The weekend was a busy one for racing in general, and it was no exception for the sons and daughters of Curlin. A pair of Curlin babies tried to take another step toward the Classics on March 28, and their roads took them both through the Big Easy.
Danette (Sugar Britches, by Dixieland Band) scratched out of a maiden special weight at Santa Anita to instead ship east and try New Orleans on for size. She remains a maiden, but had proven her class before. She was third in the Chandelier (GI) at Santa Anita last fall, and finished a late-running fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on a day with a fairly strong speed bias. Though the race looked less than auspicious to start, she hardly disgraced herself with her performance in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII).
The race started poorly for Danette. She blew the break, and spotted the field several lengths from the outset. Rider Kent Desormeaux guided her to the rail, and was content to let her trail about a dozen lengths off the pace for much of the race. Even as the field turned for home in this 1 1/16 mile race, Danette still trailed by that margin. She swung wide to the centre of the track, and finally found her best stride. She picked off all but the top three as she raced down the stretch. I’m a Chatterbox, Shook Up, and Forever Unbridled were just too far ahead to catch, but she crossed the wire a clear fourth. She was beaten 7 3/4 lengths by likely Oaks favourite I’m a Chatterbox, but was the only horse down the stretch to actually improve position relative to the winner between the stretch call and the wire.
Does this make Danette an Oaks horse? Not likely; it would make better sense to see her back in a maiden special, instead of using those ten Oaks points to put herself into the starting gate. However, she once again flashed the sort of talent that suggests she could be dangerous once she figures racing out.
With ten starts behind her, though, it is valid to wonder when that will be.
Later the same day, Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) made his run in the Louisiana Derby (GII). He had finished third in the Risen Star (GII) last month, and was hoping to improve on that result. It also meant do-or-die time with respect to Kentucky Derby points, since he entered the race with just 12. First or second place would lock up a spot. Third or fourth would make it iffy. Worse than fourth, and the Derby dreams would likely hang out of reach.
On paper, there looked to be a large amount of speed in the race. In reality, that did not unfold as expected. Stanford struck the front early. Though Mr. Z, Fusaichi Flame, and St. Joe Bay tracked behind, Stanford had about a length on them most of the way. The early pace was not slow, but not especially fast either, and the unpressured nature left Stanford with plenty of gas for later. Keen Ice, meanwhile, took his usual position near the back. As the field turned for home, Keen Ice was sent wide, and started to come ahead of horses. However, his run came too little, too late. By the time he fired, Stanford and International Star had scampered away in their stretch battle. Keen Ice got up for fourth, running fast enough to improve position and keep a steady margin behind the duelling pair, but not able to close it.
He gained ten points, pushing his Derby points total to twenty-two. That may be enough to get him into the gate, but it requires a bit of luck. I remain convinced that he will relish the Classic distance; between his breeding and his win over the Churchill track, he remains an attractive Kentucky Derby prospect. Still, the Louisiana Derby exposed him a bit. It showed that he will need a lot more pace to close into on the first Saturday in May than he got on Saturday. That could easily happen on the first Saturday in May, with as many frontrunning types as there are among the top Derby prospects. However, he will have to get in the gate, have some pace, and take that step forward at a mile and a quarter that all of his proponents (myself included) hope he is capable of.
These could be a nervous five weeks.