There was only one Kentucky Derby prep this weekend, and it didn’t really do much to impress me. The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park was won by Will Take Charge, who won by a head over another Wayne Lukas trainee in Oxbow. Favored Super Ninety Nine threw in an absolute clunker in the Rebel; if there were some reason for such a dull performance I’d be a little more forgiving, but his connections don’t seem to have an answer for why he ran so poorly. That bothers me, so much so that I’m taking him off of my top ten list this week. There is a new addition to my list this week, and it’s neither Will Take Charge or Oxbow. On Friday afternoon, Bob Baffert‘s War Academy made his first start going two turns…and it was a smashing success. The race was just an entry-level optional claimer, but the way in which War Academy took care of business is what you’re looking for in a racehorse. He’s bred to run for days, so it will be interesting to see how he does in his Kentucky Derby prep, whichever one that may end up being. Here is this week’s top ten:
NEWCOMER(S): War Academy
OFF THE LIST: Super Ninety Nine
1) Orb (Malibu Moon – Lady Liberty, by Unbridled)
If Orb can stay sound and continue to improve, I think he has the best chance at winning the Kentucky Derby…and I’m not just saying that because of the future bet I made on him back in January while at the NHC in Las Vegas. His race in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream last month was a beautiful performance, but it was his race in an optional claimer on January 26 that made me a true believer. The figure came back slow for that race, but he had a rather eventful trip. Running over the speed friendly strip at Gulfstream Park going a mile and an eighth, Orb checked briefly entering the clubhouse turn and proceeded to close willingly into a race that lacked much, if any, pace. Regardless of the level, it takes a gifted horse to be able to close the way he did at a track like Gulfstream Park. Another positive for Orb is the fact that his trainer happens to be Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. Rarely does Shug have young three-year olds on the Kentucky Derby trail, and when he does, they end up being pretty decent horses…Easy Goer ring a bell? Now I’m not about to say Orb is destined to be on par with Easy Goer, but it’s definitely a vote of confidence that McGaughey has proceeded with Orb the way that he has. With the bloodlines of A.P. Indy and Unbridled in his direct family, I’m confident Orb will excel as the distances get further. Fingers crossed, Orb will give me my I’ll Have Another, 2.0 in 2013 and takes down the Run for the Roses.
2) Hear the Ghost (Ghostzapper – Rehear, by Coronado’s Quest)
Hear the Ghost took advantage of a strong pace set up front in the San Felipe Stakes this past weekend, but there is no denying that he finished incredibly strongly. The biggest positive I’ve drawn from his victory is that this was his first time going a route of ground and going two turns – you’d have to think he’s only going to move forward off this effort. Jerry Hollendorfer definitely knows how to keep a horse on the improve, and being by Ghostzapper and out of a Coronado’s Quest mare, the added distance should be beneficial to Hear the Ghost. A small sample size, but I think Hear the Ghost is the strongest three-year old competitor on the West Coast at the moment.
3) Flashback (Tapit – Rhumb Line, by Mr. Greeley)
Speaking of the San Felipe, Flashback was one of the entrants involved in the hot pace on the front end, which understandably fell apart with a sixteenth of a mile to go. I would have loved to have seen him rate and sit just off Goldencents in the San Felipe, but he was incredibly head strong and pulled Julien Leparoux all the way around the track. By the time the real running started, Flashback was running on empty. I’m going to attribute his inability to rate to inexperience, as he’s only raced three times in his young career. The Santa Anita Derby will speak volumes about this son of Tapit – if he can relax in the early and middle stages of the race, I think he’s a serious player in the Kentucky Derby picture…if he pulls the rider directly to the front and battles it out with the other speeds, I’ll take this as a trend and more likely than not eliminate him from my list of Derby contenders.
4) Power Broker (Pulpit – Shop Again, by Wild Again)
We haven’t seen Power Broker since a fifth place finish in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but I think he has an immense amount of talent. He’s had a few nagging injuries that have kept him out of action to date in 2013, and that’s becoming a bit of an issue if he’s going to make the Kentucky Derby in seven weeks. I can’t take him off the list just yet, because he is training and preparing for a return to the races – but he’s running out of time, and running out of time fast. We should know in the next week or so if Bob Baffert is going to send him out in the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, etc.
5) Verrazano (More Than Ready – Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway)
The current individual favorite for the Kentucky Derby, Verrazano has the racing world abuzz following his facile victory in the Tampa Bay Derby this past weekend – an effort after which rider John Velazquez said the horse “didn’t like the track”. Eeeesh…I understand it appears as though he didn’t beat much, but what does it say about the ability he possess if he destroyed a field in a graded stakes race in which he didn’t really handle the track? There’s no denying he’s looked like a monster in his brief three race career, but I still have this nagging feeling that he’s got some distance limitations. He’s brilliant at a mile and probably nine furlongs, but I’m not sold on the idea that he wants to go ten furlongs. Add that he’ll be among a host of animals that want to be on the lead, and that could spell disaster for Verrazano at a short price in Louisville.
6) Itsmyluckyday (Lawyer Ron – Viva La Slew, by Doneraile Court)
The impressive winner of the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream is on many people’s short list of Derby favorites. He took down previously unbeaten Juvenile Champion Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull, and did so relatively easily. Lawyer Ron was respectable at longer distances, but Itsmyluckyday is another that I’m still a little bit iffy on regarding ten furlongs. He does possess wonderful tactical speed, which is always a bonus in the Kentucky Derby, but I’m just not sold on his chances at ten furlongs, especially at a relatively short price. Maybe I could get Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby in a race like the Metropolitan Handicap at the end of May? I’m probably dreaming…
7) War Academy (Giant’s Causeway – Cabbage Key, by A.P. Indy)
He couldn’t have handled business any more professionally Friday afternoon against an entry-level group. His next start will be in a “100 pointer” according to trainer Bob Baffert, so he’ll have one opportunity to get into the starting gate the First Saturday in May. Being by Giant’s Causeway out of an A.P. Indy mare, War Academy has the kind of breeding that I’m looking for in a Kentucky Derby contender. If for some reason he is unable to make it into the starting gate at Churchill Downs, I’d expect to see him back in a race like the Belmont Stakes. He’s got the bloodlines. He’s handled himself professionally on the track. The sky would appear to be the limit for War Academy.
8) Revolutionary (War Pass – Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy)
I still can’t get over the amount of trouble Revolutionary got into in the Withers and still somehow came out of that race victorious. I like to see young horses overcome some adversity and be able to prevail – but I look at Revolutionary’s race in the Withers as a negative. He did overcome a year’s worth of trouble, and he was probably half an hour the best…but that’s just my problem – I don’t think he beat any horses of significance in the Withers. Once he faces a saltier group, I think Revolutionary will be exposed as being a cut below the rest of the serious Derby contenders. I have him listed on my Top Ten mainly because he has a strong stamina pedigree, but I’ve got some major question marks about just how good this horse is. I’m very anxious to see how he runs in his final Derby prep.
9) Palace Malice (Curlin – Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem)
Palace Malice is another lightly raced colt that I expect to take a step forward in his next race, most likely the Louisiana Derby. As a whole, I thought the Risen Star Stakes was a poor race, but I thought Palace Malice ran respectably considering the way he was handled. I surely thought he’d be closer to the pace early on and be allowed to get first run on the closers, but he was taken further back into the pack and forced to fight with the late runners. I expect him to be closer to the lead in his start.
10) Vyjack (Into Mischief – Life Happened, by Stravinsky)
Vyjack is a hot name amongst the horse community at the moment. He’s undefeated, and more importantly has shown the ability to win on the lead as well as closing from deep in the pack. I sound like a broken record at this point, but I’m withholding judgement on Vyjack until he faces a stronger cast of characters. The races at Aqueduct thus far have left me a little underwhelmed – that should change when the Wood is run. Time will tell, but Vyjack has shown a versatility that shouldn’t go unnoticed.