By Gene Kershner
This weekend's results on the road to Louisville didn't detour off the path we've seen time and again during this topsy turvy Derby prep season. The last two major prep races didn't disappoint with two bombs, Archarcharch ($53.20) won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and Brilliant Speed ($40.20) captured the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course.
The current cutoff of graded earnings is $250,000 and the horse in the No. 20 and last spot, Jaycito, runs next weekend in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes to try and solidify his position in the gate.
In reviewing my analysis post-race, we pointed out that several key races led up to the Blue Grass. We concentrated on the G3 Palm Beach with Joes Blazing Aaron and Queen'splatekitten. We should have paid better attention to Hallandale Beach which produced the winner and third place finishers. The horse finishing third in the Hallandale, Brilliant Speed, came from last place in a sweeping move at the top of the stretch to win the Blue Grass. The horse that won the Hallandale and was subsequently disqualified to third, King Congie (Post Time's third selection), finished in the show spot behind Twinspired on Saturday.
Interestingly, the top seven finishers of the Blue Grass all were coming out of Gulfstream Park turf races. Since Keeneland instituted polytrack in 2007, the winner of the Blue Grass has finished no better than eighth in the Derby. Granted, Street Sense used it as a final prep before winning the Derby, finishing second after losing a photo finish to Dominican. Candidly, we don't see the Derby winner coming out of this race.
On the other hand, the Arkansas Derby has been terrific producing horses that excel in the Triple Crown races. Prior to the weekend, Post Time had the winner Archarcharch ranked No. 11 in his Wireplayers.com Derby Dozen poll submission. Floating up to a 25-1 from his morning line of 12-1, Archarcharch found an opening at the quarter pole and swung outside to overtake the leaders. He moved into fourth on the graded earnings list and ensured himself a spot in the gate in Louisville.
After watching the replay several times on Sunday, what really caught my eye was the late closing surge by the Mineshaft colt, Nehro, who finished second and passed the winner after the wire. Both horses have pedigrees that suggest that they can handle ten furlongs, we'll be keeping a close tabs on these two as we approach Derby day.
While The Factor fizzled and his connections later disclosed he displaced his palate during the race when being held back by jockey Martin Garcia, it appears he will be a horse out on the lead at the Derby. We're sure trainer Bob Baffert doesn't mind not having the pressure of being the morning line favorite on the first Saturday in May, and he learned that the strategy employed in the Arkansas Derby certainly won't work on Derby day.
Several horses now either need to help themselves (Jaycito in the Lexington) or that will require help to get into the Derby. The next five horses on the Derby 137 "bubble" are Santiva ($242,397), Watch Me Go ($235,500), Shackleford ($212,000), Twinspired ($197,500) and Silver Medallion ($184,334). Silver Medallion will try and qualify for a starting gate in next
weekend's Lexington Stakes.
Finger Lakes Opening Day Trip Report
Post Time took a ride down the New York State Thruway to Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack to take in opening day. A steady rain didn't dampen the spirits of many horseplayers eager to take in 2011's first live card of racing. Nine straight 4 and 1/2 furlong races didn't leave much to the imagination, in addition to the muddy/sloppy track conditions played havoc on horseplayers.
Finger Lakes and a group of enthusiastic racing fans, the Western New York Racing Club enticed Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist to make his inaugural visit to the Canandaigua location. Crist came to town at the urging of the Club's leader, Peter Borrelli, and later spoke at a fundraiser dinner benefitting the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program. Post Time spent some time with both Crist and Borrelli and lauded them both for their efforts to enhance thoroughbred retirement.
In addition to the Crist appearance, Finger Lakes received accreditation by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance program. Safety and Integrity Alliance Executive Director Mike Ziegler said the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program is the "top such program we have ever reviewed."
Finger Lakes received the Alliance's 20th racing facility accreditation in a recent review of its safety practices. The track received "Best Practice" ratings in post-race veterinary examinations, safety vest usage, substance abuse and addiction prevention, catastrophic injury planning and procedure, anabolic steroid testing, jockey disability support, and aftercare and transition of retired racehorses.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.