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Apr 22, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - First Uncle Mo failed to fire at 1-5 in the Wood Memorial. Then, The Factor, considered a possible Kentucky Derby favorite puts up a dreadful effort at 4-5, finishing seventh in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

The key question that needs to be answered is why didn't The Factor's jockey, Martin Garcia, push him harder out of the gate? Sure the pace could have been too quick, but after a 22 2/5 initial quarter, J P's Gusto slowed down the field with a 24-flat second quarter for a 46 2/5 first half-mile. That colt followed up with another slow quarter - 24 4/5 for a six-furlong tally in 1:11 1/5. Surely, The Factor could have done the same. He might not have had enough left in the tank for the final furlong, but it was obvious watching the race, he did not have a chance sitting off the pace.

The final prep before the Run for the Roses is no time to experiment with a change in tactics. Look what happened to Soldat in the Florida Derby. Alan Garcia took the Fountain of Youth winner off the lead that day and he was flat as a pancake with a disappointing fifth-place finish.

Handicappers didn't learn anything about The Factor in this race except for the fact he cannot be rated. Garcia might have felt he was caught between a rock and a hard place when longshots J P's Gusto (33-1) and Dance City (29-1) went to the front at the start of the race. Should he then press the pace or take back? His decision to sit cost the horse dearly, especially since he was the controlling speed on the inside. For him to change approaches this close to the ultimate goal was a poor decision that might cost the horse a chance to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

As for the winner, Archarcharch ran a very impressive race with jockey Jon Court timing his ride perfectly. Instead of sitting close to the pace as he did in the Rebel, he had his horse well behind in 10th place after the first quarter-mile. The son of Arch bided his time letting the speed and early movers falter before closing stoutly in the middle of the track. He needed 1:49 1/5 seconds to finish the 1 1/8-mile race after throwing in a 37 2/5- second final three-eighths and a 12 2/5 last furlong. This was his second graded stakes win of the year and the second straight Arkansas Derby for Court. On the negative side, Archarcharch has yet to put consecutive wins together in his six-race career and the Oaklawn surface on Saturday was playing to closers for most of the afternoon.

Speaking of closers, Nehro put in a very good effort to finish second and would have easily passed Archarcharch if the race was 1 3/16-miles. He has now run second in two consecutive $1 million races showing different tactics in each. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt motored down the stretch with authority in the five-path after sitting on the rail for most of the backstretch. The fourth-choice in the wagering at 9-1 looked like a horse that will relish the extra distance of the Kentucky Derby. However, Nehro is not solely a come- from-the-clouds type of racehorse. He showed his versatility in the Louisiana Derby when he sat about three to four lengths of the lead for most of the nine furlongs before missing by a neck to Pants On Fire. He has now run his final furlong in 12 1/5 seconds in each of his last two races, and outside of Dialed In, he is the horse to watch come the first Saturday in May.

As for a couple of others, Sway Away made a huge middle-move, then flattened out when the real running began, and Dance City showed a lot of toughness fighting back on the rail to finish third. The duo will not get to race in the Kentucky Derby due to lack of graded earnings, but could come back in the Preakness.

BLUE GRASS PRODUCES ANOTHER LONGSHOT WINNER

Brilliant Speed used his speed late in the race to win the 87th running of the Blue Grass Stakes outfinishing Twinspired by a nose. Trained by Tom Albertrani, the son of Dynaformer closed from last to first with a momentous charge, running his final three furlongs in an amazing 33 2/5 seconds, with a final eighth in 11 3/5. The first six furlongs were raced in a slow 1:14 3/5, but one cannot discount Brilliant Speed's ability to close into such a leisurely pace.

It might be easy for some to leave him out as a serious Kentucky Derby contender, especially as the Blue Grass has turned into a meaningless race since Keeneland switched to Polytrack in 2007. (The last four winners finished 8th, 10th, 20th, and 11th in the Derby.) However, two second-place runners faired pretty well at Churchill Downs as Street Sense took home the roses in '07 and Paddy O'Prado finished third last year.

Brilliant Speed is certainly bred to get the 1 1/4-miles of the Kentucky Derby as his granddam is a full-sister to 1997 Belmont Stakes winner, Touch Gold, and a half-sister to 1989 Canadian Triple Crown winner, With Approval.

Furthermore, Dynaformer, has already sired a Kentucky Derby winner in Barbaro, and his other two Derby-bound sons, Blumin Affair and Perfect Drift, finished third.

Brilliant Speed has raced just twice on conventional dirt, but both were early in his career. In July, he debuted at Belmont Park against Boys At Tosconova and did not have a chance as he trailed by almost four lengths at the start after breaking slowly from the gate. In his second appearance, he showed good early speed after a poor break, but couldn't keep up with the likes of Curlinello, Joe Vann, and Mucho Macho Man. He's obviously a different horse in 2011, which means he's got a solid chance to upset the field for a second straight time.

THE JEFF FRANK TOP 12

1) Dialed In - Tops the field, but with little margin for error

2) Nehro - Will be a force in Kentucky

3) Midnight Interlude - Lack of two-year-old foundation could be a factor

4) Uncle Mo - Could still wind up second choice in the betting

5) Soldat - Don't forget about him come Derby Day

6) Toby's Corner - His figures mirror many others in field

7) Jaycito - Might come up short in Derby

8) Brilliant Speed - Will be overlooked on the first Saturday in May

9) Archarcharch - Has never won back-to-back races

10) Master of Hounds - Bred to get the distance; lack of seasoning will hurt

11) Mucho Macho Man - Been working well, but six-week layoff might be too much to overcome

12) Animal Kingdom - Spiral win was slow, but visually impressive



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