Wow, what a great two-thirds completion to racing's famed Triple Crown series of spring classics we have seen! First of all, the Derby was run pretty much true to form with the stalker-type horse getting the best trip pulling away late (I'll Have Another). It really shocked me how smooth of a trip the young Mario Gutierrez guided him around from the #19 post being only three wide on the first turn. But going into the Preakness I was still convinced that Bodemeister was the best horse in the race -- "not no more." After carving out very sensible fractions while only slightly pressured by Creative Cause, Bode held tough in the stretch but was simply passed by a better horse at these classic distances. It only looks better for IHA from here, as his breeding and dosage screams 12 furlongs of the Belmont distance more than any other foe likely to tackle him that day. But the Belmont Stakes isn't always won by the most stamina laden horse, rather they are often lost by inexperienced jockeys (more on that in a future post).
Recapping my annual Derby Top 10 listing, I must say that I probably had one of my best years ever across the board. Sure, I added Bodemeister at the 11th hour, but had faith that he would not be the one hit wonder (ala Bellamy Road) that so many "experts" predicted. So even though I failed to capture the Derby with my top selection (Bode), my top five spots going into the Derby (see below) swept the top five placings in the KY Derby (not in exact order) and top three in the Preakness. Now show me another handicapper who was on record doing this and I'll buy YOU another! Having said that, I got a little cute with my key positions in my trifecta and superfecta tickets and managed only a couple of small backup winnings. And while I hit the Preakness stone-cold, it's hard to brag about a whopping $70 trifecta at any level. But my theme was right on all year with the best of the bunch coming from California, as evidenced by the top 3 finishers from Saturday's Preakness. I'm not quite ready to break down the Belmont race that is still shaping up, but let's just say I hope Senor Gutierrez is intently watching video of the last 12 failed Triple Crown attempts, particularly 1998 and 2004.
1) Bodemeister: Not only adding this handsome son of Empire Maker in my final listing, but now he is my horse to beat for The Derby after seeing his smashing Arkansas Derby victory in person! I am the first to admit that field was one of the weakest in years, but horses seldom crush fields the way he did under Mike Smith. With such an evenly group of sophomores, he is the one that I can imagine taking another step forward on May 5th, like lightly raced Big Brown and Barbaro before him. I think his post position will be critical and would like to see him draw one of the outer third spots and sitting a couple lengths off the pace since he did not fare well against Creative Cause in the San Felipe when down towards the rail.
2) Creative Cause: I said before that a first or second placing in the Santa Anita Derby will have him moving forward into The Derby. Very confident that he will continue to run well with an honest pace and a clean trip, which he got in the SA Derby in running a coin toss finish to I'll Have Another. I've said all spring that the California contingent appears to be the cream of the crop and this has been validated with the final prep results. I think there is no dispute that this guy has the best resume heading into Louisville, but perhaps he has already proven all he can when others have a chance to "pop" a big one.
3) I'll Have Another: I started this guy out fairly high as a sleeper pick but he has stepped up to the plate and hit two HR's in his gutsy California victories (remember, SA has a dirt surface again in 2012). His sire Flower Alley registered well down the list of 2nd crop sires to close out 2011 at #13, but whenever a distance laden sire produces a horse with a turn of foot like this you'd better watch out. It's hard to sepaprate him with CC, but I expect at least one of these guys to be first or second at Churchill Downs.
4) Dullahan: This guy had no chance in the BC Juvenile when they were walking through slow mid-race fractions, but still managed a nice rally from 13th and last to get up for 4th. Had a solid second place finish two back at 9 furlongs on the Gulfstream lawn. Then, his Bluegrass Stakes win looked strong as he flourished in the last 1/16th of a mile to blow by Hansen, although his gallop out looked a bit stiff to me rather than encouraging that he is a true 10 furlong horse. But after last year seeing Shackleford's handling, I am very much a believer in Dale Romans ability to have a horse ready for the spring classics.
5) Went the Day Well: New York bred (ala '03 Derby winner Funny Cide) getting in on The Derby action with his 3YO campaign looking like Animal Kingdom thus far. Solid breeding by a KY Derby placed sire really coming into his own in Proud Citizen out of a Tiznow mare. Coming off a win in the Vinery Spiral on synthetic where he layed much closer to the lead from the 4 hole, handling the dirt kick-back and splitting horses very well, something that will come in handy in the 20 horse stampede that is The Derby! Will likely get much more respect at the windows since Team Valor and Graham Motion pulled it off last year with Animal Kingdom.