04/03/2009 12:00AM

Connections worthy of some praise


PHOENIX - We're always quick to point out a misstep or a poor decision, but it's time to recognize some good moves.

I've said before that the connections of Stardom Bound made the right move to keep her with the girls. The connections of Mr. Fantasy, likewise, deserve plaudits for not pushing the colt into the Kentucky Derby.

Mr. Fantasy, third in the Gotham, was to skip Saturday's Grade 1 Wood at 1 1/8 miles in favor of the one-mile Grade 2 Withers, said Terry Finley, president of the colt's co-owner West Point Thoroughbreds, earlier this week. Mr. Fantasy will not go in the Derby, he said, but could end up in the Preakness. Finley said the decision was made when trainer Kiaran McLaughlin noticed the colt had lost weight since the Gotham.

By skipping the Wood, they avoid temptation. As Finley told Daily Racing Form earlier this week, "If he ran well enough [in the Wood] to get to the Derby, we'd be forced to go, and that's not a spot we wanted to be in."

If Mr. Fantasy ran in the Derby, considering his speed and the onslaught of other speed ready for Churchill Downs, he could end up another victim of Derby fever. Instead, his connections have an enormously talented New York-bred who can surely do some damage in big open races probably up to a mile at the very least - not to mention the three-race Big Apple Triple series.

Another good move came from WinStar Farm and trainer Eoin Harty, who sent Well Armed to Dubai for the $6 million World Cup. Surely there was concern that the form of this rugged professional had fallen off. He had not won since the Grade 1 Goodwood last September and went into the World Cup off a second and a fourth in a pair of Grade 2 stakes at Santa Anita. Their reward? A 14-length win by their star, the biggest check available in racing, and a career reborn.

Alysheba always a showman

Any race fan had to be saddened at the news of the death of the marvelous Alysheba, which comes on the heels of the loss of another champ, Manila.

Alysheba, besides his magnificence on the track, may have been the most egocentric horse I've ever seen - and I mean that in a good way. If any horse knew when he was on camera or knew when people were watching it was Alysheba. As soon as he got on track, he would arch his neck and play to the crowd. It was as if he got the cue that the lights were on and it was showtime, be it in the paddock, warming up, or race time. It was like Arnold Palmer when the red light on the camera went on - hitch the pants, flick away the cigarette, pull out chest hairs to check the wind, and go. And we ate it up. Thanks the memories.

Gulfstream horses posting big figs

Few years on the Derby trail have given us as much balanced regional strength and thus more of a handicapping dilemma. So which bracket do you believe is best? The East with I Want Revenge and Imperial Council? The South with Friesan Fire, Old Fashioned, and Papa Clem? The West with Pioneerof the Nile, The Pamplemousse, and Chocolate Candy? Or the Southeast, with Quality Road and Dunkirk?

Speaking of the Florida contingent, don't you have to wonder about how many fast races have been run at Gulfstream this winter? Go to the page 2 Leaderboard or the Best Beyers page at drf.com and you'll see what I mean. Of the 11 top Beyer Speed Figures at up to a mile this year, 10 were established at Gulfstream (only True Quality's 107 in Laurel's Grade 2 General George cracked the list). The 3-year-old ranks, of both sexes, are just as skewed in the mile-or-less category, with Gulfstream races accounting for eight of the top nine figures (only I Want Revenge's 113 in the Grade 3 Gotham made the cut).

It's far less significant at beyond a mile - of the 11 top figures four have come from Gulfstream.

Are the Florida horses all really that good? It's something to ponder as those horses move to other venues.

Derby could suffer without Dunkirk

You've already been inundated with opinions regarding the Dunkirk situation and how the talented 3-year-old may be excluded from the Kentucky Derby because of a lack of graded earnings and the awarding of an automatic bid to the winner of a British Polytrack stakes, the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes. But here's one more thought. I'm sure Churchill's intentions in giving one of the 20 available spots in the Derby to the winner of the British race were good - to give the race more international flair. The consequence of this action, however, may actually hurt the product, not enhance it, should Dunkirk be excluded. What happens if Quality Road wins the Derby without Dunkirk in the field and Dunkirk comes back and beats Quality Road in the Preakness and the Belmont? Will Churchill have inadvertently hurt not only its crown jewel and the Derby, but also the Triple Crown?