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By Steve Davidowitz | It is not unusual for upsets to occur in rich prep stakes that lead to the Kentucky Derby; it happens every year. But that should not diminish the importance of the two upsets that took place this past weekend in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday or the $1 million Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on Sunday.
Take Charge Indy is headed to the Kentucky Derby…
No doubt, the third place finish by UNION RAGS at Gulfstream Park on Saturday shocked legions of horseplayers who jumped all over this horse as a surefire winner of the Kentucky Derby after he easily won the Fountain of Youth Stakes last month. But there were cautions even then.
As pointed out in this space, the Fountain of Youth was an empty race after ALGORITHMS scratched due to an injury and the speedy DISCREET DANCER was unable to hold his form on the far turn after setting a modest pace. (Discreet Dancer subsequently has been taken out of training for minor repairs and a possible re-start to his 3-year-old campaign sometime this summer.)
Beyond the hype that surrounded Union Rags, his narrow defeat to HANSEN in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall also raised a couple of questions:
Would he be able to handle tough competition?
Would he be limited somewhat when the distances increased to nine furlongs and longer in the spring of 2012?
While many blamed the Breeders’ Cup defeat on the wide trip Union Rags’ endured that day, the simple fact is that the outer lanes at Churchill were faster than the inside lanes Hansen had to navigate.
Shifting our focus to Saturday’s Florida Derby performance, most of the same people who stated before the race that Union Rags was “ready to explode,” “ready to put on a dominating performance,” were in a forgiving mood, saying after the race that he deserved to be given a free pass to the Kentucky Derby because he had a “terrible trip.”
Sure, Union Rags had no real path to improve his position while he was kept inside by other horses through both turns. But he did save ground on a track that was favorble to speed types and rail runners. Moreover, when Union Rags was angled out to make his best run through the stretch — at a point when he should have been coiled like a proverbial spring—he rallied only mildly and was unabable to catch or pass second place finisher, the extreme longshot, REVERON — even though Reveron had every right to be exhausted from his pace pressing efforts.
Instead, what we saw was a colt who lacked the stretch punch that will be on call in this year’s Kentucky Derby, a race already has several bona fide speed types who are likely to set the Derby up for the horses with the best late kicks.
The highly rated EL PADRINO ran a poor race in the Florida Derby and few could find any reason why. But if they checked the workout reports on my web site www.GradeOneRacing.com there were ready explanations. El Padrino simply did not work as well as he did before he won the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds last month. The caution flag was up!
Meanwhile, the Florida Derby winner — TAKE CHARGE INDY — is no one race fluke. He was second in the Grade-2 Arlington Washington Futurity at Arlington Park last summer and as a fifth place finisher in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he is now one of eight horses who have come out of that championship ‘key race’ with a victory in a stakes.
Moreover, Take Charge Indy is a son of two time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner TIZNOW and therefore is bred beautifully for distance racing. He also had trained superbly for this important contest.
Regarding Reveron, if he goes to the Kentucky Derby, he probably will add more speed to the field that already seems to be loaded with one dimensional types.
In the Louisiana Derby, the old saying that “pace makes the race,” accurately describes what occurred…
At least it led to the way HERO OF ORDER stayed in close contention to the sprinter COMISKY’S HUMOR for the first six furlongs and then helped him hold a narrow advantage over MARK VALESKI to the wire. While Mark Valeski ran well enough to go on to Louisville, the implications of this upset can be reduced to one salient fact: Should Hero of Order also go on to the Kentucky Derby, he promises to be just another speed type who will fill up many stalls in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
At the bottom line, this year’s Run for the Roses looks sure to have a red hot early pace which will favor the strongest stretch runners in the field.