03/19/2017 11:25AM

Watchmaker: Would a Kentucky Derby contender please impress me?

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The round of penultimate preps for the Kentucky Derby is over, for the most part. I suppose if you really, really wanted to, you could squeeze a race in between this Saturday’s Spiral or Sunday’s Sunland Derby and the Kentucky Derby, but that would require more racing in a short period of time than many of today’s horsemen like.

So, as we turn into the final round of Derby preps, one could express surprise at how, at this relatively late stage, this Derby picture remains completely unsettled. Actually, one could say a lot worse if so inclined, but you get the idea.

We have a tepid Kentucky Derby favorite in McCraken, who is back working but who did miss his last race and will have one less prep than planned. We have Classic Empire, the unanimous 2-year-old male champion and one time clear future book favorite for the Derby. He’s back working, too, but his prep season has been a mess, and who knows if he’ll feel like cooperating, as he is also a notorious bad boy. And we have a bunch of Derby prep winners who enjoyed perfect trips or perfect pace setups, or both, and no Derby prep winner who overcame so much as a straw in his path.

It is in this context that this past Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn was run. And if you think, like me, that the Rebel was a disappointment, what you’re really saying when you consider context is that the Rebel was a huge letdown.

Look, Malagacy won the Rebel to remain unbeaten after three starts. He won his first two career starts this year at Gulfstream sprinting by 10 and seven lengths over questionable company, and Saturday he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and two turns, and prevailed by two lengths.

Don’t, however, take that as proof that Malagacy is now a legitimate two-turn horse. If you thought Malagacy was a sprinter before the Rebel, there is ample reason after the Rebel to think that is exactly what he still is.

For one, Malagacy’s final time of 1:43.00 was good for a preliminary Beyer Figure of only 91. You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you how weak that number is, but that makes Malagacy’s Rebel tied for the second slowest of the 15 Derby preps run on dirt so far this year. (As an aside, three of the four races that bracketed the Rebel were also 1 1/16 mile races. So the fig, as low as it is, looks very straightforward.)

Malagacy fell off four Beyer points Saturday from his most recent sprint score, so the fact that he got slower as he went longer despite an easy trip stalking the pace strongly suggests that even if he did win, he doesn’t truly want distance, at least at this early stage of his career. And let’s not forget that the Rebel was at 1 1/16 miles. I’m surely daring him to prove me wrong, but it’s difficult envisioning Malagacy succeeding in a solid 1 1/8-mile race, let alone a 1 1/4-mile event.

Speaking of winning, whom did Malagacy beat? The fact that Sonneteer, who was still a maiden after eight attempts with a previous career-best Beyer of 77, finished second at 112-1 makes a flattering response to that question unlikely.

The “performance,” if you will, of some of those who finished behind Malagacy had a concerning ripple effect. For example, Untrapped had a perfect trip and had every chance in the stretch to catch Malagacy, but in the end he couldn’t even save the place from the maiden. Untrapped was previously second in Girvin’s Risen Star, so the strength of that race now comes into question.

Petrov, second in Oaklawn’s two previous Derby preps, finally got the stalking trip I’ve been looking for from him, but he was unable to capitalize and finished fourth. And I could see where some could claim how that takes a little of the sheen off One Liner’s victory over Petrov in the Southwest.

Royal Mo, winner of the Robert B. Lewis, and American Anthem, narrowly beaten in the Sham, both gave way to finish ninth and 10th in the field of 11, shaking the very foundation of the usually strong Southern California 3-year-old form.

Well, I should note that Sonneteer also shipped from California, so we know at least the maiden races there are good.

Bring on the final round of Kentucky Derby preps. We might not have a valid reason to expect something in them to really grab us, but we live in hope.

Quick Saturday notes:

** Mor Spirit was good winning Oaklawn’s Essex, and with the severe lack of quality depth in the handicap division he’s going to have lots of opportunities this year in some big-name and rich races.

** Vale Dori and Finest City put on a terrific show in the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, turning it into a virtual match race. That said, they’re going to see a big change in the climate when Stellar Wind and, eventually, Songbird get back to business.

** When his career is over many years from now, Irad Ortiz Jr. will have a highlight reel 50 miles long. But his ride on Terra Promessa in Oaklawn’s Azeri will not be on it. Yet as brutal as Terra Promessa’s trip was, it was disappointing to see her have nothing at 1-5 once clear in the stretch. Yes, I know Terra Promessa probably called it a day after being in trouble for more than six furlongs. But man, the Azeri was run in slow motion, with a winning preliminary Beyer of only 85.

 

Frank 6 months ago
bottom line is the 2015 3yr crop was the weakest I can remember -- going all the way back to the 80s. - thats why we had a TC winner.

You had American Pharoah and that was it -- no other horse that year won multiple Grade I(s) or beat older horses except AP and the SPRINTER RunHappy -- heck AP himself was beat by a NW1x in the Travers!

This year's crop is still better then 2015.
Ann Maree 6 months ago
Shades of the crop of 2011! 
Kenny Robinson 6 months ago
j boy echo wins the derby for Robby and MR Romans it would be nice for them to win it together.
John Smith 6 months ago
How can you knock Malagacy? He's won clear on every race. Mike, you don't like him cause the time was slow? He won all his races by open lengths! That's like saying you don't like an undefeated basketball team cause they don't score a lot of points....Malagacy ran as fast as he needed to run to win the Rebel. Who cares about time.
james hallal 6 months ago
ADVICE TO ANY TRAINER LOOKING TO USE IRAD ORTIZ FOR A KENTUCKY DERBY MOUNT. FORGET ABOUT IT. AS STATED IN AN EARLIER COMMENT TAKE THE GUY OUT OF NEW YORK AND  HE  IS A BELOW AVERAGE JOCKEY. HIS RIDE ON TERRA PROMESSA WAS TYPIICAL..I'M SURE WATCHMAKER CAN FIND WHAT HIS WINNING PERCENTAGE IS OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS. IT MUST BE MISERABLE., . 
Chuck Seddio 6 months ago
c'mon mike, at this point unless there any physical setbacks to tapwrit ,he is a legit derby horse , he is getting better and his upside yet to come. his win in the tampa bay derby,coming from behind after a slight stumble out of the gate,is even more amplified since tampa was speed biased all day,plus his race against the good mckraken,was more impressive than any chart caller has mentioned,he never got a chance to run,when finally loose he was getting to mckraken and that was proven in my mind in the tampa bay derby,pletcher has a tough choice to make,tapwrit raced twice in 4 weeks and the timing of the tampa bay derby was not ideal spacing without another prep for the derby,if it was me i would train him up to the derby,but i have read that he might race one more time . tapwrit will win the derby
Shane Gibson 5 months ago
SINCE I LIKE  TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BRIDGE JUMPERS I LOVED THE RIDE ON TERRA PROMESSA ...THANK YOU IRAD!!!
AzCraig 6 months ago
Gunnevera will win  this years Kentucky Derby.
Mike Reynolds 6 months ago
I wouldn't mind seeing Mo Town step up in start #2 of the year,  He won start #2 in 2016.  Funny thing, no one is talking about any 3 yo's ability to get 1 1/4 mile.  Throw that into the discussion.
Leslie Burke Fernandes 6 months ago
mo town will surprise where ever he runs next.
james hallal 6 months ago
why is anyone surprised when irad ortiz turns in a bad ride. facts are the guy CANNOT win outside of new york. i want someone from drf to figure out his winning percentage away from new york over the last three years. i am sure it is no better than FIVE PERCENT. his brother has far surpassed him.    .     
John 6 months ago
McCRAKEN  LOOKS THE BEST. 
BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR MAY WIN HIS FIRST KY DERBY.  GREAT RIDER. 
5121940Mollyzek 6 months ago
Wrong not a great rider.When things fall into place he wins.Like his fair ground win on girvin.Better than average rider.Long stretch battles mano e mano he loses more than wins.