Our third and final installment takes a look at the remainder of the field. The Tuesday morning scratch of Square Eddie and the decision not to run Take The Points left the door open for Join In The Dance and Atomic Rain, and both should have a big impact on the race. –Brian
Win Willy (Monarchos-City Fair, by Carson City): Shocking upset winner of the Rebel (over the then undefeated Old Fashioned) came back to earth a bit in the Arkansas Derby, where he finished fourth after failing to really kick in through the stretch. As a 2-year-old, Win Willy broke his maiden at first asking at Canterbury (uh huh) going 5 ½ furlongs and was off the board in a Remington Park (uh huh) turf race.
The Good: He’ll be running late and passing horses, which is never a bad thing when 20 3-year-olds are going a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. It’s fair to argue that he bounced a bit in the Arkansas Derby, which leaves you looking back to his Rebel win, which showed that he’s fast enough to compete here, should he be able to return to that run.
The Bad: OK, so he bounced last time, but he got a dream scenario and still wasn’t making a big impression late. The Derby pace got heated up a bit earlier yesterday morning but he still won’t see the: 46 he got for the half-mile split last time. If he couldn’t rally into that, how will he fare on Saturday?
Advice (Chapel Royal-Word O’Wisdom, by Hennessy): Last-to-first winner of the Lexington enters the Derby under the same pretense for Pletcher and WinStar, who have teamed up for success in this race in the past. As a 2-year-old, Advice aired in his first lifetime start over Arlington’s Polytrack, then finished third (after being DQ’d from second) in the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity prior to running up the track in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
The Good: He’s obviously in form and his Lexington score signaled a major breakthrough for a colt that had been a disappointment before that win. He has a running style that is effective in the Derby, and the late additions should ensure an honest pace.
The Bad: His lone dirt try was a bad fifth in the Sunland Derby and his Lexington win–just two weeks ago–is crying out for a bounce on Saturday. He’s also a son of Chapel Royal, who was a confirmed sprinter, and damsire Hennessy also is known for siring sprinter/miler types.
Dunkirk (Unbridled’s Song-Secret Status, by A.P. Indy): What a difference five weeks makes. Dunkirk was about 75-1 to make the field after running second in the Florida Derby on March 28 and now he finds himself in 14th on the earnings list. His reputation supercedes his actual accomplishments, but this colt is a real comer and deserves a long look. As a 2-year-old, Dunkirk was unraced.
The Good: He really does have it all; connections, running style, pedigree and a pair of 9-furlong races under his belt. Anyone who saw his Florida Derby knows he was every bit as good as Quality Road that day, and he probably wins if the track was playing fair. A closer inspection reveals there’s some tactical speed here, and he doesn’t have to come from the clouds as many are insinuating.
The Bad: No horse has won the Derby without racing at 2 since Apollo in 1882. That’s a lot of history siding against him. Curlin–the two-time Horse of the Year–couldn’t do it, so why should Dunkirk be able to? Dunkirk has also improved dramatically in each of his three starts, and while he might not have to improve off his Florida Derby to win on Saturday, regression seems as plausible as does another move forward.
Mine That Bird (Birdstone-Mining My Own): Slides into the field based on a Grade III win in the Grey over Woodbine’s Polytrack last October, so he’s the poster-child for changing the system. This year he took the road less traveled, running second in the Borderland Derby and fourth in the Sunland Derby, both ungraded events. As a 2-year-old, Mine That Bird won the aforementioned Grey and three other starts at Woodbine.
The Good: There’s not much to go on in this corner, though he does seem to have some tactical speed.
The Bad: The list is a long one. He’ll be looking for his first win over conventional dirt and will have to get it in his first stakes race over conventional dirt. Mine That Bird could improve 20 lengths off his lifetime best and still not crack the top four. Here’s hoping he gets home safely.
Flying Private (Fusaichi Pegasus-Beautiful Treasure, by Unbridled): Lane’s End runner-up was an even fifth in the Arkansas Derby behind Papa Clem, though he was only beaten 6 lengths after checking slightly entering the far turn. He seems to have turned the corner of late and enters as one of a bevy of live longshots. As a 2-year-old, Flying Private won once from four starts.
The Good: He enters under the radar and that’s when Lukas has often does his best work in this race. Brings an abundance of tactical speed and plenty of bottom, having run six times this year, including his last two at 9 furlongs.
The Bad: As live as he might be, the fact remains that he owns a single maiden tally at 6 furlongs to his credit and will have to jump up and run by far the race of his life to even be a factor. You can also argue that his lone big run, the Lane’s End, was over Polytrack.
Mr. Hot Stuff (Tiznow-Sweet Damsel, by Turkoman): Colonel John’s little brother doesn’t have as much natural speed as last year’s Travers winner, but he does pack a solid stretch punch. Could be sitting on a big effort after a no-chance third in the Santa Anita Derby. As a 2-year-old, Mr. Hot Stuff failed to hit the board in three starts.
The Good: Figures to love every inch of the 10 furlongs and his late run got a big boost by the late additions to the field. While he had little chance in a slow paced SA Derby, it was encouraging to see him rally from last at the top of the stretch to finish third, while beaten only 2 lengths for all the marbles. Can you say Giacomo?
The Bad: He’s another with just a maiden win on his resume, so picking up win number two in the Derby seems a bit ambitious. He’ll also make his dirt debut on Saturday and his big brother needed a run over it before getting down to business.
Summer Bird (Birdstone-Hong Kong Squall, by Summer Squall): Late-runner was third in the Arkansas Derby, which was his first start since breaking his maiden at Oaklawn. As a 2-year-old, Summer Bird was unraced.
The Good: Seems to have that run all day style, and that worked well when they went crazy early in Arkansas. As lightly raced as he is, with just three starts, he has improved dramatically with each one as his last at two turns have been impressive.
The Bad: Dunkirk will attempt to win the Derby after first running on January 24. This guy will attempt it after first running on March 1. Now that’s a story. It’s also highly improbable. While he does have a powerful closing kick, Summer Bird will have to weave his way through the majority of the field, and that leaves little, if any, margin for error.
Join In The Dance (Sky Mesa-Dance Darling, by Devil’s Bag): Late addition was a surprising second in the Tampa Bay Derby and then a decent fifth in the Blue Grass. The probable pace setter should help ensure a solid pace, which could flatter the closers. As a 2-year-old, Join In The Dance won once from five starts.
The Good: There’s a lot of sprint speed here, so if he’s allowed to somehow set up shop on the front end and slow things down, he could give his backers a brief thrill.
The Bad: Another with just one win to his credit, and his neck loss in the Tampa Bay Derby seems more the exception than the rule. And while he’s the speed of the speed, it’s highly unlikely, in a 20-horse field, that he’ll be allowed to lope along on an easy lead.
Atomic Rain (Smart Strike-Paradise Pond, by Cox’s Ridge): Last-minute entrant shows up with four 9-furlong races under his belt, including a decent fourth in the Wood last out. West Side Bernie’s stablemate has some speed and will probably serve as a rabbit for his more heralded pal. As a 2-year-old, Atomic Rain broke his maiden going 5 furlongs at Monmouth and then ran a good second to Old Fashioned in the Remsen.
The Good: His Wood represented his best lifetime performance and as mentioned above, he brings plenty of bottom to the table with all those furlongs he’s logged this spring.
The Bad: Don’t be mistaken: he’s entered to be sent early and set it up for West Side Bernie. Naming Joe Bravo to ride seals it. Yet another with just a maiden win to his credit.