As expected, Secret Circle was the winner of last week’s Rebel Stakes (watch), holding off a hard-charging Optimizer to take first by around half a length. Despite the win, Secret Circle didn’t look great, veering badly in the stretch when jockey Rafael Bejarano switched whip hands. Sabercat had a very disappointing eighth-place finish, and I think he’s done as a Triple Crown Contender.
Meanwhile, Gemologist had a very impressive win in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Friday (watch), and most analysts have bumped him up the contenders list. Look for him to race next in the Wood Memorial on April 7.
This weekend marks the beginning of NBC Sports’ Road to the Kentucky Derby coverage, with four weeks of coverage of key prep races, beginning with the Vinery Spiral on Saturday. NBC’s coverage of horse racing is usually excellent, and I highly recommend you check it out. Here’s the schedule:
March 24: Vinery Spiral and Bourbonette Oaks, 5:00PM-6:00PM, NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus)
March 31: Florida Derby and Gulfstream Oaks, 5:00PM-6:00PM, NBC Sports Network
April 7: Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, 4:30-6:00PM, NBC
April 14: Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby, 6:00-7:00PM, CNBC
On to this week’s races:
Vinery Spiral Stakes (Grade 3, Turfway Park, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Saturday 5:45 PM)
This race produced last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. I’m not expecting the same this year, but you never know. The biggest obstacle will be that this race is run over synthetic Polytrack surface, which doesn’t always translate well to the dirt these horses will see at Churchill Downs. Animal Kingdom’s owner/trainer/jockey combo (Team Valor, Graham Motion, and John Velasquez, respectively) are back in this race with Went the Day Well, a British import who is coming off a maiden special weight win at Gulfstream Park. Went the Day Well is the co-second favorite on the morning with Handsome Mike, a Doug O’Neill trainee who hasn’t won since October of last year, despite of having the best Beyers of anyone in the field. The morning line favorite, at 3-1, is Heavy Breathing, a Todd Pletcher-trained son of Giant’s Causeway. Heavy Breathing did not race as a two-year-old, but is undefeated in two starts this year. Two longshots to watch are Russian Greek and All Squared Away, who have the most experience on a synthetic racing surface.
Prediction: I like the Animal Kingdom team to repeat — Went the Day Well by two lengths.
Sunland Derby (Grade 3, Sunland Park, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Sunday 5:45 PM Mountain Time)
This a really good field, with several entrants who could win. The 2-1 favorite is Castaway, who has run some very fast races for trainer Bob Baffert, but not against the level of competition he will in this race. Castaway, undefeated this year, has drawn the first post position. Bob Baffert hates the first position, so keep that in mind. Baffert also trains the third horse, Stirred Up (8-1), who has finished in the money in all three of his lifetime starts. Todd Pletcher took over as trainer for winless Ender Knieval (6-1) at the beginning of this year, and the colt responded with a win at Gulfstream in February. Isn’t He Clever (4-1) has a nice pedigree (he was sired by Smarty Jones), and is 4-1-0 in six lifetime starts. No Spin (8-1) is trying the longest distance of his career, after already seeming overmatched at a mile — the decision to run him in this race seems strange. Daddy Nose Best (3-1) had a gritty win at this distance at Golden Gate Fields in February.
Prediction: Castaway shakes off the post position and wins it.
I’ll have previews of some big races next week: the Florida Derby, the Louisiana Derby, and (time permitting) a look at the Dubai World Cup.