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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