The Spring version of Super Saturday certainly lived up to the hype as Aqueduct, Keeneland, and Santa Anita hosted their final prep races for the Kentucky Derby. Soggy conditions were the theme of the day as Aqueduct’s main track was listed as “muddy” and Santa Anita was a sealed “sloppy” race track. Plenty of drama unfolded as bettors searched for a main contender to step up and challenge the Kentucky Derby favorite, Nyquist, in the Run for the Roses.
Let’s dig in and see which horses stamped themselves as contenders for the first Saturday in May.
Wood Memorial (GI)
Outwork threw his hat into the Derby arena yesterday with an impressive victory in the Wood Memorial at muddy Aqueduct Racetrack. Matt King Cole set a swift pace throughout with Outwork stalking just to his outside. Turning for home, Outwork was able to put that rival away and fight off longshot Trojan Nation to win the 92nd running of the Wood Memorial in a slow 1:52.92, giving Todd Pletcher four wins in this the last seven editions of this race.
Chad Brown’s Shagaf was the post-time favorite in this affair. He raced near the back of the pack and started to accelerate around the far turn. His run stagnated, however, and he ended up finishing fifth. Chad Brown is still sending him to Kentucky and some pundits are blaming his poor performance on the track.
I don’t buy the excuse. I just don’t think he was good enough.
To play devil’s advocate, if you have been on his bandwagon all this time, now might not be the best time to get off. Like the other two stakes winners we are about to talk about, this steed is a closer and will have plenty of pace to run at in Kentucky. It’s up to you to decide if he is good enough.
Once known for its prestige, producing Kentucky Derby stalwarts such as Bold Forbes, Seattle Slew and Pleasant Colony, the Wood Memorial has not produced a Kentucky Derby since 2003, when Funny Cide took his show on the road and won the Run for the Roses. Outwork looks to be a fighter and will try to be the one who breaks the Wood Memorial losing streak.
I have my doubts about him, primarily because of the pace scenario I see unfolding in Louisville. He might just be that tough and fulfill the promise that his dad, Uncle Mo, could never fulfill, but I am already tossing him as a Derby win candidate. I just do not see a horse coming out of this race winning the Kentucky Derby this season.
The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI)
Will the real Brody’s Cause please stand up? Brody’s Cause had many doubters going into yesterday after his poor seventh-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby. The real Brody’s Cause showed up Saturday and won the 92nd running of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in impressive fashion. The Dale Romans trainee was well behind early and came home with a powerful late rally to defeat the field of 14 by nearly two lengths in a running time of 1:50.20.
Todd Pletcher’s Zulu was the post-time favorite, but was never a factor in the race. Perhaps the Florida form from early in the season is starting to lose its shine with the defeats of Mohaymen last weekend and Cathryn Sophia yesterday. Zulu is a nice horse, but he just wasn’t good enough in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
Some other Derby hopefuls in the race (My Man Sam and Cherry Wine) made impressive late rallies to get up for second and third, respectively. They will move on to the Derby with a puncher’s chance at hitting the board.
Laoban set all of the pace and finished a very respectable fourth. He ran a sneaky good race that involved a lively pace. Keep your eyes open to this lad as the year progresses.
With the victory yesterday, Brody’s Cause firmly entrenched himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. The Derby field will be full of early speed which will give him a dream setup. He still must navigate his rally against possibly 19 other horses, but he has some elusiveness to him and a great burst when he runs to his talent. Dale Romans knows how to be competitive on the triple crown trail and I expect him to run big on the first Saturday in May.
The Santa Anita Derby (GI)
The Santa Anita Derby was the most anticipated prep race of the day featuring another showdown between Mor Spirit and Danzing Candy. The winner between these two budding rivals would probably be the second choice in the wagering behind Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby.
Danzing Candy led early, setting incredibly fast fractions, including a :45.24 half-mile time. Mor Spirit settled in fourth and seemed in a good position to avenge his San Felipe loss as the field approached the far turn.
The stage was set for their showdown… or was it?
Exaggerator had other ideas and made a scintillating move around the far turn and passed these two rivals with ease. He scorched the Santa Anita Derby field by more than six lengths coming home in 1:49.66 in sloppy conditions. The Keith Desormeaux trainee made a similar move in the San Felipe Stakes around the far turn to threaten Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit in his last outing, but flattened out as the race drew to a conclusion. On Saturday, he displayed the same explosive kick — except, this time, he blew them away.
The California contingent is strong again this season and will be loaded for bear in the Kentucky Derby. The Derby favorite (Nyquist) along with Exaggerator, Mor Spirit, and Danzing Candy all hail from California and all will be tough to leave off your Derby tickets. Exaggerator stepped up to join the head of the California class yesterday. Exaggerator’s explosive turn of foot is everything you want to see out of a Kentucky Derby contender. With a hot pace expected in the Kentucky Derby, you have to think Kent Desormeaux will utilize the same type of trip he enjoyed yesterday. Exaggerator looks to be coming into his own and it looks sensational.
They say flattery will get you nowhere, but I wanted to share a quick note. It doesn’t involve a race that was run over the weekend, but rather one that was run back in March, the Tampa Bay Derby. How good does Destin look now? His Tampa Bay Derby performance earning him a victory over Outwork and Brody’s Cause must not go unnoticed. The only knock on him is the time between that race and the Derby, but I think you can count the Tampa Bay Derby as a key prep for this year’s Kentucky Derby.