Ah, Derby prep season is officially in full-swing this weekend with the G2 Fountain of Youth and the G3 Sham, as well as with lesser stakes like the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway and Borderland Derby at Sunland. In my youth, it was the Flamingo Stakes at glorious Hialeah that was my favorite Derby prep, and while that race has long faded in existence, I still find myself turning to Florida as the real tests for Derby contenders. Call it “East coast bias” but when the West coast went to artificial surfaces, I do believe it established another barrier level since, as this past Breeders’ Cup so eloquently demonstrated, real dirt and fake dirt are not interchangeable surfaces. This is not to say one is better than the other, simply that it takes a special horse to win consistently on both (or all, since Polytrack, Tapeta and Pro-Ride vary one from another as well).
In the Fountain of Youth, I would love to see Break Water Edison get his act together—maybe new jock Eibar Coa can figure him out, and blinkers on may keep him focused. Capt. Candyman Can will also be a personal favorite, and he has already proven to be tough, having never lost by more than 2 lengths and won by far more. Julien Leparoux has been magical at Gulfstream this winter and never wavered from this horse particularly, so I would love to see him win. However, my chief hopes rest upon Taqarub for Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Alan Garcia—I think he could be a very special horse.
Truly no offense to his admirers, but I had to laugh when I read the headline over at the Bloodhorse, “Can Anyone Stop The Pamplmousse?” Seriously? A horse that came out of his maiden victory to defeat an injured Square Eddie and three others in the very light G3 San Rafael is now unstoppable? That may very well be, and god knows I would love to see future Hall of Famer Alex Solis finally punch his ticket with a Kentucky Derby winner. Still, I see Graham Motion-trained Smart Bid as a real threat here with Rafael Bejarano up, and Todd Pletcher’s Take the Points ships in from Florida looking for a softer race, with top jock Garrett Gomez aboard. Still, I’m all over Mr. Hot Stuff today. I do believe in his last race it finally “clicked on” for Colonel John’s little brother exactly what this horse racing game was all about, and he will follow in his full brother’s footsteps by winning the Sham.
In the Battaglia, the goofily-named Parade Clown looks a strong contender, having already won at the 8.5f distance. Still, my gut says Stratos will embrace the return to Polytrack for a big effort.
One of my favorite 2-year-olds from last year makes his 2009 debut in the Borderland Derby—Mine That Bird. A $10k Fasig-Tipton October yearling purchase who has already earned over $300k, this gritty son of Birdstone won three consecutive stakes races at Woodbine, including the G3 Grey at 8.5f before running a disappointing last in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. As a May foal (and a gelding to boot!) the Kentucky Derby looks to be a challenge, but if he takes to the natural dirt surface watch for him.