Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Less than a week until Derby Day

The prep races are done and the field is taking shape for the 135th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2nd. A quick look at the Graded Earnings list reveals that all of the contenders with any real shot at winning the run for the roses are in the top 20.
Two months ago I chronicled 3 horses I thought would be top contenders next Saturday, and in fact all 3 won their prep races with Pioneerof the Nile taking the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Friesan Fire winning the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Quality Road winning the Florida Derby (gr. I).

Friesan Fire attempts to win the Derby off of a 7 week layoff, not the most common path, but his LA Derby win was flattered by Papa Clem's win in the Arkansas Derby over Old Fashioned. Trainer Larry Jones has had recent success in the Derby with the last two second place finishers, Hard Spun and the ill-fated Eight Belles. He's been working very well and has the pedigree to be a serious threat but the obviuos question is can he win outside of the Fairgrounds.

All Pioneerof the Nile has done is win 4 in a row including two Grade 1's for recently voted in Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert, no stranger to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs. But he's only won his races on synthetics. He hasn't posted a Beyer Speed figure over 100. The last Santa Anita Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Real Quiet back in 1998, also for Baffert. One key thing on his side is jockey Garrett Gomez, who also rides Dunkirk, has selected Pioneer as his Derby mount, which is nothing to sneeze at given his success this year and knack for winning big races.

Quality Road could be the post-time favorite on Saturday but has been bothered by quarter cracks on his hooves the past few weeks. His Florida Derby win was quite impressive as he set the 9 furlong track record at Gulfstream while dusting top contender Dunkirk in the process. He's probably the fastest horse in the field, but is also inexperienced having only raced four times. The result of his 5F breeze on Monday and how the hoof holds up will be key in whether he starts in the Derby.

I Want Revenge looms the largest of the other 17 contenders by virtue of his two straight stakes wins at Aqueduct in tremendous fashion after beginning his career in California winning only once on the synthetics. He blitzed the field in the Gotham (gr. III), and rallied from last place to take the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I). I Want Revenge is by Stephen Got Even, best known for siring 2yo champion Stevie Wonderboy, out of the Argentine bred Roy mare Meguial. Meguial was Group 1 placed in her native country with I Want Revenge being her second foal.

The next tier of contenders includes the wiseguy choice- Dunkirk, a pair of Dubai imports - Regal Ransom and Desert Party, and major prep winners General Quarters, Musket Man and Papa Clem. I'll take a more detailed look at these horses and the other starters in subsequent posts.

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