Lookin At Lucky retains top spot in Derby rankings

Lookin At Lucky retained the No. 1 spot in the Kentucky Derby top 10 that I submitted to the Paulick Report this week for one major reason — his overall resume is still greater than Eskendereya’s.

Granted, the Todd Pletcher-trained Eskendereya has looked like a monster in his past two starts, winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by a combined 18 1/4 lengths. He might still be on the improve, which is a scary thought.

But Lookin At Lucky, whose only two career losses in eight races were a head defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he started from the outside in a 13-horse field and last Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby when he lost all chance around the far turn after taking up dramatically, is going to run a huge race at Churchill Downs on May 1.

I think he’ll like the dirt better and jockey Garrett Gomez learned a valuable lesson on Saturday, which is to keep the horse on the outside and just let him run. Expect a much different colt at Churchill Downs.

My latest top 10:

1. Lookin At Lucky — Expect a much better ride by Gomez in the Derby
2. Eskendereya — Is he the next Bellamy Road, or another Big Brown?
3. Sidney’s Candy — I have the feeling this guy can rate if necessary
4. Dublin — Will try to improve on Rebel effort in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby
5. Noble’s Promise — Always right there, but hasn’t kicked door in recently
6. Interactif — One of eight Pletcher runners that could start in the Derby
7. Conveyance — Baffert hasn’t given up on him yet so I won’t either
8. Ice Box — Florida Derby winner will run in Kentucky off six-week layoff
9. Endorsement — Like the way he won Sunland Derby, but how good is he?
10. Super Saver — Eager to see how he runs at Oaklawn Park on Saturday

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.”

Santa Anita Derby looks like three-horse race

I think one of three horses — heavy favorite Lookin At Lucky, Sidney’s Candy or Caracortado — will win today’s Santa Anita Derby.

Lookin At Lucky, the prohibitive 4-5 favorite, has the most impressive resume of any of this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders, what with three Grade 1 victories on his ledger and six wins in seven starts overall.

But, both the Florida Derby on March 20 and last Saturday’s Louisiana Derby were won by outsiders and the Santa Anita Derby might fall right in line by producing an upset winner.

Consider:

* Sidney’s Candy has the speed to wire his nine opponents. He doesn’t figure to get the same soft fractions he got when he went gate to wire in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 13, but his sire, Candy Ride, won the 2003 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, setting a track and stakes record in the process, and Sidney’s Candy, who’ll be ridden by Joe Talamo, could easily wire this field today.

* Caracortado, who suffered his first loss in the San Felipe when he finished third behind Sidney’s Candy and Interactif, should get a more realisitic pace to run at here and could be tough to hold off in the stretch. He’s a Cal-bred, but remember, Cal-breds have won two of the past eight Santa Anita Derbies, including Brother Derek in 2006 and Came Home in 2002.

Some handicappers like Alphie’s Bet today, but I don’t see it. He looked impressive in winning the Sham Stakes on March 6, but he didn’t beat much and his Beyer Speed Figure for the race — 86 — was not impressive.

It will be one of the top three in the winner’s circle today, and it’s hard to pick against Lookin At Lucky because of what he’s accomplished so far in his young career.

If Derby was today, Eskendereya could be shut out

Todd Pletcher told a national teleconference this week that he has seven, possibly eight, Kentucky Derby starters in his stable. But perhaps the best of all, Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Eskendereya, is only 28th on the list of graded stakes earnings for 3-year-olds.

The field for the Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters, with preference given to horses with the highest career earnings in graded stakes races in the event that more than 20 owners want to run.

“I think we have seven still in the hunt,” Pletcher said. “You can even throw Devil May Care, the filly, in there. It’s not impossible that we would consider running her.”

Devil May Care is No. 10 on the list with $364,000 in graded earnings. She’s safe. But Eskendereya, who won the Fountain of Youth by 8 1/2 lengths on Feb. 20 at Gulfstream Park, needs to finish in the top three in Saturday’s $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in order to secure a spot in the Derby.

Pletcher said if Eskendereya fails to finish in the money in the Wood, something probably will have gone wrong and he won’t be a candidate for the Derby anyway. He’s not too worried about it because the Giant’s Causeway colt has won three of five with one second for graded earnings of $150,000 — about $38,000 behind the No. 20 horse on the earnings list, Uh Oh Bango.

The only time Eskendereya finished up the track was a ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7 when he was essentially taken out of the race early.

“He lost any chance going into the first turn in the Breeders’ Cup,” Pletcher said. “He didn’t get away real cleanly, he went to the first turn and he was sandwiched in between horses. He just got annihilated from both sides. Since we never had an opportunity after that, I didn’t even get a good enough line on it to know whether or not he handled the synthetic track.”

Pletcher, who’s 0 for 24 in the Derby, ranks his colt right up there with 2009 2-year-old champ Lookin At Lucky. Both are 1-2 on most Kentucky Derby lists.

“I think (Eskendereya) belongs at the top of the list,” he said. “To me, you have to rank Lookin At Lucky number one. I mean, he’s the champion 2-year-old and came back with a big effort his first time (Rebel Stakes) on the dirt. He got into some trouble and was able to overcome it. I think until someone dethrones him, he’s number one. That being said, I think the most impressive performance this year was Eskendereya’s Fountain of Youth.”

Said Lookin At Lucky’s trainer, Bob Baffert, when told of Pletcher’s comments: “Everybody wants to throw the challenge on the other guy, but I wouldn’t trade places with him. I feel good about my horse.”

The list of graded stakes earnings heading into this weekend’s $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, the Wood and the $500,000 Illinois Derby:

1. Lookin At Lucky, $1,390,000
2. Blind Luck, $861,150
3. Noble’s Promise, $708,000
4. Rule, $645,000
5. Mission Impazible, $473,434
6. Ice Box, $457,500
7. D ‘Funnybone, $420,000
8. Endorsement, $400,000
9. Conveyance, $386,000
10. Devil May Care, $364,000
11. Discreetly Mine, $340,000
12. Dean’s Kitten, $326,475
13. Dublin, $273,208
14. Interactif, $270,450
15. Homeboykris, $250,500
16. Aikenite, $218,000
17. Make Music for Me, $215,000
18. Awesome Act, $210,000
19. Mendip, $200,000
20. Uh Oh Bango, $187,952

That means it’s a big weekend for 3-year-olds the likes of Eskendereya, Sidney’s Candy (Santa Anita Derby), Caracortado (Santa Anita Derby), Alphie’s Bet (Santa Anita Derby), American Lion (Illinois Derby), Jackson Bend (Wood), Setsuko (Santa Anita Derby) and Dave in Dixie (Illinois Derby). They all need more earnings to move up in the event the Derby field is too full. Jackson Bend needs to win or finish second and Setsuko and Dave in Dixie most likely need to win Saturday to crack the Derby field.

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