The Brock Talk

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bluegrass Adds to Competitive Season of Derby Preps

The 2011 class of 3-year-olds vying for fame in Kentucky, Maryland and beyond might be a maligned a bit for their talents thus far, but one has to congratulate the group on giving fans competitive races this spring.

Since the March 5 Gotham Stakes (gr. 2) at Aqueduct when Stay Thirsty won as the favorite, only The Factor has won a major Kentucky Derby prep race as the most popular betting choice when he took the Rebel (gr. 2) a week later at Oaklawn Park.

Since then, the nine other graded prep races for 3-year-olds at a mile or further and the main track, have produced an average winning payout of nearly $30.00 each. The lowest priced winner was Dialed In, who’s Florida Derby (gr. 1) victory returned $7.80 to his supporters as the second choice. Of note: Shackleford was just a head short of winning the Florida Derby at 68-1 while favored Soldat was far back in fifth.

The biggest long shot of the group honor goes to Watch Me Go, winner of the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. 2) paying $89.40 to win while Sunland Derby (gr. 3) winner Twice the Appeal was not far off the pace returning $53.20 for a $2 win ticket.

The biggest upset of the spring run to Kentucky did not, however, produce the largest payout. Uncle Mo went to the gate of the New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. 1) as the 1-10 favorite but could only manage a tiring third. Although rallying winner Toby’s Corner went off with odds of nearly 9-1, he was the second choice behind the heavily favored Uncle Mo.

Like Dialed In, Vinary Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. 3) winner Animal Kingdom was the second choice and runner-up Decisive Moment also figured as the third choice of the punters that day. But favorite Positive Response, like Soldat in Florida, ran a very disappointing race finishing eighth in the Spiral.

We have already chronicle the hurdles The Factor must leap in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 1) Saturday and the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes (gr. 1) looks even more competitive. As if the $750,000 purse is not good enough to recruit a good field, it’s the designation as graded stakes earnings that make those Keeneland dollars so attractive to the connections of the prospective runners. The $450,000 winner’s share guarantees the opportunity to enter the Kentucky Derby and the $150,000 check for second would be enough to give others enough or at least near the “Derby Bubble” expected to be somewhere just north of the current cutoff at Shackleford’s $212,000.

Santiva, a horse that started the year on many Kentucky Derby watch lists based on his win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. 2) last year at Churchill Downs, it appears, is the only starter in the field with enough graded earnings already to make the Derby with $240,254 Trained by Eddie Kennally, Santiva started his sophomore campaign respectfully finishing second in the grade 2 Risen Star Stakes behind Mucho Macho Man in February. The son of Giant’s Causeway also ran second over Keeneland’s Polytrack last year in the grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, so the artificial surface should not be a concern.

Wilkinson, winner of the Lecomte Stakes at Fairgrounds in January, is one who needs to finish second in the Bluegrass to have any hope of a chance at the Derby. His $70,000 and the second place check in the Bluegrass would put him squarely on the Derby bubble. In order to get the winner’s share he will have to significantly improve off of his sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby last month behind long shot winner Pants on Fire. Wilkinson was second in his first start at Keeneland last year, so it has a fondness for the Polytrack as well.

Most of the other top choices seem to be trying to make the turf to Polytrack angle work in their favor. Second choice King Congie has crossed the finish in three consecutive races on grass. However, in his last race, he was disqualified from first and placed third in the $100,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes in February..

Co-third choice with Wilkinson at 6-1, Brilliant Speed last started on the main track in August in a Saratoga maiden special weight. Trained by Thomas Albertani, Brilliant Speed has since started five times on the turf, in the last, he was placed second through the disqualification of King Congie in the Hallandale Beach.

The 12-horse field also makes the Bluegrass a great wagering race and it should be plenty fun to watch for fans as well. One horse will come out of the Bluegrass a winner but as many as three might run well enough to get into the Kentucky Derby. The Polytrack, the influx of solid turf horses, the tradition and of course, the money and grade 1 status all make the Bluegrass an important race.

But its influence on the big blanket of roses given to the Derby winner, won’t be known for weeks.

1 comment:

railrunner said...

I think I like Wilkinson and Santiva best in this field. Santiva has been extremely consistent during his career and this looks like a good spot for him to get a win.

~Brian