Back to the Derby Trail with the Grade 3, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis, which has been won by Ferdinand, Sham, I’ll Have Another, and Dortmund, just to name the first four that jumped out at us. We have seven three-year-olds going a mile and 1/16 on the main track. The early weather forecast shows sunshine. The field is led by Grade 1 winner Mor Spirit and the promising third-time starter I Will Score.
Looking at all the running styles and results from SA races this meet, at a mile and 1/16 in particular and route races in general, we’re seeing that staying in touch with the pace has definitely been the way to go.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be I Will Score, and he will be in the clear. He is followed by Laoban and Uncle Lino. Then there’s a gap back to Dressed in Hermes and Mor Spirit.
The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field belongs to…well, we’re drawing the line at splitting these hairs. Call it a tie: with Laoban, Path of David, and Let’s Meet in Rio in a photo.
Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Let’s Meet in Rio (6-1): Baffert colt showed little in his first two starts, both accompanied by big trouble at the start. Then he jumped to a speed figure of 105 while breaking his maiden at Los Alamitos. Then he ran second in the Grade 3 Sham, a race that received the same Race Rating as the preliminary Race Rating for today’s race. His speed figure did regress by two points, but he spent considerable time running on a rail that we thought was dull. He draws well for this. However, Pace Projector shows him in last place at the opening half-mile. He will almost certainly need to go forward in order to win this race, and the racetrack may be against him.
I Will Score (5-2): Hollendorfer colt took money in his debut, at Los Alamitos in a short sprint over the summer, and beat a soft field with ease, earning a speed figure of 104. After four months on the sidelines, he returned in a bottom-level allowance sprint at Santa Anita, broke just a tad slowly, made the lead before the 1/4, and held together to win by a head. At the finish, there were four horses within half a length or so of each other (generally not a great sign), and he improved his speed figure to a 109. According to our Breeding Ratings, I Will Score has breeding that is slanted more towards sprints than routes. But Hollendorfer is very good (85 rating) first route. Pace Projector has I Will Score in the lead. How easy will this lead be? Much seems to depend on the other stretch-out sprinter, Uncle Lino, this one drawn on the outside. He’ll certainly use some of his speed from the gate. Will he then be able to sit and rate? If so, I Will Score could be in for a friendly trip. And finally, Hollendorfer has been having what for him is a lousy meet. (That is going to turn around at some point.)
Dressed in Hermes (6-1):
He made his debut in a dirt sprint at Del Mar last summer. Then he raced on grass four times and became a Grade 3 winner. His last two grass figures, both earned as a two-year-old, were 108 and 111. The 111 stamps him as the fastest horse, to date, in this race. His victory in the Cecil B. DeMille was visually nice. He raced wide and then showed powerful acceleration when asked—the latter just what one wants to see in a grass horse. This is a very nice grass horse. But today’s race is on dirt, and his Breeding Ratings promote grass over dirt. So let’s take a close look at his lone dirt race: The clocker comments going into the race indicated that he needed a race. He went off at 10-1. He did not break well. He settled wide down the backstretch. Then he uncorked a powerful, very wide turn run. It was eye-catching. Then he hit a wall in the stretch (like a short horse?) and finished fourth beaten about six lengths. He earned a speed figure of 81. In his second start, he stretched out, switched to grass, and improved by three points. In other words, there was nothing at all wrong with his lone dirt try. On the other hand, the negative hand, there is a sort of Law of Nature working against the chances that a horse who shows promise on dirt, then labors and turns himself into a high-quality grass horse, will carry all of that improvement over on the switch back to dirt. In short, we see Dressed in Hermes as being likely to go backwards here, but it does not have to happen. There is at least some reason to think he can pair here. And he should be a nice price. This is an interesting—albeit highly speculative–horse.
Laoban (12-1): Went backwards two points in his fine performance in the Sham. However, he was annoyed, more or less continuously, during the very first part of the race. And he lost considerable ground racing wide. In spirit, he did not go backwards in the Sham, though he did keep off the dull rail. Will need further improvement today, and our gut does not think that Eric Guillot will get it. But heartfelt credit to him if he does.
Mor Spirit (8-5): Ran a 109 finishing second in a Grade 2 in the Kentucky slop in November. Baffert then sent him to Los Alamitos, where he won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity with a 107. That race received a Race Rating of 105, four points lower than the early rating for today’s race. The second-place finisher returned to run poorly, but that doesn’t move us in a significant or even a mild way. A horse lower down the chart returned to improve, another almost paired, another ran poorly. It’s all inside the margin of error for the time being. Mor Spirit is the most accomplished horse in the field. He is proven around two turns and in strong company. He is the deserving favorite. We don’t like his odds.
Path of David (8-1): Similar in significant ways to Dressed in Hermes, but we prefer the latter because we do not find Path of David’s old dirt races to be as pleasing as Dressed in Hermes’ lone dirt race.
Uncle Lino (5-1): Nice pattern of speed figures: 89 102 105. Breeding for route debut is fine. Trainer Gary Sherlock, perfectly competent though he is, gets a 0 rating, on a small sample, going sprint to route, and a 47 rating going third off the layoff. This colt showed a versatile style in his sprints. The presence of the speedy I Will Score is probably causing his connections to fret a bit. Nice horse. Promising horse. Will need some things to fall into place but cannot be ruled out.
We can’t resist taking a highly speculative shot that Dressed in Hermes will handle the dirt. Win bet on Dressed in Hermes. Will also use under the two ML favorites in exotics.