Saturday, July 14, 2018
By Jeremy Plonk
The summer Derby scene this week shifts from Iowa to both Indiana Grand and Los Alamitos. We'll focus on the Midwest feature on Saturday night when the 1-1/16 miles Indiana Derby anchors a stakes-laden card that includes the G3 Indiana Oaks as well. The Indiana Derby has been contested since 1995, and moved from Hoosier Park to Indiana Grand in 2013. The Californians have won this race 5 of the last 9 years regardless of venue, including Irap and Cupid the past 2 editions.
The lineup features a pair of G3 winners, KING ZACHARY and FUNNY DUCK, both of whom reached graded status in recent outings at Churchill Downs. The rest are looking for their first graded stakes victories, though the likes of GIVEMEAMINIT (G1), TRIGGER WARNING (G3), DARK VADER (G3) and AXELROD (G3) are graded-placed. There's not a wide swath in class here.
Many in this 9-horse cast want to be just off the pace, sitting in the 2-3-4 area. The potential lone speed could be AXELROD, who has put up 44s for the opening half-mile on the west coast and brings California speed. Absent of a big-time route finisher, this race looks to be ripe for someone up front.
Heavily favored KING ZACHARY has been on the tip of the tongue of trainer Dale Romans since before he broke his maiden March 18 at Gulfstream. The effusive trainer gushed about that win and promised big things to come. KING ZACHARY disappointed in the Wood Memorial in his one-shot audition for the first Saturday in May. But he's won 2 straight in Louisville since and was awfully good in the G3 Matt Winn over a field similar to this in quality if not a touch better. Romans is 5: 0-0-0 in Indiana Grand dirt stakes and hasn't had any luck in this race particularly. Robby Albarado won the '07 Indiana Derby when it was at Hoosier Park and retains the mount as he has throughout KING ZACHARY's career.
FUNNY DUCK shocked the Derby Day crowd with a 39-1 upset in the G3 Pat Day Mile in a "where'd that come from?" performance. He had traffic issues on the clubhouse turn in the Matt Winn after that and was dispatched by 13 lengths when fourth to KING ZACHARY. The former turfer may have just relished the slop on the first Saturday in May and likely will be an underlay price here if the track is fast. While trainer Rusty Arnold is a strong 8-for-30 on the Indiana Grand dirt, he's winless in 6 local dirt stakes bids. Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. won this race in 2006 and 2012, both when at Hoosier Park.
AXELROD has that potential pace advantage as well as a good runner-up last out in the G3 Affirmed at Santa Anita. He gets in light at 117 pounds, some 7 pounds less than the main contenders. That could be crucial as he tries to carry his speed. He's probably best at 1 mile and the extra sixteenth will test his stamina. I like his chances quite a bit for a Mike McCarthy barn that hits 21% in graded stakes lifetime with a 34% positive ROI. In fact, his last 8 graded stakes have boasted an 8: 3-2-2 record. This one looks well-placed and I like Florent Geroux in the saddle, who is 3-for-7 lifetime at Indiana Grand on dirt with a stakes win on this undercard a year ago.
BLAME THE TIGER also comes in from California and will try to give the Doug O'Neill barn back-to-back wins in this race. His Irap scored a year ago, and O'Neill also was runner-up in last year's Indiana Oaks with Mopotism. Note that O'Neill also found Indiana Derby glory when at Hoosier Park with Excessivepleasure in 2003. Julien Leparoux rides this turf-to-dirt proposition, who dropped his first 5 decisions by decisive margins on the main track before moving to grass. But BLAME THE TIGER's runner-up last out on the SA lawn came against a very good one named River Boyne.
DARK VADER is the last of 3 west coast hopefuls in the mix. Trainer Peter Eurton won the Ohio Derby with Core Beliefs, but sent out a flat Cool Bobby in last week's Iowa Derby. Round III of his summer Derby tour comes with the G3 Lewis third-place finisher who is 0-4 in stakes bids. His third in the Easy Goer Stakes on the Belmont undercard was not flattered last week when runner-up Rugbyman came back to disappoint in the Dwyer in New York. Eurton is very sharp shipping out of California, so don't dismiss his chances -- especially if DARK VADER makes a good appearance on the track or in the paddock.
TITLE READY goes for a Steve Asmussen outfit that has won 2 Indiana Derby editions, both at Hoosier, with Zanjero (2007) and Wilburn (2011). He ran a decent fourth in the G3 Ohio Derby after chasing the fleet speedster Ax Man on the Preakness undercard. Dial back to his fourth at Oaklawn in the Northern Spur and you'll find High North, last week's winner of the Iowa Derby. He fits with these kind of horses. The only drawback is he has the same running style as about 5-6 others in here all aiming for the same spot on the track. Ricardo Santana Jr. will have decisions to make.
GIVEMEAMINIIT also gets the 7-pound break at 117, but this deep closer could be pace compromised. Truth be told, he runs more like a late-running sprinter to me than a route closer. G1-placed in the Hopeful and 4th in the BC Juvenile at 2, GIVEMEAMINIT has more resume than bite. Trainer Dallas Stewart is 0-18 on dirt at Indiana Grand. I'll pass and hope he takes more money than he should.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: KING ZACHARY looks to be the strongest horse on paper and still has upside. He's only missed one trifecta in 6 starts.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: TIGER WARNING was 86-1 when a very strong third in the G3 Ohio Derby last out and those types rarely get bet back hard the next time. He can be forwardly placed from the inside and versatile sire Candy Ride's offspring seem to run on anything.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $40 win AXELROD. $50 exacta KING ZACHARY over AXELROD. $10 exacta AXELROD over KING ZACHARY.