The 2014 Kentucky Derby trail got underway in the South last Saturday with the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds and the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Photo: Coady Photography
In the Lecomte Stakes, Vicar's In Trouble made a mockery of the field in his first start around two turns. He won by almost seven lengths and was assigned a fairly unimpressive TimeformUS Speed Figure of 91.
Vicar's In Trouble is sired by the sophomore stallion Into Mischief, the same sire as 2013 prep season heroes, Goldencents and Vyjack. Both horses were ultimately exposed at longer distances in the Triple Crown series.
Originally just an $8,000 September yearling, Vicar's in Trouble flashed some ability at the Fasig Tipton May Sale and sold for $80,000 just six months later.
The dam of Vicar's in Trouble is Vibrant. She was a pure dirt sprint specialist who performed terribly in multiple starts on turf and multiple starts on synthetic. The patient Bill Mott trained Vibrant, and the one time he stretched her out to a route distance, she stopped in the stretch and finished a long-way last. The performance was so bad, she was immediately cut back to sprint races and never attempted a route again. The bottom line is that Vicar's In Trouble is a nice horse, but he beat an extremely mediocre field in the Lecomte and did it with a moderate speed figure. Indeed, a 91 speed figure might seem very respectable on the Beyer scale, but the TimeformUS scale tops out in the 140's, so it's far less impressive on our scale.
At Oaklawn Park, the Smarty Jones Stakes was contested on Monday.
On paper, the Smarty Jones field appeared to be loaded with a lot of early speed, and the expected fast pace seemed certain to benefit the closers.
That's not how the race played out. In virtual Merry-Go-Round fashion up front, 9/1 shot Tanzanite Cat led after an opening quarter-mile and stayed on to win. Walt was positioned second after a quarter-mile, and he stayed on to finish second. Coastline was positioned third after a quarter-mile, and he stayed on to finish third.
It was a rare race that went totally opposite of the projected pace dynamics. It was also another very mediocre prep race.
Much like Vicar's in Trouble, Tanzanite Cat was another horse making his first career start around two turns. Tanzanite Cat had never previously raced beyond the distance of five and a half furlongs.
Tanzanite Cat is sired by Graeme Hall. For those who don't recall Graeme Hall as a racehorse, he was a Todd Pletcher-trained runner who won the 2000 Arkansas Derby in wire-to-wire fashion at 18/1 odds. In his next start, Graeme Hall attended the early pace in the Kentucky Derby, before stopping to a walk, and finishing dead last of 19.
Much like Vicar's in Trouble, Tanzanite Cat was also a very successful pinhook at last year's two-year-old in training season. Originally a $4,500 weanling purchase, and a $9,000 yearling purchase, Tanzanite Cat flashed some promise in his drill at OBS April and sold for an impressive $150,000.
On paper, Vicar's in Trouble and Tanzanite Cat are virtual mirror images of each other. The same profile of horse, and the kind we anticipate will be exposed in better prep races later in the year, especially when they get some genuine pace pressure up front.
Additionally, here's a spreadsheet containing all of current three-year-olds who have run TimeformUS Speed Figures of 95 or higher so far in their career: