04/05/2015 10:49AM

Watchmaker: Few flaws in latest Derby prep wins

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If you’re looking to exploit flaws in the winning performances in Saturday’s three big Kentucky Derby preps, you’re time is probably better spent looking elsewhere. I’m as harsh a critic as anyone – a necessary trait in analytical horseplayers – and I couldn’t find anything to complain about in the dominant win by Dortmund in the Santa Anita Derby, the victory by Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass, and the score by Frosted in the Wood Memorial. Nothing of any real significance, anyway.

I’ve been taken by Dortmund for a while now – I think I really went gaga over him when he came back on as good a colt as Firing Line in the Robert Lewis, with the third finisher a mere 21 1/2 lengths back – but his Santa Anita Derby performance was probably his best yet in his undefeated career. Dortmund blew a shoe at the start. He raced near the inside, although not smack on the rail, on a day when locals suggested the inside was not the place to be. And yet Dortmund won with total authority, his official 4 1/4-length win margin feeling much, much larger.

Dortmund used his speed Saturday, as he did when he toyed with his field winning last month’s San Felipe, but he is equally effective coming from off the pace. He is a fighter, showing that in the Los Alamitos Futurity in addition to the Lewis. And when Firing Line came back to win the Sunland Derby by a country mile, it showed that Dortmund has been beating good company.

It also has been noted that Dortmund has already won at Churchill Downs, which he did last fall in his second career start in an allowance race, by almost eight lengths. But while it doesn’t hurt to have that in your corner, I think this is something that will be overplayed in the coming weeks. I question whether the Churchill surface Dortmund encountered in late November will be anything like the one he sees on the first Saturday in May.

I could gush more, such as over the fact that Dortmund went the first quarter-mile in the Santa Anita Derby in 22.46 seconds, and yet it looked like he was barely moving. Freaky, really.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

Dortmund shares the same Bob Baffert barn with American Pharoah, last year’s champion 2-year-old male, an easy winner of the Rebel in his first start back from injury and the overwhelming favorite in this Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. There are those out West who say American Pharoah is considered the better of the two. That might prove to be the case. But as brilliant as American Pharoah has been in his victories, he has not yet encountered, let alone overcome, one stitch of adversity. I’ll take Dortmund, thank you.

Moving on to Carpe Diem, there were a couple of things about his Blue Grass win that normally would have given me cause for pause. I have my doubts about the quality of Carpe Diem’s opposition Saturday, he had to work a little bit en route to scoring by three lengths, he was out in the track in the better footing, and his preliminary Beyer Speed Figure was an uninspiring 95, well short of Dortmund’s 106, and Frosted’s 103.

Yet despite all of that, Carpe Diem gives me a sense that there is so much more to him that we haven’t seen yet. I’ve felt from the moment Carpe Diem went wire to wire in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race last summer at Saratoga that he had to be unusually good, because what son of Giant’s Causeway would do that? All along I’ve felt Carpe Diem would only get better with distance and maturity, and I still feel that way. He’s winning races like the Blue Grass and Tampa Bay Derby decisively, and I don’t think he’s even begun to scratch the surface of his ability.

Frosted had much to prove in the Wood Memorial, thanks to his mysterious outing in the Fountain of Youth. In that race, Frosted went from looking like an easy, open-lengths winner to staggering also-ran in a matter of seconds. For me, horses who do that without a tangible excuse become radioactive. But Frosted rebounded big time in the Wood, and in a most unexpected way.

Frosted’s best performances have always been punctuated by shows of positional speed, so I was pretty surprised to see Frosted last and four wide early on the first turn behind a crawling pace. He stayed four wide on the far turn, where he launched a sustained run, and won going away.
Though there was a stiff, but variable wind at Aqueduct on Saturday, Frosted’s final time was legitimately quick. More importantly, Frosted not only righted his career in the Wood, he received a world of education, education that might very well pay off down the road.

Other Saturday notes:

* Dortmund, Carpe Diem, and Frosted were all established at two turns as 2-year-olds. Just saying.

* Prospect Park didn’t have the smoothest of trips when fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, but this was a step backward for him. Not encouraging.

* Daredevil confirmed everyone’s suspicion in the Wood that he is not a router. However, I think there’s more to it than that. Daredevil was a badly beaten fourth Saturday, and he lacked the positional speed he showed last year when second in the Swale in his 2015 bow. For whatever reason, Daredevil seems far below his 2-year-old form. And it’s not because he hasn’t caught a wet track this year. He is not just a wet-track horse.

* I still would love to own El Kabeir, but he’s not a first-level Kentucky Derby horse.

* Lovely Maria’s decisive score in the Ashland increases her value substantially but also strongly flatters I’m a Chatterbox, who was decidedly better than Lovely Maria at Fair Grounds.

* But don’t engrave that Kentucky Oaks trophy in I’m a Chatterbox’s name just yet. Even if she went with the grain of the track, Stellar Wind was very good winning the Santa Anita Oaks. Stellar Wind’s 5 1/4-length domination of her field Saturday was a decided cut above her big win in last month’s Santa Ysabel, and having raced but four times, and just twice this year, she has lots of room to get even better.

* Maybe I shouldn’t be so stubborn and should finally warm up to Condo Commando, who added the Gazelle to her growing resume. But I can’t just yet. I don’t know what happened to the other speed in the Gazelle that was supposed to keep Condo Commando honest early, or maybe even displace her from the lead, but it didn’t show up. When Puca is your main pace challenger, you know you have an easy lead, and that’s how it played out for Condo Commando. So now, Condo Commando has three graded stakes wins. Two were assisted by powerful track biases, and Saturday’s by the easiest of trips.

* There are two fillies out of the Gazelle that should be watched. Puca, the runner-up, was actually on the lead nearing the first turn. She doesn’t want to run that way and will be much better when she can drop back and make one big run. Wonder Gal made a fine wide move on the far turn before fading to fourth. Because Wonder Gal missed her prep for the Gazelle due to a cancellation, this was her first start since the Breeders’ Cup, and she will improve a ton off this outing.

* Dads Caps won his second straight Grade 1 Carter on Saturday. That’s heady stuff. But Dads Caps is so inconsistent that how can you really consider him one of the top sprinters in the country? As a friend pointed out, Salutos Amigos has absolutely owned Dads Caps lately. Do you think they now wish they didn’t go to Dubai with Salutos Amigos? And let’s be honest, Dads Caps’s job got a lot easier when he hit the superfecta of The Big Beast, Palace, Wild Dude, and Clearly Now all failing to show up Saturday.

Bennet Tucker More than 1 year ago
Mike, do you think Mubtaahij will add Lasix for The Derby? Does either the owner or the trainer have any history of adding Lasix when they've raced in America? (assuming they've raced in America)
Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
Mike, what little I've seen on Dortmunds pedigree has not been that favorable, what is your thoughts on him to get the 1 1/4 miles? Don't get me wrong, I like him, also a lot. Thanks
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
I admit I am not a pedigree expert, but I wonder if pedigree means as much in the Derby these days as it did years ago. We had a run not long ago of Derby winners with essentially miler pedigrees. That said, Dortmund is by a Kentucky Derby winner.
mark dilorenzo More than 1 year ago
Great article as usual Mike. I have been kicking myself ever since Dads Caps crossed the finish line on Saturday. I sat at Aqueduct w/ that same friend (who pointed out that Salutos Amigos had owned Dads Caps...)as he watched as my tournament hopes go up in flames when I didnt go with my gut IMO, which isnt worth much...Salutos Amigos is better than your "Superfecta" of rivals on Saturday. And TBB was the only one coming into the race with a prep. Ill just make sure I use DC's in the Carter next year!! One last thing.. In your opinion...Is Dortmond coming into the Derby, more or less impressive than Point Given? To me they look and feel like twins
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
For me, the difference between the way Dortmund is coming into the Derby and Point Given went into the Derby is even though Point Given lost, he had fewer top-shelf opponents than Dortmund seems to have at this moment. This is a pretty good group at the top.
flash gordon More than 1 year ago
I agree Point Given and Dortmund looks the same.Just hope Dortmund could have as much success.Maybe dare i say it the Triple crown?
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
I agree with you on Daredevil. Everyone is going to assume it was the distance, but he had already won at a mile. Even if you assume he preferred the wet track that day, he ran very well at 7F in his prep. He was done in the Wood after about 6 furlongs. He may ultimately prove to be a sprinter miler, but that was not the same horse.
Scott More than 1 year ago
I think he was just precocious at 2 and really hasn't gotten any better at 3. However, I also think he will do his best racing at 1 mile or less.
Larry Raines More than 1 year ago
Dortmund appeared to be too hot prior to the race , he had lots of kidney sweat , after the race when he returned to the winners circle it looked like he hadn't even ran a race yet as if he had just been saddled in the paddock .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mike how can you knock Condo Commando. You just make excuses for why you are wrong about her. She just keeps winning. Eventually they all lose and if and when that happens I'm sure you will say I told you so. condo Commando is a great horse! Dads Caps is inconsistent??? Really. He kept getting beat by Salutos Amigos who was the best sprinter in NY and now when he wins when Salutos is not in the race you say nobody else showed up. Too funny. The thing is Dads Caps has been very consistent he never bounces and never runs a bad race. Maybe you are just a Rudy hater
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
Not a Rudy hater, and Dads Caps was zero for his last eight.
tommy More than 1 year ago
I'm not a fan of rudy and it's only a matter of time before the ASPCA catches him for animal cruelty. Aside from that, I love the horse condo commando because she is. Big strong filly that loves to run on sloppy tracks and wins! Dad's caps is he worst horse and that race in aqueduct was fixed! You know dad's caps had no shot in beating palace, clearly now, wild dude, the big beast and those horses were out of the money which tells you something was odd!
WMaier More than 1 year ago
Mike, Don't know if you ever check out Trakus or not, but in all three of this weekend's Derby preps, Trakus has different times for frontrunner's quarter-mile splits--different from Equibase's "official" times. Any input/insight? Just wondering. Thanks.
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, there are always differences, sometimes huge ones.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Why the disrespect for Condo Commando? She was geared down the last 1/8th. Aside from the bounce in the Frizette, she has hammered her competition. She hammered this Gazelle Field in hand, and will hammer the Oaks field in hand.
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
I said I haven't warmed up to her. I can't help it if you want to take that as disrespect.
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
Some people see what they want to see Mike. Seems very prevalent in horse racing.
Anthony Harnett More than 1 year ago
Mubtaahij will be lucky to crack the top ten in the Derby. I'd love to book anything tied to him!
Scott More than 1 year ago
I don't care for his chances. I think it's just way too hard to travel from Dubai to Kentucky with too little amount of time to recover. There's a reason why no UAE Derby winner has ever even hit the board. With all that said, I like the fact that his connections are shipping him way early and I won't toss him completely until I see how he trains over the 2 weeks prior to the Derby. I guess that really goes for most of the entries, but any horse who has shown the patience that this guy did prior to destroying the field the way he was supposed to is worth considering. I contend that the Derby will be won from off the pace (mid pack even) like most years and there aren't many of the top horses that seem to have the kind of style. I think both Carpe Diem and Dortmund are capable of rating, but both also have the turn of foot that might get them too close too early. Mubtaahij fits the mold, except for the whole traveling from Dubai angle.
joseantoniocc More than 1 year ago
Mike do you know Stellar Wind´s Beyer Speed Figure
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
She got a 95.
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
KY Oaks winner.