By Seth Kochera
It was the last big weekend on the road to the Kentucky Derby, and the stars were out making their final tune-ups for the big one.
In Lexington, it was Keeneland’s premier Derby prep, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 1). Perhaps the race’s biggest headline was made before the race, when it was found out that Champion Hansen (Tapit) had his tail dyed blue. Both owner and trainer were in the stewards’ office before the race to discuss the matter, and Hansen’s tail was white again before post time.
The connections of Hansen, despite their plan being thwarted before the race, had another surprise in the paddock. They had three girls in white dresses with blue tail-feathers, so they still got to use the blue tail idea.
The race itself was extremely exciting. The Champ, in spite of all the excitement earlier in the day, raced out to an early lead and repelled a challenge from Gung Ho (Kitten’s Joy). He would not be able to hold off the fast closing Dullahan (Even the Score) late as that rival bested him by 1 1/4 lengths.
Dullahan recorded his second Grade 1 victory at Keeneland after winning the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (Grade 1) last fall. The half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner Mine That Bird (Birdstone) will be in the very wide open mix for Derby favoritism.
At Oaklawn Park, it was the $1 million Arkansas Derby (Grade 1), and trainer Bob Baffert launched a full scale invasion. He already had captured all the other major Derby preps run at the Hot Springs track this year, and this time the silver haired trainer’s runners did not disappoint.
Bodemeister (Empire Maker), breaking from the outside post, shot to the lead from the start. His stablemate, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint Winner Secret Circle (Eddington), loomed large entering the straight, but Bodemeister kicked it into high gear on his way to a 9 1/2 length romp with a very fast time.
Bodemeister will be another one to get serious talk of being the Derby favorite. He is also looking to become the first Kentucky Derby winner not to race as a two-year old since Apollo way back in 1882.
The weekend ahead features two graded stakes races for three-year olds. The Jerome Handicap (Grade 2), a one turn mile race at Aqueduct, seems unlikely due to its distance, to produce any Derby starters.
Keeneland’s Coolmore Lexington Stakes (Grade 3), is traditionally a last ditch effort for horses to pull in enough graded earnings to earn a starting spot in the Derby. The race produced its only Kentucky Derby winner in 1999 with Charismatic (Summer Squall).
This year it appears that the Lexington will probably not produce a starter in the Kentucky Derby. Its winner’s share of $120,000 will most likely not be enough to give any of the starters sufficient graded earnings to make it. This year will possibly produce a record high for graded stakes earnings needed to crack the Derby field.
Talk Pedigree to Me: Dullahan
Dullahan (Even the Score) vaulted his name up close to the top of Derby contenders with a powerful stretch run in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1). At two, he failed to win in his first three starts, all maiden races. He was able to garner a stakes placing at in the With Anticipation Stakes (G2) on the grass at Saratoga before winning the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. He closed the season with a fourth place finish in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). In 2012, he started the season with a second in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) on the Gulfstream lawn before his Blue Grass victory, so he now has two career wins both in Grade 1 races at Keeneland.
He is by the Unbridled’s Song stallion Even the Score. Even the Score is the sire of 10 stakes winners, including Grade 1 Winners Take the Points and Dullahan. He himself showed the ability to win at over 1 mile, and his son Take the Points collected his biggest win at 1 1/4 miles in the 2009 Secretariat Stakes (Grade 1). Even though his progeny’s average win distance is below 7 furlongs, he has shown the ability to get a big horse that can win at the top level at 1 1/4 miles.
The dam of Dullahan is the unraced Smart Strike mare Mining My Own. She is most famous for producing 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner Mine That Bird (Birdstone), who was also the Champion Two-Year Old in Canada. Obviously, this family has shown its ability to get a horse to go the Derby Distance.
There shouldn’t be a question to if Dullahan has a Derby pedigree. His sire has shown he can get top notch runners at 1 1/4 miles, and he is a half-brother to a Kentucky Derby winner. Game. Set. Match. You have a legit Derby pedigree.
Top Ten Derby Horses (Week 9)
1. Union Rags
The son of Dixie Union had a nice workout at Palm Meadows down in Florida last Thursday.
The son of Empire Maker was extraordinary in his huge score on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
3. I’ll Have Another
He is very much a legit contender after beating the best colts the West Coast had to offer.
The undefeated colt gives Winstar Farm a great chance at their second Derby in three years.
He put forth a visually impressive stretch run to blow by The Champ deep in the stretch.
6. Creative Cause
Despite one win in three starts this year, he’s still very much in the mix for Derby favoritism.
The Champ couldn’t quite go wire to wire in the Blue Grass, getting caught late in the stretch.
8. Secret Circle
Ran a nice race in the Arkansas Derby, but he was far and away second best to his stablemate.
9. Take Charge Indy
Could Calvin Borel do it again? He certainly always has a chance no matter who he’s riding.
10. Daddy Long Legs
He is still planning on making the trip to Churchill Downs, unlike his stablemate Wrote
Keep an eye on: Daddy Nose Best, Alpha
Dropped from the list: Prospective
4/21/12 – Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G3) (1 1/16 miles, Keeneland) $200,000
4/21/12 – Jerome Stakes (G2) (1 mile, Aqueduct) $200,000
Last Week’s Races:
4/14/12 – Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) (1 1/8 miles, Keeneland) Winner: Dullahan
4/14/12 – Arkansas Derby (G1) (1 1/8 miles, Oaklawn Park) Winner: Bodemeister