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Friday, February 5, 2010

Derby Contenders (or Pretenders): It's Too Soon to Know For Sure

I’m very pleased to be included once again in the Paulick Derby Index poll, although predicting the Kentucky Derby contenders this far out is nothing but a crap shoot. Notice G3 Holy Bull winner Winslow Homer has already departed due to injury, which perhaps shouldn’t be such a surprise considering he is a son of Unbridled’s Song (I hardly need mention Dunkirk, Old Fashioned, Midshipman, Rockport Harbor, Eight Belles, Unbridled Elaine...).

At the beginning of the week (Feb. 1), here’s how my selections looked:

1. Maximus Ruler
2. Drosselmeyer
3. Buddy's Saint
4. Eskendereya
5. Winslow Homer (off the trail)
6. Lookin at Lucky
7. Hollinger
8. Bank the Eight
9. Odysseus
10. Rule

While nearly all my choices are popping up on other’s lists, I do want to mention my reasons for including two less obvious selections—Bank the Eight and Odysseus.

First, regular readers know I’m a pedigree freak, so a huge consideration for me in picking Derby horses is can they get the distance. It doesn’t necessarily matter how well they have run thus far, especially if we are talking about sprint distance races. What I want are horses whose breeding suggests the longer they go, the better they will be.

For that reason, Bank the Eight is a tantalizing prospect. By Distorted Humor out of an A.P. Indy mare, Bank the Eight has some impressive connections—his dam Zori is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner and 1997 Eclipse champion 3-year-old filly Ajina, as well as Kobla, dam of Quality Road who runs in Saturday’s G1 Donn Handicap.

In his career debut last October at Belmont, he finished second to Rule (who subsequently won the G3 Delta Jackpot) in a one-mile maiden special weight event. Next out, despite stumbling out of the gate and falling on his nose, Bank the Eight maneuvered through heavy traffic and broke his maiden going one mile at Aqueduct. His first race this year, an 8f Gulfstream allowance race in which he placed sixth of 10, was won by the promising Eskendereya; others in that race included Thank U Philippe (recently finished fourth in G3 Holy Bull) and Prince Will I Am who next out finished a strong closing second to Drosselmeyer in a 9f allowance race. Bank the Eight is entered on Saturday in an 8f allowance race at Gulfstream (race 8), with blinkers added, and at 6-1 on the morning line, looks an enticing bet (and include with Tuvia’s Force in the exacta).

The classicist in me loves Odysseus purely for his name, but the horse racing enthusiast loves his style. A chestnut son of Malibu Moon out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Persimmon Hill, he’s actually is a half-brother to Vanetta Hill, dam of the last year’s promising Canadian runner Keino West. His second dam Rose O’Riley is a full-sister to G1 Suburban Handicap winner Upper Nile and 1981 G1 Kentucky Oaks runner-up De La Rose whose turf performances that year (including defeating males in the G1 Hollywood Derby) netted her the Eclipse for outstanding female turf horse.

In his maiden effort, at Aqueduct on Halloween, Odysseus survived some serious bumping to finish a strong second to Moojab in a 6f maiden special weight. He reappeared at Gulfstream on January 14, breaking his maiden going 7f; many of those he defeated in that race reappear at Gulfstream on Sat. (race 6) so we’ll see how his form holds up.

Two major preps races on Saturday, including the 8.5f Whirlaway at Aqueduct (barring cancellation due to the “snow apocalypse”). Eightyfiveinafifty is undoubtedly fast, but I’m suspect of his being able to get the distance, so, at 15-1, I’ll take a long hard look at G2 Remsen runner-up Peppi Knows to rebound in a big way here. With an off-track possible, Afleet Again could also be a factor. The G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita marks the 3-year-old debut of undefeated Tiz Chrome, and, if he performs well, he could well go onto my list next week. He broke his maiden first-out at Churchill last November so dirt racing may not be a question mark for him. The other Tiznow, American Lion is also one to watch (although Tiznows have broken my Derby dreams way too many times—first Liquidity, then Colonel John and his brother Mr. Hot Stuff).

Other races to watch this weekend for 3-year-old males:

Fair Grounds (Sat.): MSW (race 10) 8.5f
Gulfstream (Sat.): MSW (race 6) 7 furlongs; Allowance (race 8) 8f
Gulfstream (Sun.): Hallandale Beach Stakes (race 8) 8.5f Turf
Tampa Bay (Sat.): MSW (race 11) 8f Turf
Tampa Bay (Sun.): Allowance (race 7) 8f Turf


Calvin Carter said...

Nice list Valerie. I like Bank the Eight and Odysseus as well as several of the others too. Any thoughts on Laus Deo?

Valerie Grash said...

Thanks, Calvin! I really like Laus Deo, but unfortunately he's off the trail too, after throat surgery:

Calvin Carter said...


Thanks for the update. I did not know that Laus Deo was off the trail. That's a shame.

Tony Bada Bing said...

Your list is as good as any other at this point and time. Conjecture is a necessary part of Thoroughbred horse racing, especially when heading to the windows or trying to pin down a Derby horse three months out. Talking or blogging about it all - picks or contenders - is part of why I love this sport.

Gene Kershner said...

Nice call on Peppi! Hope you bet it (and the exacta - Afleet Again!!!)

Becky said...

So, exactly how do we analyze the Triple Crown prospects of a horse that bolts from the track in his first try around two turns, crashing through one barrier and leaping the next? Do we relegate him to the steeplechasing ranks?

UpInClass Horse Racing Forum said...

Happy to see you still like MAX!