Photo: Benoit Photo
Action on the 2014 Kentucky Derby Trail intensified over the holiday weekend as we were treated to Derby preps on each of the three days. Golden Gate Fields offered up the El Camino Real Derby on Saturday, Santa Anita presented the San Vicente on Sunday, and Oaklawn Park closed it out on Monday with the Southwest Stakes. There is a lot to talk about so let’s delve right into it. Here are some key points to consider moving ahead from each of the trio of races…
El Camino Real Derby
The class prevailed in the El Camino Real Derby as Tamarando, who had been keeping the best company by far, stormed home late to get up in time over a game Dancing With Fate. Going into this race, I thought that those two were probably the ones to beat, but I must admit, I did not have a lot of confidence in either. Moving forward I believe those are the only two I want to keep my eye on. Here is my take on the key players coming out of this…
Tamarando – This Hollendorfer trainee raced at the back of the pack, went about three wide into the first turn, and then tipped out entering the stretch to close nicely to get up for the win over a stubborn foe. It was a fine win, but this was a suspect field at best. I feel like he is a cut below the top of the class at this time, but he is a very honest horse who always brings his late run. He does seem to prefer synthetics although he has not run poorly at all on dirt. I view him as a nice, honest horse who must improve to compete down the line. He seems like a horse you could key at the bottom of a Derby Superfecta. I will put him on the backburner for now.
Dance With Fate – The runner up ran a pretty nice race in my opinion. He was three to four wide entering the first turn, then pressed the pace in the clear while three wide, and he looked like a winner in deep stretch only to be caught late. All in all, I thought it was a fine effort while second best. By his looks alone, I would tend to think he has the build of a synthetic/turf horse. I would like to see him have one more start on the dirt before the Derby if they continue on this path. I have a feeling he will end up at Keeneland or Turfway Park for his final prep though. Overall, I have mixed emotions moving onward. He may be a cut below, but I do find him interesting.
Enterprising – I couldn’t find an excuse for this guy. He came up empty as the favorite after enjoying a perfect pressing trip behind an average pace. I believe he either did not like the distance, or was merely outclassed. Regardless, I did not like him going into this race and I will not be backing him coming out of it, at least in regards to the Derby Trail.
Craftsman – He enjoyed a nice inside trip and came up empty with no excuse I could see. Maybe he will improve in his next start with another run in the newly added blinkers, but I do not think I would back him in a Derby prep again.
Puppy Manners – Going in I thought that maybe he would enjoy the distance and have a small shot to win. He raced at the back of the pack, had an inside journey, and then showed some interest late but never looked like a winner. I believe he was just outclassed here. He may need lesser to shine.
My overall impression is kind of a mixed bag. I think the only ones to watch going forward are Tamarando and Dance With Fate. But, while I think they are talented I feel like they are a cut below the head of the class right now. I would like to see them next out on the dirt somewhere, but I don’t think we will see that happen. I am going to put them both on the back burner for now.
The San Vicente
On paper, I thought Kobe’s Back was up against it from a pace standpoint. I believed Cherubim, although rising in class and stretching out an extra panel today, was going to sit a perfect trip and I liked his chances to win. Boy was I wrong. Kobe’s Back, who had been working like a monster in the morning, overcame what I saw as a pace disadvantage and won going away in style. Here’s my take on the key players moving forward…
Kobe’s Back – As I said earlier, I thought he was up against it pace wise. But, you know how the old saying goes, class laughs at pace. I think that’s what happened here and Kobe’s Back laughed all the way to the winner’s circle. He raced at the rear of the pack, turned it on around the 3/8th’s pole, and absolutely flew by them all for a visually impressive win. Not bad for his dirt debut. I very much look forward to seeing his next race.
Cherubim – I am not sure what to make of this performance. On one hand I feel disappointed. I thought the pace scenario was completely in his favor and he did not get the job done. On the other hand, I think he ran into a monster performance. I am leaning towards the latter and I believe he may be a nice horse moving forward. Whether that is on the Derby Trail, I am not so sure. I am not too high on him, but I am not ready to completely toss him either. If he ends up stretching out in his next start, I believe I will take a wait and see approach.
At this time, I think the only one we need to worry about on the Derby Trail is Kobe’s Back. I thought this was a monster race and I really look forward to his next start. In his first try going a route of ground in the Cashcall Futurity he had loads of trouble and I feel like he will show a better account of his abilities next time around two turns. I am very intrigued about him moving forward.
There is a lot to discuss here, but I will try to be as brief as possible. Going into this race I expected a wicked pace up front. While it did not pan out that way, and I thought the pace was fairly reasonable, it was very much contested up front and resulted in several horses getting very wide trips. Here are my thoughts on a few of the key players and what to expect moving forward…
Tapiture – This colt took the shortest way around the track and I believe that made all the difference. He broke from the rail, pressed a quick opening quarter, took over after an average half mile, and he never looked back. I do have some concerns about him though as he was drifting in the lane a bit. Moving forward, I am really torn on what I make of him. He had a dream trip in here while most of the rest of the field encountered issues. I am staying neutral on him for now and I look forward to his next start to form a better opinion.
Strong Mandate – In his much anticipated 2014 debut, he had one heck of a trip. He was wide the whole way around. In all seriousness, I bet he covered at least 1 1/8th miles, possibly more. His journey started with being bumped a little bit at the start and he was then at least seven or eight wide into the first turn. Through a quick opening quarter he was sitting about mid pack. At the half mile mark he was sent up to press and he was at least five to six wide the whole backstretch and around the turn. As he entered the stretch he looked like he had a shot, but after a journey like he had, it was only for a brief moment. Through the stretch he swapped leads a few times and was very erratic while drifting in and out. It was a very tough first race back and I hope it didn’t knock the snot out of him for the future. He is one we still must keep our eye on in the future.
Ride On Curlin – I did not like him going into this, but I must admit he ran very well with a very wide trip. He was eight to nine wide going into the first turn and went onto press a quick opening quarter. He then vied for lead and poked his head in front briefly through a decent/average half mile. Turning for home Tapiture put him away at the top of the stretch, and he never really looked like a winner. He did run well enough to hold for third, but I am not sure what to make of him moving forward. I am going to put him on the back burner for now, but at this time I am not too high on him.
Coastline – He was my top choice and I was very disappointed with his performance. I thought he endured a perfect trip and was exactly where I wanted him to be. He was pressing from the inside the whole way. Turning for home he was bumped a little bit while trying to angle out, but I don’t think it mattered in the end result. He never looked like a winner and I don’t believe I will be backing him in the future on the Derby Trail.
Tanzanite Cat – This colt was pressured the whole way on both sides while racing up front. I have a feeling he is going to need to be alone up front to shine and I do worry he has distance limitations. I do not think I will be backing as we get further along the Derby Trail.
As we move onward along the Derby Trail I feel this if going to be a tough race to evaluate and I am looking forward to seeing how a lot of these guys run next out. A few contenders endured extremely wide trips, but regardless I am not completely sold on them yet either. So while Strong Mandate and Ride On Curlin must be considered next out I do not think they are locks by any means. And as for Tapiture, he was the benefactor of a perfect trip and I believe, like Strong Mandate and Ride On Curlin, is no sure thing next out. With that said, I do believe Tapiture and Strong Mandate have potential and I will be watching them especially closely.