04/05/2015 10:49AM

Watchmaker: Few flaws in latest Derby prep wins


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.