Derby Watch: With Violence injured, Pletcher pulls out another contender for Gotham

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMarch 1, 2013 

Aqueduct Horse Racing

Normandy Invasion, left, with Jose Lezcano aboard, staged a sustained rally but was nosed out by Overanalyze and Ramon Dominguez in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last November.

ADAM COGLIANESE — ASSOCIATED PRESS

No matter how many years a horseman has been in the game, there is no salve for what trainer Todd Pletcher and his owners endured last weekend.

In the wake of his runner-up finish in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes last Saturday, Black Rock Stable's Grade I winner Violence was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail and his racing career left in doubt after fracturing his right front medial sesamoid.

It figures Pletcher would lose one of his top prospects right when the racing world is again proclaiming him loaded for bear on the Kentucky Derby trail. In a business where moving on is non-negotiable, Pletcher will do just that the best way he knows how Saturday — by saddling another expected favorite in a Derby prep race.

The Mike Repole-owned Overanalyze could fill some of Violence's void should he run up to his billing during his season debut in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Overanalyze has been in the wings since taking the Grade II Remsen Stakes by a nose over Normandy Invasion on Nov. 24. Though Normandy Invasion earned a good deal of hype for the sustained run he made in defeat, Overanalyze has remained in the background despite also winning the Grade II Futurity Stakes at Belmont last September.

The form of the Remsen is questionable at the moment after Normandy Invasion ran fifth in the Grade II Risen Star last weekend. However, Overanalyze figures to get a decent test at 11⁄16 miles when he tangles with unbeaten Vyjack, winner of the Grade II Jerome on Jan. 5.

"Overanalyze's two graded stakes wins were very, very impressive," said Repole, whose Stay Thirsty won the 2011 Gotham. "He showed courage and a big heart in coming back to win the Remsen, and those are things you can't measure.

"He's definitely moved up from (age) 2 to 3, and we'll find out Saturday where he is."

The Derby Dozen

1. Itsmyluckyday: Had his first move since winning the Holy Bull Stakes in January, covering 4 furlongs in :48.80 at Calder last Saturday. The biggest concern for the son of Lawyer Ron heading into the Grade I Florida Derby on March 30 might be the nine weeks in between starts. The dark bay colt has been at his best off quick turnarounds, breaking his maiden 22 days after his career debut, winning the Turf Dash on 20 days rest and taking the Holy Bull 25 days after winning the Gulfstream Park Derby — which itself came 21/2 weeks after his fourth-place run in the Dania Beach Stakes.

2. Orb: Yes, the Grade II Fountain of Youth set up perfectly for him with its wicked pace, but it takes a quality horse to make the sustained move he did. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said Orb has improved leaps and bounds over the winter, and distance does not figure to be an issue for the son of Malibu Moon.

3. Revolutionary: Made his return to the worktab for the first time since his gut-check win in the Grade III Withers, breezing 4 furlongs in :48.43 at Palm Meadows on Feb. 25. Elliott Walden, president of owner WinStar Farm, said Friday they were leaning toward the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 30 for the colt's final prep, citing the race's timing and Fair Grounds' long stretch. "He does not break exceptionally fast and I think we just accept that and look for a race that might suit that," Walden said. "Fair Grounds with that long stretch might suit him."

4. Flashback: Prepped for his expected start in the Grade II San Felipe on March 9 with a bullet 6-furlong move on Monday, covering the distance in 1:11.00 in company with stablemate Den's Legacy at Santa Anita. Had things his own way on the front end in winning the Robert B. Lewis but did come from off the pace in breaking his maiden last December.

5. Shanghai Bobby: Clicked off a 4-furlong move in :49.61 at Palm Meadows on Monday. Juvenile champ is going to get knocked about his pedigree's 10-furlong potential until May but trainer Todd Pletcher said last week his runner-up effort in the Holy Bull actually showed him the son of Harlan's Holiday "maintained his 2-year-old form; actually moved forward a bit." It's watch and wait until the Florida Derby.

6. Verrazano: Other than Sam F. Davis winner Falling Sky, there doesn't appear to be a ton of competition lining up to take on the son of More Than Ready in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. Tampa Bay's surface can be quirky and has tripped up a heavy favorite before (War Pass, 2008) but Pletcher has used this race successfully, sending Super Saver out to a third-place run at Tampa Bay en route to his eventual 2010 Kentucky Derby win.

7. Goldencents: Is still floating a bit under the radar, but trainer Doug O'Neill raves about this colt's brilliance. O'Neill said the way Goldencents was able to shut it off and relax in the Sham Stakes and then come back on the bridle for the win was key in his quest to not being a one-dimensional runner. Great matchup against Flashback in the San Felipe looms next weekend.

8. Vyjack: Unbeaten gelding has done all his damage at Aqueduct but was flattered by association last weekend when Orb — whom he defeated in November — won the Fountain of Youth. Gets a new rider for the Gotham in Joel Rosario.

9. Overanalyze: Has a strong foundation under him, but Remsen winners have had lousy luck on the Derby trail in recent years. Still, has shown he has mettle and can run fast — all the key ingredients one wants this time of year.

10. Normandy Invasion: Pretty much lost all chance with a bad start and wide trip in the Grade II Risen Star last weekend, but got up for fifth only a few lengths behind long-shot winner Ivestruckanerve. The Risen Star didn't look good form-wise and now puts Normandy Invasion in the position of needing a top-three finish in his final prep — likely to be the Grade I Wood Memorial — to keep his Derby hopes legitimate.

11. Oxbow: The LeComte winner is another who didn't have a great Risen Star trip, but the fact many are still debating what to make of that race keeps him on here for now. Consistency hasn't been his thing, following each of his wins with off-the-board efforts. Likely to resurface in the Louisiana Derby.

12. Super Ninety Nine: Freaked over a sealed, sloppy track in winning the Southwest Stakes by 111/4 lengths. Maybe that effort was the product of the surface, but the son of Pulpit also defeated eventual Risen Star-runner up Code West handily at the start of the year. And anytime a Bob Baffert-trained runner looks that good at Oaklawn, you pay attention.

The next dozen

Tiz the Truth, I've Struck a Nerve, Falling Sky, Shakin It Up, Uncaptured, Treasury Bill, Dynamic Sky, Delhomme, Cerro, Den's Legacy, Code West, Palace Malice.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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