Todd Pletcher came into the new year with a bevy of Kentucky Derby contenders. However, two of his top 3-year-olds already have been beaten in 2013, including Violence, who finished second in the Fountain of Youth.
The 2012 CashCall Futurity winner ran a bang-up second this past Saturday but could not re-rally past Orb in the final yards of the 1 1/16-mile race. He also fractured his right front sesamoid in the race and is off the Derby trail.
Orb, the Fountain of Youth winner, had faced Violence once before when the two colts debuted at Saratoga. That day, Violence prevailed by a neck (over Titletown Five) while Orb finished third after a brutal beginning.
The Shug McGaughey-trained colt has now won his last three starts, including two races around two turns, and must be considered a top contender in the Run for the Roses.
Orb is a closer that does not wait until the stretch to make his move. He gains momentum much earlier as evidenced by his 47 1/5 middle half in the Fountain of Youth and a 48 2/5 middle half in his Jan. 26 allowance victory.
Unfortunately, the son of Malibu Moon has not finished his races with much gusto. His final 2 1/2 furlongs in the Fountain of Youth was run in a dawdling 32 2/5 seconds while his last eighth of a mile in the allowance victory came in 13 2/5 seconds.
Orb will certainly benefit from a fast pace in the Kentucky Derby. However, he will need a patient ride because if he moves too early, it's doubtful he'll have enough left to hold off the late closers.
Violence certainly disappointed as the 3-5 favorite. Still, it was his first race in over two months and he did chase a blistering early pace. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt showed his gameness by coming on again inside the final sixteenth despite his injury.
It seems as if one of Pletcher's top 3-year-olds sustains an injury on the Derby trail almost every year. Algorithms was hurt after the 2012 Holy Bull and Eskendereya missed the Derby the year Super Saver gave the trainer his first (and only) Derby win.
MAYHEM IN LOUISIANA
For the second straight year a horse won a major 3-year-old Derby prep at odds of 100-1 or higher.
Last year, Hero of Order held off Mark Valeski to win the Louisiana Derby at 109-1 and this year Ive Struck a Nerve nosed out a victory in the Risen Star Stakes at 135-1.
Ive Struck a Nerve sent a murmur through my heart when he paid a whopping $272.40. I also had to squint my eyes at the finish line as it seemed Code West was coming back again on the rail to nail the win.
The upset winner came into the race off a fourth-place finish to Oxbow (beaten by 13 1/2-lengths) in the Lecomte and he also had never finished closer than eight-lengths of a winner in a race going around two turns.
Still, a win is a win, and this bay colt will more than likely run in the Kentucky Derby since the 50 points he earned from the Risen Star certainly will be enough to qualify.
Normandy Invasion, the 3-2 favorite, had little chance after breaking slow from the gate, and even though he finished fifth, he ran his final 2 1/2-furlongs in 30 2/5 seconds while racing extremely wide.
A solid effort indeed but the one problem with the son of Tapit is he might not even make it to Churchill Downs if he fails to run first or second in his final prep race.
Bob Baffert's Code West ran huge to just miss by a nose in his first start outside California. He battled Proud Strike and then Oxbow for the lead throughout much of the race and then came again at the finish to almost pull it out.
The son of Lemon Drop Kid (and full brother to Charitable Man) had finished second in his prior start to Super Ninety Nine, the horse that ran away and hid from his rivals in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park earlier in February. Look for Code West to be a factor once again in his next start.
As for the rest of the field, there were a few once promising 3-year-olds that were exposed in the race.
Palace Malice had no excuse not to run down the top pair. Oxbow, the open- length Lecomte winner, needed to show more than he did, and both Golden Soul and Mylute failed to menace when the real running began.
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Verrazano - Will dominate Tampa Bay Derby field
2) Flashback - Should do the same in the San Felipe
3) Itsmyluckyday - Looks for three in a row in Florida
4) Orb - Walked home in FOY but still powered by the field
5) Normandy Invasion - Brutal start cost him in Risen Star
6) Overanalyze - Returns to the track in Gotham on Saturday
7) Super Ninety Nine - Powered over rivals in Southwest
8) Uncaptured - Don't forget about the Kentucky JC winner
9) Tiz the Truth - A maiden winner in early February at SA
10) Shanghai Bobby - An unknown at 1 1/4 miles
11) Revolutionary - Might be a tad slow compared to others
12) Goldencents - Must prove he can stretch out in distance