A little bit of Luck, Backtalk and Wood
Posted by Brian Appleton on April 2, 2010
This weekend is beyond a doubt all about the nation’s best three-year-olds with a trio of important Kentucky Derby preps laden with talented youngsters each slated to be run. One of the main attractions, and the single race that will be generating the most interest, is the Wood Memorial (gr.1). With a field of six highly touted and equally talented colts entered in the Wood, it would seem strange to say that one colt will no doubt go off a heavy favorite. When you’re talking about Eskendereya though, there’s not much strange about him. After starting the year off with a jovial gate-to-wire allowance triumph, Eskendereya set the bar excruciatingly high when taking the Fountain of Youth Stakes in an 8 ½ length romp, earning a 106 speed figure, the highest Beyer for any three-year-old so far this year. The Fountain of Youth continues to be the most dominant Derby prep display of the year, thus Eskendereya’s lofty favoritism not only for the Wood Memorial but also for the Kentucky Derby.
Impressive Gotham Stakes (gr.3) winner and European invader Awesome Act looks to have the best chance of taking down the heavy favorite by most accounts. His Gotham victory was deceptively easy and although the horses he defeated in the Gotham were not the top tier of the Derby trail, it was the way in which he won that warrants respect. His huge strides propelled him from fourth at the top of the stretch, to first in a matter of seconds and with red-hot jockey Julien Leparoux aboard once again, you know he’ll have as good a chance as any other contender at a favorable trip.
The ever persistent and ultra-consistent Jackson Bend is back for another crack at Eskendereya after finishing a distant second to him in the Fountain of Youth. Although he has never finished worse than second and the only two
losses of his entire career have come against high-class colts, people still doubt that this Nick Zito trainee can get the distance with his sprint based pedigree. If there is one thing that I have learned from observing the Triple Crown races it is this; Nick Zito is a master at taking down the giants when everyone least expects it. He always lets the public know that a win is not absolutely necessary, that a prep is just what it sounds like; a race to prepare the colt for the big dance. While no one would deny that the Wood Memorial is a big dance, it is not the Kentucky Derby, and that is the ultimate goal for Jackson Bend at this point. I wouldn’t be half surprised to see Jackson Bend pull off a shocker in the Wood and I would be shocked if he didn’t finish in the top three. Calvin Borel gets the mount on Jackson Bend in the Wood.
Schoolyard Dreams looks like the fastest improving colt in the field. After his heartbreaking loss to Odysseus in the Tampa Bay Derby by the shortest nose in the history of the race, his connections decided to give him another shot in hopes of making it into the Derby field. He is another who seems unlikely to finish out of the top three and if he does, his entry in the Kentucky Derby could be in jeopardy.
Now, for the sake of safety I am going to mention the last two entries in the field because last week when I was making all my “esteemed” proclamations about who was going to win on everyone else’s blogs, I didn’t once mention any long shots and got fried for it when the likes of Dean’s Kitten, Mission Impazzible and Endorsement ran their way to glory. Carnivore and Most Happy Fella round out the Wood Memorial field. Carnivore last won a maiden race by an impressive 7 lengths and Most Happy Fella last took down an optional claimer field. It seems doubtful either one can crack the entry of the “big four”, but anything is possible. Eskendereya seems to be the invincible one here and while Awesome Act has garnered a good amount of support, I tend to like Jackson Bend and Schoolyard Dreams behind Eskendereya for the top three finish.
Well, we didn’t have long to wait for the return of Champion 2 year old Male Lookin At Lucky. After his incredible Rebel Stakes victory, Bob Baffert is sending Lookin At Lucky right back into the fray when he takes on 9 other contenders in the Santa Anita Derby (gr.1) this weekend. With the dirt question behind him and unarguably answered, Lucky can rest comfortably on his laurels in the Santa Anita Derby and hopefully produce yet another scintillating victory. He will be the overwhelming favorite when post time comes around and rightly so.
Previously undefeated California sensation Caracortado is back after an uncharacteristic third place finish in the San Felipe Stakes. If the pace is a little stronger than it was in the San Felipe Caracortado should be able to launch a much stronger rally in the stretch of the Santa Anita Derby and improve his chances at Kentucky Derby glory.
San Felipe victor Sidney’s Candy is also looking to stake his claim here and a win would most assuredly vault him to the top of many Derby watch lists. His front-running style has so far worked beautifully, but I have a feeling it won’t be enough to hold off the hungry pack this time.
Surprise Sham Stakes (gr.3) winner, Alphies Bet, is also entered. His shocking upset victory in the Sham looked like the real deal and judging by the fact that he previously won his maiden on the turf in the beginning of the year he seems to love synthetics. The Santa Anita Derby is the same distance as the Sham and he drew the farthest outside post for the Derby just like he did for the Sham. It remains to be seen whether or not the scenario changes from there.
The rest of the field is, suffice it to say, a group of long-shots who are led by Cardiff Giant and Skipshot. Cardiff Giant
has been beating a pattern of ever decreasing production this year in his races. He finished second in the San Rafael (gr.3), third in the Southwest (gr.3) and fifth in the Rebel last out. Skipshot took a five horse allowance field by a nose last out and has since posted a fantastic bullet 5 furlong work in :58 2/5 for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Another horse to keep an eye on is Setsuko, the second place finisher in the Sham Stakes behind Alphie’s Bet.
The Santa Anita Derby looks like just another Lookin At Lucky party to me, but horse races are never sure things. If the word of trainer Bob Baffert is anything to go by though, we should see a much sharper, stronger and energetic Lookin At Lucky this weekend. Imagine that.
The $500,000 Illinois Derby (gr.3) heralds the return of one of my favorite horses from last year’s two year old crop. Backtalk made a victorious return to the races this year after failing to place in his last two races of 2009, the Hopeful
Stakes and Breeders’ Futurity. The talented son of Smarty Jones will be looking to prove that he has a legitimate shot at emulating his immortal sire’s feat of winning the Kentucky Derby, but first, he has to win the Illinois Derby which is no small feat. The 9 furlong distance of the Illinois Derby will be the farthest Backtalk has traveled to date, but with a trio of good works behind him, I believe the striking Smarty Jones colt is up to the task. His last work at six furlongs came in an astounding time of 1:09.60.
American Lion makes his return to the races here in an attempt to remove some of the considerable tarnish that has gathered on his sleek coat. After starting the year off in the top ten of most every Derby watch list, the son of Tiznow has fallen out of the top tier after posting two dull efforts in California. He switches to dirt in the Illinois Derby for the first time, and some think it could prove to be a turning point for American Lion. If he shows an affinity for dirt here, it will most likely assure him a trip to the Kentucky Derby.
Dave in Dixie also returns to action in the Illinois Derby after a very poor showing on synthetics in the San Felipe. He has showed glimpses of brilliance this year with incredible late kicks in mid-stretch during his races that could prove to be very deadly at longer distances. This race is make it, or break it for the John Sadler trainee.
Two other significant contenders are Gotham second place finisher Yawanna Twist, and Turf Melody. To cover myself yet again I’ll just say this field also has a good amount of long-shots and leave it at that. Now if they win I can come back and say that I mentioned the longshots.
Backtalk was “the horse” for the Kentucky Derby earlier last year after going undefeated through the Bashford Manor (gr.3) and Sanford Stakes (gr.2). The question now is this: Is he really back, or is it all just talk?
The Fantasy Stakes will forever be remembered as the first race in which Rachel Alexandra’s true talent was recognized by the majority of racing fans. This year the cast for the Fantasy is a little more slim, but perhaps no less
filled with talented and potential-laden fillies. Blind Luck turns in her final performance here before an expected start in the Kentucky Oaks and looks to bounce back from a surprising defeat last out. This filly is as tough as they come and should take this race with ease.
All Due Respect, Tidal Pool and No Such Word are the only three fillies entered against Blind Luck and of the three No Such Word looks like the biggest threat. She was last seen winning the Honeybee Stakes (gr.3) at Oaklawn. She is trained by Cindy Jones, wife of Larry Jones.
All Due Respect placed third in the Pocahontas Stakes (gr.3) last year before breaking her maiden in her fifth attempt.
Tidal Pool looks like the wild card option here. She sports a record of 3 wins, 1 second and 1 third in 9 lifetimes starts. She blew away an allowance field by 8 lengths at Oaklawn this year and is trained by D. Wayne Lukas.
Aside from all the great 3 year old races lining up this weekend, the older horses are also preparing to put on a show. The one you won’t want to miss is the showdown between Munnings and Musket Man in the Carter Handicap. Let the races begin. In closing I want to thank everyone for being so supportive of me when I was “out of contact” last weekend, it meant a lot.