Brian’s Derby preps: The Whirlaway and the Bob Lewis

Some Derby notes: Don’t forget that you can check out Brian’s handicapping for NYRA races at 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.

And if you haven’t already, sign up for the Hello Race Fans! weekly Derby update. It features advances and recaps from a variety of contributors, including yours truly on tomorrow’s Whirlaway. Brian takes over from here– Teresa

Whoever would have thought that the attention of the Triple Crown Trail would focus on Aqueduct and the inner dirt? That’s exactly the case on Saturday when the blazing fast sprinter Eightyfiveinafifty tries to stretch his speed to two turns and prove he belongs. In California, the path to the Santa Anita Derby begins in earnest with the Robert Lewis, a race that also attracts some sprinters trying their mettle at two turns for the first time. Let’s take a look.

Aqueduct: The $100,000 Whirlaway at 1 1/16 miles

1. Turf Melody: Youngster has been on his own Magical Mystery Tour since getting his career going last summer at Del Park, and remarkably this is his ninth different track in as many career starts. He endured a bit of a sketchy trip at Fair Grounds and frankly probably isn’t good enough to beat GIII types, so this might be a better spot. Drew well and his late run might be flattered by an extremely rapid pace, and the best thing is that because of the presence of heavy favorite Eightyfiveinafifty, you’re going to get double the price you should on a colt who has a two-turn win and the right running style to be plenty scary in the lane; call for the win at an overlaid price.

2. Eightyfiveinafifty: Well, here he is. The fastest 3yo on the planet-well, at least for 6F’s–hails from Gary Con’s Ozone Park barn. Yes, you read that correctly. His maiden win earlier in the meet was nothing short of extraordinary when you consider the fractions he threw down over a track that’s been dead, dead, dead all meet. But today that means about as much as the Mets signing of Kelvim Escobar because this isn’t 2001 and the Whirlaway isn’t at 6F’s. So, the $64,000 question is, can he negotiate a second turn? You’ve got to figure he’ll be in front for as far as he can go, but there’s a lot of other speed signed on and the majority of it comes from some stretchout runners like this colt. So point being, you’re going to have to stomach 3-5 on a horse a month removed from a 6F maiden win who doesn’t project to have an easy trip. The heart will be rooting like heck to see Gary jump on the Triple Crown Trail but the wallet says there’s no better time to try and beat this freakishly fast colt; backwheel, anyone?

3. Peppi Knows: Ran a big second to Buddy’s Saint in the GII Remsen to close out his sophomore campaign, but they timed that one with a sundial and we’ve already seen several runners exit that race and run poorly in their next start. Still, that was his first two-turn start and he’s 3-for-5 lifetime, so you know there’s talent here; in the mix if the favorite falters but playing against in his first start of the year.

4. Afleet Again: Got beat up pretty good in his lone local start in the Count Fleet, but it was nice to see him leave town and score in a sloppy Philly Park allowance (though it was a four-horse field). Back for more today, but unless he’s picked up about 10 lengths off his Philly race, it’s hard to see him threatening; minor award seems to be his ceiling.

5. Three Day Rush: Ships north from Gulfstream after an entry-level allowance score at 6F’s. Dueled on the lead that day, so with his outside draw you’ve got to figure he’ll be lapped right onto ‘Eightyfive early and often. It’s Pletcher and Cohen, a potent combo here, and you know he didn’t ship a few thousand miles for nothing, but the aforementioned race flow isn’t going to do him any favors; playing against.

6. Papa’s Nice Cat: State-bred runner broke his maiden two-back at 6F’s, then ran a big second in a two-turn allowance last out while finishing well clear of third, which is a pretty solid accomplishment in your first route run. Enough speed to negate this bad draw and it’s not hard to envision him in the garden spot behind two dueling leaders. From there it’s just a matter of if he’s good enough or not and you’ll be getting one heck of a price to find out; upset special.


1. Turf Melody
6. Papa’s Nice Cat
2. Eightyfiveinafifty

Santa Anita: The Grade II, $150,000 Robert Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles

1. Macias: Figures to be involved from the opening bell with his rail draw and sprint speed, and that’s not a very enviable combination in this two-turn spot. He’s got the pedigree to negotiate this longer trip and seems to be coming into the race the right way but seems destined to fall victim to the race flow; outsider.

2. Dave In Dixie: Looked like a real comer when he won his debut for fun last summer at Del Mar and then hardly disgraced himself when a solid sixth in the GI Norfolk, which marked his first start vs. winners and first start at two turns. He’s been working great guns for his 3yo debut but thinking today is simply a nice starting off point for one of the West Coast’s top Derby prospects; tabbing him for a minor award and expecting some big things once the furlongs begin to add up later this spring.

3. Tiz Chrome: Speaking of exciting prospects, this colt has looked great in winning both career starts and now he takes the next step and tries the two-turn game for the first time. Can he do it? Well, dad was one of the finest long distance horses to come along in the past quarter century, and if this colt relaxes like pops did and throws those :12 eighths at you then look out. There’s some other speed signed on so he’ll need to relax on the front end, and with some potential question marks to go with the anticipated short price, it’s best to watch this one and make an assessment on the future when it’s all said and done.

4. Caracortado: While some of these sprinters need to answer the two-turn question, this gelding did just that in winning a Cal-bred stakes over the course in his last. He didn’t break the stopwatch that day, but when you go from 6f’s to 8.5f’s and get the job done, it’s worth noting to be sure. The water gets deeper once again but he’s got a few things in his favor, price being one of them; a logical alternative if you’re looking to beat the short-priced favorites.

5. Tango Tango: Northern California invader seems outclassed in this difficult assignment, even with Hollendorfer calling the shots. He’s eligible to be a nuisance near the lead early, but it’s tough to imagine he’s going to be around in the late stages; longshot.

6. American Lion: It might be a good time to try and buy a little stock in WinStar, as they are absolutely loaded with 3yo’s right now. This colt is at the forefront of their West Coast contingent, and with good reason, as he did little wrong in three sophomore starts, which culminated in a stakes score in the Hollywood Prevue. The neat thing is those starts were all at one-turn and here’s another Tiznow colt who you know is just begging to stretch his legs. Well, he gets the chance today, and his stalk and pounce style should allow him to be right off the leaders and get him the jump on the closers like ‘Dave; not expecting to get rich, but he gets the call for the win nonetheless.

7. Domonation: Ran decent in his two-turn debut when finishing behind a nice Baffert runner in Conveyance in the GIII San Rafael here last month. Takes the next step down the path but got no favors from the draw, so he’s either got to go early and risk a wide journey and a pace battle or simply give up some ground and drop back to the rail. They’ll probably take the latter approach, and if the speed burns out and finds the distance a bit taxing and the comebackers aren’t ready to fire their best, then it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this guy comes calling late; interesting at a price.


6. American Lion
3. Tiz Chrome
1. Macias

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