- Bill Finley
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It was a busy and conclusive Saturday for dozens of Kentucky Derby contenders as four major preps separated the contenders from the pretenders. Taking a look at last weekend's races and who's hot and who's not:
The Louisiana Derby: Friesan Fire need not take a backseat to stable mate Old Fashioned any longer. He was clearly the star of the weekend, demolishing a deep field at the Fair Grounds in a 7 ¼-length win in the Louisiana Derby. He's 3-for-3 this year, sweeping the series of Derby preps at the Fair Grounds and has improved every time out.
A well-bred horse in the hands of a capable trainer (Larry Jones), he is a very solid Kentucky Derby prospect.
Of the other eight starters in the race, it's hard to be excited about any. Papa Clem managed to finish second, but was beaten a long way by the winner and had a perfect trip, setting a slow pace over a sloppy track. With no excuses, Giant Oak and Flying Pegasus never challenged and can no longer be regarded as serious Derby contenders. The biggest disappointment was Patena, who beat just one horse in his debut for Rick Dutrow and IEAH Stables. IEAH won the Derby last year with Big Brown, but will need a miracle to make it back-to-back wins. Stardom Bound was life-and-death a week earlier to beat fillies in the Santa Anita Oaks and Patena all but ran himself off the Kentucky Derby trail with a dull race.
The Rebel: It's not looking good for Old Fashioned, and I'm stunned. At the start of the year, I was convinced he was far and away the most talented 3-year-old in the country. Not anymore. He won his 2009 debut in workmanlike fashion in the Southwest Stakes and then had no response Saturday when challenged in the stretch by 56-1 shot Win Willy in the Rebel. He was close to a very fast pace, but that's not enough of an excuse to ignore the fact he was beaten in a race where it appeared he would dominate second-string competition.
Actually, Win Willy ran a heck of a race. He was last early, looped the field and exploded in the stretch to blow past Old Fashioned, who was clearly second best. But how excited could anyone be about a horse who isn't even nominated to the Triple Crown and, prior to the Rebel, was a non-descript sprinter?
Old Fashioned deserves another chance, which will come in the Arkansas Derby, but his stock has definitely fallen sharply. He got a 98 Beyer figure in the Rebel and a 93 in the Southwest. He was faster last year, when he got a 100 Beyer when winning the Remsen. Some horses just don't progress from their 2-year-old to 3-year-old seasons and he might be one of them.
From this race, only the winner and Old Fashioned are legit Kentucky Derby contenders.
The San Felipe: Pioneerof the Nile got the job done, but I wasn't in love with his race. He faced nothing in the way of competition, yet had to work pretty hard to put away his rivals in a 1 ¼-length win. He defeated Feisty Suances, who was coming off a fourth-place finish in the California Derby and had a career best Beyer figure of 83.
The good thing about Pioneerof the Nile is that he goes out there and wins. The real test for him will be in the Santa Anita Derby, where he'll face The Pamplemousse. He might need to step it up to stay on top of the California division. Those two remain far ahead of the pack in California, which has lost I Want Revenge to the New York Derby preps.
The Tampa Bay Derby: The Tampa Bay Derby had the weakest field of any of Saturday's four Derby preps, so race winner Musket Man isn't going to soar on anyone's Top Ten lists. Nonetheless, he ran a terrific race, overcoming a terrible trip to win by a neck. With top local rider Daniel Centeno aboard, he got in trouble twice down the backstretch and had to stop, start, stop and start again. That's an awful lot for a horse to overcome. He'll have to face tougher in his next start, but don't be surprised if he were to come out on top again.
The 2-1 favorite was Hello Broadway, who finished seventh. His best races have been one-turn sprints, probably where he'll return to now that it's obvious he's not a Kentucky Derby horse.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at email@example.com.
It was a busy and conclusive Saturday for dozens of Kentucky Derby contenders as four major preps separated the contenders from the pretenders.