04/06/2010 11:00PM

Eskendereya figures best - right now


PHILADELPHIA - Imagine if Giacomo and Mine That Bird had never happened. Eskendereya would now be hailed as a superstar lock in the Kentucky Derby.

The two 50-1 winners over the last five years have every player running scared, seeing what should be easily dismissed longshots behind the webbing of every stall.

Well, the reality is that Giacomo won because of a pace meltdown and the fact that the best 3-year-old of the year, Afleet Alex, ran several lengths off his best form.

A year later, I still can't explain Mine That Bird. There was no hint. There was nothing in the past performances or anything that went down during the race that explained it.

I am not suggesting Eskendereya is a superstar. It is still early.

The Fountain of Youth, however, was very impressive. So was the Wood Memorial. The Beyer Speed Figures were 106 and 109, respectively. Those are the kinds of numbers that can win the Derby.

:: DERBY 136:



In some ways, this run-up reminds me of 2008. Big Brown was the only horse earning top Beyer figures. The rest, as Rick Dutrow reminded everybody in Kentucky, were mediocre, at best.

Eskendereya is the only horse to break through the Beyer Derby barrier. Still, it could happen Saturday in the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass Stakes.

And it surely could happen with talented colts like Sidney's Candy or Lookin At Lucky.

If Zenyatta taught us Beyer zealots anything last November, it is not to put complete faith in figures compiled on Pro-Ride or other artificial surfaces. Good horses that have been racing on artificial can improve their figures dramatically when racing against better fields or on dirt.

Still, I would not be scared of picking Eskendereya. The reality is that if the colt holds his Wood form, that form is going to win the Derby. A horse or horses would have to improve dramatically to have any chance.

I know all the bouncers are out there, waiting to pounce on Eskendereya. I thought the colt was supposed to bounce in the Wood.

I understand bouncing. In many ways, the theory is perfectly logical.

In fact, it was why I liked Butler on Monday against Duke. The Blue Devils had played a near perfect game to beat West Virginia in the semifinals. They got loose on the lead and were never challenged. I was certain Butler would challenge.

The line was bet up to 7 in response to Duke's dominating win over West Virginia. It was an overreaction.

Butler was going to keep the score down. Butler was not going to panic. Butler was going to be in the game.

That seemed logical to me.

That Eskendereya has to bounce does not seem logical to me. Could it happen? Sure. It is pre-ordained? I don't think so.

The reality is that a month out, Eskendereya clearly is the best horse.

Giacomo and Mine That Bird are going to ensure that Eskendereya is a better price than he should be, relative to his merits.

I don't care that Todd Pletcher is 0 for 24 in the Derby. He has never started Eskendereya in the Derby.

I'm not sure Pletcher needs 35 percent of the Derby field to feel comfortable. Getting Eskendereya to the gate healthy and having John Velazquez get the colt into good position by the first turn should be his two priorities.

None of Pletcher's other horses really look like serious contenders to me. Eskendereya looks very serious.

Let's think about this. The colt has run four times on dirt and has not lost.

You saw what I saw in the Wood. Johnny V. has not yet asked the colt to run hard.

I know that can be deceiving. I doubt the horse was going to run much faster if the jockey had taken out his whip. Still, it was pretty impressive.

In a year where hardly any of the contenders has sniffed 100 on the Beyer scale, Eskendereya is the horse today.

I am not saying Eskendereya will be the horse on May 1. Much can change between now and then. Another horse or horses could emerge. Eskendereya's Derby Week training may not resemble his training prior to his two dominating stakes wins.

This is absolutely a moving target. You better be prepared to adjust your thinking if the circumstances change. If this game were easy, none of us would have ever heard of Giacomo or Mine That Bird.