Photo: Hodges Photography
This past weekend race fans were treated to some thrilling three-year-old races as we witnessed exhilarating finishes in both the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, and in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. While those two races were the headliners of the afternoon, there was also a very talented allowance field at Gulfstream that will have an impact of the next round of 2014 Kentucky Derby preps as well. As I stated when we started out on this journey back in January the Derby Trail is a great time of year to learn about this great sport because everything is under the microscope. I think this past weekend we saw a nice example of a track bias in the races at Gulfstream, and I think we saw a fine example of pace, and a horse overcoming it, in the Risen Star. There is a lot to talk about so let’s get right to it. Here are my thoughts on the key players and what to expect moving forward…
The Risen Star
Going into this race I thought Intense Holiday had a shot to win, but I readily admit I wasn’t that high on his chances. I figured he may have too much to do considering the pace and that he really had not shown that will to win yet. The Pace scenario I envisioned was that this may be won by someone on, or close to, the pace. Albano almost pulled of the heist on the front end, but was ultimately robbed of victory by a horse who I believe may have turned a corner. In my opinion, Intense Holiday overcame a soft pace to close nicely to get up just in time for the win. He showed some grit and I think the light bulb has finally gone on. I very much look forward to seeing how he progresses. Here are my takeaways on the major players and what to expect from them moving forward…
Intense Holiday – As I just stated, I think we need to keep a close watch on him. In my eyes, he overcame a pace disadvantage and he may be getting good at the right time. The ability to overcome adversity is a nice quality to have come the first Saturday in May. In this race he ended up stalking a very ordinary pace about seven lengths off the pace setter and he angled out about five wide while closing nicely to get up in time to win by a nose. I thought it was a pretty nice victory considering he had to close into an average pace. As the distances increase I think that will be to his advantage. I think this was a very nice race for him and I will be watching him closely from here on out. I am not completely sold on him, but this sure put him on the radar in a big way.
Albano – This colt found himself on the lead, a pretty easy one at that, and almost took them gate to wire. He was all alone through the first quarter and faced just a little bit of pressure on the backstretch through the half. He put away the foe that was applying a little bit of pressure at the top of the lane and kicked for home only to get nipped on the line. Overall, it was a pretty decent performance, but I feel he got everything his own way. I am not too high on him moving forward, but he is improving every start. I am not sure how he will handle the added distance, I kind of don’t think he will, but we must keep an eye on him. He is improving too much each start to ignore.
Vicar’s In Trouble – I am against this one moving forward as I have concerns about distance with him. For those who do like they do have some excuses for his performance. He broke from the far outside in the thirteen hole and was caught about three to four wide into the first turn. He was mid pack stalking as opposed to his usual style of being up close on the pace. As a result of this trip, he had to move early to get into contention and loomed to threaten entering the top of the stretch, but seemed to run out of gas. He swapped leads late and never really looked like a winner. I am a fan of this horse, but not as the distances increase.
Hoppertunity – He was my top selection in here, but it appears I may have trusted Baffert a little too much. What was asked of him was a lot. This was his first try verses winners, a big jump into stakes company, and he was flown across the country. I will say I do not think his performance was all that bad. He worked out an inside stalking trip while in the rear half of the field. I thought he would be closer to the pace, and when he wasn’t, I knew that hurt his chances to win. Overall, I thought it was an alright performance as he did close nicely for fourth in his first start against this caliber of horse. I will keep him on the back burner for now.
Gold Hawk – I was not impressed with his performance at all. I was against him going in, but I was a little worried he was going to turn it around. He sat a nice stalking trip and had no excuse I could find. I do not think I will be backing him in the future on the Derby Trail.
Commanding Curve – He is another one who was asked a lot on this day. This was his first start verses winners and he was coming in off a layoff. He broke from the twelve hole, but did tuck over nicely to the rail. He raced at the rear of the field, began his late run and was about five to six wide entering the stretch. He closed alright, but did swap leads in the stretch. I’d like to see one more from before I make a solid opinion on him. He’s another who will be placed on the backburner.
Rise Up – I was very disappointed in his performance. I thought he looked great in those wins at Delta Downs and he really didn’t show much today. He seemed to break a step slow and was a little bit rank as he rushed up to press the pace. He applied a little bit of pressure down the backstretch, but never really looked like he would threaten to win. I think I will have to pass on him in the future if he stays on the Derby Trail.
Moving forward I am very interested in seeing Intense Holiday’s next race. He may have turned a corner and became a serious racehorse. I am not ready to anoint him that just yet, but I do see potential there. In my opinion, he overcame adversity (a slow pace to close into) and for that we have to watch him closely. As for the others, I think I will keep my eye on Albano, Hoppertunity, and Commanding Curve. I am not too high on either three, but I am not ready to right them off completely either.
The Fountain of Youth
Heading into the Fountain of Youth I saw this as a one horse race. I was all over Top Billing. As soon as I saw how the track was playing though, I knew he was in big trouble. This Saturday at Gulfstream the main track was tremendously speed favoring in my opinion. I have seen a lot of comments on Twitter stating otherwise, but I have to disagree. I believe you have to downgrade the performances of the front runners exiting any race on the main track on Saturday, and that you must upgrade anyone who made up ground that day. Here’s my take on the major players from the Fountain of Youth and what we can expect down the line…
Wildcat Red – While I respect this colt tremendously, as I said earlier, I think he was helped enormously by a track bias favoring front runners. So for that, I have to downgrade him coming out of this. He dueled the whole entire way around the track through a very fast pace and still had enough late to hold on for the win. I will say this about him though, he is one tough colt. He seems like he enjoys the fight. As a matter of fact, I don’t know how he held on for the win. He took the worst of it the whole way around while being on the inside. Moving forward, as the distances increase, I do not think I want to be on his bandwagon. I am a fan of his though, but I think he will be best suited going one turn. I respect his toughness and would love to see him prove me wrong, though.
General a Rod – See above. This colt was the one dueling with the winner the whole way around. He was in the better spot on the outside though and still couldn’t get by. And as for moving forward, see above again. I think he has talent, but I believe he will be better suited around one turn. I think I am against as the distances increase.
Almost Famous – As soon as I saw the way the track is playing, he became my choice. Unfortunately, he lost all chance at the start as he got squeezed coming out of the gate and that was all she wrote. It would have really been something else if he got a clean break because he would have been right up there slugging away with the top two finishers the whole way I imagine. That would have been something to see. I wasn’t high on him going into this though and I will stay put with that assumption. His backers though do have an excuse as he did get clobbered at the start. Personally, I will pass in the future I believe.
Top Billing – I loved this performance. He broke from the twelve hole and was four to five wide the first turn. He settled in at the back of the pack, commenced his late run and angled out three wide turning for home, and closed very nicely into a track favoring frontrunners. He lost nothing in my opinion by losing this race. In fact, I like him even more now. He is a top contender for the Kentucky Derby in my eyes. I hope he gets a fair track in his next start.
Commissioner – I wasn’t impressed with his performance at all. Going into this, and if the track was fair, he worried me a little bit. I loved Top Billing, but I considered him the main threat. He broke well and settled into a nice stalking trip from the inside. He had nothing left late and I would have liked to have seen more from him. I was torn going in, but I am against going forward I think. He may be the type that just needs to get that perfect pressing trip to be effective.
Coming out of this, I love Top Billing even more. As for the top two, Wildcat Red and General a Rod, I look forward to betting against them next out. Nothing against either, I just think this performance will be over rated and I don’t think either want any more distance than today’s trip.
Gulfstream Park Race 6 – N1X Allowance 1 1/16th Miles
I was very excited about this race on Saturday. As with the Fountain of Youth, it was won on the front end. But, it wasn’t at a suicidal pace that the Fountain of Youth had. Constitution won after setting a very average pace to say the least. It was probably more on the slow side for Gulfstream so it’s a little murkier to judge this front running winner. Regardless, I am moving up the horses that were making up ground at the end. Here are my key takeaways from this very interesting allowance race…
Constitution – I believe I am going to be against this one moving forward. He did not break fast today, but he was able to get up to the front through a very easy opening quarter with no pressure at all. He faced slight pressure through a very average half and slightly more around the turn, but he had plenty left to hold his foes at bay. I am going to downgrade his performance a bit considering the track bias, but if he got those fractions on a fair track he still may have been able to win. The issue here is the closers didn’t stand a chance of catching him and he had everything his own way. I think I am against moving forward, but I reserve the right to change my mind.
Tonalist – I was torn on him going into this and I am just as torn coming out of it. This colt was seven to eight wide going into the first turn then went up to press three wide on the backstretch. He made his bid rounding the turn with Bravo really asking him for run, but he just couldn’t get to the winner. He didn’t swap leads on cue in the stretch, but I don’t think it mattered. Overall, he ran fine I guess, but I am still in the same place I was with him in the first place. I will have to keep him on the back burner hoping I learn more about him in his next start.
Mexikoma – I was surprised this colt did not go up and press the pace. I know he broke widest of all, but he seemed to break really sharp. It looked like the jock either hesitated a bit, or was under instruction to stay back, and he ended up getting hung about nine wide into the first turn. He raced at the rear of the field and then unleashed a nice run to close for third. Considering the pace and the track bias, I think this was a superb effort. The issue I have with him is I am not sure what his running style is. Where is he comfortable? Is he a presser or a closer? Regardless, I was impressed and I look forward to his next start.
Wicked Strong – He was my selection in here as I hoped he would rebound off a very poor comeback race in the Holy Bull. I felt he redeemed himself a little bit while closing pretty decently to get up for fourth considering his trip. He got caught about nine wide going into the first turn and as a result ended up in the rear of the field. That is not where you wanted to be on Saturday. I am not giving up on him just yet, but I hope his next start is not in Florida. It does not seem to be agreeing with him. I know I am possibly being more forgiving than I should be, but I don’t think we have seen his best yet.
Matterhorn – I wasn’t impressed with his performance at all. I was expecting a lot more from him and I could not find an excuse. He was bumped at the start a little bit, but it didn’t look that bad and I don’t think it factored in his performance. He sat a stalking trip in this race and when he was asked to go he had absolutely nothing. I don’t think I will be on his bandwagon in the future.
Coming out of this race I am sure we will see quite a few of these guys in stakes races next out. I am kind of torn on Constitution and Tonalist and I will be taking a wait and see approach with them I believe. The ones I am most interested in moving forward are Mexikoma and Wicked Strong. Mexikoma really intrigues me, but at the same time he seems to be the wise guy horse. As for Wicked Strong, we obviously need to see more from him. I am going to try him one more time in hopes he shows the talent I believe he has.