03/30/2013 7:13PM

Quick Thoughts On Saturday's Action


A lot happened on Saturday. Let’s first touch on the Kentucky Derby preps:

I liked Orb in the Florida Derby because I thought he would get as favorable a pace set up as he got when he won last month’s Fountain of Youth. But as the Florida Derby unfolded, stretch-out sprinter Merit Man got away with a walking lead when Shanghai Bobby, among others, did not go early. So what promised to be a favorable pace set up for Orb turned into an unfavorable one. However, that Orb was able to overcome the poor pace set  up, and a four wide run on the far turn that doesn’t often work at Gulfstream, and still win the Florida Derby in thoroughly decisive fashion (for his fourth straight win) speaks highly of him. In fact, the Florida Derby was the second time in Orb’s last three starts that he overcame adversity – specifically bad set ups – to win, and that shows what a dangerous Kentucky Derby aspirant he has become.

Itsmyluckyday, who predictably had a better trip than Orb, ran very well finishing second going a longer distance than he ever had before off a designed two month layoff, the wisdom of which is now fair to question. Nevertheless, as talented as Itsmyluckyday is, I think there is reason to doubt his prospects of successfully negotiating the Kentucky Derby’s 10 furlong distance.

As for Shanghai Bobby, who faded without excuse in the Florida Derby, it has to be clear now that he is not a true distance horse. But he still has a very bright future as a 7 to 8 furlong performer.

I wish I could be as bullish on Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary as I am on Orb, but Revolutionary is a mixed bag. The good news is, he won Saturday as the favorite without showing signs of his past baggage (breaking poorly, running in spots), and he overcame having to go about six wide on the far turn. He also galloped out well past the wire. On the other hand, Revolutionary, and every other closer in the Louisiana Derby field, got a big break when the 99-1 shot Hip Four Sixtynine went up and dueled with Titletown Five, who looked like the clear speed of the race on paper. And forget about what he did after the wire, it’s a concern that Revolutionary was life and death to come back on the limited Mylute by the time the finish actually arrived.

Lines of Battle, who did have a very wide trip but could only manage a seventh at 27-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in his only previous U.S. start, earned enough points for a berth in the Kentucky Derby with his victory in the UAE Derby. And it looks like he aims to take advantage of it. Good luck to him. His Coolmore connections seemed to complain about the trip Lines of Battle had Saturday, and noted that he is the type who idles when he strikes the front, as if to suggest he’s better than what he showed. Sorry, I’m not buying. Lines of Battle was close to a slow UAE Derby pace, which seems like a very favorable trip to me, and waiting on horses is not a characteristic you would want in any horse.

In any case, Lines of Battle now follows a path blazed last year by another Coolmore horse, Daddy Long Legs. Daddy Long Legs went to the Kentucky Derby off a victory in the UAE Derby, and was beaten so badly he was eased. The Coolmore gang is an extremely sharp group, but I don’t get how they think that the UAE Derby to Kentucky Derby route will work for them when it hasn’t worked for Sheikh Mohammed. In fact, Sheikh Mohammed seems to given up on this approach to the Kentucky Derby, and he invented the UAE Derby.

Now, on to other matters:

All I can say about Animal Kingdom’s spectacular victory in the Dubai World Cup is, I wish he ran like that one time here in the U.S. Animal Kingdom’s gaining second after trouble and off a nine month injury-related absence to Horse of the Year Wise Dan in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile was a tremendous performance, better than his Kentucky Derby win. But his Dubai Cup effort was of superior quality, particularly the turn of foot he showed to completely put the race away at the top of the stretch.

I’m not going to be too harsh on Royal Delta, Dullahan, Little Mike, Trinniberg and Private Zone for their flops in Dubai. I mean, Dubai is so far away and the competition level is so high … I just don’t think these horses should be kicked to the curb because they were unsuccessful there. That said, I remain very skeptical of Trinniberg, and I wonder what Dullahan is going to do now.

Do you think Todd Pletcher, who has the current Kentucky Derby favorite in Verrazano, has a nice hand for the Kentucky Oaks? Why, yes. Yes, he does.

Pletcher’s Unlimited Budget extended her unbeaten streak to four with a workmanlike score in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Unlimited Budget seemed to lose interest once she struck the front in the stretch (there is that waiting on the lead thing again), but it seems clear she’s still a bit green, and it is obvious she has a ton of talent.

But it was Pletcher’s Dreaming of Julia, and her score in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, that sent shock waves through the 3-year-old filly division. Live Lively, who upset Dreaming of Julia last month in the Davona Dale when she had a pace and recency advantage, made an easier lead than expected Saturday when Cue the Moon, for whatever reason, didn’t go early. So for a bit there, it seemed like the Gulfstream Oaks might wind up a repeat of the Davona Dale. But that wasn’t to be the case. Dreaming of Julia didn’t merely overwhelm Live Lively, she drowned her by a near 20 length margin. Yes, huge things were expected of Dreaming of Julia after she won her first two career starts last summer by double-digit margins. But this performance, well, the term “Wow!” doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

I was surprised when Graydar conceded the early lead in the New Orleans Handicap. It looked like the front end was his for the taking considering the fast pace he set in his somewhat bias-aided Donn Handicap win last time out. But Graydar showed some depth Saturday, both for winning with this rating approach, and for winning away from Gulfstream, which he hadn’t done before. Still, I think, at least at this early stage of his development, that Graydar is most effective when he is on the early lead.

Cigar Street, who made it three straight winning the Skip Away, looks like the real deal. Take Charge Indy was able to get to the rail on the first turn and set a controlled pace in the Skip Away, much like he did in his win in the Florida Derby last year. But Cigar Street proved decidedly the best despite being three to four wide on the first turn, and three wide on the far turn.