Photo: Coady Photography
News on the 2014 Kentucky Derby Contenders...
The Triple Crown trail continued this weekend with another pair of Grade 1 stakes races. Each was again worth 100 points towards a berth in the 2014 Kentucky Derby starting gate for the winner. A second-place finish in either race was worth 40 points. The Blue Grass Stakes was run at Keeneland Racetrack, and the Arkansas Derby was run at Oaklawn Park.
As noted previously, the Kentucky Derby is usually won with a TimeformUS speed figure of between 110 and 120. Orb won in 2013 with a 111 in a race that featured an extremely fast pace. The Wood Memorial, run last week, was the fastest prep race thus far in 2014, with winner Wicked Strong running a 117. California Chrome ran a 113 winning the Santa Anita Derby on the same day.
Saturday’s Keeneland card was highlighted by the Blue Grass Stakes. It was likely the last time the race will be contested on Polytrack, with the announcement that real dirt will return in time for the fall meet this year. Pablo Del Monte took the early lead and was still there after six furlongs run in a pace figure of 107. At this point, the closers began to make moves, and it was Dance With Fate who moved best. He swept to command with a furlong to go and maintained his advantage to the wire. Medal Count rallied from well back to get second, with Pablo Del Monte holding third. Pablo Del Monte was the only horse to finish in the top seven spots who wasn’t one of the six trailing the field at the first call. The top three received TimeformUS speed figures of 97, 95, and 96 respectively.
Pace/Speed figures for Blue Grass Stakes:
1/4: 117 1/2: 114 3/4: 107 1m: 103 Fin: 97
*Learn more about TimeformUS Speed Figures
The Arkansas Derby is the closing day feature at Oaklawn Park and is a key stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby. As with the Blue Grass, a 1-2 finish would earn a Derby start. The 2-3-4 finishers from the G2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn were part of the eight-horse field, but the role of favorite went to Santa Anita shipper Bayern, the impressive winner of an allowance race in February. In the end, it wouldn’t be any of those earning the headlines. Instead, it was Gulfstream shipper Danza romping to victory at 41 to 1 odds. Bayern set the early pace, 116 then 110 through the first four furlongs. He was still narrowly in front after six panels and the pace figure had slipped to a 102. As most of the challengers mounted wide rallies, Danza slipped through along the inside, quickly gained the lead, and easily drew clear from the others. Ride On Curlin wore down Bayern late for second, with Bayern holding third. Danza ran a lifetime-top speed figure of 110, with the next two both rated at 105.
Pace/Speed figures for Arkansas Derby:
1/4: 116 1/2: 110 3/4: 102 1m: 110 Fin: 113
As noted last week, these are young horses that can and do improve quickly. Wicked Strong fit the bill last weekend, and this time it was Danza stepping way up. His previous career-best was a 92 TimeformUS speed figure when he ran a very good third in the G2 Saratoga Special. Not only was the figure good, but he ran it closing strongly on a speed-biased track. He didn’t race again until March 1st, when he ran in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. He chased the pace that day while wide around the turn, and the opening ¼ mile featured a pace figure of 105. He dropped back, but was coming again late. It was noted last week that with three-year-olds, anticipate improvement and you will be ahead of the crowd. The top horses coming into the Arkansas Derby had run in the low 100s. There was no guarantee Danza could run well enough to beat low 100 figures, but having run 92 in August at two, it was possible.
Next Week: Lexington Stakes