The Kentucky Derby picture continues to sharpen its focus as we draw nearer and nearer to the First Saturday In May, when the issue will finally be decided underneath the Twin Spires. The big prep race on St. Patrick's Day will be the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Trainer Bob Baffert swept both divisions of the Southwest Stakes earlier this meet at Oaklawn with Castaway and Secret Circle. Here are the Pix for this week:
#1 Union Rags- He cemented his status as the early favorite after his convincing win in the Fountain Of Youth. The only question that remains after that effort is; "what did he beat?". Algorithms scratched and is now out of action, so while Union Rags remains at the top of the pops, I think he must put together another sterling effort in the Florida Derby to remain as number one.
#2 El Padrino- Trainer Todd Pletcher took this top candidate away from Florida for his last try in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. What he got was all he could handle. El Padrino won the Risen Star, but only after being extended to the limit by Mark Valeski in New Orleans. Now, Pletcher has elected to go back to Florida and Gulfstream Park for the Florida Derby on March 31. It could turn the Florida Derby into the biggest and best prep race of the season.
#3 Hansen- The Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner stole the title of New York's leading Derby candidate away from Alpha with his win in the Gotham Stakes on March 3. His race was maybe one of his best overall efforts, considering he had to overcome his outside post position, which essentially compromised his preferred running style of being in front all the way. Hansen ended up sitting just off the early leaders and stormed into the lead at the stretch call and went on to win by three lengths.
#4 Creative Cause- There was a time earlier this year when I thought the Derby winner would be a product of Southern California. Maybe I was right, but I wasn't necessarily thinking about this grey colt. Yes, he ran third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he also ran third in the San Vicente at Santa Anita on February 19. He followed that one up with a nifty score over the relatively inexperienced Bodemeister in the San Felipe. The next stop if the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.
#5 Alpha- Admittedly, I have been high on this Godolphin colt for a while now. He really has never made a mistake throughout his early year campaign in New York. His lone poor effort, unfortunately, came on the biggest stage he has faced thus far, an 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November. Now, there is uncertainty as to where he will race next, with the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, and Wood Memorial still under consideration by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
#6 Prospective- I thought quite a bit of his second place finish in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay, considering he drew the outside post in the field of eleven. Conversely, he drew the rail post position in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 10. Needless to say, I also thought quite a bit of this effort, given that no one gave him his victory. He was given a taut battle by longshot Golden Ticket in the Tampa Bay Derby and managed to prevail nicely.
Tune in again later this week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!