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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Everyone makes lists. I’m constantly writing “To Do” lists which, admittedly, appear to grow longer rather than shrink these days. There’s a list for things to do for work (grade papers, write an exam, attend yet another mind-numbing committee meeting) and a list of things to do for home (run the vacuum, clean out the basement, refinish the living room floor). Lists to be checked off daily, weekly, or as part of an indeterminate long-range plan (as in completely renovate the entire house and own a Kentucky Derby winner).

C-SPAN recently surveyed a group of presidential historians and tabulated a ranking of U.S. presidents. Not surprisingly, George W. Bush finished near the bottom of the list, but, since the last ranking conducted in 2000, George Washington surged past FDR into second-place, and John F. Kennedy squeaked past Thomas Jefferson into sixth-place (what exactly dead men do to improve their position is beyond me).

Sometimes you run across a simple little book that conveys a powerful message. Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is such a volume, and if you haven’t read it yet, do so soon. In it, he creates a down-to-earth list of words to live by:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.


I’ve always enjoyed David Letterman’s Top Ten lists, although more often than not each contains only one or two true comedic gems. A classic list from May 1, 1996: Top Ten Things That Will Get You Kicked Out of the Kentucky Derby. While #8 (Running around the infield in nothing but a sash of roses) conjures up mildly amusing imagery, and #6 (Asking the Governor’s wife, “Wanna put me out to stud?”) is naughty, only Dave could come up with #5—Every ten seconds you wave your ticket and yell, “Bingo!”. Classic.

Following the lead of those far more renowned, I’ve composed my humble Top Ten list of Kentucky Derby contenders which is included as part of the Ray Paulick Derby Index, and rather than simply throw the list up (doubtlessly leaving one to wonder “what the hell was she thinking?”) I thought it prudent to offer a rationale for my selections.

While any number of factors can be examined, for me it comes down to a combination of performance and potential—how has a horse already proven itself, and what does its breeding and running style offer for future success at the “classic” distance. For those reasons, I particularly favor horses which have proven they can rate, as one-speed horses generally can’t sustain that pace over long distances (especially these days), and horses that have dealt with or at least experienced traffic issues, as come Derby day the large field will be a challenge. Fairly or not, I downgrade horses that have run only on artificial surfaces—until proven they can run on dirt, I’m not just that interested unless other factors strongly recommend them.

Friesan Fire tops my list, not only because Larry Jones is due good karma, but also for my aforementioned admiration for his breeding (and note, his “cousin” Romneya has won recently again, impressively taking the G2 Fillies Classic at Moonee Valley). I doubt we’ve seen the best of him yet. His stablemate Old Fashioned certainly enjoys the brilliant speed of his sire Unbridled’s Song, but looking deeper into his damline, there’s some real intensity. Certainly his dam Collect Call was G1-placed (Kentucky Oaks), but his third dam Laredo Lass (Bold Ruler) produced G1-winner Mitterand, dam of sire French Deputy and G1-placed Princess Mitterand.

Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Taqarub, who has yet to be headed in three starts, was last seen cruising to victory in Aqueduct’s Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, but he’ll run in this weekend’s G2 Fountain of Youth. His dam Honor Bestowed is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf victress Soaring Softly (Kris S), as well as multiple G1-placed Plenty of Grace (Roberto) whose daughter Bonnie Byerly gave us Breeders’ Cup “Dirt” Mile winner Diabolical, while another daughter Propriety produced the G1-placed filly Grace Anatomy (by Taqarub’s sire Aldebaran). Through his third dam Far Beyond and fourth dam Soaring, Taqarub is related to, among others, 1989 Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Wavering Girl, as well as Military, Mehmet, Devil’s Bag, Saint Ballado, Glorious Song, Rahy and Singspiel. Lots of turf pedigree as well as stamina.

Two fillies are next—Stardom Bound, a Breeders’ Cup champion whose come-from-behind style is thrilling to say the least (even though she has yet to race on dirt), and Rachel Alexandra, whose tour-de-force dirt victory in the Martha Washington proffered a tantalizing possibility that she could be much quicker than many colts, and certainly her sire Medaglia D’Oro demonstrated his stamina. I loved Evita Argentina's recently victory over the boys in California, but question not only the surface issue, but ability to get the distance.

Desert Party is preparing to invade from abroad for Darley, and his victory in the G2 UAE 2000 Guineas was impressive; his sire Street Cry, of course, produced Derby winner Street Sense. The recent allowance win by Dunkirk moved him onto my list—how long he stays depends on his next race. High-priced horses tend to disappoint, but, boy, everything about his breeding screams “Derby” for this horse—his dam Secret Status won the G1 KY Oaks and Mother Goose, and his third dam Miss Eva has tough South American blood, having produced Chilean champion 3-year-old filly Maria Candela and G1 Maskette victress Miss Brio.

Chocolate Candy is another horse yet to be proven on real dirt, but his pedigree is amazing similar to Dunkirk—both dams are by either Seattle Slew or his son A.P. Indy, and the second dams are both by the gutsy Alydar. I think he too has room to grow, as does Papa Clem, another one with champion broodmare lines—both his dam Miss Houdini and his second dam Magical Maiden were G1 winners.

Finally, I debated long and hard between Hello Broadway (whose half-brother Nobiz Like Shobiz broke my heart in 2007), Capt. Candyman Can and Mr. Hot Stuff (whose full-brother Colonel John disappointed me in the Derby last year). I settled on the last, who has yet to take on stakes company, but whose last race appeared to be a revelation to him. Eoin Harty deserves a Derby horse.

So, this is my list for the week of February 23:

1. Friesan Fire
2. Old Fashioned
3. Taqarub
4. Stardom Bound
5. Rachel Alexandra
6. Desert Party
7. Dunkirk
8. Chocolate Candy
9. Papa Clem
10. Mr. Hot Stuff


Anonymous said...

Great article as always Valerie. My top 12 which includes some reaching and un-warrented hunches.

1. Old fashioned
2. Friesan Fire
3. Dunkirk
4. Pioneer of the Nile
5. Mr Fantasy
6. Captain Candyman
7. Desert Party
8. Midshipman
9. Chocolate Candy
10.Flying Pegasus

Yes I have left off Stardom Bound. I want to see her against the boys in good competition. My long long shot picks are brave Victory and Charitable Man. Strong watch on Imperial Council and general Quarters.

Superfecta said...

I'm glad I'm not the only Papa Clem fan (and that we like Friesan Fire for the same reasons). I had the same thoughts about Evita Argentia as well - she looks like a top sprinter to me, I'm not convinced she wants to stretch out.

Anonymous said...

Good list Valerie. Can't argue with your logic on your top 10. If I was making a list, I think I'd have the top 2 reversed. I'd have Old Fashioned on top with Friesan Fire second. Maybe Larry Jones will run 1-2 with these guys. It wouldn't really matter to me which way they come in! Again, good job!

Anonymous said...

Desert Party is one I'm thinking about as a Derby winner. I can totally envision Dettori doing "the leap" Derby Day.

A solid, well thought out list. Cheers!

Wind Gatherer said...

This must absolutely stop. I cannot allow anyone else to throw Papa Clem out there and kill his odds on Derby day.

Cease and desist or I will be forced to take extreme measures like holding my breath and temper tantrums.