June 19, 2024

Road to the Triple Crown

Last updated: 3/29/05 6:58 PM


ROAD TO THE TRIPLE CROWN

MARCH 30, 2005

by James Scully

FLOWER ALLEY (Distorted Humor) entered Saturday’s Lane’s End S. (G2) with
only a narrow maiden victory at Gulfstream Park to his credit and exited the
$500,000 event as a three-year-old with a bright future. The Todd Pletcher-trained
colt still exhibited signs of greenness, racing in and out of spots through the 1
1/8-mile contest, but he leveled out after being steered to the outside for the
stretch run and drove to a half-length victory under Jorge Chavez.

The chestnut colt will be on a tight schedule over the next six weeks, with a
final prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1) in either the Blue Grass (G1) or Arkansas
Derby (G2), both on April 16, and he would own only four lifetime starts prior
to the Run for the Roses. That may not be enough experience to win the Kentucky
Derby, but Flower Alley is a dangerous new player in the three-year-old
division.

He didn’t have the best of trips, pressing the pace for the opening
three-eighths before beginning to drop back in the field, and continued his
advance and retreat tactics on the backstretch and into the far turn. Steadied
briefly along the inside approaching the top of the stretch, Flower Alley
accelerated impressively when clear, overhauling MR SWORD (Rizzi) in deep
stretch to win going away over the muddy track.

Flower Alley didn’t earn a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating (98) and didn’t
appear to beat top competition, but don’t look for him to be a one-hit wonder like last year’s
Lane’s End winner Sinister G (Matty G). Pletcher spoke glowingly about the
colt’s ability prior to the Lane’s End, and Flower Alley still has plenty of
maturing left to do. He’ll keep getting better with more experience.

WILD DESERT (Wild Rush) closed for second while never a threat to the winner,
and third-place finisher Mr Sword, who received a questionable ride from
Norberto Arroyo Jr., ran out of gas in midstretch. Arroyo gunned the improving
colt to the front entering the far turn and quickly opened up a large advantage.
His premature actions left Mr Sword empty for the stretch run.

ANDROMEDA’S HERO (Fusaichi Pegasus) turned in a disappointing effort to be
fifth. He didn’t have to win, but the late-running colt was in position to at
least grab third in midstretch and failed to produce a decent rally. The Nick
Zito trainee may not have cared for the wet track, but he’ll need to improve
significantly in his final prep to earn his way to Kentucky Derby. SPANISH
CHESTNUT (Horse Chestnut [SAf]), the 2-1 favorite, led the way early before
faltering and is better suited to shorter distances presently.

Godolphin had the overwhelming favorite for Saturday’s $2 million U.A.E.
Derby (UAE-G1) and their royal blue silks shone in a brilliant performance that
will propel the winner to the Kentucky Derby. However, it wasn’t the Godolphin
horse everybody expected. BLUES AND ROYALS (Honour and Glory) overshadowed
stablemate SHAMARDAL (Giant’s Causeway), who was voted champion two-year-old in
Europe, with a resounding 12-length score.

Following a non-descript three-race juvenile campaign, Blues and Royals
brought low expectations into his sophomore bow, but a surface switch to dirt
was what he needed to find his best form. If Godolphin would ship to the United
States for an April prep race, the Saeed bin Suroor charge would merit serious
respect for the Kentucky Derby. But Godolphin decided long ago that they wanted
to win the Kentucky Derby off a March start in the desert, essentially
committing themselves to failure.

Their unwillingness to adapt is almost comical because it’s strictly a pride
issue. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the driving force behind World Cup
Day, expressed his desire to win the Kentucky Derby off a race (U.A.E. Derby) on
his showcase program more than a decade ago when his stable was primarily involved in turf racing. That was his prerogative at the time, but it hasn’t
worked out because dirt racing is different from turf. Horses need races to
prepare them for the grueling task of the Kentucky Derby. A fresh horse is
undesirable, and that’s why every winner in the last 50 years has competed in an April
prep race.

Godolphin could easily adapt their program to give themselves the best
opportunity to capture one of the world’s biggest races. Instead, it’s more
important for Sheikh Mohammed to be right than it is to win the Kentucky Derby.

Shamardal faded badly in upper stretch to ninth, beaten more than 45 lengths,
but he could still make the Kentucky Derby, according to spokesman Simon
Crisford. The April 23 Lexington S. (G2) would be the perfect spot to give the
colt another try on the dirt beforehand, but that sensible option probably won’t
be contemplated.

The final round of prep races for top Kentucky Derby contenders gets underway
this weekend with Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (G1), which has been
re-scheduled this year from March to April. The nine-furlong contest is expected
to include HIGH FLY (Atticus), BANDINI (Fusaichi Pegasus), NOBLE CAUSEWAY
(Giant’s Causeway), PAPI CHULLO (Comeonmom), B.B. BEST (Yes It’s True) and
CLOSING ARGUMENT (Successful Appeal).