Hero of Order pulled a massive, unprecedented upset in last week’s Louisiana Derby (watch), winning at odds of 109-1. If you were clairvoyant enough to have placed money on him, your standard $2 win bet would have paid out $220.80. Despite the stunning win, Hero of Order may not be starting in the Kentucky Derby next month because he wasn’t nominated, and the nomination deadline has already passed.
The Florida Derby was a bit of an upset as well, with Take Charge Indy holding off the favored Union Rags (watch). Union Rags got an absolutely awful trip and was stuck in traffic for nearly the entire race. When he finally got some room, he made up enough ground to finish third, but was never really a factor in the race. Jockey Julien Leparoux seemed to hold the colt back a bit at the start, leading to the traffic jam. In a field of that size, there was no reason to not let Rags sprint out to the front. If I’m trainer Michael Matz, I’m pondering a jockey switch before May 5. Meanwhile, Take Charge Indy reminded everyone of why he was one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby, and made trainer Pat Byrne’s decision to scratch from the Tampa Bay Derby look brilliant.
Here are this week’s races:
Wood Memorial Stakes (Grade 1, Aqueduct, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Saturday 5:15 PM EST)
The Wood Memorial has produced many Kentucky Derby winners in its history, but not lately, with the last one being Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. The two biggest names in this year’s edition are Alpha and Gemologist. Alpha (5-2) has raced much better since the addition of Lasix this year (I’ll spare you a rant about raceday medication for now) and figures to be a major factor here. The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt has a tendency to drift wide on the turns, so keep an eye on that, especially if he’s in a close race. Gemologist (8-5), trained by Todd Pletcher, has shown tremendous speed on his way to an undefeated record. The question with him, as with many speed horses, is the distance. Three other horses to pay attention to: Street Life (4-1) is not as well known as Alpha and Gemologist, but will be a strong contender. The colt, who was sired by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, has a late-running style, so don’t be surprised to see him picking off sprinters like Gemologist in the stretch. If it rains, watch out for My Adonis (8-1), who excels on wet tracks. On a dry track, this distance will be too much for him. Finally, Lumber Guy (8-1) is very fast but has never run more than seven furlongs. Look for him to set the early pace.
Prediction: It’s always tough to predict how horses will react when stepping up to a mile and an eighth, but I like Street Life to pull the minor upset.
Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1, Santa Anita, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Saturday 5:30 PM EST)
The Santa Anita Derby has given us such greats as Point Given, A.P. Indy, Sunday Silence, Winning Colors, Swaps, and the last winner of the Triple Crown, Affirmed. The talk of the 2012 Santa Anita Derby is centered on the 6-5 morning line favorite, Creative Cause. He has never finished out of the money, and won the San Felipe Stakes handily despite drifting wide in the stretch. He will be running with blinkers off for the first time in this race. I’m not entirely sure of the strategy here, since has drawn the first post position. With less room to maneuver by the rail, I would think trainer Mike Harrington would want a faster start to get clear of traffic, not the slower start the lack of blinkers might cause. I’ll Have Another (5-2) is coming off a nice win where he sat just off the pace, a key skill if you’re going to win big races like this one. Midnight Transfer (10-1) held his own against Creative Cause in the San Felipe, and I think he’ll at least finish in the money again here. Trainer Bob Baffert has dominated this race over the last decade and a half, and he has three contenders entered: Liaison (8-1), Paynter (12-1), and Blueskiesnrainbows (20-1). Paynter is especially intriguing, mostly because this is his second career race — we have nothing to go on with him but a 5.5 furlong maiden special weight in February. Baffert must feel confident in this horse.
Prediction: Creative Cause is just too impressive to pick against.
Where To Watch: Both of these races will air on NBC starting at 4:30 on Saturday.
I’ll be back next week to preview the two biggest remaining prep races before Churchill Downs: the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. I may be watching a race or two at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore (home of the Preakness Stakes) on Thursday, and if so I’ll have a report on that as well.