04/07/2012 6:29PM

Notes on the SA Derby, Wood, and Other Stuff

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Thoughts on Saturday’s three big Kentucky Derby preps:

I agree that if you were inclined to try Creative Cause without blinkers, the time to do it was Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby and not in the Kentucky Derby. But I must admit I still don’t at all understand the urge to try this colt without them. Creative Cause lacks focus. It’s obvious the way he has run in the past. Traditionally, blinkers help address that issue, and blinkers off does the opposite. So I wasn’t surprised to see Creative Cause hang late Saturday, and narrowly miss in a race in which he was likely the most talented horse by a clear margin. Anyway, I lost no respect for Creative Cause, and still regard him as a top threat to win the Kentucky Derby, just as long as he gets his blinkers back in Louisville.

And props go to I’ll Have Another, who was sharp winning the Santa Anita Derby off a two month layoff. At the same time, this was a hard effort for I’ll Have Another, off a two month layoff, and in only his second start in seven months. He seems very susceptible to a bounce in the Derby.

The Wood Memorial was oddly run in the sense that My Adonis was, for whatever reason, in a huge hurry to go after The Lumber Guy early. The impact of this was a quick early pace, Gemologist getting pushed four-to-three wide on the first turn, and Alpha getting knocked back on the rail into the first turn.

Credit goes to the first two Wood finishers. Gemologist was also caught three wide on the far turn, and yet he almost handily resisted when Alpha made a late run at him. Alpha, in addition to his early trouble, was coming off a two month layoff, and yet turned in a far more impressive performance than his two Aqueduct inner track stakes wins earlier this year. I don’t know why, but this Wood made me think of the 2003 Wood, in which Empire Maker handily turned back Funny Cide. But in Kentucky, Funny Cide turned the tables on Empire Maker in the Derby.

Done Talking, whose prior two stakes starts resulted in a fourth in the Remsen last fall and a distant 10th in last month’s Gotham, got himself a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby if he wants it with his off-the-pace victory in the Illinois Derby. I know Mine That Bird only happened a couple of years ago, but does Done Talking really have any shot at Churchill? How good a race could this Illinois Derby have been when Morgan’s Guerilla, coming off  an Aqueduct inner track maiden win, has command in deep stretch and only succumbs late? And yes, I liked Morgan’s Guerilla Saturday, but as a bet, not as a Kentucky Derby candidate.

Other Saturday thoughts:

There was a weird run of slow-paced stakes scores during the day, specifically Broadway Alibi in the Comely, Trinniberg in the Bay Shore, and Karlovy Vary in the Ashland.

Despite easily getting loose early, Broadway’s Alibi’s clear-cut Comely score was good because she had been away for a little more than two months, and she proved she doesn’t need the wet track caught when she ran away with the Old Hat in January to be effective. She also got a heads up ride from Javier Castellano, who knuckled down on Broadway’s Alibi when things suddenly got serious late on the far turn.

Trinniberg did get a base on balls with a very easy early lead. But wow! He is certainly miles better this year at 3 without blinkers than he was last year at 2.

The slow pace Karlovy Vary got away with in her front running score in the Ashland meant everything. Second and third place finishers Hard Not to Like and Stephanie’s Kitten were both coming off five month layoffs, and will be tougher customers down the road.

There was also a slow pace in the Carter, but it couldn’t get pacesetter Shackleford home, and he is now 0 for 7 since his upset of last year’s Preakness. Corey Nakatani was smart putting Jackson Bend in the game a little earlier than usual, and it made the difference in the outcome, as they just held off Caleb’s Posse’s late charge. Obviously, Caleb’s Posse was compromised by the slow Carter pace, but he still finished explosively. And I still think that there is no question that Caleb’s Posse is clearly the best of this group.

I was troubled by Saturday’s news that Havre de Grace will not run in Oaklawn’s Apple Blossom, mainly because she would have to concede six pounds to Plum Pretty. Hey, Havre de Grace is the defending Horse of the Year, and her connections declining to concede weight to a filly in Plum Pretty who is a nice horse, but not yet a champion of any sort, sends a strong message of insecurity. It also provides fuel to the critics who note that Havre de Grace was far from a slam dunk as Horse of the Year last year, and I say that as someone who voted for her to be Horse of the Year.