Here at THE VAULT, we’re thinking about the fillies and colts who tend to fly “under the radar” as Oaks and Derby day draw near. After all, our sport would be awfully dull if the favourites always won.
Along the trail to the first Saturday in May, thoroughbred experts are busy vetting their instincts and know-how to come up with a likely winner. There are all kind of statistics to pour over: past performances, pedigrees, sire records, profiles of trainers and jockeys. And, when the posts are drawn, there will be debates about the impact of starting positions on performance.
Of course, all of this cogitating is what makes horse racing exciting.
With the inevitable focus on favourites, it’s easy to forget that every one of the colts or fillies entered in the Oaks or the Derby are there because they’ve earned it. Collectively, these 3 year-olds rank in the top 1% of all thoroughbreds born in the same year. They are athletes trained to perfection, cared for down to the last detail and, more often than not, loved by their handlers, owners and fans.
As they parade before the stands on their way to the starting gate, we celebrate their accomplishments and the stories that brought them to Churchill Downs. In those opening moments before the field is set on its way, each filly and colt moves in a shining light of possibility.
And, for the true racing fan, that’s what it’s really all about.
(NOTE: This article is based on the leader board (@ http://www.kentuckyderby.com) for the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby as of April 22, 2013)
There have been some stunning Derby upsets: Exterminator, who won in 1918, and Dark Star, who defeated Native Dancer in 1953, to name two of the most famous. Others include Donerail (won in 1913), Bold Venture (won in 1936) and, more recently, Thunder Gulch (1995). And without question we must add the brilliant fillies Regret, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors who raced into history as members of an elite triad:
The Kentucky Oaks, inaugurated in 1875, has a no less prestigious history. Marking the start of Derby weekend, it is still seen as a bit of a “light weight” in comparison to the main event. But there are moments when the fillies deliver a champion so moving and so talented, that they manage to dwarf the colts.
……She stepped onto the track at Churchill Downs undefeated and, accordingly, the favourite in that year’s Kentucky Oaks. Her performance on that day was absolutely mind-boggling. Although Rachel Alexandra was neither a long shot nor an underdog, her resounding victory reminded everyone that great horses aren’t the sole domain of breeders like Coolmore, or trainers with enormous stables.
The place she won in our hearts on that day stands in memory as definitively as Secretariat’s Belmont, or Zenyatta’s triumph in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic.
Kentucky Oaks 2013
Like the Derby, the Oaks has also known its fair share of upsets. The hugest (at 47-1) was Lemons Forever in 2006, who routed the favourite, Balance. But other fillies who flew under the radar until they came across the finish line ahead of the field include: Heavenly Cause (defeating De La Rose, Wayward Lass and the favourite, Truly Bound, in 1981), Seaside Attraction (who beat the undefeated Go For Wand in 1990), Luv Me Luv Me Not (1992), and Farda Amiga (who defeated Take Charge Lady and Habibti in 2002). For all the statistics and analysis, nothing can dull the prospect of that pesky spirit of racing who, every so often, blesses a thoroughbred that was “under the radar.” Here are a few fillies that just might surprise us all.
1. ROSE TO GOLD (Friends Lake ex. Saucy [Tabasco Cat])
The chestnut daughter of Friends Lake is not exactly a long shot for the Oaks, having won 5 of 7 starts since her maiden at 2 and carrying second-highest points in the field.
However, Rose To Gold comes out of a lesser-known stable and is trained by Sal Santoro, who is hardly a household name. Her sire is useful if not brilliant, having yet to produce a superstar in his 6 foal crops to date. Then again, breeders can be fickle and in an environment where stallions like Smarty Jones get little respect, it’s tough to blame a sire for getting more modest winners. Rose To Gold’s pedigree also boasts the likes of A.P. Indy, together with Kentucky Derby winners Spend A Buck, Seattle Slew and Secretariat on top. Her dam, Saucy (Tabasco Cat ex. Sierra Madre by Mr. Prospector) has produced 6 foals to date, of which Rose To Gold is by far the most distinguished.
The question about Rose To Gold centres on the fields she’s taken on, or “Who did she beat?” She comes to the Kentucky Oaks out of Grade 3 stakes company, suggesting that stepping up to take on the likes of Dreaming of Julia will require that she’s at her absolute fittest. And it will be the filly’s first start at 1 1/4 miles. However, Rose To Gold has already romped in the slop to win the Fantasy Stakes and assuming that Calvin Borel — her steady jockey to date — gets the nod to ride her in the Oaks, we can count on her getting a very strategic ride.
2. SILSITA (Macho Uno ex. Naturally Wild [Wild Again])
Macho Uno’s elegant daughter, Silsita, has won 2 of her 4 starts and only ever been out of the money once. Her most recent win came in the Bourbonette, which she took in a head bob, although at the finish she looked as though she could easily go further than the mile. And, in prevailing to win the Bourbonette over a very determined Marathonlady, she showed that toughness that we associate with her grandsire, Holy Bull.
Although the best she has beaten is Pure Fun, and Flashforward proved too much for her in her second start on January 3, Silsita remains a “work in progress,” improving steadily over her last 2 races. Trained by the accomplished Todd Pletcher, we should assume that Silsita’s entry in the Oaks speaks loud about what he thinks of this filly. Silsita’s dam, a daughter of the great producer, Wild Again, made 33 starts, retiring with a record of 6-9-6 and earnings of $293,134 USD. The filly is Naturally Wild’s third foal to date and all have been modestly successful.
Holy Bull’s granddaughter may be poised to make the finest effort of her career on May 3.
3. SEANEEN GIRL (Spring At Last ex. Afternoon Krystal [Afternoon Deelites])
Winstar’s Spring At Last retired a black-type winner and millionaire: among his wins, the Godolphin Mile in the UAE, where he met up with international competition. His first crop are 3 year-olds this year and, if first crops mean anything in terms of a trend, his forte appears to lie with fillies. Spring In The Air and Spring Venture rank 1 and 2 as his most successful progeny, with Seaneen Girl in the number 3 slot. One can only hope that Spring At Last has transmitted some of Ribot’s invincibility to his young daughter:
Racing at 2, Seaneen Girl finished her juvenile season with a win at Churchill Downs in the Golden Rod Stakes.
Having made 7 starts in her career, winning 2 and finishing in the money another 3 times, this filly is honest and has performed consistently as a 3 year-old. She may have been beaten previously by Flashy Gray and Unlimited Budget, but Seaneen Girl has a very canny trainer in Bernie Flint, who has chalked up a sizeable number of winners and been the leading training at several different race tracks, including Churchill Downs.
Even though Seaneen Girl is stepping up in class to take on some serious talent, there is no doubt that she will try her best to run them down. The fractions in her last 2 races compare nicely against the recent performances of favourites like I Dream Of Julia.With a pedigree that includes names like Dynaformer, Waquoit, Graustark (4 X4), Roberto, Princequillo and Secretariat, Seaneen Girl has enough blue blood to do battle with the very best.
KENTUCKY DERBY 2013
1. LINES OF BATTLE (War Front ex. Black Speck [Arch])
Make no mistake about it: Lines of Battle is a very fine specimen who, if he shows up for the Derby, arrives at Churchill Downs with the second-highest earnings in the field. His last race was a win in the UAE Derby (above) and he carries a decidedly American — and deep — pedigree. War Front is proving a very good sire and the colt’s dam, Black Speck, is a half-sister to Dynaformer and she has already produced other black-type winners.
The key factor mitigating against his being a resounding Derby favourite is that it remains unclear whether or not his connections have been able to de-code the requirements to win the Kentucky Derby. Aidan O’Brien has certainly been knocking at the Derby door, and no-one would contest his brilliance. However, Coolmore’s Derby entrants consistently arrive close to Derby day and this means their colts have had little time to acclimatize to the change of scene and the deep Churchill track. Lines of Battle will find himself in the same situation as previous Coolmore entrants, although he does have a dirt pedigree, something that many of the other O’Brien trainees have lacked. The impeccably bred son of War Front will get 2 works over the track prior to the Derby, but it should be noted that several of the hottest contenders have been at Churchill for several weeks.
In terms of running style, Lines of Battle tends to be a closer and, in a race where stalkers and closers have the decided advantage, he may indeed give Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien a much-covetted crown.
2. ITSMYLUCKYDAY (Lawyer Ron ex. Viva La Slew [Doneraile Court])
Although there are stamina questions about the mile and 1/4 being the best fit for this colt, it’s impossible not to love the honest Itsmyluckyday. He’s got all the bling that made us love his daddy, Lawyer Ron. He’s also chalked up a lot of running experience under trainer Eddie Plesa Jr’s tutelage: Itsmyluckyday makes his 11th start on the first Saturday in May.
In the Florida Derby, the colt was well-beaten by Orb, but he also chalked up a second defeat of Shanghai Bobby and Frac Daddy in as many starts. Itsmyluckyday always gives 100% +. And he’s a stalker, another advantage in a Derby where there are no speed horses. But this colt has speed when he needs it: he ran the Gulfstream Park Derby in 1:09 flat in his first start of 2013 (below). In a word, Itsmyluckyday was brilliant in that race, although the competition was not up to the standards of his subsequent Holy Bull win.
But this determined colt is coming along very nicely and he may just do his daddy proud come Derby day!
3. WILL TAKE CHARGE (Unbridled’s Song ex. Take Charge Lady [Dehere])
Aside from the important fact that this colt has done everything right coming up to the Derby, his dam was a superstar who had the kind of heart that makes falling in love with thoroughbreds easy. Will Take Charge is her second offspring, after Take Charge Indy, to show his mettle on the track.
Here is Take Charge Lady battling it out with HOTY Azeri in the 2003 Apple Blossom:
The white-faced Will Take Charge is a big colt, still growing into himself, but he’s willing, rates off the pace nicely and comes with a cavalry charge at the end, as befits his name. If there is reticence about his chances, it might be that he has never gone over a mile and 1/16. But his win in the Rebel was breathtaking and in this, his final pre-Derby prep, Will Take Charge out-duelled his talented stablemate, Oxbow, in a manner that was reminiscent of his dam’s battle with Azeri:
And last, but hardly least, Will Take Charge is trained by HOF trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.