Thursday, March 26, 2009

2009 Florida Derby Preview

Not to overhype or sensationalize too much, but the 2009 Florida Derby is as much a coming out party for Dunkirk as it is a $750,000 Grade 1 Derby prep. The race also features the first two finishers in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (g. II) Quality Road and Theregoesjojo.

Now I'm generally skeptical of 3 year olds making their first start in graded stakes company in a race like the Florida Derby, but Dunkirk seems like the real deal. Check out his allowance win below where he was boxed out "10 wide" around the first turn, then just blew by his competition while being hand ridden by Garrett Gomez.

Usually sales toppers like Dunkirk fizzle out before ever hitting the track. This strapping grey colt by Unbridled's Song has proven to be an exception. Not many pedigrees are better than his as his dam Secret Status was an absolute monster on the track earning over $1 million and won the Kentucky Oaks (g. I) as a 3yo. She is a full sister to graded stakes winner Alumni Hall by A.P. Indy, and is out of a dam by Alydar and was Grade 1 placed in the Ashland Stakes. His looks obviously matched his pedigree as a yearling as he sold for $3,700,000 on day 2 of Keeneland's Yearling auction of 2007.

The primary competition in this race is Quality Road, who was one of the 3 colts I featured here in analysis of top Derby contenders. His impressive win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes earned a 113 Beyer Speed figure, and vaulted him to the top of most pundits top 10 lists.

The race seems legit, Quality Road stalked a length behind pacesetter This Ones for Phil and blitzed 6 furlongs in 1:09 2/5 before drawing off and winning by 4 1/4 in 1:35 flat. The 1 mile race was around only one turn, which is a slight concern here, and Dunkirk trainer Todd Pletcher has entered maiden Europe, another pricey yearling, to ensure an honest pace.

Other contenders include FOY 2nd place finisher Theregoesjojo, and Holy Bull also ran Danger to Society. Quality Road is a bounce candidate after running such a big race, and Dunkirk is a somewhat unknown quantity, although he doesn't face the toughest Grade 1 field ever assembled.

The Pick: Dunkirk lives up to the hype, he needs the earnings so you know he'll be ready to roll here. He's already won at 9 furlongs and has overcome trouble in his last race. Quality Road is already assured a spot in the Kentucky Derby, no need for him to over exert himself here, although his talent alone could lead him to victory. At 9/5 Dunkirk offers little value so I won't suggest a bet, unless you want to single Dunkirk in multi-race exotics.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Prep Race Superfecta - 3/14

Big day of prep races around the country including many of the top Derby contenders. Out west at Santa Anita, Pioneerof the Nile appears to be an overwhelming favorite in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), while another colt we profiled on March 3rd, Friesan Fire enters the contentious Louisiana Derby (gr. II). The Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) drew 11, while Old Fashioned heads the field in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II).

Tampa Bay Derby: I think this is a wide open contest with no clear favorite as the M/L 3/1 choice is maiden winner #4 Hello Broadway who finished 2nd in the Hutcheson (gr. II) behind Capt. Candymany Can who didn't fire in the Fountain of Youth. #8 General Quarters surprised in the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) and has been an astute claim for $20,000 out of his maiden race last May. He's traded wins with #2 Musket Man, who took the 7F Pasco S. in January. #9 Bear's Rocket by Lion Heart looks to apply pressure to the pace and follow-up his nice 2nd in the Holy Bull. #5 Warrior's Reward is making only his 3rd start but ran 2nd to Dunkirk in an Allowance last out. The Pick: #8 General Quarters over #5 Warrior's Reward and #2 Musket Man.

Louisiana Derby: Most lucrative of today's preps, this $600k race drew 10 including Friesan Fire, winner of two stakes at the Fair Grounds already this meet. He's beaten many of the other contenders, including Flying Pegasus, Uno Mas, and Patena in his past few races. #8 Papa Clem is an intriguing prospect as he finished 2nd to San Felipe favorite Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert Lewis (gr. II) in his last and looks to repeat what the show horse in that race, I Want Revenge did in winning the Gotham; shipping eastward and running on conventional dirt. Bejarano is travelling, and being by Smart Strike, he should like the surface and distance. #4 Terrain could be live off the bench for Albert Stall, Jr. The Pick: #8 Papa Clem over #9 Friesan Fire. #4 is a live longshot.

The Rebel Stakes: #1 Old Fashioned is listed amongst the top of many Derby lists, and rightly so given his perfect 4 for 4 record including the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) last out. He hasn't been tested since his maiden victory last October and likely will be odds-on. #8 is the only other stakes winner in the field but was handily beaten by Old Fashioned in the Southwest. #5 Wise Kid likes Oaklawn (3-2-1-0), and has a wonderful pedigree by Lemon Drop Kid out of the family of Chief's Crown. #7 Captain Cherokee is an improving colt who ships in for Steve Asmussen from the Fair Grounds. #2 Hamazing Destiny blitzed a maiden field by 10 1/2 in his debut, but the D. Wayne Lukas entry may have distance limitations. The Pick: #1 Old Fashioned over #5 Wise Kid.

San Felipe Stakes: I don't think Pioneerof the Nile will have too much trouble unless he's not too cranked up for this one, but he did work very well this week 58 4/5 for 5F. At 2/5 M/L I don't like this as a betting race, but Pioneer should win easily.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Kentucky Derby Trail - Two Months to Go

There are only two months left before the finest 3 year old colts in the country saddle up for a 10 furlong race toward immortality called the Kentucky Derby. Some horses have emerged from early prep races and some have bowed out from injury, but a slightly clearer picture of the top contenders has materialized in the past 4 weeks.

Now I'm loathe to make a top 10 list, even at this point, because so much can happen over the next 8 1/2 weeks. But I do think its a good idea to look at three of the top contenders before the main prep races are run over the next five weeks, with a focus on their pedigrees.

Friesan Fire (A.P. Indy/Bollinger - Dehere) - Risen Star (gr. III) and Lecomte (gr. III) winner looks to sweep the Fair Grounds prep races March 14th in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, likely his toughest test so far. His pedigree is excellent, although top A.P. Indy's often peak much later than May of their 3yo season, and he hasn't sired a Derby winner to date. His dam was a Group 1 winner in Australia as was his 2nd dam. He is a 3x4 cross of Secretariat and a good deal of stamina on both sides of his pedigree. He's proven on dirt, but will have to show he can win outside of the bayou.

Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker/Star of Goshen - Lord at War) - 2009 Hall of Fame nominee Bob Baffert's top charge heading into March is pointing toward the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita, the track he claimed the Robert B. Lewis Stakes(gr. II) in his last race. One of the few Grade I winners still on the trail, he has never raced on convential dirt having run on turf and synthetics. His sire Empire Maker was a classic winner on dirt and finished runner-up in the Derby and has been successful at stud so far having finished 2008 as the 5th leading 2nd crop sire. His dam showed tremendous promise winning the La Troienne Stakes but had surgery for a displaced palate after being eased in the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) and never raced again. She has also produced stakes placed Forefathers (Gone West), who was known more for his sprinting. I liked this quote from former trainer Bill Mott in Steve Haskin's blog, "I’ve always loved the horse. I didn’t like him, I loved him. I said that before he ever ran. I just loved the way he worked, and he had a wonderful disposition around the barn."

Quality Road (Elusive Quality/Kobla - Strawberry Road) - Last Saturday Quality Road stalked a fast pace and crushed a tough field in 1:35 flat winning by 4 and 1/4 lengths in only his third career start in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). The romp earned him a 113 Beyer Speed Figure, by far the highest of any 3yo in a route this spring. Like Smarty Jones, Quality Road is by Elusive Quality, a top miler in his day, and generally considered a sire that passes on speed. Speed is certainly plentiful in Quality Road as his 1:16 flat 6 1/2 F debut race last November indicates (101 Beyer). Stamina can be found in his dam's side through damsire Strawberry Road as well as his 2nd damsire Alydar, runner-up in all three triple crown races. Dam Kobla is a full sister to millionaire Ajina who was champion 3yo filly in 1997, and a half sister to Grade III winning Rob's Spirit (Theatrical). Class and stamina shouldn't be an issue, but he's yet to go two turns, and very few horses have won the Derby with such little seasoning.

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