Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV
With just about a week to go until Kentucky Derby 137, it’s time to start recapping what went down on the 2011 Derby Trail. Over the next week, Anthony Stabile will look at all 24 horses that are still being pointed towards the Run for the Roses before an extensive breakdown of the final field next Friday, exclusively at VegasInsider.com. To buy Anthony Stabile products, click HERE!!!
In the first installment of this years’ Derby Countdown, we’ll take a look at the four contenders exiting the races that mattered from the Midwest and take a slightly briefer look at the four horses still on the outside looking in as far as the Derby is concerned.
Not surprising in a year that has seen so many injuries and prep upsets, the horse that figures to take the most money from the Oaklawn Park and Fair Grounds races, is NEHRO, the horse that didn’t win any of them.
A sprint debut at the Fair Grounds where he was fourth was followed by an abysmal try around two turns in which he beat just one of his 10 rivals while getting beat over 22 lengths. A month later however, after trainer Steve Asmussen worked some of his magic, Nehro turned it all around.
An explosive last to first move in a one mile maiden contest that he won by a going away 4 ½ lengths at over 15-1was followed up by a gutsy second place finish in the G2 Louisiana Derby. Not only was he a bit closer to the pace than he probably liked but it tightened up pretty good on him at the ¼ pole. Nehro continued to gain ground and battle through the lane before losing by just a neck at over 36-1.
In the G1 Arkansas Derby last out, Nehro went off a far shorter price at just under 10-1 while breaking from the rail and reverted back to the running style of his maiden win, rating towards the back of the pack until the turn before flying through the lane to just miss again by a neck, under Corey Nakatani, his partner for the Derby. With three works since, including a five furlong move in 1:02 4/5 over a sloppy Churchill strip on 4/25, Nehro has received a ton of attention over the past few weeks and though he’s eligible for an entry level allowance contest, he figures to be one of the favorites come next Saturday.
The horse Nehro was trying to gun down in the Arkansas Derby was the 25-1 upset winner ARCHARCHARCH. Late last year, Archarcharch broke his maiden at second asking in a minor stakes at the Fair Grounds before shipping to Oaklawn for an ungraded stakes where he finished fourth as the even money chalk. Perhaps having fallen off the radar off that effort, Archarcharch was dismissed at over 14-1 in the G3 Southwest but rewarded his backers with a length victory while vaulting back into the Derby picture.
Two starts back in the G2 Rebel when breaking from the rail, Archarcharch missed second money by just a neck while racing fairly evenly throughout while The Factor just bounded along on the lead to win by 6 ¼ lengths.
Regular rider Jon Court and trainer William “Jinks” fires changed tactics a bit in the Arkansas Derby and took Archarcharch to the back of the pack early on after having spent most of his career much closer to the pace. The move worked as Archarcharch closed stoutly while wide from the top of the stretch to the wire to win by a neck. In his most recent morning move, Archarcharch tore through five furlongs in a sparkling :59 2/5 on 4/29 at Churchill.
The horse Nehro was trying to gun down in the Louisiana Derby was the Kelly Breen trained PANTS ON FIRE. It took Pants On Fire three starts to get to the winners’ circle last year, finally doing so in the slop at Delaware Park before getting a ten week layoff.
After a pair of in the money finishes at Aqueduct to end last year and begin this year, Pants On Fire led for most of the way in the G3 Lecomte at the Fair Grounds before getting beat by a rail-skimming Wilkinson. After a terrible trip in the G2 Risen Star that saw Pants On Fire race wide then wider on the turns, Breen made a change.
That change came in the form of new rider Rosie Napravnik, who put Pants On Fire in the perfect spot in the Louisiana Derby just off the leader before riding the hair off of him through the lane en route to a gutsy neck score in what is thus far the best race of his career. Breen has kept Pants On Fire down at palm Meadows in Florida since that victory and he’s worked brilliantly twice at five furlongs, a brisk :58 3/5 on 4/15 and a solid 1:00 4/5 on 4/23. Napravnik will be looking to be the first female rider to win the Derby.
Just about a month ago, MUCHO MACHO MAN figured to be the one that would have taken the most money of this quartet but in this game a month might as well be a century. A winner once from five starts as a two-year-old, Mucho Macho Man had the misfortune of chasing the injured To Honor and Serve around the main track at Aqueduct in the final two starts of the year when he was second in both the G2 Nashua and G2 Remsen.
This season, Mucho Macho Man set the pace as the 2-1 favorite in the G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream before tiring to finish fourth in what would be his last start in blinkers. Trainer Kathy Ritvo took the “Rogue’s Badge” off for his next start, the Risen Star and he rewarded his trainer with a very professional effort en route to a 1 ½ length score in which Mucho Macho Man seemed far more relaxed.
Last out in the Louisiana Derby, Mucho Macho Man was three wide throughout and threw a shoe during the race but still managed to battle gamely through the stretch, ultimately getting beat less than a length while finishing third. As impressive as that effort was the work he’s put in in the mornings since has been spectacular. He blazed five furlongs in :58 1/5 on 4/9 before coming back with a sensational seven panels in 1:23 3/5 in two works at Gulfstream before going another seven eighths in 1:29 1/5 in the slop at Churchill on 4/24. Rajiv Maragh has the call in the Derby.
Should any of the 20 confirmed starters stub their proverbial toe over the course of the next several days, there are four others just dying to get into the starting gate, led by ANTHONY’S CROSS. At 21st on the graded earnings list, Anthony’s Cross would need just one defection to get in.
After breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs around two turns in the fourth start of his career last year, Anthony’s Cross finished third in the G3 Sham before trainer Eoin Harty added blinkers in the G2 Bob Lewis where Anthony’s Cross was victorious by a nose. In the G1 Santa Anita Derby last out, Anthony’s Cross raced evenly throughout before finishing fifth, beaten five lengths in his first start in nearly two months.
G3 Lexington winner DERBY KITTEN is next on the list and would give his trainer Mike Maker a second starter in this years’ Derby as he already conditions Twinspired who’s in the body of the race. Winless in five juvenile starts, Derby Kitten has won twice and placed twice in his four starts this season, including a last to first score in the aforementioned Lexington over the Keeneland Polytrack.
John Shirreffs, best known as the trainer of the great Zenyatta even though he won the 2005 Derby with Giacomo, is hoping against hope that his MR. COMMONS can still sneak into the field. Shirreffs even drilled Mr. Commons a solid seven furlongs in 1:25 1/5 on 4/25 over the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park just in case he gets in. Mr. Commons broke his maiden in his sophomore debut and won an allowance race over conventional dirt at Santa Anita before closing nicely to get third money in the Santa Anita Derby in his latest.
SWAY AWAY would need the most help to get in and would give his conditioner Jeff Bonde a second starter in the Derby as well as he’s set to already saddle Twice the Appeal. The first true “wiseguy” horse on the Trail this year after his fast closing runner-up finish to The Factor in the G2 San Vicente, Sway Away disappointed his backers with a terrible performance in the Rebel before making the lead at the top of the stretch in the Arkansas Derby before tiring to fourth when racing with blinkers for the first time.
In the next installment, we’ll take a look at the Kentucky contingent. See you then.