Road to the Roses
by Ben Vining @doubleplay9
After three more prep races for this year’s KY Derby the picture that is developing is a blurry one. I’m having a hard time visualizing a winner at this point, but that’s what makes handicapping the KY Derby a joy. Two more preps remain, but only one of them will factor in qualifying for this year’s big race in Louisville. This past weekend we witnessed a comeback story in the Wood when a maiden winner took down an undefeated horse in the Bluegrass, and a disappearing act by Bob Baffert in the Santa Anita Derby. Three races and three surprises as the favorite failed to win each of the races.
What to Watch
With one more weekend left of preps the excitement towards the Derby is starting to build. Watch the Arkansas Derby today on TVG at 7:18est. The Lexington will be on TVG at 5:34est.
Prep Race Recap
The Wood Memorial produced two comeback stories, one human and one horse. The human, Rajiv Maragh, took the mount on Irish War Cry for the first time since returning to racing in November and picked up the victory to continue his amazing comeback. Maragh took a bad spill in 2015, suffering multiple injuries which included broken ribs and vertebrae, and a punctured lung. The other comeback was the horse Irish War Cry who ran the dud of all duds in his last race in the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Graham Motion had no clue why he ran so poorly in the Fountain of Youth and was hopeful that his horse would improve and he delivered in a big way. The Wood, which sent eight horses to the gate, set up as a four horse race when the gates opened. Irish War Cry sat off the leader and favorite Battalion Runner, along with True Timber, another favorite. Irish War Cry took over second from True Timber on the back stretch and went right on by Battalion Runner turning for home, winning easily. This was an impressive performance by Irish War Cry and if he shows up on Derby Day he will certainly be a contender. Todd Pletcher trainee Battalion Runner was making his stakes debut and could be peaking at the right time. Cloud Computing, the third place finisher, was not a factor and picked up a few pieces late. True Timber who ran on early with Battalion Runner faded to fourth as they crossed the wire.
Going into the Bluegrass I felt as if it was a wide open affair and any of the top horses could win it, but also suspected that the maiden Irap had a decent shot to prevail. The race on paper favored early speed which Irap had. This race featured undefeated McCracken, Gotham winner J Boys Echo, Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit, and Practical Joke the Champagne winner. With all this talent in the race, the Bluegrass did not materialize into much of a race. Irap broke out with Wild Shot a longshot and raced just off of him around the first turn and into the far turn. As the pair entered the far turn Irap took control of the race as Wild Shot faded away. Practical Joke made his move and went wide into the turn, but could not catch Irap down the stretch. The win went to the Maiden who is trained by last year’s Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill. McCracken wound up third and J Boys Echo who came from the back of the pack only managed fourth. Tapwrit pulled a fifth place finish in the seven horse field.
Santa Anita Derby
If I had to describe this race with one word it would be slow. Of all the Championship Series prep races that were ran on dirt this one returned the lowest Beyer Speed Figure of 88. The horses from Southern California will have to improve greatly to have a shot at wearing the roses. Gormley was the winner of the race, but the top five finishers were within 2 ½ lengths of each other, another sign of a slow race. John Shirreffs trains Gormley, who is a lock to run in the KY Derby, as well as third place finisher Royal Mo who currently sits in 22nd place. Ever hear of the horse Giacamo? He was also trained by John Shirreffs when he won the Derby at 50-1 odds. Gormley took advantage of a hot pace while sitting just off the top three who were blazing the way. As the leaders tired Gormley was asked to go and he went on by to capture the win. Battle of Midway and Royal Mo were the second and third place finishers of the race after battling for the lead most of the race. Battle of Midway prevailed, but could not hold off the late run of Gormley. One note of interest of the race is Bob Baffert sent three to the gate and all three failed to run very well. Baffert, the guy who trained Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, will not have a Derby horse this year.
BEN’S HOT TAKE
Throw out the California horses this year. In years past it would be a tragedy to leave them off your Derby tickets, but this year’s crop is a cut below. I have a feeling the Bluegrass runners will make some noise, and I am not talking about the winner Irap. Irap might be a nice horse, but he had a favorable set up in the race. The two I would keep my eye on are Tapwrit and McCracken. I do not think either of them were fully cranked and should make forward moves in the KY Derby. The Wood Memorial has been a throw out race in the past, but this year Irish War Cry has moved into the discussion as potential winners on Derby day. If this horse runs back to what he accomplished in the Wood, he will be one of the top contenders to keep an eye on. Battalion Runner could also be dangerous especially being trained by Todd Pletcher.
Kentucky Derby Point Standings Top Ten
Horse Sire Trainer Points
1.Girvin Tale of Ekati Joe Sharp 150
2.Gormley Malibu Moon John Shirreffs 125
3.Irap Tiznow Doug O’Neill 113
4.Irish War Cry Curlin Graham Motion 110
5.Thunder Snow (IRE) Helmet(Aus) Saeed bin Suroor 100
6.Always Dreaming Bodemeister Todd Pletcher 100
7.Gunnevera Dialed In Antonio Sano 84
8.Practical Joke Into Mischief Chad Brown 74
9.J Boys Echo Mineshaft Dale Romans 63
10.State of Honor To Honor and Serve Mark Casse 62