First off, I would like to start this column by saying congratulations to Untapable and her connections. That was an absolutely, downright, easy and overall impressive victory. I said in a video, after the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, that I thought she was good enough to take on the boys, and I believe she validated that belief today. She was around four lengths clear of My Miss Sophia, a dominant winner of the Gazelle Stakes, and probably close to 10 clear of Unbridled Forever. Her time of 1.48.68 was less than a tenth from the stakes record, and was faster than Rachel Alexandra's tour de force, in 2009.
Photo: Melanie Martinez
After today, I will again say I think she is on a level good enough to compete with her male peers. I hope we will get the chance to see her do so later this season, and maybe in the Preakness.
Now that that is out of the way, we come to the main attraction. On Wednesday, I gave you all my top seven horses for the Kentucky Derby, promising you a Fantastic Four. So, now the unveiling commences. Ladies and Gentleman, I give to you, Dead Heat Debates Fantastic Derby Four!
4) Ride on Curlin- Starting off our list is the "other" Curlin son. Early in the year, it was not Ride on Curlin who garnered attention for his mighty sire, but Top Billing. The latter had a flashy closing kick and was running in the Florida spotlight, before he was knocked off the trail due to injury. Since then, Ride on Curlin has been trying to make waves, and seems quite ready to do so. Racing in Arkansas, he was third in the Southwest and Rebel Stakes, while running closer to the pace. In the Arkansas Derby he improved one placing, but did so by switching back to the closing style that we saw when he finished third in last year's Grade one Champagne.
Since coming to Churchill, he's been training very well over the course. His last work, a steady, workman-like seven furlong drill should give him plenty of bottom, along with a total of four prep races, so far this year. That will help him when the field enters into that last, extra furlong. He also picks up the services of Calvin Borel, or shall I say Bo-rail. If there is anyone who can help this colt overcome his outside post, it is Calvin. Look for him to be taken back and put right along the rail, before making one, big, long sustained run. I believe that the long works, the amount of racing, and Calvin's success over this track, on closers will help this colt make another strong showing.
3) Samraat- This horse gets absolutely no respect. He has won five of six starts, placing second the only time he lost, and still gets no respect. He is tough as nails, has good positional speed, and loves a good tussle for the wire. He is battle tested, and like Ride on Curlin, has a fantastic foundation, formed by long mile works and racing. He looks to get a great trip from his post, probably tracking the likely favorite, California Chrome. He's made a great appearance at Churchill Downs in both his gallops and his works, so it would seem that all systems are a go.
Looking at all that, many wonder, if he looks so good then why isn't he the favorite. Simple, he isn't flashy and he lost his last race, while looking like he would not appreciate 10 furlongs. My counter points to those who say he looked "tired" in his Wood Memorial is to remember he ran a good bit of the race on his left lead. The longer a horse stays on a certain lead, the more it takes out of them, which is why it is important to switch them in a timely fashion. Once Samraat did swap his lead, which was late in the stretch, he found another gear to nail Social Inclusion for the place. I say, if he has worked out that issue, then he is a very dangerous horse tomorrow.
2) Medal Count- This spot was between him and Danza, after the late defection of Hoppertunity. The deciding factor, which horse has more bottom. I am a believer in that the way horses are bubble wrapped and only race, on average, once every 4-5 weeks does more damage than good. A horse can't build up their bone density or muscles in a work the way they can in a race. Their bodies can't be expected to handle the stress of racing, to adjust to handle more, if they are kept in the barn and not on the racetrack. Danza has but four races in his entire career. Medal Count has seven, with five coming in 2014, and he seems to be relishing it.
I also like the fact that he is coming off a good synthetic effort. Since 2007 you have had five horses win, place, or show in the Kentucky Derby after prepping on synthetic in their final start, prior to the Derby. That is five years out of seven, a pretty convincing stat if you ask me. It shows how kind Churchill is to synthetic/turf runners, and I believe that Medal Count will make it 6 out of 8.
1) California Chrome- My top pick. He may not take to Churchill Downs, that's a possibility, and his competition better hope its a possibility that comes to fruition, because that will be their only hope at beating him. Some may say he doesn't have the pedigree, and at first glance that is true, but when you dig deeper, especially on his dam's side, you will find his pedigree comes from a long, long, long line of stamina over a distance of ground. That, my friends, could be the answer to why he has "outrun" his pedigree, or so to speak.
He got a great post in the five stall, where if he breaks well enough, he can sit just behind a couple of speedsters in Chitu and Vicar's in Trouble, before challenging them on the turn. He doesn't need the lead, he showed that when sitting off of Dublin Up, last out, who was hell bent on trying to get California Chrome to duel with him. It didn't work. Chrome sat back, relaxed, and took over when he wanted to. Of course the speed won't be as easy to get by here, but seeing as how most of them will want to throw in the towel, when he is just getting started, I see the race as his to lose turning for home.
There you have it folks. The Kentucky Derby Fantastic Four. I hope that over my last couple of blogs I gave you all something to think about, and hopefully some winning tickets. Good luck everyone and have a wonderful Kentucky Derby Day!