Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stretching out in the Spiral and Sunland

This weekend’s prep races test wanna-be Derby contenders for stamina. Both the Vinery Spiral (G-2) at Turfway Park and the Sunland Derby (G-3) held in New Mexico, are held at 1 1/8 miles. We’ll see a separation between the milers and route runners.

Check out ThoroFan’s Handicapper’s Corner for a review of the VINERY SPIRAL by Derek Brown.


In the last eleven editions of the Sunland Derby, only one horse, Ruler On Ice, has made any noise in the Spring Classics. Ruler On Ice was third in last year’s Sunland Derby then later won the Belmont Stakes.

DADDY NOSE BEST (Scat Daddy - Follow Your Bliss, by Thunder Gulch) is the only entrant to have contested a race at 1 1/8 miles and he won the El Camino Real Derby, appropriately enough, by a nose. He is one of two stalkers in the speed-laden Sunland Derby.

Bob Baffert entered two colts in the race, the front running speedster Castaway and the stalking Stirred Up.

CASTAWAY (Street Sense - Priceless Storm, by Storm Cat) won the first division of the Southwest Stakes by over three lengths. The runners-up, Jake Mo and Reckless Jerry, placed fourth and tenth respectively in the Rebel (G-3). In retrospect, Castaway’s easy Southwest victory may not have been as good as it looked. This is likely why he’s in New Mexico rather than facing stronger horses elsewhere. Castaway is a slower maturing horse, but he has a good pedigree and should handle 1 1/8 miles. His dam is a half-sister to the graded stakes winners Master Command and Aurora Lights. The second dam is a full sister to the sire Lost Soldier and G1 heroine La Gueriere, dam of the top mare Icon Project and grand-dam of sprint specialist Munnings. Other top runners in this family include the top turf runner Honor In War, Al Mamoon and Super Derby hero Apart. Trainer Bob Baffert wins with 30% of his shippers.

Baffert’s “B” horse is the recent maiden winner STIRRED UP (Lemon Drop Kid - Summer Delight, by Quiet American). The farther they go, the better Stirred Up should like it. He’s a late maturing, stalking type and winds up here for a class test rather than facing tougher graded stakes runners elsewhere. Besides having stakes winning and stakes placed half siblings, Stirred Up’s distaff family includes Horse of the Year Havre De Grace, the multiple graded turf winning mare Riskaverse, Champion Sprinter Plugged Nickel (who incidentally won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial) and that one’s full sister, Stakes winner Toll Booth, who is Stirred Up’s third dam. As if that wasn’t enough blue blood, Stirred Up has a rare double “RF” (Rasmussen Factor inbreeding) to the blue hens Lassie Dear and Missy Baba, plus his sire and dam are both descended from the same distaff line, which is fairly uncommon in the US.

What would a Kentucky Derby prep race be without a Todd Pletcher runner? ENDER KNIEVEL (Distorted Humor - Ender's Sister, by A.P. Indy) switched to the star trainer’s barn this year and promptly won his maiden race by over seven lengths after the ultimate equipment change. With his mind now on racing, the gelding should improve with time and distance. Ender Knievel’s dam and her full brother Ender’s Shadow were hardy multiple graded stakes placed runners on the track. Ender Knievel may wind up contesting the pace with Castaway.

Local hope ISN'T HE CLEVER (Smarty Jones - Sharp Minister, by Deputy Minister)was beaten nine lengths in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. He clearly likes Sunland Park as he set a new stakes record in the Riley Allison Futurity at two and last month took the Borderland Derby by 1 ¼ lengths. By Kentucky Derby hero Smarty Jones, Isn’t He Clever has a deceptively nice pedigree. He’s a half-brother to the English Group 3 miler Dijeerr and multiple stakes winner Sharp Writer. Isn’t He Clever’s dam was unplaced in two starts, but she’s a full sister to the multiple graded stakes turf router Flag Down and a half-sister is stakes placed. Isn’t He Clever’s pedigree indicates that he should handle the 1 18 mile distance.

The pretty gray JUSTANOLDSONG (Unbridled's Song - Dontgetinmyway, by Machiavellian) has been working sharply after his 14 lengths drubbing by Isn’t He Clever in the Borderland Derby in only his second start. Justanoldsong’s ¾ brother is stakes placed Sinai and their dam is a half sister to multiple G-2 winner Even The Score. The second, third and fourth dams all own multiple blacktype and this is the family of Grade 1 winner Formal Gold and the top sprinter Noonmark. The Wolochuck barn wins 18% route races.

TEQUILA FACTOR (Pure Prize - Single Factor, by Mutakddim) hasn’t been within the same zip code as Isn’t He Clever in two starts over dirt. He’s facing tougher here. NO SPIN (Johannesburg - Dash for Money, by General Meeting) hasn’t finished in the money in four lifetime starts over the dirt.


Track Bias: One race has been held at 1 1/8 miles this meet and it was won by a stalker. Two of the last three editions of the Sunland Derby have been won by mid-pack runners. The last two races were won by horses who lit up the tote board.

The Sunland Derby sets up with plenty of speed. CASTAWAY and ENDER KNIEVEL may wind up trading punches on the lead. Not using him, which is probably a mistake, but he’s adding an additional furlong and shipping after a maiden win. ISN’T HE CLEVER should get a nice stalking trip behind the top two. He likes this track and could pull an upset. STIRRED UP shows signs of running a big one and Baffert is known for winning with his “B” horses. He breezed a bullet two works back and has the best late pace figure in the race. DADDY NOSE BEST has a win at this distance under his girth. He’ll be trying dirt for the third time in his career.

JUSTANOLDSONG is an intriguing longshot, given the last two surprise endings of the Sunland Derby.




#8 JUSTANOLDSONG – longshot pick