Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Early Derby Dreams

By Dean Arnold

Dryfly wins the Smarty Jones, Winslow Homer wins the Holy Bull, and Worldly leaves me wondering…

Ok, I should mention that Ron The Greek won the Lecomte Stakes, but my eyes were on Worldly, the son of A.P. Indy and Kentucky Oaks winner Urbane. With breeding like that, you have the genetic making of the perfect Kentucky Derby horse. His prior siblings have been talents, like stakes campaigner Suave, but few have had enough precocity to be ready in time for a Triple Crown campaign. But Worldly was stakes placed at 2 in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. GII and, with 2-turn talent, he would seem to personify what you would want to see in a Derby contender.

Unfortunately, I forgot they have to run fast, too.

Worldly had a perfect trip tucked inside around both turns and had every chance to win. He finished an even 5th. Ron The Greek closed from out of the clouds to win going away, which is usually an indication of a pace meltdown rather than the sign of a new star in the 3-year-old ranks. Worldly is a regal specimen that needs to show he can kick it into a higher gear. I’ll reserve judgment when this group returns in the Risen Star Stakes.

Earlier in the week, Dryfly won the Martin Luther King Jr. Day feature at Oaklawn Park. Returning from a smart allowance win at Churchill Downs in late November, Dryfly ran gate to wire, carving out fast fractions early and hanging on late in an impressive yet slow mile of 1:41:3. This colt is trained by Lynn Whiting, who won the 1992 Kentucky Derby with Lil E. Tee. If Dryfly can continue to carry his speed over increasing distances, he has every reason to develop into a legitimate Derby contender. He’ll have to do better than a final half-mile in :54, but no one was challenging him in the Smarty Jones. There’s a good chance we will see even better performances in his future.

The Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park was a one-turn mile and came down to a “perfect pocket” trip for Winslow Homer beating out the Nick Zito-trained Jackson Bend, who took a 5-wide overland route to the wire. Jackson Bend had won his previous five starts completely dominating the Florida-bred ranks of Calder 2-year-olds before switching to the Zito barn this winter. Winslow Homer, on the other hand, showed his talent early, with a powerful win last summer in a Saratoga maiden race, and had since waltzed through an easy allowance tune-up at Philadelphia Park. Winslow Homer is the latest Fox Hill Farms Derby prospect and will follow in the footsteps of 2007 runner-up Hard Spun, 2008 runner-up Eight Belles, and 2009 Derby favorite Friesan Fire. The connections of both of these horses definitely know how to get a horse to the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, making both colts ones to follow throughout the spring.

Just as I shied away from backing any dirt horses running in the last two Breeders’ Cups on synthetic surfaces, I am reserving judgment on any of the talented sophomores running on the West Coast. Last year, early Derby favorite I Want Revenge was a nice yet unimpressive horse racing over synthetic surfaces, but blossomed when he shipped east and dominated the Gotham and Wood Memorial. While he never made it to the Derby, it was a reminder that synthetic form and dirt form often bear no resemblance to one another. For all we know, 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky will be able to run big on dirt. So far, he is a synthetic-only horse and hard to back with any confidence until he shows he can transfer his form to another surface.

It’s a long way to Churchill Downs in May. Always view Triple Crown trail races from two points of view: Handicap the race for who can win that particular event and bet accordingly. But also study the race from the perspective of the event being a stepping stone for horses building up to a mile and a quarter event several months from now.

In most prep races, there will be horses who are bred for better things down the road, and horses that are entered to seize the day (not to mention the generous stakes purses leading up to the Triple Crown).

It is perfectly acceptable to support a horse in a prep race while ruling it out as a Triple Crown contender. It is also okay to ignore a horse in your betting strategy while tabbing it for a better effort later. Treat each prep race as both a money-making opportunity and a demonstration of talent to be studied.

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