The Brock Talk

Friday, September 9, 2011

Solid Cast Chase Super Derby History From A New Date And Time

For years, the Super Derby (gr. II) had the perfect spot on the calendar. It was the last major Derby of the year. It was traditionally run four weeks after the grade 1 Travers Stakes in Saratoga and five weeks or so before the Breeders’ Cup at the site de l'annĂ©e.

Although the first Super Derby was run five years before the inaugural Breeders’ Cup, by the time Gate Dancer used the 1984 Super Derby victory to prep for his eventual third-place in the first Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Super Derby had already achieved grade 1 status. Two of the first four winners of Louisiana Downs’ marquee race were champion Temperence Hill (photo above right) and Kentucky Derby winner Sunny’s Halo. In later years, horses such as Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (’89), Unbridled (’90) and Tiznow in 2000 had the Super Derby on their championship resumes.

But those were the days when the Super Derby was grade 1 with a $1,000,000 purse. Since 2002 the race has been grade 2 and through the years the purse has dropped to $500,000 and the distance shortened by a furlong to 1-1/8 miles.

A few years ago, the folks at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania boosted the purse of their Pennsylvania Derby (gr. 2) to $1 million, prompting officials at Louisiana Downs to surrender the once cherished spot on the calendars of 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

So Super Derby XXXII will be run Saturday instead of two weeks from now. The results, however, have been a bit unexpected as the 2011 renewal has attracted a large and competitive field of nine. Although it is not expected that the winner will be among the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a Super Derby victory may still convince respective owners and trainers the necessity of a trip to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup.

From there, anything can happen.

In fact, Unbridled lost to Home at Last in the 1990 Super Derby, then bounced back to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and be named champion 3-year-old colt or gelding that year. Concern was also second in the Super Derby, finishing just a nose behind Soul of the Matter in 1994. Concern would also bounce back to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but the class championship that year went to Holy Bull.

Blame, second to Regal Ransom in the 2009 Super Derby, will forever be the answer to the trivia question: “Who is the only horse to defeat Zenyatta” having done so in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. More importantly, Blame was named champion older horse after that historical win in the Classic 13 months after his Super Derby appearance.

Although Alysheba won his Super Derby in 1987, it also took him a year to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Finishing second to Alysheba in the 1988 Classic was Seeking the Gold, winner of the Super Derby that year.

In 1989, Sunday Silence became the first horse to win the Super Derby and Breeder’ Cup Classic in the same year. The almost black colt trained by Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham was later honored as champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year.

Like Sunday Silence, Tiznow would also win the Super Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, a divisional championship and Horse of the Year at age three. Also like Alysheba and Blame before, Tiznow would win the Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 4-year-old. But unlike Alysheba, Tiznow and Blame missed on Horse of the Year at age four. Point Given was named 2001 Horse of the Year over Tiznow and Blame lost his 2010 golden Eclipse to Zenyatta.

The elephant in the blog now is: Can anybody in the 2011 Super Derby become a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and perhaps a future champion?

One of the biggest assets this group of Super Derby starters has working for them are all other 3-year-old thoroughbreds in North America this year. There are no select few that seem head and shoulders above the rest of this division. Recent Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Stay Thirsty appears to be the leader in the division despite that he has only one grade I win this season - the Travers two weeks ago.

Before the Travers, Stay Thirsty had victories in the grade 2 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in March and the Jim Dandy, also grade 2, at the beginning of the Saratoga meeting this year. Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom is on the sidelines. Preakness winner Shackleford is winless in three starts since. Belmont winner Ruler On Ice has also failed to win since his big victory in June leg of the Triple Crown. Resorts Casino Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Coil floundered in the Travers.

Super Derby starters such as the Bob Baffert-trained Prayer for Relief (photo left), the 9-5 morning line favorite, are just not so far behind the divisional leaders so as to consider them out of reach. The Prayer for Relief has won all three of his races this year including the grade 3 Iowa and grade 2 West Virginia derbies in his last two races.

Alternation is the only other Super Derby starter this year with a graded stakes win on record having won the Peter Pan (gr. II) at Belmont Park in May before finishing fourth behind Stay Thirsty in the Jim Dandy.

Awesome Bet, winner of the $103,000 Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park; and Trubs, winner of the $100,000 Prelude Stakes – the major local prep for the Super Derby – are just stakes winners today. The only stakes won by Super Derby starter Populist Politics, has been against other Louisiana-breds. They might be long shots to be get any championship notoriety this year, but all certainly have the potential to develop into something that can attract national attention at some point in their racing future.

Nine starters highlighted by the above mentioned favorites, make this a very deep and competitive Super Derby, especially considering this version is two weeks earlier than past. The quality and quantity of this vanguard must be a refreshing result to those in Louisiana Downs management who decided to move the Super Derby and today they look pretty smart.

But the Super Derby is a race with traditions and history steeped with Triple Crown race winners, Breeders’ Cup Classic winners and champions – both of the divisional and Horse of the Year varieties. It is also a race that has seen its graded status and purses drop while competition from derbies in Pennsylvania and Indiana rise. And now its lost its place on the calendar too.

Just don’t be surprised if the winner of this race is heard from down the line. Whether in 2011 or beyond, Super Derby graduates have a way of carving their way into more prestigious winners’ circles elseware.

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