09/26/2010 10:05AM

In Praise Of Apart


There are loads of rich races this time of year with major future implications, but not all of them have implications that involve the Breeders' Cup. Saturday's Super Derby at Louisiana Downs was such a race.

Apart was much the best winning the Super Derby, just as he was tons the best winning the local stepping stone to that event, the Prelude Stakes. But Apart is not Breeders' Cup-bound.

There is no reason for him to be. The same connections behind Apart - owner Adele Dilschneider and trainer Albert Stall Jr. - are the same connections behind Blame. Blame, who goes in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, is at this moment a top two or three contender for the Breeders' Cup Classic. His victory most recently in the Whitney, in which he overcame a slow pace and the immensely talented Quality Road, was Blame's second straight Grade 1 score, and his fifth straight graded stakes victory. The Whitney made Blame the one to beat for the older male Eclipse Award, and made him one of the big four (Zenyatta, Quality Road, and Lookin At Lucky are the others) in the current Horse of the Year discussion. If you have Blame for the Breeders' Cup, then you don't really need Apart.

So then, what was so important about Apart's victory in the Super Derby? It has all to do with 2011.

If you think about it, no one should be surprised if at the end of this year we see Blame, Quality Road, and Lookin At Lucky all retired to stud. Beyond that, we can hope that Travers winner Afleet Express, Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, and Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer all return as good if not better than they were before they were injured, but there are no guarantees that they will. Rail Trip, who makes his first career start on dirt against Blame in Saturday's Gold Cup, is a gelding. So if he holds together, which is not a given, he'll be back next year. But Rail Trip can't be in two places at once.

There is a good chance that we will be desperate next year for quality horses to populate the handicap division. That's where Apart comes in. Just as he did in the Prelude, when he stumbled at the start and raced five wide around the track, Apart showed far more in the Super Derby than what shows up in the chart or past performance line. Apart steadied repeatedly down the backstretch when the pace was backed down in his face. And he was angled four wide to make his run late on the far turn, which was too soon because it caused him to lose more ground and momentum on that final bend for home than he would have if he waited to move out after entering the stretch. Through it all, and despite slow fractions that should have muted his late kick, Apart produced a powerful late run that was eerily Blame-like. Off his last two performances, it would be a surprise if Apart, barring injury, isn't a major Grade 1 force next year.

I would like to be as optimistic about the group that contested Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing - a group that might have seemed stronger on paper going in than Apart - but I'm not. A Little Warm, the Jim Dandy winner, looked like he could not lose when he rallied outside to take the lead from Morning Line in upper stretch. In fact, it looked like he would win by open lengths. And speaking of open lengths, the way First Dude fell back in upper stretch, it looked like he was going to be beaten a long way finishing third, exactly the way he was in the Travers and Haskell in his last two starts.

But in a final furlong that was nothing short of weird, A Little Warm couldn't even save second as First Dude came again to fall just shy of Morning Line, who was making his first start in a stakes race. I know there is a strong inclination to give Morning Line extra points for refusing to give in, and I suppose it is warranted on some level. But the way First Dude came back from the dead to be involved in the three-way photo, I can't help but wonder if this Pennsylvania Derby was a race that just totally fell apart in the late stages.