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Saturday, April 7, 2007

Saturday's Derby Preps

Wood Memorial:
Nobiz Like Shobiz is the 7-5 morning line favorite, and perhaps rightly so, as in four of his five lifetime races he earned at least a 100 Beyer. He also posted three :59 workouts breezing at 5 furlongs since the Fountain of Youth, and breaking from the rail is a big bonus. The Barclay Tagg colt will also being wearing blinkers for the first time, which may help focus his attention, as he has been known to “stray” a bit, although he has never finished more than ¾ length behind the winner. Very impressive, and definitely one must include him in any trifecta plays.

I hope to be proven wrong, but…I believe his duel with Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby took a lot out of Any Given Saturday. His pre-Tampa Bay 5-furlong workout on March 3 was :59, but since the race, his breezing workouts have been progressively weaker, with 1:01 on March 10, and 1:02 on March 31. I don’t know how much we can or should read into these numbers, but I am increasingly getting the gut feeling that, even with all of his options, a Derby win will elude Todd Pletcher once again. That said, I do believe Any Given Saturday will be in the mix here…just not the winner.

Shug McGaughey’s Sightseeing had a sharp workout on April 2 (:47 H 4 furlongs), but his best previous effort at Aqueduct was a distant second to disappointing Day Pass last year in the G3 Nashua. He was well-beaten (by 11 lengths) by Nobiz Like Shobiz in the G2 Remsen, and lost to Chelokee and For You Reppo in a 46K alw1x on March 3 at Gulfstream. Flashstorm couldn’t even show recently in an 75K optional claiming race, and had to drop down to a 50K optional claiming race to win over lesser competition, with master Edgar Prado up. He finally broke his maiden on his eighth try, and in the mean time has lost to big-time contenders, including Circular Quay and Street Sense. He’s no threat here. Same thing is true about Reptilian Smarts who has won his last two races, on Aqueduct’s inner track, but hasn’t face any quality competition.

So, who does that leave? My pick for the Wood is Summer Doldrums. His first race, back in June at Belmont, saw him lose badly to Scat Daddy, and his Remsen performance was very disappointing, though being carried four wide through the entire trip is a reasonable excuse. With only six horses in the field, Michael Luzzi should be able to rate him just behind the leaders, and move him to the lead as they enter the stretch. He bounced in the Gotham after his impressive Whirlaway win, and should win here.

Illinois Derby:
Cowtown Cat looks to do better here than in the Wood. He’s coming off a strong win in the Gotham, and an impressive :59 h workout for 5 furlongs. However, rather than having Ramon Dominquez or John Velasquez up, Fernando Jara gets the call. Bold Start did well last time out, finishing second behind King of the Roxy in the Hutcheson, and apparently trainer Ken McPeek is good at transitioning horses from sprints to routes (26%) so he may be a factor here. However, the horse everyone is talking about is Merv Griffin’s Cobalt Blue, trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Victor Espinoza. He’s beautiful to look at, and certainly was the best of the rather mediocre field in the San Felipe. But am I willing to commit to him today?

Reporting for Duty, Quite Acceptable and Catman Running all broke their maidens here at Hawthorne…home track advantage? Of the three, Catman Running looks most interesting. He’s won three in a row since losing his first race back in October at Keeneland…to Teuflesburg and Ravel, among others. His workouts look good too. Will he win? Doubtful. However, he may be up there in the top three.

I think Pletcher made the right move here. Cowtown Cat will win, with Cobalt Blue and Catman Running in the tri.

Santa Anita Derby:
No one here looks dominant. Todd Pletcher’s King of the Roxy and Sam P., and Doug O’Neill’s Liquidity should be the top three picks here, although King of the Roxy and Liquidity are the only two horses in this field to have posted at least a 100 Beyer. The only other colt to have won a graded stakes is Bwana Bull, with Russell Baze up, who has won three races in a row and 4 of his last 6, including the California and El Camino Real derbies. At 8-1 in the morning line, he looks to be the best long shot pick.

Also interesting are Level Red, a son of the up-and-coming sire Aptitude (sire of Great Hunter and Steppenwolfer) and Tiago, half-brother of Giacomo and son of Pleasant Tap. Level Red (with Aaron Gryder up) is bred for distance, and has successfully raced at 1-1/16 mile since last December against prime competition, including Ravel and Cobalt Blue who easily defeated him in the San Felipe. Since that loss on March 17, Level Red has had two very strong workouts (1:00 H for 5 furlongs, then :48 H from the gate at 4 furlongs), and he’s wearing blinkers for the first time coming out of the seven hole, just inside King of the Roxy. King of the Roxy registered at 101 Beyer in the Hutcheson (at 7-1/2 furlongs) on March 3, but has never raced at Santa Anita and has only one distance race—the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile—where he finished 8th. I’m actually not very keen on him here.

Outside of King of the Roxy, in the nine hole, is Tiago, who is running with blinkers off. His Robert Lewis run was very disappointing, but he posted a bullet 1:12 h for 6 furlongs on April 2, the same workout time posted recently by Court the King, Black Seventeen, Boutrous and Liquidity. Nothing I can put my finger on, but I have a hunch that Tiago will be in the money here.

Sam P. looks more likely than King of the Roxy, with his second place finish behind Great Hunter in the 1-1/16 mile Robert Lewis at Santa Anita, and his three impressive workouts at Hollywood Park since then. Liquidity traveled to the Fair Grounds last time out, and finished poorly in the Louisiana Derby, but his workouts since returning home have been impressive, including a :58 h for 5 furlongs on March 24. Still, he hasn’t won a race in five tries since breaking his maiden. What’s that about?

Honestly, I don’t know if I can pick the winner here, but I believe the trifecta will include Sam P., Level Red and Bwana Bull, and Tiago as a possible spoiler. So there! :)