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Catching Up

I’ve just returned from beautiful Seattle and have been getting up to speed on everything I missed, racing-wise (here’s the short version: a lot). While I racked up a lot of Road to the Roses points, upon reflection I would probably have further shaken up my top ten – here’s the current version:

1) Pioneerof the Nile
2) The Pamplemousse
3) Friesan Fire
4) I Want Revenge
5) Quality Road
6) Old Fashioned
7) Chocolate Candy
8) Stardom Bound
9) Desert Party
10) Papa Clem

The main thing I would change would be to transpose the top two horses; I have a feeling I left The Pamplemousse in second place as something of an over-correction for him becoming one of my sentimental favorites this season. While Pioneerof the Nile has done nothing specifically wrong, I didn’t think much of his San Felipe win after finally watching it (and the Beyer was nothing to get excited about) – but in any case, finally seeing the two horses square off in the Santa Anita Derby may settle (for that moment) who is best in the West – things could be very different in Kentucky a month later.

The Tampa Bay Derby didn’t seem to shed much light on the Derby picture (except insofar as suggesting that Hello Broadway likely will not be a part of it); Musket Man’s victory was a nice return for his owners’ $15,000 investment, but I don’t see him moving forward to the big dance.

The real weekend drama, of course, was with Team Larry Jones – given last year’s Derby events, Old Fashioned’s effort in the Rebel cannot have been the most heartbreaking second-place finish they’ve ever gone through, but it certainly seemed to generate surprise in some corners. As mentioned last week, if I had to pick a favorite between his two trainees, that honor goes to Friesan Fire – but any horse can have an off day, and after chasing fast early fractions Old Fashioned clearly looked tired as Win Willy ran him down. Perhaps he just needs a strategy tune-up, but the effort, while remuneratively-rewarding, did not inspire confidence.

By contrast, Friesan Fire (pictured) seems to be checking all the Derby horse boxes rather emphatically. Getting better as spring arrives? Check. Faster finishing quarters? Check. Good whatever the weather? Check. Blowing away the competition as it improves? Big check. You can certainly argue the wet conditions in the Louisiana Derby were a factor in Giant Oak and the hyped Patena not really showing up, but Friesan Fire’s seven-plus length winning margin spoke of his total domination of the field. I like Papa Clem a lot (and have still included him in my top ten, despite the long distance back to his second-place finish), but he was no match for the winner. The other upside to Friesan Fire blossoming at the right time is that he gives his young jockey Gabriel Saez a chance to have a happier Derby day than he did last year – it wouldn’t be a bad story at all (and it would make it seem that he was lucky to remain on the B-team).

There is a bit of mid-week Derby trail action tomorrow across the pond; the Kempton Challenge guarantees a Derby berth for the winner (if they choose to make the trip). Mafaaz, Close Alliance and Spring of Fame are the only horses in the full 14-horse field thus far nominated to the (American) Triple Crown, but you never know where Derby Fever may strike.

Finally, is Channing Hill relocating to California to appear on a second series of ‘Jockeys?’ I’ve always thought he was rather telegenic. We shall see…

1 comment to Catching Up

  • dana

    I’ll miss Channing. My all time favorite Channing media moment was with with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at the Belmont.

    He asks Channing and Javier Castellano what they would be doing if they weren’t jockeys and answers for them “face it, you’d be baking cookies in a tree”. I still laugh when I think of that!

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