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Road to Kentucky Derby 136 - vol. 7

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 02: A race fan with a mint julep in his hand and a hat shaped like one during the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2009 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 02: A race fan with a mint julep in his hand and a hat shaped like one during the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2009 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I can't decide whether that's a good Derby hat or a bad Derby hat.  On the good side is the fact that you could theoretically put a very large mint julep in that hat, if you so desired.  On the bad side?  Well, you are wearing a pretty awful looking hat.  Plus, trying not to spill would appear to be increasingly challenging as the day wears on.  I'm voting for "Bad Derby Hat".

We reach a point every year on the path to the Kentucky Derby where things start to shake out and we get a good sense as to which horses are the true contenders and which are more or less on the fringe.  Things are never set in stone, but for many a Derby contender this weekend marks time to put up or shut up.  The opportunity to pick up graded earnings becomes smaller and smaller, and horses who come up empty will face long prospects for making it to Churchill Downs.

As we do every week, we'll start with a look back at last week's Derby preps, take a sneak peak as to what's on tap for this weekend, review the Top 10 Contenders, and provide a rundown of the speed figs earned by every horse in last week's prep races.  

Last Week

Grade 3 Sham Stakes (chart): If you watch the replay of the Sham, or just the stretch run, you kind of question what was running behind Alphie's Bet.  The winner made a nice off-the-pace move coming into and out of the turn to take command, but once he crossed the finish line all that remained was a pack of horses will little to nothing left in the tank.

A couple of things I don't like about this race.  First, the pace was fair but certainly not scorching, yet any horses up near the lead pretty much spit the bit in the stretch (Nextdoorneighbor, Marcello).  Even The Program, who ended up finishing third after an excellent trip, had zero turn of foot once the field rolled into the lane.  Second, in speed figure terms the race was just flat out slow.  When I see a slow pace, a slow finish, and a horse that wins by two lengths with the rest off the field all bunched together at the wire, I don't rate that race very high.

Kudos to Alphie's Bet as he was clearly the best horse of this group, but without some major improvement it's difficult to see the Derby winner coming out of this race.

Grade 3 Gotham Stakes (chart): Awesome Act hurled himself into the contender mix following his fairly easy win at Aqueduct in the Gotham.  After stalking a solid pace, he powered past the field at the top of the stretch to open up by three lengths and then cruised home the rest of the way to win by one and a quarter lengths.  He lost a little focus once he made the lead which made the race deceptively close at the wire.  

Whirlaway winner Peppi Knows was brought back to earth with a disappointing sixth place finish while the New York-bred Yawanna Twist ran a strong second to the winner.  Yawanna Twist entered the Gotham off of two straight wins in state-bred events and didn't appear to have any troubles jumping up to compete on the big stage.  

Both Awesome Act and Yawanna Twist should move forward after this race with the Grade 1 Wood Memorial the logical next step.  Yawanna Twist is not nominated to the Triple Crown at this time although he could be added at a later date.

This Week

Three preps on the horizon for Saturday: the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, and the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.  The jewel of the three is clearly the Rebel where 2009 Juvenile Champion Lookin At Lucky will make his three year old debut against what looks to be the deepest and most contentious Derby prep of the season.  Other likely starters for the Rebel are Nobel's Promise, Dublin, Cardiff Giant, and Uh Oh Bango.

The Tampa Bay Derby will not be without some start power as Super Saver and Odysseus will both attempt to pick up some valuable graded earnings.  Odysseus has received a lot of attention in recent weeks thanks to his 15 length win in a N1X allowance event at Tampa back on February 17th (video link at Tampa website; Race 9 on 2/17).  A son of Malibu Mood out of a Conquistador Cielo mare, Odysseus will make his graded stakes debut and attempt to pick up some of those oh-so-valuable graded earnings.

The San Felipe received a little star power of its own with the arrival of the Florida-based and Todd Pletcher trained Interactif to Southern California.  Interactif broke his maiden at Monmouth Park on dirt and then has spent much of his career running over the grass where he won the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland.  He followed those performances up with a 3rd in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and near-miss second in the ungraded Hallandale Beach Stakes at Gulfstream in early February.  Interactif has already collected a good chunk of graded earnings as he sits 13th on the current list.

Below are the entries for both the San Felipe and the Tampa Bay Derby.  The Oaklawn has yet to draw for the Rebel:

Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes
Santa Anita Park
Post time: 7:38 Eastern / 4:38 Pacific
1 1/16 Miles

PP

Horse

Jockey

1

Stephen's Got Hope

Baze T C

2

Interactif

Bejarano R

3

Erbeia

Solis A

4

American Lion

Leparoux J R

5

Sidney's Candy

Talamo J

6

Dave in Dixie

Rosario J

7

Caracortado

Atkinson P

Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby
Tampa Bay Downs
Post time: 5:38 Eastern / 2:38 Pacific
1 1/16 Miles

PP

Horse

Jockey

1

Uptowncharlybrown

Centeno D E

2

Tuvia's Force

Lezcano J

3

Gleam of Hope

Martinez W

4

Slammy Boy

Lebron V

5

Schoolyard Dreams

Rose J

6

Super Saver

Dominguez R A

7

Odysseus

Maragh R


Top 10 Derby Contenders

Rank

Last

Horse

Notes

1

1

Eskendereya

On top until someone knocks him off or he flops.

2

2

D'Funnybone

Holds onto #2 but the stretch-out in the Fla. Derby will tell much.

3

3

Jackson Bend

He could get pinched by graded earnings

4

4

Lookin At Lucky

The Rebel should tell us a lot about Baffert's #1 3YO.

5

5

Buddy's Saint

He'll get a chance to rebound in the Wood Memorial.

6

6

Noble's Promise

Set to battle Lucky once again, only this time in Arkansas.

7

7

Conveyance

Could be headed to Sunland for his next start.

8

8

Dublin

If he steps forward in the Rebel, watch out.

9

9

Uh Oh Bango

Gets his three year old season started in the Rebel.

10

10

Rule

Likely headed to a Grade 1 in his next effort.  Location to be determined.

Prep Race Speed Figures

Grade 3 Sham Stakes
86: Alphie's Bet
82: Setsuko
80: The Program
80: Outlaw Man
78: Boulder Creek
77: Marcello
74: Nextdoorneighbor
73: Kettle River
63: El Mirage King
51: Wolf Tail

Grade 3 Gotham Stakes
98: Awesome Act
96: Yawanna Twist
93: Nacho Friend
91: Turf Melody
90: Shrimp Dancer
90: Peppi Knows
71: I've Got the Fever
70: Wow Wow Wow
67: Three Day Rush
57: Afleet Again