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Mar 16, 2012

Let's be Frank: Kentucky Derby hopefuls showing separation

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the recent defections of Fed Biz and Out of Bounds, the number of legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders has dwindled down to a half-dozen, with another six settling into tier two.

The most accomplished 3-year-olds to date are Union Rags, Creative Cause, Hansen, El Padrino, I'll Have Another and Alpha. Others such as Gemologist, Sabercat, Dullahan, Howe Great, Bodemeister and Mark Valeski still have something to prove in their final Derby prep races.

Finally, one cannot count out the likes of Heavy Breathing, Cigar Street, Exothermic, Castaway, Liaison, News Pending, Take Charge Indy, Lucky Chappy, Daddy Nose Best, My Adonis and Prospective.

All of the top six colts have just one more prep race before the Run for the Roses on May 5 at Churchill Downs. As of now, Union Rags, El Padrino and Alpha will run in the Florida Derby, Hansen will go back to New York to compete in the Wood Memorial, and I'll Have Another and Creative Cause will hook up in the Santa Anita Derby.

Four horses from the next group also will have a single race before the Kentucky Derby. Dullahan and Howe Great will have their rematch in the Blue Grass, Bodemeister will challenge Creative Cause and others in the Santa Anita Derby, and Mark Valeski will stay in the Pelican State for the Louisiana Derby. Both Gemologist and Sabercat will have two more starts before the Kentucky Derby.

Todd Pletcher's Gemologist gets his 3-year-old career underway on Friday at Gulfstream Park. The son of Tiznow will take on 2011 Hopeful Stakes winner Currency Swap in a one-mile allowance event around one turn.

Originally expected to race in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, Gemologist will now put his eggs in one basket since graded earnings will decide the 20 Kentucky Derby runners. His current $103,855 total might be cause for concern if he fails to hit the board in his follow-up race.

Sabercat hits the entry list for the first time this year in the Rebel. His last race was an impressive win in the Delta Jackpot Stakes last Nov. 19. That victory gave the colt $600,000 in graded earnings, which solidified the two- prep 2012 schedule. Remember, the last five Kentucky Derby winners, beginning with Street Sense in 2007, all raced twice in their 3-year-old season prior to the first Saturday in May.

Opposing Sabercat will be a host of runners that competed in the two divisions of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 20. Secret Circle and Castaway were victorious that day, but only one (Secret Circle) will represent Bob Baffert's stable on Saturday.

Secret Circle was looked upon as nothing more than a sprinter as a 2-year-old as the son of Eddington was unbeaten in three starts, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. However, Baffert decided to stretch him out over the winter and he ran a game second to Out of Bounds in the one-mile Sham Stakes. He was sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the second division of the Southwest and ran to his odds with a half-length score in 1:37, a full second faster than Castaway had posted in the earlier division.

Scatman, the second-place finisher, was 5 1/2 lengths in front of Adirondack King, so it looks as if it will be a three-horse race between the three "S's" in Sabercat, Secret Circle, and Scatman.


Creative Cause won his first race since last October by snagging the San Felipe away from Bodemeister through the stretch. Creative Cause was the more impressive of the two, but both colts failed to run a straight course down the lane, so pay attention to how the duo handles the nine furlongs in the Santa Anita Derby before sending it in on either one of them in Kentucky.

The Tampa Bay Derby was won by Prospective in near stakes record time as he finished the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43 1/5 seconds. Former Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense holds the record of 1:43 when he knocked off Any Given Saturday by the smallest of noses in 2007.

Prospective has a similar identity to another former Kentucky Derby winner - Mine That Bird. Both horses won the Grey Stakes at Woodbine in 1:44 2/5 before running last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. However, one main difference is that Prospective has already posted a pair of victories in his 3-year-old campaign while Mine That Bird won his first 2009 race on the first Saturday in May.

Sunday's 1 1/8-mile Palm Beach Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park might have provided a pair of Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Howe Great, sired by Hat Trick, won his fourth straight race when he defeated Dullahan by a full length.

Howe Great does his best work over the weeds, but he did break his maiden on the dirt. He is owned and trained by the same team that sent out Animal Kingdom, so don't be surprised if lightning strikes twice.

Dullahan showed a more powerful stride than in his previous race, a fourth- place finish in the BC Juvenile. Still, it appeared that jockey Kent Desormeaux let up inside the final sixteenth when he realized his horse was not going to get past Howe Great. Don't be deceived by the length defeat since the margin would have been closer to a neck if this was Dullahan's final prep.

One more name to keep in mind on the Derby trail is Cigar Street. The son of Street Sense broke his maiden in his second lifetime appearance with a 13 3/4- length victory at Fair Grounds this past Saturday. His dam is a half-sister to Cigar, so the pedigree is perfect for 10 furlongs.

However, as is the case with Bodemeister and Heavy Breathing, he did not hit the track until his 3-year-old season, and the last Kentucky Derby winner without a start at two was Apollo back in 1882.


1) Union Rags - The horse to beat

2) I'll Have Another - Not getting as much attention as other graded stakes winners

3) El Padrino - Back on the work tab with a 48-second breeze

4) Creative Cause - Shoots up to fourth with his San Felipe victory

5) Hansen - Awaits the Wood Memorial

6) Alpha - Florida Derby is the preferred spot over Wood

7) Gemologist - Friday's race is not as important as the one that follows

8) Dullahan - Perfect return in the Palm Beach

9) Howe Great - Team Valor looking for back-to-back Derby wins

10) Bodemeister - Oozes talent, but is it too much too soon?

11) Mark Valeski - Should hit the work tab soon for Louisiana Derby

12) Sabercat - A Rebel victory moves him up the list

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