3YOs: Upon Further Reviewby Rich Perloff

An Insider's Look Comments Off on 3YOs: Upon Further Reviewby Rich Perloff
When last I blogged about the current crop of 3Y0s, we didn't really know too much about them. Now, with a mere 48 "shopping days" until the 2011 Kentucky Derby, I think it's fair to say we know a bit more. Let's survey the landscape. Path of Least Resistance Did you see UNCLE MO's workout at Gulfstream the other day? Yeah, he worked a mile between races 7 and 9. In fact, just to be sporting, they called his workout “Race 8” -- the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes -- and gave him a couple of workmates. With the scratch of MADMAN DIARIES, all four of 'MO's rivals were eligible for an entry-level allowance. He toyed with them, as expected, winning wire-to-wire, and getting the mile in 1:36 2/5 (final quarter in :22 4/5) as the 1/20 favorite. So, here's the question: what do we know about UNCLE MO in the aftermath of the Timely Writer that we didn't know going in? For me, at least, the answer is: not much. It would appear that the folks at Repole Stable, along with trainer Todd Pletcher, have determined that 'MO's dominance among his generation is such that he'll only need one "serious" Derby prep -- either the Florida Derby (G1) or the Wood Memorial (G1), as of this writing -- so, in that regard, one presumes they got exactly what they wanted on Saturday. If you were an UNCLE MO backer going in, you're probably still clinging to your seat on that bandwagon. But, seriously...any of the horses on my Derby "Top 5" list...or YOUR "Top 5" list...or just about ANYBODY's "Top 5" list, would have been odds-on against the group that UNCLE MO dominated yesterday. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that there was anything wrong with 'MO's 3YO unveiling...I'm just saying that it didn't necessarily make me think that he's going to be as dominant among this year's 3YOs as he was among last year's juveniles, that's all. Stubbed Toes Along the Derby Trail There were a lot of folks shopping KY Derby futures prices on BRETHREN after his dominant win in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on February 12. And, for the first six furlongs of Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby (G2), it was looking like deja vu all over again, as BRETHREN, from another extreme outside post, pressed the early pace, and then hit the front as the field worked its way up the backstretch. But, by the time the field reached the 3/8 pole, it was clear that Ramon Dominguez was starting to ask BRETHREN, and he wasn't getting the response he wanted. WATCH ME GO, who had finished 5 lengths back of BRETHREN in the Sam F. Davis, rallied for the win, with BRETHREN fading to 3rd behind 86-1 shot CRIMSON KNIGHT. Frankly, it's hard to find a legitimate excuse for BRETHREN's effort. He got a trip -- and a pace -- that was almost identical to his win in the Sam F. Davis, and he just didn't fire. And what of Team Zito/La Penta's DIALED IN? Zito has turned into racing's version of Peyton Manning with this Mineshaft colt, calling audible after audible. After a super-impressive sprint debut, Zito wanted to send DIALED IN two turns in a 1 1/8 mile allowance race at Gulfstream on January 21. But, when the track came up sloppy, DIALED IN was scratched, paving the way for SOLDAT's big wire-to-wire victory. DIALED IN stayed around one turn, and ran another big race, winning the Holy Bull S. (G3) at a mile. Now more anxious than ever to get DIALED IN his first two-turn prep, Zito considered the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), but opted instead for a first-level allowance at Gulfstream...against older horses. The last time a Kentucky Derby winner had a prep race vs. his elders? CANONERO II, back in 1971. The Gulfstream allowance was lightly subscribed, and, in fact, Zito had another horse in the race (eventual winner EQUESTRIO), presumably to make the race go. DIALED IN languished at the back of the five-horse field behind ordinary splits, never looked like a winner, and only got within a half-length of his stablemate at the wire because EQUESTRIO shifted his ground in deep stretch, forcing jockey Jose Lezcano to take him in hand. Those taking the positive view of DIALED IN's effort will point out that it's not easy for a 3YO to face older horses in March. My eyeballs tell me that he'll need to come with something a lot stronger in the Florida Derby (G1), if he wants to be considered a serious contender in this year's Kentucky Derby. Right on Schedule? SOLDAT’s wire-to-wire win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on February 26 was rock-solid, and demonstrated once again that the “Rule of 12” is alive and well. You know that one? A quality racehorse allowed to click off 12-second furlongs on the front end will be very hard to overhaul in the stretch. And, in back-to-back 9 furlong dirt races, that’s exactly what SOLDAT has been permitted to do. He’s a quality colt, and he might adapt to any pace scenario. Might. He ran well from off the pace in a couple of turf races. But, it’s unlikely that he’ll get to invoke the “Rule of 12” in either the Florida Derby (G1) or the Kentucky Derby (G1). There’s some difference of opinion where TO HONOR AND SERVE’s third-place run in the Fountain of Youth is concerned. Some folks have said that they expected him to put up more of a fight down the lane. Me? I don’t share their concern. Given the trainer (Mott), and given the fact that THAS didn’t need any further graded stakes earnings (he already had $210K on account, after his wins in the Nashua and Remsen as a 2YO), I think his effort was just fine. He dragged John Velazquez all the way to SOLDAT’s throatlatch at the quarter pole…and then he got a bit tired. Just what one might expect from a horse making his 3YO debut. You can bet that Mott is in the process of executing a game plan that concludes with THAS hitting his peak at Churchill Downs in just about seven weeks. Gathering Momentum in the West PREMIER PEGASUS' blowout victory in Saturday's San Felipe S. (G2) gives owner/breeder/trainer Myung Kwon Cho another player on the national stage. 'PEGASUS is a half-brother to Cho's STREET HERO, who broke his maiden in the 2008 Norfolk S. (G1), before running 3rd to MIDSHIPMAN in that year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), in what turned out to be the final start of his career. PREMIER PEGASUS has now won 4-of-5 career starts, and his $228,000 in graded stakes earnings should be more than enough to get him into the starting gate on Derby day. Naysayers may point to the early fractions in the San Felipe (:21 3/5, :44 2/5, :1:08 4/5), and say that 'PEGASUS got a dream set-up. But...not so fast. This is a colt that had never been further back than 3rd at any point-of-call in any of his prior starts...and those were all at sprint distances. The San Felipe was his first two-turn race, and, under regular rider Alonso Quinonez, 'PEGASUS had no trouble whatsoever relaxing well off a blistering pace before inhaling his rivals on the far turn. For a horse that had already shown the ability to get an opening quarter in :21 and change, and an opening half-mile in :43 and change, this was an absolute breakout effort, and suggests that 'PEGASUS will handle any kind of pace scenario. How Far Will They Go? Based purely on the brilliance they’ve shown in their sprint races thus far, both Bob Baffert’s THE FACTOR and Rick Dutrow’s FLASHPOINT deserve a mention here. And, in both cases, the connections have come down with enough of a case of Derby Fever to contemplate two turn preps: THE FACTOR to the Rebel S. at Oaklawn Park, and FLASHPOINT to the Florida Derby…maybe (Dutrow has said that the 7 furlong Swale S. is also a possibility). They’re undeniably talented racehorses, but, in both instances, they’ve yet to demonstrate tactical dimensions to suggest they’ll go 1 ¼ miles in top company. On pedigree, FLASHPOINT certainly suggests that he might have distance limitations, whereas THE FACTOR is by the young Danzig stallion War Front, who also sired SOLDAT. Further On Up the Road Race fans are still buzzing over BIND's monstrous debut win at Fair Grounds on February 19. The Claiborne homebred son of Pulpit drilled his foes by 9 1/2 lengths in 1:08 4/5...over a racetrack where 1:08 4/5 actually means something. BIND's connections (Claiborne Farm, along with trainer Al Stall, Jr.) are renowned for their patience with young horses, and we probably won't see this colt again until they can find him an allowance spot in late March or early April. Still, the sky appears to be the limit. No chance of seeing him under the twin spires in the Kentucky Derby, but, if I had to pick one horse for the "Midsummer Derby" at Saratoga this year, this might be the one.


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