Friday, April 13, 2012

Sophomore Spotlight: Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby

--Brian DiDonato

GI BLUE GRASS S. - While favorite Hansen (Tapit) showed somewhat of a new dimension in rating a bit last time when winning the GIII Gotham S., he's very vulnerable here. There's a ton of early speed signed on, and even if he's not on the lead, he'll be close enough to it that it should take its toll--especially at a distance farther than the champ has ever gone. I like two horses to upset the speedy grey--Dullahan (Even the Score) and Holy Candy (Candy Ride {Arg}). I'll use both in Pk3s and 4s, will box them in the exacta and will bet one to win (9-2 seems fair on Dullahan; 15-1 on Holy Candy).
Dullahan works up a storm at Keeneland
Coady Photography
   Dullahan seemed talented, but a bit lost in the first few starts of his career before the light came on and the half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird graduated with a very solid off-the-pace effort in this venue's GI Breeders' Futurity S. in October. His connections opted for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile over the the turf equivalent, and Dullahan did little to undermine that decision. He was simply too far out of things early, but came running at the end to be fourth, beaten six lengths by the front-running Hansen. The chestnut resurfaced in the Mar. 11 GIII Palm Beach S. over nine furlongs of the Gulfstream sod, and came up a length short of fellow Blue Grass entrant Howe Great (Hat Trick {Jpn} while getting the worst of it. Whereas Howe Great saved ground while close up to a reasonable pace, Dullahan was at his usual spot towards the back of a compact field. He was forced to go very wide at the head of the lane while the eventual winner hugged the rail, and Dullahan just couldn't overcome the added real estate he was forced to cover. According to Trakus data, Dullahan traveled 44 feet more than Howe Great, which translates to more than five lengths. Dullahan did reportedly pop a splint in the interim, but it hasn't seemed to bother the Dale Romans trainee--he fired a five-furlong bullet in a super-quick :57 2/5 over the Poly here last Sunday. The Keeneland clocker comment said of the spin: "was impressive, loves the surface, out in 1:10 2/5." That proven affinity for Keeneland's somewhat quirky main track and a hot expected pace make Dullahan the one to beat.
   I already made the case for Holy Candy in my analysis of the GI Santa Anita Derby last week (click here), and nothing has changed. The pace should be more to the recent graduate's liking in this spot than it would have been last week, and while I'd be betting with both fists if Holy Candy were to go off near his morning line price of 30-1, I'm not quite expecting such a generous number. He'll still offer significant value, though, and should be moving well late along with Dullahan.

Bodemeister (inside) tries to hold off
Creative Cause   Benoit Photo
GI ARKANSAS DERBY - He'll probably go favored, but I expect Bodemeister (Empire Maker) to score here and stamp himself as a major Derby contender. When horses break their maidens with very high Beyer Speed Figures, like the 101 Bodemeister earned for his second-out 9 1/4-length romp, they almost always regress in their subsequent starts. But the Zayat colorbearer paired that 101 next out, nearly denying GI Santa Anita Derby runner-up Creative Cause in the GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita Mar. 10. He pressed a hot pace that day (nine points above par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale) and did very well to hang on as much as he did (despite drifting out a bit) considering his lack of seasoning. Another start under his belt and more time to develop could lay the foundation for a figure progression, and any step forward from a 101 would make Bodemeister extremely tough to beat. The biggest question is whether or not he can rate, or at least harness his speed while setting the pace. I'm confident that he can and will. Bodemeister sheds blinkers for this, gets a rider switch to the patient Mike Smith and seems as if he has been getting some schooling in the mornings. Check out this HRTV video of his four-furlong spin at Santa Anita in :46 4/5 Mar. 23--he was able to relax and finish very well from behind a group of horses. I still say he's one of the most promising and best-bred for the Derby distance of this sophomore crop, and hope my future wager on Bodemeister at 22-1 will look like value after Saturday.
   The only horse I'll use as a back-up is Isn't He Clever (Smarty Jones), who couldn't have made a more unnecessarily wide, premature move after enjoying a perfect spot behind a pair of dueling leaders in the GIII Sunland Park Derby Mar. 25. He takes off the blinkers and gets a rider switch off that runner-up finish.

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