Three major prep races were run on Saturday with three favorites winning -- all with authority! Pioneer of the Nile deserves top billing after bringing Baffert his 5th Santa Anita Derby win, not only based on his last two victories over Santa Anita's cushion track, but particularly three races back when he defeated I Want Revenge and Papa Clem, sending those to weaker competition to the East and South, respectively. Papa Clem had a nice second to Friesan Fire in the LA Derby and is up next Saturday in the AR Derby at Oaklawn while I Want Revenge completed his thrashing of Aqueduct foes on Saturday with a flat-footed start and stretch impeded flourish to claim the Wood Memorial.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Musket Man backed up his Tampa Bay Derby score with a victory in Hawthorne's Illinois Derby, a race that War Emblem won in 2002 while coming into The Derby under the radar. Even though this one has a sprinter's pedigree, there's something about this late blooming colt that intrigues me.
So if that's not enough of a stellar cast, let me back up 2 weeks ago when Quality Road delivered the record performance I expected of him in the Florida Derby while outclassing Dunkirk, to clearly establish himself as the colt to beat on May 2nd. Although, Dunkirk proponents will lament the fact that the Gulfstream Park dirt track produced three stakes records on a day that tended to favor speed. Even though Quality Road wasn't on the lead, he was a close second most of the way while Dunkirk loomed towards the back of the pack being a closer. Another duo who made some noise in Dubai were Godolphin owned Regal Ransom and Desert Party, who finished about a furlong ahead of the best of the rest in the UAE Derby.
So at this time, I would have to say that Quality Road and Pioneer of the Nile are the leaders in the clubhouse, with I Want Revenge, Dunkirk and Friesan Fire clipping at their heels. Old Fashioned can put his name back into the favorite discussion (especially with Larry Jones as trainer) with a win in the Arkansas Derby this coming Saturday. As I anticipated, with these others winning impressively closer to The Derby, it seems as though Friesan Fire is already the forgotten horse. An example is Steve Haskin's Derby Dozen rating, where he has slid from #2 to #5 over the past three weeks while training up to The Derby. With many of these other horses running extremely fast races at or near the pace, this year's Derby pace scenario is shaping up to be impossible to handicap. It's a matter of how the trainers and jockeys may be changing tactics based on their post position draw. Do we really have to wait FOUR MORE WEEKS???