The Weekend That Wasn't: More Questions Than Answers After Wood, Blue Grass, & Santa Anita Derby

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Ed DeRosa

April 9th, 2017

How uninspiring was this weekend’s Kentucky Derby prep races?

With 510 points up for grabs, only one horse who raced this weekend—Wood Memorial Stakes winner Irish War Cry—is in my current top 6 Kentucky Derby contenders (up from #9).

McCraken and Practical Joke drop to 7th & 8th, respectively, after finishing 3rd & 2nd in the Blue Grass Stakes. Gormley shows up at #10, but that’s only because someone has to be 10th.

I was right about Irish War Cry this week, but a big part of solving this Kentucky Derby puzzle will involve being right about him in four weeks. My sense was this was the time for him. It’s one thing to rebound from a bad effort in a Grade 2; it’s another to continue to move forward off a complete dud in one of the toughest races in the world to win.

I was wrong about both Practical Joke and Iliad. Neither had any excuse not to win their races. Well, there is an excuse: distance limitations. Both were in a winning position and neither could seal the deal. Props to James Scully who tried to talk me off both for the right reasons.

From a talent perspective, there’s no doubt in my mind that Classic Empire is the best horse of this group, but McCraken provides a cautionary tale. Both missed training following their three-year-old debuts. Classic Empire returns next week in the Arkansas Derby. McCraken came back this week and was less than stellar as the beaten favorite in the Blue Grass. Yes, it was a troubled third, but losing to a maiden and the distance-challenged Practical Joke requires more of an excuse.

McCraken can move forward. Ian Wilkes is a former assistant to Racing Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger, who lost the 2007 Blue Grass with champion Street Sense before going on to win the Kentucky Derby. Street Sense was already fast enough, though, and McCraken isn’t.

Judging by last week’s Kentucky Derby future wager (the final of four pari-mutuel pools), favoritism is likely to come down either to Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming or Classic Empire if he wins the Arkansas Derby. Irish War Cry will be in the next tier along with closers Gunnevera and McCraken looking to rebound off their troubled, couldn’t-close trips.