By Dennis Miller
It should be the biggest Kentucky Derby prep weekend of the year, with the highlight race of the weekend not coming in the Santa Anita Derby or the Wood Memorial in New York, but rather the Blue Grass at Keeneland in Kentucky.
Let me say that again – the Blue Grass is the best race of the weekend.
In a day and age where the Santa Anita Derby winner is usually one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby, that most likely will not be the case this year. Instead the winner of the Blue Grass has a chance to be considered the one to beat come May 6.
Following is a breakdown of the three preps this weekend, starting with the Blue Grass.
Blue Grass (10th race, Keeneland, 3:17 p.m. PDT post): Easily the best race of the day with at least four legit Derby threats going to post. At the top of the list is McCraken (7-5), the undefeated runner out of the Ian Wilkes barn. Perfect in four starts, McCraken ran once this year, winning the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in early February. But following the race, the horse was sent to the shelf for a minor injury, forcing the horse to miss the Florida preps and opt for the Blue Grass. The horse has been drilling well over the track and all signs point for the horse to pick back up where he left off.
Tapwrit (5-2) only has a loss to McCraken in the Davis and without McCraken in the Tampa Bay Derby, Tapwrit went out and took the race easily. The winner of three of his four starts, the Todd Pletcher runner has given every indication to be a threat in the Derby.
J Boys Echo (4-1) burst on to the scene with a convincing win in the Gotham at Aqueduct. The horse was third to El Areeb in the Withers, a prep for the Gotham. Al Areeb is off the Derby trail with an injury and J Boys Echo opted for a spot in the Blue Grass as opposed to an easier spot in the Wood. Trainer Dale Romans has a lot of confidence in the horse with the best Beyer mark (102) in the field.
Practical Joke (7-2) has hit the board in all five starts, with his one run this year coming in the Fountain of Youth where he was second behind Gunnevera. The last race came in early March, but trainer Chad Brown has been working the horse through a series of solid efforts.
Santa Anita Derby (8th race, Santa Anita, 3”:30 p.m. post): Heading into this year, the Santa Anita Derby figured to be one of the key races heading into the Derby, but thanks in large party to an injury to Mastery, a lot of the luster was lost.
In fact, it’s clear a lot of people don’t have an idea how the race shapes up as the morning line favorite is Iliad (7-2) with Gormley (9-2) is the second choice. Three horses sit at 5-1 for the third choice.
Iliad has won one of two this year, taking the San Vicente before finishing second to Mastery in the San Felipe. Based on those two races combined with the absence of Mastery, Iliad does deserve the favorites role.
Gormley was highly thought of after winning the Sham in January, but a badly beaten fourth in the San Felipe has left a fair amount of questions. Was the San Felipe a fluke or was the horse not as good as the Sham win.
American Anthem (5-1) has jumped around for Bob Baffert, running second to Gormley in the Sham, but then finishing 10th in the Rebel at Oak Lawn, not exactly a highly thought of prep.
Battle of Midway (5-1) is a Jerry Hollendorfer runner that was third in the San Vicente, followed by a second in an optional claimer in mid-March. The horse might appear to be a bit of a reach, but it’s Hollendorfer and that was a big work on April 4.
Reach the World (5-1) is a horse I have had I my Derby stable since January and I was thrilled to see the horse entered here and Baffert keeps Mike Smith up. He lost to Battle of Midway in his last start, but I was pleased with the way the horse closed.
Wood Memorial (10th race, Aqueduct, 2:52 p.m. post): A fading race in terms of quality and it took a big blow when the popular El Areeb went to the sidelines with an injury.
Four horses separate themselves from the rest of the field. Battalion Runner (2-1) is the morning line favorite and boasts wins in his last two – a maiden win followed by a win in an optional claimer in Florida. It is part of team Todd Pletcher, so there is credibility, but he does bring a pretty average resume to the event.
Cloud Computing (5-2) benefits from the sub-par field to get better odds than he probably deserves. After winning his debut, the late starter was second in the Gotham for Chad Brown. With only two starts, it’s been tough to draw a good feeling here, but the horse could be runner. Tough to tell yet.
Irish War Cry (7-2) was very popular following his win in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream in February, but then was abandoned by many followers after a badly beaten seventh in the Fountain of Youth. Graham Motion gave the horse some time and this is an easier spot than the Florida Derby, but it’s tough to see which way he goes.
Mo Town (6-1) is coming off a confusing fifth as the favorite in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. Anthony Dutrow brought the horse back to New York and the scene of his best win, a first in the Remsen last November. I expect much more here, but it is still tough to see a lot to like.