ROAD TO THE TRIPLE CROWN
FEBRUARY 22, 2006
by James Scully
BLUEGRASS CAT (Storm Cat), who wrapped up last season with victories in the Remsen S. (G2) and Nashua S. (G3), opened his three-year-old campaign with a solid 1 1/4-length win in Saturday's Sam F. Davis S. at Tampa Bay Downs. His performance was encouraging on several fronts.
After winning the Remsen wire to wire, the WinStar homebred was eager to run early before settling into a perfect stalking trip under John Velazquez. The bay colt offered a nice three-wide move on the far turn to reach the front in upper stretch, but he still had some work left as the stubborn DEPUTY GLITTERS (Deputy Commander) continued to battle on determinedly. Bluegrass Cat eventually put his nemesis away and drew off late, finishing the 1 1/16-mile test in a stakes-record 1:44, four-fifths of a second off the track record. The Todd Pletcher trainee registered a 101 BRIS Speed rating.
Bluegrass Cat displayed plenty of promise but didn't earn overwhelming Speed ratings at two, and any number under 100 would've been a disappointment in his three-year-old debut. He still hasn't faced top-class competition, but Bluegrass Cat received a good test on Saturday and passed it in admirable fashion. Saturday's race was only the starting point on his road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), and we can expect further improvement in his upcoming prep races.
Pletcher and Velazquez both have a chance to win their first Kentucky Derby, but if doesn't happen this year, the multiple Eclipse Award winners figure to get plenty of opportunities in the future. The same can't said of Bluegrass Cat's sire, the great Storm Cat. The 23-year-old stallion has never sired a Kentucky Derby winner or even a runner-up.
However, we can always wonder "what if." What if Giant's Causeway had remained in the United States instead of being sent to Europe? What if the track hadn't come up sloppy in 1994? Tabasco Cat easily captured the Preakness S. (G1) and Belmont S. (G1) that year, but his connections blamed his sixth-place Derby finish upon a sealed track over which he couldn't get his footing.
Cat Thief, who was beaten only a length when third in the 1999 Kentucky Derby, is Storm Cat's best Kentucky Derby performer so far. Mr. Prospector finally sired a Kentucky Derby winner, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, from one of his latter crops, and perhaps Storm Cat will follow suit in 2006. Bluegrass Cat certainly has the breeding on his female side. His dam, the unraced She's a Winner, is by A.P. Indy and hails from outstanding bloodlines, with her maternal granddam being Dance Number (Northern Dancer).
With a winter storm moving through Hot Springs, Arkansas, last weekend, Oaklawn Park officials were forced to cancel racing and reschedule the Southwest S. for this Saturday. LAWYER RON (Langfuhr), MUSIC SCHOOL (A.P. Indy) and STEPPENWOLFER (Aptitude) are among the contenders expected for the one-mile event. There are no graded stakes for three-year-olds this weekend.
In other news, trainer Michael Matz made the surprise announcement that BARBARO (Dynaformer) will race only once more, the Florida Derby (G1) on April 1, before the Kentucky Derby. With his last appearance coming in the February 4 Holy Bull S. (G3), the well-regarded sophomore will be left with only one prep in the 13 weeks leading up to the Run for the Roses.
Only one start in the 13 weeks before the Kentucky Derby? Say it isn't so. No tiger has the same stripes and all horses are different, but the Kentucky Derby is a 1 1/4-mile beast that eats up lightly raced horses. Matz, who has never had a Kentucky Derby starter, couldn't be taking a bigger chance with the future of Barbaro. No horse in his lifetime has won the Kentucky Derby with only one race in the previous 13 weeks, and I would ask who is the last horse to enter the Kentucky Derby under the same scenario (or worse) and then capture a Grade 1 event later in his career? Barbaro's connections can only hope that he will be the first.
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