughout the race.  Gotta respect his form over this track.

5-Cardiff Giant: Runner-up to Conveyance in the G3-San Rafael, this is another California shipper making his debut on real dirt.  He ran in a claiming race back in late November only to graduate to bigger and better things.  However, his race three back, a race restricted to California breds, doesn't looks that good now after the winner, Tiz Chome, was easily beaten in the G2-Robert B. Lewis last Saturday.  Still, if you like Conveyance it's hard not to like Cardiff Giant, as well.

6-Cool Bullet: A Fair Grounds shipper that fell apart in deep stretch of the G3-LeComte (along with the rest of the field) after stalking a moderate early pace.  That was this colt's first try at two-turns so he may be eligible for improvement today, or he may turn out to just prefer sprint distances.  He rates as a couple notches behind Dryfly and the Californians in my mind.

7-Crider: Ran evenly in the Smarty Jones after displaying a stalking style in his previous two efforts. This colt doesn't really look like he's got the speed or the class to take the win in this spot.  Note that Steven Asmussen's top ride, Robby Albarado, elected to ride elsewhere.

8-Domonation: A Californian shipping in out of the San Rafael.  Another that's never touched a conventional dirt surface.  Another that comes out of the Cal-bred Stuka Stakes with Tiz Chrome.  With this many West Coast invaders you pretty much have to decide how they match-up with their East Coast and Midwest brethren; if you think they are outclassed or that their form won't transfer to dirt they become an easy toss.

9-Conveyance: A California shipper under the training of Bob Baffert, Conveyance wired the field in the G3-San Rafael at Santa Anita Park in his last race.  If he takes to the track he will be very dangerous.

10-Mission Impazible: A lightly raced Todd Pletcher trainee that only has a maiden score at Keeneland under his belt.  He ran a decent race in the Kentucky Juvenile last April and then wasn't seen again until an Allowance event at Gulfstream Park on January 9th.  This is another colt where we have some questions about the surface on which he's been running.  His first race was on the Poly at Keeneland, his second on a "GOOD" track at Churchill, and the third over a "SLOPPY" and sealed track at Gulfstream.  Kind of an unknown as to his form over a FAST surface and with the wide post position he becomes a very tough call.

 

Grade 2 Risen Star
Fair Grounds
1 1/16 miles
Three Year Olds

1-Bravo Whiskey: With only a maiden win under his belt and two dead last finishes against winners it's hard to make any case for this colt coming home first. 

2-Tempted to Tapit: Jumps up to graded stakes company after blowing away a field of maidens by 11½ lengths at Aqueduct a month ago - a big performance over a track rated "MUDDY".  The field in that race was beyond spread out: the place horse finished 10 lengths ahead of 3rd, who in turn finished five lengths clear of 4th.  First to fourth separated by over 25 lengths!  If you have access to replays from Aqueduct take a look at this race and how every horse in it is pretty much running alone when it crosses the finish line.

As for this horse's chances in this spot? He's got speed and he improved considerably when stretched out to two-turns; could spring an upset if the pace turns out to his liking.

3-Mountain Justice: This colt has been decent on grass but will make his debut on dirt in an awfully tough spot.  He's by Afleet Alex, so the switch to dirt should be no problem, however, he's going to find the competition a lot stiffer in this spot than anything he's faced before.

4-Discreetly Mine: Finished 2nd to D'Funnybone in his two tries against graded stakes company last fall.  Returned to finish a troubled 4th in the Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream and now makes his way to New Orleans for his first try going two-turns after working at Palm Meadows prior to his arrival at the Fair Grounds.  He's eligible to get better but I'm not entirely sure where he fits in this race.

5-Random Move: If you claim a horse for $50,000 out of his maiden breaking win what do you do with him next? If you said "enter him in an extremely tough graded stakes race against horses that have beaten winners" you are thinking the same thing as the connections of Random Move.  Trainer is 2-for-8 with horses making their first start off the claim but I'm guessing those two weren't going from a maiden claimer to a Grade 2 race like this horse.

6-Drosselmeyer: This colt looks like he could be the real deal in this spot.  After failing three times to break his maiden, trainer Bill Mott got this colt pointed in the right direction by getting him off the turf and Polytrack and running him on conventional dirt.  He scored an easy win at Churchill in a Maiden Special Weight at a mile and then came back to win going two turns at an allowance event at Gulfstream.  With the long stretch run at the Fair Grounds, Drosselmeyer should have every opportunity to run down the leaders in the lane. 

7-Northern Giant: This D. Wayne Lukas trainee has run six races in his career and by far his best two performances have come over off tracks (2/4 at OP, 10/7 at FG).  His efforts over dry tracks have been dismal and not nearly fast enough to challenge this field.  If it comes up wet he could have a shot, otherwise he looks to be well back.

8-Worldly: This is the first of three horses in this race coming out of the G2-LeComte at the end of January.  He didn't run poorly that day but he finished very, very slowly (like everyone else except Ron the Greek).  The pace was swift which certainly contributed to the leaders running out of gas in the lane but I'm not sure he's going to get a softer scenario in this spot.  P-Val climbs aboard for the first time as Albarado decides to stay on the 12-Hotep. 

9-Stay Put: Won going a mile and 40 at the Fair Grounds on January 3rd by making a huge closing run in the stretch.  Like the other closers in this race, he'll have plenty of time to make his late move in the long Fair Grounds stretch and he's already proven he can outrun Worldly, Letsgetitonmon, Northern Giant, Random Move, and Hotep in his previous races.  Might be the best of the 2nd level contenders.

10-Letsgetitonmon: Another stone cold closer in this race, he finished 3rd to Ron the Greek in the LeComte.  Considering the new shooters that are entered into this race I think the key question is whether or not you consider the LeComte a good race.  If you do, then horses like Worldly, Letsgetitonmon, and Ron the Greek might make sense.  If you think the race was weak, then those three really don't look like good betting options (although the closers can help fill out those Tri and Super tickets).

11-Ron the Greek: Got a perfect set-up in the LeComte when he closed from well back to blow by an extremely tired field in deep stretch.  Trainer Tom Amoss continues to keep him sharp with a trip of impressive works since his win a month ago, including a bullet at six furlongs on February 10th.  Of the three runners coming out of the LeComte, he still looks the most impressive to me but I wonder if he'll find it a little tougher to pass some of the new faces.  He'll likely offer a lot less value than in the LeComte as he's 3/1 on the ML.

12-Hotep: A Canadian bred son of A.P. Indy, Hotep will make his graded stakes debut from all the way out in the 12-hole.  Unlike the closers inside of him, Hotep wants to be more forwardly placed and is going to have to break well or be left hanging wide going into the first turn.  He's already lost to a bunch of these in a previous race and will have to make a big improvement to score.    

 

Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby
Golden Gate Fields
1 1/8 miles
Three Year Olds

1-Haimish Hy: Closed hard to win going 1 1/16 miles on a YIELDING turf course in an OC/N1X event last time out.  His other victories were over a GOOD turf course on October 30th and a in a 5 ½ furlong sprint in his maiden breaking win.  Seems a little light on class for this group.

2-Thomas Baines: Hasn't won a race since September of 2009 at Woverhamption.  Ran pretty well in the Cal Derby on this track last time out and has displayed a decent stalking style in all his North American efforts.  He tends to break poorly and will likely need to see a pretty contentious pace up front.

3-Posse Power: Has scored two straight for Frank Lucarellli and sports a pretty nice form pattern of race, one work, one race, one work, etc.  He handled the stretch-out just fine last time and followed that up with a bullet work at five furlongs on February 10th.  Seems to be in good form.

4-Very Fair: This colt has three wins under his belt but all three are at six furlongs and it looks like he might not want to go this far.  His last effort doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence in his chances today although you could make a case that the wide trip did him no favors.  Still, the pace was soft that day and he didn't display much of a late kick at all. 

5-Fog Alert: Recorded a couple of flat efforts in his last two races down at Santa Anita on the turf but he could love the switch back to the synthetic surface at Golden Gate.  His first work over the surface produced a swift :59 and 2 over five furlongs, fastest of thirty-one that morning.  Distance shouldn't be an issue and he could end up in the garden spot as they turn for home.

6-Our Minesweeper:  This colt has shown a good amount of early speed in the majority of his races, although he wasn't able to grab an easy lead in the Cal Derby and he faltered badly in the stretch.  He might be more suited to a mile as he's produced his best efforts at that distance.  If he can get an easy lead he could be difficult to deal with but he's got a horse directly outside of him that is probably not going to let that happen.

7-Ranger Heartley: Won the Cal Derby in gate to wire fashion back on January 16th and is looking for his third straight win overall.  Every race this colt has won has been in wire to wire fashion so the key to beating him seems straightforward: don't let him get the lead.  That, of course, will be easier said than done.  His works aren't quite as sharp as they were prior to the Cal Derby, but it could be that Sadler is attempting to build some stamina in him. The others can't let this one get loose.

8-Connemara:  Was the beaten odds-on favorite in the Cal Derby when he couldn't get past Ranger Heartley in the stretch.  He likes to come from off the pace but will probably want to keep a little closer touch with his rival this time.  The top jock on the ground climbs into the irons and you have to believe he's looking to take a little revenge in this spot. 

9-Bert' N the Group: This colt has been facing Starter Allowance company ever since breaking his maiden in a $20k affair back in late October.  He scored a very nice win in a mile event last time out on this course and he made his run from well back that day after receiving the perfect pace set-up to take advantage of.  Needs to make a strong leap in this spot.

10-Jairzihno (GB): Finished 3rd last time out in allowance company at Santa Anita in his first start in North America.  Connections must think a lot of him to spot him in graded company this quickly but there's not a lot of information to come to a good conclusion about him.

The Picks

After all that, my first (and second) choice selections below.

G2 - Hutcheson: D'Funnybone (A Little Warm)
G2 - Fountain of Youth: Buddy's Saint (Aikenite)
G3 - Southwest Stakes: Dublin (Dryfly)
G2 - Risen Star: Drosselmeyer (Tempted to Tapit)
G3 - El Camino Real Derby: Connemara (Fog Alert)