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Apr 25, 2014

Kentucky Derby field - Fluidity at its finest

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - After last weekend's two 170-point preps, the field of 20 for the Kentucky Derby appeared set. Or so it seemed. Now it appears Dance With Fate, Midnight Hawk, Tapiture and Ring Weekend all are questionable.

Dance With Fate, the easy winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (one of the two prep races mentioned above), is uncertain for the Derby as his connections would like to keep the colt running on his preferred surfaces - synthetics and turf.

Bob Baffert surprised many when he entered Midnight Hawk in this Saturday's Illinois Derby. That is not to say the son of Midnight Lute is an automatic toss for the Kentucky Derby, especially since his stablemate Hoppertunity will race for the sixth time in 2014 on the first Saturday in May. Still, coming back in two weeks might be too much for a horse that will have four starts in the last two months if he runs in the Kentucky Derby.

Tapiture, the fourth-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby, also is not a certainty for the Run for the Roses. His trainer, the much-maligned Steve Asmussen, mentioned the possibility of withdrawing the colt from the Derby if his training is not up to par.

Ring Weekend is another horse on the fence. A distant second in the Calder Derby was not what his connections were expecting after the gelding won the Tampa Bay Derby so he must prove he belongs over the next few days with improved gallops and a probable workout over at Fair Hill.

Then the stunning news released on Wednesday morning that Constitution will miss the Kentucky Derby (and the rest of the Triple Crown) due to a shin fracture. It's always disappointing when a horse gets injured, especially one with so much potential. One thing his absence does is lower the odds on the top contenders.

It is unlikely all of the previously named horses will skip the Derby. Nevertheless, the connections of those way down on the leaderboard are hoping they will have the chance to pull a Golden Soul and land a spot in the race.

Last year, a Kentucky Derby start appeared unlikely for Golden Soul since the colt had but 14 points. However, defections by Flashback, Govenor Charlie, Uncaptured and Super Ninety Nine allowed the Dallas Stewart-trained colt to run. And run he did finishing second at 34-1.

It also must be noted that if the above four horses do not come to Churchill Downs, it is quite conceivable Bayern and/or Social Inclusion could find their way into the Derby. Don't expect either colt to win but what it will do is change the complexion of the race given the early speed each horse possesses.


Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Tony Danza portrayed Tony Banta, a fictional taxi driver in the hit TV series, Taxi. Now Danza, the horse, has a solid chance of portraying a Kentucky Derby winner in the real world come May 3, 2014.

Danza surprised almost everyone with his 4 3/4-length triumph in last Saturday's Arkansas Derby. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt not only won at odds of 41-1, but he also ran the fastest final furlong in a 1 1/8-mile dirt race of any 3-year-old on the Derby trail. His 12 1/5 final eighth was a tick better than California Chrome and Hoppertunity (Santa Anita Derby) as well as Wicked Strong (Wood Memorial). In addition, his 37-second final three-eighths was topped only by California Chrome.

(For the record, Dance With Fate and Medal Count ran their final eighth in 12 1/5 and their final three-eighths in 36 and 36 4/5, respectively, but those numbers came on Polytrack in the Blue Grass Stakes.)

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Danza's performance was the final time of 1:49 3/5. It is true that five of the last six Arkansas Derbies were run at a faster clip but Danza's final time was only 0.13 seconds slower than Will Take Charge ran in the Oaklawn Handicap one race earlier.

Moreover, almost all of the winners at Oaklawn Park that day came from the middle of the track. Danza was the only horse to ride the rail to victory over the second half of the card.

To show how the rail might not have been the best part of the track, look at the stretch runs of Conquest Titan and Thundergram. The former was on the rail while the latter was racing in the middle of the track.

Conquest Titan and Thundergram were on even terms into the stretch and Conquest Titan outfinished the 55-1 shot by only 1 3/4 lengths at the wire. Conquest Titan came from off the pace while Thundergram had challenged Bayern for the lead over the first six furlongs. It was shocking the margin between the two was not more considering how strong Conquest Titan was moving approaching the top of the stretch.

Back to Danza, his pedigree might be iffy for 1 1/4 miles since his sire, Street Boss, was a multiple Grade I-winning sprinter and his damsire, French Deputy, was a miler. However, his dam, Champagne Royale, produced Majestic Harbor, who won the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Cup Stakes at Santa Anita last month. The way Danza dominated the Arkansas Derby, especially in the final eighth, it appears 1 1/4 miles is well within his range.


There are a few races for 3-year-olds this Saturday, namely the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, the Federico Tesio at Pimlico and the Lexington at Keeneland, that might send a runner or two to the Preakness Stakes, but none of those three races offer as much betting value as the La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita.

The heavy favorite will be Enterprising, recent winner of the Pasadena Stakes by a nose over Quotient. The son of Elusive Quality is unbeaten in three turf starts and also hit the board in the El Camino Real Derby and California Derby on synthetics at Golden Gate.

The third-place finisher in the Pasadena, Home Run Kitten, also is entered in the La Puente. He closed strongly after a slow start to finish third, beaten only a half-length by Enterprising. Meanwhile, Diamond Bachelor, the fourth- place finisher, also returns in the La Puente but the 1 1/8-mile might be a bit too much for the son of War Front.

The horse to watch is the lightly-raced Excessive Kid. Trained by Carla Gaines, the bay colt began his career in an off-the-turf, 6 1/2-furlong event on Feb. 6, a race he closed well on the rail to finish third to Melatonin.

He was able to hit the turf in his next start, a one-mile maiden race on San Felipe Stakes day, and the colt did not disappoint. Sent off as the 2-1 co- favorite, Excessive Kid stormed home through the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:34 3/5, just 2/5 slower than older horses ran later in the card.

Excessive Kid is bred to run all day long so the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles should not be an issue. His sire, Lemon Drop Kid, won the 1999 Belmont Stakes while his granddam took home a pair of turf stakes over nine furlongs.

It might be a big jump from a maiden win to a stakes race but Gaines would not have made the move if she did not feel the horse was unable to handle the rise in class. She also prepped him nicely in the mornings with four consecutive turf workouts, all at five furlongs.

Excessive Kid should be the third or fourth choice in the wagering with odds somewhere around 5-1, which is great value on a colt destined for bigger and better purses.


1) California Chrome - With Constitution out, CC stands alone as the top play

2) Danza - The X-factor in a field devoid of talented 3-year-olds

3) Wicked Strong - A hot pace could propel him to the winner's circle

4) Candy Boy - Must improve off a very dismal third in Santa Anita Derby

5) Hoppertunity - Six races in four months might be asking a lot

6) Intense Holiday - Very playable in a field devoid of closers

7) Dance With Fate - Undecided for Derby but could surprise if entered

8) General a Rod - Should handle 1 1/4 but couldn't overtake first #12 in last

9) Cairo Prince - Was short in Fla Derby; has beaten #3 and 6 in other races

10) Ride On Curlin - Continues to improve after a second in Arkansas Derby

11) Samraat - Game second in Wood but a notch below the top 3-year-olds

12-T) Wildcat Red - As tough as they come but not bred for Derby distance

12-T) Chitu - Baffert was not pleased with latest workout; mixed feelings

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