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Derby Profile #7: Ring Weekend

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Highlights:

  • G2 winner at 1 1/16 miles
  • Only gelding in the Kentucky Derby field

Basics:

  • Trainer: Graham Motion (Animal Kingdom, Better Talk Now, Film Maker)
  • Jockey: Alan Garcia
  • Owned by: St. Elias Stables & West Point Thoroughbreds 
  • Record: 7: 2-2-2
  • Earnings: $305,660
  • Best speed figures: 94 Beyer (Tampa Bay Derby), 97 BRIS Figure (Louisiana Derby), 100 Equibase

Background: An upset winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (II), the chestnut son of Tapit took the unconventional route in Florida on the war path to the Kentucky Derby, following that points win with an easy race in the Calder Derby and the “ok” from trainer Graham Motion, who won this race with another longshot, Animal Kingdom, in 2011 with another racing partnership. West Point Thoroughbreds has been in the game of racing for quite some time with a previous shot at the Derby with Flashy Bull. He is the lone gelding in the field, having been gelded after his third start as a 2-year-old.

Prep Schedule: Ring Weekend did not break his maiden until his three-year-old year, first starting in August at Saratoga in the slop but finishing up the pack. He improved slightly next out at Churchill Downs getting more ground than 7 furlongs, this time 1 1/16 miles, grabbing 3rd after starting slowly. He was 3rd again in his poly debut at Keeneland, beaten 6 lengths at the same distance. He traded up to Gulfstream in January, racing 2nd in his sophomore debut on the turf, missing by just a half length to the very good Divine Oath. Heading back to dirt the next month, he finally snapped his maiden in a large Gulfstream field, merging from off the pace to win by a stubborn half length. Sticking to the lead in his stakes debut in the Tampa Bay Derby (II), Ring Weekend kept to a solid pace and won easily by 3 lengths drawing away. Stretching out to 9 furlongs in the Calder Derby, Ring Weekend got off to a bobbled start and was pulled and just absolutely rank, hurting his chances to catch winner Our Caravan, who defeated him by nearly 10 lengths. 

Pedigree: Fappiano (and thus Mr. Prospector) is well represented in Ring Weekend’s pedigree through Unbridled and Cryptoclearance, which is kind of great since that particular stallion influence has been on fire for some time on the scene. Sire Tapit needs little introduction as a grandson of Belmont/Breeders’ Cup Classic/super sire A.P. Indy, who won the 9-furlong Wood Memorial (I) before retiring to siring winners of every distance and surface type. Tapit’s damsire Unbridled has worked some magic as a sire and damsire of great classic winners. Ring Weekend’s dam is Free the Magic, who features some interesting breeding on her bottom side with largely European lineage, featuring family members that won at a mile or further. Free the Magic is by Cryptoclearance, who provides some stamina as a G1 winning router and runner-up in the 1987 Preakness and 3rd in the Belmont. 

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: B+ Variant: 2.22

Dosage Index: 3.36

Running Style: Adaptable, off-the-pace

Pros: Ring Weekend showed some speed in the Tampa Bay Derby (II) setting some solid fractions and could have opened up more if he wished. He could very well continuing improving at a big price.

Cons: He showed his Tapit headcase syndrome too perfectly in the Calder Derby and never really got into seriously racing in that event because he was too preoccupied pulling Alan Garcia from the saddle. It pains me to think of him as a chestnut Tap It Rich, but there you go.

Final Word: Oy! So much to balance and counterbalance here. Ring Weekend has a shot to do something in the Derby, but probably won’t win it. His pedigree is very interesting, but he needs to get his head in the game or else risk running loose in the race only to tire…

Derby Profile #6: We Miss Artie

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(Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

Highlights:

  • G1 winner as a two-year-old (1 1/16 mile Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland)
  • G3 winner of the Spiral Stakes (9 furlongs)
  • Will try to become the first Canadian-bred (bred in Ontario) since Northern Dancer to win the Kentucky Derby

Basics:

  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Super Saver, Rags to Riches, Ashado)
  • Jockey: John Velazquez
  • Owned by: Ken & Sarah Ramsey
  • Record: 8: 3-2-0
  • Earnings: $609,000
  • Best speed figures: 85 Beyer (Spiral Stakes), 93 BRIS Figure (Spiral Stakes), 100 Equibase

Background: One of last year’s best juvenile runners, We Miss Artie bounced back into the fray easily enough, conquering a wild finish in the Spiral Stakes (III) to win his way into the Kentucky Derby. Representing the other half of the Ramsey clan’s Derby dreams this year (the other being Vicar’s In Trouble, stabled with Mike Maker), he is the class half as a G1 winner and a horse who hopes to add dirt to his turf and poly aptitude.

Prep Schedule: Racing 5 times as a two-year-old, Artie was 2nd in his debut on dirt at Belmont Park, beaten some 7 lengths by stablemate All in Blue going 5 furlongs. Switching surfaces and tacking on ample ground, he broke his maiden on Saratoga’s turf going 1 1/16 miles by an impressive 3 lengths. That impression disappointed with his stakes debut in the With Anticipation (II) 2 1/2 weeks later at Saratoga, going wide and fading to 6th. Saving some energy, he won big on Keeneland’s poly next out, capturing the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (I) by nearly 3 lengths while closing, setting him up for big hopes in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I), where he had a shaky start and finished a murky 7th. Returning to the turf as a 3-year-old, Artie finished a scant 2nd by a head in the 1 1/16 mile Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream to the good Storming Inti, then switched surfaces at that track to the Fountain of Youth (II), where he mustered a mid-race move but flustered to finish 8th. Returning to poly at Turfway Park for the Spiral (III), We Miss Artie found his gear on the turn and rushed in wide in the stretch to prevail by a nose over Harry’s Holiday while reaching for 9 furlongs the first time.

Pedigree: Sire Artie Schiller was one of the top turf milers of his day, winning one edition of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (I) and several other top graded stakes such as the Maker’s Mile and the Jamaica Handicap. Artie Schiller is by the sire of sires— predominantly turf sires— in El Prado and out of the G1 winning dirt mare Hidden Light, by top turfer Majestic Light. We Miss Artie is out of Athena’s Gift, a daughter of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. Northern Dancer and Raise a Native pop up on both sides of Artie’s pedigree.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: B+ Variant: 2.22

Dosage Index: 3.00

Running Style: Adaptable, chiefly closer.

Pros: There are few better riders than John Velazquez, who is booked to ride We Miss Artie off his Spiral win into the Derby. The duo may get a nice pace setup with plenty of speed looking likely to form and lots of horses trying to crowd the front of the pack. Even a poor post wouldn’t affect Artie too much.

Cons: Only 2 dirt starts, both ending badly. All of We Miss Artie’s successes came on poly with a couple of good races over grass. He also just barely won the Spiral over some very mum competition. Speed figures are also badly below par.

Final Word: Oh hell no.

Every camera lens was on My Miss Sophia and Javier Castellano after their Gazelle (II) win.

Every camera lens was on My Miss Sophia and Javier Castellano after their Gazelle (II) win.

Derby Profile #5: Danza

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(Photo by Danny Johnston/AP)

Highlights:

  • G1 winner (Arkansas Derby) at 9 furlongs
  • No off-the-board finishes in 4 starts

Basics:

  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Super Saver, Rags to Riches, Ashado)
  • Jockey: Joe Bravo
  • Owned by: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners
  • Record: 4:2-0-2
  • Earnings: $666,428
  • Best speed figures: 102 Beyer (Arkansas Derby), 104 BRIS Figure (Arkansas Derby), 103 Equibase

Background: One of Todd Pletcher’s quieter prospects since last year at Saratoga, the horse named for actor Tony Danza exploded onto the Derby scene with a very impressive and unexpected Arkansas Derby romp over several graded winners. Despite the huge victory, there are multiple questions this newly-crowned graded winner has to answer: can he “twin” that performance in the Derby or will he bounce? Can he go 10 furlongs? Will his inexperience hamper him in a much larger and longer race?

Prep Schedule: The least experienced horse in the field with a mere 4 starts under his belt, Danza kicked things off as a two-year-old by breaking his maiden on his first try in July at Belmont Park, fighting a tough duel with the favorite to win the 5 1/2-furlong test. Sticking to off-the-pace, Danza was then 3rd in his stakes debut in the Saratoga Special (III) the next month, finishing a half length behind the dueling front runners stablemate Corfu and graded winner Wired Bryan. He ran 3rd in his first start as a 3-year-old in March at Gulfstream Park, beaten a tired 7 lengths going 7 furlongs on a speed-favoring track. Showing a freakish turnaround, he then fired big the next month at Oaklawn Park stretching out another 2 furlongs in the Arkansas Derby (I), sitting behind the pace and springing strong along the rail path to score by nearly 5 lengths. 

Pedigree: The jury is still pretty much about on the success of G1-winning sprinter Street Boss as a stallion, who got his second G1 winner when Danza crossed the finish line at Oaklawn. By distance-getter and sire Street Cry [IRE] and out of Blushing Ogygian (by Ogygian), Street Boss hasn’t built up a rep yet, but he has had a slightly more significant influence as a turf/sprint sire with Capo Bastone winning the King’s Bishop (I) last year and daughter Street Sailing was good enough to get into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf. Dam Champagne Royal is a California-bred, stakes-placed daughter of French Deputy, who had a short career but won the G2 Jerome Stakes before ultimately fading in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A son of classic type stallion Deputy Minister, French Deputy sired some notable winners including do-it-aller Eclipse winner Left Bank, who won the Whitney, the Cigar Mile, and the Vosburgh (all G1). Again, no firm influences by way of French Deputy. 

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A Variant 2.78

Dosage Index: 3.00

Running Style: Stalking

Pros: Danza showed great turn of foot humming off the rail in the Arkansas Derby and really came into his own in that race as a horse who seemed to mature with age and more ground to run on. His gallop-out looked great and he is visually impressive as a very muscular specimen.

Cons: He is this year’s Verrazano, with the body of a miler (in my opinion) with speed to burn and a huge risk to bounce off that one star-studded run. Plus, the Arkansas may have read falsely in class with several horses in that field falling flat with the runner-up (Ride On Curlin) being the only other one with real energy, indicative of the class feeling worn out.

Final Word: ”Wow, he’s so beautiful.” I remember thinking that when Danza was a two-year-old and feeling disappointed when the beautiful golden colt failed to fetch a big win working for Todd Pletcher, who regularly spins gold with young horses. Everything about Danza feels too good to be true, or reads like a buyer’s beware warning regarding the impending bounce coming into a huge race that goes a distance few can handle, never mind win at. I will play the “wait and see” game for now while watching for Danza’s gallops and post positioning.

Derby Profile #4: Vicar’s In Trouble

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Highlights:

  • G2 winner at 9 furlongs
  • No off-the-board finishes in 5 starts

Basics:

  • Trainer: Mike Maker (Hansen, Furthest Land, Stately Victor)
  • Jockey: Rosie Napravnik
  • Owned by: Ken & Sarah Ramsey
  • Record: 5: 3-0-2
  • Earnings: $788,900
  • Best speed figures: 97 Beyer (Lecomte Stakes & Louisiana Derby), 104 BRIS Figure (Louisiana Derby), 105 Equibase

Background: If speed succeeds, this colt has had it from the beginning of the Derby prep season to near the end when the distances got a bit closer to 10 furlongs. The prowess of Maker-Napravnik-Ramsey seem to have an effect akin to the stars aligning, and so they have with Vicar’s In Trouble, who has been running to the nines in the southern state preps all year. The Ramseys have been hankering for a solid shot at the Derby, and seem to have found progress with Vicar.

Prep Schedule: Finishing an even 3rd in his October debut race at Keeneland, Vicar won easily enough switching to dirt at his future stomping grounds at Fair Grounds, romping home wire-to-wire to win by 13 lengths going 6 furlongs just 2 months later. Sprinter? One turn only? Vicar answered those two questions with a definitive no next out in his stakes debut and first start as a three-year-old, wiring the 1 mile and 70 yard Lecomte (III) by nearly 7 lengths. His streak took pause next out in the Southwest Stakes (II) after he drew a wide post in a large and messy field, but still managed to work his way up to 3rd, losing by 5 1/2 lengths. Rebounding and running further, Vicar dismissed doubters in the Louisiana Derby (II), going wire-to-wire again to hold off Southwest winner Intense Holiday by 3 1/2 lengths after having an uncontested lead most of the way.

Pedigree: Part of the second crop to race by Into Mischief, who spawned two Derby starters and a Breeders’ Cup winner with his first, Vicar’s In Trouble benefits from his sire’s rich and speedy family featuring Leslie’s Lady, the dam of Into Mischief and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (I)/Eclipse winner Beholder. Into Mischief’s sire Harlan’s Holiday had been a success at stud with many top runners throughout the juvenile and spring prep stages. Dam Vibrant is an Ontario-bred by Vicar, who made a career out of sprinting but did win the Florida Derby (I). Damsire Tanks Prospect was precocious but had enough stamina in him to win the Arkansas Derby (I) and the Preakness (I).

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A++ Variant: 131.08

Dosage Index: 5.00

Running Style: Pacesetter

Pros: Aside from a bad trip/very wide post in the crowded Southwest, Vicar has done little wrong in the prep races and has cleared every hurdle in front of him at this point, and his figures have been consistently good every race. Rosie Napravnik is a regular force in the saddle and should be able to give this colt more than a good shot.

Cons: Into Mischief’s best progeny, Goldencents and Vyjack, have both appeared to be distance limited beyond 8-9 furlongs although you can’t rightly shake them both off looking at last year’s muddy mess of the Kentucky Derby. Vicar’s pedigree isn’t there when it comes to staying the distance.

Final Word: A classic example of a horse who was more than good enough to win up to 9 furlongs, but will likely fail the test when asked to go one more. He’ll likely go for the front early, but he unfortunately won’t be alone in trying to grab the lead right away which decreases his chances of doing well— let alone winning— even more.

Bird Maker, a daughter of Empire Maker and out of a half to Birdstone, finishes 5th in the Gazelle Stakes (II).

Bird Maker, a daughter of Empire Maker and out of a half to Birdstone, finishes 5th in the Gazelle Stakes (II).

Derby Profile #3: California Chrome

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Highlights:

  • G1 winner (Santa Anita Derby) at 9 furlongs
  • Undefeated at age 3
  • Won 6 of 10 total career starts, current win streak of 4 races with consistent quality performances

Basics:

  • Trainer: Art Sherman (Ultra Blend, Carthrage, Summer Movie)
  • Jockey: Victor Espinoza
  • Owned by: Coburn, Steven; Perry, Martin
  • Record: 10:6-1-0
  • Earnings: $1,134,850
  • Best speed figures: 107 Beyer (Santa Anita Derby), 99 BRIS Figure (4 straight races), 109 Equibase

Background: A seemingly unlikely Derby favorite in a year full of blue bloods and promising standouts, the California-bred chromey colt harks from the barn of Art Sherman, who is perhaps just as unlikely to train a winner of the Derby despite having been the assistant trainer of the unforgettable 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, who also won the Santa Anita Derby on his way to acing the roses. Bearing blinkers, sheer talent, and a fantastic backside story, California Chrome looms large as the horse to beat this year.

Prep Schedule: An early bird to the races, Chrome started his two-year-old career at Hollywood Park in late April, racing wide to register 2nd in a nondescript maiden race on the all-weather. He would win next time out, lying closer to the pace to run clear by nearly 3 lengths on poly. He lost his stakes debut in the William Procter Memorial next out scarcely two months later by getting into an early duel and fading, but won his next try in the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar, edging clear to win the same way he snatched his maiden. Upgrading to G1 status, California Chrome ran too late into tight quarters in the Del Mar Futurity (I), losing by just 2 lengths in a scrambled ending. Next out was his dirt debut at Santa Anita and his final loss, getting off slow at the start but still within 3 lengths of the win. From there, and with the addition of Victor Espinoza, it’s all winner’s circle photos: a win in the 7-furlong King Glorious in December by 6 coming from off the pace, the California Cup Derby by 5 in a stalking trip, the San Felipe (II) by 7 lengths going wire-to-wire, and the Santa Anita Derby (I) wire-to-wire by an unurged 5 lengths.

Pedigree: Certainly not what you would expect with his credentials, California Chrome comes from a modest family tree with Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and the mare Numbered Account make two appearances in the first five generations. Sire Lucky Pulpit begat another good Derby colt similar in appearance with Rousing Sermon, but has largely been quiet on the national scene, as a son of sire maker Pulpit and out of the Cozzene mare Lucky Soph. Chrome’s dam Love the Chase is a daughter of Maryland stallion Not For Love, a son of Mr. Prospector and Dance Number, a G1 winning daughter of Eclipse winning 2-year-old Numbered Account, who is featured again on Love the Chase’s dam side with Polish Numbers (by Danzig). And yes, Swaps is mentioned in Chrome’s pedigree through Numbered Account!

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A Variant 3.98

Dosage Index: 3.40

Running Style: Generally off-the-pace or stalking

Pros: Cool and professional mentally, California Chrome is more experienced than much of what he’ll be facing and has some of the best numbers and visually impressive past performances that have prepared him for the Derby. His connections appear very confident in his chances to parlay his win streak at least one more. A stalking sort of runner, he’s very advantaged should he draw and break well.

Cons: The Santa Anita Derby has plagued many as a prep race in recent years with the exception of I’ll Have Another’s storied success, the last being Sunday Silence in 1989, and before Sunday was Affirmed back in the 1970s. Many Californian racehorses— never mind a California-BRED racehorse— struggle in eastern soil.

Final Word: So much about California Chrome draws my attention along with the interest of many others. His jockey piloted my first Derby pick (and winner) to the winner’s circle in 2002 with War Emblem, Art Sherman is perfectly old school, and Chrome himself is a ground-eating athlete with homegrown appeal. Who dares to hate the Chrome? He’ll be the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May, and while far from invincible, he’s got the right mental mindset and one of the best strides I’ve seen in this year’s field going forward.

Red Down South at Old Friends Cabin Creek

Red Down South at Old Friends Cabin Creek

Derby Profile #2: Dance With Fate

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Highlights:

  • G1 winner (Blue Grass Stakes on poly) at 9 furlongs
  • 6 out 8 times finishes in the top 2

Basics:

  • Trainer: Peter Eurton (Weemissfrankie, My Gi Gi, Euroglide)
  • Jockey: Corey Nakatani
  • Owned by: Alesia, Sharon; Bran Jam Stable and Ciaglia Racing LLC
  • Record: 8:3-3-0
  • Earnings: $680,050
  • Best speed figures: 97 Beyer (Blue Grass Stakes), 99 BRIS Figure (Blue Grass Stakes), 108 Equibase

Background: Bloodstock agent Larry Zap has only acquired two horses in his career for more than $100,000: Whitney (I) winner Bullsbay for $108k, and Blue Grass (I) winner Dance With Fate for $130k. It seems to have paid off. Seen by many as a grass/poly type horse, Dance With Fate was given the go-ahead to give the Derby a shot following the Blue Grass by trainer Peter Eurton, who has yet to enter the Run for the Roses. 

Prep Schedule: Misfiring in his debut race at Hollywood Park, DWF returned to nail his target a month later at Del Mar in August of his two-year-old year, running clear of the field by 1 1/2 lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs on the poly. Bumped and unable to go straight to the front again in the Del Mar Futurity (I), he ran a winning race while stretching out to 7 furlongs, but wound up missing by a head to rival Tamarando. Turning to dirt for the first time the next month in the 1 1/16-mile Frontrunner (I), DWF had a bad brush with fate again, stalking the pace as the favorite but was unable to hold off eventual winner Bond Holder, who swept in to win by nearly 3 lengths. One of the many to spin his wheels in the Breeders’ Cup, DWF made a flurried attempt to run 8th before calling it quits for the year, and won a grass allowance in his first race as a three-year-old going a mile at Santa Anita in one of his most impressive starts to date. Rolling in top form, he ran a winning race next out in the El Camino Real Derby (III) on Golden Gate’s synthetic course, but was unable to hold off Tamarando who defeated him by a half length. Shipping and surging in form, DWF showed his best at Keeneland in the Blue Grass (I), making an impressive charge in the straight from the back to win by nearly 2 lengths over G3 winner Medal Count.

Pedigree: Part of sprinter-mile Two Step Salsa’s first crop, Dance With Fate is speed on top with distance on the bottom with plenty of dirt influences despite his success on turf and poly. Two Step Salsa didn’t do all that much on the track, but did manage to win the Godolphin Mile and over $1 million in earnings while mainly racing from 7-8 furlongs. A son of Petitionville, Two Step is out of the unraced Seattle Slew mare Two To Waltz to give him a good foundation. Dance With Fate is out of the Saint Ballado mare Flirting With Fate, whose dam Biogio’s Baby features dual traces to Northern Dancer. Danzig and Halo are key additions, providing this Derby puzzle with speed and distance.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: D Variant 0.19

Dosage Index: 1.91

Running Style: Adaptable

Pros: Aiming to be the first Florida-bred since Affirmed to win the Kentucky Derby, Dance With Fate has shown great dimension in his turf and poly wins as a horse who was a promising juvenile-turned-even better three-year-old. 

Cons: Since poly came into force, how many of its dominators have gone on to do well on dirt and win such a prestigious race? The stakes are high for Dance With Fate, with the last Blue Grass winner to win the Derby being Strike the Gold in 1991 when it was still a dirt race, with polytrack winners largely disappointing in the big race. Dance With Fate will also have do more shipping than most, as he shipped out for the Blue Grass and has shipped back to Santa Anita to train.

Final Word: The big question is whether or not Dance With Fate was disadvantaged in preparing exclusively on turf and polytrack for the Kentucky Derby as well as the quality of company he was able to defeat in his races. Tamarando, his arch rival and meter stick for comparison, was seemingly a poly-only horse and the bulk of the Blue Grass field was composed of horses trying to get into the Derby field despite having little to no dirt ability. However, while some will try to argue it, Dance With Fate DOES have dirt ability and he does belong in the Derby. I currently peg him in my top 5 as of right now.

My favorite part about visiting Thoroughbreds at their farms is being surprised by which ones I did not expect to become favorites. G3 winner/war horse Watchem Smokey is one of the sweetest ones at Old Friends Cabin Creek, although he’s a bit demanding about getting several peppermints.

(We’re almost done shooting Roughshod!)

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