By Ed McNamara
The potential field for the 147th Kentucky Derby has been sorting itself out for months, and Saturday should fill in many of the blanks. It’s the biggest day for preps — the Wood Memorial from Aqueduct, the Blue Grass from Keeneland, and the Santa Anita Derby. Each offers 100, 40, 20 and 10 qualifying points to the first four finishers, respectively, and a win or a second will get you into the gate May 1 at Churchill Downs.
It’s also a crucial day for the fillies trying to make the 147th Kentucky Oaks on April 30. The Gazelle (Aqueduct), Ashland (Keeneland), Fantasy (Oaklawn Park) and Santa Anita Oaks also are worth 100, 40, 20 and 10 points to the top four.
Let’s see if we can cash some tickets on the 3-year-old boys and girls. My confidence is up after giving out a lucrative late pick 4 last Saturday at Gulfstream, where an even-money favorite, a 2-1 second favorite and two 5-1 shots produced a $427.60 return on a $48 play ($1 base bet). I bet it, and I hope you did, too.
Can unbeaten but untested Prevalence (6) continue Godolphin’s amazing hot streak? Besides owning young superstar Essential Quality, Sheikh Mohammed’s powerhouse just won the $12 million Dubai World Cup with Mystic Guide and a Kentucky Derby qualifier, the U.A.E. Derby, with England-based Rebel’s Romance.
If Prevalence can run first or second in the Wood, he’d improve Sheikh Mohammed’s chances to finally win one of the few international events that’s eluded him. He’s been chasing it since the Nineties.
Prevalence is 2-for-2 by a combined 11 1/2 lengths at 7 furlongs and a mile at Gulfstream. His pedigree (Medaglia d’Oro out of a Ghostzapper mare) says he should thrive at 9 furlongs, but he’ll be a short price trying to do something he’s never done — go two turns.
“We don’t know yet, but we hope Prevalence can handle the distances his father did,” Godolphin USA president Jimmy Bell said. “Both his races were impressive steps, so that gives us confidence he can step into deeper waters.”
Maybe he can, but his speed figures don’t reflect the hype about him. I’m going with Chad Brown’s Risk Taking (4), who’s won twice over 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct, including by 3 3/4 lengths Feb. 6 in the Withers. He faces much better competition here, but his closing punch should give him an edge. Like Sheikh Mohammed, Chad is a world beater without a Derby win.
Picks: 1. Risk Taking 2. Prevalence 3. Weyburn
It looks as if Brown could run 1-2 in Aqueduct’s final Oaks prep. His Search Results (8) beat stablemate The Grass Is Blue (5) by 5 3/4 lengths last time in the Big A’s mile Busher Invitational. Expect a chalky Chad-Chad exacta.
Picks: 1. Search Results 2. The Grass Is Blue 3. Alwayz Late
He’s 4-for-4, can lead, stalk or come from far back, so Essential Quality (4) is a deserved Derby favorite. The injury to Life Is Good and the third-place finish by Florida Derby favorite Greatest Honour leaves Essential Quality alone at the top — for the time being anyway.
I can’t go against Brad Cox’s young star at a track where he’s already won two Grade 1s. He’ll be 3-5, maybe lower, so I won’t try to beat him, and I can’t bet him.
“He’s doing really well, and he seems to have improved from when he was a 2-year-old,” Cox said. “Everything has gone according to plan with Essential Quality and knock on wood we can keep it going for the next five weeks.”
Picks: 1. Essential Quality 2. Hidden Stash 3. Highly Motivated
The top two, at least on paper, are Simply Ravishing (3) and Malathaat (5), both coming off long layoffs. Simply Ravishing was 3-for-5 at 2, including a Grade 1 win at Keeneland, where she was a close fourth behind division champion Vequist in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. The other loss was to Travel Column, who’s turned into the leading 3-year-old filly.
Malathaat is 3-for-3 by a combined 10 1/4 lengths for Todd Pletcher, a 28% winner off breaks of more than 90 days.
My nervous vote goes to Simply Ravishing because of her superior class lines.kent
Picks: 1. Simply Ravishing 2. Malathaat 3. Will’s Secret
Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit (7) is 2-for-4, with both losses to sidelined stablemate Life Is Good, the consensus Derby favorite until he injured an ankle. The margin in their first meeting was only a neck, but last time Medina Spirit was beaten by eight lengths as Life Is Good freaked.
He looks like the short-priced class of the Santa Anita Derby, whose field swelled in the absence of Life Is Good. A bullet 5-furlong workout in 59 seconds should have Medina Spirit primed for a top effort. He also should benefit from surgery to correct a throat issue (slightly entrapped epiglottis) that likely compromised his breathing last time. He should give Baffert his record 10th win in the Santa Anita Derby.
Picks: 1. Medina Spirit 2. Rock Your World 3. Otto the Legend
Not surprisingly, Baffert also appears to have the top horse in the Oaks. Beautiful Gift (5) can stalk and close strongly and looks tough in a field of five. John Velazquez has a good chance at a stakes double on her and Medina Spirit.
Moraz (1) missed by a head against Beautiful Gift and again looks like her main rival. Javanica (4) makes her main-track debut in her seventh start after falling short by a head against males on synthetic in Golden Gate Fields’ El Camino Real Derby.
Picks: 1. Beautiful Gift 2. Moraz 3. Javanica
It’s a weak renewal of Oaklawn’s main Oaks prep, and there’s no standout. I doubt very much if it will produce the Oaks winner.
After starting 3-for-3 for Brad Cox, Coach (4) has regressed with three straight defeats. I’m interested in her stablemate Sun Path (6). She worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 2/5 on Saturday. I think Sun Path can handle Pauline’s Pearl (7), who ran second, only three-quarters of a length ahead of her, last time.
Picks: 1. Sun Path 2. Pauline’s Pearl 3. Coach
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.