Weekend Winners Impress But Only Ocean Knight As Derby Horse
Ocean Knight continues to shine
The most startling thing about the Sam F Davis Stakes on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs was the slow early pace. The opening half mile of 48.75 seconds was almost two full seconds slower than the opening half in the Suncoast stakes, a two-turn dirt race for three-year-old fillies run an hour earlier on the card.
Divining Rod—a 28-to-1 longshot getting Lasix for the first time—led after a half mile and proceeded to capitalize on the tactical advantage by finishing a valiant second while five lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
Ocean Knight had to unleash a determined late rally to get this win. According to Trakus, Ocean Knight ran a 24.59-second final quarter, which was faster than his 24.61 first quarter. He also traveled much wider than any of the other horses who finished in the top seven.
A son of Racing Hall of Fame inductee and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Ocean Knight was dazzling in the under-tack show at the 2014 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March two-year-old sale. The March sale is the premier one at OBS, and Ocean Knight ran the outright sales-fastest quarter mile in 20.60 seconds. Here is the video clip of his excellent drill at that sale.
As you might recall, it was the Bob Baffert trained Chitu who delivered the outright sales-fastest quarter mile in 20.60 seconds, at the 2013 OBS March two-year-old sale. Clip here:
It’s certainly no knock to be compared with a terrifically talented horse like Chitu. However, Chitu is a front-end type who has never demonstrated the ability to rate from behind horses.
The thing that impressed me most about Ocean Knight’s racing debut at Aqueduct was that he was able to rate comfortably back in fifth position after a quarter mile, before launching an absolutely devastating four wide burst around the far turn. Ocean Knight went on to break his maiden by more than four lengths, winning under-wraps in a final time 0.39 seconds faster than older males needed in a six furlong entry level allowance race on that same card.
That same ability to relax early and unleash a strong wide sweep on the far turn was also the most impressive thing about Ocean Knight’s win on Saturday. This is a horse with a bright future for an excellent trainer in Kiaran McLaughlin.
From a pedigree standpoint, Ocean Knight will get plenty of stamina from Curlin. His dam, Ocean Goddess, was trained by Billy Turner of Seattle Slew fame. Amusingly, Ocean Goddess won her career debut at 28-to-1 odds for Billy Turner on November 4, 2007. Since that race, Turner is a brutal 36-0-0-0 with all first-time starters. Ocean Goddess eventually won two allowance races for Turner, including a one-turn 1 1/16-mile affair at Belmont before finishing fourth in the 2009 Top Secret Stakes at seven furlongs.
The Sam F Davis second place finisher Divining Rod is certainly not the exciting prospect that Ocean Knight is, but he does have an interesting pedigree as well. A son of Tapit, Divining Rod’s dam Precious Kitten was a three-time Grade 1 stakes winner for Bobby Frankel. She finished fourth in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Mile behind Goldikova and Kip Deville. What’s more, Precious Kitten is the older half sister to the mighty grass horse Kitten’s Joy.
While Divining Rod was very much aided by the slow early pace, he still ran huge in his first attempt with Lasix and will deserve a long and serious look if he returns to the grass.
The Great War handles the 96Rock Stakes
The toteboard was flashing odds of 1-to-9 on The Great War for a reason, and he dismantled an extremely overmatched group by more than seven lengths while under wraps. Before anyone gets too hysterical about the margin of victory, keep in mind that Harry’s Holiday won this same race by a larger margin of victory (eight lengths) last year. The same Harry’s Holiday who is winless in five starts since, including a lackluster 16th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
In fairness, The Great War is certainly a more promising horse, and he delivered a very respectable fourth-place finish behind the aforementioned Texas Red in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This is a $1-million yearling purchase who raced primarily in Europe as a two-year-old. According to trainer Wesley Ward, The Great War is a “bleeder” and “he has more of a dirt foot than a turf foot”, factors that certainly led to his return to the States since dirt racing and Lasix does not happen in Europe.
As far as being a Derby prospect goes, The Great War’s pedigree is a red-flag. His dam, Guide, was a Bill Mott runner who only attempted one route start and finished fifth as the 4-to-5 favorite. The Great War’s only kin to make more than $32,000 was Escort and he’s a confirmed sprinter who bombed at Indiana Downs in his only lifetime route attempt while in the middle of some of his best form.
The Great War is also from the up-close female family of Zensational, who was a brilliant sprinter on both dirt and synthetic tracks but flopped at odds of 1-to-5 in an allowance race in his only route attempt. Certainly, I respect The Great War’s talent, but I have some doubts that he’ll improve a whole lot with added ground.
Texas Red’s three-year-old debut a useful one
This was a very good prep for Texas Red. Lagging back in dead last position early behind soft fractions, Texas Red launched a sustained run for the final three furlongs that earned him an impressive 113 Late Pace Rating. What’s more, he made that late run while knifing and slicing in between horses, something he’s going to have to do a lot more of in route races, where a wide sweeping move isn’t always going to be a sensible option.
Lord Nelson ran a respectable race in victory, but he did have a tactical advantage over his only serious rival, and his best prior effort also came sprinting at Santa Anita.
On a final note, nominations for the Triple Crown Series are out. Here are the Ultimate Past Performances for every horse nominated.