Derby contenders run like pretenders

Derby contenders run like pretenders

January 09, 2019 3:00 AM


There were two lower level Kentucky Derby prep races run over the weekend. One at each of the Stronach tracks (Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park). Both involved major comebackers who, with a big effort, could catapult themselves into a serious, albeit early, Derby ranking.

Neither ran a step and both finished off the board at odds-on.

In the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Santa Anita, Code of Honor was making his first start since a huge runner-up finish to Complexity in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in October. He stumbled badly in the Champagne but gathered himself well and finished best of all at 14-1. That made him one of the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Unfortunately, he scratched on race day due to a fever.

In the Mucho Macho Man, at 4-5 odds, he never got out of second gear and finished fourth. He did not pass a runner at any point in a very dull effort. When you consider that the winner of the Champagne Stakes finished 10th beaten 20 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 5-2 odds, it might be a weak running of that important two-year old Grade 1 event. The race was won by Mihos, a James Jerkens trained $320,000 purchase. He ran well at 3-1 odds to win by a neck, but the 90 Beyer was just OK for this last-out maiden winner. 

Out west at Santa Anita, one of the dozen superstar three-year old’s for Bob Baffert, Coliseum, made his second career start after blowing the doors off a maiden field at Del Mar in November. The word on him was he had a ton of talent but was mentally behind. He was rumored to be difficult to handle in his recent training.

He broke a step or two slow and never got closer than fifth in the seven-horse field. It was a very disappointing effort at 3-5 odds. The winner of the race was the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Gunmetal Gray. He gathered up a spent field and rolled home in the lane with Mike Smith aboard. It was a decent effort but there was absolutely nothing in the race beyond the top two betting interests. He earned a weak 82 Beyer Speed Figure for his win.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has already produced three stakes winners. The show finisher, Signalman, won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. The seventh-place finisher, beaten nearly 20 lengths, returned to win the Jerome at Aqueduct. That certainly strengthens the chances of the winner of the Juvenile.

Game Winner easily dispatched of 12 foes to win his fourth straight (and third Grade 1). Game Winner will run twice before the Kentucky Derby and his owner, Gary West, has indicated they might take the American Pharaoh path through Arkansas and go in the Rebel (in March) and Arkansas Derby (in April) at Oaklawn Park.

Lecomte and Smarty Jones up next

The next two Kentucky Derby prep races are the Lecomte at Fair Grounds on January 19, and the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on January 25. Both look as if they’ll be full fields.

Speaking of Oaklawn Park, their meet begins on the 25th and runs through Thursday, May 2. This is the first time they’ve extended their race dates beyond the Arkansas Derby run in the middle of April.

In my opinion, Oaklawn Park has risen to the very top of must-follow racing. They do just about everything right. They have deep fields of high quality racing. They do not allow computer-batched betting into their pools and never delay post time in order to soak in more betting dollars. This handicapper, for the first time, will make Oaklawn Park a full-time investment.

Play of the Week

The play of the week comes in the first race on Thursday at Turfway Park. It is a maiden claiming race for a $7,500 tag. Coleaquilus gets the nod. He was at this level in his last race, a similar spot at TP where he was dropping in from a $30,000 tag at Churchill Downs. He missed the break badly but roared home to finish second by less than a length.

He’s missed the break in three of four career starts but passed better runners late in all three. Top level gate rider John McKee picks up the mount. If he breaks well, he could shoot away from this field. Coleaquilus has drawn the No. 3 post and is 5-1 on the morning line.

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