NOVEMBER 9, 2007
by Dick Powell
Remember that 6' 5" freshman basketball player you saw play and you deemed him a "can't miss" Division 1 star. Sometimes, the 6' 5" inch kid doesn't grow much in the next three years and by the time he's a senior, the kids he was dunking on as a freshman are now dunking on him. It happens. Growth and development are not always a steady line but sometimes a series of spurts. Or, sometimes it doesn't happen at all.
In horse racing, the sensational juvenile we all extrapolate into a Triple Crown winner doesn't always develop, at least as well as some others. Case in point is the group of talented sophomore colts from this season and where they were 12 months ago.
Last year, STREET SENSE (Street Cry [Ire]) won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and then became the first Juvenile winner in history to win the Kentucky Derby (G1). He's the exception.
HARD SPUN (Danzig) had just broken his maiden at Delaware Park by almost nine lengths a few days before last year's Breeders' Cup was run. ANY GIVEN SATURDAY (Distorted Humor) won a first-level allowance race at Keeneland in October. TIAGO (Pleasant Tap) was two months away from making his career debut and was only known as Giacomo's (Holy Bull) half-brother. Belmont S. (G1) winner RAGS TO RICHES (A.P. Indy) was beaten by six lengths in her career debut in June and didn't break her maiden until January.
And, probable 2007 Horse of the Year CURLIN (Smart Strike) was still three months away from making his career debut for Helen Pitts. If you asked Steve Asmussen, who took over the training of Curlin after his sensational maiden win at Gulfstream on February 3, at this time last year who his Derby horse would be, he would have immediately said TIZ WONDERFUL (Tiznow), who was a monster maiden winner at Saratoga.
Of the big six sophomores this year, only Street Sense was on the radar screen 12 months ago. The fact that he was able to come back and have the season he did at age three is truly remarkable. Has anyone seen CIRCULAR QUAY (Thunder Gulch) or GREAT HUNTER (Aptitude), who finished second and third in last year's Juvenile, lately?
This year's Juvenile winner, WAR PASS (Cherokee Run), was very impressive and is undefeated in four starts this year. Surely he will be voted champion juvenile male. But where will he be next year when the classics roll around? Based on pedigree (dosage index of 4.09), he's already a question mark for success at 10 furlongs.
Horses develop as their careers progress. Unless physical ailments begin to take their toll, a horse will still be maturing until the age of five. Obviously, in today's market, we are not seeing many horses progress until the age of five unless they are gelded. And, the ones who race very fast at two are not guaranteed to progress with age. In fact, horses who race very fast at two are usually never the same or develop very little with age. They mature early, and that's it.
While War Pass is the best juvenile in Nick Zito's barn at the moment, who knows what will happen next year. Zito has at least one other colt who might be the better prospect for next year.
I wrote about COOL COAL MAN (Mineshaft) earlier this year when he was a good second behind ANAKIM (Giant's Causeway) in a mile maiden race at Belmont in September. Zito shipped him to Delaware Park next time out in order to get a two-turn race into him and he responded with a 10 1/4-length victory on a wet track.
Instead of getting silly and running in stakes company, Zito took the cautious path and entered him in a first-level allowance race at Churchill Downs last Saturday. In his two previous starts, Cool Coal Man showed an eagerness early in the race that he will have to control if he is ever to stretch out against top company. If Zito were to grade him on Saturday for relaxing, it would be an "A."
Unlike his Horse of the Year sire Mineshaft, Cool Coal Man breaks running. On Saturday, Rafael Bejarano broke him on top but quickly got him to relax and allow Recapturetheglory (Cherokee Run) to take the lead. Even with a first half in only :48.53, Cool Coal Man resisted the urge to go after the leader and stalked him for the first six furlongs.
When Latest Scoop (Tiznow) made a big middle move on the far turn and loomed boldly, Bejarano let it out a notch and Cool Coal Man responded with a fourth quarter in :23 and change. He put away the leader and drew away from any outside challenges, winning by 2 1/4 lengths in the good time of 1:43.36 for 1 1/16 miles.
Cool Coal Man has now won two races going two turns and is maturing into a solid prospect for next year. I've been a big fan of MYTHICAL PEGASUS (Fusaichi Pegasus), but I wish Wayne Lukas would have taken this route instead of going into stakes company after his maiden win.
He might not be the dominating freshman that War Pass is, but by senior year, when it counts, Cool Coal Man might turn out to the better horse.
Another horse with a bright future is JEDI CODE (Empire Maker). Trained by Ian Wilkes, he did nothing in his career debut at Keeneland when he broke slow from post 1. Last Wednesday at Churchill, Wilkes did the full makeover with first time blinkers and Lasix. But he was facing a strong group of maidens going seven furlongs and Jedi Code was dismissed at nearly 10-1 odds.
Just like in his career debut, Jedi Code broke poorly and was dead last in the first 100 yards. Calvin Borel didn't panic and steered him to the rail where he would stay for the entire race. Still last with three furlongs to go, Borel was making a Street Sense-like move on the turn, passing horses at will.
At the top of the stretch, he had about nine horses in front of him. No problem for Borel, who never once hesitated, and continued his drive through tight quarters. In deep stretch, he seized command so quickly that the track announcer missed him until he was clearly in front. Once again, eerily similar to Street Sense's Breeders' Cup Juvenile win over the same track. He finished 3 1/2 lengths ahead while throttled down ahead of the 11-10 favorite, Masterwork (Greatness), who must have felt a draft when Jedi Code went by him.
The eeriness continues with Jedi Code being sired by Empire Maker (Unbridled). Street Sense's trainer, Carl Nafzger, won his first Kentucky Derby with Unbridled, and Ian Wilkes has been Nafzger's assistant for many years. Not many juveniles are asked to make the inside run that Borel asked Jedi Code to do, and he did it willingly without hesitation. He'll have to overcome his inability to break alertly from the gate but with a pedigree that cries out for distance, we could be writing about him again in 2008.
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