02/03/2013 2:07PM

Saturday 3-year-old Thoughts


I would think after Saturday, Kentucky Derby future book odds and personal Derby rankings everywhere underwent major resets. Winning performances like the ones we got from Verrazano in a Gulfstream allowance race, Flashback in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, and Revolutionary in the Withers at Aqueduct will tend to do that.

Verrazano, now yet to be tested after two career starts, was for me the most impressive of this trio, and that's saying something. After pressing a strong early pace (has anyone else noticed that after years of opening quarter miles in one mile main track races at Gulfstream like the one Verrazano ran in Saturday automatically being 24 and change, they’ve been much faster lately – Verrazano pressed an opening quarter of 22.94), Verrazano ran away to win precisely by 16 1-4 lengths, with his final time of 1:34.80 being good for a 105 Beyer Figure.

Verrazano didn’t beat much. There is no disputing that. But he certainly did it the right way, and everyone is eager to see how he handles the raise to stakes in his next start. As trainer Todd Pletcher noted, the Fountain of Youth comes up a little too quick with just three weeks between starts (so does the Risen Star, which will also be run on Feb. 23), so that puts the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, the Rebel on March 16, or even the Spiral on March 23 in play for Verrazano.

You can certainly say that Flashback, also now an impressive 2 for 2, won the Lewis the right way, drawing off to score by 6 1-4 lopsided lengths, earning a 92 Beyer. But you cannot say Flashback beat nothing. Lewis runner up Den’s Legacy won the Generous, finished third in the CashCall Futurity, and was a sharp second to the well regarded Goldencents in the Sham in his last three starts. And third-place finisher He’s Had Enough was beaten only a head by 2-year-old champ Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his only previous start on dirt.

What is cause for pause regarding Flashback Saturday was the trip he was fortunate to receive. Flashback absolutely walked on the lead - he went in 24.17 and 48.69 early which, incidentally, is why his Beyer wasn’t higher. He went too slow early to make a fast final time possible. Anyway, Flashback can’t expect to get off so easy trip-wise once we get further down the road to the Derby, so we’ll have to see what he can do when circumstances aren’t as favorable. No doubt about it, though. Flashback can really run.

If nothing else, Revolutionary’s win in the Withers was great theater. After a trip that could fill a small book, Revolutionary surged late between horses to just get up at just under 4-5. His winning Beyer was a pedestrian 86, well off the 102 he earned in his impressive maiden score in his prior start, but his fig had to be impacted to some extent by the journey he had.

Although it is obvious that Revolutionary has a great deal of ability, his Withers left me wondering. First, when Long River, the only other real contender in the race, came up totally empty, it left a field that Revolutionary should have completely dominated. So while Revolutionary had an eventful trip, he was supposed to win, anyway, because that’s how much he towered over his field. Even a close loss with his bad trip would have been very disappointing.

Secondly, much of Revolutionary’s trouble was of his own making. He’s not adept at coming out of the gate. He pulled hard going into the backstretch, causing him to be steadied, and then seemed to come off the bit late on the backstretch, only to pull hard again on the far turn. And when he was making his slicing, winning move between horses late, he had his head up high as though he disliked what he was being asked to do. Revolutionary can certainly outgrow his character flaws. He still has time to get his head together, but he’ll have to. No matter what race he runs in next, he can’t act the way he did Saturday and expect to get away with it.

There were a couple of other 3-year-old races Saturday that, while not as important in a Derby context as the three discussed above, are worthy of mention.

Honorable Dillon might have been fortunate the wire arrived when it did as he lasted over the fast-closing Forty Tales to win Gulfstream’s Hutcheson. At the same time, even though he was starting for the fourth time, Honorable Dillon was still quite green Saturday, and seemed to really idle once he struck the front. He could be a prime candidate for blinkers.

Taking nothing away from Falling Sky, the front-running winner of the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, but I wonder what runner up Dynamic Sky did to anyone to pull one tough trip after another. In the Davis, Dynamic Sky was four wide around both turns, and that kind of ground loss is meaningful. He still might have gotten up if he didn’t get to lugging in through the stretch, but that was a problem of his own making.