April 4th was a big day for Kentucky Derby prep races, as well as preps for the ladies who are pointed toward the Filly Triple Crown. The 135th Kentucky Derby (Run for the Roses) is wide open with a number of excellent performances recently, several strong contenders being withdrawn, and a few more prep races still to be run.
Out on the west coast, Pioneerof The Nile captured the Santa Anita Derby. The late scratch of The Pamplemousse was a big disappointment, but his connections are more concerned for his well-being than the spotlight. Down the backstretch, Pioneerof The Nile drug his pilot, Garret Gomez, to the lead, before finally relaxing through tepid fractions. Chocolate Candy rallied well from the back of the back to finish a length back of Pioneerof The Nile in a modest time of 1:49.1 for the one and one-eighth mile race.
Across the country at Aqueduct, I Want Revenge (pictured to right) turned in an amazing performance with his win of the Wood Memorial Stakes. He did not break from the gates as he should have and spotted the field several lengths, encountered traffic jams throughout the one and one-eighth mile race, was cut off in the stretch, and barely escaped a potentially disastrous fall. Despite an extremely troubled trip, I Want Revenge still managed to win under a mere hand-ride by Joe Talamo (connect with Talamo via twitter). Pretty impressive! This talented colt should have an advantage over some of his rivals, as this event was over a dirt surface, as the Kentucky Derby will be. Many of the others horses have been running over synthetic surfaces, which have an entirely different feel and could change the running styles of some for the big race. West Side Bernie was a good second to I Want Revenge, whose final time was 1:49.2.
In the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, Stardom Bound was a disappointing third, beaten three lengths by front running, long-shot Hooh Why and jockey Corey Lanerie. They covered the mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.4 and paid a whopping $50.00 for the $2 wager. This defeat will likely cause Stardom Bound to start in the Kentucky Oaks instead of the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, at Hawthorne, Musket Man put in another impressive performance in the Illinois Derby. Patiently handled by Eibar Coa, Musket Man came from mid-pack to win the one and one eighth mile race in 1:49.4 with Giant Oak closing for a clear second.
Friesan Fire (pictured to left) has been dominant in the south with wins in the Louisiana Derby, LeComte Stakes, and the Risen Star Stakes with partner Gabriel Saez. Other notables include Old Fashioned, Desert Party, and Quality Road. There are still a few prep races left, which will help decide or eliminate some of the possible starters. With a possible field of 20, the chances are wide open for anybody to win. I Want Revenge has shown versatility and has stood out in my opinion. If the field were limited to 12 or 14 starters, there would likely be more of a standout.
On that note, I think the field should be reduced. Often the best horse does not win, as in the case of Little Current in 1974. That year, there was a record 24 starters and Little Current could not get through the traffic jam. Finally, late in the stretch, he found an opening and exploded, managing a fifth place. He easily won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, both by 7 lengths and was crowned Champion Three year old colt in 1974. With a limited field, Little Current would likely have joined the highly sought-after roster of Triple Crown winners.