Monday, April 18, 2011

Sophomore Spotlight: No Factor

--Brian DiDonato

We saw longshot winners Saturday take both the Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass, but the races could not be more opposite in how productive they should prove come Kentucky Derby day.

While I picked Brilliant Speed to win the Bluegrass in my preview of the race, I do not consider him a contender for the Derby. I handicapped the race as if it were on turf, and the best turf horse won. Brilliant Speed’s two tries on dirt to begin his career were obviously at distances dramatically shorter than what he figured to be best at, but he never showed any life in those early events and has never turned in a reasonably quick work on dirt. Dynaformer can get very good dirt routers (Barbaro, Dynever, and Perfect Drift), but his runners will always be geared a little bit more towards grass. Brilliant Speed also gets a reasonable amount of surface versatility from his dam’s side, but performance always outweighs pedigree, and what he has shown on the track suggests that he is not well-suited for the Churchill Downs main track.

Brilliant Speed Gets Up. . . Barely                         (c) EquiSport
Brilliant Speed’s run in and of itself--rather than how it projects for the Derby--is hard to interpret. He put in a very visually impressive run from dead last and got his last three furlongs in :34.75, but the track was blatantly anti-speed all weekend, reminiscent of how it was two or three years ago. The Moss Pace Figures for the Bluegrass suggest that the pace was absolutely glacial, but I don’t think they can be taken at face value considering the nature of the surface. Brilliant Speed’s 89 Beyer Speed Figure was low compared to what other members of his generation have been running but, again, the number cannot be relied upon heavily because of the way the race was run and the surface over which it was run (Note: Beyers and Moss Pace Figures use the same track variant--so their interpretation of the speed of the track is identical). While Brilliant Speed was the beneficiary of a track that played to his running style, he took advantage of those fortuitous circumstances in impressive fashion--horses can have things go their way and still be given credit for good performances. Brilliant Speed will be dangerous when put back on the turf this summer in races like the Secretariat or Virginia Derby, just like last year’s Bluegrass place horse Paddy O’Prado was, but don’t expect much from him in Kentucky unless the track comes up muddy. Runner-up Twinspired ran more against the grain of the track than Brilliant Speed, but the worst race of his career came in his only dirt start. He is unlikely to factor on May 7.

Archarcharch Holds off Nehro; KY Derby Quinella?
(c) Horsephotos
Whereas the Bluegrass did not produce any serious Derby contenders, The Louisiana Derby featured what I consider to be the two most likely horses to get the roses. Both Archarcharch and Nehro have the right running style (somewhere between stalker and closer) to win the Derby and the necessary stamina for 1 1/4 miles, and the 98 Beyer Speed Figures they each received is the highest number earned in the final round of Derby preps. The respective trips of the one-two finishers were pretty much a wash; Nehro saved more ground early, but Archarcharch got the jump on him turning for home. The pace was fast for the first quarter, but the frontrunners were able to slow things down for the middle part of the race and should have had plenty left if good enough. This was a fairly run event--it did not feature the pace collapse that some seem to think it did. Going forward, I still prefer Nehro. He seems to have a bit more upside and room for continued improvement, although his lack of seasoning is cause for concern. Both colts are sired by stamina influences, but while Nehro’s siblings were better routers, Archarcharch’s dam was a pure sprinter. Nehro also galloped out in front Archarcharch. Both will be featured prominently on my Derby tickets, but Nehro’s still number one on my list.

The Factor’s performance was disappointing and obviously does not bode well for the Derby. I suppose it’s possible that his very dull effort can be explained by him displacing, but he never seemed comfortable rating. In what was supposed to be the true test of his stamina and ability to handle an adverse pace scenario, The Factor simply came up short. He is undoubtedly talented, but if he goes on to Churchill he will once again be very vulnerable. The Factor’s best hope in the Derby would be to send hard early. Under the right circumstances and on the right track, if he were to clear, he would have a chance to hang on for a piece late, but the likelihood of him being able to get the lead without any pressure is very low. Dance City doesn’t have the graded earnings to get into the Derby, but his performance was solid and much better than expected. One of the toughest trips in racing is to be the horse chasing the leader, but the way he dug in and ran on was very encouraging. Sway Away’s run was produced much too prematurely. He has not been given the opportunity to showcase the ability he flashed in the San Vicente in his last two, but will at some point--probably when turned back to a one-turn mile or seven furlongs.

The upcoming Lexington should be an interesting event featuring some runners trying to sneak into the top 20 in graded earnings. Check back later this week for a preview, and perhaps a discussion of the Jerome in New York if it draws an interesting field.

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