After his win in the Holy Bull Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4, the undefeated Irish War Cry shot to the top of many Kentucky Derby contender lists, but I’ll probably be playing against him in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII).
Below is a horse-by-horse look at one of this weekend’s biggest Kentucky Derby preps:
HURACAN AMERICO (50/1)
Fair Odds: 75-1
Peruvian import captured the 2,400-meter Clásico Derby Nacional at Hipódromo de Monterrico on Nov. 6 and I suspect the son of Drosselmeyer will be up against it this weekend. To begin with, his raw time in the Clásico Derby Nacional was nothing to write home about.
Granted, dealing with raw times can be tricky, but a glance at the internal fractions of that race suggests that Hipódromo de Monterrico is reasonably fast (or at least it was on Nov. 6), making Huracan Americo’s clocking of 2:34.42 (about 2:35-1/5 for 1 ½ miles) look that much worse on paper. (For perspective, consider that the slowest winning time in the Belmont Stakes over the past 90 years was 2:34 by High Echelon over a rain-soaked Belmont Park in 1970 — and that is still about 6 ½ lengths superior to Huracan Americo’s time.)
Fair Odds: 9-2
A lot of folks felt that, had he not been checked on the turn for home, Gunnevera would have defeated Irish War Cry in the Holy Bull.
A lot of folks are crazy.
Once out of trouble, Gunnevera lost ground to the Holy Bull winner down the lane and never looked a threat, though he easily captured second from a tiring Classic Empire. Saturday is another day, however, and with a stronger projected pace (-6 early speed ration), the Antonio Sano trainee could be a much bigger factor this time around. Still, I have a feeling his odds will be suppressed based on the fact that he had a rough trip last time.
Fair Odds: 50-1
After an out-of-the-money finish in an ungraded, restricted stakes race for three-year-olds, the connections of Quinientos take the logical next step by tossing their $50,000 weanling purchase into a Grade II event for Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
All snarkiness aside, this is a really tough spot for a gelding that seems moderately talented at best.
TALK LOGISTICS (20/1)
Fair Odds: 25-1
I think this guy has severe distance limitations — his breeding and late speed rations are both suspect — leading me to believe that his best chance at victory on Saturday is on the engine. Whether his connections think the same is an open question.
Fair Odds: 12-1
His versatile running style is a huge plus, although he’s going to need to find another gear to get the job done on Saturday. Not without hope, but I think his morning line odds are way too low.
PRACTICAL JOKE (3/1)
Fair Odds: 3-1
This dude is no. 5 on my Derby Dozen list and makes his three-year-old debut on Saturday. Although he likes to come off the pace, I have a sneaking suspicion he will be much closer in the early stages of the Fountain of Youth than many believe — and that makes him a big threat to pose for pictures in the winner’s circle if, as I predict, there is a reasonable early pace in the race. While he hasn’t run as fast as Irish War Cry yet, normal development since his last try in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile puts him squarely in the frame.
THREE RULES (12/1)
Fair Odds: 9-2
After winning his first five starts by a combined 31 lengths, this son of Gone Astray was chopped down to size in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, where he finished a well-beaten sixth.
However, after a decent effort in his subsequent start (the Grade II Swale Stakes on Feb. 4), he should be ready to roll in Saturday’s Gulfstream Park feature. The colt’s trainer, Jose Pinchin, is just one for his last 36 with horses making their second start off of a layoff, but at least Three Rules has run well enough to win a race of this caliber. He’s a contender at what should be a fair price.
IRISH WAR CRY (3/1)
Fair Odds: 3-1
As regular readers know, I’ve been high on this colt since his debut and was particularly bullish (I apologize in advance) about his chances in the Holy Bull (now you see the reason for my apology). On Saturday, however, I’m going to take a stand against the son of Curlin.
Look, I continue to believe that trainer H. Graham Motion’s pupil is a force to be reckoned with, especially since it appears that he still has some growing up to do, but successful betting entails that one be aware of the tradeoff between probability and profitability.
At 4-1 against inferior competition and a desirable pace scenario in the Holy Bull, Irish War Cry was an empty-your-wallet kind of play… but the same does not hold true this weekend. While I don’t think that he needs the lead to win, the fact is Irish War Cry has not yet faced the kind of early pace he is likely to encounter in the Fountain of Youth and, while that does not eliminate him as a contender, it does make me less enthusiastic about his chances — especially at a short price.
MADE YOU LOOK (10/1)
Fair Odds: 12-1
Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez have been winning at a 41 percent rate over the past two months, but this guy is a really tough call against these.
His speed figures are rendered somewhat moot by the pace numbers he’s been recording, but — and this is the rub — he has never raced on the dirt before and his late-closing style is clearly conducive to the green (which is probably why he has spent his career to date on the lawn).
He has talent and may be worth a buck or two in the event of a pace meltdown, but I’d insist on a price.
Fair Odds: 10-1
Son of Bernardini from the powerful Shadwell Stable looks like the early pacesetter. Based on his debut effort, he has a shot to go wire to wire, but bettors will need to find an excuse for his last — maybe the muddy track? — in the Jerome (GIII) at Aqueduct, where he was beaten by 39 lengths.
LOOKIN FOR EIGHT (20/1)
Fair Odds: 20-1
Mark Casse takes over from Michael Tomlinson as the trainer, which is a plus (at least statistically speaking), but this is a very ambitious spot for a horse that has subpar speed and pace figures. Casse’s going to need to move him up — a lot.