Well horse racing fans were all looking forward to the Kentucky Derby preps on April 8th. Usually, the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, and the Santa Anita Derby are three of the best Derby preps to run in and then head to Louisville if your horse has earned his way into the field. This year it was extremely suspect.
The Blue Grass Stakes was won by 31-1 long shot IRAP. The nine furlongs were run in a time of 1:50.39 which was relatively slow on a day when times were run at much faster splits. PRACTICAL JOKE had every chance to go by IRAP in the final furlong, but flattened out. PRACTICAL JOKE did run much closer to the pace than he had in his past few starts. It could have taken a bit out of him and maybe he just ran a little flat late, but the fractions for the final half furlong were extremely slow and no horse was making up ground on IRAP.
The undefeated superstar coming off a bit of a layoff, McCRAKEN came up pretty flat as well when it came down to the time to find out what he had left in the tank. He flattened out badly in the final furlong, but lucky enough no one else in the race had anything left in their tanks and McCRAKEN was good enough to earn third. The 20 points earned by McCRAKEN were enough to move him to 15th on the Derby qualification list and safely into the field.
Other horses safely into the Derby field, TAPWRIT didn’t have anything to run for in this spot, so I had a feeling he might come up with his best effort yesterday. Currently 11th in the point standings, Todd Pletcher will have TAPWRIT in tip-top condition heading into the Kentucky Derby in one month. PRACTICAL JOKE whom I already mentioned above was sitting at 34 points going into the race, but tacking another 40 for his second place effort took him from the bubble to safely in the race. J BOYS ECHO who had nothing to really race for had some trouble at the start of the race. He bobbled and was bumped which didn’t bode well for my prediction that he would try to go to the front. Maybe, with a clean break the race would have shaped up differently. J BOYS ECHO may have been able to put more pressure on IRAP, but that didn’t happen and rider Robby Albarado did not take any chances after missing the break. The other two entries, IT’S YOUR NICKEL and WILD SHOT both are out of the running for the Kentucky Derby at this point.
Wrapping up the Blue Grass Stakes, it’s really hard to tell where the talent in the race is coming out of this rather slow edition of the race. Fractions and finishing times don’t always tell the story of the race, there are many factors that go into why a race was slower than usual. It could be that many of the horses racing didn’t have a whole lot to race for in this spot.
I think that heading into the Kentucky Derby TAPWRIT, J BOYS ECHO, PRACTICAL JOKE, IRAP and McCRAKEN all still deserve a long look heading into the race. As you could see Saturday, just because a horse is a maiden, doesn’t mean that his pace figures or speed numbers are not fast enough to hold on in a stakes race.
The $1,000,000 Grade 1 – Santa Anita Derby drew a haughty field of 13 horses, many of which had not qualified for the Kentucky Derby yet. A lot of that had to do with the injury to Baffert trainee, MASTERY. He was thought to be the best 3-year-old training out in California.
In what many of the horse racing analysts on the NBC Sports broadcast of the race thought was a very slow version of the Santa Anita Derby, GORMLEY returned to better form and came out on top.
The early fractions (:22.66, :46.55) of the race were set by a trio dueling on the front end that included BATTLE OF MIDWAY, AMERICAN ANTHEM, and ROYAL MO. John Shirreffs’ other colt GORMLEY tracked them in fourth and tipped out 3-4wide on the far turn and looked a bit leg weary, but had enough to get by BATTLE OF MIDWAY who battled back to get second and ROYAL MO who was a game third.
Bob Baffert, who was seeking to earn a birth to the Derby after his top colt MASTERY suffered a condylar fracture to his front left leg in the San Felipe, saddled REACH THE WORLD. They looked to be getting a dream set up with the duel happening on the pace, but REACH THE WORLD was forced to take an extremely wide path, let’s call it 6wide to be nice, on the far turn and he closed willingly, but didn’t have enough to get by the pace-setters.
Again, it’s hard to gauge where this race leaves many of the horses entering the Kentucky Derby because of how slow the race was compared with the others on the card. The finishing time was 1:51.16 which was even slower than the Blue Grass.
It appears that only the top two finishers in the Santa Anita Derby will make the trip to Kentucky if health. ROYAL MO currently sits in 23rd, but would need many defections to get into the field. It’s possible, but you have to remember we still have another 100-40-20-10 race left. Depending on where certain horses finish in Arkansas, we will have to wait and see on ROYAL MO.
As far as the $750,000 Grade 2 – Wood Memorial is concerned, I thought on paper it was the weakest of the three races, so I didn’t give it as much clout as I probably should have. I really like IRISH WAR CRY in his last start and he was my top choice again.
IRISH WAR CRY managed to track the pace 3wide early and pounced with about a furlong left and finished a little leg weary, but did a good enough job to get it done. Watching it, I wasn’t really impressed with any of the other entries. I thought IRISH WAR CRY ran his race, but other than that I thought it was a rather weak group, and many of them put up poor efforts.
Second place finisher, BATTALLION RUNNER scratched out of the Florida Derby due to his stablemate ALWAYS DREAMING having prepped specifically for that race and drawing a great post position. Todd Pletcher saw it best to enter BATTALLION RUNNER in the Wood. He made the right decision as BATTALLION RUNNER now has enough points to get him in with the 40 he earned on Saturday. As far as his effort was concerned, I thought BATTALLION RUNNER set decent early fractions, but the race was gradually getting slower and slower the further it went. I realize horses are not going to run as fast late in the race, but the more I watch the replay, I am having a hard time seeing BATTALLION RUNNER as a legitimate speed horse. In Kentucky if Pletcher decides that this is his speed horse, I would be suspect of him having a legit chance to go gate to wire going 10 furlongs.
Third place finisher CLOUD COMPUTING is currently tied for 15th with five other horses and should be safely into the field. Two horses are going to get either 100 points or 40 points as long as it is one of the horses in front of them, all five Derby contenders with 40 points will make it into the race. We will have to wait and see but I think all of them should be good. The Arkansas Derby field will be drawn early in the week, so we will see which horses the horses on the bubble will be rooting for in Hot Springs.
One horse that is currently outside the top 20 is 2-year-old champion, CLASSIC EMPIRE. He will have his final shot to earn points for the Kentucky Derby in the Arkansas Derby next Saturday. He must finish in the top four to clear the barrier that he could leave him out of the Derby. I don’t think he has anything to worry about.
The Arkansas Derby is the last major prep and that’s next week from Oaklawn Park. There is also a lower level prep, the Lexington Stakes.