04/02/2012 3:18PM

Kentucky Derby: Latest round of preps muddle picture

Keeneland/Coady Photography
All Squared Away, a 70-to-1 longshot, prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths over favorite Summer Front in the Lexington Stakes.

Upset wins by Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby, Daddy Long Legs in the United Arab Emirates Derby, and Hero of Order in the Louisiana Derby this past weekend left the pecking order of contenders for the May 5 Kentucky Derby less defined than it was a week ago, created great debate over the performances of horses and riders involved in those races, and caused considerable upheaval on the graded stakes earnings list, which seems certain, yet again, to determine the Derby field.

The first four finishers from the Florida Derby – Take Charge Indy, Reveron, Union Rags, and El Padrino – are still pointing to the Kentucky Derby. The result of the Florida Derby will be hotly debated for weeks, owing to the troubled trip encountered by favored Union Rags, who was in traffic for much of the race while inside of El Padrino.

Michael Matz, trainer of Union Rags, said jockey Julien Leparoux likely learned a lot about Union Rags in the race, and Matz said he had no problems with the tactics employed by jockey Javier Castellano – the former rider of Union Rags – aboard El Padrino.

“Javier was doing his job, race riding,” Matz said. “He knew [Union Rags] was the horse to beat. I’m sure Julien would have done the same thing if he was in his shoes.

“Hopefully, Julien learned a lot from it. That part of it is good. The rest was disappointing. He wasn’t able to run until he got to the eighth pole. Next time, maybe he’ll let him run away from the gate a little more. You just have to view it as a good lesson. The good thing is he came out of it okay, and we have five weeks to prepare for his next race.”

Matz said the re-shoeing incident with Union Rags prior to the race was a non-factor. Union Rags had his right rear shoe become askew while saddling, and it was quickly affixed.

“It was just one nail,” Matz said.

Take Charge Indy justified the decision of trainer Patrick Byrne to bypass the seemingly easier Tampa Bay Derby three weeks earlier. Keeping with his approach of not overtraining Take Charge Indy, Byrne said Take Charge Indy would likely have just one or two workouts at Churchill Downs after arriving there April 12.

El Padrino’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said Sunday he’d “be inclined to go to the Kentucky Derby, based on his body of work.” The question is whether the $250,000 El Padrino has in graded stakes earnings will get him into the field.

The Derby field is limited to 20 starters, and, for the first time this year, there will be up to four also-eligibles denoted when posts are drawn. If more than 20 enter, the field is determined by graded stakes earnings. While El Padrino is in the field right now, Pletcher said he will not have another prep race, and there are a number of horses currently below him on the list who will be chasing lucrative prize money the next two weekends in races like the Wood Memorial and Arkansas Derby, which are worth $1 million; the Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, which are worth $750,000; and the Illinois Derby, which has a $500,000 purse.

Both Daddy Long Legs and Wrote leapfrogged up the earnings list by finishing first and third, respectively, in the $2 million UAE Derby, after which trainer Aidan O’Brien said both would be pointed to the Kentucky Derby.

Hero of Order’s 109-1 stunner in the Louisiana Derby gives him $615,500 in graded earnings, but, because he is not nominated to the Triple Crown, his chances of getting into the Derby are remote. He still can be supplemented to the Derby for $200,000, but under the conditions for the Derby, supplemental entrants go to the back of the line, behind any horse who was nominated in January or March, regardless of earnings. That’s bad news for Hero of Order – who, according to trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, may run in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 21 to prep for the Preakness on May 19 – but fortuitous news for any bubble horse.

One of those bubble horses might end up being Mark Valeski, the Louisiana Derby runner-up, who now has $260,000 in graded earnings. He lost his left hind shoe during the race Sunday, perhaps from being stepped on, since the bulb of that foot was cut, bruised, and sensitive, trainer Larry Jones said.

“He apparently had to run quite a little way without the shoe because he was sore,” Jones said. “Running on three shoes, that affects you more than you think.”

Jones said Mark Valeski would run in the Derby if he has the earnings to get in, but he will not run in another prep to try and boost his bank account.

Consider, also, the potential fate of Bodemeister. Though he is highly regarded, he has just $60,000 in graded earnings. Though there’s a slight chance he could run in the Santa Anita Derby this Saturday, Bodemeister is more likely to run in the April 14 Arkansas Derby, where a win, worth $600,000, would get him into the Derby, but a second-place finish, worth $200,000, would put him in a precarious position.

The Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and Illinois Derby are all Saturday.

Alpha, Gemologist, and My Adonis head the prospective field for the Wood.

The Santa Anita Derby is expected to be topped by stakes winners Creative Cause, I’ll Have Another, and Liaison.

Currency Swap leads the likely field for the Illinois Derby, whose $300,000 first prize will give the winner more graded cash than, for instance, Mark Valeski and El Padrino.

– additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Marcus Hersh

OwenJ More than 1 year ago
Why is no one giving any respect to Wrote and Daddy Long Legs who ran several international horses to the ground in the UAE Derby? i think they are worth a squeak although I don't like the sire line Scat Daddy to get a mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs. I think that to have a real chance of placing, Aidian O'Brien will also have to carry both horses to Churchill Downs to get them acclimatised to the track - something the Europeans rarely do!
mrm More than 1 year ago
DLL ran terrible in the BCJ on the dirt.
OwenJ More than 1 year ago
The Wood appears to be a two-horse race between the cleverly raced Gemologist and the well-bred Alpha. At this time I am giving Gemologist the edge, but only just over Alpha who is also peaking at the right time.
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
Dont agree,second race off a layoff,predictable bounce,should set rags perfect.slo pace jl didnt abuse rags. Remember indian charlie beat real quiet in a paceless santa derby and congaree beat monarchos in a paceless wood rags will make a late run and it will take huge effort to hold him off. I love 3rd off layoff pattern after a giant 1st effort
Matthew More than 1 year ago
No disrespect but those comparisons aren't even remotely credible. Indian Charlie and Congaree were not mile and a quarter horses...Monarchos was not asked in the Wood by design and Real Quiet was a grinder who turned the table on a miler. This is shaping up as one of the worst Derbies but they have been getting progressively worse anyway.
tazcat1973 More than 1 year ago
I agree with Mathew. The derby runners are more and more pampered and babies, and their beyers seem consistently lower over the last 3-4 yrs. Remember the days when a horse needed at least a 105 Beyer heading to the derby to be a contender?
bob j More than 1 year ago
troubled trips are usually overblown. If Union Rags was truly the best horse, he would have quickened enough on the turn and stretch to accelerate past the leaders. This was no turf race where there were 14 horses packed tightly on a hairpin curve. He didn't have a gaping hole, but he had enough room. Bottom line - he wasn't good enough, and a truly great horse doesn't need an excuse.
Janice Palmer More than 1 year ago
With all due respect, I don't think you are giving enough respect to the way the track was playing and the fact that horses were NOT coming back to the pack, especially after easy front running trips. This race was lost long before the stretch when no attention or respect were given to the pacesetters. The fact that UR was able to even close as well as he did at the end of the 9f proves he is a good horse. Great, I'll wait and see how he performs -- hoping for a better trip and pace which should, with the added distance, give us a better idea of just how good he is. Think it would be very wise to reserve any serious judgment after this race until we see UR's performance in the Derby.
Matthew More than 1 year ago
Problem is we need to make up our mind prior to the race being run! Half this field won't run again after the Derby.
OwenJ More than 1 year ago
Janice, please watch Rags' last race again! Truly good horses would quickly overcome the slightly wide trip Rags had in the Florida Derby. At no time was he more than six lengths off the pace. He had every chance and Julien saved him for a run which was not good enough. He has the makings of a great miler but WILL NOT stay the Derby trip! Don't be surprised if Union Rags is unplaced in the Derby! I expect horses such as Creative Cause, Gemologist; Alpha and possibly Hansen to beat him - Hansen to possibly run fourth as the momentum from his early pace may earn him that slot.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Agree, Bob....am just a little put off by the excuses everyone seems to want to give Union Rags, from his Juvenile to his disappointing Fl. Derby. And they seemed to want to give him more credit than he deserved in his 2012 debut....I thought he did what he was supposed to do in that race. Hansen's Gotham to me anyway was the better return of the two. I'm not ready to jump on any bandwagon just yet. I remember too well the wild ride we had last year with the favorite, Uncle Mo, and it turned out it was all smoke and mirrors. No disrespect to Mo or his connections meant, just the reality of 2011 was a big let-down. I personally have enjoyed the prep season this year much over the last, but, barring a true super star emerging in the TC races, am frankly looking forward to getting past the Triple Crown races, as I much prefer the summer and fall meets! I was disappointed that we won't get to see Fly Lexis Fly in the TC run...he would have been interesting to watch. He will run in the Belmont, I understand, and I'm hoping he stays around for the last half of the year and point to the Breeders Cup.
Hammertime More than 1 year ago
Hanson returned in the Holy Bull and ran himself into the ground. It was embarrassing for a supposed class horse. That said, form from last season has held pretty well. Pedigree arguments aside, Rags looked slightly the best last year, and will probably be slightly the best come Derby day. On the other hand, Rags has never run a truly fast race, and News Pending finished dead last. 2 easy races (he was only clear to run the final 8th), and Matz babies him in his works... We'll see how fit he is come May. He certainly had Barbaro crawling out of his skin.
Nick N. Mantecon More than 1 year ago
Union Rags will win the Roses....if Castellano is back in the saddle
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Castellano doesn't deserve to sit on Union Rags ever again. He showed his loyalty to his main money man Pletcher. There are plenty of other jocks who could get the job done if Leparoux isn't the man.
mrm More than 1 year ago
Johnny V would fit this horse nicely. UR needs to be in the game earlier. Javier used his knowledge of UR to try and beat him. It seems like he doesn't love to be in tight places but more often than he can overcome it because he's very talented. He's going to need a very good trip to get the job done in the Derby.
Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
I don't think Mark Valeski or El Padrino will have to worry about graded earnings. That issue always becomes overblown right around this time, but usually has a way of working out by Derby Day. Theoretically it's a problem but there are bound to be defections between now and them, do if healthy I would expect both to make inthe starting gate.
Hammertime More than 1 year ago
Graded earnings discussion is interesting. Mark Valeski and El Padrino are 17 and 18 right now. Like NCAA bubble teams, they need the "conference tournaments" or prep races to follow form. If Creative Cause wins, no biggie, he's in anyway. If Paynter wins, that moves everyone down. The Wood features 3 horses: Alpha, My Adonis, and Gemologist who are chasing right now. It is likely that 2 if not 3 of these horses will leap frog in at the expense of MV and EP. This isn't even counting the crazy Keeneland races which Hanson will almost certainly lose. Howe Great will probably finish in the top 2 in the Blue Grass and grab another spot. Optimizer will run in as many races as necessary to get in for Lukas. Then you have horses like Longview Drive, Bodemeister, The Lumber Guy, Currancy Swap, Holy Candy, and a few more who can easily play spoiler and get in with an upset or big second. Horses I could see defecting: Drill, Sabrecat, and On Fire Baby. That's it.