By J.J. Hysell
A few stakes remain for Kentucky Derby hopefuls before the 2014 slate begins with a bevy of points up for grabs. This weekend features the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Saturday and the Springboard Mile at Remington Park on Sunday.
It’s important to keep in mind that the CashCall, at 1 1/16-miles, is run over a synthetic surface. How that comes into play regarding the first Saturday in May will depend on each runner’s multi-surface ability. Oxbow, a decent fourth in last year’s CashCall, went on to win the Preakness and finish second in the Belmont Stakes. His record shows he was a much better performer on dirt but was competitive on synthetic as well.
Five CashCall participants were included in the first Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby Future Wager: Tap It Rich (25-1), Tamarando (42-1), Shared Belief (32-1), Kobe’s Back (84-1) and Bond Holder (40-1).
I wouldn’t be surprised if Shared Belief continues his ascent. His Hollywood Prevue show was easily one of the best performances by a 2-year-old in California this season. This Jim Rome-owned talent is strides ahead of many of his peers. If you’re thinking Kentucky Derby, however, the prospects of this Candy Ride gelding transferring to a mile and a quarter over the fickle Churchill Downs dirt surface are quite dim.
Tamarando is one of the most consistent performers on this circuit and all three of his career victories have been on synthetic. A California-bred son of Bertrando with a middle-distance pedigree making his eighth start, he doesn’t fit the profile of a Kentucky Derby candidate. He’s taking on a classy group of foes but he fits here.
It’s tough to see Bond Holder return to synthetic when he showed some much flair on the switch to dirt in the FrontRunner. He fared well at Del Mar but it’s obvious he’s better in dirt routes. His fourth-place run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was better than it looks on paper and this Doug O’Neill trainee boasts bloodlines that have historically found success in long distance tests at Churchill Downs.
The Tap It Rich bandwagon stalled after his fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Bob Baffert’s colt was likely a victim of too much too soon when he jumped from a taxing debut win to the marquee Grade 1 challenge in less than a month. There’s reason to believe this son of Tapit can bounce back with solid efforts in route races – the question of a transfer to another surface is the dominant question. This is his first try over synthetic and he trains on dirt at Santa Anita. HRTV reported Tap It Rich will run with a different bit that is designed to help with his tendency to veer out.
Trainer John Sadler was reportedly unhappy with the far outside draw for Kobe’s Back in the field of 13. The colt’s second-place finish in the Prevue was a step in the right direction considering the long layoff. The son of Flatter has raced exclusively on synthetic and will be stretching out for the first time. He has the most to overcome and the most to prove.
Notes on a few longshots: Candy Boy showed an affinity for the surface and gets Gary Stevens in the saddle. His pedigree is super-synthetic. Karma King removes blinkers but looks more fitted to be a sprinter. Poker Player appears to be a multi-surface threat who excelled on a soaked synthetic surface at Keeneland that many of his foes found uninviting. Of the Kenny McPeek-trained duo of Sheikinator and Rankhasprivileges, Sheikinator – a son of Curlin – looks like one to watch for the future, specifically on dirt.
The Springboard Mile at Remington Park on Sunday features a field of 12. Last year, Texas Bling popped the 128-1 upset over Will Take Charge. Texas Bling is entered in an allowance at Remington on Saturday – ever the longshot at 15-1.
A solid performance would vault a few of these competitors into the Derby preps at Oaklawn next year, so it’s important to keep tabs on this race.
The accomplished Smack Smack, owned by singer Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farm, is the headliner. He’s 4 for 5 and boasts a win at this distance. The Don Von Hemel trainee, a son of Closing Argument, should not be overlooked if he makes the early Kentucky Derby prep scene.
After a foray into the world of turf and synthetic, Boji Moon returns to dirt, likely his best surface. It should be noted for the future that the Iowa-bred gelding, a son of Cactus Ridge, recently posted an outstanding work over the Oaklawn surface.
Trainer Larry Jones sends Divine View, a son of Divine Park who won his debut during the November night racing card at Churchill Downs.
Walt, a son of Run Away and Hide, has won both career races at Remington by a combined 12 lengths and is returning off just a week’s rest.
Others to watch from this race are the Wesley Ward duo of Pachanga Party, a Florida-bred sprinter, and New York-bred Noble Cornerstone, a debut winner who gets first-time Lasix and jockey Kent Desormeaux. Bret Calhoun’s Louies Flower is facing a true class test but has a nice pedigree for a stretch-out. Steve Asmussen’s Sapling winner Dunkin Bend boasts the class and has been training well over the surface.
On Sunday, Chad Brown’s Coup de Grace returns in an allowance at Gulfstream Park. Coup de Grace, a son of Tapit, topped out at 48-1 in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager based on his debut win at Aqueduct on Nov. 9. Javier Castellano is named to ride Coup de Grace, who faces eight foes in the mile test.