This was a big week for me in the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league. Though there were only two points races, four of my eight horses were in action.
Three of them were in the same race. One of them ran huge…though it was neither the horse I hoped would do so, nor the one I picked to do so.
I have always played the league a bit more filly-heavy than most players, since there seem to be far more diamonds in the rough to find on that side of the house, while everyone is scouring and obsessing over the Derby trail. Furthermore, for this year, I still feel like I have a better handle on the Oaks trail than the Derby trail.
In the Fair Grounds Oaks, I had three of my eight horses in the starting gate. Stageplay, one of my original draft picks, ran a flat race in the Rachel Alexandra, but tried to get things back on track in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Midnight On Oconee, second in both of the prep races, attempted to keep the momentum going…and perhaps give trainer Larry Jones his 1000th career win. Land Over Sea, her case full of second-to-Songbird medals from the west coast, shipped east to try a more wide-open field in Louisiana.
Handicapping the race, I landed on Midnight On Oconee. She had form over the track, her trainer tends to get hot the closer the Oaks gets, and there did not look to be large amounts of speed in the race. She did get the early lead, but unfortunately, she was not able to hold it all the way. Adore tracked her, and eventually overtook her. She faded to seventh. However…leading into that race, the track was starting to play weirdly (and not positively) toward speed horses. It was her first subpar race this season, making me think long and hard about giving her a mulligan here. Furthermore, she already has 24 points — typically more than enough to get her into the starting gate of the Oaks.
I hoped Stageplay would do well. She is a daughter of Curlin, and she won the Silverbulletday with authority. She did not fire in the Rachel Alexandra, something I was willing to forgive if she put things back together for the Fair Grounds Oaks. Unfortunately, she again failed to fire in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She looked like she was making a run turning for home…but flattened out to sixth. Sure, her wide trip may not have been the best, but she would have looked better in the late stages if she were the horse I thought she was when I drafted her. Either she has stalled out or she has distance limitations, but after two straight flops, it is hard to take Stageplay seriously as an Oaks filly. Perhaps her 14 points get her into the gate on Oaks day, perhaps not. Sure, Steve Asmussen has one serious Oaks prospect in his barn who is a daughter of Curlin — but her name is Terra Promessa.
Land Over Sea, who I drafted because she seemed a good enough prospect to pick up a few seconds and thirds out west, did exactly what I hoped she would do. She has picked up points for me twice, finishing second behind Songbird. She then made the trek to Fair Grounds to get out from under that shadow…and, it turned out, Doug O’Neill made the right choice. Near the back of the pack early, she slowly yet easily improved position down the backstretch. As Midnight On Oconee started to fade, Land Over Sea got her sights set on Adore. Passing the furlong pole, she found her next gear, and left the rest of the field in the dust. Land Over Sea won by four and a half lengths over Dream Dance, who rallied to tag Adore for place by a neck. Perhaps the Oaks may mean another second to Songbird medal…but, so far, Land Over Sea has overachieved, and is clearly my stable’s midseason MVP.
In the Louisiana Derby, I had just one runner. Dazzling Gem, who opted out of the Rebel after missing a bit of training, acquitted himself well despite being relegated to Plan B. He stalked off the early pace set by Candy My Boy, and though he could not contain Gun Runner or Tom’s Ready late, he held on for third over (the admittedly trip-troubled) Mo Tom. That meant a few points for my stable, a few Derby points for Dazzling Gem — and, all things considered, not a bad first outing against stakes company. That was only his third start overall, giving him some upside to grow into himself and improve further.
This left the question of what to do with my stable. I considered not putting in a claim at all, since I have already taken my stab at a Turfway long shot for this coming weekend — American Doll, who I drafted last week for the Bourbonette. However, I had to try for more. As much as I love Stageplay as a fan — for goodness’s sake, she’s a grey Curlin baby! — her last outing was not the race I wanted to see from a serious Oaks prospect. If my stable were driven by who I loved, I would never have let Conquest Big E go. Yet, enthusiasm alone scores me exactly no fantasy points.
Once again, I found myself with a ton of claiming budget…but no horse I loved enough to risk much. However, I had to find someone to replace Stageplay.
The Spiral probables were out, though, and Don’t Be So Salty looks a sneaky synthetic sort. Though he has been off the board in two tries this year, those both came on turf. But, he outclassed an allowance field over the Presque Isle Tapeta last September, and then won the Display Stakes at two turns over the Woodbine polytrack in December. Though liking Presque and Woodbine is no guarantee that he will like Turfway as well, it shows some ability to handle multiple synthetic footings. With the more proven Surgical Strike already taken — and with my faith that whether Shogood enters this race or not, he has serious distance challenges — a $1 flyer on Don’t Be So Salty looked my best chance to swoop in and try for a few more points at Turfway.
And, I got my way. No one else put in for Don’t Be So Salty (Tiz Wonderful – Unbridled Salt, by Unbridled’s Song), so I get to take my chances with him. It stings to drop a Curlin baby…but cooler heads must prevail. I cannot give Stageplay two mulligans in a row, and would rather take my shot with a promising synthetic runner in the Spiral.