This is a continuing series examining the profile of each contender for this year's Kentucky Derby. Links to all the previews in the series can be found in the left sidebar under Kentucky Derby 136: Contender Profiles.
Sire: Awesome Again
Dam: Houdini's Honey (Mr. Prospector)
Trainer: Jeremy Noseda
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Career Record: 8-2-2-2
Graded Earnings: $285,000 (#18)
Running style: Mid-pack
This colt has displayed a very consistent running style regardless of the surface on which he is racing; dirt, turf, synthetic...it doesn't matter. He was pretty close to the front midway through the Wood Memorial but I think that was more due to the brutally slow pace than a preferable running style.
If you look at the running lines from his races in Europe as a two year old you'll see a lot of comments using the work "rank", indicating that he had difficulty settling during those races. Judging by how this colt has ran the Wood and the Gotham, it looks like he finally learned to settle once he made the switch from running on the turf to conventional dirt. That's nice to see in a Derby horse.
How he got to the Derby: Awesome Act ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last fall and finished fourth, 1 ¼ lengths back of the winner. He began his three year old season with a very impressive victory in the Grade 3 Gotham at a mile and a sixteenth followed by his well-beaten third to Eskendereya in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.
What has to happen for him to win: As the Wood Memorial showed us, he needs some pace to run at and isn't going to wow you with a huge turn of foot when asked for more run. Unlike a lot of horses that began their career in Europe, Awesome Act doesn't seem to need to "cover up" in the early stages of the race, which will give Leparoux a lot of options as to where to place him early on. If he can break well, keep a clean trip (like everyone else) and then unleash a long, grinding run in the stretch, he should be right there at the end.
I started to like Awesome Act's chances in the Derby a couple of weeks ago, and in the post-Eskendereya world I'm starting to love them.
The most appealing aspect of Awesome Act is his willingness to rate in the early stages, something that will be a huge asset on Saturday. Additionally, Julien Leparoux is a very patient rider (although some may think he was too patient in the Wood), and will likely try to conserve as much energy early on in the race as possible. Traffic trouble could be a problem, but no more so for this colt than the rest of the field.
Key race: Grade 2 Gotham Stakes (1st)
The early fractions in the Wood were dreadfully slow and nothing close to what this colt is going to see on the Derby. The Gotham, however, was probably a better comparison as to the probably Derby pace. Awesome Act settles into a good mid-pack run through the early stages and then moves on the leaders on the far turn will little urging from the rider. That's the way you love to see a horse make his winning move - inhaling the field through his natural momentum as opposed to the rider asking him for the run. Once he gets to the top of the lane, Leparoux lets him loose and it's all over from there.
I kind of laugh as the commentators that suggested jockey Julien Leparoux was "strangling" Awesome Act in the Wood and that somehow that was the reason he didn't run a big race. Watch the Gotham and you'll see Leparoux employ similar tactics of waiting as long as possible before calling on Awesome Act for his final run. It was a similar riding style in both races, the only difference being he wasn't chasing Eskendereya in the Gotham.