Who cares if it’s only December? You can still pretend eggnog is really a mint julep or that Santa means Santa Anita Derby or that poinsettias smell like roses or that “Jingle Bells” sounds like “My Old Kentucky Home.” Come on, you can do it. Just close your eyes and envision the sights, sounds, and senses of spring.
OK, I just did…it didn’t work. Never mind. I was just trying to bridge that vast chasm that separates Thanksgiving and Christmas and prepare for the winter wasteland that follows.
Yes, I’m well aware that most people feel it’s too early to start thinking spring classics, but we may have already seen the favorites for the grade I Santa Anita Derby (Lookin at Lucky), Florida Derby (Super Saver), and Wood Memorial (Buddy's Saint). A bold statement indeed, but prefaced by “we may have,” as in we may have seen the next Triple Crown winner; we may have seen next year’s Horse of the Year; we may have seen the next great sire.
The fact is, Lookin at Lucky turned in one of the greatest losing efforts in Breeders’ Cup history, going extremely wide on both turns after breaking from the disastrous 13-post and still was beaten only a head in his first career defeat. Assuming, like all 2-year-olds, he carries his form over to 3, does anyone out there look like a better candidate to be favored for the Santa Anita Derby? The son of Smart Strike made a magnificent physical appearance prior to the Breeders’ Cup and has proven on a number of occasions he knows how to win.
Todd Pletcher normally runs his most brilliant 3-year-olds in the Florida Derby, and at this point, Super Saver, easy winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), appears to be his most brilliant 2-year-old. And he keeps improving with every start.
Remsen (gr. II) winner Buddy’s Saint already is in Florida, but trainer Bruce Levine has already targeted the Wood Memorial as his final Kentucky Derby prep. The son of Saint Liam has good muscle to him, but still has room for further physical development, and if he fills in over the winter he will be a physical presence.
As of now, the strongest Derby hand is held by WinStar Farm, who owns Super Saver, as well as Hollywood Prevue (gr. II) winner American Lion(trained by Eoin Harty), Delta Jackpot (gr. III) winner Rule (trained by Pletcher), and the impressive maiden winner Drosselmeyer (trained by Bill Mott). There ya go all you “Nutcracker” fans; there’s a nice Christmas name to get you in the right spirit.
Super Saver looked ready for a huge effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club after his strong pace effort in the Champagne, setting rapid fractions of :22 3/5, :45 3/5, and 1:09 2/5. Although he understandably got a bit tired in the stretch, he never quit and kept battling hard all the way to the wire, getting beat only two lengths for the win and a half-length for second. In his previous start, he won wire-to-wire by seven lengths over a sealed sloppy track.
He is a son of Maria's Mon , sire of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos . His dam, Supercharger, is a Phipps-bred full-sister (by A.P. Indy ) to major stakes horses Girolamo, Daydreaming, and Accelerator and to She's a Winner, the dam of grade I winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat . Supercharger’s dam, Get Lucky, a graded stakes winner by Mr. Prospector, out of Beldame (gr. I) winner Dance Number, is a full sister to Travers (gr. I) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Rhythm.
Dance Number’s dam is the great Numbered Account, making her a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Private Account, sire of Personal Ensign. In continuing with the Best of Phipps, Super Saver is inbred three times to Hall of Famer and Horse of the Year Buckpasser. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Rule, a son of Roman Ruler , is out of Rockcide, a half-sister (by Personal Flag) to Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. Rockcide represents a classic cross between the Phipps family and Darby Dan Farm, and Rule also is inbred to Buckpasser. Like with Super Saver, there are no question marks about him getting a classic distance of ground.
You don’t expect WinStar to have a group of classic hopefuls without at least one of them being by Tiznow do you?
American Lion is by the dual Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner. His second dam, City Band, earned over $600,000, winning the Golden Rod (gr. II) and Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) and placing in the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) and Delaware Oaks (gr. II) among others.
Drosselmeyer was impressive breaking his by six lengths going a mile at Churchill Downs. He is by WinStar’s other big stallion Distorted Humor, out of the $732,000 earner Golden Ballet, winner of the grade I Santa Anita Oaks and Las Virgenes Stakes, as well as the grade II Santa Ynez and Railbird Stakes.
It is worth noting that WinStar (by itself or in partnership) has had at least one major contender in the last four runnings of the Kentucky Derby, starting a total of eight horses in those four years – Bluegrass Cat in 2006, Any Given Saturday and Cowtown Cat in 2007, Colonel John and Court Vision in 2008, and Hold Me Back, Advice, and Mr. Hot Stuff in 2009.
Early Derby Dozen
Actually, we’ll call it a baker’s dozen to get started with.
1-- Super Saver -- Talented, fast, outstanding pedigree; big score over the Churchill Downs track. Just needs to show he can rate off the pace.
2-- Lookin at Lucky -- His second in the BC Juvenile may have been the best performance of the year by a 2-year-old. His future is limitless.
3-- Buddy's Saint -- Beautiful-striding colt, push-button acceleration, bred to run all day. Needs to fill into his frame a little more.
4-- William's Kitten -- Spectacular move to win the off-the-turf Sunday Silence Stakes; ran big in Ky. Jockey Club and has two excellent efforts on dirt. Distance should be no problem.
5-- Dublin -- Champagne can be excused if he runs back to his Hopeful form.
6-- American Lion – He’s got the looks and the pedigree, but he still has some learning to do.
7-- Aikenite – Throw out the BC Juvenile; didn’t run that badly anyway on the Pro-Ride. Consistent closer, but female family will have to carry him if he hopes to get classic distances.
8-- Rule – He has a nice way of going and has the appearance of a class horse. He showed a lot of determination in the Delta Jackpot. Like Super Saver, it’s time to start rating off the pace.
9-- Vale of York – Godolphin will get another shot at developing a young horse in Dubai. Big question with him is the dirt, and he won’t get a chance to prove anything racing on Meydan’s synthetic surface.
10-- Piscitelli – Hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves for his huge effort in the BC Juvenile at 50-1. Despite being a stone closer in his previous starts, he set all the pace and was beaten only three-quarters of a length. Handles any kind of track and is bred to stay.
11-- Noble's Promise – Also ran big in the BC Juvenile after victory in the Breeders’ Futurity. Pedigree is loaded with speed on top and bottom, but tail-female line is all Darby Dan stamina, and he’ll need all of it to carry him 10 furlongs.
12-- Eskendereya – Still feel this is a top-class colt despite his poor performance in the BC Juvenile. Believe his Pilgrim victory on dirt is a better indicator of his ability.
12-- Get My Fix – Ran an excellent second in the Hollywood Prevue, but pedigree is not geared for 10 furlongs.
Other impressive recent maiden winners to keep an eye on in addition to Drosselmeyer are Maximus Ruler, Launch N Relaunch, Afleet Express, Silver Craft, Twirling Candy, Kettle River, Fly Down, Walking the Beach, and Quay Lime Guy.
And then there is Calder sensation Jackson Bend, who obviously is extremely talented, winning five in a row, including a sweep of the Florida Stallion Series. But there are serious questions regarding his ability to get classic distances. If he can continue his streak at Gulfstream he will have to be taken seriously.
Several proven stakes horses who need to rebound off terrible performances are Champagne (gr. I) winner Homeboykris, Futurity (gr. II) winner D' Funnybone, Norfolk (gr. I) runner-up Pulsion, and Hopeful runner-up Aspire. D'Funnybone can certainly be forgiven for running poorly on the synthetic surface, but he was beaten nearly 30 lengths, and that is lot of lengths to blame strictly on the surface. We'll see. It would be no surprise to see him bounce back. He looked too good winning the Futurity. Pulsion did have an excuse, having exited the BC Juvenile with a 3-inch wide, 3-inch deep laceration of the hind pastern.
Discreetly Mine, runner-up in the Champagne and Futurity, should have made the list, but definitely will be on the next one. This colt has a bright future, as does Soaring Empire, third in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) in only his second start. This colt has as star-studded a pedigree as your likely to see. Another horse coming out of the Iroquois is runner-up Uh Oh Bango, who came right back and nearly missed in the Delta Jackpot.
Tony Dutrow might have a good one in Winslow Homer, who was impressive breaking his maiden at Saratoga going seven panels and then romping by 12 1/2 lengths in a one-mile allowance race in the mud at Philly Park.
Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) runner-up Marcello is bred for the turf, but have a feeling he’ll handle dirt; worth a try to find out. Also, look for former Euro invader Radiohead to improve big-time off his seventh-place finish in the BC Juvenile; big question with him is distance.