Three Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races were offered last Saturday and BRETHREN (Distorted Humor) proved to be the biggest star, recording an easy four-length victory in his stakes debut, the Sam F. Davis S. (G3). We'll take a closer look at his performance below, as well as a recap of the Robert B. Lewis (G2) and El Camino Real Derby (G3).
We also have a dynamite race to preview this Saturday, the Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds.
Unfortunately, a couple of notable horses, Boys at Tosconova (Officer) and Tapizar (Tapit), were officially withdrawn from Kentucky Derby consideration in the last week. Boys at Tosconova wasn't a big surprise, given that he already missed a scheduled prep in the January 30 Holy Bull S. (G3) and wasn't working for Richard Dutrow, and the Hopeful (G1) winner appeared to be a fringe candidate for 1 1/4 miles anyway. His connections will be able to point him toward lucrative races at middle/sprint distances later this year if healthy.
The news of Tapizar's bone chip provides an explanation for his rank behavior in the Lewis, but it's still very disheartening -- he looked like a serious Derby contender based on his smashing victory in the January 15 Sham S. (G3). The Steve Asmussen runner could be back in training this summer.
The Derby is 11 weeks from Saturday.
Sam F. Davis
Brethren didn't beat any quality rivals or record a big Speed number (94 BRIS Speed rating) at Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday, but there was a lot to like about his stylish victory.
Making only his third career start, and first at two turns, the bay colt broke a step slowly from post 10 and rushed up to secure three-wide positioning into the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile event. He settled into a perfect stalking position down the backstretch, about a length behind the pacesetter through a moderate opening half-mile in :48 1/5, and dragged himself to the lead midway on the far turn.
When jockey Ramon Dominguez asked for run turning for home, the response was immediate; Brethren quickly accelerated away from the pack and the race was over. Dominguez took a look around in midstretch for any possible threats and then wrapped up on Brethren for the final sixteenth of a mile, winning with plenty in the tank.
The Todd Pletcher pupil narrowly captured his first start, a six-furlong maiden special weight at Belmont Park on October 16, and then posted a 1 3/4-length score over entry-level allowance foes going a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs on November 27. A half-brother to 2010 Derby hero Super Saver, Brethren entered his sophomore season full of promise but with much to prove.
The Davis was a very encouraging step in that direction, and he's got the potential to offer much more going forward.
I expect to see Brethren's Speed ratings (Saturday was a career-best) increase significantly as he continues to improve, and the Davis didn't appear to take much out of the lightly-raced sophomore, who has plenty of time for two more preps before the Derby.
While the March 19 Rebel S. (G2) at Oaklawn is a logical possibility, the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) became an attractive option Wednesday when Gulfstream Park wrote a one-turn overnight handicap for UNCLE MO (Indian Charlie). The early Derby favorite hasn't been confirmed for that race, but it's obvious what's happening (Nick Zito wanted a 1 1/8-mile race for DIALED IN [Mineshaft] on the same day but didn't get it). Uncle Mo will likely stay at Gulfstream.
That move had to burn the folks at Tampa Bay Downs, but they could still get Brethren. He's a three-year-old on the rise.
Robert B. Lewis
Tapizar was headstrong early in the Sham before settling down for his rider on the backstretch, but there was nothing Garrett Gomez could do to calm him down in the Robert B. Lewis -- his mount was out of control like a horse bolting to the outside rail on the turn. Tapizar maintained a straight course down the backstretch Saturday but was tossing his head back and forth in an effort to run off.
Give him credit for battling on gamely to midstretch, but Tapizar was able to hang in there for so long because the two horses to his outside -- ANTHONY'S CROSS (Indian Charlie) and RIVETING REASON (Fusaichi Pegasus) -- weren't finishing fast.
Anthony's Cross wound up edging Riveting Reason by a nose on the wire, but they needed nearly 14 seconds to run the final furlong. The winner received an 84 BRIS Late Pace rating, and I thought it would be much lower.
Anthony's Cross earned an 89 Speed rating when grinding his way to a maiden special weight victory two starts previously at Churchill Downs and recorded a non-threatening third, five lengths back of the runner-up, in the Sham. Out of an Unbridled mare, the Eoin Harty-trained colt owns a solid pedigree for the 1 1/4-mile trip, but he can't be regarded as a serious contender yet.
Riveting Reason isn't the top Derby prospect in the small stable of owner/trainer Myung Kwon Cho -- that distinction belongs to unbeaten multiple stakes winner PREMIER PEGASUS (Fusaichi Pegasus). Riveting Reason was multiple Grade 1-placed as a maiden last year, and he was in the right place at the right time to grab another placing Saturday. The rest of the Lewis field was even slower.
El Camino Real Derby
Off as the 1-2 favorite in the El Camino Real Derby, COMMA TO THE TOP (Bwana Charlie) advanced into a threatening position at the top of the stretch but came up empty in the final furlongs, eventually weakening to fourth. The Peter Miller trainee showed that he liked the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields last fall, recording a pair of runaway victories, but faltered badly while trying 1 1/8 miles for the first time Saturday.
He remains a candidate to bounce back with an improved showing next time following the tightener, but Comma to the Top is bred top and bottom for speed. He's not going to carry that speed a classic route of ground this spring. The Grade 1-winning gelding was able to dominate three consecutive stakes on the front end last season, scoring at distances up to 1 1/16 miles, but it's a different ballgame this year.
SILVER MEDALLION (Badge of Silver) rallied off the pace to win going away in the El Camino Real Derby, and it wasn't surprising to see him handle the synthetic track considering his fine turf form. Winner of the grassy Eddie Logan S. in his previous outing, Silver Medallion wasn't particularly fast on the turf, and he didn't turn heads with his performance in the El Camino Real Derby, netting only a 91 BRIS Speed rating. His connections could look for another spot on synthetics like the March 26 Vinery Racing Spiral S. (G3) at Turfway Park.
TOBY'S CORNER (Bellamy Road) recorded a good-looking victory when making his stakes debut in the February 5 Whirlaway S., rallying to a two-length decision, and would have won by further if he had switched leads earlier in the stretch. The Graham Motion trainee came into the 1 1/16-mile event off a pair of convincing wins at Laurel Park, and he netted a 103 BRIS Speed rating over the sloppy track at Aqueduct. The March 5 Gotham S. (G3) is next.
SHACKLEFORD (Forestry) earned a berth in the February 26 Fountain of Youth (G2) when posting a 2 1/4-length tally in a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Gulfstream Park on February 5. A maiden winner two starts back at Churchill Downs, Shackleford owns good speed and rates as a nice prospect for Dale Romans. Runner-up CASPER'S TOUCH (Touch Gold) also has a potentially big upside. He experienced a terrible trip early and was knocked sideways in upper stretch before re-rallying. Casper's Touch will head to the Fountain of Youth for Kenny McPeek.
FREE ENTRY (Tale of the Cat) has now reeled off two straight wins at Gulfstream Park for Chad Brown, breaking his maiden on January 23 prior to a sharp 1 3/4-length allowance victory going a one-turn mile on February 13. He is bred to run long on his dam's side and has posted a couple of commendable Speed figures in his last two starts.
ALBERGATTI (Unbridled's Song) is playing catch-up, but the Asmussen-trained gray posted a sharp maiden tally going seven furlongs at Santa Anita on February 12 and looks like a colt with a bright future. RUN FLAT OUT (Flatter) is another recent maiden winner of note. The colt won at first asking on January 29, recording a 101 BRIS Speed rating for the easy 2 1/2-length decision, and will make his stakes debut in March 12 San Felipe S. (G2) for John Sadler.
The Risen Star will feature a 10-horse field Saturday with Kentucky Derby implications. The 1 1/16-mile race marks the 2011 debut of Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) third-placer ROGUE ROMANCE (Smarty Jones) and Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) victor SANTIVA (Giant's Causeway), and MUCHO MACHO MAN (Macho Uno) and MACHEN (Distorted Humor) add further depth to the line-up.
Rogue Romance is the slight 3-1 favorite on the morning line, but the one-run closer could need a race and shouldn't be fully cranked for his return. With $258,000 in graded earnings, he just needs a solid performance to build upon.
Mucho Macho Man is intriguing. He's run well in his last two starts at two turns, breaking his maiden by four lengths and recording a second in the Remsen S. (G2), and his 101 BRIS Speed rating in the latter can't be overlooked. The Kathy Ritvo runner showed too much speed when opening this year in the one-turn Holy Bull, but I expect him to revert to rating tactics Saturday and respect his chances.
Santiva broke his maiden in the Kentucky Jockey Club and found himself up close from the start on a slow pace that afternoon. He figures to be running late in the speed-laden Risen Star, and I'm inclined to give him a race. However, the bay colt does appear to be training sensationally at Palm Meadows for Eddie Kenneally.
Unbeaten Machen is my top pick. He's won both career starts at Fair Grounds in visually impressive fashion, including a five-length allowance victory in his two-turn debut, and we can't count his last Speed rating (89) against him due to the ridiculous early pace (six furlongs in 1:15 3/5). The Neil Howard colt registered a 98 BRIS Speed rating for his debut, and his affinity for the New Orleans oval should serve him well.
Lecomte (G3) third-placer ACTION READY (More Than Ready) and fifth-placer JUSTIN PHILLIP (First Samurai) also merit consideration. Justin Phillip added blinkers last time and the hood obviously didn't work; he's capable of better sans blinkers for Asmussen.
Santa Anita will offer the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2) on Sunday, and most of the pre-race attention will be on THE FACTOR (War Front), who established a new track record at Santa Anita when breaking his maiden in 1:06.98. He missed some training due to a foot bruise and will return off a 56-day layoff, but the Bob Baffert runner must be regarded as extremely dangerous in any one-turn race.
INDIAN WINTER (Indian Charlie) is the one I'm looking forward to seeing in the San Vicente. He closed with a rush to capture the 6 1/2-furlong San Pedro S. on January 17, his first appearance since a dead-heat third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), and appears to be training forwardly for his second start back from the 4 1/2-month layoff. I'm not sure how far he wants go down the road, but the Jerry Hollendorfer colt will command plenty of respect with a strong showing at seven furlongs Sunday.
Monday's Southwest S. (G3) could feature a full field at Oaklawn Park. Grade 1 winner J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal), who was last seen finishing second in the CashCall Futurity (G1), will launch his three-year-old campaign, and the one-mile trip could be within his range. Other locally-based contenders include Smarty Jones S. winner CALEB'S POSSE (Posse); recent allowance winner YANKEE PASSION (Yankee Gentleman); and ELITE ALEX (Afleet Alex), who experienced a troubled trip when missing by only a head to ALTERNATION (Distorted Humor) in his first start back from a six-month hiatus. I expect big improvement from the Tim Ritchey-trained Elite Alex.