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Mar 14, 2014

Speed is the name of the game

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - The two Kentucky Derby prep races last weekend were won on the front end as California Chrome (San Felipe) and Ring Weekend (Tampa Bay Derby) secured their spots in the 140th Run for the Roses.

California Chrome gunned right to the front and put Midnight Hawk away with ease en route to a 7 1/4-length victory. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event was a scorching 1:40 2/5 seconds. The time sounds extraordinarily fast but the Santa Anita surface was undeniably quick as Game On Dude came within a fifth-of-a-second of matching Spectacular Bid's world record for 1 1/4 miles, a record that has stood for almost 25 years.

Over at Tampa Bay Downs, Ring Weekend also took care of business in gate-to- wire fashion with a three-length score over Sam F. Davis winner Vinceremos. The 14-1 shot led by only one-half length after the first quarter but opened up a 3 1/2-length lead with a 23 second quarter. The son of Tapit cruised home through a slow 32 1/5 final 2 1/2 furlongs, which says a lot about the horses behind him.

These two races continue a trend that has seen speed, speed and more speed dominate the Derby preps. In fact, there have been just two races won by horses coming from off the pace - the Risen Star (Intense Holiday) and the El Camino Real Derby (Tamarando). Incidentally, the Risen Star was almost a gate- to-wire victory as Albano was caught by a nose at the wire.

Outside of those two races, the farthest the winner has been from the lead after the first half-mile has been two lengths.

Twelve of the last 17 Kentucky Derby prep races (for points) have been won by horses either on the front end or within one length of the lead after the first half-mile. To put that into perspective, the final 17 preps from last year's Kentucky Derby were won by those types of horses just five times.

One thing in favor of Ring Weekend and California Chrome is that they do not need the early lead to win. As for which of the two might be more successful down the road, the latter appears to be the one.

California Chrome came into the San Felipe off a pair of stakes victories over California breds. The class of horses he beat in both races was second rate (outside of Tamarando) but he still won by a combined 11 3/4 lengths. He has very good gate speed, which is a major plus in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby. In addition, the chestnut colt switches leads and cuts corners very effectively.

Even though he was bred in California, his tail-female line is a melting pot of Eastern and Midwestern states. Love the Chase (dam) and Chase it Down (second dam) were bred in Maryland. It is interesting to note that Chase it Down's half-sister Amourette won the Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes at 11 furlongs on the turf.

California Chrome's third dam, Chase the Dream was a multiple stakes winning New York-bred for D. Wayne Lukas and his fourth dam was bred in Kentucky. There also are a handful of stayers on that side with the likes of Sir Ivor, Sir Gaylord and Vaguely Noble.

His sire line is mostly speed-laden with Lucky Pulpit, who was by Pulpit. In addition, Lucky Pulpit's dam, Lucky Soph, is a half-sister to Unbridled's Song.

Lucky Pulpit's highest earning son is another California-bred, Rousing Sermon, who finished fifth in the 2012 San Felipe and eighth in the Kentucky Derby. At this stage of their careers, it appears California Chrome is light years ahead of Rousing Sermon.

Not much was known about Ring Weekend before the Tampa Bay Derby other than the fact he broke his maiden in his first start on dirt. Unfortunately, he does not finish as well as he starts as evidenced by his slow come-home times. Moreover, he is sired by Tapit, which makes it doubtful he will be able to last the 10 furlongs of the Kentucky Derby.


Shug McGaughey preferred not to ship Honor Code to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes and he got his wish when an allowance race for 3-year-olds filled at Gulfstream Park.

In hindsight, heading out to Arkansas might have been the smarter move as Social Inclusion was the lone speed in a field of five and romped to a 10- length, track record victory over Honor Code.

It might be too late for Social Inclusion to make the Kentucky Derby but all it takes is a win or second-place finish in one of the final prep races and he's in. If trainer Manny Azpurua decides not to rush his undefeated speedster, the Preakness will certainly be on his radar. Social Inclusion has a Bernardini-type feel to him as that colt went on to win the Preakness in his fourth career start.

Speaking of speed, which this column is all about, Social Inclusion is another horse to add to the list even though this race was not a stakes event.

As for Honor Code, one has to wonder how healthy he really is after returning in an allowance race. If he fails to fire in his final prep race, he won't have enough points to even make the Kentucky Derby.


The top three finishers from the Southwest Stakes are all back for the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Tapiture, the 4 1/4-length Southwest winner, has another favorable post position (three) after breaking from the rail in the previous stakes. However, second-pace finisher, Strong Mandate, also drew well (four) after being stuck with the No. 8 post position, and third-place finisher, Ride On Curlin, has the No. 2 post position after breaking from post 9 last time out.

Tapiture got away with an easy inside trip in the Southwest while the other two were caught extremely wide after bumping at the start. Ride On Curlin made a premature move up the backstretch and the jockey switch from Calvin Borel to Kent Desormeaux should help. Still, the son of Curlin was no match for the top two losing by 10 lengths.

Strong Mandate had the most trouble in the race having been steadied back to last after almost clipping heels with Walt around the first turn. He then raced five-wide down the backstretch and wound up a determined second. He should be in much better shape this time around with a race under his belt as a 3-year-old.

Two other colts - Kobe's Back and Hoppertunity - have a shot to win the Rebel.

Kobe's Back, as was the case with Strong Mandate in the Southwest, had a terrible trip in the CashCall Futurity. He bounced back with an easy 5 1/4- length win in the San Vicente. The John Sadler-trainee breaks from the outside post so his chances of hitting the wire first might be compromised. In addition, he is a question mark around two turns, especially on a track he has yet to see.

Hoppertunity also might be up against it if he breaks as poorly as he did in two of his first three starts. He ran fourth in the Risen Star last time out but lost ground down the stretch to Intense Holiday and Albano. In his defense, he was taken very wide entering the stretch by Martin Garcia and might get a better trip under Mike Smith.

Rebel Stakes - 1) Strong Mandate 2) Tapiture 3) Kobe's Back


1) California Chrome - Most consistent of all non-injured 3-year-olds

2) Cairo Prince - Will take on top two FOY finishers in Florida Derby

3) Candy Boy - Might have work cut out for him in SA Derby if "CC" runs

4) Strong Mandate - A cleaner trip is needed in the Rebel

5) Tapiture - Another victory this weekend moves him up in the standings

6) Social Inclusion - Could be the real deal after demolishing Honor Code

7) Bayern - Injury took away San Felipe; still a Derby possibility

8) Constitution - Needs a top three finish in Florida Derby

9) Samraat - Back in Florida awaiting final prep race in New York

10) Honor Code - Must rebound in final prep or he won't make the Derby

11) Conquest Titan - This year's Golden Soul needs top effort in Ark Derby

12) Intense Holiday - Gearing up for Louisiana Derby at the end of March

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