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Yesterday was a day of great racing across the country, highlighted by three major Kentucky Derby prep races all at a mile and an eighth. While those three races did not serve to completely clarify the Derby picture, they certainly helped bring it into better focus. Two of the preps had inquires, one with a disqualification and one without. I think the stewards got it right in both instances. Let’s look at the three Derby preps and some of the other stakes from yesterday.
Santa Anita Derby:
The most popular of yesterday’s runners and surely the one with the most eyes on him and all the hype was Justify. Justify handled Bolt d’ Oro pretty easily yesterday although he did not run exceptionally fast over an average track. He had an easy lead and things pretty much his own way on the front end. While Bolt d’ Oro could not seriously threaten the lightly raced Scat Daddy colt, Justify did have his ears pinned in the stretch and is still leaning the game. If rushing him to the classics does not take a toll on him he is clearly the better racehorse between the two in my opinion. If you are in Bolt d’ Oro’s camp I think there is cause for concern. Although he suffered a minor cut yesterday, he was never able to make the winner sweat and the excuses and losses are starting to mount up. He couldn’t go by McKinzie in his previous start and Justify appears better than his stablemate. True, Bolt d’ Oro was carried wide in the race against McKinzie but he never looked to me like he was going by him. To the contrary, it looked as if they went around again he wasn’t getting by. That’s not what I want to see from a Derby contender. Yesterday’s Santa Anita Derby was workmanlike and not what I would call electrifying. That’s not to take anything away from the winner, just my observation. The Santa Anita Derby was run in 1:49.72.
Justify will have to improve if he is going to win the Kentucky Derby and put to bed the curse of Apollo. Yesterday’s race won’t get the job done. The run for the roses is a tough race to win without being battle tested as you are likely going to get bounced around and take plenty of dirt in your face if you come from off the pace. If you are on the lead you will likely feel some pace pressure which will make that 1 1/4 tougher to get especially first time trying it. If anyone can get a horse like this to do their best on the first Saturday in May it is Bob Baffert. It doesn’t hurt having Mike Smith putting the weight on him either.
It will be interesting to see if Javier stays with Bolt d’ Oro. I would guess not if he can land somewhere else very live. We shall see.
The Wood Memorial was run on a day like many others when trainer Todd Pletcher was on fire. Vino Rosso back from being legged up at Tampa Bay put in a gritty performance from off the pace which saw him bear in and bump runner up Enticed in the stretch. The problem was Enticed was already in reverse when it happened and I agreed with the Stewards on their no disqualification call. Vino Rosso was able to grind away in the stretch like a horse who won’t have a problem with the Derby distance. He also looked like a horse who got a lot out of the race. While he may not have beaten the greatest group of three-year olds, he beat who he had to and who was in the gate. The Wood Memorial hasn’t exactly been a Kentucky Derby factory lately but this looks like a useful race at least for the winner. it will be very interesting if John Velazquez sticks with Florida Derby winner Audible, also for Todd Pletcher or jumps ship to this colt who in my opinion may like the Derby distance. I’d ride Vino Rosso given the choice. I suspect Johnny will too. The final time for the Wood Memorial was 1:49.79.
With the Blue Grass back on regular dirt, it is only a matter of time until it will reemerge as a true major Kentucky Derby prep. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and champion Good Magic regained his winning ways after running in what turned out to be a merry go around race at Gulfstream Park in the Fountain of Youth. Good Magic enjoyed a good trip and ride by Jose Ortiz, albeit a bit wide and did what he had to do in the stretch. Flameaway, who took pressure tried to fight back on the inside and was game but was no match for the winner. This race also appeared workmanlike and also like it will benefit the winner, who looked like he needed it. I am not sure about anyone behind him really going forward enough to get my attention on the first Saturday in May. Sporting Chance was tired in the stretch and lugging in pretty badly while on the wrong lead. Luis Saez had no choice but to go to the left hand but it didn’t work out. Sporting Chance bore out sharply and cut right across Free Drop Billy in a move similar to what happened at Saratoga last year. You can’t fault Saez, even though the move may have cost Sporting Chance dearly. He was on his wrong lead and lugging in, a rider almost has to try and correct that and has no way of truly knowing the horse will bear out sharply in response even if he did it last year. You’d hope the trainer could or would correct that but sometimes you can’t or it just reoccurs. Sporting Chance was disqualified from third which elevated a non threatening Free Drop Billy to that position. 1:50.18 was the final time for the Blue Grass.
Essentially the Grade 1 Ashland turned out to be little more than a public workout for heavily favored Monomoy Girl. Florent Geroux put the versatile filly on the lead from the rail and the race was over. She stayed on cruise control until she spurted away from overmatched rivals in the stretch. This filly runs on or off the pace, and can handle turf or dirt. She’s legit and in cagey hands.
The Grade 1 Carter Handicap saw the emergence of a star in the sprint division. Army Mule extended his streak to three for three with a decisive win in the Carter. He enjoyed a golden trip under Joe Bravo as, when they turned for home, he was sitting on the rail which opened for him wide enough to get a truck through and he just said bye bye to a decent enough group of sprinters. He left Awesome Slew in his wake some 6 plus lengths back and ran the 7 furlongs in a racehorse time of 1:20.94.
Santa Anita Oaks:
Midnight Bisou was as impressive as any of the three-year old colts to run today. I’d say she was more impressive than Monomoy Girl. She laid further back off the pace than expected and was climbing a tad early on. She settled nicely down the backstretch and when Mike Smith said go she went. She launched a bold rally she carried for maybe 3/16th’s of a mile and still had enough to draw clear in the stretch while wide. This is a super talented filly and she belongs with the best of the three-year old girls.
HIGH FIVE: This week it goes to Bob Baffert for making the Kentucky Derby plot a bit more interesting by bringing Justify to Louisville with, at the least, a chance to take down the Apollo curse. All these things bite the dust eventually just like the dosage index. Does anyone even remember that? Todd Pletcher may get it next week if he takes Magnum Moon in looking like he can take it down as well.
LOW FIVE: Once again it has to go to the Gulfstream Park stewards. Last Sunday when Mahvelous Kitten was not declared a non starter despite the gate being sprung while her head was literally in the next stall was one of the worst calls I have ever seen. It rivals Allemeuse or Bayern. The stewards ruled if that is what you can call it that she caused her own trouble and they can take no action unless the gate malfunctions or human error is involved. If springing the gate while a horse is acting up and not set and has her head in the next stall isn’t human error on the handlers part or the starters part or both I don’t know what is. It was disgraceful.
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