As we look at another tie at the top of the poll, one thing is clear: after the Fountain of Youth and Rebel Stakes winners, nothing is clear. After some very close races with Lookin at Lucky, Noble's Promise has slid into the third position in the Paulick Derby Index brought to you by Vinery LTD. And with Gotham and San Felipe winners Awesome Act and Sidney's Candy rounding off the top five followed by several other prep winners, it is clear the last round of Derby preps will give a significantly new look to our poll.
The most notable jump is obviously Ice Box, who went from complete obscurity after being routed by Eskendereya to winning the Florida Derby and ending up 10th this week. With the announcement of D'Funnybone's departure from the Derby Trail and one voter's willingness to give up on the promise of Eightyfiveinafifty, these two once top contenders have fallen completely off our top 20.
From the department of no fault of their own, American Lion has found his way back on the PDI while Jackson Bend continues his slow decline falling from 13th to tied for 17th. And the award for most literal horse name goes to Stay Put who, you guessed it, stayed put in 16th.
By Ray Paulick
John Ed Anthony was sitting on top of the racing world in the early stages of the 1993 run to the Triple Crown. The Loblolly Stable that he and his former wife operated had no fewer than five horses considered contenders for the Kentucky Derby, and there were comparisons to the mighty Calumet Farm in its heyday.
One by one, however, those Derby dreams fell apart. Marked Tree and a stablemate named Ozan disappointed in the Wood Memorial. Dalhart and Over Jack Mountain flopped in the Arkansas Derby. By the first Saturday in May, all that was left was a little gelding named Prairie Bayou, who a year earlier was ranked at the very bottom of the Loblolly 2-year-old prospect and was banished to the Aqueduct winter meeting while the others pointing for the Classics were sent to warmer climates.
But the son of Little Missouri rose to the occasion as the others carrying the Loblolly silks faltered. He won the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway (now the Lane's End), followed by the Blue Grass at Keeneland, and he was the 4-1 favorite in the 119th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Prairie Bayou finished a good second behind Sea Hero, a colt he'd easily defeated in the Blue Grass, but then rebounded two weeks later to win the Preakness. His run ended in tragedy in the Belmont Stakes, however, where he broke down and was euthanized.
The early season strength of Anthony's stable in 1993 came to mind in January of this year when it looked like Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm would hold a strong hand in the 136th Kentucky Derby. They had a graded stakes-winning trio that included last year's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Super Saver, and Delta Jackpot winner Rule, Hollywood Prevue winner American Lion, along with Drosselmeyer, an impressive allowance winner at Gulfstream Park in January.
One by one, however, those horses have come up short: American Lion in the Robert Lewis and San Felipe at Santa Anita, Super Saver in the Tampa Bay Derby, Drosselmeyer in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, and Rule in last Saturday's Florida Derby. Drosselmeyer gets a chance to redeem himself this weekend in the Louisiana Derby.
Rule's effort in the Florida Derby was most disappointing after his relatively easy victory at Tampa Bay in the Sam F. Davis Stakes in February—his fourth consecutive win. When Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth winner Eskendereya opted out of the Florida Derby to point for the April 3 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, it appeared to make Rule's chances to win at Gulfstream Park that much stronger. All that was left to beat was the European Group 2 winner Radiohead, who had taken a Gulfstream allowance in late February in his first start for trainer Rick Dutrow, allowance winners Ice Box and Soaring Empire, and seven colts whose only victories had come in a maiden race.
But Rule, after setting a quick pace pushed along by Pulsion (who did finish a good second to Lookin At Lucky in last year's Norfolk Stakes during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita), had nothing left in the final sixteenth and wound up third behind longshots Ice Box and Pleasant Prince.
This was one of the weakest Florida Derby fields in recent memory. As a result, I can't put the winner, Ice Box, a Pulpit colt trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Nick Zito, any higher than 10th on my list of current Derby contenders. I hold out little hope that Rule will be a serious factor at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. As for the rest of the WinStar prospects, we'll have to see how they race and/or train up to the Kentucky Derby.
1. Eskendereya. Next up is the Wood Memorial. His stock improved when the horses he soundly defeated in the Fountain of Youth came back to run one-two in the Florida Derby.
2. Lookin At Lucky. Bob Baffert abandoned plans to return to Oaklawn Park with the 2-year-old champ to reprise his Rebel Stakes win in the Arkansas Derby. He also dropped the Wood from consideration (after Eskendereya became the favorite there). He'll stay at Santa Anita and point for the Santa Anita Derby on the same day as the Wood.
3. Noble's Promise. Trainer Ken McPeek is due for some good luck at Oaklawn Park, where the colt goes next in the Arkansas Derby after suffering a tough loss in the Rebel. McPeek still probably remembers the tough-luck loss suffered by Take Charge Lady at the hands of Horse of the Year Azeri in the 2003 Apple Blossom Handicap.
4. Dublin. Can't count D. Wayne Lukas out when he's got a 3-year-old with talent. I won't put that much stock in his final prep, because Lukas has his eyes on the big prize.
5. Discreetly Mine. Goes this weekend in the Louisiana Derby, where I think he'll win. He'll have to turn in a strong performance to move up into more serious contention.
6. Conveyance. Bound for Sunland Park, where it will be tough to get a read on him.
7. Awesome Act. With Eskendereya in the Wood, he'll get a strong class test that could confirm his quality.
8. Sidney's Candy. He'll have a hard time getting away with the same fractions next time out, and certainly won't find things that easy on the front end in the Kentucky Derby.
9. Odysseus. Hard to believe trainer Tom Albertrani will bring him to the Kentucky Derby off such a light schedule and seven-week layoff. Another that needs to be tested for class.
10. Ice Box. Finished strong to win the Florida Derby narrowly over Pleasant Prince, but I don't think he beat very much. If he goes straight to the Kentucky Derby, he'll be 30-1 or higher.
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