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Feb 23, 2012

Let's be Frank: Don't overlook Discreet Dancer this weekend

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


(Sports Network) - With the top two early Kentucky Derby favorites - Union Rags (trainer Michael Matz) and Algorithms (Todd Pletcher) - lining up for Sunday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, it is easy to forget about another of Pletcher's top 3-year-olds, Discreet Dancer.

The speedy chestnut colt has not raced since Jan. 7, but his performance that day was as explosive as any other this winter. He also was able to stretch out from 5 1/2 furlongs to a one-turn mile race in winning by over five lengths.

According to Gulfstream Park's Trakus time, he completed the eight furlongs in 1:35 2/5, over a full second faster than Unbridled Minister ran the race before. That colt wound up finishing second to another one of Pletcher's stars, Spring Hill Farm, in his next start on Feb. 11.

Discreet Dancer has never been challenged while winning his two career appearances by a combined 15 1/4 lengths. He might not be able to last the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby distance, but the 1 1/16 miles of the Fountain of Youth should easily be in his wheelhouse. In addition, there doesn't seem to be other top-rated speed to run with him early on, so the son of Discreet Cat should have the lead as the field enters the homestretch.

From that point on, there is not much ground to cover since 8.5-furlong races at Gulfstream Park end at the sixteenth-pole instead of the usual finish line. This will make it difficult for the stretch runners to pick up the speed late and get the win. The first 1 1/16-mile stakes race for 3-year-old colts at Gulfstream Park was held on Jan. 1, and the horses that were first, second, third and fourth after the first six furlongs wound up finishing the race in those same positions.

The betting public might not consider that when wagering on the Fountain of Youth, especially with Union Rags making his first start of the year.

The son of Dixie Union has raced the distance just once and it proved to be his lone defeat in four career starts when Hansen held him off by a diminishing head in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Since then, he has had a number of workouts at Palm Meadows, including a 48 4/5 breeze out of the gate on Feb. 19.

Union Rags has already won off a two-month layoff, as well as taking his debut last summer, so the 113-day drought should not pose too much of a problem. However, he will be taking on a slew of horses that have been in action this year and who need graded earnings to reach the starting gate at Churchill Downs. Union Rags is second on the list behind Hansen, so a win in the Fountain of Youth is not imperative.

Algorithms, Pletcher's other colt in the race, should wind up as the post-time favorite after he blew away Hansen by five lengths in the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 29. Nevertheless, that race was run on a sloppy track and his other two starts were 6 1/2- and 5-furlong sprints. As is the case with Discreet Dancer, Algorithms has tons of talent, but the son of Bernardini has more experience against stakes-caliber horses.

Jockey Javier Castellano chose to ride Algorithms over Union Rags, but his decision is not a knock on the latter. Castellano has become a key go-to rider for Pletcher and he did not want the long list of future stakes winners to dry up had he chose to stay with Matz and Union Rags. Julien Leparoux picks up the mount on Union Rags while J.R. Velasquez, who rode Animal Kingdom to last year's Kentucky Derby win, gets the mount on Discreet Dancer.

The play is Discreet Dancer to win, and on top of both Algorithms and Union Rags in the exacta

PLETCHER'S EL PADRINO HIGHLIGHTS THE RISEN STAR STAKES

El Padrino is the odds-on choice to win the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Saturday as the recent allowance winner tackles the top three finishers (and three other horses) who ran in the LeComte Stakes on Jan. 21.

The chestnut colt has yet to win a race on a fast track, and with a sunny day scheduled for Saturday in New Orleans, he will finally get the opportunity to show what he can do without the benefit of moisture on the track.

El Padrino blew away Take Charge Indy by two lengths in his last effort, but more impressive was the gap of almost 14 lengths back to Argentine Tango in third. Look for him to either win this race by at least four lengths if he can handle a fast track or get upset if he is just a slop-loving 3-year-old.

Others to watch in the Risen Star are Mr. Bowling, Z Dager, Shared Property, Mark Valeski and Afford. The first three all hit the board in the LeComte, but the winner Mr. Bowling had by far the easiest trip of the three. Look for Shared Property, despite coming out of post 10, to be the best of the three this time around.

One point to remember about the LeComte: it was an extremely slow race. Maiden 3-year-olds ran a tick faster earlier on the card, and the filly Believe You Can finished her 1 mile and 70 yards over a second faster than Mr. Bowling while taking the Silverbulletday Stakes.

Mark Valeski, a winner of his last two starts, makes his stakes debut in the Risen Star, while Afford comes into the race off a nose victory in an optional claiming allowance race on Feb. 9.

The play is El Padrino on top of Shared Property in an exacta, with slightly less money the other way, along with a small win bet on Shared Property.

TOSS LAST WEEKEND'S STAKES WINNERS OFF YOUR DERBY LIST

The two divisions of Monday's Southwest Stakes proved nothing in terms of finding a Kentucky Derby champion. Secret Circle, the more impressive of the two winners, is doubtful to improve at nine and 10 furlongs, while Castaway ran his one mile a full second slower in the race before.

Drill, the San Vicente Stakes winner, has never won a race beyond seven furlongs, and his trainer, Bob Baffert, will keep him sprinting heading into the spring.

Saturday's El Camino Real Derby was won by the Steve Asmussen-trained Daddy Nose Best and his nose was definitely needed as that was the final margin of victory over Lucky Chappy. The triumph was his first on a surface other than turf.

Remember, no winner of the El Camino Real has ever won the Kentucky Derby, although a few have had success in other Triple Crown races with Tank's Prospect and Snow Chief taking the Preakness and Tabasco Cat winning both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Two colts to keep an eye on from last week are Creative Cause and Paynter.

Despite running third in the San Vicente, Creative Cause ran his final three furlongs in 35 and change, while closing from last place after the first half mile. Remember, he was up against it as he came into the race off a layoff while shortening up in distance. Look for a much-improved effort next time out.

As for Paynter, his debut race was everything and more as he glided home by 4 1/4 lengths while running 5 1/2 furlongs in a brisk 1:02 4/5. His dam is a full-sister to two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow, and Baffert has been high on him for months.

THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Union Rags - Does not have to win the Fountain of Youth to remain on top

2) Algorithms - The same is the case for Algorithms

3) I'll Have Another - Has not worked since winning the Robert B. Lewis

4) Fed Biz - Baffert has so many 3-year-olds, it is hard to tell where they will wind up next

5) Gemologist - Same goes for Pletcher and Gemologist

6) Discreet Dancer - A dominating win on Sunday will move him way up

7) Alpha - McLaughlin awaits the Wood with his prized 3-year-old

8) Out of Bounds - Flattered by Secret Circle's win in the Southwest

9) Creative Cause - Will be a much better price in Pool 2 than 17-1

10) El Padrino - Must beat a very weak Risen Star field to stay in the Dirty Dozen

11) Hansen - Hopes to avoid a sloppy track in the Gotham on March 3

12) Empire Way - Will be a square price in the San Felipe



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