Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's an embarrassment of riches for trainer Todd Pletcher. Not only does he have the early favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby (Uncle Mo), the undefeated half-brother to Super Saver (Brethren), and first-time winner Travelin Man in his barn, the five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer sent out a three-year-old on Saturday that could be the best of the bunch.
Cal Nation, owned by WinStar Farm, crushed a field of nine by 7 3/4-lengths at Gulfstream Park, running the seven-furlongs in 1:22 flat. Three races earlier, four-year-old Yawanna Twist, who ran fourth in last year's Preakness Stakes, finished his seven-furlong race in 1:21 4/5 seconds, just one-fifth faster than a first-time-starter.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Cal Nation exploded to the top from the far outside post, quickly opening up a two-length lead out of the gate before allowing 40-1 shot Jack London to set the early pace. Never letting the leader out of his sights, Velazquez collared that horse approaching the top of the stretch and then drew clear by 2 1/2-lengths with one furlong to go.
From there, the only question remaining was how many more lengths would Cal Nation open up on the rest of the field? The answer was a tad over five as the son of Distorted Humor was hand-ridden to the wire.
Jack London held on for second while Kanagaro ran third. It's interesting to note that Kanagaro, beaten almost 10 lengths, finished only one length in back of Brethren in that colt's maiden victory last October.
Even before this huge performance, many insiders were eagerly awaiting Cal Nation's debut based on his outstanding pedigree.
Distorted Humor has already sired a Kentucky Derby winner (Funny Cide) and a Belmont Stakes winner (Drosselmeyer), as well as Flower Alley, the 2005 Travers Stakes champion.
More impressive, though, is his dam side. His mother is She's a Winner, which makes Cal Nation a half-brother to Bluegrass Cat, who finished second in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Travers Stakes. In addition, She's a Winner is a full-sister to Supercharger, who produced Super Saver and Brethren.
It's way too early to speculate if Pletcher will send Cal Nation on the Kentucky Derby trail, especially since no horse has won the Derby without a start at two since 1882. Still, if he continues to train well, there's no reason he cannot become the next Curlin.
That colt began his monumental career virtually the same way starting out in a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3. Steve Asmussen, who took over as trainer from Helen Pitts, then sent Curlin to Oaklawn Park for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes in mid-March, and the son of Smart Strike prevailed by 5 1/4-lengths. He followed that effort with a dominating 10 1/2- length score in the Arkansas Derby. Unfortunately, the future Breeders' Cup Classic winner broke slow in the Kentucky Derby and had to settle for a third- place finish before winning the Preakness.
If Pletcher, who is not averse to having multiple starters in the Derby, wants to rush him into the mix, look for Cal Nation to give Uncle Mo and Dialed In all they could handle in the Run for the Roses.
DIALED IN - MOVES UP THE LADDER
Speaking of Dialed In, there hasn't been a more impressive stakes-winning three-year-old this season than the son of Mineshaft after his victory in the Jan. 30 Holy Bull Stakes. Due to illness and the Super Bowl, I was not able to discuss his powerful triumph, but it was a win that shot him way up on most people's Kentucky Derby lists.
It was hard for him to climb real high in my book since I had him ranked third in my initial top 12, but his authoritative stretch drive at Gulfstream Park has catapulted him past To Honor and Serve into the two spot, just behind two- year-old champion, Uncle Mo.
Dialed In is still very raw in action and light on experience, and his come- from-behind style might force him to have to do too much on Derby Day, a la Ice Box in last year's race. He has gotten out of the gate very slowly in both of his starts and his tendency to lug in must be straightened out prior to the first Saturday in May.
On the other hand, he's an extremely talented colt that seemingly can run down any horse in his path. Not only did he rip off a 23 2/5 third quarter in the Holy Bull, but he finished up in 24 seconds flat for a 1:35 mile. That's an awfully rare occurrence for a three-year-old in late January making only his second career start.
As of now, trainer Nick Zito has not stated when Dialed In's next race will be. He would not like to wheel him back in the Fountain of Youth, which is scheduled for Feb. 26. Zito preferably wants a five-week break between the Holy Bull and the colt's subsequent start, so a match with Soldat might have to wait until the Florida Derby in April. Considering Dialed In already has enough graded earnings, Zito will not be pressured into sending his star in a race he's not 100 percent sure will be beneficial in the long run.
THE JEFF FRANK TOP 12
1) Uncle Mo; 2) Dialed In; 3) To Honor and Serve; 4) Cal Nation; 5) Brethren; 6) Travelin Man; 7) Soldat; 8) Elite Alex; 9) Tapizar; 10) Boys At Tosconova; 11) The Factor; 12-T) Machen and Tiz Blessed.
02/07 10:16:12 ET