Week 1 of this year’s Derbyologist Triple Crown Fantasy League is in the books, and there have been a few more downs than ups so far.
Five of my horses ran this week, four in points races. The week started with Lucky Player in the Smarty Jones: a race with no fantasy points at stake, but which served as the beginning of the Oaklawn series of Kentucky Derby preps. Then, four of my horses raced in points races at Gulfstream over the weekend: Frosted and Keen Ice in the Holy Bull (GII), and By the Moon and Ekati’s Phaeton in the Forward Gal.
Among those five runners, just one of them even hit the board.
- Lucky Player – Lucky Player kicked off the week in the Smarty Jones Stakes, going a mile on the dirt at Oaklawn. It was his first race in slightly less than two months, but he was working consistently leading into it. He simply did not fire. He broke fine, ran from midpack along the rail early, and mustered no run. He finished a flat eighth, ahead of only the 91/1 shot Runaway Bling. After the race, trainer Steve Asmussen told the Daily Racing Form that he would likely start next on grass. Since all the points races for the league are dirt races, this is another bit of bad news to follow up his disappointing race performance.
- Frosted – Frosted made his first start since finishing second in the Remsen (GII) late last November in Saturday’s Holy Bull. He drew the rail and tracked inside in the second flight early, about three lengths off. He looked to be making a move approaching the stretch, but it was at best a pale imitation of what Upstart had. Frosted had enough to pass Bluegrass Singer for a clear second, but finished five and a half lengths behind the romping Upstart. On one hand, it was a relief to see him hit the board against a field in which he was clearly one of the class horses on paper. On the other hand, I expected better now that he did not have a big bias against which to work.
- Keen Ice – Keen Ice, like Frosted, had last run in the Remsen, and returned in the Holy Bull. The Holy Bull was not the plan all along for him, but it seemed a good idea to get him into a Derby prep if he was ready to run — despite the fact that 1 1/16 miles seemed short. He ran inside and near the back, as is usual for him, though not quite as far off in absolute terms as he has been in the past. He ran oddly close to the pace approaching the far turn, lost some ground again, but was the only one to run the last sixteenth faster than Upstart did (according to Trakus data). Fifth was disappointing, as well as the fact that he finished beaten 10 1/2 lengths despite covering the least ground of the field, but the late decision to run there in addition to the fact that there are longer Derby preps later suggest there could still be fantasy league upside.
- By the Moon – By the Moon had not raced since finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at the beginning of November, but had been working regularly since the end of November. She cut back to seven furlongs for the first time since the Spinaway, in which she finished second behind a splashtastic Condo Commando. She broke well, but settled about three lengths off a fast early pace battle. About halfway through the far turn, By the Moon moved, and had a lead in early stretch. She may have moved too early, as then the rush of closers like Birdatthewire and Lassofthemohicans swept in. She may have also lost steam, as she dropped behind even one who was far closer to the leading pack: Ekati’s Phaeton. By the Moon finished fifth beaten 6 1/4 lengths.
- Ekati’s Phaeton – Ekati’s Phaeton, winner of the Old Hat (GIII) in her last race, stepped up to seven furlongs and tougher company in the Forward Gal. She had done her best work right on the front end in her previous races, and was right near frontrunners Enchantress and Seduire early. She had the lead coming in out of the chute, settled off those two, and gamely kept coming. By the Moon passed on her outside, but Ekati’s Phaeton outlasted her. She could not hold off Birdatthewire or Lassofthemohicans, and was just necked out for third by Taylor S. On the positive side, it was a game performance given how badly Enchantress, Seduire, and even By the Moon faded. On the other, it gives very little indication that she will stretch out much further.
- Ami’s Flatter – Ami’s Flatter worked again on January 27 at Palm Meadows, going four furlongs in 48.95 (9/41) over fast dirt. Though Palm Meadows is associated with Gulfstream, suggesting he may run there at some point, he is also nominated to the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay. The Davis is not a points race for the league, but it is this coming Saturday; if Ami’s Flatter goes, it may shed a bit more light on his prospects leading into the first claiming day.
- General Bellamy – There has been no clear statement on where General Bellamy is going after his third-place finish in the Jerome (GIII) on January 3, but he is still actively in training. He worked sharply on January 23, going four furlongs in 48.58 (3/79) over fast dirt at the Belmont training track. General Bellamy is nominated to the Withers (GIII), to be run on February 7, which is a points race for the league.
- Popover – Popover is the biggest question so far. She broke her maiden impressively at Santa Anita on January 2, but has still not returned to the worktab after that maiden win. She is not nominated to the Las Virgenes on January 31, nor to any of the other Oaks preps coming up shortly. Popover presents a tough decision if she does not return to the worktab soon.
Tune in next week for the next chapter of this year’s fantasy league. Next Monday is the first claiming day — unlike last year, when the first claim was about six weeks into the league, claiming starts after just two weekend of points races this year. I will not have any runners in a points race this weekend, since none are pointed to the Martha Washington or the Las Virgenes. Still, there may be a roster change.