THEY CAN'T ALL WIN THE KENTUCKY DERBY
Predictable Prep Results Thicken The Plot
In 2014, Todd Pletcher sent Constitution into the Florida Derby following a MSW and allowance victory in his only two career starts. The colt faced Fountain Of Youth winner Wildcat Red and Fountain Of Youth runner-up General A Rod and stepped up to finish in front of each as the 3.3-1 second favorite as those two finished second and third.
On Saturday Pletcher followed the same pattern as he sent out Materiality off a MSW sprint win and a two turn win in a $60,000 over-night stakes race and watched as the Afleet Alex colt won clear by a length and a half over favored Upstart in what turned out to be s solid victory, though nonetheless another controversial ending due to the continued ineptness of both the Gulfstream ground crew and the stewards (more on that shortly.)
Also Saturday the Fair Grounds ran the Grade II Louisiana Derby and just as was the case in 2014 when the first four three and seven of the top eight finishers from the prior local Risen Star Stakes returned to face each other, the top four finishers from this year's Risen Star were back at it this year.
The only difference was that in 2014 Vicar's In Trouble was third in the Risen Star after winning the local Lecomte Stakes prior to that while the rapidly emerging International Star wound up sweeping the Lecomte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. In addition, War Story, finished third in the Lecomte, then second in the Risen Star and third in this past Saturday's race and also facing the starter in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby was Keen Ice, who finished third and fourth respectively.
Also repeating a pattern from last year was Todd Pletcher, who had the runner-up in 2014 with Intense Holiday as well as the runner-up again in 2015 with the lightly raced Stanford. While both Materiality and Stanford are legitimately highly regarded, it is also worth mentioning that last year counterpart Constitution never made it to the Derby while Intense Holiday ran up the track in his chase of the roses.
DERBY PREP PREDICTABILITY CONTINUES TO BE THE STORY
While the Florida Derby did wind up changing the Top 20 Derby Qualifier List to some degree with second and third place finishers in each race accruing significant points now that 40 and 20 points are rewarded respectively for those finishers, the reality remains that those already established top contenders remain in control of that colony.
TOP 25 QUALIFIERS AS OF MONDAY 3/30...
International Star - 171
Mubtaahij 100 (first in this past Saturday's UAE Derby)
Materiality - 100
Upstart - 76
El Kabeir - 75*
Dortmund - 70*
Carpe Diem - 64*
American Pharoah - 60*
Itsaknockout - 60
Firing Line - 58*
Dubai Sky - 50*
War Story - 44
Maftool - 40 (second in this past Saturday's UAE Derby)
Ami's Flatter - 40
Stanford - 40
Conquest Type - 26*
Keen Ice - 22
Made From Lucky - 20*
Tiz Shea D - 20*
Bold Conquest - 17*
Mr. Z - 14
Calculator - 14
Frosted - 13*
*Either possibly, probably or likely to have one final qualifying prep.
This list is rather unlikely to change much from now to the Derby other than in number of points as those that already have significant points are projected to accrue even more as the logical contenders in the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes and Santa Anita Derby this coming Saturday and the Arkansas Derby on April 11, all four of those races awarding 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers while the Lexington Stakes on April 11 adds 10-4-2-1.
In fact, there has not been a major surprise in the Derby Prep series since Dubai Sky ($16.80) pulled a mild upset in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park two Saturday's ago, Itsaknockout ($12.60) was another mild upset when put up via DQ over Upstart in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on February 21 and International Star first showed his potential with his $20.40 longshot payoff in the Lecomte back in January.
That being said, with a few low qualifying point runners clearly on the bubble and having a last shot in the remaining four 100-40-20-10 point allotment races, we could see an upset or two or if not an upset, at least a longshot hitting the board for significant points as well as contributing to the Exacta and Trifecta payouts.
FLORIDA DERBY FINISH ANOTHER BLACK EYE FOR GULFSTREAM ADMINISTRATION
There are two things that owners, trainers and bettors alike should expect from any race venue that requests their wagering dollar and both are based on consistency.
Owners, trainers and bettors should expect as consistent a race surface that is logically possible and even more importantly consistency from the racing stewards, each of which has been egregiously missing throughout this race meet.
This is brought to light, once again by the running of the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
First off let me say that I do not believe that Upstart was going to pass Materiality in the stretch, but there was bumping between the two when the winner drifted out a bit and my position is at best subjective and I would not tell those who think otherwise that they are wrong. And therein resides the issue, because the stewards never took the situation into consideration.
Upstart's trainer Rick Violette, while never disrespecting the performance of Materiality, nonetheless was quite frank in voicing his displeasure with both the track superintendent and crew regarding the condition of the race track and the non-action of the stewards at the conclusion of the Florida Derby.
As to the condition of the track, Violette and many other trainers were quite vocal throughout the week as to how little a track that was becoming more and more tiring needed much more watering than it was getting throughout the week. That extra watering never materialized and the 1:52 1/5 winning time for the mile and an eighth Florida Derby was proof of the contention and more significantly was a tiring effort that might wind up taking more out of the Kentucky Derby contenders than should have been necessary.
However, what is more problematic is the obvious and blatant inconsistency of the stewards at Gulfstream Park, an inconsistency that has been the subject of much discussion throughout the Championship Meet which concluded on Sunday.
Whether or not Materiality should have been disqualified and placed second behind Upstart for drifting out a bit in the stretch will remain open to discussion. However, if one looks at the head on run through the stretch it appears to be the exact duplicate of the stretch drive between Upstart and Itsaknockout in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes when the former won the race but was disqualified and placed second to the latter.
Yet this time around, despite the claim by Upstart's rider Jose Ortiz that he wanted to claim foul, the outriders had almost instantly sent a signal to the stewards that the race was "all clear," meaning that no rider had made such a claim and the race was declared official almost before most of the horses had even returned to be unsaddled, which to Violette and yours truly meant that it was highly unlikely the stewards even looked at the stretch call of the race.
Again, it is impossible to definitively say what the outcome might have been but the performances of both the track superintendent and the stewards was dreadfully lacking and certainly does not help engendering confidence on the part of owners, trainers or, most importantly bettors.