Smile Politely

Derby favorite takes on talented field in Monday’s Southwest Stakes

Roses in MayYou read correctly, I said “Derby favorite.” The 2009 Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool was released Tuesday, placing odds on 23 top 3-year-olds; the co-favorites are Captain Candyman Can, who recently won the Grade II Hutcheson Stakes, and Old Fashioned, who will make his 3-year-old debut this Monday in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Yes, technically, there are two “favorites,” but once Old Fashioned is tested in his next race, watch for his odds to drop fast. The funny thing about these 23 horses is that they’re bet lower than horses outside of the pool. Every horse not listed in the top 23 have been given 5-2 odds, meaning bettors are more willing to bet on horses who haven’t yet made a name for themselves. For the most part, I’d have to agree with the way these odds have been posted. Except for a few horses, I believe at least half our Derby field isn’t in this top 23.

But Old Fashioned is a horse I’d be putting all my money on if I was a betting person. The ease in which he won the Remsen Stakes made a believer out of me, and it’s going to be very interesting seeing how this unbeaten gray comes into 2009. He’s going to be pit against several up-and-coming horses, including the impressive winner of the Dixieland Stakes at Oaklawn, Silver City; Flat Out, the winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes; and Poltergeist (who’s beaten them all when it comes to the coolest name), who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 in his last allowance win, which he won by six lengths. If Old Fashioned sweeps the Southwest, no one will be able to say a word about this son of Unbridled’s Song not facing any real talent.

The Daily Racing Form quoted trainer Larry Jones about Old Fashioned, “He gives you chills. He is just different. There’s an aura about him. He’s just unbelievable.” Jones has won second place two years in a row in the Kentucky Derby with Hard Spun in 2007, and the ill-fated filly Eight Belles in 2008. Winning the Kentucky Derby would surely be a worthy honor for the trainer, who has made plans to retire from racing at the end of 2009 due to the emotional toils of the sport in the past few years. And if Old Fashioned doesn’t make it for whatever reason, he’s got a back-up contender in Friesian Fire, the winner of last Saturday’s Risen Star.

And as it is Derby season, the weekend wouldn’t be complete without a plethora of other prep races to keep us handicappers scrambling to keep tabs on all the Derby contenders across the country. This Saturday, Valentine’s Day will offer up Chocolate Candy in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby. The son of Candy Ride will only be facing six other rivals, and will be breaking from the outside post. He will be taking on previous challengers Axel Foley and Merus Miami, who were the 2-3 finishers to Chocolate Candy in the California Derby. The wildcard in the race will be Rendezvous, a son of Victory Gallop who has won his last three starts and will be facing graded stakes company for the first time.

Also on Saturday is the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes. According to Tampa Bay Downs’s news release, one of the possible entries for this race is Musket Man, a colt who is unbeaten in his 3 lifetime starts. You have to like Musket Man’s win in the Pasco Stakes at the same track, where he won by a length and finished less than a second off the track record going seven furlongs. Musket Man’s personal demeanor is endearing, too; his trainer, Derek Ryan, told The Daily Racing Form, “He just galumphs around like an old cow sometimes and acts like he’s bored to death… [but] he’s so deceptively quick, you think he’s not going fast at all… it’s his effortless nature when he’s galloping and racing that makes me think he’ll run all day.” Musket Man will be facing about eleven other rivals, including the promising Sumo, Free Country, Atomic Rain, and Top Seed.

Other Derby preps this weekend include the $125,000 Hallendale Beach turf test at Gulfstream on Saturday, while Santa Anita headlines the seven furlong Grade II San Vicente Stakes on Monday. Watch for Jack Sprat and Tamborim in the Hallendale; the San Vicente includes a field of virtually unknowns ready to break into the big time. The lone stakes winner in the field of seven is Half Famous, but he didn’t do so hot in his 3-year-old debut, finishing 7th place to the winner who bested Square Eddie, The Pamplemousse, in the San Rafael. Therefore, I’m looking at Law Breaker, trained by the man with the golden hand, Bob Baffert.

Other big stakes races this weekend include Saturday’s Grade I Santa Maria Handicap for mares four years old and up, featuring Leah’s Secret, Visit, Country Star, and Bsharpsonata. Also on Saturday, Tale of Ekati will take on five rivals in the Grade II Richter Scale Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream; the multiple Grade I-winning Dream Rush will be entering the Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park.

The Barbara Fritchie Handicap will be broadcast on HRTV. Post time is scheduled for 4:21pm ET.
The Hallendale Beach Stakes will be aired on HRTV. Post time is approximately 5:14pm ET.
The Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes will be aired on HRTV. Post time is TBA on
The Grade III El Camino Real Stakes will be broadcast on HRTV and TVG. Post time is 7:15pm ET.
The Grade I Santa Maria Handicap will be aired on HTRV and TVG. Post time is approximately 4:38pm PT.
The Grade II Richter Scale Spring Stakes will be aired on HRTV. Post time is slated for 2:42pm ET.

The Grade III Southwest Stakes will be broadcast on HRTV. Post time is TBA on
The Grade II San Vicente Stakes will be aired on HRTV and TVG. Post time is TBA on

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