Today was a day for upsets. In a jam-packed Saturday of racing action around the world, unexpected results ruled most of the day.
The Grade 2 UAE Derby, which certainly provides more than enough graded stakes earnings to come to Louisville on the first Saturday in May, was run this morning. The race, which was broadcast live from Dubai, was the only race of the day to be taken by an American-bred racehorse. However, it was an unexpected American-bred when Daddy Long Legs zipped down the Meydan stretch, leaving the big field reeling behind him. Daddy Long Legs was far from a star in America. The son of Scat Daddy has spent much of his career racing in Europe. He won a Grade 2 on turf as a 2-year-old, before crossing the pond to compete in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Either the stiff competition or the dirt at Churchill Downs, or perhaps a combination of both, tripped up the Aidan O’Brien trainee who finished 12th. Today however, in his first start since then, he blew away the internationally talented UAE Derby field under jockey Colm O’Donoghue. His connections have indicated that he will be returning to Churchill for a go at the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Yang Tse Kiang (FR) rounded out the exacta and Wrote (IRE) finished 3rd. Wrote may join Daddy Long Legs in the Kentucky Derby.
In America, all eyes turned to Gulfstream Park in the afternoon to see the early Derby favorite Union Rags make his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. For most of the wagering, the son of Dixie Union was 1-9, making him an absolutely overwhelming favorite as he wowed the crowd with his appearance in the paddock. By post time, his odds had changed to 2-5, but most still expected him to treat the race like a paid workout. Only one horse, El Padrino, seemed to have any chance of making a competition out of it. Even after having some shoe trouble minutes before post time, Union Rags still seemed poised to deliver another great performance. However, the race didn’t go as planned. Union Rags remained completely boxed in for most of the way. When he finally did get a chance to accelerate, frontrunner Take Charge Indy was already well in command, and scored a 7-1 upset. As far as the Derby picture goes, Take Charge Indy may as well have been 50-1. Union Rags, for the first time in his life, had turned in a race that wasn’t stellar. Although many excuses could be offered up for his performance, it was still disappointing to watch him finish third behind both Take Charge Indy and Reveron, despite his late bid at the end of the race. Bad luck and a less-than-perfect ride appear to be the main contributors to Union Rags’ defeat. However, his fans shouldn’t despair. Trainer Michael Matz has established the Kentucky Derby as the ultimate goal for his colt, who already has more than enough earnings to go to Louisville, so the Florida Derby could simply be a bump in the road. Union Rags will likely exit the race more mature, and he will be just as dangerous in five weeks as he’s ever been. El Padrino ending up finishing 4th. Although the attention after the race is mostly focused on Union Rags’ loss, credit should go out to jockey Calvin Borel, who craftily rode Take Charge Indy to his big win. Borel is a phenomenal rider on Derby Day, and it looks like he’ll have another live long-shot mount this year with the son of A.P. Indy.
Tomorrow is the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. Mark Valeski must now face the music as to whether he is a talented contender or a vulnerable favorite. The son of Proud Citizen became famous by running a courageous 2nd to El Padrino in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes February 25. El Padrino’s performance in today’s Florida Derby certainly didn’t flatter Mark Valeski’s last race. However, now is Mark Valeski’s chance to prove himself. If he doesn’t step up, it could be anyone’s day to make their mark on the Derby Trail. Perhaps Mr. Bowling, Cigar Street, Z Dager, or Windsurfer will prove they belong among the elite ranks going into the Kentucky Derby. More than likely, the result of the race may further muddy up the picture of the first Saturday in May, which seemed fairly clear until today.
A few Derby-hopefuls turned in workouts today across the country. Hansen worked at Churchill Downs, the track where he had his biggest triumph in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The distinctive, almost white colt clocked 5 furlongs in 59:80 breezing. It was the 2nd fastest of 10 works for the day. He is preparing for a start in the April 14 G1 Bluegrass Stakes. Another colt pointing for the Bluegrass, Howe Great, breezed 5 furlongs at Keeneland in 1:02.80. It ranked 32nd of 42 works. State Of Play, who is heading to the G3 Transylvania Stakes next time out, also worked at Keeneland with an identical time as Howe Great. At Gulfstream, Cozzetti went 5 furlongs in 1:00.70 handily in the 2nd fastest workout of 13. He is being considered for the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.
Check back tomorrow for more analysis of today’s preps, in addition to a review of the Louisiana Derby!