It's hard to believe that just one week after the return to the track of several top 10 Derby prospects, a few will be making their last tune-up race in Saturday's Florida Derby, six weeks from the "big dance" (it is NCAA March madness after all!).
I've been chomping at the bit to discuss Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where I met up with a raucous crowd that is sure to become the next big annual event. What a perfect weekend in Hot Springs, when the dogwoods were yielding their virgin blooms and the track was abuzz with electricity, which would ultimately be unplugged with the shocking loss of Rachel A. later in the day. Lookin At Lucky "looks" like a champion, well maybe because he was last year's two year-old champion. But what I mean is that I can clearly see him in the winner's circle on the first Saturday in May with the familiar silver haired Bob Baffert high fiving his beer drinking owner friend, Mike Pegram, in the same silks as Sssshhhhh, Real Quiet, claimed The Derby with back in 1998. Let's hope this first race off the shelf won't take too much out of the champ. And how about that Ken McPeek's Noble's Promise? What a game effort in defeat in also his first effort of 2010. Although, I still get leary with the top of his bloodline since he seems to be coming up a tad short in all of his distance races. Dublin really disappointed me in that I thought this would be his break-out race. While he did make a big move approaching the turn, he flattened out into the stretch which also leads me to believe his best distance is 7 furlongs to one mile.
At Santa Anita they had a bit of an upset with Sidney's Candy (recall brother Chocolate Candy from last spring?) and Interactif taking the win-place over Caracortado and American Lion. Meanwhile at the Tampa Bay Derby it was an ugly race with the top four horses - including my Super Saver - trading places all around the racetrack. Many people are jumping on the winner's - Odysseus - bandwagon, but I'm not sure about this one even after his 15 length romp leading up to the Tampa Bay Derby. Neither or these races impressed me near as much as the Rebel, and the Beyer speed figures back me up on this one.
This Derby is shaping up with more speed than any of recent memory. I'm not talking about the blazing speed of Songandaprayer or Smoke Glacken, but rather many of the top prospects seem hell bent on getting the lead and trying to dictate pace. Perhaps it seems this way since Todd Pletcher trains about half of this year's three year-olds! But seriously, did anyone else see Super Saver's race at Tampa and watch that horse spurt away from the field in the opening strides, only to lose by a length at the wire? Having natural or tactical speed is one thing, but I'll never understand gunning a horse to the front in a 9 furlong race. Oh well, the point of all this is that I am giving particular consideration to those who are comfortable having some dirt splashed in their face and routinely pick up horses in the stretch. I feel somewhat burned last year with Friesan Fire (even though Pioneerof the Nile was my top pick with a nice place finish) after he broke poorly and was thus "Brooks & Dunn" due to his running style.
Without further delay, here is my latest and greatest top 10 list heading into the Florida Derby; two defections with American Lion and Dublin.
1) Eskendereya - Now pointing to Wood Memorial for better spacing leading into Louisville.
2) Lookin At Lucky - Baffert is sitting pretty and can run this one anywhere now that he won the Rebel on dirt.
3) Awesome Act - Gotham Stakes winner at Aqueduct is a striking son of Awesome Again who may be peaking at the right time.
4) Rule - Speedball now the likely favorite for the Florida Derby this Saturday. Perhaps the six weeks will keep his tempo level.
5) Noble's Promise - Game effort at Oaklawn, but again came up short to 'Lucky.
6) Super Saver - Pletcher charge had terrible tactics in Tampa Derby. Will give one more try.
7) Jackson Bend - He stepped up in class nicely with a game place to Big E in the FOY. But my gut is telling me that his best races are behind him with the shorter distances.
8) Connemara - My 30-1 futures bet is alive and well with a score in the Cal Derby running down pedestrian fractions. Truest closer of the bunch!
9) Radiohead - This diminutive lead pony comes from the same connections as Big Brown. Clearly, this one is not being doped up by Rick Dutrow, but he recently wore down much larger horses in a 1 mile race at Gulfstream and may upset in the Florida Derby.
10) Drosselmeyer - My boy didn't show up like I thought he would at the Fair Grounds, but he was in front about five jumps past the wire and all indications are that he should impove with another furlong.
Be sure to update your WinStar Farm Fantasy Stable for the three horse addition by tomorrow if you haven't already. I'd use Radiohead in that pool as a sleeper!