World Class: Destin looks Kentucky Derby player at 20-1

Songbird - Mike Smith, Santa Anita Oaks

Leading US three-year-old Songbird won’t run in the Kentucky Derby

  PICTURE: Benoit  

SONGBIRD tops the US three-year-old rankings after cantering to success in the Santa Anita Oaks on Saturday, but connections are adamant she will not run in the Kentucky Derby.

She has won all seven starts on the bridle, has an RPR of 119 and could be absolutely anything. She’d look an obvious choice for the Derby, but trainer Jerry Hollendorfer isn’t having it.

He is sticking with the safe route. Not the 20-runner hurly-burly of the Kentucky Derby, but the soft touch, easy money, easy trip of the Kentucky Oaks, where she could end up doing a Rachel Alexandra and winning by 20 lengths.

After that connections have said they are willing to put her in against the boys – and at that point the boys better get their heads down for a battle because Songbird will be calling the tune.

Until then we’ve got a Kentucky Derby to work out. The last three winners of the ‘Run for the Roses’ were all clear on RPRs at this stage, so let’s have a look at the leading players after the key trials.

Santa Anita Derby

The Santa Anita Derby has turned up six of the last 20 winners of the Kentucky Derby, although this year’s race turned into a bit of a farce after Danzing Candy shot off in front at a silly pace before fading into fourth on the muddy track.

You can put a line through his run, although as far as the Derby is concerned the front-runner will have no chance of seeing out the distance if he goes off that fast again.

The winner at Santa Anita was Exaggerator (115), whose jockey Kent Desormeaux timed his run to perfection, languishing over 16 lengths off the early speed before cutting through the field to score by six-and-a-quarter lengths.

On the face of things it was a massive performance from the winner, but the clock shows he actually ran even splits and it was more a case of the other riders going too fast and tiring in the slop.

Exaggerator could pull off the same extreme hold-up manoeuvre if they go a very strong pace in the Derby, although he does lack tactical speed and will probably need one, clear, perfectly-timed run to land the Roses.

Blue Grass Stakes

Only one Kentucky Derby winner in the last 20 years has graduated from the Blue Grass. Brody’s Cause (113) will bid to improve on that record after keeping on through the pack for a cosy success over My Man Sam (109), who kept on late.

While this form wasn’t particularly strong, Brody’s Cause was near the top of the tree last year – winning a Grade 1 and finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – and another step forward would put him in the frame next month.

The winner beat Exaggerator twice last year, when he showed he has more tactical speed than that rival. He should have the requisite class and skill to weave a path in the Derby, although his RPRs are currently lower than a typical winner.

Florida Derby

This race was billed as a match between the unbeaten Kentucky Derby favourites Nyquist (last year’s leading juvenile colt) and Mohaymen.

However, only Nyquist ran his race, making all the running to score by just over three lengths with an RPR of 115. Mohaymen ran well below his best to finish fourth with an RPR of 98.

No one knows whether Mohaymen can bounce back from this disappointing run. He certainly looked capable of improving again based on his previous form, but this effort threw a spanner in the works.

Nyquist is currently a clear favourite for Churchill Downs. Looking at his CV it’s easy to see why, although none of his form is up to championship standard and with a peak RPR of 116 he looks vulnerable this season.

Wood Memorial Stakes

The Wood has not been the strongest trial in recent years, failing to throw up a Derby winner since Funny Cide in 2003.

Outwork was the RPR choice going into the race and, after going a shade too fast early, he did well to hold on by a head from the staying-on Trojan Nation.

Outwork and Matt King Coal took each other on in front and both can probably be marked up on these efforts, with the hold-up horses closing in late.

The Wood result was a boost for Destin, who beat his stablemate Outwork by a length (and gave him 4lb) when winning last month’s Tampa Bay Derby.

An RPR of 118 for that win puts Destin at the top of the current Derby standings, which is exactly where Orb, California Chrome and American Pharoah were at this point in each of the last three seasons.

All the leading players this year will have to improve to land an average running of the Derby, but Destin is closer than most and with just four runs under his belt he is open to more improvement as well. He has to be a player at 20-1.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Salutos Amigos 119 David Jacobson (US) (Carter Handicap, Aqueduct, 7f, 9 April)

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