With the Derby trail on hiatus until next weekend’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, we’ll go through some early thoughts on what’s transpired so far on the trail and what’s to come.
- So far only War of Will has caught my eye as a horse that could do some damage in Louisville on the First Saturday in May in a points race. His performance from the outside post in last weekend’s Risen Star was impressive. Given that the horses that were up in front with the son of War Front were no where to be found when he crossed the wire first.
- Horses out of the Louisiana have struggled to win the Derby, although they’ve been in the money in three of the last six years. War of Will, with his 60 point total, will try and change that mantra in May.
- Game Winner, the top colt in the weekly NTRA Top 3-year-old poll has yet to run for trainer Bob Baffert, who also has Improbable (3) and Mucho Gusto (4) on the list.
- If you have a chance watch the Cal Cup Derby and the win by Galilean who whooped the field in the $200,000 non-graded stake. He’s a Cal-bred son of Uncle Mo trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. We’ll see how he fares when he steps up further in class. He’s owned by the popular partnership group West Point Thoroughbreds.
- Last Monday represented the one-year anniversary of Justify’s maiden win. Still amazing to me what he accomplished in a short period of time.
- There are two more future wager pools available to bettors before the Derby. Future Wager Pool 3 will run during March 8-10 and Pool 4 will run April 5-7. The Wynn Las Vegas no longer is issuing future wagers with the departure of Johnny Avello to DraftKings to run their growing sportsbook.
- One of my past Derby future wagers that went up in flames was on New York Central, who won a race at Oaklawn this week. Good to see.
- Next weekend’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, a 50-point Derby qualifying race had 42 nominations including the talented Signalman, third in last Fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Other potential runners include Maximus Mischief, Bourbon War and Hidden Scroll who was visually impressive in his win on the Pegasus undercard.
- Mark down March 9 as a big Derby prep day with four point races on tap. The News will be previewing all four races from Tampa, Turfway, Santa Anita and Aqueduct.
- According to the Long Island Business News, construction of the Belmont Park arena project is already delayed. Officials, who hoped to have shovels in the ground in May, are now saying it won’t happen anytime before June 30. One of the big reasons to move the Belmont early July schedule to Saratoga was due to the pending construction.
- Speaking of Saratoga, the earlier opening day of July 11 and change in the racing schedule to have two dark days (Mondays and Tuesdays) throughout the meet until Labor Day came to fruition with the announcement of the schedule on Feb. 15. It was the latest release of the schedule in years, and had folks hesitant to make plans for the summer.
- I’m pro-two dark days as handicapping six of seven days can be a drain. We’ll see how I feel when full Spa fatigue hits after the Travers.
- Some tracks should take the Fair Grounds lead of drawing its big day cards, sometimes a full week in advance. It gives handicappers more time to analyze the races and the media more time to promote the big days.
- I’ve yet to fall in love with a Derby horse, like I have in prior years such as Mucho Macho Man, Hard Spun and Eskendereya, who broke my heart with a Derby week scratch. Give it time, son.
- Very good chance I avoid the UAE Derby winner this year. Fool me once.
- The 2019 Hall of Fame finalists were announced that include racehorses Blind Luck, Gio Ponti, Havre de Grace, Rags to Riches and Royal Delta (first year of eligibility); trainers Mark Casse, Christophe Clement and David Whiteley; and jockey Craig Perret. It’s the first year as a voter that I can say I saw every racehorse finalist race in the flesh.
- Buffalo Raceway’s season is underway and the simulcast center is open daily on the Erie County Fairgrounds property, get yourself out to the Hamburg facility for some fun betting and watching the harness races.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.