Will it be a "Golden" 2013 Kentucky Derby?
By Jeff Frank
(Sports Network) - The 2013 quest for the Kentucky Derby began over the weekend with the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct.
Goldencents proved best in the former while Vyjack got the job done in the latter. Both 3-year-olds are possible Derby contenders, especially Goldencents, but the No. 1 choice in early January is not the Doug O'Neill-trained bay colt with the golden touch. It is, however, a chestnut colt by the name of Golden Soul.
Trained by Dallas Stewart, Golden Soul ran a game second to Sayler's Creek in his debut last Nov. 18 at Churchill Downs. After breaking a bit awkwardly from the gate, the son of Perfect Soul had only one of the other 11 horses beaten around the far turn. He then closed relentlessly while switching from the rail to the four-path inside the final furlong, but lost by the bob of a head in 1:37 for the mile.
Golden Soul ran his final quarter-mile in a swift 24 2/5 seconds and galloped out like a horse in need of longer distances. That is exactly what he got in his next race - another maiden event at Fair Grounds on Dec. 30.
The 1 1/16-mile race only had a field of five 2-year-olds but it wouldn't have mattered if five more horses were entered in the starting gate. Golden Soul hopped slightly at the start and was only 1 1/2 lengths off the early lead after a 24 4/5 first quarter. Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., Fort Larned's pilot in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, took his charge off the rail into the three-path approaching the turn and powered his way to the top at the 3/16- pole.
Not only did Golden Soul draw clear of the field to win by 7 1/4-lengths, but he also ran the first mile (of the 1 1/16) three-fifths faster than older allowance colts two races later. Furthermore, his quarter-mile run from six furlongs to the one-mile mark was run in 24 2/5, followed by a 6 2/5 final sixteenth.
Trainer Dallas Stewart loves the way Golden Soul has trained in the mornings. The colt had two five-furlong bullet works prior to his debut and then breezed five in 1:01 flat a week before he broke his maiden.
The one thing that separates Golden Soul from almost every top 3-year-old is his pedigree, which is perfectly suited for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby distance.
His sire, Perfect Soul, already has sent out a couple of solid long-distance winners in Perfect Shower, who won the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, and Perfect Shirl, the 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner. Incidentally, Perfect Shirl's half-brother, Shakespeare, won the 12-furlong Turf Classic at Belmont Park back in 2005.
Golden Soul's female side also is dominated by turf runners as his second dam, Lady in Silver, finished second in the 1989 Arlington Million. However, there is some hope that he can continue his march on dirt since his half-brother, Quintons Gold Rush, ran in the 2004 Kentucky Derby after a victory in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes and a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.
The only knock against Golden Soul, outside of his lack of experience, is that he was foaled on May 14, meaning he won't even be 3-years-old on Derby Day. Nevertheless, Mine That Bird (2009) and Thunder Gulch (1995) were both May foals that won the Kentucky Derby. In addition, Hard Spun, another May foal, finished second to Street Sense in the 2007 renewal, and Barbaro, the 2006 Derby winner, was born on April 29.
OTHER HORSES TO WATCH
Most prognosticators have the likes of Shanghai Bobby, Goldencents, Uncaptured, Frac Daddy near the top of their Kentucky Derby lists but these horses are not bred to get the 1 1/4-mile distance. They could win some of the early prep races but once the distances increase don't expect any of them in the winners' circle on Derby Day.
One horse that could be draped with the Blanket of Roses is Avie's Quality. He's won his last two starts at 1 1/16-miles, including the Display Stakes at Woodbine on Dec. 1, a race he took by 1 1/4-lengths over My Name is Michael.
The son of Elusive Quality, who already has sired a Kentucky Derby winner (Smarty Jones) and a BC Classic winner (Raven's Pass), ran his final quarter- mile in 24 seconds before finishing with a 6 1/5 final eighth. His final time of 1:43 1/5 was more than three seconds faster than stakes-placed Consecutive had run two races earlier.
Avie's Quality (another May foal) is out of Fly for Avie, who won the 1 1/4- mile E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine in 2000. Moreover, his damsire, the recently deceased Lord Avie, won the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old colt in 1980. Josie Carroll has Avie's Quality in Florida so there is a chance he could make his 2013 debut on the dirt.
Mountain Eagle is a gelding that has a chance to be really special. He broke poorly and was blocked through the stretch in his debut - a fourth-place finish. Trainer Nick Zito brought him back 29 days later and the colt responded with a 4 1/2-length victory in 1:35 4/5 for a mile at Gulfstream Park. Two- year-old allowance horses, including the colt that defeated Mountain Eagle in his debut, raced later on the card and ran two-fifths of a second slower than the gelding.
As is the case with Golden Soul and Avie's Quality, Mountain Eagle is magnificently bred for the 1 1/4. His sire, Birdstone, who won the Belmont Stakes, has already sired a Kentucky Derby winner (Mine That Bird) and a Belmont Stakes winner (Summer Bird). In addition, Mountain Eagle's full sister, Stone Legacy, was the runner-up to Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks.
Nick Zito has another lightly-raced colt on the prowl in Declan's Warrior, who won his debut back in October. The chestnut colt closed like a freight train (final furlong and a half in an amazing 16 3/5) to win by a neck in 1:03 4/5 for 5 1/2-furlongs.
Declan's Warrior has a lot of catching up to do but at least he's back on the work tab with a bullet, three-furlong work on Dec. 27.
A few other colts to keep an eye on outside of the Dirty Dozen are Dale Romans' Dewey Square, Chad Brown's Balance the Books and Todd Pletcher's Verrazano,
Many more top 3-year-olds will be analyzed in the weeks to come so stay right here where I'll try to make it two straight Kentucky Derby winners after giving out I'll Have Another in 2012.