I’ll start this week’s column by patting myself on the back. As I predicted last week, Went the Day Well was the winner of the Spiral Stakes (watch). This marks the second year in a row that the owner/trainer/jockey clique of Team Valor, Graham Motion, and John Velasquez has won this race, after Animal Kingdom last year. Much like Animal Kingdom, this was Went the Day Well’s first race on Polytrack, after having previously raced only on grass. Animal Kingdom’s first start on dirt was the Kentucky Derby, which he also won. Can Motion pull this trick again? I don’t know, but there isn’t a trainer in the business better than Motion at switching a horse between racing surfaces. Went the Day Well is a colt to watch.
There are four weekends of relevant prep racing remaining. There are two key prep races this week, plus a huge race for older horses:
Florida Derby (Grade 1, Gulfstream Park, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Saturday 5:40 PM EST)
There is a strong nine-horse field entered in the Florida Derby, but most of the attention will be focused on three colts: Take Charge Indy, Union Rags, and El Padrino. Take Charge Indy (5-1) was scratched from the Tampa Bay Derby three weeks ago in favor of this showdown with Union Rags and El Padrino. He’s lost to both those horses in his career, and I don’t think the result will be any different here. Union Rags (6-5) is the undisputed top three-year-old right now and, if not for a weird trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, would be undefeated right now. Back in February, in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, he didn’t even look like he was trying. A horse that could force him to try is El Padrino (2-1), who has shown blazing speed while winning both of his starts this year. He will, however, be carrying four more pounds than he did last time out.
Prediction: The only horse in this field that can beat Union Rags is…Union Rags. I think he gets a mistake-free trip and wins handily.
Louisiana Derby (Grade 2, Fair Grounds, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Sunday 5:55 PM EST)
This is not as strong a field as we sometimes have for this race, but there are a couple of horses to keep an eye on. Mark Valeski (the 2-1 favorite) lost a tough one to the aforementioned El Padrino in February, but he has huge amounts of speed and a lot of heart. He will be ridden for the first time by Rosie Napravnik, the 24-year-old wunderkind who has been the Fair Ground’s best jockey over the last couple of years. She won this race last year with Pants On Fire. Cigar Street is a son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense; he had a nice 99 Beyer figure in his last race, a win, but he is largely unproven. Z Dager and Rousing Sermon could also be factors.
Prediction: I’m taking the favorite, Mark Valeski.
Dubai World Cup (Grade 1, Meydan, 3 year olds and up, 1⅟4 miles , Saturday 1:40 PM EST)
Dubai does everything big, even racing purses. A $10,000,000 purse, the biggest in horse racing, is on the line at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday. The two favorites in this are American horse Game On Dude and New Zealand’s So You Think. So You Think has career earnings of $7.5 million, but hasn’t won since September. Game On Dude’s trainer, Bob Baffert, suffered a heart attack earlier this week, but is expected to be at the track for the World Cup. He’s won this race twice before, with Silver Charm in 1998 and Captain Steve in 2001. The horse’s jockey is Chantal Sutherland, who will be the first woman to ride in this race. Another female looking to make history is Royal Delta, who would become the first filly to win the race. Despite being the champion American three-year-old filly last year, Royal Delta didn’t look great in her only start so far this year. There are three Japanese horses entered, including Smart Falcon, who has lost 20 pounds since arriving in Dubai. His team seems ready to go ahead and race, but I have concerns about the horses health. Don’t be shocked to see him scratched. Another Japanese entry is Transcend, who finished second in this race last year and figures to be a factor again. Similarly, last year’s third place finisher, Monterosso, is back to give it another go.
Prediction: Game On Dude has a tough post position (the outermost spot), but I absolutely love this horse. He and Sutherland have made a great team over the last year, and I think they erase the heartbreak of November’s close second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by winning an even bigger race.
Where To Watch: You’ll be able to see the Florida Derby on the NBC Sports Network, while the Dubai World Cup will be streaming live at the Daily Racing Form. These will both be great races, so check them out.
I’ll be back next week to preview the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby.