While it is sometimes overshadowed by its Triple Crown Mates (The Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes), this Mile and 3/16th journey provides a grueling test of its own: Recover from the longest race of a colt’s life and have him ready two weeks later to run nearly as far.
While it seems a challenge to ship east and be ready in that short period of time, many times horses exiting the Kentucky Derby fare better than new shooters. Whether it’s the preparation by connections, the distance of the race or simply the quality of horses coming from Kentucky, a play against derby contenders is typically not profitable. Bernardini and Rachel Alexandra stand as the ultimate exceptions over the past few years, both being Horse of the Year caliber animals in crops lacking real superstars in the Derby. On that note, we’ll examine the contenders coming from Churchill for round two on the Triple Crown Trail:
I’ll Have Another (1st) – The winner of the Derby has a distinct scent of Charismatic on him. By that I mean he is not even being mentioned in the same breath as Bodemeister, and will almost certainly not be the favorite come post time Saturday. While he looks like a solid second choice prospect, those seeking a fair price will find it here considering the impressive way he’s trained since the Derby.
Bodemeister (2nd) – The easy-to-find favorite will have slightly less ground to cover in Baltimore, leading cash his way by virtue of his outstanding run in Kentucky. The most naturally talented runner based on his races thus far, his drawback is his running style. Speed horses simply need to be more tractable than he is to win Triple Crown Races. Three year olds beware, for once he figures out how to ration that brilliant speed he will be awfully tough to beat.
Went the Day Well (4th) – Graham Motion’s lightly raced colt needs to carve out a better trip than the Derby, but inevitably he will have an easier time of it without 19 horses to beat. Given the fractions Bodemeister set, the field should have been swallowing him up late… but even with the table set only I’ll Have Another came to dinner. Who’s to say this horse will get a much better set-up in Baltimore?
Creative Cause (5th) – I hate to bring personal reasons into liking or not liking a horse, but I just can’t get in this horse’s corner. He is bred to run long, bred to be a TC contender, yet with a favorable scenario in the Derby the best he could muster was a distant fifth. I’m sure Mike Harrington is a swell guy, but his game for the most part in California is two-year olds. Creative Cause was a very good two-year old, and due to that maturity and foundation was able to make noise this spring in west coast preps. However, and I mean no harm by this, but I’ll believe it when I see it with a Classic Winner from this barn. The frequent flier miles he’s racked up lately don’t help either.
Daddy Nose Best (10th) – Oh, Daddy Nose Best. I bit hard on the morning hype surrounding this horse in Louisville, and paid the price watching all of my tickets head in the garbage. Apparently it just wasn’t his day and Steve Asmussen believes he can rebound here. He doesn’t have the percentage that he has entering horses in the wrong spots. I’m not losing the faith completely in this horse, as it looks like he truly wants the distance and then some. He just needs to get a lot faster than he was two weeks ago. No sweat. Demand at least double digits before placing a dime in this corner.
Optimizer (11th) – D. Wayne Lukas lost the manual he used to have for training Grade 1 winners. All of his best performances to date have come on the grass or against horses that have no place on the Triple Crown Trail. Can’t fault the connections for ducking anyone, but they possibly could be breaking a talented turf horse’s heart. Note to Optimizer: When you get saddled Saturday, make a break for it and run as many laps as you can on that turf course until they change their minds.
While post position probably won’t matter as much in this relatively short field of three-year olds as in the Derby, keep in mind that the rail has only been victorious twice since 1960 – Bally Ache and Tabasco Cat. Tune in later this week on the radio or live at Canterbury to find out who I’ll be betting in the second leg of the Triple Crown. Best of luck to you all and we hope to see you out here for opening weekend!
This blog was written by Canterbury Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann. Angela Hermann is entering her second year as Canterbury’s Paddock Analyst after previously serving in a similar role at Lincoln Racecourse and Columbus Ag Park. She blogs about both local and National racing.