The rubber gets ready to meet the road this weekend for Kentucky Derby points earners with the two final 100-point races of the season.
Last weekend offered insight to how the odds mights shake out when California Chrome asserted his dominance with an emphatic win in the Santa Anita Derby, and, as a reminder that the Derby trail is full of surprises, Wicked Strong strode into the Derby picture with a wicked strong effort to win the Wood Memorial.
Will the Derby picture look radically different after this weekend? We’ll find out soon enough!
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: Dance With Fate Awaits Decision on Derby Bid New
Blood-Horse: Pletcher Trio Back to Work for Kentucky Derby New
Blood-Horse: McLaughlin Relieved Cairo Prince Qualifies New
Blood-Horse: One for the Roses: Hoppertunity
Blood-Horse: Derby Dozen – April 7, 2014
Brisnet: Derby hopefuls put in works at Palm Meadows New
Brisnet: Toast of New York ruled out of Kentucky Derby
Brisnet: Wicked Strong to stay at Belmont until Derby Week
Brisnet: Violette: Wood was great ‘learning experience’ for Samraat
Brisnet: Social Inclusion focuses on Preakness
DRF: The butterfly effect on California Chrome
DRF: Albano withdrawn from consideration
Blue Grass Stakes
Keeneland, Saturday April 12, post time: 5:45 ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs), synthetic surface
Surface could play an important role in what is slated to be the final Blue Grass Stakes on synthetic Saturday.
Keeneland announced this month that it is planning to switch its main track to dirt by the fall meet, so this edition of the $750,000, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep will mark the end of an era. It’s fitting that the Polytrack shows up as a key handicapping angle for many contenders in the field of 15 that includes an also-eligible entry.
Bobby’s Kitten, the morning line favorite at 3-1, will try synthetic for the first time in this 1 1/8-miles test after racing exclusively on turf. The Chad Brown-trained colt worked well over the surface on Saturday.
Also in play is Bobby’s Kitten’s running style: he’s won as the pacesetter or right off the pace but has yet to show he can rate. Ken Ramsey, who owns the colt with his wife Sarah, hinted that we might see a different tactic this time from post 5.
“Chad (Brown) thinks he can rate,” Ramsey said. “We’ve got a really good post position, with the speed on the inside of us, so we’ll set out to develop our strategy. I think (the strategy) is to let the other horses go on and tuck in behind them and that way we won’t run those 1:09 fractions and we’ll have something left for the stretch run. He’s by Kitten’s Joy, so we know he can get a distance of ground.”
With a win in the Grade 3 Pilgrim and a solid third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Bobby’s Kitten boasts the class of the field. The only questions for him are the surface switch and his ability to adapt to a new role in the pace scenario.
Trainer Todd Pletcher’s Florida shipper Vinceremos is one to watch. He’s yet to run an “off” race, not finishing worse than second in four starts. His mid-pack stalking style sets him up well for this pace scenario, and he’ll have regular rider Edgar Prado aboard. This will be the colt’s first race outside of Florida and his synthetic debut. His pedigree indicates he should like the surface, as his sire, Pioneerof the Nile, was four of six on synthetic, including wins in the Grade 1 CashCall and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
Another classy contender is California invader Dance With Fate, who was second in two prestigious West Coast synthetic races: the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. Dance With Fate, a versatile runner who will have jockey Corey Nakatani aboard for the first time, faces the dilemma of distance in this test. He’s yet to win beyond a mile, and twice he’s given up the lead in late stretch. There’s no question, however, that he likes synthetic, and he usually finishes in the money.
What an interesting plot twist from trainer Dale Romans, who brings back Medal Count just a week after his impressive win in the Grade 3 Transylvania. Romans speaks highly of this colt, who faced some tough competition in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. He’s rounding into form and this could prove to be an astute move that vaults Medal Count into the Kentucky Derby picture.
“I took him to the track two days,” Romans said. “He’s been very good. He’s had a lot of good energy; he bounced out of the race like he never ran. I would have put a pretty stiff work in him on Saturday anyway, so I don’t think the turnaround is that big a deal, and it actually may be beneficial to have had that race under his belt.”
With his solid form on synthetics, Spiral Stakes runner-up Harry’s Holiday is one to consider for exotics. He blossomed at Turfway with two impressive performances, and there’s a good chance he’ll be in the mix here with jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard.
Pablo Del Monte is a quiet 12-1 on the morning line despite the fact he’s 2 for 2 over the Keeneland main track. His form took a nose dive when he moved to turf and dirt, but he’s been butting heads with some of the best horses in Florida, including Fountain of Youth winner and Florida Derby runner-up Wildcat Red. The Wesley Ward trainee’s main obstacle will be stretching out to 1 1/8 miles; both of his wins were in sprints.
Pablo Del Monte’s bullet 6-furlong work in 1:13 at Keeneland last Saturday prompted a vote of confidence from Ward.
“If the weather is like this next week, he’ll win the Blue Grass,” Ward said of the cool temperatures, then added with a laugh, ” . . . and if he breaks well, gets an uncontested lead and gets away with a half in :49 and 4.”
Is it stamina, surface issues or traffic trouble that has stymied Coastline? The Mark Casse trainee hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since he left his Kentucky base last fall. Casse said Coastline didn’t take to the Oaklawn surface in his two races there. When he returned to synthetic in the Grade 3 Spiral, he battled gamely between horses in a feisty stretch duel and finished third, losing by a head.
“I have to tell you, I think he’s a better horse now than he was a couple weeks ago,” Casse said. “I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s trained. He worked super the other day.”
Extrasexyhippzster didn’t take to the inner track at Aqueduct in the Gotham, but he could play a key role in this lively pace, making his first start on synthetic. He also has the benefit of a couple of nice works over the track.
While others have come close, Asserting Bear and Gala Award are the two entrants with wins at the Blue Grass distance. Asserting Bear seeks to improve off his fourth-place finish in the Spiral with new jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson. Gala Award has the credentials with a win in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes and top jockey John Velazquez, but he must overcome post 14.
The field also includes Coltimus Prime, Casiguapo, Big Bazinga, So Lonesome (who adds blinkers), and also-eligible Divine Oath.
2014 Blue Grass Stakes Replay
Oaklawn Park, Saturday April 12, post time: 7:07 ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
Fans of the so-called traditional Kentucky Derby profileâ€”a solid 2-year-old foundation coupled with at least three prep races as a 3-year-oldâ€”will want to pay close attention to the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
The $1 million race is the final 170-point race in the TwinSpires.com Kentucky Derby Championship Series, and a top winning effort by any one of several contenders could stamp him as the definitive second choice behind Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby on May 3 at Churchill Downs.
Conquest Titan, Ride On Curlin, Strong Mandate, and Tapiture are all stakes placed as both 2- and 3-year-olds. Their biggest challengerâ€”Bayernâ€”is a horse who is on the opposite end of the traditional profile: He did not start as a 2-year-old and has yet to contest a stakes race, but he comes from the barn of Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who shipped the unraced-as-a-2-year-old Bodemeister into this spot in 2012 and won.
Ride On Curlin, Strong Mandate, and Tapiture are familiar foes. Tapiture has has come out ahead in both meetings in which they’ve faced each other this year, winning the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and finishing second in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. Strong Mandate was second in the Southwest and fourth in the Rebel, while Ride On Curlin finished third in both races.
Whether it’s a perceived home-track advantage or a class edge with a stakes win already in tow, Tapiture is the slight morning line favorite at 9-5 with Bayern the 2-1 second choice.
Bayern has won both his starts by a combined 18 1/4 lengths, and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is shipping in for the mount. Baffert and Stevens teamed to win the 1997 Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm.
Other interesting jockey angles in the race include Joel Rosario, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby aboard Orb, hopping off Strong Mandate to accept the mount on Tapiture with Luis Saez now on Strong Mandate.
Calvin Borel, who was on Ride On Curlin for five of his first seven starts, is now on Conquest Titan while Jon Court, who has won two of the last four Arkansas Derbys, is on Ride On Curlin.
Stevens’ friendly rival, fellow Hall of Famer Mike Smith, is on Commissioner, who could benefit from the speed in front of him, as the pace in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and Grade 3 Sunland Derby may have compromised his chances in those races.
A $1 million purse and Grade 1 designation is enough incentive to want to win, but Kentucky Derby points add more excitement, as most Arkansas Derby entrants need points to be guaranteed a starting spot in Louisville.
Tapiture is currently 13th with 42 points and does not need any more to qualify. Ride On Curlin (23rd, 15 points) and Strong Mandate (27th, 11 points) could probably get in with a top four finish. Commissioner (33rd, 10 points) and Conquest Titan (36th, 9 points) might be OK in the top four, but hitting the board would clinch it for either, and anyone else, including the highly regarded Bayern (0 points), needs a top-two finish to feel safe.
Bayern needs to run his race in the Arkansas Derby to make the Kentucky Derby, so Stevens is unlikely to play games early. Bayern will set the pace from the outside, with Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, and Strong Mandate in close pursuit. With Strong Mandate starting from Bayern’s outside, Saez’ hand might be forced earliest, which could give Ride On Curlin a smooth, stalking trip just to Tapiture’s outside.
At 12-1 morning line on Ride On Curlin, I’ll bet him to improve enough to outsprint the others to the wire with the wily Court aboard.
2014 Arkansas Derby Replay
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