By Greg “The Commish” Johnson
The Downey Profile
Revised 4:25 p.m. ET with announcement of withdrawal of Bayern
In what may very well be the best Kentucky Derby prep race so far this year, the hype surrounding the San Felipe Stakes starts with Bayern, but I think there's more than meets the eye in this race.
The Santa Anita strip this year has had a ridiculous speed bias, so let’s identify the pace, the stalkers, and the closers who may or may not make a dent in this fray.
Bayern jumped straight to the head of the class in the Derby futures after that paid workout where he won by a pole. After a couple of maintenance works, it’s time to jump in head first to his first real test. The speed horse in that allowance race walked out of the gate, leaving Bayern to hit the front and never look back. I do not envision Bayern getting the lead here, and the time is now for him to learn to stalk and pounce, as his trainer suggested was more his style of running when asked how he compared to Bodemeister.
I am a big fan of Bob Baffert, but I am also a huge skeptic of what a horse will do after a showcase romp against much lesser talent when they step up to stiffer competition and a hotter pace -- in which they may not be cruising on the lead. Sure Bayern could win this, as his future wager support suggests, but more times than not, these ponies can bounce a bit after something like that allowance win.
So what front speed are we going to see?
Sawyer’s Hill is a lightly raced maiden that has been prominent in both of his starts, which had plenty quick early fractions. He stretches out for the first time, jumps way up in class and has a couple of good-looking, stamina-building mile works that suggest he may be again contesting early. Martin Garcia, one of the best front end jockeys in the west, gets the call. Sawyer's Hill is in pretty deep waters but could make an impact by pushing anything else with ideas of trying to steal this.
I am also looking at Unstoppable Colby to be winging it early. It’s hard to find a moment in his five-race career where he passed another horse, and his lone win came wire-to-wire in a recent maiden race at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 20. He was not a contender in the race prior to that one, which was the Smarty Jones Stakes, and I’m trying to get past whether or not he is just a stable pony on the flight with Will Take Charge, who's running in the Santa Anita Handicap. You can never count out D. Wayne Lukas, but in this case, maybe you can.
The game plan for Midnight Hawk in the Robert B. Lewis appeared to be sitting right off stable mate Chitu from the get-go. But the latter charge was quite the gamer on his first route attempt, as was eventual winner Candy Boy. Midnight Hawk looked to be stuck down at the rail late in the race and didn’t give up much ground, running third by less than two lengths. Folks, Candy Boy's time of 1:41 4/5 was the fastest time I can find anywhere in the country for 3-year-olds on dirt, and that looms large on this strip, and for a horse of this caliber. This is the “other” Baffert horse who has been the odds-on favorite in each of his three career starts, and his trainer says we’re just going to let him run. He could be tough as nails if he gets the first run on them when they hit the stretch.
Home Run Kitten ran his best effort close to the lead in his maiden-breaker down the hillside turf course at Santa Anita. That kind of zip may translate into a forwardly placed position early, one which he did not acquire when running against Midnight Hawk and others in his dirt debut in the Robert B. Lewis. Even if he is prominent early, he looks like he will have difficulty in keeping up when they hit the far turn based on his most recent speed numbers run over this surface.
Yet another charge that could be in a log jam up front early is Kristo. When he broke his maiden on this strip last Halloween, he immediately stamped himself as an early west coast Derby contender. Talk in the Sadler camp had this guy as their number one charge, which bodes quite well when considering that stable also has Candy Boy and Kobe’s Back. But boy have things changed a lot in the last few months. Or have they? He is absolutely working gangbusters since running second to Midnight Hawk in the Sham on Jan. 11. Exit the only jockey he has ever known, Rafael Bejarano, and enter Joel Rosario. The Sadler/Rosario combo has been as good as any jockey/trainer combo over the years, no question. Rosario also has the call on Top Billing and Strong Mandate on the Derby trail. Maybe he just grabbed a nice mount while in town, but I think there’s more to it. Heaven knows the Baffert duo is going to get slammed at the windows, leaving this guy out there at a nice price. Tab for the upset special.
The Cal-bred California Chrome, straight off a romping victory against state-breds is working up a storm lately at Los Alamitos. These are unprecedented words for a Kentucky Derby contender. To his credit, he did smoke Tamarando in the California Cup Derby, and Tamarando came right back to take the El Camino Real Derby. The stalk-and-pounce style from his last two races could fare well if a swift early pace develops. His speed figures need to rise considerably if the competition decides to take a step forward from their recent efforts.
Schoolofhardrocks has been training steadily on this surface since Jan. 22, with connections probably pointing at this race for some time. He looks to be the closer if he fires fresh like he did in his debut at Del Mar back in August. That was a very nice win, breaking from the rail, spotting the field eight-plus lengths, then sweeping four wide to mow them down. That is not a typical way to win on that track breaking from the inside post, and it was quite impressive. This intriguing sort doesn’t lack confidence from his connections, who start his 3-year-old campaign here and now. He could sneak into those exotics at a huge price.
This will be the third race in six weeks for the maiden Rprettyboyfloyd, and his first two turn attempt. This $16K Keeneland September purchase has more than doubled that price tag in earnings thus far despite not having won yet. He lacked early speed in his three prior races sprinting, and he could still want to lay back and make one big run, or at least make that the game plan. Hungry connections want to get to Churchill Downs bad with this guy, but he will need to take a monstrous step forward on the stretch-out to make that a reality.
Recanted is rather ambitiously placed after a turf sprint where he was out of the money on Jan 16. Distance and surface should not be a problem for this son of Empire Maker, but when his trainer was asked recently about Bond Holder, and if he had any other potential Derby-type contenders in his stable, he said no, and with that I will have to pass.
PICKS FROM THE COMMISH
2. BAYERN (scratch announced Thursday afternoon)
3. MIDNIGHT HAWK
5. CALIFORNIA CHROME
On a side note straight from the home of The Commish, my wife’s favorite horse on the Derby trail thus far is California Chrome, and she also has a few bucks on him in Pool 2 of the futures. I thought I would pass that along “just in case.” GOT YOUR WINNER YET?
|1||Home Run Kitten (KY)||30-1||A. Quinonez||C||118||D. Hofmans|
|2||Unstoppable Colby (KY)||20-1||L. Saez||C||118||W. Lukas|
|3||Rprettyboyfloyd (KY)||12-1||C. Nakatani||R||118||D. Breuer|
|4||California Chrome (CA)||3-1||V. Espinoza||C||118||A. Sherman|
|5||Sawyer's Hill (KY)||30-1||M. Garcia||C||118||K. Mulhall|
|6||Bayern (KY)||SCR||G. Stevens||C||118||B. Baffert|
|7||Kristo (KY)||4-1||J. Rosario||C||118||J. Sadler|
|8||Schoolofhardrocks (KY)||8-1||J. Talamo||C||118||D. Hofmans|
|9||Midnight Hawk (KY)||4-1||M. Smith||C||120||B. Baffert|
|10||Recanted (KY)||20-1||M. Gutierrez||C||118||D. O'Neill|
All will run with Lasix. Schoolofhardrocks is first Lasix.
Owners: 1 - Tarabilla Farms, Inc. ; 2 - Zayat Stables, LLC ; 3 - Karl Pergola ; 4 - Coburn or Martin ; 5 - Red Castle Farms ; 6 - Kaleem Shah, Inc. ; 7 - Hronis Racing, LLC ; 8 - Amerman Racing, LLC ; 9 - Kitchen, Quenneville or Tice, Et Al ; 10 - Reddam Racing, LLC
Breeders: 1 - Kenneth L. Ramsey & Sarah K. Ramsey; 2 - WinStar Farm, LLC; 3 - Jeff Amling & Bluegrass Farm Partners; 4 - Martin Perry & Steve Coburn; 5 - Betz/Lamantia/CoCo Equine/Magers/Burns; 6 - Helen Alexander; 7 - Whisper Hill Farm LLC; 8 - Mrs. Jerry Amerman; 9 - Michael E. Pegram; 10 - Betz/Kidder/Nines Enough/Graves