It finally feels like the Triple Crown season has begun. Sure, there have been points races since September…but, today was the draft for the third annual Derbyologist Triple Crown Fantasy League.
This year’s draft was a challenging one. The closest thing to a standout in either three-year-old division, at least in the sense of one I would want to take to the Derby or the Oaks, is Songbird. Of course, since I did not have first pick outright, I figured I would not get Songbird.
(I was right. She went first.)
In addition to the plethora of cromulent draft picks, the altered claiming schedule also threw a wrench into things. Previously, there had been defined dates when we could add and drop horses, spaced a few weeks apart through the season. This year, however, we can make claims every Monday through the season, starting February 1. This made it a little less attractive to take speculative picks who are running later in the season yet — and a little more attractive to speculate on earlier races such as the Holy Bull, the Forward Gal, the Withers.
My strategy has so often been contingent on squirreling money away until much too late — like many of my favourite horses, though, that often leaves me the closer who has left themself way too much to do until too late. Particularly with these weekly claims, I need to consider being open to a bit more early stable shuffle.
With those thoughts out of the way, here is my initial stable, in order of when I drafted them:
- Conquest Big E (Tapit – Seeinsbelieven, by Carson City) – Conquest Big E has been on my Derby radar since the earliest days of the Derby trail. He ran well over the Churchill course first out, and was just nailed late by a 30/1 shot. Of course, the horse who caught him proved to be more than just some longshot flash in the pan — it was Brody’s Cause. Conquest Big E graduated next out at Keeneland. Though his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a bit disappointing, he scored strongly in an allowance at Churchill on the Stars of Tomorrow II card. Though second-place Unexplained did not frank that form in his return at Oaklawn, Unexplained was also off the worktab for an extended period before that start, suggesting he has had some issues. Conquest Big E is working well into the Holy Bull, and he his a big horse who stands to grow into himself at 3. The Holy Bull will not be easy, with the likes of Mohaymen, Greenpointcrusader, and Cherry Wine to face, but his running style is forwardly placed enough to make the Gulfstream series seem a sharp placement on trainer Mark Casse’s part.
- Stageplay (Curlin – Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations) – It is not my fantasy stable without a Curlin baby, and Stageplay is a good one. The Fair Grounds path toward the Kentucky Oaks has tended to be very live in recent years. Stageplay won the first of their prep races, the Silverbulletday. She also has form over the Churchill track, with a decisive win in the Rags to Riches Stakes, and a second behind the speedy and solid Carina Mia in the Golden Rod (GII). Stage Stop has produced both routers (see Mylute) and sprinters (see Springsteen Road and She Digs Me). Given Stageplay’s long-winded sire as well as what she has shown so far going two turns, it is a good bet that Stageplay will remain a force along the Oaks trail.
- Let’s Meet in Rio (Flatter – Rio Carnival, by Storm Cat) – I was keen on Let’s Meet in Rio going into the Sham, and he is the horse I want coming out of it. He graduated third out at Los Alamitos, but that diploma came at his first try going two turns. He left himself too much to do to catch Collected in the Sham, but it was eye-catching when he started to get going into the far turn, and eye-catching again when he found his next gear down the stretch. Sire Flatter has produced some solid routers (Flat Out, anyone?), and he is from a nice Juddmonte female family. Second dam Zenda was a Group I winner in France, going about a mile on the grass, and she produced champion turf miler Kingman. It is no sure thing that Let’s Meet in Rio will want the Classic distance, but after what he showed in the Sham last out, it is worth hitching my stable’s west coast dreams to this particular star.
- Cosmic Evolution (Proud Citizen – Laheen, by Ghostzapper) – Given that Cosmic Evolution has not raced since the beginning of August, and has not yet tried two turns, she is quite speculative. However, I still cannot get out of my head how good she looked in the post parade before her Debutante win at Churchill Downs. Despite the long lay, all signs point to a return very soon. She is actively on the worktab at Oaklawn, and being pointed toward the Martha Washington. The breeding also suggests she will stretch out. Proud Citizen is no stranger to seeing his progeny in the winners’ circle on Oaks day; he sired both Proud Spell and Believe You Can. The Ghostzapper on the bottom also bodes well for both liking more distance and improving with maturity.
- Conquest Babayaga (Uncle Mo – Undercover Justice, by Lawyer Ron) – My fantasy stable goes back to the Mark Casse barn, and Conquest Stables, but this time on the distaff side. Conquest Babayaga has only raced twice, and never on the dirt. However, she graduated impressively on debut at seven furlongs over the polytrack at Woodbine. Thus, she carries some extended sprint form into the seven-furlong Forward Gal. She returned in the Glorious Song, another seven-furlong affair, and finished second behind a very solid winner in Ami’s Mesa. The switch to the dirt should be good for her, being by Uncle Mo out of a Lawyer Ron mare. That mare, Undercover Justice, is also half to multiple dirt winners, including 2009 Alcibiades Stakes (GI) winner Negligee. Conquest Babayaga has been on the shelf since that second-place finish November 21, but has been on the worktab steadily since mid-December and has some solid drills at Palm Meadows. Assuming she likes dirt as much as her pedigree suggests she should, she looks a real contender in the Forward Gal. She also has the pedigree to stretch out as the Oaks trail continues.
- Gordy Florida (Cactus Ridge – Indianella, by Indian Charlie) – Gordy Florida ran a cracker in the Smarty Jones. He spent much of the race in a speed duel with Toews On Ice, survived that, and just barely failed to contain the late charge of Discreetness. He was defeated by just a neck, and still a length and three quarters clear of Synchrony. The Smarty Jones was Gordy Florida’s first try at two turns. Both of his previous races were six-furlong sprints at Remington, and both ended up with Gordy Florida getting a picture taken. He joins the likes of Discreetness and Cutacorner as live horses who plied their trade in Oklahoma City before shipping to Hot Springs. Stretching out is the question here, as he is by Cactus Ridge. He is full to Tosha Talifero, a filly who just last week surprised a few people by finishing third in the Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn, a mile and a sixteenth race. That says little, though, since she had a relatively easy trip. Second dam Pulcinella did produce a pair of route winners, including Altona Road, who broke his maiden at a mile and a quarter. All in all, he is a speculative pick. Gordy Florida would not have made sense as an early-round draft pick, in the same way that Discreetness or Synchrony would have. But, for a late-round pick, why not hope he can run well in the Southwest?
- Midnight On Oconee (Midnight Lute – Just Fabulous, by Include) – Midnight On Oconee is the second horse in my fantasy stable who came out of the Silverbulletday. She also continues the pattern of live horses who have run at Remington, though she is at Fair Grounds now and not Oaklawn. She set the early pace in the Silverbulletday, and though she proved no match for Stageplay, she held on well for second. If she builds on that, she could at least pull down several shares along the Fair Grounds trail to the Oaks. Though sire Midnight Lute sprinted, he has produced plenty of two-turn types, and she has stamina underneath as well. Her dam’s full sister Try to Remember won at a mile and an eighth. Finally, the humans inspire confidence — if there’s anyone who knows how to condition a three-year-old filly, it’s Larry Jones.
- Noholdingback Bear (Put It Back – Pleasant Quality, by Elusive Quality) – I would almost certainly not have drafted Noholdingback Bear unless we were doing weekly drafts. However, he is my swing for the Swale. He graduated on the poly at Woodbine, but finished second behind Sheikh of Sheikhs on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, and returned with a second in the Hutcheson (GII). It would be a surprise to see him stretch out too far going forward. But, he is full to Retrieve, who won twice at seven furlongs. He is also half to Steve, who broke his maiden going seven and a half furlongs and won over Laurel’s one-turn mile. The Swale covers seven panels, so perhaps he takes to a bit more ground like his brothers.