The first day of May is an exciting one if you’re a fan of horseracing, because you know the first Saturday in May can’t be far off. The 138th Kentucky Derby is only four days away! Tomorrow the field will be set.
The big news of the day is that Mark Valeski‘s connections decided the water was too deep for their colt, and have withdrawn him from Derby consideration. With the talent-laden 3-year-old crop this year, it was probably a wise choice for the G2 Louisiana Derby runner-up. His trainer, Larry Jones, was quoted as saying, “This is a very deep field. We feel like we belong with them, but there’s going to be a horse that runs 15th that’s a very good horse. It’s not like you just go out there and hope that if Union Rags gets a bad trip then we win. What with Gemologist, Bodemeister, Alpha, Take Charge Indy, somebody’s going to get a good trip other than just, say, Mark Valeski.” The colt will now be pointed for the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, which could be used as a launching pad to run in the Belmont Stakes. Mark Valeski’s defection opened the door for Optimizer, who was sitting at number 21 on the graded stakes earnings list.
Alpha arrived at Churchill Downs yesterday. The handsome son of Bernardini got reacquainted with the track he ran on last year in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he finished 11th. Hopefully he’ll have better luck this time when he runs around the oval under the Twin Spires. Today, he jogged 1 3/8 miles on the track. The Wood Memorial (G1) runner-up has had several setbacks recently, including cuts to his legs and a nagging infection. He seems to be in good shape currently, and ready to run on Saturday. He will school in the gate tomorrow. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is hoping the colt, who used to be very rowdy in the gate, has finally put his issues behind him before the biggest race of his career.
Today, Todd Pletcher’s duo Gemologist and El Padrino arrived at Churchill. Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Gemologist is already familiar with the surface, where the undefeated colt won two races. El Padrino, winner of the G2 Risen Star Stakes and 4th in the Florida Derby in his most recent start, has never raced at Churchill. He has a couple days to gallop over the surface before Derby day though.
Rousing Sermon turned in what is likely the final work for a Derby contender for 2012. He traveled over the Churchill surface, stopping the clock in 1:00.40 for 5 furlongs. The son of Lucky Pulpit pleased his trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, with the work. The breeze was the 2nd fastest of 18 for the day.
The field for the Kentucky Oaks was set today. The ladies answer to the Kentucky Derby features 14 sophomore fillies, plus an also-eligible this year. On Fire Baby and Grace Hall, two of the favorites, drew posts 1 and 2 respectively. On Fire Baby is fresh off a score in the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes. The gray daughter of Smoke Glacken loves Churchill Downs, where she won both the G2 Pocahontas Stakes and G2 Golden Rod Stakes last fall. Joe Johnson has the mount in the Oaks. Grace Hall, runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to My Miss Aurelia, enters the Oaks off a win in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks last time out. The daughter of Empire Maker has never finished worse than 2nd in her 6 lifetime starts (which included a Grade 1 win as a juvenile.) A few long shots merit a second look in the Oaks field including Hard Not To Like at 20-1 on the morning line. The daughter of Hard Spun defeated males as a juvenile in stakes company. In her most recent start, she was 2nd in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Progeny of Hard Spun tend to flourish on sloppy tracks, and with possible rain forecast for Louisville, don’t be surprised if this filly runs a big one. Trainer Larry Jones sends out G2 Fair Grounds Oaks winner Believe You Can. The daughter of Proud Citizen no doubt stirs up memoires of 2008 for Jones, when he won the Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell (another daughter of Proud Citizen). Broadway’s Alibi, a filly from the barn of Todd Pletcher, is riding a four race win-streak into the Oaks.
The full field, with morning-line odds, jockeys, and trainers, is listed below:
1. On Fire Baby, 4-1, Joe Johnson, G. Hartlage
2. Grace Hall, 5-1, Javier Castellano, T. Dutrow
3. Summer Applause, 15-1, Garrett Gomez, B. Calhoun
4. Eden’s Moon, 12-1, Martin Garcia, B. Baffert
5. Hard Not To Like, 20-1, Robby Albarado, G. Cox
6. Broadway’s Alibi, 4-1, John Velasquez, T. Pletcher
7. Sacristy, 50-1, Mike Smith, W. Catalano
8. Jemima’s Pearl, 10-1, Joe Talamo, B. Baffert
9. Believe You Can, 10-1, Rosie Napravnik, L. Jones
10. And Why Not, 15-1, Julien Leparoux, M. Matz
11. Kalovy Vary, 20-1, James Graham, G. Arnold II
12. Colonial Empress, 50-1, Corey Nakatani, D. W. Lukas
13. Amie’s Dini, 10-2, Jon Court, R. Moquett
14. Yara, 30-1, Jesus Castanon, J. Garoffalo
AE 15. Oaks Lily, 50-1, Rafael Bejarano, T. Hills
It looks like there is the possibility for a sloppy track at Churchill on Saturday. That being said, several Derby horses have had experience on wet tracks. El Padrino broke his maiden on a wet track, and also won an allowance over the surface. That same allowance featured Take Charge Indy, who was 2nd that day. Gemologist won an allowance at Gulfstream, Hansen won the Gotham (G3) (where Done Talking ran 10th), and I’ll Have Another finished 6th in the G1 Hopeful Stakes, which were all sloppy or muddy sealed tracks. Sabercat won a stakes race at Monmouth in the slop, but finished fourth in his debut in the mud. Union Rags won the Saratoga Special Stakes over a sloppy/sealed surface by over 7 lengths, earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. Trinniberg finished 5th in the Saratoga Special that Union Rags won, and he also finished 2nd in the slop in the Grade 1 Hopeful.
That’s all for today. Check back tomorrow and everyday as we count down to the 2012 Run For The Roses. Who do you like? Leave us a comment and let us know!