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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

JB Part Deux: Getting Closer

Today's guest post is the second of a four part series (I just made that up) from Saratoga Springs veteran handicapper JB who enters the Space Station for a recap of his thoughts as we progress down the road to Louisville. Thanks to JB for filling in for me while I'm searching for every last deduction...

With less 2 weeks 'til Tax day and 4 weeks until we hear a still smarting University of Louisville Marching Band play my "Old Kentucky Home" in front of a 150,000 plus at Churchill there have been major developments on the road to the roses. Quality Road fresh off a very professional performance in the Florida Derby has developed a quarter crack in his right hind hoof and, according to the most under the radar trainer in the business, James Jerkens, he is very concerned about QR's making it to the Derby. Looking back at QR's stylish 1 1/8 mile performance on a Gulfstream surface listed as fast he clearly established himself as a top tier contender who must be seriously considered by racetrackers preparing their Derby picks.

Todd Pletcher wasn't as impressed, claiming track maintenance staff worked the dirt course up to favor front running speed horses which favored the stalking QR and disadvantaged the closers. Dunkirk, Toddy's best hope for wearing a rose boutonniere in early May, is a closer. Anyone who witnessed the race had to be visually impressed with Dunkirk's sweeping move, Garrett Gomez up, inhaling all but one horse on the far turn. But he wasn't able to match QR down the stretch and settled for a disappointing place finish. I like Dunkirk and I believe his 150K in graded earnings will be enough to get him in the Derby field. But I'll be watching who Go Go choses to ride in the big race. That's because Bob Baffert's Pioneerof the Nile will be heading to the Bluegrass state as the reigning Santa Anita Derby champion. Although he was a handful (rating uncomfortably would be putting it mildly) he prevailed over a Pamplemousse-less field last Saturday to stake his claim as the west coast's finest. But not so fast. A closer examination of this nearly pace-less race reveals the emergence of a Giacomo-type runner who just might get the pace scenario he needs to have his photo taken under the twin spires. Chocolate Candy closed REALLY well despite not having a lot go his way. I will be doing more research and writing on this horse as the big day approaches.

Speaking of a big day, I Want Revenge's run in the Wood Memorial was the best demonstration of racing acuity by a 3yo in a major Derby prep in recent memory. WOW. Broke last by 4 lengths, relaxed and gained ground, started his move behind a wall of horses, sawed in half at the 1/8th pole, found a seem 5 wide in the middle (not traditionally the fastest part of the Big A oval) and prevailed after a vigorous handride. 19-year old Joe Talamo looked like Laffit Pincay. Nothing short of extraordinary. He is no doubt a deserving Morning Line Derby favorite, reinforced resoundingly by the bettors in Derby Pool #3.

Unfortunately, my Belmont horse, Imperial Council will not be going to the Derby after being up close and coming up empty under Edgar Prado to finish a winded 5th. Trainer Shug McGaughey stated that he knew he had his hands full after IC acted up terribly in the paddock. The paddock at Oaklawn is exactly where you'll find winterbook Derby favorite Old Fashioned being saddled under new rider Terry Thompson for this Saturday's Arkansas Derby. Ramon Dominquez lost his mount after a disappointing second place finish in the Rebel. Cagey Larry Jones must be respected for this decision. However, if Fashioned doesn't rate and fire in his final prep, Papa Clem, fresh off a very game second place finish to Jones' Friesan Fire in the Lousiana Derby, will be ready to punch his ticket to Louisville via the Arkansas Derby express.

Speaking of express; there will be an express first class delivery from Dubai of two Godolphin 3yo's with a big upside. Regal Ransom and Desert Party come off a 1-2 finish in Dubai's 2 million prep for 3 year olds (the UAE Derby). These two colts, ridden by rising star Alan Garcia and world class Frankie Dettori, respectively, are both wildcards to most American handicappers, including this one. But Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum; the most powerful force in racing worldwide has made no secret of his quest to capture America's most prestigious race. Watch out! Speaking of watching out, watch out for a late blooming 3yo colt posting Derby type speed figs on his way to capturing two major prep races won by past Derby champions Street Sense (Tampa Bay Derby) and War Emblem (Illinois Derby - h/t Wind Gatherer). Musket Man still might not be getting the respect he deserves, maybe because he's faced lighter caliber competition on less notable tracks, but with a little racing luck and a good post position he's versatile and fresh enough to be a factor on Derby Day.

JB's Derby Baker's Half Dozen plus 1:
1. I Want Revenge - His Wood performance commands respect
2. Friesan Fire - Hard Spun ran 2nd off a 6 week lay-off
3. Dunkirk - My gut says there's more
4. Pioneerof the Nile - Can he do it on dirt?
5. Old Fashioned - Best value in pool #3
6. Chocolate Candy - Good enough to pull off an upset
7. Musket Man - "Best chance ever for me in the Derby," Coa
Ones to watch: Regal Ransom, Desert Party

Dropping from JB's Derby Baker's Half +1:
Quality Road - Hind right hoof injury can't be good
The Pamplemousse - Leg injury puts him on the sidelines
Imperial Council - Would've loved to see Shug saddle one in the Derby


Wind Gatherer said...

I think you mean War Emblem, for the Illinois Derby winner.

War Admiral would be a lock, even though he is no longer eligible...

JB said...

Good catch Gatherer, Samual Riddle would be spinning in his grave at such a thought.

FriarCat said...

Great post again JB...

Chocolate Candy is very interesting with a solid late run (although not strong enough for me, having placed him on top of Pioneer)...

Next post suggestion....your views on the Synthetics to Dirt angle/issue/headache and how you see it playing out after this weekend's final serious preps.

Keep up the good work.


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