A very warm welcome back to Brian Nadeau, who will once again guide Backstretch readers through the Derby trail, with insight and handicapping on all major Derby prep races.
In addition to his work at the Saratoga Special and Steeplechase Times, Brian is now handicapping NYRA races at Horseplayernow.com. He’ll be participating in “Countdown to the Crown” live chats every Friday at 2 pm, accessible from the main page of the site, chatting for an hour about anything and everything for three year olds.
Brian kicks off the 2010 Road to the Roses with a look at the Holy Bull and the LeComte:
Well, it’s that time of year again. Finally the Triple Crown Trail is upon us. The Kentucky Derby preps start this weekend in Florida and Louisiana and for the next three and a half months, they’ll be coming fast and furious. Let’s take a look at this weekend’s action.
Gulfstream Park: The Grade III, $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes at 1-mile
1. Thank U Philippe: If you’re a fan of Jackson Bend, who we’ll get to in a bit, then you probably like this guy too, as he was a fine second to that rival in the In Reality last October. And the neat thing was that that was a one-turn run, which he gets here. Since then he’s had a few seconds, including a nice local run to the promising Pletcher runner Eskendereya. Wolfson adds blinkers and you would think that big work on the 17th came with the hood on; not the worst price play in the world.
2. Homeboykris: The rose lost a little bloom when Buddy’s Saint laughed at him in the Remsen, but that was a two-turn race and if you key off his big GI score in the Champagne, then he’s a major player here. Don’t forget, that was a one-turn run too, so this might be a better trip for him than for some of his main rivals who could be prepping for some bigger goals down the road. He’s been training great guns over the local strip too; big shot to get back on the winning track.
3. Litigation Risk: Violette runner looked good breaking his maiden before venturing out of town to Delta for a fourth in the Jackpot at the end of his 2yo season. Training well at Palm Meadows for his 3yo bow and he’s the type of runner you have to decide on every winter at GP: is he a legitimate 3yo or just a pretender? Siding towards the latter at this point in time.
4. Piscitelli: Tries the main track for the first time since he broke his maiden last summer at Monmouth, but in the interim, he did keep some good company against the best of his generation. How that stacks up here against some solid dirt performers remains to be seen, but if he can translate that synthetic form to the main track, then he’ll be a handful.
5. William’s Kitten: Here’s a runner who did make a successful transition from the synthetics to the main track when he finished a fine second to Derby hotshot Super Saver in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club at CD to close out his freshman campaign. Closed from far back that day, but he got the right splits to aid his late rally, so you have to wonder how he’ll fare with a slower tempo up front. Considering that that was a two-turn race and this marks his seasonal debut, it’s worth trying to beat him for top honors.
6. Winslow Homer: Ran off and hid when last seen in the slop at Philly Park in November and you can bet Ramon didn’t fly south just to hit Hallandale Beach, so right away it’s wise to take notice. Progressed nicely with each start last year and if he shows up, a bigger stronger 3yo then there’s plenty to get excited about. Tony D. looks like he’s got a real runner on his hands and he gets the call for the win.
7. Wild Lime: He’s got that good race-bad race pattern working, but the problem is that even his best leaves him far behind the others. Probably needs softer to factor.
8. Aikenite: Decent third in the GI Hopeful last summer before running well in two synthetic GI’s. He closed from the clouds in the Hopeful but got set up with a torrid pace and that doesn’t look to be the case here today. It’s Pletcher and JV, so you know right away he’ll be a big underlay at the windows, so I’m willing to take a stand against.
9. Jackson Bend: Calder freak is close to the top of many Derby top-10 lists and he’ll make his first start in Zito’s barn today. On paper he’s the most logical winner as his 5-for-6 record and big Beyers are a bit more than the rest can boast, but we all know these races aren’t run on paper. And haven’t we seen a bunch of these flashy Calder/Florida Stallion Series winners blink at Gulfstream when they get the acid test? Respecting his talent but there’s no reason to take a short number on a runner who simply may have been a precocious 2yo beating up on inferior competition over his home track.
6. Winslow Homer
9. Jackson Bend
Fair Grounds: The Grade III, $100,000 Lecomte Stakes at 1 mile 40 yards.
1. Maximus Ruler: Shocked everyone with his big debut run when he was beaten just a neck at 52-1 last fall, then showed it was no fluke by heading straight into an allowance when he broke his maiden with another solid showing. Debate who he beat that day all you want, when you’ve run once in your life and break your maiden against winners, you’re OK in my book. Takes the next logical step in his 3yo debut, drew well and already owns a win at the distance (though it was at one-turn); underrated runner has a big chance to announce his presence on the Derby Trail.
2. Turf Melody: Looked good running down suspect competition in the Sooner State to make it two in a row, but he’s been flattered by the fast splits in both winning runs. There’s a chance he gets some solid splits in here as well, and it’s foolish to dismiss the Motion barn but we’ll limit his use to underneath.
3. Worldly: Love the way this full brother to Suave has progressed since getting to do the two-turn thing on the main track. Ended his freshman season pressing Super Saver, a leading Derby contender, before tiring to finish third in the GII KY Jockey Club at CD. Got the perfect trial run for this stakes assignment in his local prep, which was one of the saltier 3yo heats that’s been run so far this year, and should only move forward off that run. Thinking he continues the progression that will eventually lead to a big, big prize down the road.
4. Depaul: Well, if his namesake can win a Big East conference game, then anything can happen, right? Asmussen runner failed miserably in that aforementioned allowance after dueling on the lead and tiring badly late. It was his first two-turn start and first start versus winners, so maybe he can turn it around; just not betting on it.
5. Citrus Kid: Chased the streaking Buddy’s Saint home when third in the Remsen to end his 2yo season, which wasn’t a bad run at all. You’d think Terranova could have gone in the Whirlaway in NY or today’s Holy Bull at Gulfstream, so it’s a little troublesome to see him land here, as it could suggest he’s not as confident as one would like. Still, he’s got a fast two-turn win to his credit, which stamps him as a contender in this wide-open affair.
6. Callide Valley: Wasn’t far behind Worldly when fifth in the KY Jockey Club to close out his 2yo campaign, so have to figure he’s a player here with added development. Blinkers go on for his 3yo debut and it’s a positive when a good horseman like Kenneally switches tactics. Bagged a two-turn win at CD prior to the Jockey Club, so you know the trip will fit; interesting commodity from just off the pace.
7. B’wanagoldmine: His lone FG start sure was a beauty; he stalked a slow pace in fourth and then kicked clear through the lane. Can he repeat it? He’ll have to and then some if he wants to factor here. But hey, these are all newly turned 3yo’s that can jump up and improve leaps and bounds overnight; the value play if you’re looking to beat the favorites.
8. Letsgetitonman: The second from Asmussen was a closing third in Worldly’s allowance and will look to make a late run and hope the leaders tire. It could happen, as there’s some pace signed on, but his stretch kick hasn’t exactly been bowling anyone over, either. He can factor with continued progression, but might need a longer assignment to get his picture taken.
9. Cool Bullet: Depending on what some of the others decide to do early on, this razor sharp gelding could be on a loose early lead. Whether he can last is another question altogether, as this will be his first start past 6 furlongs, but he sure does have a pedigree that suggests this trip will be in his wheelhouse. For those not familiar with Margolis, he’s a top Midwest conditioner that does one heck of a job with his stock. Underrated sort is 2-for-2 over the local strip and even owns a gutty stakes win to boot; he’ll dare them to catch him to cash; thinking they won’t be able to do it.
10. Rock Hard: Had to dip into the maiden-claiming ranks to get his first win and he was a well-beaten third in his first start versus winners, which came here on the lawn. His main track form is a cut below the others, so not expecting him to make an impact here.
11. Ron The Greek: Homebred was fourth, only 2 ½ lengths behind Turf Melody at Remington, which snapped his perfect 2-for-2 record. He broke last and had to rally 5-wide that day, so it was a nice run to be sure but the problem is he’s on tap for the same type of wide trip today. If Graham can somehow save ground into the first turn, there might be enough talent here to make him a player; make sure you get the right price if you’re willing to find out.
9. Cool Bullet
1. Maximus Ruler