Brian’s Derby preps: The Kentucky Derby! Part II

Part two of our installment was supposed to start with Quality Road, who would have vied for favoritism on Saturday. Sadly, he was declared from the Derby Monday morning as the result of a quarter crack. Let’s continue at our look and hope we see the classy son of Elusive Quality soon. –Brian

General Quarters (Sky Mesa-Ecology, by Unbridled’s Song): No doubt the feel good story of this year’s Derby, but don’t fool yourself; this guy can run. General Quarters was the upset winner of the Grade I Blue Grass over Keeneland’s Polytrack, but he also annexed the Grade III Sam F. Davis in fast time at Tampa Bay Downs earlier in the year. As a 2-year-old, General Quarters broke his maiden at CD in his career debut, thought it was in a 4 ½-furlong maiden claimer. That was his lone win in seven non-descript starts.

The Good: Versatility is never a bad thing, and this colt has gone out of his way to show he doesn’t need to take his track with him. Heck, he even broke his maiden here last May. General Quarters also seems to have no predetermined running style, which should allow him to find a spot where he’s comfortable, be it near the lead or in mid-pack. Regardless, he’ll be relatively close to the moderate pace.

The Bad: Sometimes you just need to close your eyes and ask yourself “Is X-horse good enough to actually win the Kentucky Derby?” Sure, this guy won the Blue Grass, but let’s be honest here, that’s a turf race now and this year’s form was highly questionable. Yes, he beat Musket Man in the Davis, but is that rival scaring anyone away on Saturday?

Friesan Fire (A.P. Indy-Bollinger, by Dehere): Off since romping in the muddy Louisiana Derby, where he completed a clean sweep of Fair Grounds’ 3-year-old stakes series. Trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter have teamed to finish second in the last two runnings of the Derby and will take the unconventional approach of running this colt off a seven week layoff. As a 2-year-old, Friesan Fire broke his maiden at first-asking at Jones’ Delaware Park base before running third in the Grade II Futurity at Belmont and fourth in the Grade III Nashua at Aqueduct.

The Good: Enters off three straight graded stakes scores and hails from a trainer who knows how to get a horse to run the race of his life on the big day. Hard Spun entered off a five-week break and a Polytrack prep to run second in 2007, and the ill-fated Eight Belles had never even run in a Grade I race against her own sex prior to her big run last year. He’s by A.P. Indy, who is one of the best distance sires in the world, and Friesan Fire owns the tactical speed to have him in an enviable spot turning for home. He also turned in a ridiculous 57.80 5-furlong move on Monday morning, which was eerily reminiscent of Hard Spun in 2007. Hard Spun ran second to Street Sense five days later.

The Bad: The seven-week break is uncharted territory and a major concern, not to mention this colt has never been beyond 1 1/16 miles. As good as Jones is, it’s asking a lot for this colt to peak on Saturday without a recent race under his belt. Another stickler is he’s done his best work, actually all his work, over the Fair Grounds strip. So, you’re allowed to wonder how he’ll take to CD. And lastly, his fastest win came in the sloppy Louisiana Derby, where no one else did any real running and several clearly didn’t handle the track.

Musket Man (Yonaguska-Fortuesque, by Fortunate Prospect): Surprised in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby and then proved that win was no fluke with a powerful score in the Grade II Illinois Derby, a race that gave us 2002 Derby winner War Emblem. Musket Man is the typical 3-year-old that has progressed with every start and could be sitting on a big effort Saturday. As a 2-year-old, Musket Man won both of his 6-furlong starts at Philadelphia Park.

The Good: Brings a lot of tactical speed to the party and that should have him in the second flight, tracking the leaders. That will keep him out of trouble and should also enable him to get the jump on the closers. It’s also worth noting that Eibar Coa chose to stay here rather than pilot General Quarters. Once thought a Tampa specialist, Musket Man showed in the Illinois Derby that he can ship and score.

The Bad: As visually impressive as Musket Man has looked, he’s never really run fast, meaning he’ll need to improve several lengths on Saturday. While it’s not out of the question, it’s usually prudent to side with someone who has shown he can run fast enough to win the Derby prior to lining up in the starting gate. He also brings one of the more questionable pedigrees to the race, as sire Yonaguska never won beyond 7 furlongs.

Hold Me Back (Giant’s Causeway-Restraint, by Unbridled’s Song): Burst onto the scene with a big win in the Grade II Lane’s End over the Turfway Polytrack in March and then followed that with a solid second to General Quarters in the Blue Grass. While Hall of Famer Bill Mott has been a non-factor in the Derby, this colt’s owner, WinStar Farm, ran second with Bluegrass Cat in 2006. As a 2-year-old, Hold Me Back won a pair of Polytrack races at Arlington and Keeneland before running fifth in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct.

The Good: Obviously his connections warrant a ton of respect, regardless of what Mott has done in the Derby. And the 10-furlong distance looks well within Hold Me Back’s scope. Should he handle the course, he will be picking off horses late and his powerful stretch run deserves respect. He enters with only two starts this year, so there is room for further improvement.

The Bad: His lone start on conventional dirt resulted in a dismal fifth-place finish to Old Fashioned in the Remsen last November, where he was beaten 14 lengths. Sure, he’s a better horse now, but you can’t overlook the fact that he’s done all his good work on Polytrack. And if you go back and watch the Blue Grass, it looked on the far turn that he was going to win by 5; instead, he spun his wheels and General Quarters ran away from him in deep stretch.

West Side Bernie (Bernstein-Time Honored, by Gilded Time): Classy 2-year-old righted the ship and ran a big second to I Want Revenge in the Wood last out. Prior to that, West Side Bernie was a bad sixth in the Lane’s End over a course he won on last year. As a 2-year-old, West Side Bernie won the Grade III Kentucky Cup Juvenile, ran a close sixth (beaten 3 lengths) in the BC Juvenile, and closed out his campaign with a fine second in the Grade III Delta Jackpot.

The Good: He seems to be coming into the race in top form and his run in the Wood was a breakthrough. If he can move forward off that race, his stretch run can make him a factor on Saturday. West Side Bernie also ran a huge third in the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream on January 31, where he was wide and closed from ninth over the most intense speed bias seen at Gulfstream in quite some time.

The Bad: Is he really as good as his Wood made him look? With a clean run, I Want Revenge is about a 10-length winner in that spot, and this colt wasn’t exactly overpowering the others in the lane. He also hasn’t won a race since last September and as good as he’s been on conventional dirt, he’s never won over it. Getting that first win in the Derby with a sketchy 10-furlong pedigree seems a mighty tall order.

Chocolate Candy (Candy Ride-Crownette, by Seattle Slew): Northern California runner showed he’s for real in the Santa Anita Derby, where he closed from last into a pedestrian pace to get second behind Pioneerof The Nile. Prior to that, Chocolate Candy won the Grade III El Camino Real Derby from his home base at Golden Gate. As a 2-year-old, Chocolate Candy won twice from six starts and closed out 2008 with a fine third to Pioneerof The Nile in the CashCall.

The Good: As mentioned, Chocolate Candy showed in the SA Derby he can run with the best of the west, and it’s reasonable to expect even further improvement as he makes his first start over conventional dirt in the Derby. How many thought he would get second after seeing the half-mile split of 48 3/5 pop up on the board? The SA Derby also was his first start in seven weeks, and judging by Monday’s 59 1/5 move over the CD strip, this long-legged son of Candy Ride is ready to run the race of his life.

The Bad: He’s never been over dirt, so while you can hope he improves, it’s just that–hope. And he’s never run fast in his life, so he’ll need to improve upwards of a dozen lengths to get unsaddled. Yes, these sophomores can improve leaps and bounds overnight, but with nine starts to his credit, it’s fair to say if we haven’t seen it yet, we aren’t going to.

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