By Warren Eves
There’s a new shooter in the Derby race–and nobody saw it coming.
As soon as the field crossed the finish line in the Louisiana Derby I began my process of finding out why.
Anybody who spends enough time at this game of horse racing analysis knows how easy it is to overlook something.
About the only thing I had invested in the $1-million Louisiana Derby was a rooting interest. This grizzled veteran was hoping the lady with the new heart(Kathy Ritvo) would break out of her horrendous training slump with her best horse–Mucho Macho Man. When that colt who did everything right to win the Risen Star hung late and ran third I began my re-evaluation process. Pants On Fire was the surprising winner with Rosie Napravnik in the irons. And the way Rosie has ridden this winter I’d have to think we’ll see this female riding phenom riding this colt Derby Day. My oh my, can this female ride! Saturday, she won five of the 14 races.
With little fanfare, a Mineshaft colt named Nehro probably earned a spot in the starting gate May 7th at Churchill Downs–if he banks a little more graded money. That’s right, the colt with no graded earnings going in Saturday, was the one on the rail finishing strongest for none other than Steve Asmussen.
We went back to figure out how this could come about. We pulled up the replay of Nehro’s maiden score at Oaklawn Park back on Feb., 21st in Arkansas. After watching his 11th to first romp in a maiden special weight race I unders tood why Asmussen ran him in the Louisiana Derby. The colt deserved the shot off a MSW race that had been an impressive walk in the park. Outrun early on Feb., 21 and far back early Nehro made this huge sweeping run off the far turn and blew into a clear lead. Those of you who have followed Oaklawn Park over the past three years know that surface sets horses up nicely for big runs at other venues. We’re certain one Bob Baffert(The Factor) feels the same positive way about the Oaklawn Park main track surface when prepping for something bigger. If it were my call The Factor would make his final Kentucky Derby prep in the Arkansas Derby.
With Mike Baze aboard in New Orleans on Saturday Nehro saved every inch of ground riding the fence. He was fourth off the top. At one point early on in the stretch he was fifth. That’s when he kicked it in under mostly right-handed urging. On review of the head-on shot near the wire I have to wonder what the colt might have done with left-handed urging. Nehro finished up the best and nearly snatched Rosie’s biggest saddle payday. The margin was a neck. You never know, but I’d have to think there’s an up side here.
Asmussen has a fresh colt even though he’s done his best work in his last two starts. Both races were around two turns. It’s notable Nehro finished up well in both races. That $200,000 second place prize means Asmssen’s colt still can make enough dinero to move into the Kentucky Derby. The other options are the Preakness or the Belmont. Only Asmussen knows.
Early on the Fair Grounds’ card Saturday another highly touted sophomore was failing to move forward when trying two turns for the first time. Bind, bet down to 1-to-9, was run down by a Neil Howard-trained colt named Prime Cut. The winner, ridden by Edgar Prado, was timed in 1:41.20, one-fifth off the track record. So trainer Albert Stall, Jr., who never had the Kentucky Derby in mind with Bind, will give his colt some time to recoup and try him again. Prime Cut? Never, ever selll trainer Howard short. This colt surely improved and Howard has a lot of options with him other than the Kentucky Derby.
Notes scribbled across my official program–Big Blue Kitten took a field of $35,000 maiden claimers wire to wire on March 20 at Gulfstream Park. We have to wonder if trainer Chad Brown will be risking this daughter of Kitten’s Joy any time soon for that price. She broke clean, took the lead in hand, set the pace getting away with a 24.17 second quarter, and went strong thru the lane to win by 4-1/2 on the lawn. We went back to look at her debut on Feb., 21 to see if there were any indicators. She was rated in seventh early, lost ground to the leaders on the second turn, then when moved to the outside she finished gaining. She looks like a money-maker for her owner-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey………………….I remember when Iwas clocking out at Santa Anita Park. Clocker John Wilson kept claiming the poles on the turf course were not properly positioned. He based his claim on the internal fractions. I pay close attention to fractions, second quarters for sure, in route races. I’m beginning to wonder about the turf course at Gulfstream Park. Why are so many horses posting slow second quarters. That was the case in the 6th race on March 20. The tempo allowed close up early runner Waquoit’s Dance was able to slip inside late to win. We liked the run of first time starter Warm Hugs who was forced to lose ground all the way. Warm Hugs and Kent Desormeaux got the lead in the stretch and tired in the final 20 yards………………Carlos Guerrero is winning at 41% at Parx. Owner Marshall Graham stepped up and claimed Allrightsreserved last Novemeber at Churchill Downs. They ran Allrightsreserved back on March 1st. He was clear in the lane and got caught. On Tuesday, March 22nd they ran him in a protected starter race. He took a few strides to gain the lead. He set a measured pace while being pressed down the backstretch. Allrightsreserved got separation on the far turn and was clear in the lane to win geared down. I’d have to believe this 5-year-old gelding will make some money on the Pennsylvania circuit………….They tried rating the French import Estimate in his second start in Florida and it resulted in a positive run. John Velasquez anchored him early, saved ground the second turn waiting for room, rallied up inside, split foes and finished well to be second…………..Before Patty Sterling became an association clocker at Santa Anita she did right well with limited stock on her own. Before she took out her own trainer’s license she worked as trainer Ron Ellis’ assistant and we paid close attention to that barn. We mention this because when Ellis claims a horse it’s best to pay attention. He reached in and took a first time starter named Caffeine High from Bruce Headley March 17. If this horse doesn’t move up off his winning first run I will be surprised. Caffeine High was slow to leave the latch. Off last he was a bit green as he pulled Joe Talamo up 6th down the backstraight. They were locked in coming off the top of the stretch. Talamo found running room on the outside of the first flight and Caffeine High rallied while lugging in to win going away………………….Boy, what a job Gary G. Jackson has done with the 3-year-old filly named Sookie Stackhouse. Don’t know how he got her from former trainer Brian Pritchard, but all she had to show for three prior starts was a well beaten fourth at Calder Race Course at the maiden $16,000 level. Sookie Stackhouse, a daughter of Red Bullet, made her first start at Tampa Bay Downs for Jackson a winning one. Whe went in to brush a foe at the start and was ringy(in and out) crossing the gap while wide. At least six wide down the backstretch at Tampa Bay she wound up four-wide entering the turn. Sookie Stackhouse took clear command and was ridden briskly to the wire to graduate the ranks of maiden claiming by 5-1/2. One could have read between the lines that her new owner-trainer liked the filly. He entered her in a starter allowance. She got in the race because she had run for that $16,000 maiden claimer at Calder. So what does she do? She moves up eons. Sookie Stackhouse, despite being hung four-wide in fourth midway on the turn in the first March 23 at Gulfstream, rallied to win off again. Yessir, Gary Jackson has a filly that he probably is not sure what level she was wind up at………………..Those of you who have followed my commentary over the years know many horses don’t make my “Horses To Watch” list after scrutiny. There’s an old saying, “study long, study wrong.” That may be the case with Blue Solitude who failed to get close in a maiden $12,500 sprint March 23 at Gulfstream. He was slow early and had but one foe beaten early. Moving to the top he was well back and made some progress late but was still soundly beaten. The reason I kept looking at the race is this. After the race Blue Solitude galloped out nicely with the winner. So, he may be a horse who could show up at boxcars when they stretch him out. The winner of the race in question was Joltin Joe who took them wire to wire. Blue Solitude did not make the list. He may be nothing more than a “herd horse” who simply can’t run much…………….Can you say wow! Watched the Portland Meadows Mile and it was won in awesome fashion by a the Washington-bred Deacon Speakin’ shipping in from Golden Gate. Don’t know whether it was the track, or what it was, but the five-year-old gelding, 10 times second in 32 lifetime starts, roared from third to win off for fun. Veteran trainer Frank Lucarelli most likely sent him up and Steve Fisher was merely saddling him, but I don’t know that for certain…………….Gordon Bennett won off the “Horses To Watch” list at Gulfstream March 25 to pay $9.60, stepping up from a visually impressive maiden claiming win……………We keep a file on recent geldings so when Robbie’s War won at $17 at Santa Anita Wednesday we knew he was racing as a second time gelding…………..Is anybody keeping score? Have you seen enough of Santa Anita’s so-called racing secretary Mike “Ping” Hammerle’s racing product yet. Race after race there are four and five starters going to the post, and this guy had the audacity to go to a five-day raceweek?………………Round Trip Loner is one of the sharpest horses in the land. He won for the fifth time in six starts March 25 at Tampa Bay for trainer Ron Potts, Jr. The 3-year-old gelded son of Flower Alley broke his maiden last October at Delaware. He ran third at Laurel and shipped to Tampa where he won his first two starts. Potts shipped him to Gulfstream Park and he scored his third win in a row. So Round Trip Longer has four straight wins and the was he won March 25, who knows?………………Cagey Gerald Bennett is silently having another good year. Years ago when I was in Detroit to take in the horse races I became aware of this guy. He moves horses up. That’s the bottom line. On March 25 he ran the recent $16,000 claim Street Contender back in an allowace. He got way fourth then moved three-wide to the top and ran down the leader. This guy won 101 races last year. He’s worth following…………….Tuned into Raceday Las Vegas archived show for Saturday. Listened to Katie Mikolay reporting from the Fair Grounds and had to turn it off. Her rambling has been hard to endure this winter and hopefully management will find someone who knows what the job of a horse racing commentator is all about. Ms. Mikolay, simply stated, never improved her on the air game and brought zero to the table whenever we heard her……………….Bret Calhoun has the three-year-old filly Fast Tip on track to make a lot of money this summer. He got the filly from Marco Salazar and she won the first time Calhoun started her this winter in New Orleans–a 5-1/2 furlong dash on the lawn. He gave her plenty of time. Fast Tip came back on the Louisiana Derby undercard with Rosie Napravnik. She broke in to nudge a foe then raced second outside the larger framed leader to the turn. Second off the turn Fast Tip proved best late with only some right-handed taps from Napravnik’s crop. She galloped out well and Calhoun has a filly with many options………….We have a hunch jockey David Cohen left post one with Queen of the Lake. Hill was riding Those Lion Eyes. They bumped and brushed with one another making their way down the backstraight in a spirited pace battle. Those Lion Eyes cleared into the lane, had the look of a winner, but her early race antics caught up with her and she faded to second…………….Wilponi proved he wants to go long when he won off the “Horses To Watch” list Saturday, March 26 at Laurel with Ricardo Chiape. We believe he can win right back if they keep him at a route of ground……………Trainer Dane Kobiskie dropped Shoe Frank Marlene way down in class and went to lady bug rider Stephanie Kroger. The gelding won but let’s just say Ms. Kroger, riding with a 7-pound head-start, best make her money now. Simply stated, she simply can’t ride much. And then we have Rosie Napravnik who has shown the boys how to do it this winter at the Fair Grounds.