02/24/2010 10:30AM

Pace recap: Feb. 20 prep races

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Pace points from the Feb. 20 prep races:

HARD TO FAULT

Eskendereya's Fountain of Youth romp deserves all the accolades. He is a bonafide No. 1 Kentucky Derby contender, especially since Lookin at Lucky is slightly behind schedule and has never raced on dirt. The knock on Eskendereya's race -- and there is always a knock to be found, right? - is that he benefited from a clear trip stalking a soft pace. The Moss Pace Figure line of 68-75-83-92-F95 is the second-slowest Fountain of Youth overall in 1 1/8-mile runnings since the Gulfstream track was reconfigured in 2005 (Quality Road's win last year was at one mile):

Year Winner Pacefig line
2010 Eskendereya 68-75-83-92- F95
2008 Cool Coal Man 64-79-89-93- F92
2007 Scat Daddy 74-88-93-93- F91
2006 First Samurai 62-69-80-89- F90
2005 High Fly 74-83-91-92- F92

First Samurai set those soft fractions in 2006, then was moved up from second to first with the DQ of Corinthian. In his next start, First Samurai was trounced in Sinister Minister's Blue Grass Stakes, and never raced again.

ANOTHER SYNTHETIC EXAMPLE

Southwest Stakes winner Conveyance could be the poster child for fig differences between synthetics and dirt. In the Jan. 16 San Rafael over Santa Anita's Pro Ride, Conveyance was ignored on the front end in a five-horse field, loafing through a paceline of 46-62-76-F89. He had to work hard to hold off Cardiff Giant, but a galloping start and furious finish is not the ideal style for a speed-oriented horse whose advantage is a fast cruising speed. The whole fast-cruising-speed concept is often more of a disadvantage on synthetics. Also, his modest 91 Beyer Speed Figure in the San Rafael is an example of how synthetic tendencies to penalize speed create slow-pace scenarios that make it difficult to earn a strong final figure.

In the Southwest on Oaklawn dirt, Conveyance's cruising speed was utilized to its fullest. Allowed to roll through a paceline of 83-87-92-F92 that was a trifle faster than the race's 10-year median of 82-85-91-F91, Conveyance turned in a final Beyer of 97. Whether Conveyance turns out to be a better Derby contender than Southwest runnerup Dublin remains to be seen. Dublin broke a length slow, stumbled slightly afterwards to lose perhaps another half-length, then went 2-to-3 wide on the first turn and 3-to-4 wide on the second turn. Conveyance had a ground-saving trip. Dublin carried 5 fewer pounds than Conveyance, but lost by only three-quarters of a length while giving up 4 to 5 lengths in ground loss. On that day, at least, a strong argument could be made Dublin was a better horse.

RISING CONTENDER

Go ahead and downgrade Discreetly Mine's Risen Star victory after his uncontested pace in easy fractions. That's fair. His pacefig line of 64-79-90-F90 is significantly slower than the previous decade's Risen Star average of 80-86-90. Conveyance ran his opening quarter-mile and half-mile a variant-adjusted six to eight lengths faster than Discreetly Mine ran his. Also, Discreetly Mine carried only 116 pounds. He probably doesn't deserve to be high on anyone's Derby list just yet.

But at the same time, keep in mind Discreetly Mine has demonstrated he might not be a one-dimensional speed horse. He's a half-brother to the phenomenally-talented Godolphin star Discreet Cat. And while Discreet Cat is by the speedy Forestry and was at his best at a mile, Discreetly Mine is by Horse of the Year Mineshaft, a two-time Grade 1 winner at a mile-and-a-quarter, and out of Pretty Discreet, winner of the Grade 1 Alabama at a mile-and-a-quarter.

Back in 1995, Pretty Discreet caught a sloppy track in the Alabama and raced to an eight-length upset for owner/breeder Paul Robsham at 42-to-1 odds, earning a 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. Discreet Cat was her sixth foal, and Robsham sold him to Godolphin for big money following an impressive maiden victory at Saratoga in August 2005. This one Robsham kept.