(Essential Quality arrives home at Churchill Downs. Next up? Kentucky Derby / Photos by Coady Photography)
If you come to this space often, and I hope that you do, you know that I am very habitual and very consistent in updating the site. Each day. Every day. Just my thing.
I want you to be entertained. I want you to be engaged. I want you to be updated. And, I want to be your go-to spot for information and fun in the Thoroughbred industry. I want that. I like that. (Admission: I’m addicted to it, really. I just love writing.)
In order to do that, I have made it my mission — and this site’s commitment — to be current.
That being written, you have probably noticed that the past few days, we have been a bit lacking and a bit tardy in our information downloads and updates.
Just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. Needed a couple of days off.
So my better “full” (she’s more than a “better half”), and I took off. And, for the most part, we shut it down. At least, the brain part. We just needed some “down time.”
But, for better or worse, we are back. And, now, it’s “go time.”
So, here we go. Here are some “quick hitters” and thoughts following last week’s torrid racing schedule and major Kentucky Derby preps:
(Essential Quality / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
Once again, the undefeated and reigning 2YO Champ proved he is a worthy contender and justifiably the No. 1 candidate going into the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby. The big grey running machine dusted off the engine just in time to catch a highly-motivated and highly-talented Highly Motivated to win the G2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday.
It was Essential Quality’s 6th win in as many races, and to some it may not have been visually acceptable or impressive enough.
It may have been his best race. Ever. And, I think the race sets the colt up perfectly for the big race on the first Saturday in May.
As he always seems to do, Essential Quality found all the right qualities to overcome an unchallenged front-runner, and a horse that very well may be one of the other top contenders in this year’s run for the Triple Crown on a track that always, always, always favors speedy types.
As he always seems to do, Essential Quality found the guts to run down and surpass / pass a horse loose on the front end in what appeared to be a run-away effort.
As he always seems to do, Essential Quality found a way to win.
He has won from off the pace. He has won stalking the pace. He has won over the Keeneland track now three times. And, he has won them all a bit differently, and with a lot of courage.
He has the ingredients to win the KY Derby. Speed. Talent. Style. Grace. Pedigree. Lots of familiarity with the racetrack, since it’s his home for the majority of the year. And…Did I mention talent?
But he has the one ingredient that nearly every KY Derby winner must have. Deep down. Deeply imbedded within. Deep in the heart of Dixie. This horse has guts. He has heart. He has desire. He has the will to make his own way.
If you were not impressed by his win in the Blue Grass, then maybe you should take another look.
This horse had every chance in the world to lose.
Yet, he didn’t.
He impressed me. Again.
(Highly Motivated, on the inside, ran 2nd in the Blue Grass / Coady Photography)
Going into the Blue Grass, I touted this son of Into Mischief to anyone and everyone I came in contact with and would listen to two minutes of Thoroughbred handicapping. Truly, I thought this horse was sitting on a big effort.
And, for once, I was not wrong.
The colt ran a huge one in the Blue Grass, and nearly pulled off a Good Magic-like magical run.
And, it should sit him up perfectly for the 11/4-mile KY Derby on May 1, too.
After all, I don’t think this horse necessarily wants or demands the lead. After all, I think he will do his best running from a “stalking spot.” After all, I think Authentic proved a year ago that a son of Into Mischief can and will get the Derby distance.
This one is on the move North. And, I think he has a legit chance, too. Good Magic, also trained by Chad Brown, was a very good horse. This one? I think is even better.
Look out Derby Day. This guy is on the improve.
Rock Your World:
The 3YO son of Candy Ride rocked a few worlds on Saturday with his impressive win in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, which has produced a lot of real good runners for the KY Derby in recent years.
The undefeated colt — who won for the third straight time, but first time on dirt last Saturday — sprinted to the front; carved out some quality early fractions; and had plenty in the tank to sprint home an easy winner, too.
There’s always a “but,” right?
There is one here for me.
And, it is this factoid:
I don’t think Rock Your World pulled off a “Rocky-like” performance. Time was good, granted. He got some style-points, admittedly. But the horse truly defeated no serious contender for this year’s Derby.
Rock Your World did prove that he is capable of running as well on dirt as he has on turf. He did flash some quality speed. He was able to run the distance with front-end speed and back-end class.
He will face much, much, much tougher in the next debate. And, the test may be way too much and way too soon.
I love this one’s character and guts. He tries. Every single time. He tries.
This one’s Florida-bred pedigree is getting in the way of a very big time.
The son of Protonico (a son of Giant’s Causeway) simply doesn’t have the stamina to beat the “best of the best.”
Oh, he can hang in there. In the first five career races, he has two wins and three seconds.
His losses have come to Life Is Good (the world-beater) twice and now Rock Your World. Not bad.
But in the KY Derby, we are not looking for horses that may be able to hang in there. We are looking for winners. And, I just don’t see it happening for this one. Sigh.
For years, this major KY Derby prep and one of the best 3YO Stakes races in the entire free world, has been falling from grace and importance.
No longer do the top trainers aim their top horses to this race for the final major prep for the “First Saturday in May.”
No longer does the Wood Memorial crank out top contenders for the “Run for the Roses.”
No longer do the horses move to the next stop and stage with credibility and credentials befitting a KY Derby major contender, much less the favorite.
This is no longer a major KY Derby prep.
May be again in the future. But it just isn’t right now.
This year’s version may be one of the weakest renditions that I can remember. Ever.
The winner — Bourbonic — just broke his maiden last December in a Maiden-Claiming event. In his prep for the Wood, the colt lost an allowance race at Parx Race Track in Pennsylvania. And, on Saturday, his odds of winning were about as long and remote as moving the Stakes to New Jersey. (For God’s sake, that will never happen, right?)
The runner-up, Dynamic One, is another from the barn of Todd Pletcher. This one just broke his maiden in March, although he has a nice 2nd to Greatest Honour in a MSW event at Gulfstream Park last December.
The highly-touted colt Prevalence was highly disappointing, any way you want to cut it. He had every chance. He had nothing.
So, what does the Wood Memorial give us?
These top two runners may surprise me — and most of the world of handicappers, at the same time — and run huge in the KY Derby in their next outing. But I can tell you one thing, to be sure.
They won’t be carrying any of my money on them to do so.
He may have a lot of horses to train. He may have more horses to make this year’s starting gate for the KY Derby than any other trainer going. He may be a Hall of Famer. And, he does have the winner of the G1 Florida Derby in Known Agenda.
His crop of 3YOs this year — whom he has spotted all over the country in order to gain enough points to make the KY Derby field — is lacking. Lacking the right tools. Lacking the right speed. Lacking the right talent. Just lacking.
Yeah. IMO, even Known Agenda is still an unknown quantity. Even after his win in the Florida Derby, which was suspect in nearly every regard for me, as a handicapper. (More on that to come.)
If you forced me to choose one of the Pletcher horses that I may consider in the KY Derby?
The best just may be Sainthood, the lightly-raced son of Mshawish who finished second to Like the King in the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. The grandson of Medaglia d’Oro has only three races under his girth, and has only a MSW win at the Fair Grounds in February on the resume.
This one had to check steadily in the Turfway Park stretch before getting a clear run in the Ruby and when he finally got a clear shot? He made the most visually-impressive move of any in the race. And, I do think this one has the ability to improve immensely before the next race.
If you had forced me to choose one of them?
It would be Sainthood, for me.
I know this one didn’t run this past weekend, but the trip this colt got in the G1 Florida Derby a couple of weeks back still burns a hole in my stomach and my mind.
While trainer Shug McGaughey is much too classy a fellow to mention it or beg an excuse for his talented colt, this horse got a crappy trip. Pure and simple.
In the early going, Greatest Honour was 10th on a track that always favors speedy types. Not the best of positions, to be sure.
In the midway, rider Jose Ortiz pushed the gas pedal and raced up the inside only to be steadied. And, steadied. And, steadied. And, steadied.
By the time, the duo hit the top to the stretch, brother Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Known Fact had the jump and the clear path. Greatest Honour, it appeared to me, was tired of being strangled. Qui9te honestly, the horse looked pissed, if not beaten. On class alone, he ran third. But that was in no small part due to his personal guide. Do you really think Soup and Sandwich is better than Greatest Honour? Seriously?
I don’t know if the 20-horse field of the KY Derby will suit Greatest Honour, a very peculiar son of the great Tapit. He may have too many horses to negotiate a good, solid and clean trip. He may have too many obstacles in front of him — in reality and in mission. He may not have the running style that it takes to have a clean shot.
But I do know this.
For Greatest Honour to have any chance at all, he will need a better trip than the one Jose Ortiz gave him in the Florida Derby. In fact, the rider may be his greatest obstacle.