Ridiculous, I know, to speculate about Derby contenders this early in the year, but it’s exactly 5 degrees F, and I’m procrastinating (school work, as well as a still-unfinished home library remodel project). This list is fluid, so I anticipate regular updates. Also, I must say I’m disappointed Ready’s Image is off the Derby trail altogether; he underwent knee surgery last year after that crushing Champagne defeat and The Toddster says he won’t return until later in the year. So, in no particularly order:
Turf War (Dixie Union-Grass Skirt, by Mr. Prospector)
Trainer: Mark E. Casse
Jockey: Calvin Borel
Owner: Woodford Racing LLC
Race Notes: Earnings will be no problem as he earned $400K by dead-heating with Z Humor in the G3 Delta Jackpot at 8.5 furlongs last December. That was a visually-impressive race, as he closed with a rush and looked the winner. Previously, he won the 7-furlong Swynford Stakes at Woodbine. The question is: can he navigate around two turns on something more than a bullring track? Trainer is aiming him for the 8-furlong G3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on February 18 (remember Teuflesberg’s surprise upset over previously-unbeaten Hard Spun in the 2007 version?). He posted a bullet five furlong work (1:00.40) at Ocala Training Center on January 16, so he appears to be training forwardly. Already on nomination list for Louisiana Derby.
Pedigree Notes: Full-brother of Grasshopper, who very nearly held off Street Sense in last year’s G1 Travers at ten furlongs. His unraced dam successively produced (from 2001 to 2005) five winners, and is a half-sister to Itsoeasy, dam of solid stakes horse Easy Grades who finished second to Came Home in the 2002 Santa Anita Derby. He’s 4 x 2 to Mr. Prospector, 3 x 4 to Northern Dancer, and 5 x 4 to Native Dancer.
Tale of Ekati (Tale of the Cat-Silence Beauty, by Sunday Silence)
Trainer: Barclay Tagg
Jockey: Eibar Coa
Owner: Charles Fipke
Race Notes: Won at first asking at Belmont, then finished second behind Ready’s Image in six-furlong G2 Sanford in next outing. Next, in G2 Futurity beat Kodiak Kowboy who finished just ahead of him (third) in the BC Juvenile on that awful sloppy track. In training at Palm Meadows, with Tagg thinking of Derby preps at Tampa Bay (à la Tampa Bay Derby like Street Sense?) or Fair Grounds. Worked four furlongs in 48.80 (3/26) on January 16.
Pedigree Notes: As I have discussed before, I’m impressed with his dam side pedigree, particularly his second dam Maplejinsky, a multiple-G1 winner in her own right, who produced filly Triple Crown winner Sky Beauty and the unraced Our Country Place, dam of BC Distaff winner Pleasant Home, Country Hideaway (dam of Boca Grande) and Matlacha Pass (dam of Pine Island). He’s also 3 x 4 to Mr. Prospector, and 4 x 4 to Northern Dancer.
Court Vision (Gulch-Weekend Storm, by Storm Bird)
Trainer: Bill Mott
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Owner: WinStar Farm LLC
Race Notes: Won on polytrack (Keeneland) and twice on dirt, including at Churchill where he defeated Halo Najib in the G3 Iroquois (at 8 furlongs). After rough trip, he caught Atoned to win the G2 Remsen (at 9 furlongs). Posted 37.40 (2/4) work at three furlongs at Payson Park Training Center on January 17. Nominated for Louisiana Derby.
Pedigree Notes: Impressively-productive dam that is a full-sister to Summer Squall and a half-sister to A.P. Indy. Court Vision is a full-brother to Kipling (sire of Kip Deville), Garcia Marquez ($800K MGSW who, racing in Hong Kong as Rainbow and Gold, won the G2 Queen Mother’s Cup and G3 Centenary Vase), and Tagano Indy who won nearly $800K racing in Japan.
Elysium Fields (El Prado-Dreams, by Silver Hawk)
Trainer: Barclay Tagg
Jockey: Eibar Coa
Owner: Robert Evans
Race Notes: At two, lost by a neck closing hard at six furlongs first-time out, then finished second to recent Gulfstream impressive winner (and Team Valor International purchase) Visionaire at one mile, both at Laurel. Stretched out to 8.5 furlongs in third outing at Calder and again closed strongly, just two lengths behind wire-to-wire winner White Shoes and runner-up Sligovitz. At three, broke maiden at Gulfstream going 9 furlongs—by 8 lengths—when blinkers added, admittedly with a beautiful rail-skimming ride by new jock Eibar Coa.
Pedigree Notes: No issue of stamina here—breeding indicates the longer the race, the better he should run. Sadlers Wells and Sir Ivor on the sire side, Roberto and Buckpasser on the dam side—and 4 x 4 to Tom Fool. Dam is half-sister to Triple Buck, notably famous for holding up the start of 1989 Kentucky Derby due to losing a shoe.
Others Who Bear Watching:
Denis of Cork (Harlan’s Holiday-Unbridled Girl, by Unbridled)
Trained by David Carroll and ridden by Calvin Borel, he won a first-level allowance race (1 mile, 40 yards) on sloppy Fair Grounds track on January 19. It certainly says something when Borel’s only mount on the FG card that day was this unbeaten colt. The runner-up in that race also bears watching:
Unbridled Vicar (Vicar-Unaffordable, by Unbridled)
Nice breeding, including dam who is half-sister to multiple-G1 stakes placed Tis Forbid (Alabama, Spinster, Ashland, KY Oaks).
Serious Doubts About:
Big Truck—after two early wins, he’s failed in three straight stakes races (Sleepy Hollow, Remsen and Hutchenson), and hasn’t demonstrated that he can stretch out. Probably this year’s Nobiz Like Shobiz—all expectations, but never quite living up to the hype [on dirt, that is...not the turf version].
El Gato Malo—nothing in his pedigree suggests he can get the distance; we’ll see in the Sham on March 1. Plus, after Tiago, Stormello and others last year, I’m not big on California-raced horses for the Derby dirt.
War Pass—undefeated at two, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and likely Eclipse winner. Still, I can’t believe he is the second coming of Street Sense (no offense to either one of them intended). I think he’s precocious, but probably a more natural sprinter over the long-haul.
Etched—out of a millionaire Breeders’ Cup Distaff winning mare, whose half-sister was the MGSW millionaire Glitter Woman (dam of G1 winner and new sire Political Force), Etched is blue-blood. A clear winner over Anak Nakal in the G3 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct, Etched shipped to Dubai where he is currently training for the G2 UAE Derby. The big question is: will he ever see U.S. shores again? Anyone remember Day Pass? Nice knowing you.
[UPDATE: Day Pass has, in fact, returned to the U.S. and to Kiaran McLaughlin. He posted a 48.80 4-furlong work at Palm Meadows on January 12. McLaughlin is quoted as saying, "We’ll look for an allowance race. I just don’t have a date in my head yet for when that will be". Good news, indeed!]