First off, dismiss the notion that Ice Box and Pleasant Prince are one-off flukes that capitalized on a suicidal pace in the Florida Derby. This wasn't Giacomo in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. The Florida Derby pace was contentious and certainly honest, but nothing scintillating. After all, if the pace was that fast, would Pulsion have been able to go head-and-head for the lead? The Florida Derby pace figures (on the Moss Pace Figure scale) of 76-86-90-92-92F were right in line with the six-year average for the race of 77-85-91-93-93F, compiled since Gulfstream's oval was screwed up reconfigured in 2005. Rule and Pulsion set a pace quite a bit slower than Big Brown zipped through two years ago, but quicker than the pace of Casey's On Call that Quality Road tracked last year.
Rule had a similar paceline in the Sam Davis of 78-84-89-92F, a little faster at the first quarter and a length or two slower at the half and three-quarters. He deserves kudos for running eye-to-eye with Pulsion and staying relaxed enough to pretty much run his usual race, but he's probably looking at the same type of trip in the Kentucky Derby, given the quantity of early speed we're seeing this season. Ice Box seems to have a slight edge over Pleasant Prince, but to me, the Florida Derby pace figures indicate these two colts are exactly what they seem: improving 3-year-olds with competitive numbers and a running style that often works well the first Saturday in May.
In this rescheduled and lengthened mile-and-an-eighth running, predictions that Discreetly Mine would face more pace pressure than he did in the Lecomte held true. But the Louisiana Derby pace wasn't even as quick as what we saw at Gulfstream, which explains why stretching-out A Little Warm and Discreetly Mine were still hanging so grittily in the closing stages. A Little Warm showed the way before yielding late to Mission Impazible in 78-79-88-89-90F - a touch quicker in the opening stages than the Florida Derby as the 13-horse field tried to get position around the first turn, but then relaxing noticeably in the middle stages. In the Lecomte, Discreetly Mine had been ignored on the lead in 67-75-84-90F, and wasn't about to get that kind of soft trip again. He ran decently nonetheless, but didn't finish as if a sternly-paced mile-and-a-quarter would be his cup of tea.
It's much easier to say now, but Mission Impazible's Southwest Stakes effort was better than it looked on paper. Breaking from the far outside post going a mile, he was hustled to the first turn by Eibar Coa but still wound up three-wide, then was put into a hard drive three furlongs out only to get caught four-wide around the second turn. When Dublin rushed past him nearing the stretch, it briefly appeared Mission Impazible was in a retreating mode, but he actually finished about as well as the horses in front of him. By comparison, he got a perfect ground-saving trip in the Louisiana Derby, which creates the impression he's not quite as good as he looked at Fair Grounds but better than he finished at Oaklawn.
Kent Desormeaux rode Drosselmeyer the only way he could have, brilliantly maneuvering him to the inside from the No. 13 post position and establishing rail position around both turns. Unfortunately, that also led to the traffic problems Drosselmeyer faced through the lane. As a grind-it-out type of runner with little quick acceleration, Drosselmeyer couldn't get through the inside hole aggressively enough when it finally did open up, and his third-place finish probably won't be good enough to land him a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.
LANE'S END STAKES
Since Turfway Park switched to Polytrack prior to the fall 2005 meeting, the Lanes End pacefigs have averaged 67-69-80-88-91F -- including Hard Spun's '07 victory that was run in almost a dirt-like fashion. This year, Dean's Kitten raced within a couple lengths of the pace in 63-63-78-88-90F.
What does that mean? Good question. Wish I had a good answer.
Dean's Kitten is obviously a decent horse, but it is hard to take him seriously for the Kentucky Derby since his only previous dirt effort -- a washed-off-the-turf one-mile stakes last October at Belmont -- was such a disaster he was eased in the stretch. By the way, the horse who won that race, finishing 33 ¾ lengths ahead of Dean's Kitten, happened to be Eskendereya.
Runner-up Northern Giant ran a similar number on Polytrack as he had over Fair Grounds and Oaklawn dirt, but Beyers in the range of 89 to 91 don't inspire much Derby confidence.
When Endorsement finished second in a Jan. 10 maiden race at Fair Grounds, then won a Feb. 20 maiden at Oaklawn, his respective pacelines were almost identical: 56-66-74-84F and 59-64-74-84F. Both races were leisurely-paced, and those aren't the numbers of your typical pace stalker.
Endorsement's workout pattern indicated he was on the improve (any time a horse works 59 4/5 at Fair Grounds, circle it with a bright yellow marker). But with Conveyance, Classical Slew and Tempted to Tapit in the Sunland Derby field, not even Endorsement's trainer, Shannon Ritter, expected the kind of trip he got. Conveyance had absolutely none of the expected early competition, cruising nonchalantly through a 60-71 pace for the first half-mile, with Endorsement right behind him through his own familiar pacefigs of 56-68. Given that Conveyance had a length-and-a-half lead with so little exerted energy, he would have been 1-to-20 at that point had bettors been allowed to play a race in progress. But Endorsement turned out to be a better horse than expected, shadowing Conveyance through a six-furlong pacefig of 83. When Conveyance kicked into high gear and delivered a solid mile pacefig of 93, Endorsement was not only alongside but edging away.
With that defeat, Conveyance dropped from my personal Top Ten. With that kind of pace setup, a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender should have run a career-best race instead of matching his 96 Beyer Speed Figure from the one-mile Southwest, the hottest-paced prep of the season thus far. That tells me a mile-and-eighth is outside his best distance, much less a mile-and-a-quarter.
A tepid endorsement of Endorsement: he is getting better quickly, and his 101 Beyer puts him right behind Eskendereya in the Derby speed-figure pecking order, but you couldn't go to the chalkboard and draw up a more perfect trip than what he got at Sunland. At that rate of early speed, Endorsement will find himself surrounded by a horde of horses at Churchill Downs.