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Jeff Siegel: Five Takeaways | From the Week Concluding March 13, 2022

by Jeff Siegel

March 15, 2022


1 - What can we take away from the victory by Classic Causeway in the Tampa Bay Derby-G2? Nothing that we didn’t already know.

Hand him a trip as the controlling speed against an outclassed field of 3-year-olds and he’s going to wire the field, just as he did the previous month in the prep for this race, the Sam F. Davis S.-G3. At least in the Davis, he was pressured into setting faster-than-par splits before coming away with authority by nearly four lengths. On Saturday, the Brian Lynch-trained colt broke like a rocket ship, coasted to the lead while being allowed much softer fractions, and then quickened readily with asked to win by more than two lengths while probably using about 75 percent of his energy.

Yes, it was another pleasing performance, but one that could easily have been duplicated or even exceeded by any number of current legitimate Kentucky Derby candidates had they been gifted such an opportunity against the equine equivalent of a field of 16 seeds.

Let’s be clear, we like this colt. He’s good athlete and a great mover. But even with a pristine trip, this talented but unproven sophomore earning a distinctly average 84 Beyer speed figure that was four points less than his nothing special number in the Davis. His final time of 1:44.90 was 1.37 seconds slower than Scalding’s win in the Challenger earlier on the program despite nearly identical early fractions. Also on the same program, maidens, despite a shorter run-up to the pole (24 feet to 48 feet) went quicker most of the way in a mile and 70 yards event while hitting the mile marker in 1:38.19, which was faster than Classic Causeway’s 1:38.40 eight furlong split.

You could try to make a case – but not a very good one - that following overnight rains, the drying out main track actually got slower as the day wore on. But there is no evidence of that happening and in fact the dirt strip is more likely to have sped up a bit if anything else.

Lynch is expected to give Classic Causeway one more race prior to the Kentucky Derby, with the Blue Grass S.-G2 at Keeneland April 9 the logical target. With 66 points in the bank, the son of Giant’s Causeway already has earned his ticket to Louisville, but unless this colt is confronted with a stiffer task than he’s encountered so far this year, hardened handicappers won’t know for sure what kind of colt he really is.

The trainer thinks he knows more than enough, though. He told Daily Racing Form “in my eyes, he ran like a 110 Beyer.”

He didn’t, but when facing the best in his crop Classic Causeway may have to.

2 - As speculated in this space a few weeks ago, trainer D. Wayne Lukas has made the proper decision to forego the $600,000 Apple Blossom S.-G3 April 2 with his terrific filly Secret Oath. Instead, Lukas will strive for greatness and enter her in the $1.2 million Arkansas Derby on the same day, a move that will provide an opportunity to earn the necessary points that are required for a subsequent start in the Kentucky Derby-G1, the American classic Lukas won in 1989 with the filly Winning Colors.

Back in the day, Lukas often entered horses in the Triple Crown’s first jewel that didn’t belong, but this daughter of Arrogate deserves the chance. Winner of the Honeybee S.-G3 in late February with a 92 Beyer speed figure that compares favorably with most of the males in the division, she strikes us as a filly who hasn’t come close yet to reaching her potential and is very likely to continue her improvement as she gains added experience and tries longer distances.

There isn’t a shadow of doubt that she would have beaten the boys if she had been given the chance in the Rebel S.-G2, and against essentially the same group in the Arkansas Derby-G1 (minus the Rebel runner-up, stable mate Ethereal Road, who will look elsewhere), Secret Oath, especially at nine furlongs, seems certain to be favorite and be a highly probable winner. Then, it’ll be on to Kentucky.

Smart move, Wayne.

3 - As usual, there was no price we found attractive during the fourth Kentucky Derby Future Wagering installment that was offered over the weekend. Try as we might, we concluded that there was simply nothing to see, nothing to embrace, and nothing to be bothered with, primarily because the singular Mutuel Field (“all others”) outside of the 23 individual listings contains most of the long shots that are the most intriguing with this type of advanced wager. And it’s getting late in the game for even that.

Grouped together, the Mutuel Field closed at 4-1, which is okay if you prefer quantity over quality. The Field was also favored during the first three offerings of the wager at 3/5, 9/5, and 2-1, respectively.

Smile Happy, a colt that we like a lot, was the most strongly backed of the individual runners at 6-1 and was followed by need-the-lead types Forbidden Kingdom at 7-1 (that’s lunacy), Classic Causeway at 10-1 (we’d need at least twice that much), and Epicenter at 13-1 (a good price if the six other expected speeds get left). When you consider that there are no refunds even if your wager doesn’t start, does anybody actually “love” anything listed on the board?

If she were available individually, we might take a flyer with Secret Oath, but as of now she’s part of the field, and alone we’d have to think she’d be 20-1 or more. We also like the potential ofZozos, but the B. Cox-trained colt, who had never raced in a stakes, closed at 30-1 rather than the 50-1 that would make him reasonably attractive.

The final Future Bet installment will appear during the weekend of March 31 and April 2, a Thursday-through-Saturday window that will close before the major final preps are contested.

4 - Going Global had nothing more than a modest all-weather win at Dundalk in Ireland prior to joining the barn of trainer Phil D’Amato. She had had been unplaced in three other outings – each of those races on grass – and yet after being privately acquired for what couldn’t have been much money, her connections took a shot in the six furlong Sweet Life S.-G3, a graded turf affair for sophomore fillies that was contested a year ago yesterday.

On pure form, she looked entirely out of her element. As it turned out, the others in the field were out of theirs.

Producing an electric turn of foot, Going Global powered past her rivals close home to win by a half-length in a blistering 1:07 3/5 at 8-1, providing D’Amato with another European success story that had fueled his rise from a long-time, somewhat anonymous assistant trainer with the late Mike Mitchell to a big time West Coast conditioner with no equal among those who mine and exploit the European bloodstock market for bargain basement acquisitions.

Going Global subsequently won five of her next six starts, all graded events, including the Del Mar Oaks-G1 last summer while amassing almost $650,000 in earnings. She breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:03 4/5 at Santa Anita on Monday (March 14) while gearing up again for another lucrative spring/summer campaign that should launch sometime next month.

When she returns, Going Global may find serious competition in the filly and mare middle distance turf division from what looks to be a carbon copy of herself, a non-descript Irish-bred filly that couldn’t have cost more than a ham sandwich prior to joining the D’Amato stable this winter. Her name is Excelerina, and she’s a 4-year-old that seemingly out of nowhere has become a serious race filly after winning a maiden race in February and then crushing a first-level allowance field last Friday with the late kick that only the good ones have.

Both of her local victories have been accomplished over nine furlongs but she could easily shorten up, as she’s a typical European who switches off early, lags to the top of the lane, and then quickens when given her cue.

She’s still eligible to non-winners of three, but why bother with that? Excelerina will win a stakes race very soon. Down the road, she might win a bunch of them.

5 - Until it is confirmed that Messier absolutely will run in the Santa Anita Derby-G1 under Bob Baffert’s name on April 2 and therefore will have no chance to acquire points for the Kentucky Derby, he’ll remain number one in our Triple Crown rankings. We had given serious thought to toss him out this week, but then we watched video of his bullet Sunday workout (5f, :59.2h) and decided that because he’s so talented, we just couldn’t do it. Even with zero points at this stage, a win or a second place finish in his next start will be sufficient to gain entrance to the Triple Crown’s first jewel, but not if Baffert remains the listed trainer of record.

Hopefully, we’ll know for sure one way or another by this time next week.

Remember, these newly updated rankings (as of March15) are based on potential and projection, not resume.

The Main Players:

1Messier (B. Baffert) – Pointing for the Santa Anita Derby-G1 and a confrontation with Forbidden Kingdom, the son of Empire Maker was spectacular in a Sunday solo breeze from the half mile pole out to the seven furlong pole in :59.2h over a deep track that was as impressive as anything he had done previously in the morning. According to the speed figure he earned in the Robert B. Lewis S.-G3, the son of Empire Maker is currently the fastest 3-year-old on the Triple Crown trail.

2Smile Happy (K. McPeek) – Lost little when suffering his first career defeat in a better-than-looked runner-up effort behind “loose-on-the-lead” Epicenter in the Risen Star S.-G2 at Fair Grounds. The Runhappy colt was caught in traffic and then finished with purpose against the race-shape after getting clear too late. We liked him a lot last year, still do, and he could quickly rise to the top once Messier’s status is clarified.

3 - Simplification (A. Sano) – Rarely do you see a Derby prospect effectively change his style in the middle of the Triple Crown prep season but that’s exactly what this son of Not This Time has done. Once a devoted front runner/pace presser, the Antonio Sano-trained colt has learned to settle and produce a late kick, and his victory in the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 not only produced a career top speed figure but was accomplished with a far less-than-ideal trip. We’ll assume the Florida Derby-G1 is next.

4Epicenter (S. Asmussen) - Happily accepted his role as the controlling speed in the Risen Star S.-G2 at Fair Grounds and made the most of the opportunity in his gate-to-wire triumph that produced a career top 98 Beyer speed figure. He has never taken a backward move in four starts, but what happens when early pressure is applied, or when he is forced to take dirt? Maybe we’ll find out in the Louisiana Derby-G2 March 26.

5White Abarrio (S. Joseph, Jr.) – His only defeat came when third to Smile Happy in the KJC S.-G2 last fall. He remained unbeaten in three starts at Gulfstream Park with his victory in the Holy Bull S.-G3 due in no small part to a perfect stalking trip that made his task easier than it should have been. He’ll be seen next in the Florida Derby-G1 April 2, when he’ll either verify this sharp performance or be found out.

6 - Classic Causeway (B. Lynch) – Produced the same type of victory in the Tampa Bay Derby-G2 as he did in the Sam F. Davis S.-G3, this time strolling on the lead through soft fractions and then proving uncatchable. Given his pristine trip as the controlling speed. the Beyer number came up a very light 84, so while he was visually pleasing, massive improvement – at least according to the speed figure guys – will be required. The Blue Grass S.-G2 likely will be used as a final prep.

7 - Secret Oath (D. Wayne Lukas) - Was only moderate-to-good in a three-race campaign as a 2-year-old but is vastly improved, winning all three of her starts at Oaklawn Park in 2022, each victory more impressive than the previous. Trainer Wayne Lukas now will test her against the boys in the Arkansas Derby-G1, and a first or second place finish will earn her enough points to make the gate in Kentucky. He didn’t ask us, but we wholeheartedly approve of the decision.

8Forbidden Kingdom (R. Mandella) – In his first start around two-turns, the son of American Pharoah blasted to the front and ran his foes into the ground in a pleasing performance that produced a legitimate 98 Beyer speed figure. But winning in such a manner at a mile and one-sixteenth isn’t the same as doing so at the Derby’s classic distance of a mile and one-quarter. We’re not even sure if he can stay nine furlongs against Messier in his next start, the Santa Anita Derby-G1 April 9.

9Early Voting (C. Brown) – He’s undefeated in two starts, a maiden win and a dominating score in the nine-furlong Withers S.-G3 over the deeper-than-quicksand main track at Aqueduct. The assigned Beyer number originally was a weak 78, but then a month later was arbitrarily raised nine points to 87, information that would have been useful BEFORE runner-up Un Ojo returned to win the Risen Star S.-G2 at 75-1.

10Emmanuel (T. Pletcher) – Was a well-backed second choice at 5/2 (behind Simplification) in the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 but wound up fourth, beaten just over five lengths, after a sluggish start that contributed to an extremely wide journey every step of the way. Bad trip and all, we expected a bit better. Deserves another chance in one of the 100-point prep races to prove he’s as good as we originally thought he was.

11 - Morello - Produced a workmanlike performance to remain unbeaten in three starts when winning the Gotham S.-G3 at the Big A over a one-turn mile with a perfect, pace-stalking trip. Clearly, he’s a promising colt with good tactical speed but is largely unproven to this point. Here’s the good news: his Beyer numbers have gone from 72 to 84 to 96, a consistent leap of 12 points per outing. If he can continue that race-by-race level of improvement (easier said than done), he’ll win the Wood Memorial S.-G2.

12Zozos (B. Cox) – Undefeated in two starts, a game maiden sprint win at Fair Grounds in January and then a middle distance allowance pace-stalking score by more than 10 lengths at Oaklawn Park that produced an 88 Beyer speed figure. The son of Munnings has been visually very impressive, but with no points and time running out he needs to make his next race count.

13Charge It (T. Pletcher) – Missed by a neck in his debut in January over a one-turn mile and then annihilated maidens at that same trip by more than eight lengths while never taking a deep breath and earning a 93 Beyer speed figure. Time is short leading up to the Kentucky Derby, but the talent and upside are there. His next race will tell us what we need to know.

14Zandon (C. Brown) – Won his debut sprinting, was unlucky when nosed out in the 9F Remsen S.-G2, and then was victimized by a wide trip and a lack of pace when third in the Risen Star S.-G2 in his sophomore debut. He’s a grinder but will run all day and may eventually be best suited as a Belmont Stakes-type. The Blue Grass S.-G1 is next.

15Mo Donegal (T. Pletcher) – Didn’t get the best of runs when rallying too late to be third in the Holy Bull S.-G3. Lacks a great turn of foot but has no distance limitations and has plenty of room to develop with additional experience. Was entered as the 5/2 morning like favorite in the Fountain of Youth S.-G2 (March 5) but drew a poor post, came up with a temperature, and had to scratched, leaving the Wood Memorial S.-G2 April 9 as a last chance option.

16 - In Due Time (K. Breen) - finished second in the Fountain of Youth S.-G2. But other than being the culprit that caused a two-runner spill due to the carelessness of jockey Paco Lopez, the son of Not This Time did nothing noteworthy with a perfect, ground-saving trip other that allowed him to clunk up without worrying the winner. It was an okay effort, nothing more.

Knocking on the Door:

17 – Call Me Midnight

18 – Un Ojo

19 - Rattle N Roll

20 – Blackadder