It’s time for another look at where we stand on the road to the Kentucky Derby. There’s a lot to talk about this week, so let’s jump right into things with a look back at last week’s major race.
Hansen scored a three-length victory in last Saturday’s Gotham Stakes (watch) and in the process answered a lot of questions. As I mentioned last week, Hansen’s front-running style has led to some questions about his distance ability, especially in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby, where sprinting out to the front is just going to get you run down in the stretch. In the Gotham, Hansen broke a little slower than he has in previous races, faced some adversity as he was forced very wide at the clubhouse turn, but eventually settled in just off the pace, showing great patience until jockey Ramon Dominguez asked him to go at the three-eighths pole. My Adonis challenged him a bit in the stretch, but this race was all Hansen. The colt has solidified his status as a top-two Kentucky Derby contender.
There are three prep races on tap this weekend, all of them Grade 2:
Tampa Bay Derby (Tampa Bay Downs, 3 year olds, 1⅟16 miles , Saturday 5:28 PM)
An interesting and competitive race, the Tampa Bay Derby features several strong contenders, led by 5-2 morning line favorite Spring Hill Farm. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano, the colt did not race as a two-year old, making his racing debut in January at Gulfstream in a 7-furlong race in which he never trailed, followed by another wire-to-wire win in a February mile-long optional claimer, also at Gulfstream. He makes his graded stakes debut on Saturday, which will also be his first two-turn race. While he looked good in his first two races, Saturday is going to be a huge step-up in competition for him.
Take Charge Indy has the next-best odds at 3-1. This son of A.P. Indy is 1-2-0 in 5 lifetime starts, and is coming of a January second-place finish to El Padrino in which he yielded late. He put up an impressive 96 Beyer figure in that race, and losing to the hard-charging El Padrino (one of the best closers around right now, in my opinion) is nothing to be ashamed of, but you never like to see a horse give up in the stretch. He hasn’t won since his first career start, despite coming close several times, and some folks think he’s due for a breakthrough.
Battle Hardened is at 9-2 on the morning line, and is coming off a nice win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes over this same track. The familiarity with the track may be an advantage here, although he hasn’t put up very impressive speed figures. Still, he’s been a factor in every start but his first, and I expect he will be again here.
Prediction: This is a strong field, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of the twelve horses entered cross the line first, but I think Take Charge Indy gets the monkey off his back.
Swale Stakes (Gulfstream Park, 3 year olds, 7 furlongs, Saturday 5:35 PM)
Not an overly interesting field in this one, with several horses in the field who aren’t nominated to the Triple Crown. The lightly-raced Ever So Lucky, who is making his three-year-old debut, is the morning line favorite (5-2) based on his recent workouts and strong Beyer figures as a two-year old. Trinniberg (5-1) will likely set the early pace out of the second post position, but seven furlongs may be too long for this sprinter. The distance presents the opposite problem for Motor City (4-1), who’s late-running style seems better suited to races of a mile or more. Good Morning Diva (6-1) showed big improvement in his last race, but the tenth post position puts him at a big disadvantage.
Prediction: I think Motor City will turn on the jets in time. He wins a close one.
San Felipe Stakes (Santa Anita Park, 3 year olds, 11/16 miles, Saturday 4:38 PM Pacific)
There’s a crowded field for this west coast race, so I might as well take you through them all by post position:
1. Blingo (8-1): This will be his first start on real dirt, so there’s no way of knowing how he’ll react, but this is a fast horse with a lot of upside.
2. Bodemeister (3-1): Will be near the front for the entire race. Put up an excellent 101 Beyer last time out. A half-brother to the number 10 horse, Empire Way.
3. American Act (8-1): He’ll set the early pace, but the distance will probably prove too much. Beat Bodemeister at 5⅟2 furlongs in January.
4. Midnight Transfer (6-1): This excellent sprinter brings a two race win streak into the San Felipe, but the distance will be a big test.
5. Groovin’ Solo (20-1): Racing without blinkers for this one after getting DQ’ed while wearing them last time out. Has had some strong workouts lately, so expect a big (but likely unsuccessful) effort.
6. Liaison (6-1): Had a horrible outing in his three-year-old debut in January when he clipped heels and threw jockey Rafael Bejarano. Martin Garcia gets the ride this time for trainer Bob Baffert, who is running this colt without blinkers for the first time — a move that frequently works out for Baffert.
7. Creative Cause (5-2): The clear class of this race. He’s 3-1-2 in six lifetime starts in which he’s averaged a 90 Beyer figure, and this distance should really suit him.
8. Rousing Sermon (8-1): Is usually in the thick of it, but hasn’t quite had enough to get to first lately. Has finished behind both Liaison and Empire Way.
9. Tiz Point (20-1): This race is going to be too long for this son of Tiznow; he pressed the pace before fading in his lone start at this distance.
10. Empire Way (6-1): Looked good in his dirt debut in February, angling in from the seventh post position to finish second at the same distance he’ll be running on Saturday. Starting all the way outside could hurt him, though.
Prediction: Bob Baffert has really been on his game lately. Liaison pulls the upset here.
That’s all for this week, I’ll see you next Friday with a look at what should be a competitive field for the Rebel Stakes.