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Mar 16, 2009

Revenge is Sweeter than Wine

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Another race, another incredible performance. I Want Revenge became the latest in a long line of three-year- olds to run away and hide from the competition after romping to an 8 1/2- length victory in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Just one week after The Pamplemousse and Quality Road enhanced their status as major players on the road to the Kentucky Derby, the son of Stephen Got Even threw his hat into the ring with an equally dazzling display of speed and class.

The second choice in the nine-horse field hooked up with favored Mr. Fantasy almost from the get-go before pulling away at the 1/8 pole with the ease of a cheetah. Not only did I Want Revenge win by open lengths, he nailed his final 2.5 furlongs in 30 seconds flat, a feat not often accomplished on the inner dirt at Aqueduct.

After six consecutive races on synthetics, the March foal has seemingly found a new home on dirt and he'll stay in New York to await the Wood Memorial on April 4. A victory that afternoon would be his first at 1 1/8 miles and catapult him into the list of potential Kentucky Derby favorites.

As for the rest of the contenders, Mr. Fantasy struggled mightily to stay with I Want Revenge and his connections would be better served cutting back the son of E Dubai to one mile or shorter instead of continuing on the road to Kentucky.

Many experts were impressed with the second place finish from Imperial Council since his trainer Shug McGaughey had stated earlier in the week he didn't have the horse fully cranked for the race. Moreover, Imperial Council's breeding suggests he'll improve as the races get longer. The son of Empire Maker will undoubtedly garner a lot of attention in the Wood, but don't forget he was unable to gain any ground on the winner throughout the entire race.

HOW GOOD IS THE CALIFORNIA CONTINGENT?

I Want Revenge's dirt victory could have an immediate impact on the Kentucky Derby. The west coast colts have not had great success the last three runnings with just one horse, Brother Derek, picking up a check three years ago. In fact, the average finish position for the 13 California-based colts has been the unlucky number 13. But all that could change this year with the likes of The Pamplemousse, Pioneerof the Nile, I Want Revenge, Papa Clem and even Chocolate Candy seemingly bound for Kentucky.

Last year brought a new angle to the mix as synthetics replaced traditional dirt at all southern California tracks. Colonel John was the best of the west but could only muster a sixth-place finish to Big Brown. The "Colonel" became the poster child for the casual fan's negative view of synthetics.

True horseplayers, though, are well aware of the "fake" dirt to "true" dirt angle and I Want Revenge provided just another example of its success rate. California shippers also prevailed in the Borderland Derby (Scorewithcater) and the Turf Paradise Derby (Mayor Marv) and another victory could come this Saturday as Papa Clem moves from the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita to the dirt at Fair Grounds.

If Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse both take to real dirt, the sky is the limit for the talented west coast contingent.

WINNING THE BATTLE BUT NOT THE WAR

Another California-based three-year-old might have raced herself off the Kentucky Derby trail despite finishing first in the Santa Anita Oaks. Stardom Bound nosed out her competition at 2-5 odds after racing extremely wide at the top of the stretch, but the five-time Grade I winner will stay with her own kind in the Ashland Stakes and then the Kentucky Oaks.

With Stardom Bound apparently out of the loop, it looks as if Rachel Alexandra could be the lone filly on the Derby trail. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro dusted off her winter coat with an eight-length victory in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park last month, running a full second faster than her Old Fashioned did in the Southwest Stakes. It was the second straight race in which she finished faster than the colts

Rachel Alexandra ended her two-year-old season by winning the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in late November, completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43. It took Beethoven 1:44 to win the Kentucky Jockey Club two races later.

The January foal will be on display this Saturday in the Fair Grounds Oaks, on the Louisiana Derby undercard.

POOL 2 IS ON ITS WAY

This weekend marks the second installment of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. The betting windows will open on Thursday, March 12 and run through Sunday, March 15.

The "All Others" wager was the 9-5 favorite in the first pool, with Old Fashioned the favored single entry at 7-1. However, don't expect the "Field" to be favored in Pool 2, as the last month has provided the racing world with no less than four sparkling performances from the likes of Dunkirk, Quality Road, The Pamplemousse and I Want Revenge.

An important question to be answered in Pool 2 is how many of the new shooters will replace the colts no longer considered Derby contenders? With the likes of Capt. Candyman Can, Haynesfield, Midshipman, Notonthesamepage, Taqarub and This Ones for Phil expected to be removed as single entries, one can assume Dunkirk, Quality Road, Theregoesjojo, Desert Party, Take the Points and General Quarters will all be added into the mix.

Moreover, don't be shocked if Vineyard Haven is eliminated as well, with Imperial Council joining the list of 23. And what will happen to Stardom Bound? The filly was actually favored over 17 of the 22 colts in the first pool, but with her recent "stumble" in the Santa Anita Oaks, it's doubtful she'll even be pointed for the Derby. If the two-year-old juvenile filly champ is ousted from the list, then any one of six horses (Terrain, Mr. Hot Stuff, Mayor Marv, Al Khali, Affirmatif and Rachel Alexandra) could become the final entry.

This weekend's racing will also significantly affect the odds as four major prep races are on hand all across the country.

Old Fashioned headlines the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, as he continues his quest to become the next unbeaten Kentucky Derby champion. Pioneerof the Nile will be the odds-on choice out west against an overmatched field in the San Felipe. General Quarters looks for back-to-back wins down south in the Tampa Bay Derby, while Friesan Fire hopes to keep his winning streak intact in the Louisiana Derby.

Regardless of what takes place on Saturday, it is already clear that we are witnessing one of the deepest and most scintillating three-year-old crops this country has seen in quite some time.

WHAT TO WAGER?

At this stage of the game, I have been very impressed with the California clan, led by The Pamplemousse and I Want Revenge. (Pioneerof the Nile remains a key participant, but his off the pace running style might not be best suited for the Kentucky Derby.) Ken McPeek's Theregoesjojo is also high on my list.

Still, it's hard not to stick with Dunkirk.

After rolling to victory number two in mid-February, I immediately expected the world to jump on his back. However, with the recent outstanding performances from Quality Road, The Pamplemousse and I Want Revenge, it looks as if he'll likely be the fifth or sixth choice in Pool 2.

Another reason Dunkirk might not be bet heavily is the fact he still has zero graded stakes earnings and if Quality Road and Theregoesjojo run one-two in the Florida Derby, it's doubtful he'll even qualify for the Run for the Roses.

Now's the time to jump on the Todd Pletcher-trained colt since his odds, could severely diminish in Pool 3 with a victory in the Florida Derby. My small Pool 2 side wagers include the likes of I Want Revenge, Theregoesjojo and The Pamplemousse.

THE NEW TOP 10

Since the Gotham was the lone prep race run last week, the Jeff Frank Top 10 list remains pretty much the same with one major exception, as I Want Revenge catapults all the way up to number three. Dunkirk holds steady atop the list

The current Top 10:

1) Dunkirk; 2) The Pamplemousse; 3) I Want Revenge; 4) Pioneerof the Nile; 5) Theregoesjojo; 6) Quality Road; 7) Giant Oak; 8) Old Fashioned; 9) Flying Pegasus; 10) Papa Clem



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