Comma to the Top of my Derby Selections
What makes me think in his 14th career start that this gelding will win the Kentucky Derby?
I look back to the prep before the prep (video above), or in this case the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, won in convincing fashion by Premier Pegasus. Comma was on the front end of blazing fractions in :21, :44, and 1:08 – veered out badly in the stretch and came in 4th, as the other two pacesetters were each 30+ lengths behind. This race was the undoing of PrePeg, yet Comma came out of the race stronger and fitter for the Santa Anita Derby, a race another favorite would miss, Jaycito, after being grounded courtesy of the Santa Anita Speedway.
In that SA Derby, Comma again found himself on the lead through and was able to rate at a much slower pace, yet was caught in the stretch to finish second by a neck. Prior to the effort, trainer Peter Miller had made it known this was Comma to the Top’s version of the KY Derby, he was even summarily removed from all future pools.
However, after the race Comma was in such good shape that Miller almost immediately put him back on the Derby trail:
That 9F in 1:48 only made Comma stronger, yet across the country in the Wood Memorial, Toby’s Corner ran the same time on dirt, same Beyer, and came out weaker – further evidenced by him withdrawing from the race this week after lameness post breeze at Fair Hill in Maryland.
Loyal readers know that I have been on the Comma to the Top trail since early spring:
I simply feel his 10 races and numerous long works at age 2 have led to him maximizing his chances via superior conditioning. At age 2 a thoroughbred’s bones and soft tissues are at a very crucial stage of development. The more appropriate exercise you can give them, and allow them to recover from, the more suited they become to racing at age 3 and beyond. Interestingly enough, Mine that Bird followed a similar regimen: many starts on synthetic at age 2 at Woodbine, followed by an early move to the dirt at Sunland early in his 3yo year. Even given the rail skimming trip by Borel, MTB went on to in the money finishes in the Preakness and Belmont to absolutely everyone’s surprise.
Some part of me thinks this is the future for US racing: training on the polytrack, breezing and racing on the dirt in an effort to capture the classics. Think about it, most horses gallop 10 days for every 1 breeze – making the gallops over synthetics can alleviate much of the wear and tear on bones in the long run.
If Comma had remained on non-dirt tracks, I would group him in with the other also-rans from the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Sprial Stakes at Turfway, and Master of Hounds from the UAE Derby which was ran on Tapeta. Excelling on two disparate surfaces is rare these days, as is the ability to withstand the pounding that Santa Anita’s new dirt has handed out to other Derby wannabes – Comma aced both tests.
Someone please help me understand – no one would ever take a horse who had been on turf his whole life, and put him in the Derby on dirt with not even a work over the surface, yet several big names each year these days do the same coming off synthetics?
Anyway…So we’ll likely see Comma to the Top or near the lead going into the first turn on the First Saturday in May. Boy I sure wish The Factor was still around for him to stalk, perhaps Shackelford will fill the bill?
I wish Comma would get a 3-4F blowout over the CD strip, but I don’t think that is in the cards due to shipping in fairly late.
Let’s be honest, pedigree or not, none of these 3yo WANT 10 furlongs next week. The Derby is commonly won by a horse finishing that last quarter split in :26 and change. Comma will get an honest chance to do so – as he won’t have to fight any traffic due to his front running style.
As you can undoubtedly tell, I am not a handicapper. I also believe I am the only one predicting a Comma to the Top win – as the dozen or more experts I have seen fail to have him even in their Top Tens – which means I’ll likely get in the neighborhood of 35-1 come post time.
Give me Mucho Macho Man and ArchArchArch to fill out exotics. MMM has been trained aggressively (7F in the slop) over the dirt by trainer Kathy Ritvo and Archx3 has breezed twice in 4 days at Churchill Downs, which is unheard of in this day and age.
Most importantly, I wish a safe trip for all.
P.S. Looks like portions of this piece, along with some other commentary, will run in the Friday issue of the New York Times, print edition. Exciting! – Look for more in that paper from ThoroEdge over the TC season hopefully.