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Preakness Hopefuls Crowd Derby Trial

A prep race that is no longer a prep race, I first heard of the Derby Trial (III) while reading The Black Stallion’s Filly, where the Black’s daughter Black Minx qualified for the Kentucky Derby field by winning this race [and in the most extreme of ironies, check out who is in post position #2 this year]. Yeah right, no way that would happen nowadays and certainly not this year. Eleven horses enter the starting gate— four of them Romans trainees— and chances are good we’ll see at least one or two of them in the Preakness (I) later next month should they run well.

$200,000 The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (III) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 mile on dirt at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Saturday, April 28 at 9:39pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion]

1) Tarpy’s Goal - Leandro Goncalves, 118 lbs, Dale Romans - Hit or miss is the name of this High Cotton colt’s game, with 2 wins in 4 starts this year. Both of those wins were at 7 furlongs, but looking at his record, Romans is still trying to figure out what his strengths are. I don’t think he’s up to snuff for this race, especially after cashing in early to finish last in his only other graded test, the 7-furlong Hutcheson (II).

2) The Black - Calvin Borel, 118 lbs, Doug O’Neill - If there ever was a gut pick for me… the Cherokee Run colt is actually dark bay, and sports a somewhat unusual pedigree with far-reaching grass influences from Europe coupled with the famous speed of his sprinter sire. He has won twice in 3 starts this year at Santa Anita, his first being a maiden claimer he won by nearly 12 lengths. This will be The Black’s first graded test, first-time ship, and with the able Borel in the irons. An O’Neill standard, he breezed 6 furlongs before landing in Kentucky. While I’m not a fan of his fledgeling status, I like how he saves it for the end in a nice closing move. Will it work here? Maybe! He’s a gut pick!

3) Saint of Saints - Kent Desormeaux, 118 lbs, Dale Romans - Fresh off winning his maiden at Churchill over 7 furlongs, the Saint Anddan colt seems to be naturally taken to racing with no bad moves to his name and a preference to run just off the pace. Nothing overly dazzling about him, likely to be shut out in a more experienced field.

4) Nonios - Garrett Gomez, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - 2 wins in 3 starts this year, the Pleasantly Perfect colt broke his maiden at first asking at Golden Gate where he has been stationed for all his races so far. He had a bad race last out where he finished 3rd, but his wins— both at a mile— were impressive ones. How much do you trust a synthetic horse on dirt?

5) Hierro - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Steve Asmussen - Asmussen’s original big Derby hopeful, the Hard Spun colt finished unplaced in both of his starts this year in the one-mile Sham (III) and a 7-furlong allowance won by Senor Rain both at Santa Anita. A good 5-furlong work at Churchill recently shows that after the month-long layoff, he might be rejuvenated… but I’d say he’ll need at least another race before that happens.

6) Quick Wit - Corey Lanerie, 118 lbs, Dale Romans - The sharpest Sharp Humor I’ve seen so far (no I don’t really like Hero of Order), he was 3rd in the 7-furlong Hutcheson (III) but broke poorly last out in the Swale (III) to finish a distant 7th. Works at Churchill have been good, but he has yet to show real dominance since breaking his maiden.

7) Paynter - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - No doubt going to be the favorite, the Awesome Again colt was hand-ridden to romp in his debut before he finished a good 4th in the Santa Anita Derby (I) after breaking poorly and carrying out wide. He’s being muscled for the distance he’ll find in the Preakness in his works, and this is going to be more of a prep race for him. Due to the short one-mile distance, he might not win due to that and Preakness intentions.

8) Seve - Jesus Castanon, 118 lbs, Dale Romans - Sporting 1 win in 5 starts this year, the Giant’s Causeway colt was courageous in his bumpy maiden break, but has since been uninspired, running a distant 9th in the Swale (III) lacking the necessary drive to win. Sleepy works and races… I’ll pass.

9) Stealcase - Shaun Bridgmohan, 118 lbs, Mark Casse - Working consistently with troubled races, the Lawyer Ron colt was 5th in the Spiral (III) after being bumped at the start and was 6th in the Gotham (III) after an awkward start. He’s got some speed and could very well nail the mile distance in this situation, but can he get a clean race?

10) Motor City - Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr, 120 lbs, Ian Wilkes - One of my favorite ex-Derby favorites, the Street Sense gelding gets a stiff 2-pound disadvantage due to his stakes win as a two-year-old,  the Iroquois (III) at Churchill over a mile. He was pulled from Derby contention after progressing slowly, and is probably still out of shape after languishing in the Swale (III) with no real impressive works to speak of.

11) Bourbon Courage - Miguel Mena, 118 lbs, Kellyn Gorder - 2-for-2 so far this year, the Lion Heart colt ran away from the field to win by nearly 7 in his maiden break at Fair Grounds and followed it up with a mirror move in an allowance race, but instead of on the lead, he closed in fast to win. He’ll be stretched another 2 furlongs here, but really, I think he’ll manage just fine. It’s the class upgrade he’ll need to counter.

Predicted Trifecta: 1) Paynter 2) Bourbon Courage 3) The Black

Value Pick(s): Nonios, The Black

Derby Watch: Seriously Street Sense

First off, I could have sworn I published this weeks ago… this is what happens when you have 30+ posts in draft at any given time.

I wasn’t into legitimate handicapping— scouring over past performances, speed figures, track preferences, rider switches, imposts, etc.— until somewhat recently, so it still astonishes me today how I was able to pick some Derby winners based off looks alone. Street Sense was one of those horses I picked to win the Run for the Roses based solely off confirmation, he was just that good-looking to me. A deeper testament to the brilliance of Street Sense was the quality level of his three-year-old class, which featured the likes of Curlin and Hard Spun to name only two. With his first crop turning three next year, it’s time to take a serious look at the baby Street Senses, predominantly one I’ve liked since his maiden: Motor City.

Out of a Danzig Connection daughter, the bay gelding has racked up two nice wins in five starts including the Iroquois Stakes (III) over Seven Lively Sins in great closing fashion. Better yet, it was a rail-skimming ride courtesy of Calvin Borel, which brought back a special memories of the 2007 Kentucky Derby. Surprisingly, Motor City isn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongues (yet) in regards to serious Derby hopefuls, but I’m thinking that’s going to change as the preps continue. His Iroquois win looked very mature for his age, and I anticipate this one getting even better down the line.

Also worthy of mention is a recent maiden (turned stakes champ since Monday!) winner by the name of Castaway. With Joe Talamo riding as his regular, he poked along in shorter distances but really lit a match when breaking his maiden around two turns at Santa Anita. He managed a 89 Beyer figure before turning 3, so while it’s still early, there’s enough hope abound that this Bob Baffert trainee could make a good score in time for May 5.

Afford, who just so happens to be competing in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes (II), is yet another who shouldn’t be discounted (pun not intentional). He blew apart the field breaking his maiden by 7 lengths, tracking the leaders on the rail before making a gallant scraper-of-a-trip. While I don’t expect him to win in such a loaded field from the rail position, I think he’s going to keep on improving.

To add an Oaks candidate I’ve been super serious about since her two-year-old campaign, Miss Netta was plagued by a host of gate problems, but was an all-star as the distance stretched out. I missed her 2012 debut in an op-claimer at Gulfstream, but she apparently did not disappoint as the favorite. A great filly, I expect equally great things from her this year.

Bottom line, I just love the blossoming maturity I’ve seen from these colts so far. To win a big race like the Kentucky Derby, you need a lot of luck, talent, and above all, maturity. Classic victories don’t happen by accident, and they often require brash tactics like rail-running, rating well behind early, and closing willingly and quickly. I’ve seen all three so far, and with impressive consistency, from the first crop of Street Sense runners.

Susie Shoemaker of Lantern Hill Farm talks about her breeding program and the nervous energy created when consigning yearlings to sales, in this case, a half sister to Motor City.

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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