Friday, February 22, 2013

Let the "Championship Series" Begin


The first ever "Prep Season" which was based on a 10-4-2-1 point scale for the Kentucky Derby is officially in the history books. While there are many horses with points already attached to their names, none of these three-year-olds are a lock for the Derby yet as they might have been in years past. We now turn the page to the first leg of the "Championship Series" where the points jump to 50-20-10-5 and a win in one of these next eight races should all but guarantee a spot in the Derby.

The Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Saturday dates back to 1945 and is the stepping stone to the Florida Derby (G1) in March. This is one of the more prominent early Derby preps but you have to go back 13 years to find the last winner (1995 Thunder Gulch) of this race that went on to win the Derby. Before that you have to go all the way back to 1979 and Spectacular Bid.

Violence, winner of the CashCall Futurity (G1) over the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park back in December returns to the dirt for his sophomore debut in the 10-horse FOY field as he looks to remain undefeated for Todd Pletcher. Falling Sky, the winner of Sam F. Davis (G3) is the only other graded stakes winner entered. There are some other promising three-year-olds such as Orb, Majestic Hussar, Elmutahid and Cerro that look to place themselves in the Derby picture if they hit the board on Saturday.

A star looks to rise on Saturday at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star (G2) as 14 horses are scheduled to load the gate in the Bayou. History will not be on the side of the winner that emerges from this full field. Not one horse has gone on to win the Derby after capturing the Risen Star or the Louisiana Derby Trial as it was previously named which was first run in 1973.

Normany Invasion makes his anticipated three-year-old debut in this star-studded field after an impressive closing run in the Remsen (G2) where he missed out by a nose. Oxbow will be the one to run down after running away with the LeComte (G3) over this track just last month by an astounding 11 3/4 lengths. Bob Baffert ships in Code West from California while Todd Pletcher is represented by Palace Malace and Steve Asmussen has recent maiden winner Proud Strike.

With fewer races to run in under the new points system the fields will likely be larger from here on out. This weekend is going to separate the contenders from the pretenders and there will be some talented horses exiting with little to no points. Saturday can't come soon enough as we get closer and closer to that first Saturday in May.

Fountain of Youth (G2)
2/23 Gulfstream Park 5:35 EST
Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16m

3 Violence 9-5
Undefeated, Grade 1 and Grade 2 winner will be tough to beat here as the Risen Star looks to be the tougher field of the two races this weekend. 

4 Majestic Hussar 6-1
Coming off a 104 BRIS Speed rating over this track in an allowance optional claimer last out tries two turns for the first time. Look for him to hit the board and could upset Violence if he handles the distance.

10 Falling Sky 6-1
If he shows better form coming down the stretch than last race he should be there at the end. 

5 Elmutahid 20-1
Recent maiden winner for Kiaran McLaughlin over this track in his first start on dirt will be interesting to watch as he makes a huge jump in class here. Could be a sleeper in the field. 

Ex/Tri Bx: 3,4,10,6

Risen Star (G2)
2/23 Fair Grounds 5:57 EST
Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16m

10 Oxbow 5-1
D. Wayne Lukas has this colt peaking at the right time. If he improves off his romp in the LeComte then he will be very tough to run down. This son of Awesome Again has the pedigree to run all day and is Lucas' best chance to return to the Derby this year (unless Titletown Five gets going here soon). 

9 Normandy Invasion 5-2
Fair Grounds is historically not kind to closers. Will be closing late, but a 1/16 of a mile shorter than the Remsen certainly will not help this Chad Brown colt's chances in running down Oxbow. 

2 Code West 6-1
Ran second to the impressive Super Ninety Nine last out in an optional claimer and is one of many talented up-and-coming three-year-olds entered. Bob Baffert will have the son of Lemon Drop Kid ready to try and pull off the upset. 

1 Proud Strike 8-1
Impressive 7 1/2-length maiden winner over this track at the distance last month could pull off the upset if he handles the large jump in class here. 

6 Palace Malace 6-1
Don't usually like putting five horses up here but with a full field and track likely to come up wet it's tough not to include him as he is the only one to run over a sloppy track.

Ex/Tri Bx: 10,9,2,1,6

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