Where has all perspective gone? Describing Saturday’s Florida Derby, one headline called the race the “Clash of the Titans.” Really? Did Dr. Fager and Damascus go at it again? Ali and Frazier?
In a modern world most frequently viewed through a prism of self-obsessed self-absorption, where the Washington Post concedes that “they” can be singular and where a Chilean sea bass isn’t Chilean or even, for that matter, a bass, people tend to believe whatever’s necessary for their own comfort or self-esteem, and they’ll cling to their beliefs despite overwhelmingly contradictory evidence. So, if Tinderellas and Twitter Pans who’ve never heard of Dr. Fager and Damascus prefer to believe the Florida Derby is a “Clash of the Titans,” then, fine, it’s an historic clash. For them, anyway.
But for a perspective that’s broader, both geographically and temporally, for, in other words, the kind of perspective that’s necessary for making some sense out of this run-up to the Kentucky Derby, it might be wise to toss “Clash” and “Titans” into the trash with all the other banana peels. The Florida Derby was hardly a “clash,” and its participants have some roads to travel before they can be compared seriously to the elder Greek gods of the Golden Age.
The Florida Derby, as it turned out, posited nothing new, but only confirmed what was generally known. Nyquist is good, very good: He’s speedy, tractable, versatile and determined. But that knowledge was already banked and drawing interest. Unchallenged and perhaps even bored down the Gulfstream Park lane, Nyquist didn’t have to run especially fast and so he didn’t. He wasn’t challenged to step up to a new level of performance and so he didn’t. The horse expected to ensure a contentious and fast pace, Takeittotheedge, stumbled badly at the start. And then Nyquist had a relatively easy time of it. He controlled the pace in solid fractions while cruising along rhythmically. With some skillful race-riding that was unnecessary but still fun to watch, Mario Guiterrez allowed Nyquist to drift out in the second turn and into the stretch, forcing the hapless favorite, Mohaymen, to travel even wider. Nyquist increased his advantage without feeling a threat, Mohaymen capitulated without an argument and the “Clash” clanged.
The Florida Derby didn’t even prove much about Mohaymen. Although obviously talented, he never has been quite as good as his PR. In terms of performance levels, before Saturday he was about two lengths behind the leaders among the Top 20 on the road to the Derby. And with the champion coming to town, the Florida Derby challenged Mohaymen to step forward, but he instead went nowhere. He had excuses, though — a “good” track that his rider, Junior Alvarado, said he didn’t like and a wide trip — and so Mohaymen probably didn’t regress so much as he simply stalled. Adjusting his performance for the ground loss, his Florida Derby effort was only a couple lengths behind his Fountain of Youth. In other words, he could take a significant step forward in Kentucky, and he’ll need to.
The Florida Derby wasn’t the only prep last weekend. At Turfway Park, Oscar Nominated, who wasn’t Derby nominated, won the Spiral Stakes. But in the context of the Triple Crown, how meaningful was this race? The top four finishers — Oscar Nominated, Azar, Surgical Strike and Two Step Time — have made a total of one start in their combined careers on dirt, which, of course, is the surface for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Except for Azar’s recent victory on the main track at Gulfstream, they all had raced on turf or on synthetic surfaces.
With his win at Turfway, Oscar Nominated earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. But his owners, Sarah and Ken Ramsey, didn’t even think highly enough of the colt to spend the $6,000 necessary to make him a late nominee to the Triple Crown. Within 24 hours of the Spiral, though, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Ken Ramsey found an investor who, reportedly in exchange for half the colt’s Triple Crown earnings, is willing to put up the $200,000 now necessary to supplement Oscar Nominated to the famed series. The mystery investor will remain anonymous, however — presumably until he closes a deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Four major Triple Crown preps, plus the Lexington Stakes, where somebody, perhaps even Swipe, could claim a few game-changing points. And three of those major preparatory races will be run Saturday. A large field is expected at Keeneland for the Blue Grass, where the field could include Donegal Moon, Cherry Wine, Zulu, Brody’s Cause and My Man Sam. Among those expected for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct are Shagaf, Flexibility, Matt King Coal, Outwork, Adventist, Tale of S’avall and Cadeyrn. Expected for Santa Anita Derby are Danzing Candy, Mor Spirit, Exaggerator, Smokey Image, Uncle Lino and Iron Rob.
The top 20 on the road to the Kentucky Derby
- Danzing Candy
Trainer: Clifford Sise
Sire: Twirling Candy
Kentucky Derby points: 50
Comment: Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby might provide Danzing Candy with just the sort of educational experience he’ll find rewarding in Kentucky. More speedsters than reasonably could have been expected only a few weeks ago are preparing to converge on Saturday’s million-dollar event in Arcadia. Smokey Image, Uncle Lino and, most notably, Iron Rob could all contribute to a heated and contentious pace. In the San Pedro Stakes, on a day when the surface was extremely fast, Iron Rob led through an opening half-mile in 44.55 seconds while on his way to winning by more than a length. So he has sufficient speed to run with Danzing Candy, who, his trainer insists, doesn’t require an early lead to give his best performance. He does indeed appear to be tractable. And it might be strategically prudent just to let Iron Rob have the early lead; after all, he never has raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt. (And he faded to seventh going a mile on Del Mar’s turf.) On the other hand, if Danzing Candy draws inside the other speed, he could grab the early advantage and turn the Santa Anita Derby into another display case for his uncommon talent and speed. Remember, four weeks ago, in the San Felipe, he ran the opening half-mile in a quick 46.11 to open up a two-length advantage, and he was still two in front at the wire. Also, the surface that day was much slower (about 11 lengths slower at 1 1/16 miles) than it was on the day of Iron Rob’s San Pedro. In other words, Danzing Candy has sufficient speed to do it again, lead from start to finish, but a measured and prudent allocation of his energy might better serve his long-term interests. The decision will be in good hands, those of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. Last Saturday, with Smith riding, Danzing Candy worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.60 (in the company of 5-year-old Miraglo), with a final quarter-mile in 24.20 seconds and a gallop-out in 1:14, according to Santa Anita clockers.
- Mor Spirit
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Kentucky Derby points: 44
Comment: And if the pace in the Santa Anita Derby heats up to an eye-burning glow, if Danzing Candy insists on running Iron Rob into taking a rest in an ashtray and then gets weary himself down the lane, Mor Spirit will win. In fact, Mor Spirit appears to be training so sharply that he could very well win regardless of circumstances. His trainer, Bob Baffert, obviously has the handsome ridgling moving smoothly down the road in the direction of a huge effort. Last Wednesday, Mor Spirit worked a bullet five-eighths of a mile in 59 seconds, and five days later, on Monday (with Martin Garcia riding), he worked a quick half-mile in 47.00. (Only the champion Songbird worked faster, going 46.80.) Mor Spirit, of course, finished second behind Danzing Candy in the San Felipe. But his Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens, said later that Mor Spirit learned more from that loss than he had in all his previous races combined. Beyond the wire, Mor Spirit joined the winner on the gallop-out as a kind of reminder that he appears to be the sort that could improve with an additional sixteenth of a mile on Saturday and especially at the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles in Kentucky.
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Sire: Uncle Mo
Kentucky Derby points: 130
Comment: The “Clash” never materialized in Florida, where Nyquist controlled the pace and drew clear in the Gulfstream Park stretch, winning by more than three lengths despite drifting out and shifting strides, back to his left lead. And if he meandered down the lane, it was probably because he lost focus when he realized he had no serious competition or company for the final three-sixteenths of a mile. Loneliness can do that. Although the pace was solid and the officially “good” surface seemed to slow down slightly over the afternoon, the Florida Derby wasn’t especially fast in the context of the day’s races — Nyquist ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.11, compared, for example, to 1:48.42 for Valid in the Skip Away Stakes earlier on the program. But Nyquist didn’t have to run exceptionally fast. He simply did what he does best: He won. More professional than flashy, he’s a genuine and reliable talent. He’s also one of the most admirable horses on this or any list: He can adjust his style to suit the circumstances, using his speed or conserving it, as the situation demands; he overcomes any obstacle or vicissitude; and he always gives an honest effort. Just a day after his million-dollar victory, he traveled to Keeneland, where he will prepare for his next start. The 1 1/4 miles of the Derby probably isn’t going to be his best distance, but this is the sort of competitor who doesn’t care about such trifles.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Sire: Giant’s Causeway
Kentucky Derby points: 51
Comment: Quick, who’s the last Kentucky Derby winner who didn’t race in April? That would be Needles, who won the Florida Derby on March 24, 1956, and in his next start, on May 5, rallied from 16th in a field of 17 to win the Derby as the 8-5 favorite. So it has been 60 years since a horse succeeded in doing what Destin will attempt to do this year. Actually, though, Needles won the Derby six weeks after his success in Florida, and Destin will attempt to win the roseate run eight weeks after his victory in the Tampa Bay Derby. But before you dismiss Destin as a Derby contender, you might want to consider two facts. First, 13 horses have won the Derby in their seasonal debut, including the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton. In other words, in the larger historical context, recent activity isn’t essential for a Derby winner, although in the modern era it would seem to be more important, much more important, than it might have been in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Second, and of most importance, this is Todd Pletcher’s game. This is his fast ball. This approach requires the meticulous, calculated strategy that Pletcher prefers. And it’s an approach with which he excels. Since 2010, Pletcher has won — and you might want to sit down because this number can be knee-buckling — 706 races with horses returning in one-to-three months, according to Equibase. That’s 706 winners from 2,887 starters, or more than 24 percent. He’s even better with horses who return after longer layoffs of three months or more — 172 winners, or more than 27 percent. Bottom line: Don’t worry about the layoff; don’t bother counting the weeks. Destin just might run — correct that, he probably will run — the race of his life in the Derby. The essential question is whether that will be enough. Maybe it will. Destin has improved quickly and dramatically, proclaiming himself to be a serious Triple Crown candidate with his victory in the Tampa Bay Derby. Yes, with Javier Castellano riding, Destin enjoyed a perfect stalking trip, but the colt set a track record, running the fourth quarter-mile in a very solid 24.54 seconds and completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.82. By any measure, it ranks among the best performances this year by a 3-year-old. Last Saturday he worked a half-mile in 48.98 seconds at Palm Beach Downs.
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Kentucky Derby Points: 50
Comment: When you see Cupid for the first time, you’re inclined to look upward to the heavens and mumble a sincere prayer: “Please, this horse is so beautiful; please, let him be a runner.” Well, he is. In fact, he’s a pluperfect runner, a rapidly improving colt whose ceiling’s up there beyond the rafters in the penumbra, up there so high that it taunts perspective. But since the purpose here is to provide perspective amid a perspective-poor modernity, let the record show that from here Cupid looks as if he just might be one of the most talented horses of his generation. In only the fourth outing of his career, he recovered from a slow start and a frisson of rail-jumping erraticism to win the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. At every point, the Rebel was the fastest two-turn race that day at Oaklawn. Cupid’s final time for the 1 1/16 miles, for example, was 1:43.84 compared to 1:44.12 for the older and more accomplished Upstart in the Razorback Handicap. Cupid is a very late foal (May 19), which suggests two possibilities: first, that he has plenty of potential to improve; and, second, that his next step forward could be a little farther down the road than it might be for a few others. In racing’s modern era, only two Kentucky Derby winners, Thunder Gulch (May 23) and Northern Dancer (May 27), have had a later foaling date than Cupid’s. But, again, he’s a major talent. Last Thursday, back home at Santa Anita, in his first work since the Rebel, he went an easy half-mile in 50 seconds. But Cupid will return to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby, which will be run on April 16. And so it looks like Martin Garcia, who rode Dortmund to a third-place finish last year and was exemplary in his duties as a frequent exercise rider for American Pharoah, could have another very live Derby mount and another busy Triple Crown.
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Kentucky Derby points: 26
Comment: Exaggerator has a quarter-mile punch, a devastating but brief burst. Generally, such horses are most effective at a mile or so. At longer distances, where they drop farther and farther behind before they ignite their burst, they’ll rally dramatically and furiously to finish, to the thrill of bettors, fourth. Or maybe third. That’s what happened in the San Felipe, where Exaggerator dropped back, back, back to the “Here Be Monsters” edge of the map and then ran the third quarter-mile in 23.54 seconds to rush into contention. But then his move suddenly stalled, like a jalopy in need of new plugs, and he finished third. Still, at the wire, he was less than a length behind Mor Spirit and only 2 3/4 lengths behind Danzing Candy. In other words, Exaggerator was close, and with some development, some improved timing and the perfect circumstances, he just might be capable of competing with the leaders of the division. And if the music of the spheres strikes the ideal note, he could even upset. Still, he’s starting to look like the sort who, when facing the best, is always close, but seldom in the winner’s circle. But in the spirit broadening perspectives, there’s another way of looking at Exaggerator: Since he’s by Curlin, he just might continue to improve. Curlin, after all, continued to improve throughout his 3-year-old campaign until he became Horse of the Year with a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory. Will Exaggerator follow that same arc for the Desormeaux brothers? Answers will come soon. In preparation for the Santa Anita Derby, Exaggerator worked five-eighths of a mile last Saturday in 1:02.80.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Sire: Uncle Mo
Kentucky Derby points: 20
Comment: He’ll soon travel to New York for the Wood Memorial. On Saturday, at Palm Beach Downs in Florida, he worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.48. Among the more intriguing horses in the Top 20, Outwork and several others who possess considerable potential argue convincingly that this is going to be an exciting season for the division. But he needs additional two-turn experience. All things considered, though, Outwork’s performance in the Tampa Bay Derby was nothing less than outstanding. Stretching out from three-quarters of a mile to 1 1/16 miles in only his third start, with John Velazquez riding, Outwork finished second behind a genuine Derby contender who was busy setting a track record. But Outwork’s inexperience isn’t his only potential problem: There’s also the distance question. He’s a half-brother to the speedy Nonna’s Boy, and their dam, Nonna Mia, was at her best sprinting. Outwork’s pedigree, in other words, is heavy with speed. In fact, his dosage index, which is roughly the ratio of speed to stamina influences in the first four generations, soars at 11.00.
- Gun Runner
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Sire: Candy Ride
Kentucky Derby points: 151
Comment: Having already traveled to Kentucky, Gun Runner has taken up residence at Churchill Downs. He worked an easy half-mile (50.60 seconds) there on Monday. Once again, he’s in the right place and quite possibly at the right time. Is that the secret to his success? You know people like this, guys whose blind luck and good fortune always put them in a perfect position to succeed. Or is it talent that puts them there, subtle and unassuming talent? No sparkle, just wins. With Florent Geroux riding, Gun Runner had another nearly perfect trip when he won the Louisiana Derby. He saved ground before angling off the rail to charge down the lane, and then he ran the fourth quarter-mile in 25.08 seconds to win by more than four lengths. He switched strides late, back to his left lead, and drifted in, probably more bored than tired; but then he galloped out strongly. The race, however, was relatively slow (1:51.06 for the 1 1/8 miles), a full second slower than the New Orleans Handicap that was run a little earlier on the card. Could Gun Runner have gone much faster if pressured? Possibly, but if so, slightly. And so evaluating Gun Runner’s merit and Derby potential remains problematic. He has sufficient speed and athleticism to put himself in position to succeed. It’s not luck; it’s talent. He always ensures a good trip for himself, he has moved steadily forward and he’s approaching a peak effort. But is he as fast and talented as the horses that top the Top 20 list? The answer will come on May 7.
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Kentucky Derby points: 80
Comment: Rarely has a “Titan” been so easily vanquished, or a bandwagon so quickly vacated. Actually, though, going into the Florida Derby, the expectations for Mohaymen and the evaluations of his talent were somewhat overinflated, like those Macy’s Parade balloons, or maybe like the mistaken beliefs people cling to just because they want to believe them or perhaps like some of these windbags running for . . . well, anyway, the paean-saturated hullabaloo surrounding the handsome colt invited a pinprick. Mohaymen never had run a truly fast race, he defeated only five horses in the Holy Bull and five again in the Fountain of Youth, and the horses behind him had accomplished little. So although his disappointing performance Saturday might have punctured an ill-conceived belief or two, it shouldn’t have stunned anybody into a state of apoplexy, except perhaps a few Tinderellas and Twitter Pans. And, in retrospect, Mohaymen’s effort was actually better than it might first seem. From the moment Takeittotheedge stumbled at the start, leaving Nyquist to grab an early advantage, Mohaymen’s chances of winning the Florida Derby began a descent, and from there they gathered momentum in a relentless roll downhill, all the way to fourth. A little wide in the first turn and a little wide in the second, he got floated even wider at the top of the lane. But he didn’t have the punch or the talent to outrun the trouble, and he never looked as if he might threaten. Yes, with his wide trip, he spotted Nyquist about six lengths, but Mohaymen finished more than eight lengths back. He simply wasn’t good enough, not on this day over that surface. But he’ll be a better racehorse for the experience. Could he be good enough to threaten in Kentucky? That’s the question awaiting him at Churchill Downs.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Kentucky Derby points: 20
Comment: Last Saturday in Florida, Zulu worked a half-mile (49.07 seconds) in company with the older stakes winner Itsaknockout, according to their trainer, Todd Pletcher. (Itsaknockout won last year’s Fountain of Youth after the disqualification of Upstart.) That’s always a positive indicator, a young horse working with an accomplished elder, and Zulu should benefit from having an experienced and talented racehorse at his side. Zulu is much like Outwork in terms of talent and experience. He has plenty of one, but needs plenty more of the other. Also like Outwork, in only his third start Zulu gave an admirable performance in a major stakes, finishing second to Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth. Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, which is expected to attract a full and large field, could provide Zulu with a perfect classroom. Should he start in the Blue Grass, which is the plan, he’ll lose his regular rider, John Valazquez. The substitute teacher, though, is quite capable: Javier Castellano.
- Mo Tom
Trainer: Tom Amoss
Sire: Uncle Mo
Kentucky Derby points: 32
Comment: If not for a troubled trip, he would have finished no worse than second in the Louisiana Derby. As it turned out, jockey Corey Lanerie had to stomp on the brakes for a sixteenth of a mile, and Mo Tom finished fourth as the 2-1 favorite. He also had a troubled trip when third in the Risen Star Stakes. In other words, when it comes to getting into trouble, Mo Tom is another Tom Sawyer. But there’s a reason. Mo Tom’s charge-from-the-back style will always leave him vulnerable to traffic congestion and wide trips, dependent, too, on pace. But Mo Tom has enough qualifying points for a place in the starting gate, and he’ll proceed to Kentucky, where a strung out field could allow him to find a running lane. He’ll be an intriguing Derby long shot.
Trainer: Chad Brown
Sire: Bluegrass Cat
Kentucky Derby points: 15
Comment: In an intriguing move last Saturday, stablemates Flexibility and Shagaf worked in company, both being credited with a half-mile in 48.45 seconds. Shagaf, of course, is expected to be the favorite in Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, where Flexibility, who’ll make his first start in 11 weeks, will attempt to score a minor upset. His trainer, Chad Brown, said he expects the colt to run well Saturday, hopefully well enough to hoover up some points, and then even better in his next start, which, of course, could come in a Tripe Crown race. He hasn’t raced since disappointing as the odds-on favorite in the Withers, but with a rest he should be ready to approach the form he flashed in the Jerome, which he won with a powerful effort. Manny Franco will ride Flexibility in the Wood, replacing Irad Ortiz, Jr., who’ll ride Shagaf.
- Matt King Coal
Trainer: Linda Rice
Sire: Cool Coal Man
Kentucky Derby points: 0
Comment: He’s as “ready as he can be” for the Wood, explained Matt King Coal’s trainer, Linda Rice. Saturday, Matt King Coal will get his only chance to earn some qualifying Derby points, and in his second start of the year, he could indeed be ready to take advantage of the opportunity. In his seasonal debut, on the Sunday following the Gotham, while returning from a four-month layoff, he gave an auspicious performance. Yes, he appeared to get a little weary in the final furlong, but he held on well and actually galloped out much more strongly than the charging runner-up, My Man Sam, who’s entered Saturday in the Blue Grass. Matt King Coal’s a big strong colt who’s naturally fast and seems to possess a high cruising rhythm; he could be a player. J. L. Ortiz has ridden Matt King Coal in all his races.
Trainer: Donnie Von Hemel
Kentucky Derby points: 10
Comment: Although he disappointed as the 5-2 favorite in the Rebel, finishing fifth, Suddenbreakingnews could be Cupid’s most serious threat in the Arkansas Derby on April 16. When he won the Southwest Stakes, Suddenbreakingnews enjoyed a good trip, rallying strongly behind a lively pace. But the long-legged gelding had a dramatically different experience in the Rebel. When he attempted to rally in the second turn, he found himself blocked in traffic and then virtually stopped. Checked sharply behind a rapidly retreating American Dubai, Suddenbreakingnews dropped back to 13th in the 14-horse field. He lost all chance at that point. Still, he rallied with energy and was beaten less than five lengths. Where would he have finished without the trouble? Hard to say, but he’ll be one to watch closely in the Arkansas Derby, where he’ll need to earn some points to punch his ticket to Kentucky. Last Friday at Oaklawn, with his regular jockey, Luis Quinonez, riding, Suddenbreakingnews had what appears to be a sharp workout, running the final quarter-mile in 23.40 seconds, completing a half-mile in 48.80 seconds and galloping out another furlong in 1:00.80, according to clocker Jim Hamilton.
Trainer: Ron Moquett
Sire: Pleasantly Perfect
Kentucky Derby points: 24
Comment: Also preparing for the Arkansas Derby, Whitmore worked a half-mile last Saturday in 48.60 seconds at Oaklawn. At this point, he appears to be a hard-trying, reliable and talented sort who’s nevertheless a rung or two below the top horses of the class. And more distance probably won’t help him narrow the gap. He looked like he would become the Rebel winner when he turned into the Oaklawn Park stretch. With Irad Ortiz, Jr., keeping him clear, Whitmore moved strongly into contention and had aim on Cupid. In mid-stretch, with plenty of momentum, Whitmore even drew up alongside the leader. But then Cupid refocused and drew clear. Or did Whitmore come up empty in the final sixteenth of a mile? Either way, the performance offered little reason to believe Whitmore can turn the tables in the longer Arkansas Derby or seriously threaten in Kentucky. As a gelding, though, Whitmore has less to gain from a roll of the Derby dice than many others.
Trainer: Chad Brown
Kentucky Derby points: 50
Comment: With stablemate Flexibility, who’s also aimed at the Wood Memorial, Shagaf worked a half-mile last Saturday in 48.45 seconds at Belmont Park. Afterwards, their trainer, Chad Brown, sounded pleased with the moves. Like a few other horses on this list, Shagaf is light on experience. And because he won the Gotham on a biased surface in a modest clocking, his talent remains something of a mystery. How good is he? Or isn’t he? The Wood will probably provide the answers. Clearly he’s talented and tractable, but from here he looks like a colt that has a great deal to prove. Irad Ortiz, Jr., has ridden Shagaf in all of the colt’s races.
- Unbridled Outlaw
Trainer: Dale Romans
Sire: Unbridled’s Song
Kentucky Derby points: 2
Comment: Unbridled Outlaw will probably try to squeeze into the Derby field at the last minute through a crack in the back door. And he’s talented enough to make it. Injured coming out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he returned to competition at Oaklawn Park on the day of the Rebel Stakes, in an earlier race on the card, against older horses. Fresh from the long layoff, with Corey Lanerie riding, Unbridled Outlaw jumped out to an early lead, still ran his fourth quarter-mile in 24.82 seconds and then tired in the final sixteenth, finishing second. But it was a solid effort in a relatively fast race, something Unbridled Outlaw can build upon. The talented colt had nothing but bad luck and nightmarish trips as a juvenile. But he could become a player in the division. Last Saturday at Gulfstream Park, he worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:01.07. He’ll return to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby.
Trainer: Leah Gyarmati
Sire: Any Given Saturday
Kentucky Derby points: 12
Comment: In preparation for the Wood Memorial, with stablemate In Equality (who ran third in the Jerome), Adventist worked three-quarters of a mile last Thursday in 1:14.55. Adventist has raced greenly at times, and he raced against the bias in the Gotham; still, he never has finished worse than third. He looks like he could be ready to give a breakthrough performance. Obviously he’ll need to take a next step forward if he’s to threaten in the Wood, but that’s possible. Kendrick Carmouche has been riding him.
Trainer: Mikio Matsunaga
Kentucky Derby points: 100
Comment: Lani arrived at Churchill Downs this week, and an entourage will surely follow, giving the Derby an uncommonly international mood and a fillip of intrigue. But can Lani be a contender? With Yutaka Take riding him in the $2 million race, Lani stumbled to his knees at the start of the UAE Derby, moved boldly on the backstretch, raced three-to-four wide in the second turn and then got up in the final yards, defeating the formerly unbeaten filly Polar River. In other words, Lani overcame trouble to win. But the race was slow. Because some known quantities raced that day in Dubai, analyzing the UAE Derby isn’t quite as problematic as it might first seem. Relying on California Chrome and Hoppertunity as a metric, or standard, can provide a general impression of how fast and how good Lani might be. Well, the impression isn’t altogether positive, but nor is it conclusive. He needed 1:58.41 to complete the 1900 meters, which means he performed at a level that was roughly two-to-three lengths slower than Unbridled Outlaw’s in his seasonal debut, but, again, Lani overcame trouble. Still, even if his talent level were completely unknown, the history isn’t. And the history lines up solidly against him. No horse out of the UAE Derby has come close to winning in Kentucky, the best finish being Master of Hounds’ fifth in 2011. Only eight horses that had been competing exclusively outside of North America have even raced in the Kentucky Derby: Dr. Devious finished seventh in 1992; Thyer 13th in 1992; Citadeed ninth in 1995; Ski Captain 14th in 1995; China Visit sixth in 2000; Curule seventh in 2000; Castle Gandolfo 12th in 2002; and Mubtaahij eighth last year. Like Lani, Ski Captain was based in Japan. (Venezuela’s Canonero II and Puerto Rico’s Bold Forbes both raced in America as juveniles and, of course, both won the Kentucky Derby. When the English colt Bold Arrangement traveled here in 1986, he first raced in the Blue Grass before finishing second in the Derby.)
Trainer: Stanley Gold
Sire: Awesome of Course
Kentucky Derby points: 32
Comment: His consistency has earned him sufficient Derby points to secure a place in the starting gate. Fellowship, of course, finished third in the Holy Bull, the Fountain of Youth and then the Florida Derby. He’s clearly lengths behind and rungs below the top horses on this list, but he always shows up, always gives a good effort and nearly always trundles home to claim a minor prize. Could he do the same in Kentucky?