With less than two months until the 2011 Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, the 3-year-old thoroughbred division is starting to take shape as we separate the legitimate contenders from the numerous pretenders. On Saturday racing fans were treated to solid performances from two serious racehorses, as well as a disappointing performance from a horse thought by many to be among the elite.
Uncle Mo, last seen in November crushing the field of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 4 1/4 lengths, returned to action in what for all intents and purposes amounted to a public workout in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream Park. The son of Indian Charlie was making his first start of the season for trainer Todd Pletcher, who opted for the softer 1-turn mile rather than bang heads with stablemate Brethren in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Despite being bumped at the start of the race, Uncle Mo wound up winning for fun in 1:36.56, drawing clear by 3 3/4 lengths. While the champ still clearly has the goods, there may be room for some concern as he’ll have just one additional start (presumably the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 9) before the Derby with which to prepare for the longer distances (and added turn) of the Triple Crown season.
As the evening progressed, another of Todd Pletcher’s purported contenders, Sam F. Davis winner Brethren, was sent to post assumed to be the class of the field in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Instead a pair of longshots in Watch Me Go (43/1) and Crimson Knight (86/1) handed the son of Distorted Humor his first lifetime defeat in what has to be considered a disappointing effort.
It wasn’t just that he got beat – he got beat after relatively pedestrian early fractions (:23.73 and :48.20) by horses whose class would not appear to stack up against the heavyweights of the division. Brethren had soundly defeated Watch Me Go by 5 lengths in the Sam F. Davis stakes on February 12. Like many, it looks like I may have wasted a spot in my Road to the Roses stable on Brethren.
As the saying goes, often we find that the best is saved for last – and that was certainly the case this weekend as attention shifted westward to Santa Anita for the Grade 2 San Felipe. Premier Pegasus, the horse that my good friend Tencent has been heralding as his Derby selection since last Fall, was absolutely brilliant in cruising to a 7 length victory over what appeared on paper to be a very interesting group of horses. In the process he likely stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby by virtue of picking up $150k in precious graded stakes earnings.
The son of 2000 Kentucky Derby champion Fusaichi Pegasus also served notice to Uncle Mo and the rest of the Derby contenders that there was a new face in town – and one that would appear to mean serious business.
The victory gives Korean-born trainer Myung Kwon Cho a chance to rise from the ranks of the relatively unknown to celebrity if he can continue to move forward and avoid any setbacks between now and May. Premier Pegasus may have benefited from a hot pace in the San Felipe (opening splits were :21.75 and :44.58, respectively), but when a horse makes an explosive move like that in the turn and then opens up a veritable can of whoop-ass in the stretch, I think you’d be wise to take notice and give serious respect.
PrePeg, as his fans call him, was 7 3/4 lengths ahead of the late closing Jaycito at the wire, stopping the timer in the 1 1/16 mile San Felipe at 1:41.23. He returned $16.43 for the win, as the betting public let him get away at odds of 7/1 at post time.
The PrePeg/Jaycito Exacta returned $24.30 and if you backed the good looking colt Bench Points on the bottom of the Trifecta you were rewarded with a payout of $201.60. Pace factor Comma at the Top rounded out a Superfecta that returned $935.10.
Coming up next weekend is the $300k Grade 2 Rebel Derby at Oaklawn Park. I may not have been posting as frequently this year for numerous reasons, but suffice to say the action this weekend has sparked the fire and I’ve done a bit of housecleaning this weekend as a result – including a new Derby Watch List page with rankings and race replays for the key Kentucky Derby prep races. I’ve attached a screenshot of my latest rankings below (just click on the table below for an easier to read full sized image).