The Brock Talk

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kentucky Derby Trail Rocky For 2011 Debuts

It all started on Jan. 20 when Mucho Macho Man finished fourth as the favorite in the grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Mucho Macho Man was making his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull after finishing second behind Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1) hopeful To Honor and Serve in the grade 2 Remsen and grade 2 Nashua Stakes in his final races last year.

Then Mucho Macho Man came back Feb. 19 to win the Risen Star Stakes (gr. 2) at Fair Grounds, defeating Santiva in second and favorite Rogue Romance in third. Like Mucho Macho Man a month before, Rogue Romance was making his career debut after finishing third in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) behind Uncle Mo last fall. And like Mucho Macho Man, Rogue Romance stumbled.

A week prior to the Risen Star, similar circumstances and results occurred at Northern California’s Golden Gate Fields in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. 3). The highly regarded star making his first start of 2011 was Comma to the Top, winner of the CashCall Futurity (gr. 1) at Hollywood Park in December. Like his classmates, Comma to the Top disappointed, running fourth, 4-1/2 lengths behind winner Silver Medalion.

Two days after the Risen Star, J.P.’s Gusto makes his 2011 debut by running a troubled second in the Southwest Stakes Feb. 21 at Oaklawn Park. As a 2-year-old, the son of Successful Appeal won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. 3), Best Pal Stakes (gr. 2), and Del Mar Futurity (gr. 1). In the Southwest Stakes, J.P’s Gusto was making his first start of the year and first since he was sixth in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November.

In the Southwest, J.P.’s Gusto had plenty of excuses, having been boxed in no where to run from the half-mile pole until the field turned for home nearly a quarter of a mile later. His loss may be easier to understand and accept compared to the others, but it also remains a less than perfect preparation for the Derby.

Five days later at Gulfstream Park, To Honor and Serve made his 2011 debut and flopped like the other promising 3-year-olds chasing dreams of roses. As eventual winner Soldat turned for home To Honor and Serve had a shot at him but never responed. Now trainer Bill Mott is expected to start To Honor and Serve next in the Florida Derby (gr. 1), Apr. 3 at Gulfstream Park.

Stay Thirsty won his first start of the year Saturday while taking the grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, but there was much that might concern trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole, who also owns Uncle Mo. Stay Thirsty certainly did not dominate the Gotham field as expected and Toby’s Corner was the only stakes winner in the group. The son of Benardini switched to his wrong lead turning for home and never went back to his correct lead again until nearing the wire. And with stablemate Uncle Mo being pointed toward the Wood Memorial (gr. 1) next month, Stay Thirsty may have to leave New York for his final Kentucky Derby prep. That should not be too much of a challenge as Stay Thirsty has been stabled all winter in Florida, but it might be a late schedule change none-the-less.

There are two stars from last year yet to make their debut on the Kentucky Derby trail, but their days are coming soon. Perhaps the most anticipated is Uncle Mo, who is expected to run In either the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park or the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. 2) in Tampa. Both races are this Saturday, Mar. 12 and the connections behind last year's Champion Two-Year-Old Male have said they are prepared for Tampa should the Timely Writer not attract enough competitors.

Then there is Jaycito in Southern California in trainer Bob Baffert’s barn. Winner of the Norfolk Stakes (gr. 1) last fall during the Oak Tree meeting at Hollywood Park, Jaycito was an erratic seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile under a different trainer. but multiple fast works at both Hollywood Park and Santa Anita have Baffert pointing Jaycito toward the San Felipe Stakes (gr. 2) Mar. 12.

With two months left until the Kentucky Derby, there has not been a dazzling debut of a star from 2010. Yet. In fact, there have been few winning ones in the Kentucky Derby prep races that have dotted the calendars during this spring. Of course the most anticipated debut this year has yet to come in Uncle Mo. But we have just days to wait for that. Jaycito and the Steve Asmussen-trained Astrology are a few others and they’re just more than a weeks away from their first start this year.

So here’s hoping for success to all 2011 debuts. And it’s nice to be dazzled every once-in-a-while too.

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