The first weekend of April is typically a make-or-break time for three year-old colts. In what is usually the last of their derby preps, horses need to show signs of improvement and the ability to run at least 1 1/.8 mile without any stamina issues.
The Santa Anita Derby, The Wood Memorial from Aqueduct, and the Illinois Derby from Hawthorne Racecourse have all showcased what could be one of the deepest crop of talented three year-old’s in recent history. In somewhat of a surprising result, all three races were won by horses that were at or near the front in their respective races.
In the Santa Anita Derby, the heavy betting-favorite, Lookin at Lucky was a little fractious in the gate prior to the start, had a ton of trouble getting into position on the first turn, and was completely stopped by getting pinched on the rail just before the field was set to hit the top of the homestretch.
Either way, he may never have caught front-runner Sidney’s Candy who shined under 20 year-old jockey Joe Talamo. The pair set very favorable fractions on the front-end with very little pressure throughout the race.
With Lookin at Lucky getting into trouble, Sidney’s Candy opened up by an easy four lengths with a quarter-mile to go. After some navigation back into the clear by Garrett Gomez, Lookin at Lucky came home strong for an amazing third-place considering the tough ride he encountered.
With many Southern Californian trainers shipping their crops across the country to train on dirt surfaces this season, Sidney’s Candy's impressive win could have been validated with the results of the other preps this afternoon.
The Illinois Derby has really not produced a whole lot of success on the first Saturday in May in recent years, but on Saturday a field of eight was looking to prove the pessimistic minds wrong four weeks from the big day.
Richard Dutrow Jr. trained the unexpected favorite, Yawanna Twist. He shipped in from New York opting out of the Wood Memorial for an easier event at Hawthorne.
American Lion, trained by Eoin Harty, went off as the second betting-choice, and decided to prove the punters wrong. In similar fashion to that of Sidney’s Candy, jockey David Flores sent him right to the front of the pack out of the starting gates. He didn’t enjoy quite as comfortable of a trip as Sidney’s Candy, but he did slow down the fractions enough to of benefit down the stretch.
He received a huge challenge from Yawanna Twist as they met head-to-head with about an eighth of a mile to go, and he turned back his foe and stomped away to nearly a three-length victory. In doing so, he punched his ticket to the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 1st.
He also could have validated the performance of Sidney’s Candy who he finished a distant fifth-place to in the San Felipe Stakes from Santa Anita on March 13th. They both will be able to count on a rematch barring any setbacks prior to the Kentucky Derby.
In what could have been considered the most impressive performance of any Derby contender to date, Eskendereya romped away as the odds-on choice at Aqueduct in the famous Wood Memorial. The chalk-bettors got every penny worth of effort out of the colt by Giant’s Causeway.
Todd Pletcher may be the unluckiest of Derby trainers over the past decade, but he may shake the jinx if Eskendereya can repeat his performance in four weeks. Nearly ten lengths separated him and second-place finisher Jackson Bend.
The snake-bitten duo of Pletcher and jockey John Velasquez has had the worst of look in the Kentucky Derby, but the way Eskendereya opened up on the field could make him the Derby-favorite. Eskendereya sat just behind 70-1 longshot, Most Happy Fella until the far turn and moved comfortably by as the closers revved up their motors.
Awesome Act, Schoolyard Dreams, and Jackson Bend looked a class level or two behind Eskendereya as not one of them gained ground when they hit the top of the stretch. It will be interesting to see with next weekend’s Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes wrapping up the most important Derby preps, how Eskendereya’s performance will be compared with the rest of the potential field.
In other racing news…
If any filly looks to follow-up the three year-old campaign that Rachel Alexandra put together by taking a shot at the Kentucky Derby, it could be Ashland Stakes winner Evening Jewel. She upset two-year champion She Be Wild by turning her bid back at the top of the stretch, and held of the 18-1 It’s Tea Time by a head to win at odds of 5-1.
It will be interesting to see if any of the fillies coming out of the race decide to take shot with the boys. Based on what happen to She Be Wild, it is highly unlikely that a filly will enter.