Bobby Zen

You need to channel your inner Meat Loaf to put Saturday’s trio of points-awarding stakes for the GI Kentucky Derby in perspective. The well-backed winners of the GI Arkansas Derby, GI Florida Derby, and G2 UAE Derby all delivered commanding, speed-centric performances that transformed what has been an underwhelming prep season into a Triple Crown chase suddenly spiked with intrigue.

TDN Rising StarMuth (Good Magic) swatted back a surprise mid-race attack to win authoritatively at Oaklawn. Fellow ‘Rising Star‘ and juvenile champ Fierceness (City of Light) administered a 13 1/2-length shellacking at Gulfstream that resounds as the largest winning margin in Florida Derby history. And at Meydan in Dubai, the undefeated Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) ran his record to 5-for-5, fusing impressive quickness with staunch staying power despite giving up substantial ground on a track slanted in favor of rail runners.

While it’s on to Louisville for the latter two, we’ve known for months that the corporate powers at Churchill Downs have disinvited Bob Baffert’s trainees from their 150th Derby bash, so Muth won’t be joining Fierceness and Forever Young in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

Thus the reference to the emotional lyrics belted out by his Loafness, the late, larger-than-life 1970s rock balladeer: “Don’t be sad–’cause two outta three ain’t bad.”

There will be no Derby rematch of Fierceness and Muth, the one-two finishers in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Nor will we witness the fascinating hookup of the three most talented tactical speed horses among a projected field of sophomores that, to this point, has been top-heavy with closers and midpack stalkers.

So be it. The Derby isn’t the only jewel in the Triple Crown. Fierceness and Forever Young are ready for prime time right now. Muth will be fresh, fit and dangerous for the GI Preakness S. in Baltimore or the GI Belmont S. at Saratoga. Perhaps both, if we’re lucky.

What stood out about Muth’s tally in the Arkansas Derby was how economically he doled out his speed when confronted with two disruptive attempts to ratchet up the tempo. Off as the 2.3-1 second choice, Muth broke running under Juan Hernandez, then backed off the action when a 26-1 sacrificial pacemaker slipped up the rail.

Hernandez appeared content to settle into a prime stalking spot. But just before the field cornered onto the back straight, Flavien Prat unexpectedly knifed 11-10 favorite Timberlake  (Into Mischief) between rivals at the 6 1/2-furlong pole.

Hernandez didn’t want Timberlake to obtain too big a margin unchallenged, and he quickened Muth for a few strides before sensing he could let Timberlake keep a half-length lead for most of the backstretch run.

Then, starting 3 1/2 furlongs out, Muth gradually ramped up the pressure under his own power. Hernandez cut him loose turning for home.

This was a move Timberlake simply could not match, and the visual of Muth opening up under a hand ride at the head of the lane while Timberlake was being scrubbed on to eventually hold fourth told the story of the race. Muth held off the persistent 32-1 shot Just Steel (Justify) by two lengths under the wire, and it was another 4 1/2 lengths back to everyone else in a scattered field of also-rans.

Fierceness’s ransack win in the Florida Derby under jockey John Velazquez was easily the gaudiest performance of the three March 30 stakes. Yet despite the blowout nature of the victory, it was also the most difficult to quantify.

With a win-every-other-race record through five starts, Fierceness’s crushing of a soft-on-paper field on Saturday reaffirmed his status as an A-list sophomore when he’s on his game. But still, controlling a measured cadence without having to repulse any serious bids did nothing for this Todd Pletcher trainee’s reputation for not being able to deliver the goods when up against the grain of adversity.

At age two, Fierceness won his Saratoga debut by 11 1/4 lengths in the slop, then got drilled by 20 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite in the sloppy GI Champagne S. Bettors let him go at 16-1 in the Breeders’ Cup, and he responded with a 6 1/4-length win that appeared more polished. Yet his unveiling at age three was a flat third at 1-5 odds in the slow-paced GIII Holy Bull S., and he needed an over-the-top effort in the Florida Derby simply from a momentum perspective.

The Kentucky Derby will now be the put-up-or-shut-up race that tells us what Fierceness is truly made of. Whether you plan to bet on him or against him, the story arc has been written appealingly, purely from an entertainment point of view.

If the UAE Derby previously didn’t register on your handicapping radar as a pipeline for legit Kentucky Derby contenders, you are forgiven considering the out-of-their league cumulative record of the horses who have attempted that double.

Since 2000, 13 winners of the UAE Derby have gone on to compete in the Kentucky Derby. The best finish among them was sixth (accomplished twice), along with two DNF’s and a 20th-place try.

Forever Young might be the colt with the best potential to flip that script. Sent for speed from a wide draw over 1900 meters on Saturday, he was responsive to cues to quicken from jockey Ryusei Sakai. Parked four wide through the first turn, Forever Young eased back and settled into a nice stride while fifth onto the backstretch while remaining wide to avoid kickback.

He stayed in about the four path around the final bend while torqueing into a higher gear, then this Yoshito Yahagi trainee dug in down the home straight with an all-out effort that had him inhaling the pacemaker, drawing away and striding out confidently.

The post The Week In Review: Meat Loaf With Side Of Intrigue-Two Outta Three Ain’t Bad appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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