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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Who's In, Who's Out, and Pass Me The Tylenol

A question (among many) I have muddled over recently is how this year’s three-year-olds will be able to handle the expected large field on Kentucky Derby day, as up to 20 horses could be entered, carrying the hopes of owners (and trainers) who may or may not have had Derby entries before. Two points of interest to consider:

1. With an average field of just under 9 horses each in the major prep races since March 1, who has the experience and speed to maneuver through an extremely large field? Sure, there are lots of factors to consider, including, most significantly, the overall speed of each race already run, but the races with the greatest amount of traffic—the Santa Anita Derby (10 starters), John Battagia Memorial Stakes (11 starters), and the Lane’s End (12 starters)—may be the key races to consider as far as experience is concerned. This weekend’s races (the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby) look to have small fields too, so probably not much help in evaluating the “traffic factor.” Moreover, when the Derby actually does go off, there are past performances of other types to consider (breeding, track conditions, recent workouts, etc), in addition to the unique mixture of post position and speed factors. Still, with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (14 starters) as a jumping off point and factoring in everything that has happened since, it’s certainly a handicapping challenge to find the winner this year, and I’m not sure even after this weekend a clear favorite will emerge. However, in my mind and depending on how this weekend’s races play out, it makes Street Sense, Circular Quay, Great Hunter and Scat Daddy look strongest. FYI, here is a breakdown of the number of starters thus far:

• Wood Memorial = 6 starters
• Illinois Derby = 9 starters
• Santa Anita Derby = 10 starters
• Florida Derby = 9 starters
• Aventura Stakes = 9 starters
• Lane’s End = 12 starters
• Tampa Bay Derby = 7 starters
• Rebel Stakes = 9 starters
• San Felipe Stakes = 5 starters
• Louisiana Derby = 8 starters
• Gotham Stakes = 9 starters
• John Battagia Memorial Stakes = 11 starters
• Robert B. Lewis Stakes = 9 starters
• Fountain of Youth Stakes = 9 starters
• Hutcheson Stakes = 9 starters

2. With the recent defection of Derby contenders, either via injury or just holding out for a summer campaign, who is to say that the Derby field will be large? The smallest Derby field (under 15 horses) in recent years was Silver Charm’s 1997 Derby; Spectacular Bid’s 1979 Derby drew only a 10 horse field, while Bold Forbes’ 1976 Derby was the last under 10 (9 starters). Do all the horses that enter the race deserve to be there? No, but I guarantee that won’t keep them out of the race this year. Look no further than Merv Griffin (bless his heart) whose Cobalt Blue will probably be at Churchill Downs on May 5, regardless of his lame(ass)showing in the Illinois Derby. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a small field of real warriors battling it out, instead of a whole herd of wanna-be contenders mucking up the competitive nature of the race?

On another note, missing the Wood Memorial may not demonstrate an illness or injury for Circular Quay. On Sunday, he worked five furlongs in :59.20 on a fast track at Keeneland, while Rushaway winner Dominican posted a :59.80 in advance of his entrance in the Blue Grass Stakes. Of course, Ketchikan had an excellent workout too…just before he came up lame and off the Derby trail. Ravel and Imawildandcrazyguy are already gone, as are King of the Roxy, Bwana Bull and Adore the Gold. Jack Junior (second in the UAE Derby) will not come over for the Derby, but may enter the Preakness [story]

Sightseeing ($178,969) is apparently also gearing towards the Preakness. (When did the Preakness become more significant than the Kentucky Derby?) Reporting for Duty is headed to the Lone Star Derby on May 12, while Bold Start “probably wouldn’t go” to the Derby either. Birdbirdistheword ($637,000) is apparently returning to turf racing, and "not a Kentucky Derby candidate." Same thing with Sedgefield. Hard Spun is out of the Blue Grass, and, depending on how he takes to the Churchill Downs track in workouts, he may run in the Lexington, skip the Derby, and run in the Preakness.

So, what does the Derby field look like thus far? Pending injury, poor performances or second thoughts, here are the likely starters by graded earnings thus far:

1. Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense ($1,332,000) Blue Grass Stakes
2. Florida Derby winner Scat Daddy ($1,308,500)
3. Louisiana Derby winner Circular Quay ($1,116,134) skipped the Wood
4. Wood Memorial winner Nobiz Like Shobiz ($778,500)
5. Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Great Hunter ($730,000) Blue Grass Stakes
6. Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago ($450,000)
7. Illinois Derby winner Cowtown Cat ($437,253)
8. Land’s End winner Hard Spun ($360,000) skipped the Blue Grass
9. Rebel Stakes winner Curlin ($180,000) Arkansas Derby

Questionable and/or Uncertain status:
10. Stormello ($642,900)
11. Notional ($472,000)
12. Any Given Saturday ($177,969)
13. Liquidity ($161,200)
14. Cobalt Blue ($150,000)
15. Chelokee ($100,000)
16. Summer Doldrums ($58,834)

May improve with big race this coming weekend:
17. Officer Rocket ($153,260) Arkansas Derby
18. Zanjero ($130,000) Blue Grass Stakes
19. Teuflesburg ($85,442) Blue Grass Stakes
20. Dominican ($33,484) Blue Grass Stakes
21. Delightful Kiss ($30,000) Arkansas Derby
22. For You Reppo ($25,000) Arkansas Derby
23. Deadly Dealer ($0) Arkansas Derby

What an exciting month ahead of us!!