The Brock Talk

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Vale May Be Lifted Off Derby Trail

The Derby trail has never run through Dubai as we have illustrated before, but Vale of York's journey may have ended a bit more abruptly than expected.

The win in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) over future champion Lookin' at Lucky in November, placed Vale of York (photo) among the early Kentucky Derby contenders. But that dream appears to be side-tracked - if not off track - after a dull fifth-place performance in the 1-3/16 mile Al Bastakiya Stakes at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai Mar. 4.

It wasn't so much the fifth place finish that was troubling as the way in which Vale of York seemed uncomfortable from start to finish in the Al Bastakiya. Jockey Ahmed Ajtebi was forced to battle Vale of York early in the race as the horse threw his head and not finding a comfortable stride. Once settled, Vale of York appearded to make a mild move around the far turn, but flattened out late.

Should Vale of York remain pointed for Kentucky, the logical next race would be the $2 million UAE Derby (gr. 2) Mar. 27 where he will likely again face Mendip, the easy 6 1/4-length winner of the Al Bastakiya and a possible Derby horse for the powerful Goldophin Racing.

Add Wow Wow Wow To My Derby Hopefuls
You don't have to think a horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby to say you "like" him. Part of the fun of the pre-Kentucky Derby season is following the apparent not-so-obviously-great and see if they may blossom by the time the first Saturday in May rolls around.

Backtalk, recent winner of the Sportsman's Paradise Stakes at Delta Downs is such a horse for me. So is Wow Wow Wow.

My fondness for Wow Wow Wow has less to do with the horse, really, and more to do with trainer D. Wayne Lukas. With Wow Wow Wow shipping from his base at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas to New York for the grade 3 Gotham Stakes, it means Lukas has multiple chances at winning his fifth Kentucky Derby with Southwest Stakes runner-up Dublin also coming from the his barn.

Should Lukas somehow take his fifth Derby, it will break the current tie with H.J. "Dick" Thompson, who won his four Derbies with Behave Yourself (1921), Bubbling Over (1926), Burgoo King (1932), Brokers Tip (1933) and leave him one shy of Ben A. Jones' six. Jones won with Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Pensive (1944), Citation (1948), Ponder (1949) and Hill Gail (1952) with Citation and Whirlaway both taking the Triple Crown.

Lukas won his Kentucky Derbies with Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995),
Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic in 1999. But his Derby wins tell only a fraction of the story of his Hall of Fame career. Lukas was the first trainer to hit the $100 million mark in earnings and has five Preakness and four Belmont wins on his resume as well. Only Lukas and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons have 13 wins in Triple Crown races.

Lukas, a former school teacher and Quarter Horse trainer, has a record 42 starters in the Kentucky Derby, the most recent was Flying Private finishing last a year ago. Before that, Going Wild finished 18th in 2005. He started eight Derby horses in the '00 decade with only Proud Citizen lighting the board with his second place finish behind War Emblem in 2002.

Wow Wow Wow will have to improve off of his eighth-place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Jan. 18, and appeared to get better while coming back to win an allowance race at Oaklawn in February.

Given that, the Gotham seems to makes sense on two fronts for Wow Wow Wow. Back home in Arkansas, Lukas will send Dublin to the Rebel Stakes (gr. 2) on March 13 where he will likely face Lookin at Lucky and Southwest Stakes (gr. 3) winner Conveyance which may prove to difficult a test for a horse like Wow Wow Wow looking to gain confidence.

The Gotham Stakes is headed by lukewarm morning line favorite Awesome Act, a British import with only a maiden victory in his win column who made his first trip to the new world last November to finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. While the other main contenders are Peppi Knows, winner of the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct Feb. 6; and Nacho Friend, making his first start since finishing a traffic riddled fourth behind Balktalk in the Sanford Stakes (gr. 2) at Saratoga last summer.

Like most stakes for 3-year-olds run this time of year, the Gotham's link to the Kentucky Derby is sporadic at best, but still has a rich history. Last year I Want Revenge went on to take the Wood Memorial (gr. 1) and was among the Derby favorites before an injury forced him off the track.

Other Gotham winners include 1995 Preakness winner Red Bullet, 1989 Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer, future multiple champion Lure won the 1992 Gotham and Secretariat won the 1973 Gotham on his way to immortality.

According to Daily Racing Form, Lukas is 0-for-10 in the Gotham going back to 1985. but a good race by Wow Wow Wow could change that, and perhaps a chance at little more.


MarVeena said...

I am liking Peppi Knows for the Derby.

Celeste said...

I'm still on the Dublin bandwagon, and happy also for Backtalk to get back to his winning ways. Wow Wow Wow looks like a good one, too, but I'm very much on the fence as far as a standout *favorite*.