APRIL 27th, 2009 The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, May 2nd, 2009 at 6pm ET. Here are a look at the early entries: HOLD ME BACK (Giant’s Causeway), the 2-1 favorite in the Blue Grass, offered a solid late run for second while never threatening the winner, and the WinStar homebred will make his third start of the year in the Derby. The Bill Mott trainee opened his three-year-old campaign with a strong showing in the March 21 Lane’s End S. (G2), closing from far back to win going away by 1 3/4 lengths, and received a 108 BRIS Late Pace rating that afternoon. The well-bred colt possesses a strong late kick, but his best efforts have come on synthetics and one can question the company’s he’s been facing in his last two starts. Hold Me Back ran poorly in his lone appearance on a dirt track, finishing fifth in the Remsen S. (G2) at Aqueduct in November.
The previously unbeaten CHARITABLE MAN (Lemon Drop Kid) was never a factor on Saturday, checking in seventh in the Blue Grass, but his connections are reportedly still mulling a Derby bid with the lightly raced colt. Their plans were ambitious to begin with — only one prep for a twice-raced juvenile who had never been past seven furlongs — and there’s no need to risk injury in a 20-horse field. Charitable Man will be one to keep an eye on later this year. Top Tier: I WANT REVENGE and QUALITY ROAD have distinguished themselves from the rest in my opinion. They’re the fastest contenders based on Speed ratings, and their respective victories in the Wood Memorial and Florida Derby were the two best performances I’ve seen this year.
Today’s word is that QUALITY ROAD may be OUT of the Kentucky Derby with foot problems. Check status later in the week! I Want Revenge earned a whopping 113 BRIS Speed rating for his 8 1/2-length romp in the Gotham S. (G3) and a 109 for an extremely troubled-filled yet spectacular victory in the Wood. Bred to relish the 1 1/4-mile distance, the formidable colt closed from last to first in the Wood after spotting his rivals a head start, but I Want Revenge can be placed anywhere with his speed. Look for expect him to be much closer to the engine on May 2 as jockey Joe Talamo keeps an eye on John Velazquez and Quality Road. Velazquez is a perfect fit for Quality Road, and there isn’t a horse in the prospective Derby field that is as quick as the bay colt. He would be tracking the leaders with Old Fashioned and/or The Pamplemousse in the line-up, but the pace scenario changed dramatically without those speedballs. In 2002, War Emblem was out galloping along on a short lead, with the late-running Perfect Drift chasing him, and left plenty in reserve for the stretch run, eventually winning off by four lengths.
Nobody should be surprised to see Quality Road enjoy a similar trip. If another runner completely sacrifices his chances during the opening furlongs, Quality Road will be content to sit and pounce. DESERT PARTY (Street Cry [Ire]) will attempt to give Godolphin their first Derby winner. After opening 2009 with a pair of sharp wins in Dubai, he was upset by his stablemate in the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2), but the promising colt gained more fitness-wise in the half-length setback than an easy victory would’ve provided. The Grade 2 winner is bred to handle the 10-furlong distance, and I’m anxious to see if Desert Party trains well at Churchill.
DUNKIRK is talented enough to win, but the unraced juvenile has little seasoning and must bounce back from a grueling runner-up effort in the Florida Derby. Don’t be surprised if he does so. Dunkirk offered a breathtaking move on the far turn of the Florida Derby, making up a lot of ground over the speed-favoring oval, and that kind of rally often wins the Kentucky Derby.
FRIESAN FIRE will enter the Derby fresh for Larry Jones, who knows how to have a horse ready for his best after saddling the last two Derby runners-up, and there’s a lot to like about the improving colt. His BRIS Speed ratings have steadily increased in three starts this season, and the bay colt displayed a tremendous turn of foot leaving the far turn of the Louisiana Derby, winning off by 7 1/4 lengths. Friesan Fire looked like he had plenty more to offer that afternoon, and he’s eligible to keep moving forward at Churchill Downs.
PAPA CLEM has finished either first or second in four starts since being stretched out to a route in December, and I love Stute’s strategy of running him on dirt before the Kentucky Derby. The bay colt showed plenty of heart in the Robert Lewis and Arkansas Derby, and we haven’t seen his best yet.
PIONEEROF THE NILE will bring excellent credentials into the Derby, rattling off four straight stakes victories, including a one-length score in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), since being transferred to Bob Baffert last fall. His conditioner (a three-time Derby winner) is an advantage, but Pioneerof the Nile will be a no-fig horse with a career-best 96 to his credit. I Want Revenge’s Speed ratings increased significantly when he switched to dirt, and Pioneerof the Nile’s supporters will look for the same results. We’ll find out whether he can handle the new surface. Longshot Hopefuls: I’m discounting they’re win chances, but the following horses could potentially make their presence felt in the exotics.
CHOCOLATE CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]) figures to finally get a solid pace up front, but the late runner has never run very fast, generating a career-best 94 Speed rating for his non-threatening second in the Santa Anita Derby. He’s out of a Seattle Slew mare, so the added distance may be no problem for the Northern California runner.
GENERAL QUARTERS will look to rally from midpack under new rider Julien Leparoux. GIANT OAK (Giant’s Causeway) opened the year with a pair of disappointing showings at Fair Grounds, but he gained a measure of redemption with his runner-up effort in the Illinois Derby. The Illinois-bred still appears seriously up against it, but the one-run closer ran well when finishing a close second in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill last fall and could pass a lot of horses over the final furlongs in the Derby. HOLD ME BACK would rate more serious consideration if the Derby was held over a synthetic track, but I still respect his late kick. With a couple of solid races under his belt this year, Hold Me Back could get involved late for a minor award. MUSKET MAN (Yonaguska) is bred more for sprints than routes, but he exits a smart two-length win in the Illinois Derby and has outrun any pedigree concerns so far. I don’t expect him to run his best race at 1 1/4 miles, but I won’t discount how hard he tries every time. REGAL RANSOM (Distorted Humor) recorded a front-running upset over Desert Party in the U.A.E. Derby, but it’s difficult to envision him enjoying the same trip and the additional ground is a major concern. He will enter the Derby on the upswing for Saeed bin Suroor, though, and it will be interesting to see how the Kentucky-bred trains at Churchill Downs. __________________
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