March 30, 2008

Big Brown = Big Easy for trainer Dutrow

For many of us, a good day constitutes a smooth day at the office, perhaps an afternoon of golf or a romantic dinner with your significant other. For trainer Rick Dutrow, his good day began by winning two million dollar races in Dubai's version of our Breeders' Cup program before the sun even came up over America. Later on Saturday, he saddled a relatively obscure (yet favored) Big Brown in the Florida Derby, who had only raced twice previously. However, the bettors thought enough of this strapping son of Boundary by a Nuryev mare to install him as a 3-2 favorite in spite of starting in the 12 post, an assumed kiss of death at the newly configured Gulfstream. Instead, Kent "squeeky" Desormeaux broke his charge alertly and used energy to only be forced 3 wide on the first turn, then continued on top through torrent fractions to pull away in the stretch for an easy win. The winning time just over 1:48 for the 9 furlongs was the fastest time in more than a decade (including Barbaro's '06 romp) even though Big Brown was lugging all through the stretch, assumably Kent trying to prompt the green colt to change his lead. The result was a near effortless remarkable victory. A month ago, a race of this type would be no surprise from another horse, War Pass. My how quickly things can change on the Derby trail! I will have more comments on this performance in the future, as this was probably the last start for Big Brown prior to the KY Derby -- just 5 weeks away!

In other events Saturday, last year's Horse of Year and Preakness victor Curlin set a record for margin of victory (7 3/4) at the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race which was inaugurally won by champion Cigar in 1996. The winner's share of the $6 million purse boosted Curlin's lifetime earnings just under $9 million, meaning he is about $1 million (or 2 victories away) from breaking Cigar's North American record. The amazing part is that this was only Curlin's second start as a 4 year-0ld. Cigar's record streak happened during his 4-6 year old seasons, when purse money is typically the highest.

March 3, 2008

Inconclusive Gulfstream weekend

I recently journeyed to the mecca of spring 3 year-old racing known as Gulfstream Park, looking for some clarity in the early Derby picture, but came back with nothing more than confusion and a nasty spring cold. Fountain of Youth stakes day proved to be an oddity on several fronts, with several highly regarded colts turning in atypical efforts in their debut race of 2008, including post-time favorite and Todd Pletcher charge Monba (last), Anak Nakal (8th) and Court Vision from the stocked Bill Mott barn closing fast to finish a respectable third. What ensued was even more perplexing. The final time for the race was originally recorded at a pedestrian 1:51 4/5 for the 9 furlong event, several seconds slower than average at this class level. However, in the days that followed the times were revised twice, now thought to be 1:50 1/5, still sluggish by top standards. This resulted in two mid-priced stalkers in Cool Coal Man and Elysium Fields enduring in the lane for the win and place, respectively. One similar trait these two entries shared is that they had each raced recently in Florida, backing up the "second off a layoff" theory that a horse will be at their optimal performance in their 2nd or 3rd race from a lengthy comeback. At any rate, I do not believe these were the top horses in the race and feel that the true talent will surface in later preps.

In the race that followed the Fountain of Youth, the #1 rated 3 Y-O by most experts - War Pass, essentially had a walkover in an allowance race written specifically for his comeback against four overmatched foes. This muscular son of champion sprinter Cherokee Run, who can freakishly carry his speed (Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion last fall won gate to wire) eerily reminds me of Bellamy Road (coincidentally also trained by Nick Zito), who was never truly challenged prior to being a prohibitive favorite for KY Derby 131 in spite of his front-running style, whilst finishing a well beaten 7th on the first Saturday of May.

This weekend (March 8th) should further clarify the Derby scene with top preps being run in California, Louisiana and New York, including a colt I'm really interested in seeing in the LA Derby - Majestic Warrior. More updates following Saturday!