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Before we sink our teeth into the meat of today’s content–more profiles of the survivors of my first round of elimination–breaking news!

Soldat, whose non-effort in the Florida Derby began to turn me away from him and whose two-work non-preparation for the Kentucky Derby finished the job, has completed his works for the Derby. What was the move? Five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Palm Meadows. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin claims that his schedule for the colt is “maintenance” because Soldat has been fit and was never let down for the winter, and I understand the logic to an extent, but when your horse simply doesn’t run in his last major prep race, you’ve got to tighten the screws a little. What’s more, the work wasn’t even at Churchill Downs. We won’t get to see him work in Kentucky before he runs in Kentucky.

But that’s not all. Oh, no. Because Archarcharch and Jinks Fires showed ’em how it’s done. See, when your final prep is three weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, not five, and when you win said final prep, you are well within your rights to use five furlongs to rehearse for the big dance. In fact, you could even be forgiven for easing up on the gas a bit, going in a minute or a minute and one. But no. See, Archarcharch and Jinks Fires are badasses on a mission, and they just decided it might be a neat idea to shoot a bullet in :59 2/5. At Churchill. Galloping out in 1:12 4/5. Oh, yes.

Finally, on a slightly different topic, 3M Corporation has signed a deal to sponsor Mucho Macho Man’s Kentucky Derby run, in a style similar to corporate athletic sponsorship in all kinds of other sports around the world, which exchanges monetary support for visible advertisement on the part of the athlete. This, in my opinion, is a fantastic precedent for a subject which has been difficult to broach in the horse racing world. Sponsorships would be an awesome source of income for a struggling industry, and may help bring it closer to public awareness.

Right, then. On the menu today: Pants on Fire, Midnight Interlude, and Master of Hounds.

Pants On Fire is simply one of those horses you don’t want to make the mistake of ignoring. Steve Haskin’s pre-Derby column came as a huge surprise to me; I hadn’t been remotely aware of certain things concerning this horse and chances are you weren’t either before reading them there. In a nutshell, this horse had been running, probably for most of the winter, while carrying an opportunistic lung pathogen which, coming out of the Risen Star Stakes, dug its teeth in. At first, blood and mucus were the only signs that something was wrong, but soon the lung infection was out of control, and ringworm-like lesions had burst up on all four of his legs. In other words, this horse was sick, sick, sick. Between the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, he was only healthy enough to have one workout, a half-mile breeze in :48 2/5, but it seemed nonetheless that he would be ready for the Fair Grounds’ marquee event. Under jockey Rosie Napravnik, he smashed pretty much all of his personal-bests while holding off Nehro and favoured Mucho Macho Man (who had been running without one of his shoes).

Winning the Louisiana Derby coming out of a serious illness and with only one half-mile breeze on your worktab is not easy, and trainer Kelly Breen is making sure Pants On Fire doesn’t have to pull a similar miracle in the Kentucky Derby: he already has two five-furlong breezes at Palm Meadows (a bullet :58 3/5 followed by 1:00 4/5 eight days later) and has shipped to Churchill, where I expect he will complete preparations this weekend.

Midnight Interlude is nothing if not intriguing. At first, I had cut him from my consideration because of his inexperience: the fact that he never raced at two, that he only has four starts, that he’s only raced once in stakes company. Yet something about him tugs at whatever part of the brain is responsible for hunches. Maybe it’s the professionalism with which he dispatched the GI Santa Anita Derby in his stakes debut. Maybe it’s the determined drive which saw him push past Comma to the Top, who had quite literally four times as much racing experience as he did. Maybe it’s the trainer who allows him to stretch his formidable wings in the mornings, and who has led him through consecutive bullets since the Santa Anita Derby: five furlongs in :59.20 at Santa Anita, and six furlongs in 1:13.60 over the Churchill mud six days later.

There is terrific talent in this colt. The dark, robust son of War Chant (whose offspring appear able to perform at just about any distance) will of course have the ghost of Apollo to shake off and may have a better chance in the Preakness or Belmont, and in the summer classics than he does in Kentucky. In fact, he’s rather reminiscent of Curlin in that way, isn’t he? In any case, Bob Baffert will have this horse primed for a monster effort in Louisville. His inexperience means that his success may depend on a good post draw and a decent trip (Espinoza, you’ve got more riding on your shoulders than Midnight has riding on his), but the Derby won’t be the last we see of him, win or lose.

Master of Hounds is the last horse I’d like to address today, and how’s he for adding intrigue? The man who sent Giant’s Causeway to duel with Tiznow in that immortal Breeders’ Cup Classic of 2000 has decided to send this son of the mighty Kingmambo overseas, lending great credibility to the trip, and don’t think Hounds himself will be bothered by the flight across the Atlantic, either: he’s already been to Churchill Downs, albeit for a troubled sixth in the GII Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (as the favourite), and another international journey to Dubai resulted in the narrowest of losses in the GII UAE Derby.

The epitome of royal breeding, Master of Hounds is by Kingmambo (Lemon Drop Kid, Henrythenavigator, Student Council, Archipenko, etc.) out of a mare by Sadler’s Wells (High Chapparal, Montjeu, Powerscourt, Galileo, Yeats, etc.). He was GI placed in England at two before his excursions in pursuit of faraway riches began, and has been improving all the while: his performance in Dubai was probably the best of his career. He will have a long layoff and a foreign surface to contend with in the Kentucky Derby, but Kingmambo offspring tend to be able to run on whatever they like: Henrythenavigator was a group one star on turf and placed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on synthetics, while Student Council nabbed GI victories on synthetics and on dirt.

Master of Hounds will pick up Eclipse-winning jockey Garrett Gomez for the Derby. Whether that’s a particularly good thing is open for debate.


So, yesterday, I slashed through about half of the Derby horses. Midnight Interlude, however, continues to cling stubbornly to the Hunch Lobe of my brain, while  a certain veteran trainer has begun to lose my confidence. Therefore, today, I’m going to do something completely insane. Midnight Interlude is back in, with stipulations. I’m cutting Dialed In.

The probable Kentucky Derby favourite is a talented horse. Nick Zito is a skilled trainer. However, in a year with fewer than usual legitimate speed horses, and now that The Factor is out, it has become even less likely that a stone closer like Dialed In will be able to maneuver the winding road laid out by the nineteen horses who will likely break ahead of him. The element which has turned me away, however, is Zito’s work plan for this horse: after Dialed In came up much too short in his allowance prep for the Florida Derby, I thought perhaps he’d have figured it out and adjusted his Derby hopeful’s strategy, but no. His first work since that last race came today, at–get this–half a mile. Half a mile. And slower than a twelve-clip! For a horse that has made four starts and is about to go ten furlongs. It is no longer a wonder to me that we never saw Ice Box again after the Belmont.

The new list of survivors, therefore, looks like this, in order of graded earnings:

Uncle Mo
Toby’s Corner
Pants on Fire
Midnight Interlude
Master of Hounds
Twice the Appeal
Mucho Macho Man

Over the next week, this list will get shorter, and it’s very unlikely that anyone new will jump on unless by a tour de force of training. For the time being, I will dedicate the next few days to explaining how these ten horses have elevated themselves above the rest in my mind. Today, the top three earners on that list: Uncle Mo, Archarcharch and Toby’s Corner.

Uncle Mo has been up and down in my opinion for a long time, though by no fault of his own: the more I watch him, the more I abhor the methods of trainer Todd Pletcher, whose careful, kid-glove handling of his horses–treating them like delicate china rather than trying to understand them as flesh and blood athletes–has more than once resulted in disaster and disappointment. Eskendereya is, of course, the most recent manifestation of my claims against Pletcher, but every day Uncle Mo steps closer to following the same far-too-often-traveled path. This horse deserves praise of the highest order for his unbelievable two-year-old season, and again for running so well in the Wood Memorial despite a gastrointestinal infection: the kind of sickness that leaves you prostrate in bed, not digging in for third in a grade one.

That said, had I been Pletcher I would never have let this horse down as was done over the winter. He was perfectly conditioned in November, and though I understand the need for rest, I don’t understand taking such amazing horses out of training and allowing their body condition to fall, then expecting to build it back up again and have the same athlete. Furthermore, my abhorrence of the modern tendency to race only twice before the Kentucky Derby has been well-documented. I’ll say it again anyway: it’s a stupid plan. If the first of the two races is an ungraded mile stakes, that’s even stupider.

All that to say that I adore Uncle Mo as an animal (and his owner is awesome, for the record), but his trainer needs a kick in the pants and a good barking at by science.

Archarcharch has been floating around the edges of my radar all winter–or at least since the Smarty Jones Stakes. He finished fourth in that race, but curiosity compelled me to look him up and see why he’d been such a buzz horse going into the Oaklawn race. What I found was a horse that had finished second in his seven-furlong debut at Churchill Downs, then shipped to the Fair Grounds and won a six furlong stakes while still a maiden. An Arch colt out of a Woodman mare, breaking his maiden in a sprint stakes in fine time. I was at once intrigued and disappointed that he hadn’t lived up to his reputation in the Smarty Jones. Then came the GIII Southwest Stakes, a match-up with GI winner J P’s Gusto, and Archarcharch unleashed a hidden weapon: on the turn, as six horses lined up for a shot at the lead, he re-broke, lunging forward with a devastating burst of speed that left him two lengths in front in the blink of an eye.

He was never going to win the Rebel. The Factor was going too fast, too strong, and Archarcharch placed far too close to the pace for that kick to manifest again. Yet, as he looked to be fading on the turn, Archarcharch kept right on trucking, reaching into his stamina-laden pedigree for the lung and heart to very nearly wrest second from Caleb’s Posse. In the Arkansas Derby, however, as The Factor struggled hopelessly with a flipped palate and J P’s Gusto roared away on a suicide mission, Archarcharch was settled near the back of the field, loping comfortably alongside Nehro, who was likewise little acquainted with being so far from the pace. On the turn, Archarcharch (3Arch? Arch cubed?) unleashed his rally, lunging past Nehro and toward the leaders while running on the far outside. And he didn’t stop. Sway Away and Dance City were fighting for everything, with Dance City gradually getting the best of his rival. Nehro had also begun to move, but Archarcharch’s brilliant acceleration had left him struggling to catch up. And here was the local boy, grinding down Dance City, streaking past, loafing on the lead and just holding off Nehro at the wire.

It’s not possible to root against this horse. His people are family. His jockey is among the most underrated in action. His name is ridiculous. His sire is one of Claiborne’s. He’s magnificent in his own right, and have I mentioned I think he might be a true black?

Toby’s Corner is another one that was tickling the radar all winter. This tall, elegant creature began his career modestly, with a third place finish at Delaware Park. His next two outings, both wins at a mile, were at Laurel Park, of all places. Then, he went to Aqueduct, and generated a little respect with a victory in the Whirlaway Stakes, the first in the Aqueduct spring series which included the Gotham and Wood Memorial. He was green in that race, and prompted many to say that if he grew up the right way he could be a good horse. Comments such as those were oddly prophetic in the Gotham, when Toby was a little sluggish to begin his rally and finished third behind Stay Thirsty.

In the Wood Memorial–a race which he wasn’t even supposed to win, thanks to the presence of Uncle Mo, but which was meant to measure his ability against such a horse–Toby was fitted with blinkers in an attempt to keep his mind on his business. He was last down the backstretch, but close up in a tightly-bunched field, and on the turn was angled close to the rail: a tight spot for a big horse. Past the quarter pole, Toby was still sixth, with a wall of horses forming ahead of him. Jockey Eddie Castro leaned on the right rein just as Uncle Mo was getting away from his early challengers, putting two lengths between himself and the field, fighting sickness as well as visible rivals. Toby’s Corner lunged to the right, straightening out beside Arthur’s Tale, whose rally was becoming dangerous to the two-year-old champion. Then Castro stepped on the gas. Arthur’s Tale, to the shock of everyone present, went right past Uncle Mo. Even more incredibly, he wasn’t alone. Here–sing it if you know the words–was the local boy, charging up between horses, shoving his nose out in front of Arthur’s Tale right when it counted.

I have terrific respect for all three of these horses, though my favourite people belong to Archarcharch. Who has the best chance of winning it all? Well, if I’m honest, I’m going to have to go with Arch Cubed for this one, too.

More to come on the rest of them.

A wonderful thing has happened today. I wrote my last final exam. Next semester is going to be dominated by complementary and elective classes (including three English classes), which means that I have eight months until my next hardcore biology class. FREEDOM!

So, now, I’ve decided that it’s time to start eliminating Derby horses. The graded earnings list has not, of course, yet solidified and won’t until the entries are drawn, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start slashing names off the contenders list. I made my first round of ruthless culls this afternoon, and here, in order of earnings, is what’s left:

Uncle Mo
Dialed In
Toby’s Corner
Pants on Fire
Master of Hounds
Twice the Appeal
Mucho Macho Man

The I’ve cut are Comma to the Top, Midnight Interlude, Soldat, Brilliant Speed, Decisive Moment, Animal Kingdom, Stay Thirsty, Santiva, Watch Me Go, and Twinspired. All of the bubble horses (Silver Medallion, Anthony’s Cross, Derby Kitten, Mr. Commons and Sway Away) have likewise been slashed. Briefly, here’s why:

Comma to the Top: Despite my growing adoration for this year’s little horse that could, his sprinter/miler’s pedigree cannot be ignored. He also runs like a horse whose best distance is a mile and who can stretch out another sixteenth, maybe another furlong. A mile and a quarter just looks to be out of his range. If I was anybody with any influence in this sort of thing, I would skip the Derby and see if I could goad The Factor’s people into a meeting in the Met Mile. But for the Derby? Toss.

Midnight Interlude: He’s been receiving adulations for his precocious and resilient victory in the Santa Anita Derby, but with so little foundation, can he be expected to keep up with such modern iron horses as Archarcharch, Toby’s Corner and Mucho Macho Man, with whom he shares a general style? Yes, he’s rapidly improving. Yes, I think he has enormous potential. But without having raced at two, and with only four starts under his belt (and only one in stakes company), this is the kind of horse that I have to cut in the elimination game. Hesitant toss.

Soldat: I had been willing to forgive the Florida Derby non-effort if he was trained to make up for it heading into the Derby. Unfortunately, he’s only getting two works between Florida and Kentucky, and since the first one was at five furlongs I seriously doubt he’ll be getting the long, tough run he would need to get to Louisville in anything resembling good shape. Consider that, since he didn’t even try to run in the Florida Derby, he hasn’t had a remotely grueling race since February 26th. Toss.

Brilliant Speed: In his only two starts on dirt, he’s finished fourth and seventh in maiden races. Toss.

Decisive Moment: With the number of times he’s been beaten up by Gourmet Dinner and Little Drama, and the fact that it took him 1:38.91 to complete a mile in his last win (the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs), and how badly he was clobbered by Mucho Macho Man etc. in the GII Risen Star… Toss.

Animal Kingdom: The son of the star turf miler Leroidesanimaux (BRZ) has never even seen a dirt track, and his pedigree doesn’t seem to say he’ll like it. The fact that Leroidesanimaux is also the sire of the extraordinary Always a Princess may be a point of redemption, but it’s far too big of a question mark still. Toss.

Stay Thirsty: Just not fast enough. The GIII Gotham was all right, but he seemed to be taking advantage of a field that was either mediocre or simply not at its best (Toby’s Corner). Given how I really don’t like Todd Pletcher’s training tactics on a good day, and the null effort of the Florida Derby, this one’s a toss.

Santiva: He had been on a nice little improvement curve over the winter, and his second to Mucho Macho Man in the GII Risen Star was more than respectable, but then the unbelievably egg-headed decision to run him in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) was made. I suppose it was because he’d run second in the GI Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, but I have never seen the appeal of running on the polytrack as a final prep before the Derby, unless you’re Street Sense and can run on anything you want. The result was a ninth-place nothing of a race, and I can’t put a more or less slow horse with a race that bad in the list of contenders. Toss.

Watch Me Go: Honestly, I can’t believe that a horse who was thoroughly dumped upon by both Gourmet Dinner and Decisive Moment, then managed to take advantage of a complete collapse on the part of Brethren at Tampa, and then dropped off the map in the GII Illinois Derby is still being seriously considered as a Kentucky Derby contender. All of his wins have come when all the other horses either suck or fail miserably to run to form. Toss.

Twinspired: Another easy one. In his only start on dirt, he finished eighth at Remington Park. Megatoss.

In light of some terrifying things illuminated by Steve Haskin in his latest blog post, I feel the need to shuffle my top ten.

1. Mucho Macho Man
2. Archarcharch
3. Pants On Fire
4. Toby’s Corner
5. Uncle Mo
6. Dialed In
7. Shackleford
8. Midnight Interlude
9. Nehro
10. Master of Hounds

Pants On Fire moves to third, and Dialed In’s inactivity is making me lose confidence that he’ll be ready (and I just like all those other horses better). I’ve also dumped Soldat and Comma to the Top, because of that bizarre non-effort in the Florida Derby (he could still move back up depending on works) and likely distance limitations. More postage with actual content soon, I hope. In the meantime, please be patient with me!

Jess Jackson is dead. We didn’t agree on everything–not by a long shot–but the man who led Curlin and Rachel Alexandra through two of the most adventurous and ambitious campaigns in recent memory did a great deal for the sport. Prospective owners have him to thank for tightened regulations of bloodstock agents at auctions. Fans have him to thank for the richest North American horse in history.

Wine connoisseurs have him to thank for a couple of exceptional Cabernets Sauvignon and Pinots Noirs.

Jackson, at 81, had only begun to lead his Stonestreet Stable into the limelight. He will never get to see Rachel Alexandra foal his brainchild, the superhorse cross he bought her to breed. Himself felled by cancer, this will, perhaps, be his most intriguing legacy.

First and foremost, since I doubt very highly that any horse coming out of next weekend’s GII Lexington Stakes will have any effect on the Kentucky Derby (that includes Astrology, should Asmussen choose that route), I now consider Derby prep season to be over. Scary, huh? Three weeks to the big day. We’ve seen the preps of every contender and pretender, and now we have to start sorting them out. Having said that, I’ve put together a top ten which may very well be quite fluid over the next twenty-one days, depending largely on shipping, training, post position draw and the ever-important factor of Who Gets Borel now that Elite Alex seems to be out of the picture.

1. Mucho Macho Man
2. Dialed In
3. Archarcharch
4. Toby’s Corner
5. Uncle Mo
6. Shackleford
7. Pants On Fire
8. Midnight Interlude
9. Nehro
10. Soldat/Comma to the Top

Soldat’s position is especially dependent on works. I want to see that horse turn in something phenomenal–like Hard Spun’s infamous :57 and change–before he goes to post. Dialed In, Archarcharch and Toby’s Corner could jostle between themselves, and a horse like Nehro could move up if he shows lots of pep (and absolutely no sign of fatigue) in the mornings. Mucho Macho Man, however, has just about sealed his place at the top of my personal heap.

And now, to explain why.

It would take forever to go through and explain every tiny detail of the biological basis for my choice; those of you who’ve followed my long and rambling train of thought for a while already know the gist of it: when the mammalian system begins puberty, growth hormone (among other things) is released en masse and contributes to enormous lengthening of bones at the epiphyseal plates, which seal upon the conclusion of the whole process. While the system is flooded with hormones, it is especially sensitive to outside pressures and stresses; a magnificent evolutionary safeguard kicks in, which moulds the body to said pressures, responds to them by building the affected areas of the body like crazy. Human athletes such as gymnasts and runners take advantage of this phenomenon by training through growth spurts during pre-puberty and adolescence; the result is a set of skeletons like nothing ever seen in the general population.

The accepted method for training racehorses today appears to be to let down a young horse’s training during such growth spurts, apparently to “protect” the growing body of an animal which might be worth millions of dollars. The problem begins here.

Now, Mucho Macho Man was born in June, some six months after some of his eldest crop-mates. But he started running as a two-year-old in July–a mere month after his actual two-year-old birthday. Some January foals don’t start until September or October, or even later. And when Macho made his debut, he showed no signs of falling behind, finishing second to eventual Delta Jackpot winner Gourmet Dinner, then third to Curlinello (stakes winner) and Joe Vann (GII Illinois Derby winner) in his first two starts before breaking his maiden at Monmouth–over Bowman’s Causeway, among others. Furthermore, this son of Macho Uno had only begun to venture into his growth spurts: over the fall and winter, he would exceed seventeen hands, racing four times meanwhile, including a victory in the GII Risen Star Stakes, when his measurements were taken.

Just imagine the bones in this horse. Go on, think of it. This, right here, is what I’m talking about: started early, raced early, run through his growth spurts and groomed to peak performance gradually, letting good non-winning performances build on each other. Three weeks ago in the Louisiana Derby, Macho ran his heart out despite being shaken by a lost shoe at the break. He’s faced everyone, turned away from no one, gotten dirt in his face, run huge on three shoes, and all while building the sort of skeleton that would’ve made the old guard proud.

The Kentucky Derby will be Mucho Macho Man’s ninth career start. It will be Dialed In’s fifth, Uncle Mo’s sixth, Midnight Interlude’s fifth, Shackleford’s sixth, Nehro’s sixth, Animal Kingdom’s fifth… Toby’s Corner and Archarcharch each have six under their belt, Pants on Fire has seven, Soldat has eight, and Comma to the Top has an extraordinary twelve, but once again given Macho’s late foaling date, his body of work so far is extraordinary, and brilliantly timed.

Furthermore, trainer Kathy Ritvo is not letting her charge slack off during the six-week layoff from Louisiana to Kentucky. Oh, no. She’s going to have this horse primed to run a huge one. His first work back from the race at Fair Grounds–for most trainers, the opportunity to let their horse unwind and run a soft one–was a five-furlong tour de force in :58 3/5. Then, yesterday morning, Macho uncorks seven panels in 1:23 3/5, galloping out a mile in 1:38 3/5. Ritvo, who reported that the horse had foiled this morning’s attempt to get him tired, has two more major works planned for her charge once he’s shipped to Churchill Downs. I wouldn’t be surprised if she went with seven and five furlong works, or with a pair of sixes with generous gallops out. And at least one of them is going to be quick.

Because, see, Kathy Ritvo seems to understand something that the male-dominated profession around her apparently doesn’t: the horses she conditions are athletes. Athletes with mammalian bodies, evolved to adapt to the stresses they regularly (and there’s the key word: regularly) encounter. If Mucho Macho Man wins the Kentucky Derby, I would be extremely confident in his chances to bounce back and win the Preakness, and the reason for that is that, despite the long layoff between his final prep and the Run for the Roses, this colt has been conditioned to absorb a good amount of stress regularly, and his body won’t go into systematic shock if he has to run again two weeks later (see Super Saver’s Preakness meltdown for comparison).

If I had to guess right now, I would say that Mucho Macho Man has a tremendous shot at running in all three Triple Crown races. He has the best chance of doing so of all of his peers (though Archarcharch’s continued presence wouldn’t surprise me).

I have great confidence that Kathy Ritvo will give him every chance to win as many of them as possible.

1. I can’t imagine any of the Blue Grass horses having a huge impact on the Kentucky Derby. As usual, it ran a lot like a grass race, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the trifecta–each member of which was impressive in his own right–meet up again on turf later in the season. Big disappointments out of Wilkinson and Santiva.

2. What on Earth was up with The Factor? Baffert never gave any indication that they’d be trying to rate him, and yet he seemed almost dull in the early stages. It took away his major advantage, and when the real running started he had no chance. This will probably be the end of his attempts at distance. I’d bet on him getting a bit of a rest and coming back out for a King’s Bishop/Vosburgh/Breeders’ Cup Sprint campaign.

3. Okay, so maybe his name does sound like a seal barking. But Archarcharch ran huge once again in the Arkansas Derby, proving what many people have thought all along: this horse will only improve with distance. And guess what? He’s got a huge shot in Kentucky, and I’ll tell you why: style and experience. In terms of style, he’s the ideal Derby grinder, with an effective and practiced stretch kick for a little extra advantage. He’ll be able to sit wherever he wants (or wherever he happens to end up) and put in his run from there when the speed starts to tire. In terms of experience, his advantage is twofold: first, he’s got a bunch of racing under his belt, and a whole lot of adversity he’s had to overcome. Second, he’s been running (and training) all spring over the punishing strip at Oaklawn Park, a surface which builds muscle, bone and cardiac strength like nothing else. Given a chance, he will make his mark in the Run for the Roses.

4. And how about Nehro? For a horse that started off his season finishing tenth in a maiden special weight at Oaklawn, blossoming like this is almost unheard of. He immediately turned around and won a similar maiden race (and more than three seconds faster than the race he’d lost) before finishing second in consecutive major Kentucky Derby prep races. His second to Pants On Fire was such a huge step up that many (including myself) assumed that he would regress like crazy upon running again in only three weeks. Apparently… not so much. This horse was flying at Archarcharch at the finish, and though he couldn’t get by a determined winner, one wonders if Nehro could improve yet again in another three weeks’ time. You sure can’t rule him out.

5. Dance City held on impressively after chasing a quick pace early. He won’t make the Derby, but could be an interesting horse to watch in the Preakness or the Belmont. Meanwhile, Sway Away improved off of his showing in the Rebel but couldn’t sustain an impressive bid on the turn, and will probably end up a sprinter/miler.

6. Under the excellent tutelage of Larry Jones, Havre de Grace appears to be turning into one hell of a distaffer. She thundered down the stretch to wrest the GI Apple Blossom Handicap from Switch, and apparently did it easily despite the relatively narrow winning margin. The feeling here is that the daughter of Saint Liam is only just hitting her prime, and will show us some very special performances later this season.

7. The training schedule of Mucho Macho Man is making me a very, very happy little biology nerd. So happy, in fact, that I think I’ll dedicate an entire blog entry to it. Tomorrow. Right now, I have an NHL playoff game to finish watching.



Right. So, factoring in the Wood Memorial defeat, a new Derby top ten:

1. Mucho Macho Man
2. Dialed In
3. The Factor
4. Toby’s Corner
5. Uncle Mo
6. Shackleford
7. Pants On Fire
8. Archarcharch
9. Midnight Interlude
10. Soldat/Brethren

Brethren is liable to move up should he perform well in his final prep (the Arkansas Derby, is it?). Uncle Mo may inch back up that list, depending on how aggressively he is trained in the next four weeks (I want to see him sweat at least once going seven furlongs, if you please. That horse needs foundation). Archarcharch likewise could climb, and The Factor’s position is by no means secure, in either direction. Hell, even Nehro could get on there. However, as it stands, Mucho Macho Man and Dialed In are the horses I will consider as my favourites until further notice.

Mucho Macho Man gets the top spot on three factors: first, I believe he is on a training schedule more conducive to winning a ten-furlong race in his next outing. Kathy Ritvo has stated openly that she plans to get “creative” with his training, and she’s already begun to condition him with a five-furlong sizzler in :58 1/5. If I see this horse go a couple of long works (7-8 furlongs is ideal) in good time, especially once he ships to Churchill, he’ll solidify his position at the top of the heap. Dialed In, on the other hand, has a history of working very little between races, which–sorry, Nick Zito–doesn’t seem to me like the best way to condition an athlete.

Second, Mucho Macho Man is more experienced and, in my opinion, has more room to develop. As a June foal, he’s still a big baby, and the fact that he’s accomplished so much while so young is extraordinary. The shoe incident in the Louisiana Derby may even work to his advantage, as the conservative schedules many of his foes have run haven’t exactly exposed them to the trials and tribulations they’ll all face on Derby day. This Macho Man has seen it, been there, and proved that he’ll keep fighting in the face of adversity. Plus, that he ran so much at two while six months behind some of his rivals also suggests that he was training and racing during peak growth cycles, i.e. those bones have got to be tough stuff.

Finally, Mucho Macho Man has the advantage in running style. He’s extraordinarily versatile, having put in good efforts through his career near the lead and from midpack. That kind of flexibility is priceless in a race like the Kentucky Derby, when there are horses everywhere jockeying for all kinds of positions. If you can run from wherever you please: instant upper hand. Dialed In is a stretch-running closer; he’ll have to navigate a weaving, boiling forest of legs belonging to nineteen other horses if he wants to get to the finish line first. Good luck.

As for The Factor… well, first, let me say that I adore him. He reminds me very much of Hard Spun, and further back even of Seattle Slew. We don’t know how far he’ll go, but boy, will it be fun to find out. A first step in that direction will be next week’s Arkansas Derby: nine furlongs against some tough company will tip the scales, no doubt. Which way they’ll tip is the intriguing question.

And Uncle Mo. Hmm. It’s difficult to know what to make of the Wood. One thing that was obvious was that Pletcher screwed him over fantastically by a) underestimating the competition and having him under-ready as a result and b) putting him on that monumentally stupid two-prep schedule, and one which began with an ungraded stakes in mid-spring, no less. The aforementioned trainer will have to put the champ through his paces big-time to even have a chance at scraping out a Derby win, and forget about a Triple Crown (See? I told you so).

Finally, Toby’s Corner impressed me like crazy. The son of Bellamy Road did his Wood-record-holding daddy proud, I must say, and the blinkers moved him up bigtime since his lacklustre third to Stay Thirsty in the Gotham Stakes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran off with that same Gotham field if they ran it tomorrow. He’s improving at the right time, and he’s got plenty of room to keep doing so.

Now, fillies:

1. Joyful Victory
2. R Heat Lightning
3. Zazu
4. Plum Pretty
5. Summer Soiree
6. Kathmanblu
7. Arienza
8. Pomeroys Pistol
9. Lilacs and Lace
10. Dancinginherdreams

Back up to the top you go, Joyful Victory! And that’s pretty much the exacta I expect to see come May 6th, by the way. Jones’s gray over Pletcher’s bay. Kathmanblu’s defeat at the hands of Lilacs and Lace,  meanwhile, was unexpected but not devastating to my opinion of her–I’ve only dropped her a few spots, under the recently spectacular Plum Pretty and Summer Soiree. Arienza moves up a bit in her encouraging effort behind Joyful Victory (yes, she was beaten by seven, but she has lots of room for improvement and displayed admirable eagerness before she got tired). Dancinginherdreams has dropped to tenth, but I refuse to drop her off the list completely given the commanding stakes win she already has under her belt at Churchill. Depending on how she trains, she could inch back up, though I don’t think she’ll challenge the top few.


Premier Pegasus, To Honor and Serve, Jaycito all out with injuries. Brethren, Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo all beat.

You’d think they’d learn.

Who’s left? My hypothetical money is now going on Dialed In, The Factor, Mucho Macho Man (if Ritvo trains him hard up to the Derby) and such consistently improving, tough campaigners like Archarcharch and Toby’s Corner (who surprised the hell out of me today). Any thoughts?

EDIT: And naturally, as soon as I post that, I see that Mucho Macho Man has gone five furlongs in :58 1/5. Damn good start. Now send him a stiff mile in about 1:37-1:38 and we’ll talk.

Calendar of Nerdisms

April 2011
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