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Homeracing

Kentucky Derby Report (3/2); Mohaymen posts another easy win ahead of showdown

Profile Picture: James Scully

March 2nd, 2016

Mohaymen eliminated any suspense leaving the far turn in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth (G2), drawing away smartly through the short stretch of the 1 1/16-mile race at Gulfstream Park, and the stage is now set for a showdown between unbeaten stars in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 2, with 2-year-old champion Nyquist shipping in from California.

Zulu will attempt to play spoiler against highly-fancied rivals next time and the Bernardini colt is eligible to improve significantly upon a commendable second in the Fountain of Youth, which served as the stakes and two-turn debut as well as his first start on a fast track.

Let’s hope officials can round up more than three other horses to compete against Mohaymen, Nyquist and Zulu in the track’s centerpiece event.

Fountain of Youth

Mohaymen opened the year with a convincing 3 ½-length victory in the January 30 Holy Bull (G2), racing up close from the start behind a slow pace in a short field, but the six-horse Fountain of Youth had legit speed and the gray colt displayed his handiness during the opening stages, easing back nicely under jockey Junior Alvarado after being bumped entering the first turn.

He trailed by about three lengths early on the backstretch, stalking the action in fifth, and split rivals on his own accord as he advanced into a closer position approaching the far turn. Zulu tracked in second from the break and dismissed pacesetter Awesome Banner exiting the backstretch but Mohaymen was breathing down his neck as they rounded the bend, drawing even before reaching the stretch drive.

Zulu fought back gamely when confronted but ultimately proved no match for his more seasoned rival. He continued to try hard to the wire, finishing four lengths clear of the late-running Fellowship, and I thought it was an excellent effort in only the third career start.

However, the Florida Derby needs Zulu more than he does. The bay colt will face an extreme environment at Churchill Downs and the only experience he’ll know is Gulfstream Park. And trainer Todd Pletcher has been down this road before, racing well-regarded but lightly-raced prospects Materiality and Dunkirk exclusively at one track before the first leg of the Triple Crown. Both were wiped out in the early stages of the Kentucky Derby, cautionary examples of young horses shipping to a new setting for the first time.

Mohaymen captured his debut at Belmont Park before winning the Nashua (G2) and Remsen (G2) over the main track at Aqueduct. The Remsen, a rare 1 1/8-mile dirt stakes race for 2-year-old nowadays, has been panned in recent years, with no impact on the Kentucky Derby since producing back-to-back winners in 1994-95 (Go for Gin and Thunder Gulch), but Mohaymen can change the current trend.

He’s able to put himself into a race with tactical speed and offers a nice turn of foot into the stretch. The well-bred son of Tapit has also displayed his athleticism, extricating himself from a tight spot with relative ease in the Remsen, a favorable trait considering the potential for traffic trouble in a 20-horse field. His BRIS numbers are first-rate, equaling a career-best 102 Speed rating in the Fountain of Youth.

Mohaymen came home quicker in the Holy Bull, registering a 115 BRIS Late Pace, but he raced faster during the early stages of the Fountain of Youth and Alvarado appeared to be saving plenty late for future engagements. The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt seemingly has plenty more to offer off another facile tally.

I’m looking forward to watching him square off against more capable rivals in the Florida Derby.

Mohaymen didn’t meet deep competition at age 2, with Flexibility (a disappointing fourth in the Withers [G3]) last time) finishing second in the Nashua and Remsen. The only rival of note in the Holy Bull, Greenpointcrusader, was taken out of his element when racing on the front end from the starting gate, and Zulu’s lack of seasoning caught up to him in the latter stages of the Fountain of Youth.

The rest of the competition in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth proved overmatched, either too slow to challenge or reportedly sick (Conquest Big E), and beating up on short fields of suspect/compromised opponents can be misleading.

But Mohaymen remains extremely formidable, a standout presently on the East Coast. The talented sophomore could face another short cast in the Florida Derby, but a stiff test awaits with Nyquist and an improved Zulu. And I think a hard race in the final prep would be to his advantage.

Upcoming

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series returns to Aqueduct’s inner track for Saturday’s $400,000 Gotham (G3), which offers points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers.

The 1 1/16-mile race, the local prep for the $1 million Wood Memorial (G1) on April 9, will feature Withers winner Sunny Ridge and third-placer Adventist along with a trio of promising 3-year-olds making their stakes debut: Shagaf, Rally Cry and Mo Power.

I’m intrigued by Rally Cry, a Pletcher-trained son of Uncle Mo who figured to give Shagaf a serious challenge in a January 29 Gulfstream allowance before experiencing all kinds of trouble. He should offer solid value following the third-place effort.

Top 10

1) Mohaymen – Unbeaten Tapit colt continued to dominate foes in Fountain of Youth; looking forward to final prep in Florida Derby

2) Mor Spirit – Lewis (G3) winner targeting March 12 San Felipe (G2) & provides Baffert with a shot at a fifth Kentucky Derby victory

3) Brody’s Cause – Expecting further improvement at age 3 from classy Giant’s Causeway colt; returns in March 12 Tampa Bay Derby (G2)

4) Gun Runner – Still lightly-raced for Steve Asmussen, Candy Ride colt figures to keep moving forward off solid performance in Risen Star (G2)

5) Exaggerator –No match for Nyquist at 7-furlongs in San Vicente (G2), Curlin colt received a useful tightener finishing second & stretches back out to two turns in San Felipe

6) Greenpointcrusader – Juvenile G1 winner opened 2016 with a solid second in Holy Bull & targeting one final prep in late March/early April

7) Danzing Candy – Impressive maiden and allowance winner will receive class check when making stakes bow in San Felipe

8) Zulu – Runner-up effort in Fountain of Youth served as a perfect building block; likely to remain at Gulfstream for final prep in Florida Derby

9) Nyquist – Unbeaten 2-year-old champion will receive only two-turn prep in Florida Derby & the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance represents a daunting challenge with his breeding

10) Destin – Rebounded from a couple of setbacks with a strong showing in Sam F. Davis (G3); Tampa Bay Derby is logical target for improving colt

Archive

Here are my previous Kentucky Derby Reports:

February 24: Bullish on Gun Runner

February 17: Nyquist returns a stylish winner

February 10: Baffert remains in the spotlight with Mor Spirit

February 3: Mohaymen justifies star billing

January 20: Stakes-experience proves valuable

January 13: Sham winner doesn’t run fast but plenty of time remains

January 7: January brings a sense of anticipation

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