Orb took over the top spot, and Shanghai Bobby took leave, as last weekend's races jostled and jumbled ESPN.com's Top 10 Derby Contenders Poll. Orb had sat atop the poll for two weeks following his victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, but he slipped to No. 2 after Verrazano, who had topped the initial poll, won the Tampa Bay Derby. But those two have swapped places again as a result of Saturday's Florida Derby.
Orb's most recent victory at Gulfstream Park represented another step forward for the long-striding colt. Class, I think, is best defined by an ability to adjust to pace, or overcome a disadvantageous pace; and Orb showed his class in the Florida Derby. In February, when he won the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Orb raced eight lengths back early, behind an opening half-mile of 45.45 seconds. The fast pace played to his strength. The Florida Derby's moderate pace didn't, yet he won impressively anyway. Saturday, he raced four lengths behind a dawdling 48.56 half-mile and then finished strongly in the stretch, running by Itsmyluckyday, to win by nearly three lengths. Shanghai Bobby, who raced close to the pace in third for much of the race, faded to fifth and from the Top 10. No longer being considered for the Derby, Shanghai Bobby will be given a rest.
The Florida Derby wasn't especially fast (1:50.87 for the 1 1/8 miles, compared to Dreaming of Julia's otherworldly 1:48.97 in the Gulfstream Oaks), but it was solid, and it should send Orb to Kentucky as one of the Derby favorites. A potential problem, however, awaits him. John Velazquez, who rode Orb on Saturday, also rides Verrazano.
Meanwhile, at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Revolutionary rallied from far back to win the Louisiana Derby by a neck over Mylute, with Departing third. As is his habit, Revolutionary left the starting gate slowly, but a lively pace (46.34 for the opening half) worked to his advantage; and although the clocking (1:50.28 over a surface that was faster than usual) was rather pedestrian, Revolutionary's performance was probably better than the final time might suggest simply because he lost ground while racing five-wide around the second turn. And although he finished seventh, Palace Malice could be a horse to watch coming out of the race; blocked and checked repeatedly, he could have finished much closer, might even have won, with a better trip.
More turbulence could be in the offing for the Top 10 this week as the major preps continue. Verrazano, Vyjack, Normandy Invasion, Elnaawi and Mr. Palmer are expected for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct; and the Santa Anita Derby is expected to attract Flashback, Hear The Ghost, Goldencents, Super Ninety Nine and Power Broker.
Speaking of going to the Kentucky Derby, Orb's Hall of Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey, said during his "In the Gate" interview, "He's going to take us there; we're not going to take him." With four consecutive victories, including two major stakes, Orb will indeed take his connections to Kentucky. The Derby points leader reportedly was doing very well after his recent victory in Florida.
The most exciting horse in the sport will use Saturday's Wood Memorial as his final preparatory race before traveling to Churchill Downs. Verrazano worked five-eighths of a mile Sunday (1:01.17) at Palm Meadows in company with stablemate Discreet Dancer, winner of the recent Gulfstream Park Handicap. Their trainer, Todd Pletcher, said it was "another excellent work" for Verrazano, who has won his three races by a combined 27 lengths.
With his victory in the Louisiana Derby, Revolutionary proved he can successfully take his talent on the road. He's one of the few horses, in fact, on the road to Kentucky who has shown an ability to overcome trouble, whether it's traffic or geometric, and win. Still, he has yet to run a fast race or defeat a top competitor.
In preparation for the Wood Memorial, Vyjack worked three-quarters of a mile Saturday in 1:12.63. He left the pole about three lengths behind Aussi Austin, a 5-year-old who has earned $81,569 in his career, and inched in front of his stablemate at the wire without much encouragement. All four of Vyjack's victories have come at Aqueduct.
In preparation for the Santa Anita Derby, Flashback worked an easy half-mile Monday in 48 seconds. His only loss came in the San Felipe Stakes, where he rushed into a hot pace but then faltered in deep stretch, finishing second to Hear The Ghost. Still, Flashback will be the favorite in the morning line for the Santa Anita Derby, "most likely 9-5," according to track handicapper Jon White. Flashback will also have a new rider Saturday, Garrett Gomez.
Did he peak too early? Or was it the added distance, or perhaps the added time between races? Whatever the cause, on Saturday Itsmyluckyday didn't come close to duplicating his performance in the Holy Bull Stakes. He enjoyed a perfect trip in the Florida Derby and hit the front in mid-stretch, but he couldn't withstand the charge of Orb. Still, he's one of the most talented 3-year-olds around and could be a major factor in Kentucky if he recovers his best form.
T6. Hear The Ghost
In preparation for the Santa Anita Derby, he worked an easy five-eighths of a mile Saturday at Hollywood Park in 1:02. Although his victory in the San Felipe won't earn him the favorite's role Saturday, he remains one of the most intriguing 3-year-olds simply because he's so lightly raced and seems to have his best in front of him. The San Felipe was his first start around two turns, and he comes from the stable of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
8. Will Take Charge
The improving winner of the Rebel Stakes worked an easy half-mile last week at Oaklawn Park (49.20), but he could go on the road for his next start. He's likely for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 13, according to his Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.
9. Normandy Invasion
He dropped out of the Top 10 after finishing fifth in the Risen Star Stakes in February, but he returns in time for his next outing, Saturday's Wood Memorial, where he probably needs a top-three finish to earn enough points to get into the Derby. Actually, his Risen Star was much better than it might first appear. He had a nightmarish trip in New Orleans, and appears to have been training sharply since then, with a bullet half-mile (47.95) Sunday at Palm Meadows. He could be Verrazano's most serious threat Saturday and one of the most intriguing horses on the road to Kentucky.
The Rebel runner-up worked an easy three-quarters of a mile Thursday (1:16) at Oaklawn Park in preparation for the Arkansas Derby on April 13. He has been consistent and reliable all season, and in recent years Oaklawn Park has proved to be among the best places to prepare for the Kentucky Derby.
Also receiving votes: Uncaptured (15), Lines Of Battle (13), Mylute (11), War Academy (10), Govenor Charlie (6), Power Broker (6), Rydilluc (6), Dreaming of Julia (5), Code West (3), Goldencents (3), Palace Malice (2), Java's War (2), Den's Legacy (1)
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