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Mar 20, 2015

Will chalk-fest continue on Kentucky Derby trail?

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Making money on the Kentucky Derby is the goal for most horseplayers, but pocketing cash in the multitude of Derby prep races should not be overlooked. Unfortunately, 2015 has been difficult for the non-chalk player.

Not only have eight favorites won the past 16 preps, but five of the other eight winners were the second and third choices in the wagering. Only one horse has been higher than 6-1 and that was International Star (9-1) back on Jan. 17 in the LeComte Stakes.

Lately it seems the only way to win any money is to dump it in on the favorite. The last four prep winners were 2-5 (American Pharoah), 1-1 (Carpe Diem), 4-5 (Dortmund) and 6-5 (El Kabeir).

There are 10 more Kentucky Derby prep races remaining, including two this weekend - the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on Saturday and the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park on Sunday.

These two are the last of the "50 points to the winner" races. The victors of the next seven get 100 points while the final race is worth just 10 points to the winner.

The Spiral sports a field of 11 due to the scratch of Imperia. Royal Son, the morning line favorite, breaks from the rail while Metaboss, the second choice, begins from the No. 10 post.

Royal Son is extremely well bred, but the bay colt was unable to replicate his pedigree on the race track. He finished second in his first three races, but was placed first via disqualification in the last of the three.

Trainer Todd Pletcher sent him into stakes company in the Sam F. Davis off the win and the son of Tiznow faded badly running a dismal seventh, beaten 11 lengths.

His last start was by far his best. Taking his talents to the Polytrack surface at Turfway Park, Royal Son blew away the competition in the John Battaglia Memorial, going gate-to-wire to win by 5 1/4 lengths. He was hounded until the far turn by The Great War, but once that horse packed it in, there was nothing behind to overtake him, even with his 33-second final 2 1/2 furlongs and 15 taps with the whip down the stretch.

Royal Son should be put to the test early once again with Big Family, Watchyourownbobber and Wireless Future all breaking immediately to his right. All three colts should keep Royal Son honest on the front end. Will he make it two straight? It is unlikely as there are better colts in the race.

Metaboss comes into the Spiral off a magnificent victory in the El Camino Real Derby on the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate. Last year, Tamarando came into the Spiral as the 2-1 favorite after defeating Dance With Fate in the El Camino Real, but he did not adapt well to the Polytrack and ran eighth, beaten over 10 lengths.

A few years ago, Silver Medallion, another winner of the El Camino Real Derby, went to Keeneland for the Lexington Stakes and finished fourth as the 6-5 favorite.

Can Metaboss reverse those recent mishaps? He ran the fastest El Camino Real Derby since the race was moved to 1 1/8 miles in 2009. It was his second consecutive victory after breaking his maiden over nine furlongs on the turf at Santa Anita.

If Metaboss handles the track surface, he should make his presence known down the stretch and land a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.


Wireless Future makes his debut on Polytrack after cruising to a seven-length win in an allowance race at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 5. The son of Scat Daddy worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Turfway Park this past Sunday, so he should be a horse to watch. The only question mark is his ability to win at the 1 1/8-mile distance.

Another Lemon Drop looked like a horse on the rise after his five-length allowance win over the slop at Fair Grounds. He was unable to sustain the momentum in the LeComte, finishing fourth to International Star, War Story and Tiznow R J.

Trainer Philip Bauer sent him to the turf for his next start and dropped him back from 1 mile and 70 yards to the about 7 1/2-furlong distance of the Black Gold Stakes. Another Lemon Drop made a menacing move down the stretch but lost by one-half length to a 63-1 shot named Tuba.

Another Lemon Drop's best races have come on the grass and on sloppy dirt tracks, so he should handle Polytrack. However, will his best be enough to topple the others in the field?

Conquest Typhoon returned from a 2 1/2-month layoff to finish third to Metaboss in the El Camino Real. The Mark Casse-trained colt led the field of 10 inside the final furlong but came up a short horse at the wire. Look for a much-improved effort in the Spiral even though all his wins have come on the grass.

Turf specialist Dubai Sky breaks from the far outside, but We Miss Artie won from the No. 11 post in last year's Spiral. The Kitten's Joy Stakes winner is bred to handle the synthetics as he is a half-brother to Twirling Candy and his second dam is a half to Chocolate Candy.

Finally, don't overlook Firespike. The Michael Maker colt ran poorly in the Battaglia, finishing fifth, beaten 21 lengths, but he broke poorly and was wide for most of the early going.

He is magnificently bred as his dam is a half to the Queen's Plate winner, Basqueian. He also has won three of his last six races and posted a bullet five-furlong work over the track on March 14.

Spiral Stakes - 1) Metaboss 2) Conquest Typhoon 3) Dubai Sky LS) Firespike


Dortmund is ranked first or second on almost everyone's Kentucky Derby list, but Firing Line is much further down despite two losses to Dortmund, each by only a head.

Firing Line has yet to win past 6 1/2 furlongs, but that was due more to the brilliance of Dortmund as the third-place finisher in the Robert B. Lewis was over 20 lengths behind the top pair.

It is very doubtful Firing Line will lose the Sunland Derby, but how much he gets out of the race is of utmost importance. This should be his final race before the Kentucky Derby and the last thing trainer Simon Callaghan wants is a gate-to-wire victory without any challenges from the other seven horses.

Thankfully, there is speed outside of Firing Line as Where's the Moon, Why Two and Malibu Mogul should contend for the top spot early on. That should give Firing Line a few targets to tackle. In addition, Bob Baffert entered Lord Nelson, who is coming off a fourth-place finish to Dortmund in the San Felipe Stakes. If Firing Line can put away the speed, then hold off Lord Nelson and draw away to an impressive five-length score, it will be a perfect final prep.

One other interesting aspect of the Sunland Derby is the inclusion of Tiznow R J.

There has not been much crossover this winter between the different regions as the Florida horses have stayed home, the Midwest contingent has not veered east or west and most of the California colts have remained in the Golden State.

Tiznow R J comes to New Mexico off a pair of stakes races in Louisiana. He ran third in the LeComte and then seventh in the Risen Star, both won by International Star. If Tiznow R J finishes a close second, it might not say much about the abilities of the colts and geldings in the Sunland Derby.

Sunland Derby - 1) Firing Line 2) Lord Nelson 3) Why Two LS) Pain and Misery


1) Prospect Park - Proper pedigree and running style to win Derby

2) Dortmund - Tougher challenges ahead in both SA and Ky derbies

3) Firing Line - Should continue parade of favorites at Sunland

4) American Pharoah - Blew away Rebel field with slow fractions

5) Carpe Diem - Not sold he will like the Derby distance

6) Upstart - Will have one more workout before Florida Derby

7) Itsaknockout - Not much separates him and No. 6 Upstart

8) Maftool - A UAE Derby victory brings him to Kentucky

9) Far From Over - Three starts prior to Derby is not ideal

10) El Kabeir - Leading point-getter trying to outrun pedigree

11) Metaboss - A win in Spiral might spiral him up the list

12-T) War Story - Still believe he's better than International Star

12-T) International Star - We'll find out on March 28 in LA Derby

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