Sunday, January 11, 2009

*111 Days until the 2009 Kentucky Derby*

111 Days until the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

This is part 1 in a 5 part series!
With just 111 days left until we experience “The most exciting two minutes in sports”, there are a few questions that need to be asked. What is interesting is that the answers will not come from humans, (well there will be some that come from humans) but most of the legitimate answers will come from the actions of the upcoming equine superstars of tomorrow. The new generation of thoroughbreds will have some large shoes to fill, but after watching the 2 year old races at the end of 2008 and seeing the few races that have kicked off during the beginning of 2009 there may be some that stand up and give indication that they are ready to fill those shoes.
We will start with a question that a human can actually answer. The question is “Where will you Prep”? There are a number of options, and there are no rules that state that if you start with a prep race at one track that you have to stay at that track. For example, many may remember the trouble that Hard Spun had at Oaklawn, he labored through a 4 panel workout, many may remember that Larry Jones stated that Hard Spun came back breathing pretty hard after that workout. There is more to read into this statement and the subsequent 4th place finish in the Southwest Stakes. Some may remember the ice storm that hit the Hot Springs, Arkansas area where Oaklawn Park is located. This caused a number of issues with track maintenance which caused the track to play deep for the early part of the season. After the running of the Southwest in which he was a beaten favorite Hard Spun was sent to Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky. There on March 24th, Hard Spun scored his fifth win in six starts with an impressive 3¼-length victory in the Lane's End Stakes in a strong time of 1:49 2/5 for the 1⅛-mile event. At that point it was thought that Hard Spun would run in the Blue Grass Stakes which would give him 3 preps but Larry Jones decided to skip that race and go directly to the Derby where Hard Spun finished 2nd to Street Sense.
When thinking about the different routes that are available to a Trainer when prepping for the Kentucky Derby there are a number of routes available. The most prominent are:
California, Santa Anita – San Rafael, Sham, Santa Anita Derby
Kentucky, Turfway & Lexington– John Battaglia,Lane’s End, Bluegrass Stakes
New York, Aqueduct – Count Fleet, Gotham, Wood Memorial
Arkansas, Oaklawn – Southwest, Rebel, Arkansas Derby
Florida, Gulfstream – Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby
Louisiana, Fair Grounds – Lecomte, Risen Star, Louisiana Derby
So what exactly would you do, when you think back to the last few winners of the Kentucky Derby, Big Brown prepped in Florida, Street Sense prepped in Florida and then in Kentucky, Barbaro prepped in Florida, 2005 Giacomo prepped in California and 2004 Smarty Jones prepped in Arkansas. The thing to remember is that the best horse doesn’t always win the Kentucky Derby. When you go forward and consider that some trainers do very well getting their horse ready for 1 race especially, that gives indication that it may have been the horse that was best managed coming up to the Derby. So the location where a horse preps maybe more important that anyone would even think. If a horse is going to prep in Florida or New York, you can imagine that the top ranked three year olds will be there and your horse will have to be ready to give his best in these races. This is important because a horse has to have enough graded earnings to get a spot in the Derby starting gate. You do not want to have the best horse sitting in his stall at post time on the first Saturday in May.
The connections of the top Derby candidates: Vineyard Haven, Midshipman, Old Fashioned, Square Eddie, Pioneer of the Nile, all have decisions to make, the connections of Old Fashioned have made the decision to send him to Arkansas’s Oaklawn park at the end of January to start his trek to the Derby in the Southwest Stakes. This race which is run this year on February 16th at 1 mile. If things work out he’ll move forward to the Rebel Stakes and then the Arkansas Derby. The other connections have intriguing decisions to make. Vineyard’s Haven and Midshipman will prep in Dubai, which most feel will put them at a considerable disadvantage. Square Eddie and Pioneer of the Nile’s connections also have very intriguing decisions to make also, that decision is to prep on the synthetics or to travel to find some Dirt. The Kentucky Derby is a race that is still held on conventional Dirt, and most trainers realize that they need to get their horse a prep race on dirt. The example of Colonel John gives an indication that a horse was put at a substantial disadvantage because his connections did not give him the Derby “Dirt” prep before walking him over to the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Eoin Harty decided that he would send his horse to Kentucky a few weeks before the Derby the horse had a difficult time during the first part of the race and then came on to finish a credible 6th. In most opinion had the horse had a conventional Dirt prep, he possibly would have fared better. This can be validated by his hard fought win in the Travers Stakes later in the year. It is quite possible that this year could see a different attitude in the way that horses will prep going forward coming out of California. The synthetics put the horse in a position where he may or may not be comfortable in his first start on dirt being the most difficult race in the world to win. Sometimes the questions that are asked should truthfully be asked of the horse and not the trainer. Sadly the horse can’t tell you what he needs; he has to show by the way that he trains over the surface how he will respond during a race. Sometimes the way that the horse trains still doesn’t give you enough feedback on how he will do during the race. For the benefit of the horse it would seem that it would be best to bring the horse east to let him get a taste of Dirt racing, but some feel there is no need for that. It can at times have an effect on how the horse performs, so the question is: With 111 days left to Kentucky Derby 135, which route will you take, and will it be the synthetics or Dirt.
There are more questions that need to be asked in the 2nd installment of this topic we will discuss whether the distance of the prep races has any affect on how a horse moves forward.

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