He’s back! Brian Nadeau joins Brooklyn Backstretch for the seventh year to handicap Kentucky Derby preps and take us through the Triple Crown. Brian handicaps at Horseplayer Now, is a regular on Capital OTB TV in upstate New York, and writes a weekly Breeders’ Cup newsletter in the run-up to that event.
I’m thrilled that he’s back, and you’ll find his previews here pretty much every Friday from now until the Belmont Stakes.
Kicking things off in the Big Easy…
Fair Grounds: The Grade III, $200,000 Lecomte at 1 mile 70 yards
by Brian Nadeau
#1 International Star: Grassy runner actually didn’t run all that poorly when last seen in Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club in November and drew perfectly for his stalking style in this early season two-turn test. Son of Fusaichi Pegasus won a GIII over the Polytrack at Woodbine in October but is 0-for-2 on dirt, so he’s still got some questions to answer. Fans will get Maker and the Ramseys at a price, but he’s got five lengths to make up on heavy hitter Eagle off the CD race, and there’s a lot more than just that guy in here; minor award may be his ceiling.
#2 Tiznow R J: Whether it was the local oval or going two turns for the first time, this son of Tiznow simply ran off the screen to break his maiden over the track/distance in December and now gets thrown into the deep end of the pool to see where he sits with the local 3yos. Of course, Asmussen didn’t get nominated to the Hall of Fame because he runs them where they don’t belong, so you better respect this colt, who could be a lone frontrunner or at the very least be your inside speed. So, point being, while the hurdles are not insignificant, you get a rapidly improving 3yo who obviously likes the track and might simply be getting better by the day, which stamps him as a major player here; look out.
#3 Four Leaf Chief: Deep closing LA-bred enters off a modest third to rival War Story in a local one-turn optional claimer in late December and seems a bit outclassed against a group like this. Flint adds blinkers to this son of Lookin At Lucky in the hopes of getting some more speed into him, which would be a big plus as he’s been dropping out the back against lesser, which isn’t a recipe for success when you’re facing the toughest field of your career. Fans will get a good trainer at a big price and this colt has improved his figures in both starts this year, but this just seems like too tall of an assignment; ranks well down the list.
#4 War Story: Aforementioned local winner will try two turns for the first time but is bred for it, as he’s by Northern Afleet out of a Pulpit mare, so you would think a trip like this is right up his alley. Amoss is off to a rousing start at the meet, even for his lofty standards, and it’s never a bad thing to own a win over the track either, so right there you have to respect this gelding. Of course, he’s facing much better than he has before and there’s no one in here who is going to pat him on the back for beating ‘Chief soundly, so there are some hurdles in this corner as well, though from a midpack stalking position at a decent price, there are some things to like here; figures in the mix.
#5 Hero of Humor: Giant longshot fits the “Dorochenko must run an overmatched rival in an early season Fair Grounds stakes” rule, as on paper he’s far and away the weakest of this accomplished group. If you’re looking for positives, at least he ran two turns a few times down at Gulfstream Park West, and this barn has pulled off some shockers before, but he’s been beaten a combined 53 ¾ lengths in his last two against lesser, which about says it all. Son of Sharp Humor showed promise breaking his maiden at CD in September but since then has steadily regressed and just doesn’t belong in here; get home safely.
#6 Savoy Stomp: Pletcher charge invades off a weak third to subsequent minor stakes winner Bluegrass Singer in a Gulfstream Park optional claimer last month and up to this point has not shown he’s capable of challenging a group like this. On the plus side, he’s bred top and bottom to relish added distance and ground, being by Medaglia d’Oro out of an A.P. Indy mare, and Lasix does go on for this race, so there’s a chance he bled last time after chasing the pace early. But while that’s all well and good, it also means you’re going to have to take an underlaid price because of his trainer, and not because of his afternoon accomplishments; making him prove it.
#7 Runhappy: The wildcard looked like a complete freak winning his debut sprinting over the Polytrack at Turfway Park in December, as he was away slowly from the inside and was green and running all over the track, yet still put in a devastating middle move and won for fun. The waters get a lot deeper Saturday as he faces winners and runs on dirt and over two turns for the first time, but as a son of Super Saver, he’s certainly bred for this and more. Trainer Wohlers is an unknown on the national scene, but it appears she has a talented runner on her hands, so it will be interesting to see how this guy performs against a real group of rivals. And that is where the rub is, as he’s stepping way up off a win on a b-league circuit, which means you better demand fair value if you’re stringing along; taking a wait and see approach.
#8 Killingit: The “other” entrant from Wohlers doesn’t have near the appeal or upside his stablemate does, as he’s just 1-for-4 lifetime and enters off a sixth-place finish at 1-2 in an optional claimer at Turfway last month. Son of Candy Ride does have some hidden form, though, as his lone start on fast dirt was actually a very visually impressive MSW win at Churchill in November—going two turns, no less—so he’s not completely out of his element here. Tactical runner should be close to the pace early and the splits don’t look all that hot here, so with his buddy next door garnering all the attention, he should be a big price, which means he’s worth a look underneath; could spice up your exotics.
#9 Dekabrist: Speaking of overmatched Dorochenko runners, this son of Street Boss looks poised to vie with his stablemate as the longest shot on the board, as he’s lost seven straight, all by more than double digits. Class players might give him a second glance, as he’s run against some tigers in a few GIs, but when you don’t make a dent and pack it in after a half-mile, it doesn’t really mean you’re all that classy after all; no thanks.
#10 Another Lemon Drop: Very scary individual has improved in each of his four starts and will enter this off a dominant five-length win over the slop in a one-turn optional claimer here in December in what was just his second start on dirt. Son of Lemon Drop Kid broke his maiden on the Keeneland turf in October ,then was a good, albeit well-beaten, third to Derby hotshot and subsequent GI winner Dortmund in an optional claimer at CD in November. Obviously his big local win could have been aided by an off-track, and he does step up here, but he’s tactical enough to sit midpack, should offer a hint of value and undoubtedly is in raging form, which gives his backers lots of things to like; would be no surprise.
#11 Eagle: Likely favorite and most accomplished member of the field makes his first start since running a huge—and troubled—third in the Kentucky Jockey Club to close out his 2yo campaign, and it sure is nice to see Howard, one of racing’s true good guys, back with a big horse. Son of Candy Ride is bred to be a classic type of colt, and anyone who saw that CD run, when he steadied while full of run entering the far turn yet still closed stoutly late, knows this is a serious, serious prospect. Of course, there are a few rubs, too, which would be his short price, poor post position, and the fact that this is hardly the main goal for a trainer who knows how to take a horse down the Triple Crown trail. On the face of it, he’s the best horse and most likely winner, but the short price, bad post, and simple fact that he’s eyeing much bigger fish in much bigger ponds says he’s not cranked for a winning effort; second-best.
#2 Tiznow R J
#10 Another Lemon Drop