A pair of well-regarded maiden winners, Flashback and Revolutionary, passed their first stakes test last weekend in dramatically different styles, with Flashback leading all the way in the Robert B. Lewis and Revolutionary rallying from last to take the Withers, and while neither performance proved a whole lot in terms of the Kentucky Derby, it's still early in the process and both colts have a lot going for them.
Flashback rates as probably the top Derby contender for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, but Revolutionary comes from a much deeper Todd Pletcher barn that includes Violence, Shanghai Bobby, Overanalyze, Capo Bastone, Delhomme and Verrazano. Both conditioners have been prime players in the Kentucky Derby chase for many years.
Pletcher leads all trainers in horses nominated to this year's Triple Crown with 29. He is seeking his second Derby win and third overall Triple Crown race victory. Baffert ranks second with 23 Triple Crown nominees, and his resume includes three Derby scores and a total of nine Triple Crown race wins.
Flashback and Revolutionary weren't the only three-year-olds of note for their trainers last weekend. Baffert sent Tiz the Truth to a 7 3/4-length maiden tally at Santa Anita on Saturday, the colt's first attempt at two turns. The son of Tiznow, who just missed by a head to the promising Demonic in his previous start, got away with an easy lead but finished full of run, completing his final quarter-mile in a sparkling :23 2/5. All options are on the table for Tiz the Truth's next start, but he will likely ship to either Oaklawn or Fair Grounds for his stakes debut given that Flashback is pointing to the March 9 San Felipe at Santa Anita.
Pletcher's Verrazano blitzed the track at Gulfstream on Saturday, rolling to a 16 1/4-length decision in a one-turn mile allowance. By More Than Ready and out of the successful Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock, Verrazano netted a terrific 104 BRIS Speed rating and could make his highly-anticipated stakes debut in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby.
The Lewis and Withers were both part of the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points system last Saturday along with the Sam F. Davis, which went to the John Terranova-trained Falling Sky.
Flashback displayed push-button acceleration when capturing his career bow at seven furlongs, rallying to win going away by 3 1/2 lengths at Hollywood Park in early December, but he faced only three rivals with no early speed in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis. That forced the gray son of Tapit to change tactics and Flashback easily led the way through slow fractions in :24, :48 3/5 and 1:12.
The ideal set-up makes his victory difficult to gauge, but Flashback did it the right way, drawing away in the stretch to a convincing 6 1/4-length tally, and it was good to see him earn a 102 BRIS Late Pace rating in his first attempt at two turns. His BRIS Speed rating (95) was down from his debut (98) due to the slow early fractions, but the stalker remains eligible to post much better numbers with a legitimate pace scenario.
The Lewis didn't answer any questions about his effectiveness at longer distances, especially the 1 1/4-mile Derby, and his full sister Zazu was a middle-distance specialist. But I wouldn't put it past him because Flashback still owns a suitable pedigree (his dam, the Mr. Greeley mare Rhumb Line, is out of a mare by Derby winner Pleasant Colony and the third dam is by English Triple Crown legend Nijinsky II) and a long stride. We will get a better line on the talented colt when he steps up to face deeper competition as the likely favorite in the San Felipe.
Den's Legacy was good enough for second, his third consecutive placing versus stakes rivals. Winner of the Generous on turf, the Medaglia d'Oro colt then finished third in the CashCall Futurity and second in the January 5 Sham. He wasn't a serious factor in those starts and rates as more of a plodding type right now, but Den's Legacy possesses a touch of class and can't be completely dismissed for Baffert.
Third-placer He's Had Enough was disappointing given his commendable nose second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, his first attempt on dirt. The gray son of Tapit didn't fire from off the pace when fifth in the CashCall Futurity, which came on Hollywood's Cushion Track, and it was reasonable to expect an improved performance in his second start at Santa Anita. But he came up empty after rating in a good spot behind Flashback during the early stages and will need to show much more in the future for Doug O'Neill.
Revolutionary didn't beat top-class competition or run particularly fast in the Withers (96 BRIS Speed rating), but it was a remarkable effort given the bad trip he experienced on Aqueduct's inner track. The slow-starting colt got shuffled back to last twice in the 1 1/16-mile race, initially while entering the first turn and later as he was hemmed in approaching the stretch drive, and was forced to wait behind horses until a seam opened in midstretch, quickly accelerating into contention between rivals. Revolutionary then bullied his way between runner-up Escapefromreality and third-placer Siete des Oros in the shadow of the wire, winning by a neck as he galloped out strongly past the finish line.
Jockey Javier Castellano gave his thoughts on the educational benefit of the race.
"I could have gone around horses at the three-eighths pole because I had so much horse, but I just wanted to teach him something, have him learn something," Castellano explained. "I knew he could get it done; in my mind it was just waiting for the best opportunity to make a move. That's exactly what I did, and he responded so well today."
Given the fact that he was just hitting his best stride at the wire, Revolutionary impressed this observer. He's a raw talent with a potentially high ceiling, but the dark bay will need to get his head together over the next few months.
Revolutionary placed in his first three starts at one turn, twice experiencing less-than-favorable trips due to his own making, and finally broke his maiden when trying two turns on December 28, producing an eye-catching 8 1/2-length decision at Aqueduct (good for a 103 BRIS Speed rating). He figured to receive at least some speed from sire War Pass, who earned champion two-year-old honors in 2007 following wire-to-wire wins in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Champagne, but Revolutionary is anything but quick during the early stages of his races.
He inherited his run style, as well as the likelihood of plenty of staying power, from his dam, Runup the Colors, a royally-bred daughter of A.P. Indy whose signature win came in the Alabama Stakes at 1 1/4 miles. Runup the Colors is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 queen and Broodmare of the Year Prospectors Delite, the dam of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft.
As opposed to Flashback, Revolutionary will receive only one more prep before the Kentucky Derby, with the March 30 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds or the April 6 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct as likely options. That gives Pletcher plenty of time to work on gate/maturity issues and Revolutionary will need to keep progressing from a mental standpoint because he has little room for error with only 10 points to his credit.
Sam F. Davis
Falling Sky sprinted clear early and barely lasted late in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis, winning by a neck over the fast-closing Dynamic Sky. The winner had just been purchased for $425,000 at the OBS January sale and was making his first start for Terranova.
Falling Sky equaled a career-best 92 BRIS Speed rating. A debut maiden winner at Calder, Falling Sky stalked the pace in his first three career outings and got away moderate early fractions in the Sam Davis. Overlooked at 12-1, the son of Lion Heart received a heady ride from Luis Saez and has now won three of four starts, but Falling Sky won't receive a lot of respect off this upset win.
Dynamic Sky was wide on both turns and raced greenly while drifting in during the stretch run, and his immaturity is a legitimate concern for trainer Mark Casse. The son of Sky Mesa lacks strong Speed ratings, but he always gives an honest effort and remains an interesting prospect, with plenty of stamina on his female side (his dam won at 1 1/2 miles), if he can become more focused.
Derby Future Pool 1
No points are available this weekend as Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager kicks off its three-day run on Friday, and Pletcher and Baffert are responsible for 10 of the 23 individual interests.
The lowest individual morning-line price belongs to Shanghai Bobby and Violence, who are both listed at 12-1. Last year, I'll Have Another paid more in all three Kentucky Derby Future pools -- $60.20 in Pool 1, $46.20 in Pool 2 and $45.60 in Pool 3 -- than he did on Derby Day ($32.60).
The "all others" mutuel field will take the lion's share of the betting action in Pool 1, and could be bet down lower than the 9-5 morning line, but it's not for me. I will make at least three win plays on Sunday, and no more than five horses, and my strategy is simple: value.
I want odds in the vicinity of 25-1 or more, with nothing lower than 20-1, and that will likely eliminate a number of horses from consideration, including Shanghai Bobby, Violence, Flashback (15-1 morning line), Itsmyluckyday (15-1), Overanalyze (15-1) and Verrazano (15-1).
My short list contains:
Normandy Invasion (20-1)
Dynamic Sky (30-1)
Delhomme and Dynamic Sky fit the bill and I could wind up betting a smaller amount on both horses at long odds. Oxbow could easily drift above his morning line (his stock will jump if he wins the Risen Star), and I would love to see the betting public ignore Normandy Invasion since he's unraced this year and Revolutionary due to his erratic nature.
I will bet all three (Normandy Invasion, Revolutionary and Oxbow) if the odds are right, but I will keep an eye on Flashback, Overanalyze and Verrazano in case their price drifts upward, eliminating Dynamic Sky and Delhomme (in order) from consideration if necessary.