by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick

Is it just me, or is this year's Triple Crown trail looking more and more like a Winter Olympics short-track speedskating race, with lots of false starts, problems with the racing surface, unpredictable results, and a narrow focus on two principals from the East and West.


In short-track it was Apolo Anton Ohno of the U.S. and Lee Ho-Suk of Korea who seemed to be in contention in every heat. In horse racing, it's the West's Bob Baffert and the East's Todd Pletcher getting most of the exposure.

There are no false starts in horse racing, but there have been several postponements due to weather, the Feb 27 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita being the latest of several races delayed this winter because of rough weather or bad track conditions. The Sham has been rescheduled for this Saturday, the same day the Gotham Stakes takes place at Aqueduct.

(Click here for the schedule of races leading up to the May 1 Kentucky Derby.)

The following weekend is when we should get a much better read on some of the top contenders, in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and Santa Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Of particular interest is the Rebel Stakes, where Baffert is pointing 2009 Eclipse Award winner and once-beaten Lookin At Lucky in what would be his debut on a conventional dirt track. All of his previous races have been on synthetics in California. Among his anticipated rivals is the Pletcher-trained Super Saver, winner of last year's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. Both horses will be making their 2010 debuts.

While Baffert has won three Kentucky Derbys and Pletcher is searching for his first, there's another trainer with a little Triple Crown experience who could have a say in the outcome of the Rebel. That would be D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Dublin, runner-up to the Baffert-trained Conveyance in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. The sage turf writer Bill Nack warned me not to overlook Lukas when he has a good one, and the son of Afleet Alex certainly has ability, as shown last year when winning the Hopeful at Saratoga and in his 2010 debut at Oaklawn.

The Tampa Bay Derby has developed into an important prep, too, and of great interest in that race will be Padua Stables Odysseus, winner of a Tampa Bay allowance last month by 15 lengths. The San Felipe will be a chance to sort out the West Coast's top synthetic runners, but it won't really answer any questions about their chances of winning on dirt at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report

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