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Mar 06, 2015

Make-or-break weekend for Kentucky Derby hopefuls

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Not only do three 50-points-to-the- winner Kentucky Derby prep races highlight this weekend's action, but the recent decisions by the connections of Dortmund and Ocean Knight will have a major effect on all three of them.

Bob Baffert wanted to give Dortmund just one more prep after the colt's comeback win over Firing Line last month. However, Dortmund has been extremely eager to run, so the trainer had a change of heart and entered the son of Big Brown in Saturday's San Felipe Stakes.

Ocean Knight, owned by Stonestreet Stables, which also owns Carpe Diem, was scheduled to go in the Gotham Stakes in order to stay away from his stablemate. Now the connections will send both in the Tampa Bay Derby.

The Ocean Knight defection has a ripple effect on the Gotham and the rest of the Kentucky Derby landscape. Without a clear-cut Derby contender, the Gotham now will have at least one horse (and maybe two) gain enough points to warrant inclusion in the Run for the Roses, thereby leaving more qualified horses on the outside looking in.

Of the three major stakes, the one with the most accomplished horses is the San Felipe, which features one quarter of my Dirty Dozen, plus two others ranked just below.

Dortmund, the probable favorite, is undefeated in four starts. After taking his first two races by 12 1/2 lengths, the powerful colt has shown toughness and heart, winning by a head over Firing Line in each of his last two. He will be facing the toughest field to date against the likes of Ocho Ocho Ocho, Lord Nelson, Prospect Park and Bolo, but not one of those four is in the class of Firing Line.

Ocho Ocho Ocho is another unbeaten colt with three consecutive victories. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense has not raced since November, so he might not fire his best shot. In addition, he also has started just one time beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.

Trainer James Cassidy has tightened up Ocho Ocho Ocho with five works since the end of January, but the horse has not had to tackle this type of quality in his short career.

Lord Nelson, unlike Dortmund, has been pointed all along to the San Felipe after defeating Texas Red in the San Vicente. Many experts see him as a sprinter stretching out to two turns because all his wins have come at seven furlongs or less.

His first two-turn race came off a 10-week layoff against the likes of American Pharoah, Calculator and Texas Red. In addition, he was stretching out from a five-furlong maiden race to a 1 1/16-mile Grade I stakes event.

Lord Nelson's second 1 1/16-mile start came in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes versus El Kabeir, Imperia and Eagle - three horses on the downswing since last November. Lord Nelson did not have the easiest of trips that day, bobbling at the start and then rushing up eight-wide into the stretch.

The winner of two of three starts at Santa Anita could be the fourth or fifth choice in the wagering.

Prospect Park, the probable second choice, took a while to break his maiden, doing so in his fourth start. He was all out to put away Kantune through the stretch while holding off Cyrus Alexander at the wire.

The race that got everyone on his bandwagon came a month later on Jan. 30 in an entry level allowance. He was in tight quarters on the rail for most of the race until Kent Desormeaux pulled him out into the three-path as the field hit the stretch. From there, he blew away the field to win by 5 1/4 lengths while running the mile in a sharp 1:35 3/5. As is the case with Ocho Ocho Ocho, Prospect Park will be facing a more difficult field than he has seen in his career.

Bolo makes his first start on dirt after three on grass. After losing his debut on Nov. 7, he reeled off two straight wins, including a 4 1/2-length score in the Eddie Logan Stakes. It is interesting to note that Mike Smith, who has been extremely praiseworthy of Bolo, has taken the mount on Ocho Ocho Ocho.

The Carla Gaines-trained colt has been working well on the dirt, but he always did even going back to 2014. He is bred for turf as his sire is the stakes- winning Temple City. However, Bolo's dam is a half-sister to Mining My Own, who produced both Mine That Bird and Dullahan.

San Felipe - 1) Lord Nelson 2) Dortmund 3) Bolo LS) Pulmarack


Last week's Swale Stakes was postponed until this Saturday due to torrential rains in Florida. How does that impact the Tampa Bay Derby? The cancellation gave Ed Plesa Jr. a chance to rethink his course of action for Souper Colossal. The Texas Glitter Stakes winner was going to run in the Swale but now is going in the Tampa Bay Derby so he can have two chances to pick up Kentucky Derby points.

It is unlikely the son of War Front will make it to the Kentucky Derby because he is a one-dimensional speed horse. That fact makes the Tampa Bay Derby much more interesting as the pace of the race could be much faster than originally anticipated.

Divining Rod, who led for much of the Sam F. Davis, will be sent from the inside but will be no match for the speedy Souper Colossal in the early stages. He also won't be able to get away with a 48 3/5 four-furlong split.

My Johnny Be Good was ineffective sitting right off Divining Rod in the Sam F. Davis and trainer Eoin Harty has slowed down his workouts with the hope of a more off-the-pace finish.

Carpe Diem makes his long-awaited 3-year-old debut after finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The son of Giant's Causeway has posted three bullet workouts since the beginning of February in preparation for this race.

Todd Pletcher, Carpe Diem's trainer, has been down this route before with Super Saver. The 2010 Kentucky Derby winner made his 3-year-old debut in the Tampa Bay Derby, finishing third, beaten only one-half length.

Not many trainers bring horses back off layoffs with as much success as Pletcher, but Carpe Diem has not raced in over four months. He's also tough to take as the expected favorite.

Ocean Knight broke from the far outside post in winning the Sam F. Davis in just his second career start, but even though the final time was quick, he won by only a neck over Divining Rod. Ocean Knight certainly has tons of potential, but he is not training as fast as he was back in January. And as is the case with Carpe Diem, the expected low odds make him unplayable.

Danzig Moon is the wild card in the race. The Mark Casse-trained colt has but one win in three starts - all against maidens. Nevertheless, he had a legitimate excuse in his second outing as a slow break left him 12 lengths off the lead. In addition, his initial start came at six furlongs, a distance unsuited to his distance-laden pedigree.

The outside post position is not ideal, but he should be able to secure a trouble-free trip if he breaks well from the gate. Additionally, his odds should be somewhere in the 5-1 range, which makes him the top play.

Finally, do not forget about the maiden, Great Stuff. He ran into Khozan and Firecracker in his second start, his first in over two months. He also ran second, beaten only a head in his most recent start. If the pace is quick, he could finish in the top three at huge odds.

Tampa Bay Derby - 1) Danzig Moon 2) Carpe Diem 3) Ocean Knight LS) Great Stuff


The Gotham Stakes has a field of 10 second-rate 3-year-olds. El Kabeir, the expected favorite, is questionable at the distance, especially if he is pressed for the lead. With both Dontbetwithbruno and Classy Class drawn to his inside, and with Lieutenant Colonel, Toasting Master and Blame Jim to his outside, the pace should be extremely hot.

That is why Combat Diver is a solid play from the rail, Sheldon Russell should be able to save a ton of ground and sneak his way to the top, inside the final furlong.

The Swale is not worth any Kentucky Derby points, but it marks the return of Daredevil. The Champagne Stakes winner will show speed from the inside as will Bluegrass Singer from the outside. Don't forget about X Y Jet, who led almost the entire way in both the Hutcheson and Pasco Stakes.

The choice in the Swale is Senor Grits. The bay gelding sports two wins in four career starts - all at six furlongs. His lone stakes attempt was a third in the James F. Lewis III Stakes in which he finished third to Cinco Charlie and Majestic Affair. His running style suggests he will enjoy the added furlong.

The Big Cap has Shared Belief and 12 others vying for the $1 million purse. There really is not much behind the champion so bet Shared Belief on top of Patrioticandproud, who loves the distance and has finished second 10 times in 28 lifetime starts.


1) American Pharoah - Take Charge Brandi only real Rebel challenger

2) Dortmund - Change of plans has him in Saturday's San Felipe

3) Carpe Diem - Tampa Bay Derby a lot tougher than earlier expected

4) Firing Line - Still eligible for a non-winners of one allowance

5) Khozan - Looking to pull a Big Brown, but this crop is much better

6) Lord Nelson - Needs big effort in San Felipe to move forward

7) Far From Over - Another Pletcher horse with two career starts

8) Texas Red - The more time passes, the more questions arise

9) Upstart - Will be tested by a better horse (Khozan) in Fla. Derby

10) Danzig Moon - Up against it with the outside post in TB Derby

11) Ocho Ocho Ocho - Might not fire first time back in San Felipe

12) Ocean Knight - Change of plans keeps him in Florida for TB Derby

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