Vinery LTD presents the Paulick Derby Index: East, West or in Between?

by | 04.10.2012 | 11:23am

Last year, the winning path to the Kentucky Derby was a short drive down I-71 from Florence, Ky., to Louisville.  Animal Kingdom's victory in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park propelled him to Churchill Downs glory on the first Saturday in May. 

If recent history is any indication, this year's winner may come from farther afield.  Not since 2000-2001 when Fusaichi Pegasus and Monarchos both came out of the Wood Memorial has the same prep race – or same prep state for that matter – produced the Derby winner in back-to-back years.  In 2012, the map looks pretty wide open, with strong contenders emerging from races in New York, California and points in between.  Once again, making comparisons between the final preps looks to be a significant challenge, considering the different surfaces and how they've been playing.

In New York last weekend, Gemologist and Alpha dueled to the wire in a Wood Memorial that came back with a slow final time (1:50.96) over an Aqueduct surface that was producing slow times all day, in part due to a strong headwind on the backstretch.  A half-hour later, 3,000 miles away, I'll Have Another nosed out Creative Cause in 1:47.88 for the same 1 1/8-mile distance over a Santa Anita track that has been consistently fast.  It's hard to say which race will turn out to be better, but all four of those runners should be legitimate threats come May 5.

I'll give the edge to Gemologist and Creative Cause.  While Alpha had some early trouble in the Wood, he appeared to have Gemologist dead to rights in deep stretch and could not get past.  Gemologist looked like he was well within himself approaching the wire – even gawking a bit like a still-learning colt.  Still, he re-engaged late to fend off his rival, galloping out strongly past the wire.  Being a January foal with some nice Classic influences on the dam side, the undefeated son of Tiznow could be a handful if he continues to move forward as he has with each race so far.  But those backing Alpha heading into the Wood surely aren't crying in their beers over his performance, either.

In the Santa Anita Derby, Creative Cause showed off his swift turn of foot heading for home, but the first-time blinker-less colt still seemed a tad green in the stretch, allowing the charging I'll Have Another to get up by a nose.  In the immediate aftermath of the race, Harrington said the blinkers would remain off for Creative Cause because the colt was more focused without them and still has “a lot left.”  I'll Have Another never stopped coming in the lane, a positive sign for the lightly-raced colt as he heads to Kentucky. 

In the Heartland Saturday, Done Talking probably punched his ticket to Louisville with a strong closing effort in the Illinois Derby.  I say “probably” because, geez, the 2012 graded earnings list is a whopper.  Usually, about $200,000 gets a horse into the Derby field, but this year, the cutoff could be $250,000 or higher.  Luckily for the bubble horses, some of the main contenders in the next round of preps are already in the top 20, and a few of the current top 20 look to be pointing elsewhere.  While the Beyer Speed Figures came back at 94 for the Santa Anita Derby and 98 for the Wood, Done Talking registered an 85.  By that measure, he's not a serious threat at this point, but his late-running style won't hurt if the Derby falls apart.

This Saturday's $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes looks an intriguing puzzle, with the likes of Hansen, Dullahan, Howe Great and Prospective in the field plus a few lesser-known hopefuls who might surprise, including Holy Candy, Scatman, Russian Greek, and Heavy Breathing.  While Hansen doesn't need the graded stakes earnings, an impressive Blue Grass win could help make him the favorite on Derby day.  It's entirely possible the top three finishers from the mother of all key races – last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile – could be the top three betting choices in the Derby.  Incredibly, it appears eight or nine of the 13 runners from that race will be in the Derby field, including fourth- and fifth-place finishers Dullahan and Take Charge Indy, plus Alpha, Prospective, Daddy Long Legs and possibly Optimizer.

In Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby, Secret Circle looks for a sweep of the top Oaklawn Park preps after victories in the Rebel and the Southwest.  He could face a tall order against his Bob Baffert stablemate, Bodemeister.  Bodemeister has been sizzling in workouts after a second-place finish to Creative Cause in the San Felipe – just his first start against winners.  While Secret Circle is safely in the Derby field with $470,000 in graded earnings, Bodemeister has just $60,000.  The math is obvious.  Other runners making a last bid for a Derby spot include Optimizer, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee who finished second to Secret Circle in the Rebel.  Sabercat has enough Derby earnings, but the Delta Downs Jackpot winner looks to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 debut in the Rebel for trainer Steve Asmussen.  

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