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!
Meanwhile, the 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.
Haha, pretty 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.