04/14/2012 7:42PM

Initial Thoughts on the Ark. Derby, Blue Grass, and Other Stakes


If I had a vested interest in the Kentucky Derby or Churchill Downs, I would have let out a huge sigh of relief after Bodemeister obliterated his field in the Arkansas Derby.

Before the Arkansas Derby, Bodemeister had no chance to start in the Kentucky Derby because he didn’t have nearly enough graded stakes earnings to crack the starting gate. Even before Saturday, this was a very unsettling fact. And that is because Bodemeister, in only his second and third (and most recent) career starts, proved he was one of the best members of his generation by being the only prominent Kentucky Derby candidate to have paired up triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.

But after collecting sufficient graded earnings in the Arkansas Derby, I suspect everyone can now see what a crime it would have been for Bodemeister not to have had his chance at the Kentucky Derby, the most important race for members of his generation. I don’t know what Beyer Figure Bodemeister got Saturday (I’m posting this shortly after the race), and he didn’t beat the deepest Derby prep field we’ve seen this year. But Bodemeister put on a display of jaw-dropping talent in Arkansas. And the initial impression is, he took a significant step forward off his near miss to Creative Cause in last month’s San Felipe, which was previously the fastest Derby prep of the season, while Creative Cause took a step backward, Beyer-wise, when he was nosed in last week’s Santa Anita Derby.

Dullahan’s effort to catch Hansen and win the Blue Grass was big, and part of the reason for that was the trip Hansen had. Hansen didn’t rate with, or off, the pace Saturday like I thought he might. He went to the front, but he’s so fast that even the solid pace he set still seemed a very comfortable one. In other words, Hansen was just cruising, and he had an easy trip. But Dullahan, far back early, improved markedly in his second start of the year and easily overwhelmed Hansen late to prove best.

Dullahan looks very much like a Derby colt peaking at precisely the right time, and he is a prime win threat at Churchill. But if you were on the Hansen bandwagon before the Blue Grass, you should not get off now. Yes, the Derby distance is a question for Hansen, but honestly, it is for every Derby starter. The thing to keep in mind here is, Hansen ran big off the synthetic track-to-dirt move last fall when he went from Turfway Park to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. He will be repeating that same successful surface switch when he goes in the Derby, which was a major reason why Hansen’s connections chose the Blue Grass for his final prep in the first place.

The Oaklawn Handicap was textbook stuff. Give a good horse an easy lead over a track he loves, and he is going to win pretty frequently. In this case, Alternation set the easy lead over an Oaklawn track he was previously 4 for 5 over, and the result was a decisive score in the Oaklawn Handicap. But don’t be too quick to discount Alternation’s big win Saturday. Although circumstances were in his favor, he is still a very good horse who is getting better. And Ron the Greek, the Big Cap winner, ran well to rally into an unfavorable pace to finish second. Hymn Book, the Donn winner, was also pace compromised, but did not run as well.

Ramon Dominguez and Javier Castellano seemed to be so totally concerned with measuring themselves at the back of the pack during the early running of the Jenny Wiley on the 2-1 Aruna and the 7-5 Zagora, respectively, that they seemed to completely miss the fact that Daisy Devine was in the process of stealing this Grade 1 up front with slow early fractions. Daisy Devine is now 4 for 4 on turf. And while handing out excuses to Aruna and Zagora for these performances doesn’t exactly feel right, even in view of the pace implications (they did, after all, finish last and next-to-last in the field of six), we do know they are both better than that.

Odds-on It’s Tricky did indeed look like she was in trouble when she was put under heavy pressure on the far turn of the Distaff Handicap. But sprinting in a seven furlong race like this is a new game for It’s Tricky, who last year won the Grade 1 CCA Oaks at nine furlongs (in addition to the Grade 1 Acorn at a mile), was second in the nine furlong Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, and who won the 8.5 furlong Top Flight in her recent 2012 debut. And when it really mattered in the stretch of the Distaff, It’s Tricky’s foundation and class showed, and she went on to win decisively.

When you think about it, the possibility of It’s Tricky focusing on seven furlong to mile races this year might be an inspired idea, what with Havre de Grace, Awesome Maria, and Plum Pretty (who was very good winning Friday’s Apple Blossom in her first start of the year), not to mention Royal Delta and Awesome Feather, out there to dominate the big middle distance races for older females. Of course, if It’s Tricky stays in races at around a mile or just under, she will have to eventually deal with a good one in Groupie Doll, who was dominant winning Thursday’s Vinery Madison.

don More than 1 year ago
Does anyone remmber Funny Cide and empire Maker in the Wood running 1-2 in the Derby well Gemologist and Alpha will do the same.
freecharm More than 1 year ago
Hi, Mike. Is there any chance you will soon give us an update on: Princess Arabella? She's #6 on your list and I got caught up in Jon White's enthusiam after her second race/win at SA. Till a couple of weeks ago, I still hoped that the Princess would track Hansen and the other speed, then pounce on them all and win the Derby, then the Preakness. Is she a cert to run in the Kentucky Oaks? Also what's up with My Miss Aurelia? Will we see her again? Finally, any word on Mr O'Brien's Derby possibles - Daddy Long Legs and Wrote? I believe they're both on you "Watch" list, but is there any news? Thanks.
john jenkinson More than 1 year ago
rags to riches? Don't think so. He may have been buried on rail in FL derby, but the rail did open and he DID NOT expolde through it. I do not believe he will want any part of 1 1/4 miles.
Susanne Reardon More than 1 year ago
curious why not a mention of Pat Byrne's Take Charge Indy?? i kinda like him alot watched him since last year at Arlington Park.
edb More than 1 year ago
Hansen will lead going into the stretch which will set up all the closers. Rags last race was an over confident ride by Julien. Just before the 3/4 pole, he dropped Rags back and turned him on in the stretch. If he keeps him within 5 lengths coming into the stretch, he is your winner. Still will be a nice tri and super as usual, but no $50 to win this year. Closers, closers, closers
John Davies More than 1 year ago
I was on the last bend at Keeneland on Saturday and when Hansen came around the bend and straightened up for the stretch run, he almost jumped, i have a video of it. You did not really see it on the race replay can anyone tell me could it have been him changing leads, because he really did take a funny step.
HENRY Bedoy More than 1 year ago
union rags is overrated just like his jockey they are both bums with no chance of winning. how can you say that the rags is a monster, didnt you see the juvi and florida derby which he was a big favorite?? dont forget the beautiful ride julien laparoux gave "dial in" last year as the favorite. i hate people that jump on the hype!! union rags has 0 chance of even hitting the board in the derby..
TheChris213 More than 1 year ago
You must have never been to Churchill. Lepaurox dominates there. This is a loaded and one sided statement. Yes, over confident ride, I will agree with that. But to say hw is a bandwagon horse, I don't agree with. After his loss, everyone jumped off the bandwagon. Bodemeister is way more a bandwagon horse.
juliuso More than 1 year ago
Perhaps it is just my imagination, but a number of top Derby contenders seem to have been content without forcing a win from their final prep races, presumably holding back their best efforts for the big day. Creative Cause, Union Rags, Hansen, El Padrino, all ready to step up their game, and the odds will be a lot more attractive. This will be the most heavily wagered Derby in history............a deliberate plan??
rvraynmary More than 1 year ago
When it gets down to the Derby, post positions and track conditions will be ultra important this year. Those who won their last major preps as pace setters, Take Charge Indy and Bodemeister along with runnerup Hansen will have to (a) change their running style (b) slow it down a bit or die at the 1/4-mile pole (c) churn it up and go all out and hope to last the entire 10 furlongs, a la Big Brown. Right now I would look closest at true closers like Dullahan. It's interesting how all the great handicappers see things differently, sortof like those guys in Congress.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i am going to say that this will probaly wind up being the luckiest year of bob bafferts life. barring any bad racing luck he will win the kd, maybe 1st& 2nd in preak.,take a good run @ the belmont. bodemister ,for a green horse @ this stage of experince, is the best thing ive seen. he is very comparable.to one of my favorites, which was alysheba. he has that same green running stile,& that raw talent he exhibits when he pricks those ears & takes a long look, away down the race track. he is 3 to 5 lenghts better horse with mike smith on him. mike has been there ,he has felt the greatness of world class horsefiesh many more times than 1. mr baffert has almost perfected, the art of peaking horses for certin races. this time he has a fresh horse. if he wins the triple crown, with a horse that didnt run as a 2yrold. it will hurt racing because the trend will change& noone will race their 2 year olds. oh well cant stop progress. iam just an ole railbird.