The preps I focus on this week are somewhat similar to the two we saw last Saturday – Not a ton of names in the Wood are topping derby lists at this point (like the Louisiana Derby), whereas many #1 prospects are going to attempt to top each other in the Santa Anita Derby (like the Florida Derby.) However, we will at least have a little better idea of which coast is king at this point on the trail as a couple of West Coast transplants will take on the best the East has to offer at Aqueduct. They’ve moved to the outer track now and the form from the inner may or may not carry over – But the money surely should. There’s a lot of territory to cover here, so we’d better get a move on…
As we’ve reached Final Jeopardy in New York, the traditional prep (The Gotham) must be examined but not used to find a sure thing on top. Recently, the Gotham form has held up alright but only I Want Revenge won both and his effort in the Wood was pretty remarkable over an unremarkable field. Prior to that, there was quite the gap back to Talkin Man in 1995 to pull the double. Many times a tri or exacta is filled out by a board-hitter from the Gotham, so I’ll be using Samraat & Uncle Sigh underneath but not on top. Where do I look?
Well, with as much speed shown on paper as there is in this spot I have to try a horse that is capable of passing his rivals and is in the right barn. Both of those arrows point at Harpoon and he stands as the only entrant from Todd Pletcher’s Wood-Memorial-Happy stable. He’s won three of the last four with Floridian shippers, and this gray fits that mold to a degree with a much less impressive resume. He’s still 8-1 morning line and gets the stable’s old friend Johnny V in the saddle to try and amend a disappointing 5th in the Gotham. The front runners stayed 1-2-3 the entire time though, and with this colt’s proven affinity for the outer track he could improve at a decent number. He hasn’t taken a big step forward from two to three, but that sort of price maybe it’s worth the gamble that he takes it Saturday.
As stated, the first & second place finishers from the Gotham will be underneath on my ticket but of course I have to use Social Inclusion on top in addition to Harpoon. He very well could be a “Freak” but he’ll be put to the test in a big way from the outside hole with the new challenge of most likely having to pass horses in the course of his first race outside of Florida. This barn does NOT ship to Aqueduct so there’s no past to draw upon, but he’ll also have to face almost as many runners as he’s beaten thus far in two lifetime starts. Just seems like a lot to ask of a horse & connections that are surrounded by question marks and the price simply will not be there on a horse with something still to prove. Kristo from California is one that I’ve watched in all of his lifetime races and I’m just not impressed enough to dive in here. He was cranked in the morning to run a big one last time but was no competition for California Chrome. That’s not as distressing as being no match for Midnight Hawk, who really hasn’t given many indications that he’d make an impact in the big dance. He may be a need-the-lead sort and he won’t get it here, and his action isn’t all that attractive. I’d normally support this type but this round I’ll pass.
That leads us to the Santa Anita Derby and the colt that crushed the aforementioned runner in the San Felipe. I maintain that the margin wouldn’t even be close to that gaudy if Bayern was in the picture that day, but a foot bruise left California Chrome as a man among boys and he flew home. The money will be concentrated towards the three big swingers CC, Hoppertunity & Candy Boy….but only one of them needs the points to make the field on the first Saturday in May. It’s not that I don’t think California Chrome and Hoppertunity will give Candy Boy all he can handle, it’s just that the conditioners know where they stand and emptying the tank a month before the Derby is not necessary. If California Chrome comes back to earth and Hoppertunity runs the races he did in California prior to gutting out the Rebel, CB fits right in. The particular horses he’s met are a very mixed bag – Half of his career he’s lost to Baffert and all of those runners (Can the Man, New Year’s Day & Tap It Rich) are long gone from the Derby trail and Shared Belief is in the same boat. But, he defeated Chitu who put away a suspect field in the Sunland Derby. In his maiden breaker, it’s interesting to note the runner-up (Hold Everything) was a mile behind both Hoppertunity and Bayern in his first start. That January 4th affair has turned into a very live race, with another also ran taking on the Wood for Bill Mott. I know a lot’s changed since then but it could be a tell for things to come in a month…
For contest purposes, a price horse is a necessity but it could be hard to come by with those three standing so far above their competition. I’ve mentioned him before but RPrettyboyfloyd finally gets blinkers for Denise Breuer. He HUNG last time badly but he runs pretty much the same race every time and could get a jump on his competition from the inside with the new hood. Not counting on a maiden to upset the apple cart, but there’s some talent there and the head just needs to catch up.
Both cards are solid and opening weekend at Keeneland only increases the attractive options at the window – Bring a big bankroll and enjoy one of the most pivotal weekends in Triple Crown prep racing!
by Angela Hermann