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Going into this weekend I was really excited for two of the KYDerby Prep races and indifferent about the third. Let’s take a quick look at what happened, what we learned and what we still don’t know.
Entering the race, I thought this was the weakest of the three on paper as it turns out this may have been one of the better performances on the weekend. IRISH WAR CRY came into the race after finishing a distant 7th in the Fountain of Youth and was still sitting at 7/2 when the gates opened. He rated just off the pace and started to make a nice move as the entered the top of the turn. BATTALION RUNNER led most of the race but was not able to keep up with IRISH WAR CRY coming home. In the end IRISH WAR CRY took home the win by a few lengths pulling away. The race itself didn’t look like anything special at first glance, the pace was moderate and IWC was near the front and made a good move to win. BATTALION RUNNER held on to a distant second and was not challenged by anyone else in the field. CLOUD COMPUTING finished third with out consequence to the top two.
IRISH WAR CRY is better than we thought, now that doesn’t mean he is great, but he is better than he showed in the Fountain of Youth. If we toss the Fountain of Youth, this looks like a real contender with the ability to sit just off the pace and make a strong move around the turn. Everything I look for in a Kentucky Derby contender.
Rajiv Maragh is back! Two years ago he took one of the uglier spills we have seen and suffered what could have been career ending injuries, and here he is sitting on a nice winner likely headed toward Kentucky on the first Saturday in May!
Mo Town is done. After impressive runs at Belmont and Aqueduct this fall, he has come back in 2017 and hasn’t been close to the form we thought we would see. This was a horse high on my list during the winter, but never came to fruition when it counted.
How good is this field? Battalion Runner who finished second hadn’t even run in a stakes race, let alone performed well in one. Cloud Computing who finished third was impressive in the Gotham finishing second behind a huge run from J Boys Echo. But if J Boys Echo is the same horse we say this weekend in the Blue Grass then how good was that 2nd place finish by Cloud Computing.
This was the race I was looking forward to the most, it looked like the most competitive field of all of the 100 point prep races, but I am still not sure what I saw. You don’t often see a horse break its maiden in a high quality stakes race, but IRAP did just that. IRAP sat just off the leader and rated well throughout the first half of the race into a modest pace. Took the lead as the entered the top of the turn and never gave it up. The most impressive move of the day has to go to PRACTICAL JOKE who made a strong move about a furlong from entering the top of the turn, passed three or four horses and was side by side with the winner coming down the stretch. MCCRAKEN looked to be coming on strong as they came out of the turn but looked to hit a wall half way down the stretch and just stopped gaining on the top two and in fact starting to lost ground near the end of the race. The same can be said for J BOYS ECHO and TAPWRIT who finished out the top 5 as they came home no one seemed to be able to gain ground on the leaders.
I have no idea. Seriously, I don’t know what we learned in this race other than anything can happen in this wonderful sport of horse racing.
How good is Irap? This is a horse that couldn’t find the winners circle in two stakes races at Sunland. He ran a strong 2nd in his debut back in December finishing second to Mastery who had dominated the Derby preps before getting hurt. He came back and didn’t run well in a MSW, and then had two second place finishers in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Mine That Bird Derby back in February. Then was fourth in what looks to be a weak fielded Sunland Derby without much excuse. I will be keeping a close eye on Julien Leparoux, who is going to have to make a decision come derby time. His win on Irap creates an interesting scenario where he may have a couple of options with 2 year old champion Classic Empire and Irap’s normal rider Mario Gutierrez was busy in Santa Anita and could have some decisions come Derby time as well.
How good is Practical Joke? This is the horse that looked the best of this bunch, he may have finished 2nd, but he was the only horse in this field to make a move. And this is a horse that could be much better than his record has shown. After winning his first three races including two G1’s as a two-year old. He finished an impressive 3rd with a troubled trip and some nice moves through traffic (something I love in a Derby horse) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He came back and ran a big 2nd weaving through traffic and pulling away from the majority of the field in the Fountain of Youth. The FOY was a race where the winner Gunnevera ran huge and finally saw the pace scenario he needed to show off his late speed.
What about McCraken, J Boys Echo and Tapwrit? It was strange that all three of these horses moved to the outside and seemed to stop in their tracks. I have read reports that the track was remarkably deep in the stretch outside the first few lanes. That being said, just a few races earlier, Awesome Slew rallied from well back into a semi-fast pace down the stretch in what looked to be similar lanes as the three horses in question in the Blue Grass. A similar run was made in the Madison G1 by both Constellation and Paulasilverlining. I am convinced it wasn’t the track bias or anything of that sort. So now we are left wondering about each of them as individuals. McCraken is the least of the worries, he pulled out of the Tampa Bay Derby with an ankle injury and could have simply needed this race to get back in form. This is a horse who had won four in a row including an impressive win in the Sam F Davis over Tapwrit in early February. J Boys Echo came back with what looked like an impressive win in the Gotham, but now that field is clearly in question. Tapwrit who I thought looked great coming out of the Tampa Bay Derby and who has beat State of Honor twice this year who came back and ran well in the Florida Derby, doesn’t seem to have an excuse here, and may have just simply took a step backwards.
Three early leaders, ROYAL MO, BATTLE OF MIDWAY and AMERICAN ANTHEM pressed an impressive 22.6/46.5 early pace setting up the race for someone off the pace to come on strong. GORMELY sat on the rail leading the second group of horses well off the pace setters. As they came around the turn AMERICAN ANTHEM dropped back and left the other two trying to hang on. ROYAL MO swung well outside around the turn and forced a number of horses very wide trying to come home. GORMELY was the least wide of them all in the 5 or 6th path and grabbed the lead at the last second with a wall of horses just behind him. Impressively BATTLE OF MIDWAY who hugged the rail throughout was able to hold on to second and ROYAL MO after throwing his moving screen was able to just hang on to third.
Gormley is better than his performance in the San Felipe where he was the victim of his own pace setting. He went out early and just couldn’t hold on or compete with Mastery who again I believe would be the Derby favorite if he had stayed healthy. Now again, that doesn’t mean that he is great, but he may be the best representative of the California circuit.
AMERICAN ANTHEM and ILIAD aren’t as good as we thought and likely won’t be headed toward Kentucky.
We all know that the Santa Anita track is quick and the races on Saturday showed it again. It wasn’t just the Derby that was fast and was won on the front, nearly all of the dirt races Saturday at Santa Anita provided quick quarter and half fractions with the leaders hanging on for the win. While BATTLE OF MIDWAY and ROYAL MO both likely punched a ticket to Kentucky, they won’t get the same favorable track that they ran on here. Remember what happened to Royal Mo when he shipped to Oaklawn, he finished 9th and was never a real threat to anyone.
There aren’t a great deal of questions left over after this one coming out of California. The rest of the questions at this point are all pointed toward Oaklawn next weekend for the Arkansas Derby or questions we just won’t know. Will Classic Empire return to form? Just how good is Thunder Snow from UAE Derby?