Todd Pletcher

The Morning Line: 2014 Jerome Stakes

It’s been thirty three days since Honor Code turned heads in the Remsen and Tapitureprevailed in the Kentucky Jockey Club. It may seem longer ago than that but keep calm the scoring resumes on Saturday.

We begin the New Year at a familiar yet once forgotten place. The good news is that it only took Churchill Downs one year before they recognized that the Jerome Stakes deserves to be an official qualification race. And so now it is and eight derby hopefuls are ready to go.

We begin with the heavy favorite that will be breaking from post position 1, Noble Moon. The son of Malibu Moon and Mambo Bell returns to Aqueduct after he finished 3rd last time out in the G2 Nashua Stakes on 11/3. Trained by Leah Gyarmati, Noble Moon gets most of his attention on the morning line with pretty good reason.

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On Time To Shine

Gemologist Stays Perfect in his 3-yr-old Debut

An undefeated Kentucky Derby contender has returned to the scene. There’s no better way to shine than to reappear by scoring with relative ease and superior form and that’s what Gemologist displayed when he drew away from the field to win by 7 lengths at Gulfstream Park. The 1 Mile Allowance valued at $69,500 officially kicks off his road to the Kentucky Derby in 2012 and will lead him to a Kentucky Derby Graded Stakes Prep in April. Although he has still only raced in a single graded stakes so far in his career, trainer Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farms have this colt on a fascinating trail to the Kentucky Derby.

Ridden by Todd Pletcher’s number 1 jockey in South Florida, Javier Castellano, Gemologist broke soundly from the gate and took control of the lead at the opening quarter pole. Remaining in control of the race, he wasted little time putting this field to bed when he rounded the final turn and hit the stretch. By then his lead had gone to 3 lengths and by the time he crossed the wire he stretched it out an additional 4. His winning time was 1:35.95 over a track listed as: Good.  (more…)

The Morning Line: Tampa Bay Derby

Battle Hardened Looks To Repeat at Tampa Bay Downs

Battle Hardened, winner of the Sam F. Davis

Welcome back to Tamp Bay Downs for the final stop on the road from Tampa to Kentucky. The $350,000 Grade 2 Stakes has come a long way over the years since its inauguration in 1981 and now proudly represents itself as a race that has played a major role for two recent Kentucky Derby winners. Things really started picking up steam in 2007 when Street Sense recorded a record winning time of 1:43.11 en route to a Kentucky Derby victory. In 2010 this prep again produced a champion when Super Saver opened up his 3-yr-old season here with a 3rd place finish before ending up in the winner’s circle in America’s biggest race.

So it’s a rewarding race for connections that played their cards right but since that is the key ingredient to winning the Kentucky Derby we’ll have to wait and see how this field of 12 crosses the wire before we make a clear-cut analysis on their chances. But in the meantime we can still look at what order they’re going to finish here. The best place to start is with previous prep at Tampa Bay Downs, the G3 Sam F. Davis where 3 of the top 4 are back to give it another run.  (more…)

The Morning Line: The Gotham Stakes

Gotham Boasts Champion Hansen

When is enough enough?  When a trainer, jockey, or horseman scores their first win may be one answer.  But then that win makes the person want a second and then a third and then a fourth and so on.  To win your home track’s premier race of the season may be another possibility to say enough is enough.  But what if your home track is Churchill Downs?  For the current crop of 3 yr. olds in training, enough is a secured post position in the 138th Kentucky Derby.  In two months, 20 of the best will line up as individual beings in search of the most prestigous crown in all of racing.  One horse has already punched his ticket, doing so in dramatic fashion last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  His name is Hansen and as great of champion as he is, he still has a little more to prove before claiming a 3 yr. old crown.

New York City serves as the backdrop to the electric energy that will likely be radiating from Aqueduct on Saturday.  A sizable winning purse will be up for grabs as a field of 13 take to the post in the G.2 $400,000 Gotham Stakes.  Run at 1 1/16 on the inner track at Aqueduct, Hansen has drawn the 12 hole and has been installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite.  The field of 13 is one of the larger fields for the Grade 2 race in recent years and the allure of a $400,000 purse is mainly to blame. (more…)

The Morning Line: Fountain of Youth

Union Rags Returns to Face a Pair of Undefeated Horses

We take you back to Gulfstream Park where the derby trail is heating up with the anticipation of our first real deal heavyweight bout. The showdown features a pair of unbeaten horses in Algorithms and Discreet Dancer versus Union Rags the current favorite for the 138th Kentucky Derby. The undefeated contenders are so highly thought of because they are in the hands of Todd Pletcher, the leading trainer at Gulfstream and the hottest trainer on the Kentucky Derby trail. So while the G2 $400,000 Fountain of Youth features a field of 8, there’s only three that are getting all of the attention.

Union Rags is a top class colt and he has earned the odds on favorite title on the current Kentucky Derby Future Wager Line. But those odds don’t matter in the FOY because on the morning line he is only second choice. Outside of Todd Pletcher ruling the roost at Gulfstream Park the only other plausible factor behind it is that this race is his 3-yr-old debut and first at Gulfstream Park.

So let’s rewind back to his 2-yr-old season where he dominated the attention heading into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes.  The interest in Union Rags was unavoidable after he dismantled the field in his graded stakes debut, the G2 Three Chimneys at Saratoga. The 7 ¼ romp led to the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont where he again put the field away by a sizeable margin of over 5 lengths and stamped himself as the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  (more…)

The Morning Line: Risen Star Stakes

El Padrino Ships In, Fair Grounds Contenders Await

El Padrino

Welcome back to the Fair Grounds for the Risen Star Stakes, the final tune up and prep for the Louisiana Derby on April 1. The race has drawn a solid field of 11 horses that will be contending for a piece of the Grade 2 $300,000 purse and another giant step towards qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. The 1 1/16 mile test is headlined by El Padrino versus the top finishers in the G3 LeComte Stakes here at the Fairgrounds on 1/21. In order of finish they were: Mr. Bowling, Z Dager, and Shared Property.

So let’s start right there where a trainer not named Bob Baffert is off to a hot start on the Kentucky Derby Trail. El Padrino, trained by Todd Pletcher, was shipped in from Florida and looks ready to continue where he left off in January – the winners circle at Gulfstream. That race, an Allowance Optional Claiming, was El Padrino’s 2012 debut after a lightly raced yet successful two-year old season. A couple of different factors about the horse and the win has given him even more Kentucky Derby Contender attention so let’s analyze them.  (more…)

2011 Preakness Play

AK on Cruise Control

This weekend’s Preakness brings us the first Kentucky Derby winner since Big Brown with a legitimate shot at winning the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown.  In the Preakness favorite Animal Kingdom, we have a colt that ran much the best in the Derby, continues to eat and is getting better by the day.

So, what’s the pick?  (more…)

Revisiting the Florida Derby prospects for the Kentucky Derby

Darren Rogers photo of the historic Spires

Right now, everyone is trying to find their smart bet or sure thing for the Kentucky Derby next week.  They want to demonstrate their superior handicapping and intellect as well as bring the bank to the doorstep.  In doing so, I thought it was important to take a closer look at the Florida Derby.  Why?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  First, the Kentucky Derby morning line favorite, Dialed In, came though in the race.  Secondly, a Derby favorite prior to the race, Soldat, threw a clunker and finally, this prep will produce more Kentucky Derby starters than any other prep (4).

Given the final quarter time, Dialed In was given every opportunity to win…and the bottom line is he did.  After racing in last through most of the race, his final move was impressive and ended with a driving rally past Shackleford in the final few jumps.  Shackleford ran as tough as a race as he could.  He led through quick fractions and battled off a challenge by To Honor and Serve before finally falling to Dialed In.  His performance was impressive and even more surprising at 68-1.

However, we know how these two ran and why they are leading contenders, but what can we offer about the two (Soldat and Stay Thirsty) that had disappointing finishes.  First off, Soldat was coming off an impressive victory where he had an early and easy lead in the Fountain of Youth.  In the Florida Derby, jockey Alan Garcia asked him to rate behind the leaders and then unleash his run past them in the stretch.  He had no run.  It was surprising because he had been training well behind horses and seemed unaffected by the dirt in his face.  However, the race produced a different result.  I think that this horse is still a contender for several reasons.  He is too talented, owns two victories at 1 1/8, Churchill’s track features limited kickback when compared to Gulfstream and the Derby has lost some of its early speed.

If you like Stay Thirsty, then act like this race didn’t even exist.  He looked uncomfortable or should I say ‘Thirsty’ in the paddock, sweating profusely.  He never got into the race and the blinkers did not help as he was out of the race before the far turn.  Not only that but a horse that he beat convincingly in the Gotham, Toby’s Corner, went on to run beautifully and win the Wood Memorial over a tiring Uncle Mo.

What have they done since the Florida Derby

Dialed In (1st) – Stayed in Florida and will ship to Kentucky this Saturday with Soldat.  He has worked superbly firing a couple of fashionable works (they always are aren’t they?) and finished his gallops strong.

Shackleford (2nd) – With the defection of several contenders, Shackleford made it in the field and has been at Churchill under Dale Romans’ watchful eye.  Recently, he worked in the slop and does own a victory over the Churchill oval.

Soldat (5th) – Stayed in Florida to work at Palm Meadows.  Working well and looks like a horse that is ready to run.  He worked well before the Florida Derby but obviously did not like taking the kickback in his face behind horses.  The good news is that Churchill doesn’t send as much back into stalking horses as Gulfstream and if the track is wet, then watch out.

Stay Thirsty (7th) – Moved to Churchill and promptly fired a bullet over the track with Calvin Borel aboard.  However, the mount was given back to Ramon Dominguez who rode him in the Florida Derby to an uninspiring finish.  Working well but could have been a great fit with a patient rider who knows the Churchill strip extremely well.

All of this sounds great but what does this mean for the actual Derby.  Well, I think that all four are contenders to run for a piece of the prize.  Dialed In has proven that he will not give up and can finish.  Shackleford and Soldat are proven runners with early speed and can be dangerous if they are allowed to control the pace and lead.  And Stay Thirsty, is a complete wildcard.

Is this finally the time that Soldat shows his turf form and the ability to rate behind horses and accelerate past them?  Does the added distance make Stay Thirsty a contender to pick up the pieces?

With a little more than a week till race day, these are questions that will be answered shortly.

Written By: Fundanichols

The Morning Line: Blue Grass Stakes

A View from the Paddock - Keeneland Race Course

There is no place like Keeneland.  The air is crisp.  The atmosphere is electric.  The history is well represented.  And the racing is outstanding.  Since 1936, Keeneland has conducted live racing in April and October.  And this Saturday, the race course will host one of the most prestigious Kentucky Derby preps the G.1 $750,000  Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.  I have never had the opportunity to attend Keeneland in the spring, but have made several memorable trips in the fall.  I expect this weekend to add a little drama to the road to the derby with a very competitive race. 

Although the Blue Grass is considered a key derby prep, no horse has won the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby since Spectacular Bid accomplished the task in 1979.  However, it has produced two derby winners in recent years, Street Sense ran 2nd in 2007 and Thunder Gulch ran 4th in 1994.  The race is filled with historic wins as well.  Neighboring Calumet Farms has 6 wins. Bill Shoemaker had 6 in his legendary career.   Ben A. Jones, Woody Stephens, and Nick Zito all have 3 wins in their impressive careers as award winning trainers.

With all eyes on New York, Florida, Arkansas, and California, Kentucky racing has taken a backseat until the first Saturday in May arrives.  Horsemen pay close attention to the Blue Grass, but it seems to have lost its luster just a bit.  Perhaps one reason falls on the decision to switch surfaces to a polytrack in 2006.  Or with only three weeks to the derby, horsemen are looking for longer layoffs with more rest headed into the derby.  Whatever the reason, the Blue Grass needs a signiture winner with a lively chance on derby day to vindicate the great state of Kentucky.  This weekend, 12 horses will look to become that lively horse.  The only thing standing in their way is 1 1/8 miles.

It’s essentially win and you’re in.  With grades stakes earnings as the entry ticket to the derby, only one horse in the field can lose and still get in.  That horse is Santiva.  Trained by Eddie Kenneally, Santiva has over $250,000 in graded earnings and is currently the morning line favorite at odds of 3-1.  In his last start, Santiva ran 2nd in the Risen Star to derby contender Mucho Macho Man.  He has hit the board in all five of his career starts with only one win.  He will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.  That leaves 11 other horses looking for the big pay day and 3 trainers are sending multiple starters looking for a possible pay off and entry ticket to the big dance.  Tom Albertrani sends King Congie and Brilliant Speed.  Mike Maker sends Joes Blazing Aaron and Twinspired.  And Todd Pletcher sends Sensational Slam, Praetereo, and Queen’splatekitten.  Can one of these three successful trainers outmatch Santiva or can one of the other four starters steal the show?

$750,000 Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Polytrack)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Newsdad (KY), J L Castanon, 123, W I Mott 20-1
2. King Congie (KY), R Maragh, 123, T Albertrani 5-1
3. Santiva (KY), J R Leparoux, 123, E Kenneally 3-1
4. Joes Blazing Aaron (KY), G K Gomez, 123, M J Maker 12-1
5. Brilliant Speed (FL), J Rosario, 123, T Albertrani 6-1
6. Sensational Slam (ON), J Lezcano, 123, T A Pletcher 10-1
7. Twinspired (KY), R Albarado, 123, M J Maker 12-1
8. Willcox Inn (KY), R Napravnik, 123, M Stidham 10-1
9. Wilkinson (KY), J Theriot, 123, N J Howard 6-1
10. Praetereo (KY), E S Prado, 123, T A Pletcher 15-1
11. Crimson China (KY), A Garcia, 123, H G Motion 10-1
12. Queen’splatekitten (ON), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher 12-1

You can make a case for any of these 12 starters.  The field seems to be well balanced and could provide a great deal of excitement leading to the derby.  However, I’m not personally a big fan of horses running on polytrack and then transitioning to dirt.  But, on a day like Saturday you can’t look too far ahead.  Santiva looks to be the class of the field, but I’m looking more at the Neil Howard trained Wilkinson.  Howard is a well respected trainer and he has taken a different approach with this horse.  If his intuitions are correct, he could run big this weekend.  In his racing debut, Wilkinson lost by a head over the Keeneland track.  Wilkinson won the G.3 Lecomte in January and two moths later ran 6th in the Louisiana Derby.  With three week layoff and Jamie Theriot in the irons, he should be primed and ready to run. 

Wilkinson – win and place  Exotics – Tri box 3,5,9 and 7,9,11

Good luck to all the owners, trainers, jockeys, and horses this weekend.  The time gap between now and May is narrowing as is the derby field.  This weekend’s winner will almost certainly add their name to the starters for the derby and look to represent Kentucky with a great deal of pride.  We hope all connections have a safe and exciting ride. 

Written by Big Brink

Arkansas Derby Around The Corner

$1 Million Arkansas Derby Runs Saturday

After a wild weekend culminating with the loss of Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial, Derby headquarters are split between Hot Springs, AR and Lexington, KY for the final major preps of the season. 

The Arkansas Derby will be led by one of the Kentucky Derby favorites in the Bob Baffert trained The Factor.  The Factor is all speed and will have plenty of closers ready to pounce if he is unable to carry it for 1 1/8.  Among the leading contenders are some of the beaten foes from the Rebel Stakes as well as a few newcomers sent in from the sunshine state, mainly Brethren and Dance City.

Arkansas Derby Probables: The Factor, Sway Away, Dance City, Brethren, Alternation, JP’s Gusto, Nehro, Saratoga Red, Caleb’s Posse, ArchArchArch, JW Blue, Truman’s Commander and Elite Alex

Will it be Bill O’Reilly’s favorite horse The Factor showing that speed kills or Elite Alex finally timing his run to end at the finish line?  How about Sway Away coming back after a disappointing run in the Rebel Stakes where he knocked his teeth out on the starting gate or the impressive Todd Pletcher allowance winner Dance City?  The are lots of things to consider, but expect speed to be The Factor.

The full preview for the Arkansas Derby will be out later this week and The Derby Post will be in attendance at Keeneland for the Maker’s Mark Mile and Blue Grass Stakes.

It will be a memorable one.

Written By: Fundanichols