March 16, 2001

Fun with Three-Year-Olds
Get your mind out of the sandbox! Although certain race analysts out there might not want to...

The three-year-olds in question are the ones running around the racetrack, four legs, not two, all hoping to end up in Louisville, Ky., when May 5 rolls around.

The Derbies in Florida and Louisiana are over. Ahead are stops at Turfway, Santa Anita, Keeneland, Aqueduct, Oaklawn and maybe Sportsman's and Lone Star. What have we learned? And where is all this headed?

At Gulfstream, Monarchos solidified his status as monster of the moment with a relaxed, visually impressive romp against, at most, a couple of genuine Derby-trail racehorses in the Florida Derby.

The pace was nothing exceptional; indeed, by the time Monarchos was looping the field, he was just a length and a half off of the easy fractions, though still mid-pack in seventh place. His burst between the half and the three-quarters was in a gutsy 23 2/5 seconds, or roughly that. He put in a final eighth of approximately 12 4/5 seconds and still was muscling clear at the end.

True, that may have been courtesy of some rough voyages cast upon the other in-the-money finishers. One of those was Invisible Ink, who was part of that savage wilding toward the top of the lane. The poor horse did rebreak some after that incident, and finished well enough to get third, in a respectable late burst.

But he was coupled in the wagering with Monarchos, so it was academic anyway.

Outofthebox had an easier time of it, but offered little challenge to the winner, in fact losing ground to the runaway.

Sifting through the rest of the wreckage, Songandaprayer didn't make the lead for once, and the results were predictable, if not entirely savory. Fellow forward-runners City Zip and Trailthefox did even worse, behaving like lotto balls in the hopper when they turned for home. And late-runners Turnberry Isle and It's So Simple got what they could in their comebackers.

Recent Florida Derby history has been spotty, in terms of sending good ones to the Big Derby. It looks troubling again this year, though if you had to get to the net-net of it, Monarchos (for sure) and Invisible Ink (perhaps) are your legitimate threats from this group.

Way down yonder in New Orleans, it was a much more desperate finish. The Louisiana Derby just did not sustain itself at any point of the race.

When the top three-year-olds on the grounds (as well as some from other parts of the nation) can manage a final time just four-fifths faster than $20,000 maiden-claimers at the distance, ouch!

But again, weird trips come into play. Local hero Dollar Bill got a taste of that South Florida public unrest, even though he was miles away from there, trying to make a go of it in the stretch at Fair Grounds.

But true to his far-back running style, Dollar Bill was able to overcome that. Despite nearly going to his knees in the late stages, Dollar Bill actually came back with a rush, completing the last furlong in a pokey 13.19 seconds. What might have happened with a clean trip?

To further complicate the issue, Dollar Bill's pokey 13.19 seconds in the lane was still far better than anyone else's, even the winner's.

Speaking of the winner (Fifty Stars, 20-1), he was the opportunist in all this, getting clear sailing inside and pulling away by two lengths. If this was the best he could do, however, it doesn't look good.

Overhyped SoCal invader Millennium Wind had every possible opportunity, but yielding to a final-fraction time nearing 14 seconds won't do it, either.

Hero's Tribute might bear watching, first trip around two turns. He settled into a steady rhythm all the way around and didn't give up too much toward the end. He was eligible to be in a holding pattern for the Louisiana Derby, given that his comebacker was both a very good effort and a career-best. Maybe the Louisiana Derby gave him a foundation upon which to build.

Out of New Orleans, then, let's call it Dollar Bill and Hero's Tribute, though at this stage of the game, both are far off Monarchos.

However, it's still March, which means they (and every other half-talented three-year-old on the planet) still have plenty of time to develop into your next Derby winner. Just ask Charismatic.

More Fun with Three-Year-Olds
Of course, tomorrow marks the return of everyone's current Derby darling, Point Given. That would be in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

Point Given ended his freshman season with a gutty length score over the re-evaluated Millennium Wind. For Point Given, this can be construed as pretty good (seeing as how Millennium Wind was doing OK before Louisiana) or as pretty bad (seeing as how maybe Millennium Wind might have been optimistically perceived).

Truth is, Point Given's last three races have been huge (much like the horse himself) and they have been accurate displays of his immense talent and versatility.

He presses, he leads, he comes from left field. No matter what, he displays that primary Thoroughbred hallmark--speed, as measured by final-time-type figures. And it's that type of speed that none of his seven challengers have yet to been able to say, yeah, I can do that.

Cranked up or not, Point Given would have to go backwards a bunch to lose this, while at the same time the others would have to have to improve a bunch or fall into the perfect circumstances.

One such horse is Skip to the Stone, first time in a route and your likely leader in here. If Baffert is saving Point Given for the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky, this race really won't matter, and he and Gary might concede the point (literally and figuratively) in the final furlong if 'Skip has gotten too far away.

The other one who might be interesting is Jamaican Rum. This horse got sucked along to a fast figure last time, and his talent might be limited to plodding home as a survivor or at the seven-furlong distance.

Still, when the expectations aren't of roses, and some of the others are dreaming of them, strange things take place, and look for Solis to be riding Jamaican Rum honestly and hard all the way to the wire.

Looking Ahead
Coming up next time, Spiral, Dubai, another Practical Pointer (or two) and additional assorted combinations of letters, numbers and punctuation marks intended to both inform and entertain.

Until next time, may the wind be always at your back, and may God always cradle you in the palm of His/Her hand! And all that other Irish stuff! Happy St. Patrick's Day! See you next time.

We appreciate your comments about this newsletter. Please send them to our staff. Thank you!