Prepping For A Peak Performance By Ken Rudulph

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It all officially began January 1st and it comes to a climactic conclusion on May 7th. It’s called Derby Fever and it’s sort of like “Boogie Fever” in that it’s going around, and around and around. But, after this head spinning Triple Crown prep season, it is time to focus and settle in on one horse to make your Derby Dreams a reality. With all of the major preps behind us now is the time to reassess what we saw while attempting to put it all into the proper perspective. Here is how I saw it. The big names were in trouble from the beginning with 2-year old champion Uncle Mo not even making his 3-year old debut until March 13th in the Timely Writer. Sure he cruised to victory but he got nothing out of it. His stable mate Stay Thirsty won the Grade 3 Gotham but looked vulnerable and green in victory. Some folks saw these as something to build on while others saw them as warning signs. The signs were pointing towards another Triple Crown prep season full of surprises like, Kathleen O’Connell and Watch Me Go’s thrilling upset of early Derby contender Brethren in the Tampa Bay Derby. Graham Motion’s two runners Animal Kingdom and Toby’s Corner were impressive in punching their Derby tickets, with the latter pulling off the upset of the season beating overwhelming favorite Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial. In California, Hall Of Famer and 3-time Derby winner Bob Baffert told us The Factor was most likely NOT a Derby horse, but it took a 7th place finish in the Arkansas Derby and a displaced soft palate for us to believe him. Meanwhile, in Florida another Hall Of Famer and 2-time Derby winner in Nick Zito put his Derby horse Dialed In behind older horses in an allowance race just to get dirt in his face. He lost the race, but learned the lesson and used that style to win the Florida Derby less than a month later and now he is the lukewarm favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Twice the Appeal in the Sunland Derby and Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass were shockers and horses that most will leave off of their top 5. Beware of tossing Brilliant Speed as he is the son of Dynaformer, just like 2006 Derby champ Barbaro. Pedigree is always the name of the game when it comes to the Derby - pedigree and training. Even the long shots like Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009 were the sons of Holy Bull and Birdstone with true classic distance pedigrees, so with that said I turned to pedigree and training for this years Derby. Usually I shun the horses who have won their prep races, I prefer a horse that is working towards peaking on Derby day and hasn’t quite shown his best, but this year the team of Jinks Fires, Jon Court and Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch has everything that I look for in a Derby horse. He is the son of Arch, who also sired 2010 HOY finalist and B.C. Classic winner Blame. He has the tactical speed to place himself early and the running style to finish the 10 furlongs. These are well worn and experienced connections that will be overlooked since this is their first trip to the Derby. 15-1 should be the off odds and that is as low as I can go on my Derby horse. After that it’s a crap shoot as I round out my top five with Soldat, who should rebound from a poor Florida Derby and use that presser style, Mucho Macho Man a June foal who has excuses in his previous outings AND is technically still a 2 year old so he has plenty of room to improve, and I am betting he does it on May 7th. This Derby is so wide open that I’ve thrown in a Euro, yes Master of Hounds, should he enter, has a chance to take the Run for the Roses for connections who do not take this opportunity lightly. I will even forgive the champ Uncle Mo for his horrible month of April and include him in the exotics since he loves Churchill and has tactical speed. If he is over his ailments and if the price is right, he could come back better than expected. Yes, it is shaping up to be the kind of Derby I dream of, meaning it is wide open and anything can happen. I just hope it happens to me and the horse I ride in on.

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