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Golden Ticket and Last Gunfighter break from their outer posts in the Whitney Handicap (I)

Golden Ticket and Last Gunfighter break from their outer posts in the Whitney Handicap (I)

Successful Dan, after his hard-fought runner-up finish in the Whitney Stakes (I) at Saratoga (Photo by Dawna Wood/The Galloping Hat Rack)

Successful Dan, after his hard-fought runner-up finish in the Whitney Stakes (I) at Saratoga (Photo by Dawna Wood/The Galloping Hat Rack)

Derby Dozen #7: Java’s War


(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.

Regarding Kevin Krigger, Goldencents in the San Felipe

Creaturelover asked about what I said about not liking Goldencents partly due to Kevin Krigger’s tantrum following the San Felipe (II). If you followed the race, you would clearly remember the early, insane duel between favorites Flashback and Goldencents, which ultimately set things up for the two closers Hear the Ghost and Tiz a Minister. Ghost won, Flashback hung on for second after getting by Goldencents, and Tiz a Minister was up for third. Goldencents got tired after the duel, and began to hang in the stretch when he was passed.

In response— and this was covered by the media— Kevin Krigger put Flashback’s rider Julien Leparoux on blast, criticizing him for the ride.

Coming into the first turn, I got him to turn off (relax), and I was surprised, as good of a rider as Julien is supposed to be, the move he made around the turn to make us have a dogfight race all the way around. Turning into the backstretch, that’s like committing suicide, you know? If we’re going that fast easily, it’s understandable, but to pressure a race like that … being on a favorite, that’s not a favorite’s ride at all. He had the ideal scenario going into the first turn, and I mean, my horse came up tired today. There’s not much else I can say.

Talk about making excuses.

We all know Goldencents likes to be up front, but to expect Leparoux to let you have it and not let his horse run as he sees fit is stupid. This is a race, and a major one too with a big purse and Derby points on the line. Why the hell wouldn’t Leparoux pressure Goldencents? That’s what race riding is all about. YOU HAVE NO CASE AND YOU ARE MOANING ABOUT IT LIKE A SORE LOSER.

Had Goldencents won the duel and held off Ghost I suspect he would be singing a much different tune. What did you expect him to do but tire after getting rank going :22 and :45 and fall victim to a closer? He changed things up in the Santa Anita Derby and let Goldencents cruise on autopilot. Ironically, that is pretty much what Leparoux did with Flashback one race back. Flashback had a cruddy rail post and didn’t break quick enough to gain leverage in the Santa Anita.

I’m not the only one who thinks Krigger was full of poop complaining about Leparoux’s ride. Conversation broke out on Twitter which is how I came to know about it and characterize it as a tantrum. Krigger is a fairly decent rider, O’Neill is a pretty good conditioner, Goldencents has speed. They are not without a chance, but I like others better.

In-Person Jockey Spectacles (Tee-hee, ha ha, get it)

Time for a silly post. I’m a bit worn out from all the serious topics and I could use the boost right now.

I’m somewhat infamous to people that know me for my bad eyesight. I often vow to get Lasik for myself once I graduate because I get tired of never getting to wear sunglasses (and see, that is), not getting to lay down on my side watching a movie, coping with dust and rain, and then ya know, there’s the thing where I apparently look like two different people with and without glasses. And no, I don’t think contacts are an option if you see the way I react when someone tries to put mascara on my lower lashes…

But anyway, I love our jockeys, and if you’ve never been to a track where many of them like to populate at once you are missing out. But, while getting to see many of the nation’s top riders, I made little mental notes on how getting to see them in-person was a mite different from seeing them on TV and in oodles of photos. What were the impressions? Did I need to look at my program with my bad eyesight? HMM…

  • John Velazquez - In my top list of favorites if not THE favorite of mine, Johnny V is easy to pick out for his bright and charismatic smile and seemed to beam even more around the throngs of railbirds.
  • Ramon Dominguez - A lot of railbirds can be found calling this guy’s name, and why not since he’s always at the top of the earnings list. He always looked super stern and focused.
  • Julien Leparoux - One can tell it’s Leparoux without looking down at the program surprisingly easily. He’s probably the palest rider in the parade and he’s got such unique bone structure in his face… dat French nose… He always seems cool and collected.
  • Mike Smith - Another hard-to-miss type with a serious expression on his face heading to post, often squinting in the afternoon sunlight.
  • Mario Guiterrez - I don’t know if he was just very alert and focused when I saw him or if he was really nervous and freaked out. Always looked appreciative of the fans.
  • Rosie Napravnik - Always looks the part of a super professional out there; you’d naturally expect some sort of emotional sway from a female, but Rosie doesn’t show a shred of anything but getting to business. You wouldn’t need to look at her record to know she’s tough as nails heading out there.
  • Jerry Bailey - I kind of came across him by accident on Belmont Day while trying to leave the grandstand area. I saw the broadcast tent and went “OMG! IT’S JERRY BAILEY!” *refrains from making a scene*


Seems like only yesterday I watched this: favorite Dialed In duels 68-1 longshot Shackleford to win the 2011 Florida Derby (I) (Photo by Joe Ganley)

Seems like only yesterday I watched this: favorite Dialed In duels 68-1 longshot Shackleford to win the 2011 Florida Derby (I) (Photo by Joe Ganley)

The beautiful colt Tritap (Tapit x Victory Road, by Ikari), winner of race 2 on Whitney day to break his maiden. (Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

The beautiful colt Tritap (Tapit x Victory Road, by Ikari), winner of race 2 on Whitney day to break his maiden. (Photo by Dawna Wood/GallopingHatRack.com)

Derby Dozen #6/12: Union Rags

Union Rags

(Dixie Union x Tempo, by Gone West)

Trainer: Michael Matz (Barbaro, Kicken Kris, Round Pond, Visionaire)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux (the French-born, Eclipse Award-winning jockey is best known for his cool-headed race riding and is a stand-out at Kentucky tracks, where he holds riding titles at Turfway, Keeneland, and has rivaled Pat Day with riding 7 winners in a single day at Churchill Downs. He co-holds the record for most Breeders’ Cup wins in a single year with Garrett Gomez [3 wins] and has won aboard horses like Informed Decision, Nownownow, and Forever Together. His Derby history: favorite Dialed In in 2011 [8th], Awesome Act in 2010 [19th], General Quarters in 2009 [12th], Cool Coal Man in 2008 [15th], Sedgefield in 2007 [5th])

Owned by: Chadds Ford Stable

Record: 6-4-1-1

Earnings: $1,198,800

Summary: A product of Pennsylvania roots (similar to that of Smarty Jones), Union Rags is owned by his breeder who bought him back as a two-year-old for twice the amount she sold him for in a classic tale of horseman’s intuition. Trainer Matz is ecstatic to get another shot with a serious Derby hopeful as he had with the undefeated Barbaro, who suffered an infamously tragic ending in the 2006 Preakness. Javier Castellano called Union Rags the best horse he ever rode last year after winning the Saratoga Special (II).

Prep Schedule: The blaze-faced Union Rags gave in to the hype of his connections when he emphatically broke his maiden at first asking then followed that up with a romp in the slop in the Saratoga Special (II). Not to be outdone, he romped in the Champagne Stakes (I) over eventual Gotham (III) winner/Wood Memorial (I) runner-up Alpha by more than 5 lengths before losing a duel with Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) after swerving badly in the stretch to his outside. He roared back as a three-year-old, taking the Fountain of Youth (II) by 4 lengths before succumbing to traffic troubles to take a close third in the Florida Derby (I) to Take Charge Indy.

Running Style: Has shown great adaptability to run from nearly anywhere, winning style places him well off the lead

Pros: A huge horse with an equally huge way of running, Union Rags has the build as well as the relaxed character of a Derby heavyweight. He’s a push-button runner who will turn it on when asked and needs little encouragement. He’s also one of the few horses here to excel or even be tested on a very off track.

Cons: As time runs out, it looks like Union Rags will bear the heavy burden of being the Derby favorite— the last favorite to go on to win the great classic was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, and before that, Spectacular Bid in 1979. As the Florida Derby proved, he’s going to have to master his issue of negotiating traffic more effectively and once again, Leparoux is going to have to deal with other jockeys trying to pinch the favorite. Statistical handicappers will not be very impressed by the progression of his figures leading up to Derby Day.

Final Word: Out of all the contenders, Union Rags seems the best candidate to win all-around. Pedigree, preparation, conformation, connections, talent, and maturity— he has all the ingredients of a Kentucky Derby winner, and you’d be foolish to leave him out of the big picture.

Union Rags: An American Love Story trailer… full documentary comes out on April 18 on TrackPackPA.com

How Far Do Excuses Run?

Post-Florida Derby hysteria has set in much like a million-dollar G1 race should: with excuses pouring in from everywhere from practically all those connected with the race. Many of the losers agree that Take Charge Indy was a false winner, crediting their own poor performance and a speed-soakin’ track to the A.P. Indy colt’s upset win.

How much reputation does Take Charge Indy have now with an extra $600,000 in the bank? Still not much. While the naysayers are reconsidering their attitudes concerning trainer Pat Byrne’s decision to keep his horse out of the Tampa Bay, they’re still not giving the colt full points for the win this past Saturday seeing as Union Rags remains the Kentucky Derby favorite. Big Brown faced similar skepticism in 2008, running only three times (but undefeated) before winning the Derby and the Preakness, but even with the might Calvin “Bo-rail” aboard, it’s not likely T.C.I. will start as a hot favorite: he did not win by a romp, won on a biased track, and sported an unimpressive 95 Beyer speed figure in a race that normally spits out triple digits.

Obviously, Union Rags did not have the ideal trip from the get-go. Jockey Julien Leparoux guided him to the caboose of the early leaders and was pinned inside by Javier Castellano on second-choice El Padrino nearly the whole way. He made three separate attempts to gun to the front, but could only muster third. His third place is regarded better than Take Charge Indy’s first since it was nearly overtaking second-place Reveron and was well away from the shorter-trip rail.

With El Padrino notching a “no excuses” fourth for many, trainer Todd Pletcher is still insistent he’s got Derby potential. The horse endured a wide trip around Union Rags the whole race, and according to Trakus stats, the trainer states El Padrino could have easily beaten Union Rags due to the fact he traveled 68 feet further than the favorite, and to many, the deserved winner. While the Pulpit colt did not improve much off his Risen Star (II) speed figures and fell off the tote board for the first time, I’ll let you think what you want to about this one.

With barely a month left on the calendar until the first Saturday in May, it seems that the Derby picture has been jostled but not unsteadied. Union Rags is likely going to start as the favorite or co-favorite with Take Charge Indy being taken lightly for a conqueror.

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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