In the past few
years the Wood Memorial hasn't exactly been a precursor to the Churchill
Downs winner's circle on the first Saturday in May. Actually, you can
associate the Wood as a "Dream Crusher." In the past 3 years the early
Derby favorites (Uncle Mo, Eskenderya, I Want Revenge) have all prepped
in the Wood Memorial with each of them missing the Kentucky Derby due to
injury. Well my friends, I believe this is the year where dreams will
come true! The Wood Memorial's winner and runner up both have serious
chances in the Kentucky Derby.
The Wood Memorial victor, Gemologist boasts
a serious Kentucky Derby pedigree. He's the son of back to back
Breeders' Cup Champion Tiznow. His dam-sire is the great Mr.Prospector,
the blood lines say Gemologist will have no trouble getting the 10
furlong distance. Wood Memorial runner-up, Alpha
also has a strong Kentucky Derby pedigree. He's the son of Preakness
winner Bernardini, his dam-sire is the great distance runner Nijinsky
II. How does the Santa Anita Derby winner and runner up stack up, Brian?
When handicapping a
horse's chances in the Kentucky Derby, I look for a few things,
consistency, heart, and focus. Gemologist has shown he has all of these
attributes. I also look for a horse that can overcome adversity. Both
Gemologist and Alpha proved in the Wood Memorial that they can
definitely overcome adversity. Gemologist was 3 to 4 wide into the first
turn while being bumped around a bit. Alpha had a night mare trip
checking hard multiple times and losing quite a bit of momentum. As they
hit the top of the stretch Gemologist took control of the race, until
Alpha made a menacing closing move late. It looked as if Gemologist was
dead in the water as Alpha got right to his throat latch; Gemologist
looked the son of Bernardini in the eye, shook him off like champion,
and re-broke to take the Wood by a half-length.
Now looking at the
Santa Anita Derby, I see a few things I like and a few I dislike. I'll
Have Another proved that his upset in the Robert S Lewis Stakes at odds
of 43-1 was no fluke. But, the son of Flower Alley stalked a slow pace
on a speed favoring race track, a set-up he will not find in the
Kentucky Derby. Creative Cause closed from 6th to find himself in a dog
fight with the aforementioned I'll Have Another, a fight in which he
lost by a dirty nose.
Creative Cause has
been highly regarded since early in his two year old season. He's a
consistent sort, who's never finished worse than 3rd. He ran a strong
3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, behind Hansen and
Union Rags. But, I have my doubts about his focus, he seems to gawk like
a teenage boy watching the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. He's had
blinkers on, blinkers off. This is something I don't want to see going
into the Derby.
Alpha seems to be
peaking at the right time. His trainer Kiaran Mclaughlin is world class
and was the trainer Of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Invasor. Alpha has a
strong two-year-old base, having three starts with a win and a 2nd
place finish to Union Rags in the grade I Champagne Stakes. This son of
Bernardini has only one issue, he has been known to get a little excited
at the gate, this became a serious problem before the Breeders’ Cup
Juvenile, the only race in which Alpha did not run 1st or 2nd. He’s
coming off a tough luck trip in the Wood Memorial, finding all kinds of
trouble before being out gamed by who I think is the best three year old
in the country, Gemologist.
I’m going to be
bold here; Gemologist will be your Kentucky Derby winner. He's tested at
Churchill Downs with a win in an allowance race and a stylish score in
the grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He's shown he loves a fight
and he's shown he has the heart to deal with adversity. He will be
making his 3rd start of the year in the Kentucky Derby. I believe this
Winstar owned colt is primed for the Derby and will win in impressive
fashion. You can find a “Creative Cause” for your horses or go to the
bar and tell the bar-keep “I’ll Have Another.” I’ll just be the “Alpha”
male and find a “Gemologist” to get me the perfect diamond in the rough
to win the Kentucky Derby!
Santa Anita Derby has not seen any winner go on to also win the Kentucky
Derby in the past 22 years. Like the Wood, it’s had some bad luck to
keep this unwelcome streak alive since the great Sunday Silence turned
the trick. There have also been a few horses that were defeated in the
West Coast’s most important Derby prep before getting it done at
Churchill Downs. I’m not sure whether or not the streak will be broken
this year, but I believe there is a real good chance that between I’ll
Have Another and Creative Cause, the Kentucky Derby winner will be coming from Santa Anita.
I used to put more
stock in pedigree for the Kentucky Derby, but I’ve learned that it is
the individual horse that is most important. A horse like Creative
Cause, who continues to run well against top competition and seems to be
always full or run at the end, at any distance, just looks like a horse
tailor-made for the ten furlongs of the Kentucky Derby no matter the
pedigree. By the way, his sire Giant’s Causeway is one of the best in
the world, and his offspring have little trouble going the distance.
Both ran a good
race, but I actually thought Gemologist had a good stalking trip and
benefitted from Alpha’s trouble to get the jump on him while leaving
something in the tank for the finish, plus I’m not really sure how much
the pair was beating in the Wood. I actually think Creative Cause
overcame more at Santa Anita, rallying from the rail on a moderate pace
before running gamely between horses the entire stretch. It was the kind
of fight and tenacity I love to see in a Derby contender. He reminds me
a great deal of another plucky gray from 15 years ago named Silver
Charm. You remember what Silver Charm did in the 1997 Triple Crown,
right Scott? Silver Charm and Creative Cause both got a lot out of the
Santa Anita Derby while fighting tooth and nail all the way to the wire.
Don’t be too hard on I’ll Have Another.
Keep in mind that he was a good juvenile sprinting last summer, despite
that fact that all indications point to him being a distance horse.
After a long layoff he has come back with two really good races around
two turns in winning the Robert Lewis and Santa Anita Derby. He is
fresh, talented, and there is every reason to believe that he still has
plenty of room for improvement with more seasoning.
Once again, I look
at Creative Cause’s minor issues as room for improvement. You say he’s
gawks like a teenager, and yet he’s still proven to be right near the
top of this crop. I tend to think his issue may be with the whip, and
hopefully that is a lesson being learned by his rider. Far more
important to me is how strong he looks in finishing all of these races
despite the erratic path. If he takes to 1 ¼ miles as well as I think he
may, I would not want to be rooting too hard for any other horse to
outgame him to the wire.
Alpha is a nice
horse for sure, but the fact that he failed at Churchill last fall is
definitely a worry for the Derby. Also, please tell me who the best
horse that he has defeated is, because I can’t find anything special in
that list. And other than Alpha, who has Gemologist beaten for that
matter? The pair may be in for a rude class awakening against the big
boys. Meanwhile, Creative Cause is absolutely battle tested, and now the
same can be said for I’ll Have Another. Don’t forget the pair ran 1-2
in the Best Pal Stakes last summer. This could be the beginnings of
quite a rivalry.
creative, Mr. Dick, but wordplay isn’t going to cash you any tickets on
Derby day. Racing luck will play a part, as it always does, but you have
a better chance with the best horses, and in this argument, the Santa
Anita Derby horses are just a little better than those from the Wood
Memorial. I say this because of class of competition, but also what I
see with the eyeball test. The pair in California just look better to me
than the New York duo. Think of it this way, had Gemologist and Alpha
been in the Santa Anita Derby or if I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause
had ventured east, who do you think would have won? I know which ones I
like better, and that’s why I will like the Santa Anita top two better
than anyone who ran in the Wood Memorial, on the First Saturday in May.