Photo: Benoit Photo
This past weekend’s 2014 Kentucky Derby preps were all about speed as we saw a pair of front runners take down both the San Felipe and Tampa Bay Derby. Down at Tampa, Ring Weekend sped off and was left alone on the lead and got brave for the score. Over at Santa Anita, California Chrome led them every step of the way and blew the doors off the field. It seems only fitting that these were taken by speed, as I feel as though we are moving like a runaway freight train towards the Kentucky Derby. The stakes are getting higher and the excitement is building as the weeks and the Derby preps just keep cruising on by. Here is my view on what transpired over the weekend in the three year old ranks…
The San Felipe
Heading into the San Felipe, I thought California Chrome had a huge shot to announce his arrival on the Derby Trail and he did not disappoint. He absolutely destroyed this group. And while I do not believe this was a particularly strong field, he did everything the right way, and I am really excited to see what he does moving forward. Here are my thoughts on the key players from the San Felipe as we move onward…
California Chrome – I liked him going into this, and I absolutely love him coming out of it. In his debut on the Derby Trail he absolutely romped. He broke like a shot from the gate and then settled nicely around the turn. He set a quick pace as Midnight Hawk pressed closely down the backstretch, but he quickly extinguished that foe turning for home. Down the lane he took off in very impressive style for an easy win. He showed a new dimension while getting it down on the front end today and I perceive him to be a major contender for the Kentucky Derby. He has speed, he’s versatile, and he settles nicely. Those are qualities of a Kentucky Derby winner. I eagerly await his next start, which will most likely be in the Santa Anita Derby, and if he handles the distance I could definitely see him being my pick for the 140th Kentucky Derby. I was very, very impressed by him.
Midnight Hawk – I think this colt has talent, but I don’t think I want any part of him going a route of ground. In the San Felipe, he was bumped a bit at the start and ended up going four wide into the first turn. From there he then went up to press the eventual winner down the backstretch through quick fractions. As he and that rival turned for home, there was a brief moment (about a millisecond) that it appeared he would threaten that foe for the win. That notion was quickly squashed as the winner put him away easily. While I do think he has talent, I will be waiting for this colt to turn back in distance before I will back him.
Schoolofhardrocks – I was surprised at the amount of money this colt took at the windows. He did have a nice maiden win at Del Mar over the summer in his first and only start, but this was a lot to ask of him off the layoff. In this race, he bore out slightly leaving the gate and bumped with Midnight Hawk. He went up to press briefly while three wide, but then dropped back quickly. He never looked like a winner and I was not impressed by his performance. With that said, it was his first start verses winners, on dirt, and off of a layoff. I am not that high on him moving forward, but if the price is right and you want to forgive him he may very well run better next out. He would have to show me an awful lot in his next start to be considered a Derby contender in my eyes.
Kristo – This colt is still pretty green and he will have to do some growing up before I trust him with my money. He blew the first turn while rank in the San Felipe and ended up going about eight wide. He then rushed up to mid-pack and never really looked comfortable. He was erratic in the lane and did not switch leads. I do not think I want any part of him going forward until he shows signs he’s maturing.
The only one I want out of this race is California Chrome. The only question that remains for him in my opinion is distance. If he runs well in the Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8th miles, I would strongly consider him on for the first Saturday in May. The talent is definitely there and I am really excited to see what he does next out.
The Tampa Bay Derby
When I handicapped the Tampa Bay Derby I landed on Surfing U S A and Conquest Titan, but I did not feel strongly in either opinion. As the race got closer I kept looking for someone else who could pull off the upset. It became clear I just did not have a strong grasp on this race at all. As for the eventual winner, Ring Weekend, I did not like him at all. I thought he was green last out in his maiden breaking score and I thought this was too tall of a task jumping up into stakes company for your first time verses winners. Well, as it turns out, maybe I should have trusted Graham Motion just a little bit more. Here’s my take on the key players moving forward…
Ring Weekend – I must admit, I thought he had no shot, as I did not like his maiden breaking score at all. Looking back, maybe I should have trusted Graham Motion’s placement of this colt a little more. Mr. Motion doesn’t strike me as the type to just take a random shot in the dark. He must have believed in him somewhat and it’s not as though this was the toughest spot either. In this race, he broke really well and went on to set a quick pace. He faced a little bit of pressure around the first turn, but then opened up on the field through a quick half. He enjoyed himself a lone lead and that was all she wrote. He got brave out front and no one could catch him. While he did win, there is some cause for concern. Just like his last race he did not switch leads in the stretch. Moving forward I am not that high on him, but I think we should watch his next race closely to see if he improves. Winning a stakes out of a maiden race this time of year is still worth something no matter how I feel about this field.
Surfing U S A – This colt ran ok in his stakes debut. He broke well and went up and pressed the pace setter around the turn. From there he settled on the backstretch and let the pace setter get away through quick fractions while he sat back and stalked. Turning for home, he put in a run, but never looked like a winner. All in all, I guess it was an okay effort, but I am not too excited about him moving forward.
Vinceremos – This colt, for the first time, appeared to have a very normal trip. He broke well, was about four wide into the first turn, and then went on to stalk the pace as the Ring Weekend sped off. He made a move turning for home, but never threatened the winner. I am not too optimistic about his Derby chances, but I will say he does always show up and run his race.
Conquest Titan – I was very disappointed with his effort here. I thought he was probably the class of the field and now I have no idea where I stand with him. He had no excuse for his dull effort in here and I was not impressed. He had pace to run into, an inside trip, and I expected more. All his performance did was made me question just how good the Holy Bull field really was. I think I am passing on him in the future. He would really need to impress me in his next start for me to consider him a viable Derby contender.
As we move ahead, I don’t believe we will look back at this as a key race for the Kentucky Derby. I suppose it will be interesting to see how Ring Weekend does in his next start, but overall I was not that impressed with him. For anyone out of this field to make some noise on the Derby Trail I believe they would have to improve tremendously. It very well could happen, but I think the odds are against it.