03/26/2012 7:47AM

Sunland Derby, Spiral, and Other Stuff


Some quick thoughts on the weekend stakes action:

For a moment, it looked like the Kentucky Derby’s graded earnings picture was going to get turned on its head when Isn’t He Clever, who was not yet nominated to the Triple Crown, held a clear lead inside the eighth pole of Sunday’s Sunland Derby at Sunland Park. With a purse of $800,000, the Sunland Derby was the richest Kentucky Derby prep run so far this year, and in terms of value, it will only be surpassed by a quartet of $1 million final preps that are more closely associated with success in Kentucky – the Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas Derbies, and the Wood Memorial.

In any case, the graded earnings picture remained relatively upright Sunday, thanks to two things: Another game performance by Daddy Nose Best, who finished determinedly to get up in time to win his second straight and who is a bit better than I originally thought he was, and an unnecessarily premature move by Isn’t He Clever. I don’t know what the big hurry with Isn’t He Clever was, specifically why he had to go after the dueling front-runners before even leaving the backstretch, especially when there wasn’t any pressure from runners behind him forcing him to move when he did.

And speaking of early moves in the Sunland Derby, although it was clear that Castaway wants to be involved early given the way he was used early when he won his division of the Southwest last month, was it really necessary for him to get in a head and head speed duel out of the gate with Ender Knievel? At the same time, it’s hard making any sort of excuses for a favorite who was beaten 25 1-2 lengths as Castaway was.

Right after Animal Kingdom won last year’s Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, I seriously doubt there were more than a very few people who thought they had just seen the Kentucky Derby winner, and I would suspect almost every one who did was directly involved with the horse. I say this because, even though the two horses share the same connections, it takes more than a little imagination to think that we saw the Kentucky Derby winner in Went the Day Well, who decisively won Saturday’s renewal of the Spiral. The field Went the Day Well beat was not an accomplished one, and Went the Day Well himself was coming off only a maiden victory. But, Went the Day Well did at least take a significant step forward Saturday, going from a 76 Beyer to a 92, and who knows? Maybe he will go on and work like a monster at Churchill Downs the way Animal Kingdom did.

The main supporting features on the Sunland Derby and Spiral cards, the Sunland Park Oaks and the Bourbonette Oaks, shared a lot of similarities. They were both two turn stakes for 3-year-old fillies won by odds-on favorites in runaway fashion after getting loose on the lead. Princess Arabella, who won at Sunland, has the bigger reputation because she created a stir winning her first two career starts at Santa Anita. But I think In Lingerie’s romp at Turfway might have been more revealing in that it strongly suggested that Zo Impressive is a filly on the verge of big things. Zo Impressive absolutely crushed In Lingerie in an allowance race at Gulfstream last month, and is to make her next start in Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Oaks on the Florida Derby undercard.