Sometimes this can be a wonderfully rewarding game; other times it can be a cruel, cruel game. Inevitably, we all see both ends of the spectrum and I happened to be on the cruel end this past weekend with the Razorback – I’ll get to that in a minute.
Verrazano made 2/5 look like an absolute gift in the Tampa Bay Derby, cementing himself as the current individual favorite for the Kentucky Derby, which is just under two months away. Not only did he answer most of the questions that I had about him, but I think he made many horse racing fans open their eyes and realize just how talented he truly is. I’m not entirely sold about Verrazano’s desire to continue on to farther distances (I think nine furlongs at most) – but even as a skeptic, it’s difficult for me to nitpick anything from his Tampa Bay Derby performance. John Velazquez gave him a gentle nudge strictly for track position coming out of the clubhouse turn, but after that, he never asked Verrazano to run a step. I’ll be interested to see just what Verrazano develops into, but there is no denying he has a tremendous amount of ability. As for my choice, Dynamic Sky, as well as the “also rans” of the Tampa Bay Derby…eeeshhh. As good as Verrazano was, it’s hard for me to pull any real positives from anyone else in the field. Java’s War made a nice run, but it wasn’t anything that I thought warranted any real excitement as far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned. A nice, developing young colt – but not a horse that I think will make any noise on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Dynamic Sky had a great trip – he just proved to be a cut below his competition. I’ll always play against a horse at the kind of odds Verrazano was sitting at, but boy did he make 2/5 look like an overlay in the Tampa Bay Derby.
I’ve read tons of criticism towards Julien Leparoux and Kevin Krigger regarding the way they handled their mounts, Flashback and Goldencents, and I really think the majority of it is unwarranted. I think people quickly forget that these are still young, relatively inexperienced horses – there’s only so much the riders can do to control their mounts. Krigger had an absolute stranglehold on Goldencents, but when the horse wants to go – he’s going to go, especially being as young as these horses are. As far as Leparoux is concerned…he may not be my personal favorite rider, but the man gets much more grief than he should (see prior sentence for rationale). Last season it was his “poor ride” on Union Rags in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, this year it’s his “poor handling” of Flashback in the San Felipe. I’m going to chock this one up to the horse being a bit headstrong (Flashback took off going into the first turn, moving three wide). He’ll probably be taken off the mount, but I think he should be given another opportunity. As for the race, Hear the Ghost ran a great race to get the victory in the San Felipe, but the horse I’m most intrigued with out of the race is Tiz a Minister. Hear the Ghost was roughly six or seven lengths off the lead pair turning for home, only to take the lead inside the final sixteenth of a mile and continue on to victory. He showed that he needs to be considered a strong competitor on the West Coast in the three-year old division, no question. As for Tiz a Minister – there is something to be said for a horse that is 15 lengths off the lead with three furlongs remaining, puts in a sustained rally going seven wide around the far turn, and winds up only to losing the race by a length. I know the pace was real on the front end, but this was a major effort by a horse that really hadn’t had any effort reasonably close to this in his prior performances. If he could develop some sort of positional speed and not be an eighth of a mile behind the rest of the field throughout the race, I think Tiz a Minister could develop into a solid player in the three-year old division. Goldencents didn’t cooperate with Kevin Krigger at all during the race, but that’s not to be used as an excuse – he simply wasn’t good enough. Even if he ran his “A” race, I don’t think it would have been enough to finish with the front three. I liked him a lot in this spot headed into the race, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Never thought he had real Derby potential, but I surely thought he could have handled a field like this.
The Razorback Handicap played out almost exactly how I envisioned it would – almost being the key word there. Golden Ron confirmed that the change in tactics helped him immensely, going directly to the front end and setting mediocre fractions. Carrying a few pounds less than almost all of his competition, I thought this would be a major difference, especially considering the race was void of any real speed other than himself. Atigun loomed large the whole way, sitting a nice, pocket trip throughout. The horse I didn’t expect to see anything from wound up being the demise of me, and that was Cyber Secret. Cyber Secret seems to be figuring out how to race comfortably throughout the early stages of the race and pick it up once the money is on the line, which is exactly what he did Saturday afternoon. Possessing the ability to rate and make a strong run turning for home is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly – not all horses have the capability of doing that. Tactical speed is incredibly dangerous. Atigun, Atigun, Atigun…I really don’t know what to make of this race for him. He received a beautiful, ground saving trip around Oaklawn Park Saturday afternoon, loomed ominously throughout, and proceeded to make up zero ground down the stretch. At the top of the lane, it looked as if the question wasn’t is Atigun going to win – rather, how many lengths will Atigun win by? Instead, he raced evenly coming home, leaving me feeling as though this may be all that he is. I had mentioned more ground being his best friend…maybe he just doesn’t have the will to win that other top-level horses do. We’ll see in the weeks and months to come. As for my selection Golden Ron, he did everything I could have hoped for. He ran an admirable race on the front end and just missed out on a trip to the winner’s circle (and a $52.00 winner for me). He gave it his best shot, had everything his own way on the lead, and just couldn’t hold off Cyber Secret. No shame in second – I just would’ve preferred he held on for first money, that’s all. Again, this game can be an incredibly rewarding game sometimes and other times be agonizingly painful…just the nature of the beast, which is why we keep coming back for more.