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Derby Dozen #12: Oxbow

(Awesome Again x Tizamazing, by Cee’s Tizzy)

  • Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas (Optimizer, Gulch, Charismatic)
  • Jockey: Gary Stevens (First Derby since 2003 6th place with Buddy Gil)
  • Owned by: Calumet Farm
  • Record: 9:2-1-1
  • Earnings: $383,500
  • Best speed figures: 95 Beyer, 110 Equibase

Background: A member of my watch list since his CashCall (I) race, Oxbow lit up the board and hopes for a resurgence of classic D. Wayne Lukas and Calumet victory passes upon winning the Lecomte (III) earlier this year. Given a harsh blow of bad luck time after time with repeatedly bad outer posts in his prep races, Oxbow is doing as he has done all year— just hanging in there to make the Derby gate.

Prep Schedule: It took him 4 tries to do it, but Oxbow broke his maiden in a 7-furlong event at none other than Churchill Downs as a two-year-old, then shipped out west to run a decent 4th in the CashCall (I) on polytrack. Bouncing back in 4 weeks’ time, he wired the Lecomte (III) going 1 1/16 miles, winning by an impressive 11 1/4 lengths. Assigned the outside 10 stall, he ran a wide but determined 4th next out in the messy Risen Star (II), losing by a half-length. Next, he ran an unexpected second-fiddle to stablemate Will Take Charge, who nipped him at the wire after Oxbow gained the lead in the stretch of the 1 1/16 mile race. In his final prep in the 9-furlong Arkansas Derby (I) and first time under Gary Stevens, he ran at the back of the tightly-knit group and made steady progress late to be 5th, losing by 5 1/4 lengths.

Pedigree: As I detailed in a prior post, Oxbow has some big shoes to fill that he may not start growing into right away. By Breeders’ Cup Classic winner (and sire of one) Awesome Again, he is automatically advantaged to get the 10-furlong distance, and even more so being out of a full sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. The Awesome Again and Tiznow families have spawned many G1 winners at 9 furlongs and beyond, and when crossed, have produced names like the unforgettable Paynter, who flashed extreme ability at the classic distance. Inbreeding-wise, Oxbow carries 3 traces up close to Northern Dancer.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A++ Variant 33.70

Running Style: Midpack, off-the-pace

Pros: A horse who sticks up front and fights it out at the end, Oxbow has been looking good in his recent works and should keep on making progress while others regress at 10 furlongs.

Cons: He appeared to regress in the Arkansas Derby (I) last out, and he has yet to have a more than a month-long break between races since he first started running.

Final Word: Oxbow was a horse full of potential at the beginning of the year, and while he still has something to offer, I think he has more than completed his form cycle. Add to this, most Awesome Agains do not really hit their best stride until later on (Game On Dude missed the Derby and was 4th in the Belmont, Paynter made the Belmont, Ghostzapper didn’t make a stakes start until the King’s Bishop). Watch for him later, not now.

Derby Dozen #11: Palace Malice

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(Curlin x Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem)

  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Rags to Riches, Super Saver, Uncle Mo)
  • Jockey: Mike Smith (2nd last year on Bodemeister)
  • Owned by: Dogwood Stable
  • Record: 6:1-3-1
  • Earnings: $271,135
  • Best speed figures: 93 Beyer, 100 Equibase

Background: How many horses does the Toddster have? Quite a few this year, for sure, but it was a hard sell that one of the first Curlins would not get in. Palace Malice was certainly a two-year-old to watch from last year, and while he’s been riddled with poor trips, he made a last-ditch dive in for points at the Blue Grass Stakes (I). Like stablemate Revolutionary, he is a product of the storied W.S. Farish breeding program.

Prep Schedule: Palace Malice scored his maiden win on his second try going 6 1/2 furlongs in a talented Saratoga maiden special weight then was done for the year. In his three-year-old debut, he was a strong second behind the speedster Majestic Hussar in a sloppy Gulfstream allowance. Suffering a bad trip in the Risen Star (II) next out, he still managed to take the stretch-out to 1 1/16 miles well to dive in for third place, beaten by just a half-length. He encountered yet another bad trip in the Louisiana Derby (II) stretching out to 9 furlongs, getting jostled to be 7th. Trying yet again, he nearly got the win in the Blue Grass (I), but was edged out late by Java’s Pass by a neck.

Pedigree: Part of Curlin’s first crop to race, Palace Malice has some substantial potential to be a force on virtually any surface much like his multi-G1 winning sire, who made a winning effort in all three of the 2007 Triple Crown races. Dam Palace Rumor was a stakes winner on turf in her day, and with her pedigree it’s not that surprising. Her sire is Royal Anthem, who like his own sire Theatrical [IRE] was a star on the turf, winning a G1 and running 2nd to Daylami [IRE] in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Palace Rumor’s dam is by Red Ransom, an international turf influence. Palace Malice is pretty clean of inbreeding barring two further-back traces to Northern Dancer.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: C Variant 1.19

Running Style: Midpack, off-the-pace

Pros: Does a bad trip equal a bad horse? Nope. Palace Malice has yet to really extend himself thanks to a host of cruddy trips, and the addition of Mike Smith and blinkers ought to help him out. Imagine if he didn’t have so many bad trips: he was off the board only once!

Cons: He’s been second for 3 of his 6 starts and has just been full of excuses why. Layoff, traffic, possibly just not good enough. Out of all the Pletchers, he’s likely the weakest link and hasn’t shown us much that proves he’s Derby material.

Final Word: I am biased in hoping to see something miraculous since Palace Malice is the only Derby runner I’ve seen in the flesh and it would be awesome to see him win. However, I recognize he has a lot stacked up against him missing out on that Blue Grass win and after so many races, does he have a big run left in him? Well, he did appear to outwork his Arkansas Derby (I)-winning stablemate today in blinks… wild card!

Derby Dozen #10: Lines of Battle

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(War Front x Black Speck, by Arch)

  • Trainer: Aidan P. O’Brien (Camelot, St. Nicholas Abbey, Giant’s Causeway)
  • Jockey: Ryan Moore (This is his first Derby race)
  • Owned by: Joseph Allen, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor & Derrick Smith
  • Record: 6:3-1-0
  • Earnings: $1,276,204
  • Best speed figures: Unknown top Equibase beyond his 92 in a troubled Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (I) start, best *known* Beyer was a 74 on turf

Background: According to Wikipedia, “lines of battle” is a naval tactic when ships of a fleet line up end-to-end to create a single-file line for individualized combat. For Lines of Battle the horse, while his own tactical advantage has been questioned and generally doubted due to the poor preparatory nature of the UAE Derby (III), it wouldn’t be crazy to think that in this year’s wide-open field that a good Euro shipping in wouldn’t have a shot. Owned by Coolmore and trained by the legendary Aidan O’Brien, the easy-breezy winner of the UAE Derby is a Kentucky-bred coming home to race on dirt.

Prep Schedule: Lightly-raced, Lines of Battle won 2 stakes as a two-year-old at 6 and 7 furlongs, one on turf and one on the synthetic course at Dundalk. He was 2nd by a neck in another turf event at Leopardstown, and 6th in another won by Dawn Approach where he failed to get going when the footing was soft. He closed out the year with a wide, trouble-laced trip in the 1-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) where he finished 7th. In his first and only start so far as a three-year-old, he ran easy to a comfortable win in the 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby (III) in Dubai, looking much the best despite a long layoff, a big field, and adding on more ground.

Pedigree: As expected with a horse owned by Coolmore connections, Lines of Battle has a ritzy pedigree. His sire War Front has been tops since being at stud, siring winners on every surface including fast router The Factor, recent Illinois Derby (III) winner Departing, G1 turf miler Data Link, and more. War Front himself was an accomplished runner, running mainly sprints with a victory in the Vanderbilt (II). War Front is by the prolific success sire Danzig and out of the Rubiano daughter Starry Dreamer, who was G1 and G2-placed routing on dirt and turf. The bottom half of Lines of Battle’s pedigree is even more promising with Arch as his damsire, much like last year’s Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another and star G1 runner Uncle Mo. Black Speck’s dam, Andover Way, was also a good runner with a win in the 1982 Top Flight (I) and was runner-up to eventual Eclipse winner Track Robbery in the 1982 Apple Blossom (I)… and the dam of another pretty legendary colt named Dynaformer. Lines of Battle features two crosses up close to Danzig, who is his grandsire on top and is the damsire of Arch.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A+ Variant 4.03

Running Style: Adaptable, likely towards the rear

Pros: He looked surprisingly dominant despite having no prior starts as a three-year-old in the UAE Derby, holding off a late run from Elleval, who I personally liked most in the race. Physically strong-looking, he’s a proven shipper and has run the farthest at 1 3/16 miles and designed to go further.

Cons: Mystery trips up any logical handicapping of how this horse will do. We have no idea how he compares to the American field other than putting a beat-down on He’s Had Enough (and honestly who hasn’t?) and El Camino Real (III) winner Dice Flavor. We can’t even compare times because Dubai was slow, slow, slow overall. If he can transfer his grass and Tapeta form over, great, but otherwise it’s a guessing game.

Final Word: I could have included a number of horses in the Derby Dozen, and I’m including Lines of Battle on a whim because a) he impressed me in the UAE, b) he looks good and ought to be fresh, and c) screw the “UAE runners don’t do anything,” I liked Master of Hounds a while back and he ran a pretty good 5th! Of course, it would be nice to see first how he handles Churchill before I make a final final remark on him, but that won’t happen until Tuesday at the earliest… he’s worth thinking about more than others in this race!

Derby Dozen #9: Itsmyluckyday

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(Lawyer Ron x Viva La Slew, by Doneraile Court)

  • Trainer: Eddie Plesa Jr (Gottcha Gold, Hey Byrn, Successful Song)
  • Jockey: Elvis Trujillo (This is his first Derby race)
  • Owned by: Trilogy Stable & Laurie Plesa
  • Record: 10:5-2-1
  • Earnings: $625,600
  • Best speed figures: 104 Beyer, 109 Equibase

Background: The plain bay colt who came out of seemingly nowhere in the deep Florida preps, Itsmyluckyday rocketed out of anonymity with a few nice stakes won at Calder then a few small races from there at Gulfstream including the Holy Bull (III) over reigining champ Shanghai Bobby. “Lucky” represents some family matters with trainer Eddie Plesa and co-owner Laurie Plesa coupled together in this possible Derby maelstrom. Could he be the latest Barbaro-esque three-year-old from Florida who tested on turf then conquered the dirt?

Prep Schedule: “Lucky” won two nice dirt stakes races at Calder as a two-year-old before flattening in his first ship-out to the tricky Delta Downs Jackpot (III). Going back to turf, he ran 4th in the Dania Beach at Gulfstream, losing by some 2 1/2 in a decent field, then went straight back to dirt to wire the Gulfstream Park Derby by nearly 7 lengths. From there, he set a new track record in clearly besting Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull (III) by 2 lengths. In his final prep in the Florida Derby, he was soft off a layoff to finish 2nd beaten by 2 3/4 lengths by the excellent Orb.

Pedigree: Not what I like to see in my ideal Derby horse but not a bad way to go altogether, Lucky has plenty of routers and speedsters in his family tree. His sire Lawyer Ron was fast and could go far with it, winning the Woodward (I) and Whitney (I) among others in his career after going 4-for-4 before his jinxed run in the Kentucky Derby, winning the Southwest, Risen Star, and Arkansas. Lawyer Ron is sired by Langfuhr, a G1-winning sprinter by Danzig and out of a daughter of Lord Avie. Lucky’s dam is Viva La Slew, a daughter of Jerome Stakes (II) winner Doneraile Court, who features some classic routers in his pedigree with Seattle Slew as his sire. Viva La Slew is out of the unraced Viva La Viva, a daughter of Crafty Prospector (Mr. Prospector) and out of a Secretariat mare. Collectively, judging by this Secretariat callback and the fact that Lord Avie is by Sir Gaylord, a full brother to Secretariat, Lucky is linebred to be a distance-getter. Lucky has sparse inbreeding up close, with 2 traces back to Nearctic from his grandsire Langfuhr.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: C Variant 0.82

Running Style: Near-the-pace

Pros: The most experienced horse in the field with 10 starts, Lucky features some upside as a horse with speed to burn (Hello, track record! Goodbye, track record!) with honest connections. He has a built-in excuse for the Florida Derby where he came off a long layoff and runs well within himself to take command of fields quickly.

Cons: Was his Florida Derby a regression or just a layoff pattern? He did run well in that race, but was simply no match for Orb who came running late, and it was a race his trainer expected him to win.

Final Word: Lucky caught my eye as a two-year-old for his off-the-turf Dash race at Calder where he just whipped around the field turning for home and just coasted despite going wide. I don’t normally like Lawyer Ron progeny, but Lucky is proving to be the one exception in my book. There is little “wow” about him as we’ve seen yet in a year full of pretty one-dimensional horses, but the Derby could be the race where he shows the rest of the iceberg as he peaks off that Florida Derby runner-up. My biggest fear is the crazy fast Gulfstream races from this year and how that translates at Churchill. However, if it rains, I have no doubts that Itsmyluckyday will be my #1 pick.

Derby Dozen #8: Mylute

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(Midnight Lute x Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations)

  • Trainer: Thomas Amoss (Backtalk, Heritage Of Gold, Royal Spy)
  • Jockey: Rosie Napravnik (Did not race in last year’s Derby)
  • Owned by: GoldMark Farm LLC & Whisper Hill Farm
  • Record: 9:2-3-2
  • Earnings: $417,695
  • Best speed figures: 93 Beyer, 111 Equibase

Background: The winner of my secret and imaginary “Most Beautiful Derby Horse” prize, the son of Midnight Lute had some struggles on the prep trail but came out guns blazing to make the Derby field a la a powerful Louisiana Derby (II) performance. Part of the two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I) winner Midnight Lute’s first crop to race, Mylute has shown he’s got some speed and could probably go far with it.

Prep Schedule: Mylute shook off a poor trip in the Delta Downs Jackpot (III) to finish his juvenile year strong with a commanding allowance score by 10 3/4 lengths with Napravnik up for the first time. He was one of the many who ran poorly in the Risen Star (II) as his sophomore debut, where he was choked back and weakened to finish 7th. Bouncing back, he was in the lead before being met and nudged out by Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby (II).

Pedigree: Midnight Lute has been doing very well with his first crop to race with many winners across the board. A two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I), Midnight Lute had distance capability hindered by a breathing problem, being by near-Triple Crown winner Real Quiet out of an unraced Dehere (speed/early ability influence) mare. Stage Stop has one other foal that has raced, the successful Henny Hughes colt She Digs Me— a G3 winner at 6 furlongs— and was a stakes winner herself racing in Texas. By Valid Expectations, a decent sprinter, she is out of a stakes-winning Strike the Gold mare. Mylute features some inbreeding with two mentions of In Reality and Raise a Native in the first five generations.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: C+ Variant 1.27

Running Style: Adaptable, best near the lead

Pros: A horse that exhibits potential in pedigree and running style, Mylute rebounded off a string of so-so starts to show some brilliance in his Louisiana Derby prep last out, which featured a double-digit figure jump on some scales. The fact that he was able to best Departing, the winner of the Illinois Derby, by 3 shows he is improving and could be very good.

Cons: Clunk, win, clunk, win is Mylute’s way of racing, and he appeared to hang in to be snuffed out by Revolutionary last out, who is already being questioned as a reputable Derby horse. Thomas Amoss is also not a high-roller of a trainer.

Final Word: Mylute has long been a horse of interest that I initially doubted and threw away as a horse that was likely only going to want to mile given his mother’s pedigree. I changed my tune upon seeing that last allowance race of his two-year-old year and watching him a bit more. Now that he has shown that he can explode forward without blinkers and is picking up Rosie Napravnik, I’m all for a little Mylute should he keep working well (which he is), although I’m skeptical he could win at the moment.

Derby Dozen #7: Java’s War

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(War Pass x Java, by Rainbow Quest [GB])

  • Trainer: Ken McPeek (Sarava, Harlan’s Holiday, Curlin)
  • Jockey: Julien Leparoux (7th last year on Union Rags)
  • Owned by: Charles Fipke
  • Record: 7:3-1-1
  • Earnings: $672,091
  • Best speed figures: 89 Beyer, 103 Equibase

Background: The second of the two very promising War Pass colts in the Kentucky Derby, Java’s War commanded attention as one of last year’s best two-year-old colts— on grass. Changing surfaces, he has yet to collect a dirt victory but looks plenty capable with upset trainer Ken McPeek on deck to train the smallish bay colt with owner/breeder Charles Fipke of Jersey Town/Perfect Shirl fame looking on with pride.

Prep Schedule: Java’s War closed out his two-year-old year a stakes winner on grass and G1-placed on all-weather, showing boldness and determination. He made his first dirt start as a two-year-old with a poor trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club (II) where he dwelt at the rear after a wide and slow start. Taking a layoff, he rebounded impressively as a three-year-old in the Tampa Bay Derby (II), losing by 3 to Verrazano, before taking the 9-furlong Blue Grass Stakes (I) in a gutsy closing performance from dead last to win by a neck over Palace Malice.

Pedigree: Sired by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) winner War Pass, Java’s War draws from his sire line some early and potential distance ability from grandsire Cherokee Run, who flashed plenty of speed that could last. Dam Java [GB] is a daughter of the unraced Rainbow Quest [GB] out of Island Jamboree, a turfer who was G1-placed going 9 furlongs. Java has a number of other offspring, but Java’s War is by far her best to date. Inbreeding-wise, Java’s War flashes a bunch through his linebreeding to the distance-grabbing Euro Blushing Groom [FR] and two mentions of Raise a Native (Native Dancer), both in the first five generations.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A++ Variant 7.06

Running Style: Closer

Pros: Java’s War was a very good two-year-old overlooked by the fact he ran on grass and poly. He looks to be peaking right on schedule and runs happy.

Cons: The chance we have another Animal Kingdom on our hands is forever unlikely, and many would scoff that a horse that is probably better on turf could go on to win the Derby as the field’s deepest deep closer. Julien Leparoux also doesn’t help support his case as one of the glitchiest riders I’ve ever seen and therefore do not trust with a big race.

Final Word: Java looked so amazing in the Tampa Bay Derby (II) paddock I quickly isolated him as one to watch for— even on dirt, which he appears to handle plenty well. McPeek rarely brings a mule to the races, and the fact he looks so good and is doing so well makes him a top longshot bet.

Derby Dozen #6: Goldencents

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(Into Mischief x Goldenworks, by Banker’s Gold)

  • Trainer: Doug O’Neill (I’ll Have Another, Lava Man, Thor’s Echo)
  • Jockey: Kevin Krigger (This will be his first Derby ride)
  • Owned by: W.C. Racing, Kenney, Dave; and RAP Racing
  • Record: 6:4-1-0
  • Earnings: $1,250,000
  • Best speed figures: 105 Beyer, 111 Equibase

Background: Just when it looked like Team O’Neill was going to be out of the Derby picture the year after they led I’ll Have Another into that heralded winner’s circle at Churchill, the bay colt named Goldencents made a big run to score their second consecutive Santa Anita Derby (I) over favored Flashback. Regarded as a good two-year-old, Goldencents dismissed distance doubters by nailing the 9-furlong race, again offering a Cinderella story for fans this year as the curly-maned bay carries black jockey Kevin Krigger to the gate.

Prep Schedule: After knocking heads with Shanghai Bobby as a two-year-old, the talented juvenile closed out his baby year with a front-running score in the Delta Downs Jackpot (III), holding off Bern Identity to win by a clear 1 3/4 lengths. He proved best in his three-year-old debut, winning the Derby points prep the Sham Stakes (III) going a mile, tracking Manado in a tight trip where he prevailed by a game 1 1/4 lengths. He was challenged for the lead early in the San Felipe (II) next out, again at 1 1/16 miles, being effectively run off his feet by Flashback and just hung on to be 4th. Seeking revenge, Goldencents was forwardly-placed on autopilot in the Santa Anita Derby (I) at 9 furlongs, where he progressed nicely into a 1 1/4-length win over Flashback.

Pedigree: New sire Into Mischief is having a heyday with his first crop to race with Goldencents leading the fray with a G1 win and more than a million bucks in earnings. Into Mischief, a son of Florida Derby winner Harlan’s Holiday, had a short-lived career running mostly sprint type races. His half sister is a favorite for the Oaks this year: the indomitably fast Beholder who also capped off a strong Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly (I) win last year. Dam Goldenworks has some distance pedigree although her sire Banker’s Gold didn’t do much beyond 7 furlongs. Goldencents grades fair on the inbreeding scale, though has several Native Dancer references beyond the fifth generation through Raise a Native and Icecapade.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A++ Variant 7.37

Running Style: Near-the-pace

Pros: Sporting some excellent speed figures, Goldencents is statistically a top contender in this regard should he keep right on chugging away to get 10 furlongs.

Cons: Showing little dimension other than a need-to-be-up-front horse that has displayed trouble relaxing, Goldencents got sucked into a frenzied duel in the San Felipe (II) and has yet to encounter a truly tough field.

Final Word: Backers of Goldencents have to be those who are either still high off of I’ll Have Another’s Derby win last year or who are driven by certain angles, such as his forward placement and especially his improving Beyers which show he’s right on schedule. I will also forever vouch O’Neill’s stiff conditioning methods for his horses, which he seems to be doing again this year having Goldencents plug away 6 panels at a time at Santa Anita. I don’t personally like him for several reasons: he’s too testy when encountering trouble, he looked all-out getting the Santa Anita (I’ll Have Another ran ears forward in his tough victory), his Santa Anita win was given to him (field was a bit off, Flashback was found to be injured post-race), and I’m going to wager he stops at 9 furlongs looking at his pedigree.

Derby Dozen #5: Revolutionary

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(War Pass x Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy)

  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Super Saver, Uncle Mo, Rags to Riches)
  • Jockey: Calvin Borel (19th last year on Take Charge Indy)
  • Owned by: WinStar Farms
  • Record: 6:3-1-2
  • Earnings: $788,500
  • Best speed figures: 93 Beyer, 114 Equibase (achieved as a two-year-old)

Background: The Todd Pletcher-WinStar angle has been strong, achieving strong results on the Derby trail with 2010 winner Super Saver and the undefeated Wood Memorial (I) winner Gemologist from last year. Revolutionary has been looking like a special colt since his debut race at Saratoga as one of the first and few sons of the late War Pass.

Prep Schedule: While it took him 4 tries, Revolutionary broke his maiden in style as a two-year-old at Aqueduct and has been unstoppable since “getting it,” beating a decent field by 8 1/2 lengths going a mile at Aqueduct. Favored in the Withers (III), he did not let his supporters down, and despite getting the worst trip imaginable, he closed in like a champ weaving through traffic to edge out Escapefromreality at the wire. Given a tougher test next out in the Louisiana Derby (I) at 9 furlongs, Revolutionary again closed but did so earlier in the top of the stretch, engaging a stretch duel against the hard-rallying Mylute and recent Illinois Derby (III) winner Departing.

Pedigree: One of the most attractive qualities about Revolutionary is his amazing pedigree, which is full of great horses that could go the distance as well as flash some speed. By the deceased Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) winner War Pass, he is a product of the illustrious W.S. Farish breeding program. Grandsire Cherokee Run had speed that carried, often reflecting that in his own progeny while he rarely finished out of the top 3 in whatever top race he entered. Revolutionary’s dam is the gorgeous and talented A.P. Indy daughter Runup the Colors who won the 10-furlong Alabama (I) and placed in many other graded events. Her dad A.P. Indy obviously did some great things, and her dam Up the Flag won the 8 1/2-furlong Delaware Oaks at 3. Hoist the Flag and Bold Ruler are both mentioned twice in Rev’s first 5 generations.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A+ Variant 4.96

Running Style: Closer

Pros: Mentally one of the toughest horses in the field this year, Revolutionary sports a tried-and-true distance pedigree as though this was the race he was born to run in and win. Calvin Borel is masterful at Churchill Downs and with closers who want the win.

Cons: I am still forever skeptical of Pletcher horses, particularly those who ship outside of New York for big races. As a closer, he may very well get into trouble and we haven’t seen the supersonic-fast kick that is desirable in a stretch closer in this colt yet. Numbers freaks will avoid him for his slow times (though I personally discount this because he is a closer after all).

Final Word: I have few doubts that Revolutionary is one of the better horses on the trail this year, and he should blossom with 10 furlongs. Borel’s best Derby rides have been with tough closers, which I think Revolutionary could be a part of with his unflappable traffic moves. However, he is not my favorite closer in the field because he hasn’t shown off any really powerful moves… that Withers win for example, was a slow-grinding move that required a lot of time for him to just prevail by a neck under so-so competition.

Derby Dozen #4: Normandy Invasion

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(Tapit x Boston Lady, by Boston Harbor)

  • Trainer: Chad Brown (Dayatthespa, Zagora [FR], Awesome Feather)
  • Jockey: Javier Castellano (16th last year on Gemologist)
  • Owned by: Fox Hill Farms
  • Record: 5:1-2-0
  • Earnings: $300,240
  • Best speed figures: 105 Beyer (allowance win), 115 Equibase (achieved as a two-year-old in the Remsen)

Background: Fox Hill Farms’ first Kentucky Derby runner since their ill-fated Eight Belles, who was runner-up in 2008, Normandy Invasion represents Chad Brown’s latest step into the Derby fray since experimenting last year with Street Life, who ran 4th in the Belmont. A big name on many people’s list after his strong runner-up effort in the Remsen (II), Normandy Invasion thrust his head in front of Vyjack’s in the Wood Memorial (I) to make the Derby points cut.

Prep Schedule: Normandy broke his maiden on his second try by an explosive 9 1/4 lengths going a mile at Aqueduct, which is the first and only time he was in the winner’s circle. He followed up that great effort with a long drive and a winning performance placing 2nd in the 9-furlong Remsen (II) behind a stubborn Overanalyze to close out his two-year-old year. Debuting in the Risen Star (II) in late February, he got a troubled trip and an outer post to reach the front too late to be 5th by just 1 1/2 lengths. Regrouping in New York, he was trafficked in tight but nearly caught Verrazano at the end of the Wood Memorial (I), missing the win by 3/4 length.

Pedigree: Tapit is represented by a new G1 winner nearly (if not every) year at stud. A Wood Memorial (I) winner himself, he keeps the A.P. Indy sire line going strong siring strong juvenile contenders and a small pool of good older horses on every surface. Tapit also represents that growing force of blue blood backed by Unbridled as a damsire. Normandy’s own dam brings the most questions into the equation, being by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) winner Boston Harbor with a lot of European breeding on the bottom. Will that give Normandy’s early talent some distance reach? Also worth noting is the heavy Native Dancer influences with multiple traces to Raise a Native and Northern Dancer.

TrueNicks Rating: A++, Variant 13.40

Running Style: Closer

Pros: No one has come as close to beating Verrazano as Normandy Invasion has in the Wood Memorial (I), where the bay colt shook loose late to miss the favorite by a short 3/4 length despite a pace that helped Verrazano more. For those looking at peak form, Normandy is going to be keen on his 3rd start back and was talented enough to keep the highly-requested jockey Castellano committed. Physically, he also looks like a horse that will celebrate the distance.

Cons: Chad Brown is more of a turf trainer than a Derby trainer, so Normandy’s finish will be reflective of what he can do with young horses on dirt and outside his comfort zone of New York racing. As a closer, Normandy may also be disadvantaged with Derby traffic and frequently finishes well, but not well enough to win. His pedigree is also still worth questioning as the stuff of distance.

Final Word: I have few doubts that Normandy Invasion is not a worthwhile horse to watch come Kentucky Derby Day, but he does have his detractors: 1) I think he’s too skinny as though he is going through another growth spurt like Mucho Macho Man did, 2) He may or may not be mentally ready enough yet to match the ability that is obviously there. Despite the maybes, I definitely like what I saw on Wood Memorial (I) day.

Derby Dozen #3: Vyjack

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(Into Mischief x Life Happened, by Stravinsky)

  • Trainer: Rudy Rodriguez (Agave Kiss, Temecula Creek, Flat Bold)
  • Jockey: Garrett Gomez (10th last year on Daddy Nose Best)
  • Owned by: Pick Six Racing
  • Record: 5:4-0-1
  • Earnings: $460,000
  • Best speed figures: 93 Beyer, 108 Equibase

Background: A curmedgeon of a colt, Vyjack became a gelding after being a bit too headstrong, and that fractious energy turned into speed when he began racing. Proving new dimensions and more ability seemingly with every start, Vyjack has become a crowd favorite in his journey to Churchill Downs and a shining first hope for his people: New York-based Rudy Rodriguez’s first Derby hopeful and the newly-formed Pick Six Racing’s first horse.

Prep Schedule: Raced entirely at Aqueduct, Vyjack beat out a tough crowd in his 6 1/2 furlong-maiden debut including the likes of Orb and stakes winner Clawback before claiming his first stakes win in the Traskwood over Always in a Tiz covering 7 furlongs. He went a bit longer next out using the same near-the-lead tactics in the Jerome (II), where he was pressured late but still eked out a tough win by a head over Siete de Oros. He faced tougher company next out in the Gotham (III), where he showed a new dimension closing into a pretty soft pace from being 8th on the turn to clear victory by 2 1/4 lengths. He went wide in the Wood (I) to make a good case, but was just snuffed out late to be 3rd to lose by roughly 1 length.

Pedigree: A lot of winning has been done in Into Mischief’s family lately, and the stallion himself is a G1-winning son of Florida Derby (I) winner Harlan’s Holiday specializing in one-turns. Into Mischief is out of the stakes winner Leslie’s Lady (Tricky Creek), who is also the dam of G1-winning machine Beholder. Vyjack is a part of Into Mischief’s banner freshman crop which also includes Santa Anita Derby (I) winner Goldencents. Backing up to Vyjack’s distaff side, he is out of the unraced Life Happened, a daughter of sprinter Stravinsky, who has a lot of great names in her ancestry like Moccasin, Nureyev, Blushing Groom, and Round Table. Vyjack is one of the least inbred in the field. TrueNicks Rating: C, Variant 1.19

Running Style: Adaptable, near-the-pace

Pros: Possessing speed when it counts, Vyjack showed dimension as a horse who could show early speed around one-turn but then close into it down the stretch to win so he does not necessarily need a setup to win.

Cons: The biggest blight on Vyjack’s record is the possibility of scandal, as trainer Rodriguez has been under fire and subsequently suspended for recent doping positives. It is also questionable how well he can ship since he has yet to race outside of Aqueduct. There have also been sketchy rumors about the gelding’s current state of fitness.

Final Word: After hearing a lot of promising things about Vyjack’s recent post-Wood breezes, I think he’ll be fine to stay competitive in time for the Kentucky Derby. However, there is still that lingering question as to how effective he’ll be going 10 furlongs. We know he is a strong competitor from his stubborn duel with Siete de Oros and Gotham stretch drive. Garrett Gomez is going to be a plus, and doping case or not, Vyjack is an interesting addition to the field.

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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