The Brock Talk

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Race Within Derby Preps This Weekend

This weekend, 30 or so 3-year-olds will be running in three races, all with hopes of getting to the May 7 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. And the pressure is beginning to come from all directions. In order to take the next step to Kentucky, they must perform well on the track in order to establish respect among the sophomore group on the Derby trail. But no matter how good they look in winning or how good the excuse is in losing, nearly every horse needs to add to their graded earnings bankroll in order to make it into the available 20 starting gate slots in the Kentucky Derby.

The three major Derby prep races this weekend are the $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. 2) at Fairgrounds in New Orleans and the $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. 3) at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky on Saturday and the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. 3) from Sunland Park, New Mexico on Sunday. The $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, also at Turfway on Saturday, could technically be a Derby prep, but with no grade on the one mile stake, the horses must follow the graded money and run elsewhere if Derby hopes exist.

Currently the cut-off for qualifying for the Kentucky Derby sits with Sweet Ducky with $120,000 in graded earnings. Last year, it took $218,750 in graded earnings for Make Mine For Me to qualify for the Derby. Assuming it will take at least $215,000 to again qualify for the Run for the Roses, the horses that are currently on the Derby bubble, are found further up the current rankings. San Felipe Stakes (gr. 2) winner Premier Pegasus sits just above that level ranked 12th with $228,000 on the current list.

The only two horses scheduled to start this weekend with graded earnings above that $215k mark are both Louisiana Derby contenders. Mucho Macho Man (photo above) is the seventh leading earner of graded earnings among 3-year-olds with $270,000. Among the horses running this weekend, Spiral Stakes probable Decisive Moment has $206,000, ranking him 13th on the current list.

The only other 3-year-old set to start this weekend with six figure graded earnings is Sunland Derby favorite Astrology with $105,893. Louisiana Derby entrant Wilkinson has $66,000 in graded earning while seven others have $25,000 or less in graded earnings.

Of the big three Derby preps this weekend, the Louisiana Derby with its $1 million purse appears primed to have the most influence on Derby qualifications. The $600,000 first prize in the Louisiana Derby assures the winner enough graded earnings to make it to Churchill. But only Mucho Macho Man and Wilkinson have a chance of earning enough to qualify without hitting the winner’s circle in New Orleans and starting again in graded company before May 7.

The $100,000 Louisiana Derby third-place check would push Mucho Macho Man to $370,000, very likely to be enough to qualify. A $200,000 second-place check would push Wilkinson to $266,000 in graded earnings and Elite Alex to $225,000 which looks to be bubble territory for now.

In the Spiral Stakes, only Decisive Moment has enough graded earnings to qualify for the Derby Saturday without winning. A Spiral Stakes runner-up earns $100,000, which would push Decisive Moment above the $300,000 which should at least be at the very top of the Derby bubble. Every other Spiral starter needs to earn the $300,000 first-place check to give them a chance of qualifying with the pressure of another race before the Derby.

The story is much the same with the Sunland Derby, but the $800,000 purse helps. Astrology is the favorite in New Mexico with just more than $105,000 in graded earnings. A Sunland second-place check of $160,000 might qualify him for the Derby, but the $480,000 first prize would be much more comforting in terms of getting into the Run for the Roses – for Astrology or any other Sunland Derby starter.

Again, everybody can come back and try again in the final grade 1 races before the Derby, but the competition will be considerably stiffer, making it more difficult to earn those last second dollars. Practically speaking, most connections are looking for wins this weekend with most of their 3-year-olds in order to deflate the added pressure of having to run in those later Derby preps to qualify for the Derby.

Twelve probable competitors this weekend have graded earnings. Mucho Macho Man may have enough to be Derby bound already with his $270k bankroll, but even that is an estimate. It may take as much as $300,000 to punch a ticket to Churchill. That puts a lot of pressure on and uncertainty around the thirty or so others set for graded competition this weekend on the Derby trail.

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