Week 6 of the Derbyologist Triple Crown Fantasy League is in the books, and it may well be the most frustrating one yet — an achievement, given how frustrating this season has been.
It was not without a bright spot. Land Over Sea, once again, did her thing. I never figured her for a match to Songbird, but I figured I could claim her and score a few “second or third to Songbird” medals. She was second in the Las Virgenes (GII) last month, and once again rallied nicely for second in Saturday’s Santa Ysabel (GIII). She has done everything I’ve hoped of her. Land Over Sea has not won a prep race yet, but has all but assured herself a spot in the Oaks starting gate with 28 points so far. She will get a chance against different company at the end of the month, however, as the Fair Ground Oaks (GII) is next on the docket for Land over Sea. Of course, this means my stable is going to be quite heavy on Fair Grounds fillies — as Stageplay and Midnight On Oconee have been on that particular spur of the Oaks trail since the beginning.
However the news with two other horses — including one who did not even run last weekend — was far less good.
Conquest Big E faltered in the Holy Bull (GII), but got a shot to redeem himself in the Gotham (GIII). He was my top draft pick…and, stop me if you’ve heard this one, something about a grey son of Tapit being my top draft pick, and giving up on him after one bad race in Florida.1 So, I never even considered dropping Conquest Big E. I liked his work enough last year enough to figure he would be a force on the Derby trail this year, and had high hopes for him in the Gotham.
Unfortunately, Conquest Big E disappointed again in the Gotham. He didn’t have the best trip, for sure — outside and off the pace was not the right place to be on a day when inside speed was so good. However he still finished a well-beaten fifth behind a field whose Derby prospects seem questionable at best in my opinion. It still remains that his best races have been outside of stakes company, and mostly in the mud.
This was a question of my head and my heart being deeply at odds with each other. I want to see Big E succeed. I like what he did last year. I like his connections. But, even assuming he does get it together in stakes company, I am not convinced he is going to do so in the time frame of the Triple Crown, or at the distances. For the first time this season, I considered dropping him from my stable.
Far more speculative, but just as disappointing, was the weekend for new claim Moon Over a Beauty. I knew he was merely possible, not probable, for the Gotham. He did not enter the points race, but rather Sunday’s Jimmy Winkfield Stakes: a six-furlong sprint against fellow New York-breds. He sent, got caught in a speed duel with Sudden Surprise, and even though he survived a bit better than his front-end rival, he still finished a well-beaten fifth. Though he showed in his maiden win that he did not need to be on the front end, and thus has some potential in the future…that potential probably lies in allowance company, and New York-bred company. He would have had to show a lot sprinting against New York-breds to suggest that the Wood (GI) (or any other points race) could be next, but Moon Over a Beauty certainly did not show that on Sunday.
Another horse who has come upon hard times is one of my more recent claims, Oaklawn allowance winner Dazzling Gem. He has not raced since I claimed him, but was pointing toward the Rebel (GII). However, it was announced today that “minor foot issues” are making him unlikely for that race. No other details have surfaced, though this cannot bode well. It is tough: hang on to him now and wait to see if they clear up, or if he is pointed to another points race? Or, drop him and take a stab with another runner elsewhere? It is a tough one — not only did he win his allowance in strong fashion, but third-place Madtap returned from Dazzling Gem’s race to romp in an Oaklawn allowance on Saturday, with fourth-place My Chennai Xpress finishing a clear second behind Madtap.
This week’s points races are the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII), the San Felipe (GIII), the Honeybee (GIII), and the Florida Oaks (GIII). The marquee contenders for the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe are all spoken for. I already have a stable loaded with Honeybee prospects with Terra Promessa and Cosmic Evolution.
Thus, the Florida Oaks made sense — probables were just announced today, and since most points races have been on dirt, there were still quality turf horses for the taking. Again, with so few points races on turf, I had no desire to spend a lot. So, I put $1 on Spinamiss, and $1 on Gamble’s Ghost. Both have shown good form over grass, but Spinamiss has raced more recently, and has a win over the Tampa Bay turf course already. Still, Gamble’s Ghost showed serious talent at two, and a second-place finish behind Catch a Glimpse was nothing to sneeze at. Assuming she goes in the Florida Oaks, and Josie Carroll had her ready to roll, she could contend.
Moon Over a Beauty was clearly the first one on the drop list. It was a close decision over who to risk next, Conquest Big E or Dazzling Gem. I chose to risk the big grey — I decided I would rather wait out a more lightly raced horse with upside than continue giving a spot in my fantasy stable to a runner who has not lived up to my expectations.
I was the only one to bid for Gamble’s Ghost (Ghostzapper – Gambling Girl, by Secret Claim). Thus, my $1 bid was enough, and she becomes my stable’s shot at the Florida Oaks. However, another stable put in a $12 bid for Spinamiss, leaving me outbid.
Moon Over a Beauty becomes a free agent almost as quickly as he became a pick for my stable. However, I will have to agonise for a while longer over whether to keep Conquest Big E in my stable or not.
This is not getting any easier.
1 In last year’s fantasy league, I drafted Frosted in the first round. I decided I couldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him after he backed up so badly in the Fountain of Youth, and dropped him immediately afterward. Of course, he then proceeded to win the Wood, finish fourth in the Derby, and finish second in the Belmont. I took a stand, but that stand turned out to be as wrong as it gets.