Don’t go overboard on Eskendereya’s victory

Before you fall in love with Eskendereya’s 9 3/4-length romp in Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and think he’s the odds-on choice to win the Kentucky Derby, remember this — Bellamy Road won the 2005 Wood by 17 lengths, went postward as the 5-2 Derby favorite and finished seventh, beaten about seven lengths by 50-1 long-shot winner Giacomo.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very impressed the way the Todd Pletcher-trained son of Giant’s Causeway drew off and beat his five rivals with complete ease without jockey John Velazquez even using the stick once. It was by far the most impressive Derby prep victory, following his 8 1/2-length score in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20.

But remember this — there were only five other horses in the race, and how good was the competition? Jeremy Noseda, the trainer for Awesome Act who was the 5-2 second choice in the race and had won the Gotham Stakes on March 6 in a career-best performance, even admitted four days before the face that he was fearful his colt could bounce off the effort. He lost a shoe at the start of the Wood, so he might have had an excuse.

When Eskendereya loads into the starting gate for what is expected to be another full Derby field, he’ll have much more to beat, including Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney’s Candy, 2009 2-year-old male champion Lookin At Lucky, other talented Pletcher runners and whoever emerges from this weekend’s Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes in top form. He’s not likely to get the dream journeys he’s gotten in his past two starts, either.

Still, can Eskendereya, who’s won those two races by a combined 18 1/4 lengths, be beaten in the Derby?

“Yes, they can beat him,” said Scotty McClellan, agent for jockey Joe Talamo, who rode Sidney’s Candy to a 4 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. “I mean, he was running against a group that I don’t think was the strongest group in the world. It was a six-horse field, the second choice (Awesome Act) was tremendously rank like American Lion was the previous time when he ran (at Santa Anita).

“(Awesome Act) was rank in the backside the whole way. He ran third and almost was second. Eskendereya had a perfect trip, but he is a very good horse. I’m not doubting his ability, but I’m doubting the ones behind him that he ran against. I don’t think it was that strong a field. But he also was very impressive. He comes into the race excellent, he can run over the dirt (four for four) and he’s got tactical speed.”

As it stands now, Pletcher, who’s started 24 horses in nine Derbies without winning, has eight possible starters for the May 1 race — Eskendereya, Rule, Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine, Aikenite, Interactif, Super Saver and the filly Devil May Care. Aikenite, Interactif and Super Saver are all scheduled to go in Derby preps this weekend.

Trainer Nick Zito’s Jackson Bend, who finished second behind Eskendereya on Saturday and also was runner-up in the Fountain of Youth, earned $150,000 in the Wood and has enough graded-stakes earnings to start in the Derby if his connections want to go. Zito told the Daily Racing Form on Sunday that the colt will be shipped to Louisville and a decision on his status will be made closer to the race.

Meanwhile, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said Sunday he’d like to send Santa Anita Derby runner-up Setsuko to Louisville but isn’t sure if he’ll have enough earnings if the race oversubscribes.

Caracortado, who finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby after steadying in the incident with Lookin At Lucky and Who’s Up and has now lost his past two races after winning the first five starts of his career, also could be shut out of the Kentucky Derby because of a lack of earnings.

Jockey Paul Atkinson, who rode Caracortado, thought the incident between Lookin At Lucky and Who’s Up was going to turn out worse than it did.

“It looked so bad in front of me, I said to myself, ‘He’s (Gomez) going down, we’re both going down,’ because there was nowhere I could go,” Atkinson said. “Thank God we didn’t fall. Then I just tried to scramble and he did make his run and he came flying.

“I’m sorry this probably puts us out of the Kentucky Derby because of not having enough graded earnings unless someone comes out. I still think he deserves a shot.”

“We have no plans right now,” Caracortado’s trainer, Mike Machowsky, said. “We’ll see how it plays out. I wouldn’t rule out the Derby, but he’d have to be kicking the barn down and all that. I don’t think anybody was going to beat Sidney’s Candy. He looked very, very strong. Too bad there was all that rough riding.”

15 thoughts on “Don’t go overboard on Eskendereya’s victory

  1. Eskendereya has looked great. And he is a nice looking specimen. But the fact is, he’s had two cushy trips and they may not have been ideal preps for the Derby. He has not had to deal with an intense pace and he has faced no adversity. Where is he going to be early in the Derby? Can you see him coming from 10th to win? I think this crop looks pretty good. I can’t fault people if they end up on him, but he’s no value at less than 7-2, I’d say.

  2. One other thing, I would not compare him to Bellamy Road. I was against Bellamy Road becasue his Wood was so big relative to his previous form that it was impossible for him to go forward on Derby Day. Eskendereya seems to have a better foundation and at least some room for improvement.

  3. Kyle … my guess right now is 5-2 or lower on Eskendereya in the Derby, depending if some horse turns in a powerful effort in either the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass. Of course, we don’t know what the pace is going to be like, but I think he’s got a little more tactical speed where I think he’ll be closer than 10th early on.

  4. I know what you mean, Art. He has been tactical to this point, but now he comes into the Derby off a 49.3 half and a 113.3 six furlongs. If he now is forced to track a 46.4/111.2 pace, what effect does that have on his kick? I made one future bet in the last pool and it was a Eskendereya/Dublin/Sidney’s Candy/Field box. Lookin’ At Lucky was the other I considered. At this point I would trade him for Eskendereya only because the two year old champ has shown he’ll keep running despite adversity.

  5. Danny, I agree with you about Setsuko. Mandella is not the type who wants to go to the Derby just to go. If he wants to go, he believes the horse has some sort of shot. Setsuko seems to be improving, too. Who knows. After what Mine That Bird pulled off last year, Setsuko is not that far-fetched if he got in.

  6. totally agree reminds me of bellamy road. What happens when he has to fight? It’s not gonna be that easy on derby day unless he is barbaro or smarty jones. Over bet is the words that come to mind and thats good for the rest of us. I sure would like to see Setsuko get in, love Mandela’s understated confidence and if Raffy rides him look out. Dont care for the other closers from florida.

  7. you fellas might want to watch the FOY again. or maybe i need too???

    i seem to recall the 8 post going 9F?
    6-7 wide around the 1st turn?
    an honest pace?
    still crushed?

    then ice box and pleasant (? name escapes me right now) come back and finish 1-2 in the FL Derby to boot.

    i agree with kyle about not comparing him to bellamy road. that was his only stakes win wasn’t it? and like kyel said BR didn’t have the foundation eskendereya has.

    as far as i’m concerned, and i don’t want this but, nobody else even really needs to show up to Louisville. it’s over. sorry.

  8. Nice writing Art. I think we are getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Sidney’s Candy has a chance to wire because he runs steady quarters but the question will be, ‘ stalker or a closer’? and what about the draw? I’m just sayin’…

  9. In addition to what others have already said, also remember that Bellamy Road’s derby had a scorching pace and he was cooked after 3/4. The horse who ended up winning, Giacamo, didn’t win anything of note afterwards. In my mind 2005 was one of the more fluky derbies in recent years and simply throwing out a comparison to Bellamy Road without some context is a misleading.

  10. Wake up, dimwits!

    The 2010 Wood Memorial featured the slowest pace in the race in at least 20 years!

    It was a farce, and the end result was almost entirely a product of that crawling pace. You have to go twenty years back, to a time when tracks in NY were much slower, to find the last renewal with a similar pace.

    Most of Eskendereya’s relatively high Beyer figure is directly the product of that slow early tempo.

    Guess again!

  11. Art,

    You couldn’t have said it better!! As someone who has “Been there, done that” as an asst. tr with a contender in 2005, I recall very well what we faced on Wood day in Bellamy Road. He was a freak, he destroyed what looked like a quality field. It’s only 5 years later that we can see that the field was actually not all that strong. Sure we had the Gotham winner, the Whirlaway winner, and some others, but the careers of the also rans really didn’t escalate into the stratospheres that were projected as their future back in the spring of ’05.

    I had the good fortune to return to Aqueduct last Saturday and to be in the paddock for the Wood. Eskendereya is impressive physically, moreso than Bellamy Road was I thought. But as you point out, he’s had perfect trips in his preps, and who has he faced? All his beauty and ratability will come into a much more intense proposition in the first turn at Churchill. And I don’t know that he’ll be able to rise above 19 foes.

    I have to agree with the opinions eschewed all over the net right now, it’s a lottery draw for the 3yr old of the year. Well that is if we ignore the filly Blind Luck, but even she has not had the best spring.

    Let’s face it, the twin spires are gonna loom into view, NBC will profile all the ‘right’ pre-race choices, and someone will gallop away with all of us going, “Oh yea I guess I can see how he won.”

    But I strongly believe that Eskendereya will return to the category of derby favorites that fail to win.

    ~E

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