Crop of Potential Derby Contenders Keeps Improving
Another Derby Prep weekend is in the books. As we creep inside of 8 weeks before the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby it is abundantly clear that we’re looking at a very deep crop of 3-yr-olds in 2012. The talent that we saw goes well beyond our winners which means there’s plenty of racing left before an overwhelming favorite can be tapped. What’s most exciting at this stage of the trail is that it is setting up to be one of the most anticipated years of major derby preps that I recently recall.
The basis for that is because the likely entries for each Grade 1 Prep include matchups that will draw a lot of attention. Namely the Wood Memorial is the first that comes to mind. After a brilliant stretch duel and win in the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, Prospective is now being pointed towards New York to join the likes of Hansen and Alpha in the starting gate at Aqueduct. Now that’s what I call a pretty deep field.
On the West Coast the Santa Anita Derby is already on the radar as a likely rematch between Creative Cause and Bodemeister the 1-2 finishers in the San Felipe. It was a little bit of a wild stretch bid between the two but once Joel Rosario was able to get a handle on his colt, Creative Cause got by Bodemeister with enough of a surge in the final strides. As for Bodemeister, what an impressive bid in his graded stakes debut. The late-blooming 3-yr-old who is now on the derby trail not only has the look of a derby entry but the look of a serious derby contender as well. The Santa Anita Derby is where the final determination of his derby contender status will be made but until then it’s going to be tough to take our eye off of him.
But like the Wood, trainers Bob Baffert and Mike Harrington have another legitimate challenger to watch out for in the Santa Anita Derby: I’ll Have Another, trained by Doug O’Neil. He hasn’t raced since scoring in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita on 2/04 but that shouldn’t affect his chances in the Santa Anita Derby because his progression to this point had the layoff already figured in.
Down south, after the Rebel Stakes this weekend we will have a better idea of where Gemologist and Sabercat will end up next. The options will likely be either the Louisiana Derby or Arkansas Derby but both of those preps will include a pretty deep field as well. One horse that comes to mind is El Padrino, trained by Todd Pletcher. While there hasn’t been any official announcement about which race he will be in next, the choice is between only two races. The first will land him back at the Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby where he won the Risen Star on February 25. The second will keep him close to his home base at Palm Meadows Training Center; the Florida Derby on March 31. If Pletcher chooses the Florida Derby it is going to be a very intriguing matchup when he faces the early favorite, Union Rags.
The biggest headline of the three preps is Creative Cause. He certified himself on Saturday as the deserving West Coast front-runner for the Kentucky Derby. The win now makes him 2-0-1 in three lifetime races at a distance of 1 1/16 mile. Both wins, the San Felipe and Norfolk, were raced at Santa Anita while his 3rd place finish was at Churchill Downs and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Personally, I see Creative Cause as a horse that has room to improve but with that brings the money question: Is he likely to peak in the Santa Anita Derby first? Right now after what I saw in the San Felipe I can’t answer that but what I can say about Creative Cause is that his connections have to feel very confident about his development and his chances of staying on track. Great win on Saturday.
Bob Baffert has been known to have a few tricks up his sleeve from time to time so for anyone that was waiting to see Bodemeister race against the best, I think you can agree that this horse needs to be watched. We’re not going to get into it just yet but if Bodemeister goes on to finish well in the Santa Anita Derby (top 3) and qualifies to make the Kentucky Derby field there will be big talk about his chances. Specifically everyone will be predicting if he can unearth a derby trend that dates back further than any other: Winning after never racing at age 2. You have to go back to 1882 to find Apollo, the only the horse that has ever done it. I’m sure we’ll review this topic again because for now Bob Baffert has his young colt progressing remarkably well and on track for the 138th Kentucky Derby.
In Tampa Bay is where a horse made a huge move and punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby. It took a deep stretch bid to do it but after all was said and done Prospective won the Tampa Bay Derby and elevated his ranking to #8 on the graded stakes earnings ($365,482). The win is great news after a disappointing 2nd place finish in the Sam F. Davis on February 4th. The win makes it his first graded stakes victory and sets the colt up for a big time Grade 1, the Wood Memorial. Trained by Mark Casse and owned by John Oxley who also owned 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, Prospective benefited big time from the addition of blinkers for the very first time.
Fighting tooth and nail not to let Prospective get by him before the wire was Golden Ticket along the rail. Trained by Kenny McPeek his showing in his first ever graded stakes race was an encouraging one. Struggling to notch his first win the Kentucky bred colt finally got over the hump in his sixth MSW race at Gulfstream on 2/11. Securing $70k in prize money gives this horse derby hopes but he will need to add much more in that department in order to eventually qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
A pair of horses with high expectations that both came away empty-handed was the Todd Pletcher favorite Spring Hill Farm – 4th and Sam F. Davis winner Battle Hardened – 6th. Without a monster recovery and win both horses will be in Kentucky Derby qualification jeopardy because their graded stakes earnings will leave them outside of the top 20. Rounding out the top 3 was Cozzetti trained by Dale Romans. Although he did finish in the top 3 this colt will need to keep the momentum going in his next graded stakes race. Saturday was his first ever graded stakes top three finish so he will also need to continue making up ground on the graded stakes earnings list in order to reach the starting gate in May.
In other news on the Tampa Bay Derby is the horse that was scratched, Take Charge Indy. After drawing the 10 Post trainer Patrick Byrne elected not to ship his colt across the state and instead kept him at Palm Meadows Training Center where he will continue to train in preparation for the G1 Florida Derby on March 31. What this means for Take Charge Indy is that all of his eggs have been placed in one basket. Electing to opt out of the Tampa Bay Derby and wait for the Florida Derby will most likely not allow him to race in more than one Kentucky Derby prep from here on out. Since he’s currently ranked 28th on the graded stakes earnings he will need a big performance in the Florida Derby to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Finally, Gulfstream Park brought us the final Derby Prep Sprint of 2012 with the Swale Stakes. With Willie Martinez aboard, Trinniberg broke right to the front and never looked back. By the end of the race Trinniberg drew off to win by six lengths and a winning time of 1:21.69. The 7f sprint was raced over a Fast Gulfstream dirt track.
Trained by Bisnath Parboo and owned by his father, Shivananda Parbhoo, Trinniberg was at one point an early derby contender after finishing 2nd in the G1 Hopeful and G2 Nashua as a 2-yr-old last fall. However, after entering the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint (7th) and waiting until the Swale for his 3-yr-old debut it is very unlikely that Trinniberg will enter the derby trail. By all indications this colt is a sprinter and his connections will not attempt to test him in distance races. Overall, that is the likely trend for the remaining 9 horses in the Swale Stakes field. Although it is considered a Kentucky Derby Prep the Swale Stakes was not a likely stop for horses that have their sights on the Kentucky Derby this year.
Congratulations to all of our winners and your connections this past weekend. We hope that everyone recovers well and that we see you again along the derby trail.
Written by: Little Brink