My latest Kentucky Derby Top 10

Submitted this week to the Paulick Report, which publishes turf writers’ Top 10 Derby lists weekly:

1. Lookin At Lucky — Baffert believes he’ll be even better on dirt
2. Buddy’s Saint — Like how he won the Remsen from off the pace
3. Tiz Chrome — Son of Tiznow should relish two turns
4. Super Saver — Pletcher’s best hope to win first Derby?
5. Jackson Bend — He’s got dangerous tactical speed
6. Eskendereya — Just one of many talented Pletcher sophomores
7. Ron the Greek — Watch replay of Lecomte to become a believer
8. American Lion — Another Tiznow colt who should love more distance
9. Rule — Roman Ruler colt gives Pletcher a trio in our rankings
10. Eightyfiveinafifty — Give this speedster one more shot

So how about you? The Future Derby wagering begins this week. Who are you picking to win the 136th Derby on May 1? If you don’t see your horse on our list, leave a comment and tell us why you think you’ve got the winner.


Quality Road wins Donn like a monster

He might not have beaten much, but like they say, a horse can only defeat what shows up in the starting gate.

Quality Road stamped himself as the top older handicap horse in the country Saturday, easily winning the $500,000 Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Florida by 12 3/4 lengths over Dry Martini in a track-record time of 1:47.49 for the 1 1/8 miles on dirt.

Anyone who thinks Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will have the spotlight to themselves this year better think again.

Quality Road, the 2-5 favorite with John Velazquez in the saddle, is two for two this year after his Breeders’ Cup Classic antics last November at Santa Anita when he refused to enter the starting gate and had to be scratched.

The Elusive Quality colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, has won six of nine lifetime. Too bad we still have Pro-Ride at Santa Anita or we might have gotten a chance to see this guy in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

Whatever, Quality Road figures as a major player this season if he stays healthy. He could be this year’s Curlin.

Rachel Alexandra works four furlongs

Rachel Alexandra, 2009 Horse of the Year, had her second official work at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Saturday since returning to training. The 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro breezed four furlongs in 50 3/5 seconds and galloped out five furlongs in 1:04, according to the track’s clockers.

Regular exercise rider Dominic Terry was aboard Rachel Alexandra, who was accompanied by assistant trainer Scott Blasi while trainer Steve Asmussen watched the proceedings from horseback.

“She’s very special,” Asmussen said afterward. “I thought she looked beautiful. She went :50 3/5 today off of her :52 the other day. I think that’s pretty much the progression that we’re expecting.”

Asked when the filly will be ready to race, Asmussen said the horse’s connections will continue to “do what’s right by her.” He said Saturday’s work was “the next step in the process.”

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., has offered to raise the purse for its Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 3 from $500,000 to $5 million if both Rachel Alexandra and the unbeaten Zenyatta enter the starting gate.

Zenyatta is tentatively scheduled to make her 2010 debut in the $250,000 Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 13 at Santa Anita and the 6-year-old mare’s connections have said they would like to run in the Apple Blossom if Zenyatta is ready to go.

Rachel Alexandra has not raced since beating older males in the Woodwood Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 5. The Fair Grounds has written a $200,000 stakes race for her return that is scheduled for March 13, but neither Asmussen nor owner Jess Jackson has said when or where Rachel Alexandra will make her first start of the year.

Rachel, Zenyatta at Oaklawn? Hold your horses

On the surface, Oaklawn Park President Charles Cella’s offer to raise the purse of the Apple Blossom Handicap from $500,000 to $5 million if both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta start in the April 3 race for older fillies and mares seems like a great opportunity to get these two talented distaffers on the track together.

But let’s hang on a second. It might not work.

It’s far more plausible at this point that Zenyatta will make the race. She had been in light training since her historic Breeders’ Cup Classic victory on Nov. 7 and is now breezing in earnest for what is expected to be her 2010 debut in the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 13 at Santa Anita.

The Apple Blossom, which would be increased from 1 1/16 to 1 1/8 miles and undergo a name change to the Apple Blossom Invitational, is three weeks after the Santa Margarita, which would be a good tuneup for Zenyatta. She’s always had at least four weeks between starts, but the shorter three-week gap shouldn’t be a problem.

The problem is Rachel Alexandra, who was off from Sept. 5 — the date of her victory over older males in the Woodward Stakes — until last weekend, when she breezed four furlongs in an easy 52 seconds at the Fair Grounds, which has written a special $200,000 stakes race for her comeback on the same day as the Santa Margarita.

Will Rachel be ready to go on March 13? If not, there’s no way she will make the Apple Blossom unless her connections decide to make the race her 2010 debut. That’s about as likely as me riding one of the two horses when they meet. Rachel’s camp will want to have a prep race, like Zenyatta’s run in the Santa Margarita, before a meeting that could be the most anticipated horse race ever.

I hope it happens. But I have huge doubts that it will. At this point, I’d says it’s a little less than 50-50 they will meet in the Apple Blossom, which will revert back to its original conditions if one of the two doesn’t show.

It says here Zenyatta is a likely participant, but that Rachel’s extended layoff and late return to the track because of severe weather in New Orleans make it less likely the 2009 Horse of the Year will be there.

But don’t despair. There are quite a few spots they could meet in the next few months, including the $300,000 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend. I’m sure Churchill officials could ante up much like Oaklawn did and make the purse large enough that third place was lucrative enough for other fillies and mares to show up. They could also increase the race’s distance from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 like the Apple Blossom.

That seems a much more likely race for these two horses to hook up. Zenyatta will have raced in both the Santa Margarita and Apple Blossom and Rachel will by then have had a chance to run in a prep for the big showdown. We want both of these standouts to be at 100 percent when they square off, nothing less.

It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.

What do you think?


Kentucky Derby Top 10

Here’s the top 10 list of Kentucky Derby contenders I sent to the Paulick Report this week, before it was revealed that Winslow Homer, winner of the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, has a stress fracture and is off the Triple Crown trail:

1. Lookin At Lucky — Has done nothing wrong in six lifetime races
2. Winslow Homer — Three consecutive victories in three different states
3. Buddy’s Saint — Won Grade 2 Nashua and Remsen by combined 16 3/4 lengths
4. Tiz Chrome — We’ll see how he looks around two turns on Saturday
5. Eightyfiveinafifty — Forest Camp colt might just be a freak
6. Super Saver — Todd Pletcher’s No. 1 contender already has won at Churchill
7. Jackson Bend — Runner-up to Winslow Homer in Holy Bull
8. Eskendereya — Another talented Pletcher runner
9. Ron the Greek — Impressive winner of Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds
10. American Lion — Set to tackle Tiz Chrome in Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita

What do you think? Who do you like as we set off on the Derby trail?

Santa Anita’s announcement delayed

Santa Anita President Ron Charles said over the weekend that the official word on what surface the track will install after the current meet has been delayed by parent company Magna Entertainment Corp’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Although, through maneuvering, Frank Stronach will retain his major race tracks, including Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields and Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita officials are waiting before they can make the official announcement about the racing surface because of legalities concerning Magna’s bankruptcy.

Charles said Stronach is due in town shortly and that an announcement will be made at that time. It will be dirt, because there’s no way in heck Stronach will OK another synthetic, but no track official will confirm that dirt will be the new racing surface. Charles announced on Jan. 18 that the track would replace its current synthetic Pro-Ride surface at the end of the meet and at the time expected to have a decision in a matter of days, not weeks.

Meanwhile, some in the Santa Anita press box were second guessing the decision to go back to dirt over the weekend, claiming the sealed tracks will lead to the type of breakdowns that plagued the SoCal tracks before the synthetics.

Two things about that:

(1) The bases are now new, not decades old like before the synthetic tracks were installed.
(2) The tighter scrutiny designed to spot unsound horses before they race, both while they warm up and then before they enter the starting gate, was not in place the last time we had sealed tracks.

Put in a quality dirt surface and, coupled with these new bases, they will be just fine. Yes, there will be some breakdowns, there are always going to be breakdowns because these powerful horses carry a ton of weight on those spindly legs.

But the fatalities will be no worse than over the synthetics, and we won’t have the different types of injuries that began cropping up when the synthetics were installed.