05/03/2014 7:11PM

Derby, Oaks Day Thoughts

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Derby Day Notes:

California Chrome was the best horse going into the Kentucky Derby, and he was the best horse coming out of it.

Yes, the Derby pace wasn’t as fast as most projected it to be, maybe even slow by Derby standards, and California Chrome had a sweet trip stalking it from close range on the outside. But in a move that has become his signature, California Chrome put his field to sleep, and this Kentucky Derby to rest, with a turn of foot in upper stretch that carried him to an insurmountable lead. It’s the same kind of move California Chrome showed when he won the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. No one else in this Derby field has a move like that, particularly at that point in the race. And no one else in the field had the answer for it.

There are so many things to like about California Chrome. There are the humble beginnings and pedigree, and the down-to-earth connections. What I really like about him is, he is something of a throwback. He began his career with starts in two 4½-furlong baby races, made a field-high seven starts at 2, and he seems to just thrive on the action. He is very much the antidote to the lightly raced Derby starter that has become so fashionable lately. In several ways, California Chrome really is kind of freakish.

There were a lot of trips in this Derby, and I’ll have to watch the replay about five more times to get all of them. Candy Boy getting slaughtered on the first turn is one that jumps out, and for him, this start is a complete throwout. One trip I really liked was Ride On Curlin’s. Calvin Borel made such a show of sharply angling Ride On Curlin to the rail from the 18 hole after the start that I couldn’t help but laugh when Ride On Curlin rallied widest of all. Ride On Curlin actually finished, and ran, well. And on the other side of the coin, workout star Intense Holiday had a great trip – a little wide, but a great trip with perfect position – and he backed up because he just wasn’t good enough.

Taking nothing away from two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who prevailed after an eventful trip in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic to make it 21 wins from 29 career starts, but I expected him to move forward Saturday off his workmanlike win in the Maker’s 46 in his first start of the year, and not by just a little. And he didn’t. Despite all that early nonsense of being rank and fighting restraint, and having to make a three-wide rally on the far turn, Wise Dan should not have had to struggle to beat this Woodford field. He should not have had to dig down deep to out-game Seek Again, who had a nondescript career in England, whose victory in the Hollywood Derby in his first U.S. start was only okay, and who was making his first start in five months.

As a barometer for how much Wise Dan moved off the Maker’s 46, in the Maker’s, he beat the surprising Kaigun by three-quarters of a length. On Saturday, Wise Dan beat Kaigun by 1 1/2 lengths. That’s not the kind of movement that was expected.

Wise Dan is good for racing. It’s funny how Horses of the Year are like that. So the hope is that now, at age 7, maybe Wise Dan might need two races to knock the rust off and reach peak form.

Whoa. That was a head-turning comeback by Midnight Lucky in the Humana Distaff. It was obvious the race was over with three-eighths still to go as Judy the Beauty and Iotapa were in all-out drives to unsuccessfully get to Midnight Lucky, and Rosie Napravnik still hadn’t even thought about asking her to run yet. If Midnight Lucky’s connections resist the temptation to stretch her out – and all indications are they will; what’s the point of going long against the likes of Beholder, Princess of Sylmar, and, to a lesser extent, Close Hatches? – we could have a female sprinter who would be a fitting replacement for Groupie Doll.

While Midnight Lucky wrested command of the female sprint division, the male sprint division continues to beg for someone to step up and take control. Central Banker was game denying Shakin It Up in the Churchill Downs Stakes for male sprinters, showing admirable improvement second start off the layoff. And on Saturday, Central Banker beat a trio of Grade 1 winners in Shakin It Up, Capo Bastone, and Sahara Sky, as well as a narrowly beaten Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up in Laugh Track.

You would think all of that would be enough to put Central Banker into the conversation, but I’m not so sure just yet. The Grade 1’s Shakin It Up and Capo Bastone won were both races that completely fell apart late, and Sahara Sky right now seems significantly removed from his outstanding 2013 form. And this was only Central Banker’s first career graded stakes score. I would like to see more from him, and, frankly, more from the whole division.

There has always been talk of an annual tradition, if you will, of a special put-over job at Churchill around Derby time. It was probably true years ago, but in recent times, not so much. Well, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that in the third race, Masochistic was a super duper good thing flashback from the old days. This second-time starter from a low-profile barn shipped in from Santa Anita, where he had a passive (to be diplomatic) ride when fifth under the wire in his only start. Masochistic was bet long and strong, and made $6.20 look like a gift after he won by 14 easy lengths.

Oaks Day Notes:

Not to belabor the obvious, but Untapable really is a monster at the moment. My Miss Sophia is very, very good, yet Untapable made her look ordinary in the Kentucky Oaks, crushing her by a 4 1/2-length margin that had a much bigger feel to it.

There are those who believe Untapable is the best 3-year-old in the land of either sex, and there are those who want to see her take on males, and soon. I have no doubt that whatever path Untapable’s connections choose for her, it will be a sound and well-reasoned one, because that’s how they roll. I also have little doubt that My Miss Sophia will win a major race or two of her own, providing they are races without Untapable.

It is still very early in the season with a lot of major racing to go, and a lot of time for things to happen. But one or two more performances like her Kentucky Oaks to go along with her romps in the Fair Grounds Oaks and Rachel Alexandra, and Untapable might all but secure her divisional title before summer even hits full swing.

The other big race here Friday at Churchill was the Alysheba, primarily due to the participation of last year’s 3-year-old male champion, Will Take Charge. Going into the Alysheba, Will Take Charge won the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby, Clark Handicap, and Oaklawn Handicap, and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Donn, and Santa Anita Handicap, all in his last seven starts. But in what sure feels like a classic case of dancing one too many dances, Will Take Charge never lifted a hoof Friday.

The Alysheba did, however, have entertainment value. In one of the bigger hang jobs you’ll see, Golden Ticket turned what seemed certain victory into narrow defeat. Golden Ticket moved up to pacesetter Moonshine Mullin leaving the far turn like he would win by about five, only to switch gears and refuse to pass. I realize that this might be selling Moonshine Mullin short. After all, he was winning his fourth straight and has proven to be a terrific claim. But Golden Ticket’s exhibition was epic.

Back to 3-year-old fillies, She’s a Tiger, the champion of this crop last year, was dismal in the Eight Belles. She beat just two in the field of nine in the most uncompetitive performance of her career. I know last year’s 2-year-old filly division was soft. I also know it’s poor policy to write a horse off after only one bad effort following a six-month layoff. But the top tier of this group has improved dramatically this year, and unless there is a legitimate excuse to explain She’s a Tiger’s disappointing return, it’s difficult being optimistic about her going forward.

Fiftyshadesofgold won the Eight Belles, but I was left a little cold by her effort. I thought it was an inspired move to cut Fiftyshadesofgold back to a sprint after unsuccessfully chasing Untapable in the Fair Grounds Oaks, but was surprised she had to work as hard as she did to resist the unheralded Milam.

Rusty Arnold has a runner in Southern Honey, who recorded her second straight impressive win in an overnight race immediately preceding the Eight Belles.

On Fire Baby’s timing in the La Troienne proved to be very good. She was beaten a head in this race last year by Authenticity when it was still a Grade 2 event. The La Troienne was up to a Grade 1 ranking this year, and On Fire Baby proved best over a field that was, on the whole, weaker than last year’s Grade 2 La Troienne field.

Raymond Felder More than 1 year ago
the preakness always seems to be the race that gives the derby winner some trouble. i would like to see chrome go all the way, but if he can now get by bayern, dynamic impact and social inclusion the chrome will be wearing the crown. good luck all.
worldsbiggest lie More than 1 year ago
No mention of Commanding Curves furious rally from second last? No mention of him prior to the derby either. Except that "The sheet guys" loved him, and so did I.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
One of only a few horses with good CD prior form. Too many of us look at Beyer numbers and not much else. That's why you got a huge price on a horse that really figured to run well.
Rich Sesny More than 1 year ago
I liked him (Commanding Curve) in the derby as a deep closer to hit the board but he has the look of Golden Soul from last year. Went off at 34-1 in Derby hit board from out of the clouds- and people assumed that he would love the Belmont distance and bet him down to 11-1. you missed the wedding and showed up for the funeral. He is fools gold if you play him at odds of less than 25-1.
Rich Sesny More than 1 year ago
and the Sheets guys loved Vicars in Trouble so ... if you "like" enough horses, eventually you will be right.
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
The Masochistic situation is a perfect example of why racing is held in such low repute in North America. The horse's first race on March 15 was a disgrace. Has there been a hearing yet with respect to Berrio's "ride" (I use the term loosely) or with respect to the acepromazine positive? I can't find a report of either being reported in DRF. If this had happened in Hong Kong, Mr. Berrio would not be riding and the trainer Mr. Avila would be in serious trouble.
gene cahalan More than 1 year ago
Ken, See my earlier post.Brad Free actually gave details of jockey fine and DQ in tweet/DRF live post on Sat.CD shouldhave/could have seen this one coming and scratched the horse.A clocker report completed the story.
Olscash More than 1 year ago
The fine and article about Masochistic was readily available on the internet to anyone that follows racing daily. Berrio got days and Avila got a fine when the horse tested positive for a tranquilizer... Avila ships a Cal Bred to Churchill to run against open Maidens on Derby day and the horse gets hammered in the betting with close to 5 times mores to win on the horse then to place. The writing was on the wall and the trainers intentions were there for the taking. Everyone in my group bet on that horse and laughed the entire race.
Thomas s More than 1 year ago
CC has a bit more to prove. Closers thoroughly missed the party on Sat. Don't see him winning all three, but, haven't seen anyone who has a better shot at winning next. Read the chart....trip descriptions read like the the Brooklyn police blotter from a Saturday night. Bumped, shoved, checked, stopped, switched, blocked, beat up...lied to. This 20 horse field is wrong. There's going to be a pile up on national TV some Derby day and then it will be a 14 horse field.
Tiznow More than 1 year ago
Closers missed the party? Commanding Curve came from 18th half way thru race to 11th nearing top of the stretch. Danza and Wicked Strong also closed. Maybe you should watch the race again.
Geronimo2123 . More than 1 year ago
Commanding Curve closed well and was 8 wide coming from way back. Wicked Strong ran OK considering all the trouble he had. Danza ran well despite his trouble..but he is a stalker. Intense Holiday did not show up, maybe because he ran his race during his morning workouts which wowed everyone with a watch. Or maybe he is just a closing miler like many of these?
Steve Burton More than 1 year ago
I keyed Calvin on MM(good move) to be alive to the 11 for 4g's in the p5, but tried to beat Untapable(bad move!)
P More than 1 year ago
Bill Kaup, you're right I was kicking myself as well, when you hear its a fast track and middle packers and frontrunners are hanging in, thats why I dropped him, but I will say that Dance with Fate and Candy who I did have with C Chrome and Danza got shut out early Wicked Strongs Jocj, Ravij the cut off jerk and they were done
P More than 1 year ago
C. Bo Rail, enough already, he's over the hill, he reads his own press now. Goes to rail on every trip....He still gets bet down...laughable. Ride on Curlin is at best 1 1/6, he can't close to 1 1/8....pasted tired horses like Uncle Sigh, c'mon....CandyBoy should run in the Preakness......period. This was a bad prep
P More than 1 year ago
Will C. Chrone get a couple to challenge in the Preakness??Big Question, Social Inclusion will run but has a bruised foot hopefully he won't miss a workout. If C. Chrome is a Triple Crown Winner and want im to WIN it not have it given to him. He could be special...Prove IT...it's owed to the last Tiple Crown Winners
P More than 1 year ago
Gary Stavens & C. Nak's horse were taken out by Wicked Strong's Jock, Ravij M. too bad you work and plan and 2 Horse that could have made it interesting were gone because they had to sit the breaks and when that happens its OVER.................
John More than 1 year ago
correcting to 1,3 and 4 for beyers