03/27/2011 1:23PM

Louisiana Derby, Spiral, and Other Saturday Stakes Thoughts

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We had been on a run in recent weeks with a series of strong performances from 3-year-olds with their eyes set on the Kentucky Derby who all had a legitimate right to both run as well as they did in key prep races, and to their lofty Derby aspirations – The Factor in the Rebel, Premier Pegasus in the San Felipe and Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer, Stay Thirsty in the Gotham, and Soldat in the Fountain of Youth.

Oh well. It couldn’t last forever. Saturday’s Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and the Vinery Racing Spiral at Turfway Park just did not resonate in nearly the same way that the Derby preps in preceding weeks did.

This was no surprise when it came to the Spiral. Taking nothing away from Animal Kingdom, who went into Saturday still eligible for an entry-level allowance race, but who won the Spiral going away to earn enough graded money ($285,000) to ensure a starting berth in the Derby, the status of the Spiral as a meaningful prep for the Derby is always open to question for one huge reason: It is a synthetic track race and the Derby is run on dirt.

The Louisiana Derby, however, was a disappointment. Mucho Macho Man, the favorite off a decisive victory in last month’s Risen Star, apparently lost a shoe coming out of the gate. It is impossible to quantify precisely how much that may have compromised Mucho Macho Man’s performance other to say that it couldn’t have helped. But what we do know is Mucho Macho Man still was in position to win in upper stretch – he was virtually dead even for the lead – but he couldn’t get by Pants On Fire, who had lost four straight since a maiden win in the slop at Delaware last October, and he lost second to Nehro, who was just about right at 36-1 as he was coming off a slow maiden win at Oaklawn.

Bottom line: Even though the Kentucky Derby is a race often full of surprises (two of the last six winners were 50-1 shots), I tend to doubt we saw the Kentucky Derby winner on Saturday.

A few other thoughts on Saturday’s action:

*Kathmanblu was the solid favorite in the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager pool, but her stock took a hit with the result of the Fair Grounds Oaks. Inglorious, the 6-5 favorite Saturday on the basis of her close second to Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra, finished a flat fourth to the overachieving Daisy Devine. I know I’ve said it before, but I think Kathmanblu is best on turf.

*Giant Oak didn’t get the great pace set up finishing third in the New Orleans Handicap that he got when he rolled from off the pace and won last month’s Donn going away. Still, I have a feeling that Giant Oak’s loss was an indication that the handicap division at Gulfstream, which includes Morning Line and Rule, isn’t as good as first thought.

*Gio Ponti gave it a good try finishing fifth in the Dubai World Cup, and it’s fair to wonder if he might have won it had he had a prep race beforehand. Euroears also ran well finishing second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. But with the main track races on the Dubai Cup card now being run on a synthetic surface at Meydan, it seems clear that American horses no longer have the big edge they seemed to have when those races were run on dirt at Nad Al Sheba.