Derby Preps Provide More Questions Than Answers

April 07, 2008 | Gary Quill

Last week, after reading my “29 Days And Counting Until The Kentucky Derby” blog, one readers (Jason Jubb) comment hit the nail on the head. He stated, “I’m just wondering if after these three races we will have some answers or more questions.”. Based on the results of this past weekend’s three Derby prep races, Jason’s comment was the only aspect of my blog that was a winner!
Let’s recap. At Aqueduct in the Wood Memorial, the race was run as I predicted, with one exception, the wrong horse beat War Pass. My pick (Court Vision) rallied much too late in finishing a fast-closing third, but it was Tale Of Ekati who played the spoiler role for all the chalk players and won the Wood Memorial. This colt was among my top Derby contenders until after his 2008 debut, where he ran a very disappointing 6th , beaten by a number of other Derby Pretenders (Pyro being the exception) in the Louisiana Derby. This race was one that could hardly be considered a “2nd race after a layoff” angle play. Add to the fact that the Aqueduct oval was drying out which made it a very heavy and tiring surface. One look at the fractions (i.e. split times of the race) will tell you that War Pass was slowing down versus Tale Of Ekati and Court Vision flying in the end.
At Hawthorne in the Illinois Derby, there was a different scenario that played out. Horse players refer to it as a “Merry-Go-Round” or “Carousel” race. This phenomenon occurs when throughout the entire race, the horses never change positions… from the first furlong out of the gate to the last at the wire. The winner (Recapturetheglory) ran like a 7-5 favorite leading gate-to-wire, but he was 15-1. I was stunned that not only did the undefeated favorite not get up a gallop, but neither did my choice (Real Appeal).  Both usually display a strong closing kick, but in this race never picked up their feet, er uh, hoofs. In reviewing all of the races run at Hawthorne on Saturday, all winners were either on the lead or in 2nd position throughout the race. This is referred to as the track having a “Speed Bias”. It helped me realized why my horse ran so bad, but didn’t help the fact my wallet was a little lighter.  

Finally, the Santa Anita Derby was the closest to being run true to form. Colonel John proved to be the Best of the West, with a furious rally to catch pace setter Bob Black Jack in the final strides. Both the winner and runner-up will go to Louisville in search of a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May. Though they are quality colts, they arrive on the Derby scene with one lingering question, “Can they can run just as well or even better on natural dirt as they have their entire career on the California synthetic surfaces?”

This Saturday features the final two Derby prep races, the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes. Let’s hope these provide more answers than questions!