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The Derby Puzzle: More Pieces from Florida and Louisiana

The Derby Puzzle: More Pieces from Florida and Louisiana

Kentucky Derby horseracing

by Gary Roedemeier

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 12:50 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 12:50 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- A mile and a sixteenth was long enough for a closer to win a race at the Fairgrounds and short enough for a sprinter to win a race at Gulfstream Park.

Both three year old winners have probably qualified for the Kentucky Derby. But in late February, Wildcat Red and Intense Holiday are still long shots.

Wildcat Red is the longest shot unless he's a total freak. He won the Fountain of Youth on a speed favoring track. The pace was a blistering 1:10.13 for six furlongs and 1:41.85 at the finish line. Trainer Jose Garraffalo says it's on to the Florida Derby and then Louisville.

That would be the ultimate stretch-out for a horse with a sprint pedigree. Wildcat Red showed no signs of stopping at a mile and a sixteenth, but his sire D'Wildcat never won beyond 7 furlongs. The dosage index is 5.67. Wildcat Red has all the signs of a horse that could lead the Derby at the mile marker and finish 19th.

Meanwhile, at New Orleans, a horse who shipped in from Florida,  put Starlight Racing in the Derby picture. Intense Holiday, owned by the Louisville partnership,  won the Risen Star stakes by a nose over Albano.

Todd Pletcher followed a pattern of trainers in Florida and California, who ship horses to win Derby preps at the Fairgrounds and Oaklawn. For instance, Bob Baffert's Hoppertunity was 4th in this race.

Intense Holiday certainly has the dirt breeding to compete at the Derby distance. He's by Harlan's Holiday out of an Unbridled's Song mare but the Risen Star was two seconds slower than the Fountain of Youth.

You get the feeling that Pletcher beat the best in Louisiana with a third string contender. With a dosage index of 3.80, Intense Holiday could improve but it seems the best Derby horses are still in Florida and California.

And perhaps, the horses that finished second and third at Gulfstream and the Fairgrounds have as much potential as the winners. Albano, trained by Larry Jones for Brereton Jones has never been worse than second. He lost by a nose.

General A Rod lost by a head to Wildcat Red but his Roman Ruler pedigree indicates he will like the distance as the races get longer.

And Top Billing came from twelfth to be third in the Fountain of Youth. He was  two lengths behind the winner, and maybe he had just started to run.

The scene shifts to New York this weekend when Aqueduct stages the Gotham Stakes. It's been billed as a showdown between the New York breds that dominated the early winter preps. But the plane is bringing a lot of challengers back home from Florida.

And turning to our Top Twenty for this week: Nobody is moving into first place based on the preps from Saturday even though they were worth 50 points.

1.Candy Boy
I see no reason to change number one.  At least, not today.  
We may get a better sense of the quality of California contenders when they start shipping to Arkansas and Louisiana in search of Derby points. Until then, we'll just wait for Candy Boy's next race and see if he realizes the promise he showed in the Bob Lewis Stakes.

2. Top Billing
Started in the 12 hole at Gulfstream and was in 12th place at the first call. But then jockey Joel Rosario made his move at the top of the stretch and missed by two lengths. And if they're running a mile and a quarter? Well, you know who wins.

3. Tapiture
A four length win in the Southwest Stakes moved Tapiture firmly into the Derby picture. Winchell Thoroughbreds leads the Arkansas division of the Derby trail, but Strong Mandate will be looking for a re-match in the Rebel. The winning time was a modest 1:44.95.    

4. Samraat
Things get more interesting in New York on March first when the Gotham Stakes sets up a re-match between Samraat and Uncle Sigh.  But the half million dollar prep for the Wood Memorial will attract more than the New York breds. Todd Pletcher sends in three contenders.         

5. General A Rod
After an impressive second place in the Fountain of Youth, everything about this horse appears to be legitimate. He's fast and he's tough as witnessed by the stretch drive at Gulfstream. He ran the race in 1:41 and change, and should go farther.

6. Strong Mandate
Maybe he needed the race in the Southwest and his second place wasn't a disaster. If Lukas can develop this colt the way he did Oxbow and Will Take Charge, look out. He has great Tiznow breeding and is still a threat to hit the board at Churchill Downs.

7. Intense Holiday
This Harlan's Holiday showed the kind of move in the Risen Star that can win a Derby. From 7th place at six furlongs, he closed to win by a nose. How does he stack up against the rest of the Pletcher Derby parade?  Well, he was better than everyone that showed up in New Orleans.
7. Albano
Sometimes, you just get lucky.
Albano didn't meet the $37,000 reserve at the Keeneland sale, so Brereton Jones was forced to take him home and race him. Now, with Larry Jones as trainer, Albano has finished second in two Derby preps and seemed to improve in the Risen Star. His sire is Istan, who is a Gone West.   

8. Cairo Prince
It looks like the Florida Derby will be a speed duel and Cairo Prince should fit right in. And while I doubt his ability to get the Derby distance, he could stalk the pace and win at Gulfstream. But as I said before, with a 7.00 dosage index, if he wins the Derby, dosage is dead.

9. Honor Code
At  the end of 2013,  this colt by A. P. indy seemed like the horse most likely to wear the roses.  He has the pedigree and the record against tough competition as a two year old. Then came training hiccups and some bruised ankles. But now, he has two recent works and is pointing toward the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.

10. Conquest Titan
Mark Casse avoided the Fountain of youth for his Birdstone colt, which is probably a good thing. The next possible target is Tampa and if it rains, this bird may take wing. 

Now, here's a brief look at ten other horses, who are making a mark on the Derby Trail.

11.  Wildcat Red
This is a really, really great sprinter.  He might even stretch out to hit the board in the Florida Derby but I'd keep him sprinting.  He could be the new "Lost in the Fog. "

12.  Vicar's in Trouble
He ran another good race in the Risen Star but I think this was a case of a horse hitting the pedigree wall. He did break from an outside post and circle the field, four wide. Probably gets another chance.

13.  Harpoon
From second in the Sam F. Davis, Harpoon carries the Tapit banner into another chance in the Gotham Stakes. The Aqueduct track is a far cry from Tampa Bay but a good performance could put this Tapit in the Pletcher parade.

14 Kristo
This John Sadler trainee is one to watch in California. Kristo has turned in three sensational works at Santa Anita, getting ready for the San Felipe Stakes on March 8.

15. Indianapolis
The Indy newspaper has already published a story about Indianapolis having a namesake horse in the Derby.  He's not there yet, but Bob Baffert knows the way. Could race next in California or ship to Arkansas.

16. Kobe's Back
Apparently running better than the basketball player of the same name.
He won at 7 furlongs on Feb. 16 so the next race will be a test at two turns. John Sadler trains this son of Flatter.

17. Chitu
Best looking horse I've seen in a prep race this winter. He looks like a sprinter and his sire is Hennessy. But with a dosage of 2.56, it seems like distance is possible. Chitu ran a good race in the mile and sixteenth Bob Lewis.   

18. Tamarando
He won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate but that race has never been a great predictor for the Kentucky Derby or the Santa Anita Derby. He won this race on synthetic turf, so the connections may take him to Turfway for the Spiral Stakes.

19. Bond Holder
We mention this Doug O'Neill trainee because he won a Grade One race at two and has been on a strange journey to his next race.  He was injured on the plane ride to New Orleans for the Risen Star. Now, he is reportedly in Tampa for that Derby.  Will he be A Rated or Junk Bonds?

20. Ride on Curlin
For the Calvin Borel fans, here's the horse that got up for third in the Southwest Stakes and trainer Billy Gowan says they'll be back for the Rebel. "Ride On" certainly could improve with more distance and Calvin knows the way around the Churchill track. Hm!

And there are more Derby preps just around the corner. The field has already been drawn for the Gotham on March 1, followed by the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 8.

Thanks for reading.