Monday, March 28, 2011

Sophomore Spotlight: Part One

With the Kentucky Derby less than six weeks away and an interesting round of preps and performances in the books, it’s time to start looking ahead to the Triple Crown series. The following is my analysis of some key sophomore performances from the past weekend.

While Pants On Fire took the top slot and the winner’s share of the GII Louisiana Derby’s $1,000,000 purse, the circumstances were in his favor. If we ignore a 111-1 pacesetter who faltered to last, the 1-2-3 finishers in the race were in the same position at every call before turning for home. The pace was average, and every other route on the card was won by a horse who traveled in one of the top three spots early. I’m hesitant to call the track definitely speed biased because every one of those winners was logical and well-backed, but it’s clear that Pants On Fire’s lifetime best performance was aided by a very easy trip--and a trip that was significantly better than those of his two nearest adversaries.
Pants On Fire holds off Nehro - (c) Hodges Photography
Third finisher Mucho Macho Man lost a shoe early on, which is plenty of reason to upgrade his performance by as much as a few lengths, but the fact that he ran even as well as he did hints that perhaps the lost shoe did not bother him as much as some would expect. If the lost shoe was a huge detriment, the favorite probably would have been well-beaten. He displayed good determination and consistency, but his consistency is part of the problem. While all of Mucho Macho Man’s graded stakes efforts have been solid, none have showcased the level of ability required to win the Derby. Runner-up Nehro, however, might have significant upside. After making an eye-catching move to graduate at Oaklawn by 4 1/2 lengths last out, the lightly raced colt successfully stepped into the deep(er) end while showing much more early speed than he had before. He was shuffled back entering the stretch, was forced to wait for a seam while full of run, and saw a hole along the rail shrink as Anna Napravnik on Pants On Fire did a good job to angle her mount inside and narrow the gap. Whether or not Nehro was best on Saturday, which seems like a logical conclusion to draw, he offers by far the most room for improvement of the Louisiana Derby top three.

Animal Kingdom kicks clear - (c) Equisport
Animal Kingdom’s visually impressive run from the back of the pack in the GIII Spiral S. at Turfway showed off the nice turn of foot that he had already displayed in his previous three races against a classier bunch, but did little to answer the biggest question surrounding winners of this race since the track changed over from conventional dirt to synthetic: can he reproduce a similar (or better) performance at Churchill Downs? Since talented and versatile Hard Spun took second in the Derby after annexing this event in its second renewal on Polytrack in 2007, the past three winners have finished 19th, 12th and 14th in the run for the roses. Animal Kingdom’s pedigree leaves little doubt that he will have no trouble with 10 furlongs, but is very skewed towards success on the grass. His sire, Leroidesanimaux, enjoyed all his glory on the lawn (he only started once on dirt in a sprint in his native Brazil) despite being by a stallion in Candy Stripes who sired Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Invasor and the dam of Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride. Leroidesanimaux’s female family is of European origin and Animal Kingdom’s dam also hails from a European family of stout turf runners. The Spiral winner obviously hasn’t proven for sure yet that he won’t like dirt, but all indications are that he will do his best running on the sod. Decisive Moment’s performance was rather impressive from a trip perspective. Wide and pressing a pace that was 20 points above par at the first call according to the Moss Pace Figures, the GIII Delta Jackpot runner up stayed on much better than could have been expected considering his early exertions. More ground and a hotter pace in the Derby certainly won’t help his chances, however, and he will prove more of a sprinter/miler than a classic distance horse.

Twice the Appeal overtakes Astrology
 (c) Coady Photography
Twice the Appeal, who upended the GIII Sunland Derby at 25-1, is Kentucky-bound according to his connections, but probably not bound for the winner’s circle. He seems to be getting better with each of his past four starts, but the location of his big win and the field against which he did it does not inspire confidence that he can seriously contend in the Derby. He will have to take another big leap forward to be any sort of factor at Churchill Downs against a significantly more talented group. Runner-up Astrology, last term’s GIII Iroquois S. winner over the Louisville strip, simply has too much to do too soon to make up for the time he lost by starting his sophomore season this late. He did improve by nine points on his very low previous Beyer Speed Figure top after making a premature move, but he did not give the impression of a horse ready to peak next out going 1 1/4 miles against a dramatically tougher field.

Super-impressive debut winner Bind did not produce anything close to his much-talked about first effort when stretching out in an allowance at Fair Grounds Saturday, but I am not willing to give up on him so quickly. He was very headstrong and unwilling to rate, which was compounded by his pilot’s decision to fight with him rather than allow him to do as he pleased. He is too fast to not have been on the lead on Saturday, and he would have won handily if guided to the front from the bell. Bind still has every right to be a top caliber competitor with added maturity and continued patience.

Check back later this week for a preview of the GII Swale and GI Florida Derby--two events that should have a very big impact on the Derby picture.

--Brian DiDonato

1 comment:

Robert Williams said...


I thought this was a great analysis and really look forward to following your trail through at least Derby, if not the entire Triple Crown. Thanks!