The Brock Talk

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Looking For Clarity In Derby Picture

The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum picture is far from clear but after this weekend we should at least have some additional visibility.

This past Saturday at Santa Anita former claimer Caracortado stepped closer to the glass slipper with an late surging victory in the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita while defeating two Derby hopefuls in the Bob Baffert trained-stakes winner Tiz Chrome, and Hollywood Prevue Stakes winner American Lion.

Meanwhile in Tampa Bay, Florida, the undefeated Rule won the Sam F. Davis Stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher in wire-to-wire fashion. While Rule looked impressive, his front-running style can present a challenge in the Derby which is sure to have plenty of gunners running early.

Back at Santa Anita Monday, Sidney's Candy won the seven furlong San Vicente Stakes and is now on the Triple Crown trail according to his trainer John Saddler. Meanwhile in Arkansas, the Southwest Stakes (gr. 3) for 3-year-olds was being postponed due to weather and track conditions until Sat., Feb. 20.

That gives us a Derby-prep triple header on Saturday with the grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes being run at Gulfstream Park near Miami and the Risen Star (gr. 2) Stakes at Fairgrounds in New Orleans.

Ron the Greek, the popular come-from-the-clouds winner of the one mile Lecomte at Fairgrounds Jan. 23, returns in the 1-1/16 Risen Star to again meet Letsgetitonmon, who was third that day. Lecomte runner-up Maximus Ruler was entered for the Risen Star, but was scratched when a stone bruise was discovered after a Sunday morning work.

Invading the Risen Star from Florida will be Drosselmeyer, a Bill Mott-trained son of Distorted Humor who easily won a 1-1/8 mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park recently after turning heads with a big maiden score at Churchill in November.

There will be plenty of talent staying in Florida for the Fountain of Youth including the much anticipated return of Buddy's Saint. From the only crop of Horse of the Year St. Liam, Buddy's Saint has risen near the top of many Kentucky Derby polls and watch lists having won the Nashua (gr. 2) and Remsen Stakes (gr. 2) last year in New York and training well in Florida over the winter.

Holy Bull (gr. 3) winner Winslow Home is off the Triple Crown trail with an injury, but runner-up Jackson Bend returns in the Fountain of Youth as does sixth-place finsisher Aikenite, who is looking to improve with a much more relaxed running style Saturday. Last year, Aikenite was second in the Dixiana Breeder's Futurity at Keeneland and third in the grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga behind the winner Dublin.

The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Dublin makes his sophomore debut in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park at one mile and may be the trainer's best chance to improve on his four previous Kentucky Derby victories. After a poor performance in the Iroquois Stakes, it was discovered that Dublin had a throat problem that inhibited his breathing. That has since been corrected surgically, and Lukas is looking for good things from the Afleet Alex colt.

Looking to add to his list of three Kentucky Derby wins is trainer Bob Baffert, who sends San Rafael Stakes winner Conveyance in from California. Baffert has not sent a horse to Oaklawn in nearly a decade, but in recent years the Hot Springs track has been successful in producing successful Triple Crown performers in recent years including Rachel Alexandra, Summer Bird, Curlin, Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex.

Following Conveyance from California will be the second and third-place finishers in the San Rafael, Cardiff Giant and Domonation and a host of locals from the Smarty Jones Stakes round out the Southwest.

A look at the recent history of these three stakes shows that the last time a Kentucky Derby winner was produced from among them was 2004 when Smarty Jones won the Southwest on his way to the run for the roses. But a closer look reveals that just last year, Fountain of Youth winner Quality Road and Southwest winner Old Fashioned were headed to be among the favorites in Kentucky until both suffered injuries just before entries were taken. That gave Derby favoritism to Friesan Fire, who won last year's Risen Star.

It's still a long road to the Kentucky Derby for these 3-olds and the many more not starting in Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana this weekend. And I don't expect to be much closer to certainty with my Derby pick Saturday night. But at least we'll be able to see who's headed in the right direction.

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