Don’t worry if the following sentence does not make any sense to you:
Lately trail Derby Kentucky the on bump after bump encountered have ranks old-year-3 the in leaders the of many.
If the above sentence did have you baffled, don’t worry. What you need to do is to read it by starting with the final word and going backward from there; otherwise it no doubt will be quite confusing. And confusing is a good word to describe what the Kentucky Derby picture is following recent developments, such as:
--Classic Empire hit a bump in the road when he finished third and lost by 8 3/4 lengths as the 1-2 favorite in the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4, a race from which he emerged with an abscess in his right front foot.
--Uncontested hit a bump in the road when he finished sixth and lost by 12 3/4 lengths as the even-money favorite in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 20.
--Mo Town hit a bump in the road when he finished fifth and lost by 10 1/4 lengths as the 3-2 favorite in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 25.
--McCraken hit a bump in the road when he was found to have some swelling in his left front ankle on Feb. 28, the day after he worked four furlongs in :48.90 at Palm Meadows.
--Classic Empire hit another bump in the road on March 3. That was when he “refused to break off for a potential workout, was taken off the track by jockey Julien Leparoux, and showed signs of favoring his back upon returning to trainer Mark Casse’s barn,” as reported by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman.
--El Areeb hit a bump in the road when he finished third and lost by 11 lengths as the 2-5 favorite in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 4.
--Irish War Cry hit a bump in the road when he finished seventh and lost by 21 3/4 lengths as the even-money favorite in the Grade II Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on March 4.
Talk about a topsy-turvy Kentucky Derby trail.
Following Gunnevera’s sparkling performance last Saturday, he makes a big move this week to No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 after being No. 8 last week. Irish War Cry drops to No. 7 after being No. 1 last week. Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
- One Liner
- American Anthem
- Irish War Cry
- J Boys Echo
- Royal Mo
Gunnevera certainly was impressive in the Fountain of Youth. In his 3-year-old debut, the Kentucky-bred colt had finished second, 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Irish War Cry, in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull. Tenth early in the Fountain of Youth at the same distance, Gunnevera rallied strongly to take the lead at the top of the stretch and kicked well clear in the final furlong to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Gunnevera, who did not have the best of trips in the Holy Bull, turned the tables on Irish War Cry in a big way in the Fountain of Youth.
Trained by Antonio Sono, Gunnevera posted a final time last Saturday of 1:44.25. Gunnevera was assigned a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his Fountain of Youth victory. These are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winner of the Fountain of Youth going back to 1990:
2017 Gunnevera (97)
2016 Mohaymen (95)
2015 Itsaknockout (88)
2014 Wildcat Red (101)
2013 Orb (97)
2012 Union Rags (95)
2011 Soldat (96)
2010 Eskendereya (106)
2009 Quality Road (113)
2008 Cool Coal Man (98)
2007 Scat Daddy (96)
2006 First Samurai (94)+
2005 High Fly (99)
2004 Read the Footnotes (113)
2003 Trust n Luck (106)
2002 Booklet (103)
2001 Songandaprayer (101)
2000 High Yield (101)
1999 Vicar (97)
1998 Lil’s Lad (113)
1997 Pulpit (104)
1996 Built for Pleasure (100)
1995 Thunder Gulch (105)
1994 Dehere (99)
1993 Storm Tower (96)*
1993 Duc d’Sligovil (94)*
1992 Dance Floor (98)
+Corinthian finished first but was disqualified and placed third
*Run in divisions
By winning the Fountain of Youth, Gunnevera did something his maternal grandsire, Unbridled, could not. After Unbridled finished third behind Shot Gun Scott and Smelly in the 1990 Fountain of Youth, he went on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Gunnevera is expected to make his next start in Gulfstream’s Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 1. Will he follow in his sire’s footsteps as a Florida Derby winner? Dialed In won the Florida Derby in 2011 before finishing eighth as the 5-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby.
Dialed In also is the sire of It’s Your Nickel, winner of Turfway Park’s John Battaglia Memorial by 6 1/2 lengths at 1 1/16 miles on synthetic footing last Saturday. It was It’s Your Nickel’s first stakes victory in four career starts. Ken McPeek trains It’s Your Nickel.
EL AREEB’S WINNING STREAK SNAPPED
El Areeb took a four-race winning streak into last Saturday’s Gotham. He had won those four races by a combined 29 1/5 lengths. But his losing streak ended in the Gotham when he ended up third behind J Boys Echo and Cloud Computing.
Dale Romans trains J Boys Echo, who won the Gotham by 3 1/2 lengths. Romans conditioned one of the top 2-year-olds of 2016 in Not This Time, who finished a strong second as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which was won by 9-2 Classic Empire. Unfortunately, Not This Time was retired from racing before turning 3 due to a right front leg soft-tissue injury. But Romans now has J Boys Echo as a serious Kentucky Derby candidate.
Gunnevera and J Boys Echo both ran in the Grade III, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot last Nov. 19. Gunnevera won it, with J Boys Echo finishing fourth in his final start at 2.
In J Boys Echo’s 3-year-old debut, he had finished third, 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner, El Areeb, in the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 4. Just as Gunnevera turned the tables on Irish War Cry in the Fountain of Youth, J Boys Echo did likewise to El Areeb in the Gotham.
J Boys Echo completed 1 1/16 miles on the Big A’s inner track in 1:44.47. He was assigned a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure. These are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winner of the Gotham at its present distance going back to 2006:
2017 J Boys Echo (102)
2016 Shagaf (88)
2015 El Kabeir (88)
2014 Samraat (96)
2013 Vyjack (93)
2012 Hansen (95)
2011 Stay Thirsty (95)
2010 Awesome Act (89)
2009 I Want Revenge (113)
2008 Visionaire (98)
2007 Cowtown Cat (88)
2006 Like Now (105)
UNIQUE BELLA MAKES IT FOUR IN A ROW
All did not go smoothly for 1-10 favorite Unique Bella when she took Santa Anita’s Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday. Her rider, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, said afterward that it had been “pretty eventful.” Nevertheless, the ultra-talented gray filly did extend her winning streak to four.
After Unique Bella did not get off to the most alert of starts, she found herself in tight quarters going into the first turn before opening up a clear lead entering the backstretch. She had a commanding five-length advantage midway on the far turn, but then received a pretty good scare from Grade I winner Abel Tasman, who rallied strongly to loom menacingly coming into the stretch.
Smith had to get after Unique Bella some when her lead had shrunk to one length at the eighth pole. But when Smith did ask Unique Bella for some run, the big favorite responded immediately to spurt clear again. Unique Bella won by 2 1/4 lengths. This was by far her smallest margin of victory during her four-race winning streak. Her previous three wins had been by 10 1/4, 7 1/2 and 8 3/4 lengths.
Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer trains Unique Bella, who now has won four of five after finishing second in her career debut. Hollendorfer said the plan is for Unique Bella to run next in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on April 8, followed by the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 5.
MASTERY HEADS SAN FELIPE
Mastery, No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, and No. 5 Gormley are both entered in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles this Saturday.
Undefeated in three career starts, Mastery has not appeared under silks since he won the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity by 7 1/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles last Dec. 10. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt.
Baffert won the 2015 Kentucky Derby with American Pharoah, who would go on to become the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown in 37 years. Baffert also has won the Kentucky Derby with War Emblem in 2002, Real Quiet in 1998 and Silver Charm in 1997.
John Shirreffs trains Gormley, a Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon colt. Gormley won the Grade I FrontRunner at Santa Anita last Oct. 1, finished seventh in the Grade I BC Juvenile, then rebounded to win the Grade III Sham on a sloppy track Jan. 7 at Santa Anita in his first start at 3.
Shirreffs won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 Giacomo.
ARROGATE, MCCRAKEN STILL ATOP NTRA POLLS
Superstar Arrogate, who is headed to the Group I, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 25, again received all of the first-place votes in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll (first-place votes in parenthesis):
- Arrogate (39)
- Gun Runner
- Shaman Ghost
- Lady Eli
- Unique Bella
This was the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll from a year ago:
- California Chrome (24)
- Mshawish (7)
- Beholder (4)
- Frosted (3)
- Songbird (2)
- Mohaymen (3)
- Nyquist (1)
Not surprisingly, first-place votes were scattered in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. McCraken has managed to hold onto the top spot for the fourth consecutive week:
- McCraken (13)
- Gunnevera (9)
- Mastery (4)
- Unique Bella (8)
- Classic Empire (1)
- Gormley (1)
- One Liner
- J Boys Echo
- Practical Joke
This was the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll from a year ago:
- Mohaymen (23)
- Nyquist (13)
- Mor Spirit (2)
- Songbird (6)
- Gun Runner
- Mo Tom
HALL OF FAME DROPS THE BALL AGAIN
A great injustice continues in 2017. For the fifth straight year, Rags to Riches has not been included on the Hall of Fame ballot by the Nominating Committee. Rags to Riches won the 2007 Belmont Stakes, the first filly to win that race in 102 years. Even though Rags to Riches stumbled at the start and had a wide trip in the Belmont, she beat a future two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer in Curlin.
Rags to Riches made only seven career starts, yet she still managed to win more Grade I events than Genuine Risk and Winning Colors, the other two fillies to have won a Triple Crown race in the last 37 years. Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988 both captured the Kentucky Derby.
Genuine Risk, who won a total of two Grade I races during her career, and Winning Colors, a three-time Grade I winner during her career, both are in the Hall of Fame. Rags to Riches, a four-time Grade I winner, has yet to even appear on the ballot.
Those the Nominating Committee deemed worthy of being on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot are three Thoroughbreds (Gio Ponti, Goldikova and Kona Gold), five jockeys (Robby Albarado, Javier Castellano, Victor Espinoza, Garrett Gomez and Craig Perret) and three trainers (Mark Casse, John Shirreffs and David Whiteley).
From the 11 finalists, a maximum of four with the highest vote totals – provided they receive major approval (50.1%) of the voting panel – will be elected to the Hall of Fame this year. The 2017 contemporary inductees will be announced on April 24.
Congratulations to those who did make it onto the Hall of Fame ballot this year. I think they are worthy candidates, especially Shirreffs. But the fact that Rags to Riches did not get onto the ballot again this year is beyond absurd.