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Zipse At The Track

Down and Derby - Sweet 16 (3) - 2012 Kentucky Derby

1. Union Rags (Dixie Union-Tempo, by Gone West) Michael Matz – Will you look at that ... an early Kentucky Derby favorite makes an outstanding three-year-old debut ... how bizarre! Not really, that's how it used to be, but hey after last year's anarchy, it was nice to see. The Union Rags and Julien Leparoux union went off without a hitch, and the big bay looked as good as anyone could have hoped. Things will only get tougher (and longer) from here, but after watching the Fountain of Youth, I have zero reservations in keeping the big beautiful bay at the same lofty position I've had him since I saw his terrific win in last fall's Champagne Stakes. Next stop - Florida Derby.

2. El Padrino (Pulpit-Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway) Todd Pletcher - I've had him at number two all year, and I only like him better now. A strong win in the Risen Star in which he ran down, and edged by, a pace horse running a huge race, should put the "can he handle a fast track?" questions behind in the rear-view mirror. My guess is we will see this long-winded son of Pulpit back in New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby, and why not? The long stretch of Fair Grounds suits him well, and should set him up perfectly for the stretch run at Churchill Downs. 

3. Creative Cause (Giant's Causeway-Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer) Mike Harrington – Even when he doesn't win, it's hard not to like this attractive gray colt. Yes, he only ran third in the San Vicente, and against horses not likely to make it  to Louisville, but the sprint race was nothing more than a prep. The important thing is that he looked good, healthy, and strong down the lane. Mission accomplished. Look for him to be the horse to beat in next month's Santa Anita Derby at nine furlongs, and then on to Kentucky as one of the main contenders.


4. Empire Way (Empire Maker-Delta Princess, by A.P. Indy) Mike Harrington – I'm looking forward to seeing if the other Mike Harrington colt can continue his improvement in the San Felipe on March 10. The regally bred full brother to champion Royal Delta started his career with a flashy rally to win his debut last November, but has gone 0 for 3 since. So why do I like him so much? Simple, his breeding not only suggests class, but also that he will get better with experience and distance. He is getting better with every start, and I think his rally into a moderate pace in the Lewis was a perfect steeping stone to have him ready to succeed at ten furlongs the first Saturday in May. 

5. Out of Bounds  (Discreet Cat-Unbridled Elaine, by Unbridled's Song) Eoin Harty – Another highly rated colt pointing for the San Felipe. On the one hand I love his breeding, as it includes class, class, and more class. On the other hand, as a son of Discreet Cat, I worry that ten furlongs will be a bit too much for him. It doesn't look like it will be a problem in his races so far, but until he goes farther, we just don't know for sure. Like Empire Way, he does not need to win a week from Saturday, but he better finish up strong to retain this kind of ranking.

6. Hansen (Tapit-Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat) Michael Maker – It's almost time for Hansen 2012 - Take 2. Will we see the same horse who claimed the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in front running fashion? Or will we see the horse who stumbled out of the gate, and then tired down the stretch of the Holy Bull? There will likely be no world beaters in Saturday's Gotham, so I am going to need to see something good to believe that the speedy gray is still a major threat on the first Saturday in May. My guess is the Gotham will soon include his name on a storied list of past winners.
7. Alpha (Bernardini-Munnaya, by Nijinsky II) Kiaran McLaughlin – He's got a lot going for him, as far as breeding, looks, running style, and 2012 form, which leaves the only real question of class. Considering that he was no match for Union Rags in the Champagne, and then  fizzled in the BC Juvenile, class is still a big question. In his recent wins at the Big A, he did not beat much, so the Wood Memorial will be his last chance to face real competition before he returns to Kentucky for the Derby. Hopefully he will get that test from the Gotham winner.

8. Fed Biz (Giant's Causeway-Spunoutacontrol, by Wild Again) Bob Baffert - While I rank both Empire Way and Out of Bounds higher on this list of who will win this year's Kentucky Derby, if you asked me which horse is most likely to win the San Felipe, I would have to say Fed Biz. Baffert's charge is fast, sharp, and seemingly built for the nuances of the Santa Anita main track. He has yet to run in a stakes race, so he needs both earnings and to be tested, but I think neither will be a problem in eleven days time.
9Algorithms (Bernardini-Ava Knowsthecode, by Cryptoclearance) Todd Pletcher - I don't know about you, but I was mighty disappointed that we did not get to see this undefeated runner in the Fountain of Youth. Could he have beaten Union Rags? Who knows, what I do know is that he is a major talent now behind the eight-ball. Often horses with splint issues can come back quickly, but everything will have to go perfectly in the next 9 1/2 weeks to have him fit and ready for Louisville.
{Update ... Algorithms needs surgery and is officially off the Derby trail.} 

10. Gemologist (Tiznow-Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector) Todd Pletcher – Tick-tock ... It's been so long since this one last ran that I am beginning to forget what he looks like. Another Pletcher runner who will need to have everything go off without a hitch to give him a chance on the First Saturday of May. He has the breeding, running style, and fondness for the track to make some noise, but I am cooling on his chances, that is until I at least can see if his first start which should come against solid competition in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

11. Bodemeister (Empire Maker-Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat) Bob Baffert – Recent maiden winner to real Triple Crown race threat? Hey Curlin did it, why not this talented son of Empire Maker. His maiden race blew me away, and I've seen a lot of maiden races over the years. Like many on this list, time and earnings are not side, but if Mr. Baffert can squeeze a couple more performances like his maiden win out of him before May, you can bet he will be one of the twenty horses in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

12. Castaway (Street Sense -Priceless storm, by Unbridled) Bob Baffert - Looking for a horse that is bred for the distance? This son of Street Sense may be your best bet. It may have taken him a few races to break his maiden, but clearly he is learning and getting good at the right time. While his Southwest win was not the faster half, I was impressed with the way he got great position from an outside post on a short run to the first turn, and then looked plenty strong down the lane. Any further improvement and you have a bona fide contender here.
13. Mark Valeski  (Proud Citizen-Pocho's Dream Girl, by Fortunate Prospect) Larry Jones – If you look carefully at the chart of Union Rags' first lifetime race, you will see another talented first-timer in the field. Mark Valeski finished fourth that day, but since has done nothing but impress. Two sharp sprint wins set him up for a breakout performance in the Risen Star in which he gave El Padrino everything he could handle (he's on the inside.) It looks like Larry Jones has another good horse, and if he can get the distance, he may just have a real threat in the Derby.
14. Liaison (Indian Charlie-Galloping Gal, by Victory Gallop) Bob Baffert – He's hanging on by a thread to stay on the list after a tough afternoon in the Robert Lewis. There are a few reasons why he remains. He was very good last year, and has the earnings to make the field, which is becoming more important every year. I also believe we did not see the real Liaison last time. He was never comfortable, and I have to believe we will see far better in his next go.

15. Sabercat (Bluegrass Cat-Miner's Blessing, by Forty Niner) Steve Amussen - Yet another pointing for the San Felipe, the winner of the rich Delta Jackpot is starting to turn some heads in the morning again as he readies for his sophomore debut for trainer Steve Asmussen. It took him a while to develop as a juvenile, but that experience may prove valuable as he looks to build up to Louisville with only two preps this year. Because of that win in December, he is already one of the best bets to make the field with the money already in the bank.

16. Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy-Take Charge Lady, by Dehere) Patrick Byrne - Despite being dispatched by El Padrino, it was in the mud and you know how much I like that one, I think there is plenty of potential here.He's bred to handle the distance, and ran well enough in last fall's juvenile to consider.  It's been awhile since Byrne had a really good one, and I believe he knows how to get a horse ready for a big race. While I think he is likely to keep improving, I need to see a good performance, and probably a victory, in the Tampa Bay Derby to keep him on the Sweet 16.
{Algorithms leaving the Derby trail opens up the #16 spot for I'll Have Another}  


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Older Comments about Down and Derby - Sweet 16 (3) - 2012 Kentucky Derby...

Hey Brian. You do a great job of tracking the horsesmfor all of us fans. Thank you for that. Seems to me that Valeski is rounding into top form now but we'll need to see another race from him to prove he is for real. Have his connections announced yet where he will race next?
I'm actually pretty high on I'll Have Another. I think this horse showed that he can rate, but has a very high cruising speed & will be tough for anyone to run down.
Union Rags looks incredible, I'm super excited to see what this colt can do on the triple crown trail.. Also a big fan of Take Charge Indy, just waiting for the light bulb to turn on with him.
I think El Padrino has already beaten a good horse in each of his races this year, and I've always said the he wants a distance of ground. He should be ready come May.
csporen, I knew of East Coast bias and West Coast bias, but I think you've created North COast bias! lol . Take Charge INdy has a shot but I'm for UR the whole way. El Padrino weill make him feel the whip but he won't get the best of UR until the Triple Crown in over I assume.
cpsoren121, I would actually think opposite. I'll be curious to see how much that last win took out of El Padrino. I'm going to cross my fingers that he faces UR in the Florida Derby.
Hey Zip... do you think that since El Padrino maybe has had "tougher" races that he might be in better shape than UR? I mean, I was so happy to see UR win, but I hope the horse doesn't think it was THAT easy... With my Chicago bias, I also hope Take Charge Indy does well!
I'll Have Another cracks the Sweet 16, replacing the sidelined Algorthims.
Looking forward to seeing Alpha run--he has been in my top 3. Now that Algorithms is out, you should consider Scatman. One of four derby hopefuls to break 100 Beyers (101). I also don't have Marc on my list or in my stables--I have the other Scat Daddy, Daddy Nose Best. Otherwise our lists are very similar!
I think mark should be higher up, still disappointed in Pletcher for screwing up my fav:( hope we see more of Algorithms!
Since he's moved back to Hollywood Park to work out, I'll give Rousing Sermon more of a chance than Liaison. Very good list. Brian, especially, 3(my #1), 5,4, and 1. Union Rags was very professional in the F.O.Y. I think we're done seeing that veering ever again. Alpha just needs to speed it up; he loves to win. Maybe they all do, but he shows it. Maybe later in the summer will be his time to really shine? Wish he'd been kept off the L, like Out Of Bounds, so far.
Mark is listed where compared to El Padrino ??? Come on...
I totally agree with your descriptions but the order should be different.
Brian, you know I'm high on Empire Way, so it was nice to see that you have him ranked so high. El Padrino is looking better and better, too.
My Derby Sweet 16 would be (in no particular order) 1) Fed Biz 2) Union Rages 3) Creative Cause 4) Out of Bounds 5) Alpha 6) Castaway 7) Groovin Solo 8) Empire Way 9) Gemologist 10) Bodemeister 11) Battle Hardened 12) Gemologist 13) Sabercat 14) El Padrino 15) Liaison 16) Daddy Nose Best
Brian, I too like Empire Way but I am concerned that he has to win some money to make the Derby field.
Hansen's performance on Saturday should be very interesting. Full field of 14 and some interesting horses will make for a much more challenging Gotham then they expected.
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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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