03/30/2014 12:38PM

Saturday Notes


*For a colt who raced only twice before, Constitution deserves a lot of credit for his winning performance in the Florida Derby. He had to eat a fair amount of dirt rating just off the lead inside, he was willing to go through an opening on the rail late on the far turn, and he willingly battled the length of the stretch with a known fierce competitor in Wildcat Red, who won the Fountain of Youth and Hutcheson in his last two starts, despite being pinned down on the wood.

That said, there were a couple of things about this Florida Derby that leave the door open for skeptics. For one, how does John Velazquez, the rider of Wildcat Red, let Constitution through on his inside? I could understand if Wildcat Red was tiring late on the far turn because tiring horses do tend to drift. But the fact that Wildcat Red also battled all the way to the wire, falling just a neck short, suggests he was not tired late on the far turn.

If Velazquez doesn’t let Constitution through, then Constitution would have had to hope to split opponents somewhere during the stretch run, which I don’t think was going to happen, or Constitution would have had to go around Wildcat Red, General a Rod, and maybe even Cairo Prince as well. If Constitution was forced to go around horses, he wouldn’t have won. Wildcat Red would have won. Constitution was courageous to go up inside, but given the small margin of victory, he needed every bit of that break.

The other issue concerning this Florida Derby is, for a race that seemed to have a lot of speed on paper, it turned out that there was no pace. The Florida Derby’s half mile and three quarter fractions of 48.19 and 1:12.00 were the slowest such splits of the five main track routes run at Gulfstream Saturday, by significant margins. And one of those routes was a maiden race. So while Wildcat Red deserves every bit of his bulldog reputation, it should be noted that he had an easy trip this time.

*After Wildcat Red and General a Rod finished one-two in last month’s Fountain of Youth, and Constitution won a hot allowance race on that same card, it was dutifully noted that all three capitalized on a speed-biased racing surface. They did. But it seems only fair to point out that Constitution, Wildcat Red, and General a Rod ran first, second and third in the Florida Derby on a track that was totally even.

*There is cause for concern for Cairo Prince fans, and not just because he is in a tricky spot with only 24 Kentucky Derby points, with no other starts planned between now and Derby Day. Granted, Cairo Prince was, by design, making his first start in two months Saturday. But after making a brief outside move on the far turn, Cairo Prince flattened out more than what you might expect from a horse who was merely short. He flattened out like a horse with potential distance limitations. And yes, I know Cairo Prince was beaten only a nose in the nine furlong Remsen last fall. But that was an oddly run event with a bizarrely slow pace, and the form of that race is open to some question.

*Pace was also a story coming out of the Louisiana Derby, with Vicar’s in Trouble turning a much easier lead than anyone not named Ken Ramsey could have expected into a runaway score over Risen Star winner Intense Holiday. How unremarkable was the pace Vicar’s in Trouble set? It was marginally slower than the pace in the off-the-turf Dixie Poker for Louisiana breds, it was slower than an off-the-turf allowance race, and slower early than two other Louisiana bred stakes – the Crescent City Derby, and the Crescent City Oaks.

I do realize that Vicar’s in Trouble had a bad trip from a tough post when third in the Risen Star after a middle move, and I know he came from second when he romped in the LeComte in his first start this year. But I can’t help but think Vicar’s in Trouble is one of a handful of horses aiming for the Kentucky Derby who are accustomed to performing well after being involved in soft paces. It will be interesting to see what ensues when those horses finally meet.

*I liked In Trouble in the Louisiana Derby, he was in just the spot I hoped he would be in early, and he came up completely empty. Maybe In Trouble regressed after a demanding effort when third in the Gotham off a five-month injury-related absence. Still, his no show Saturday is not an encouraging sign for Gotham one-two finishers Samraat and Uncle Sigh, who will be running back in Saturday’s Wood Memorial.

*She showed it in her first start of the year when she ran away with last month’s Rachel Alexandra, and she showed it again Saturday when she ran away with the Fair Grounds Oaks. Untapable is so much better than any other 3-year-old filly right now it’s not even funny. I mean, on Saturday, she made Fiftyshadesofgold and Unbridled Forever look ordinary, and they are good fillies.

*Palace Malice was absolutely sensational winning the New Orleans Handicap in dominating fashion over a quality opponent in Normandy Invasion. I will admit that I did not care for Palace Malice’s victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap in his first start this year. I didn’t think a colt who last year won the Belmont and Jim Dandy, and was probably best in the Travers, should have had to come again to edge the likes of the limited Golden Ticket and Uncaptured, even if he was coming off a four month layoff. But Palace Malice was light years better Saturday, and he is a welcome addition to what is at this moment a very entertaining older male division.

*I’m not sure what he is thought of in his native Japan, and I don’t know where he is going from here. But I do know that Just a Way’s victory in the Dubai Duty Free, a crushing of a top class field in course record obliterating time, was one of those rare performances that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Wow!