Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - In last week's column, I posted the pros and cons for all Kentucky Derby starters and the one horse that had the most positives in his corner was Dance With Fate.
Don't get me wrong, there are some negatives as well. For instance, trainer Peter Eurton was not initially excited about bringing the Blue Grass winner to Churchill Downs to take a shot at the big prize. Furthermore, the horse has done his best running on synthetics (two wins) and turf (one win). He is winless in two starts on dirt.
However, Dance With Fate is handling Churchill Downs as well as any of the other entrants and he posted a solid 47-second workout on the Santa Anita dirt before shipping to Kentucky. That work was the second-fastest of 63 at the distance.
Dance With Fate's top efforts have come with time off between races and that was one of the major reasons why Eurton did not want the colt to run in early May. Nevertheless, the colt broke his maiden off a four-week layoff, ran second in both the Del Mar Futurity and the Forerunner off 24 days and then ran second in the El Camino Real Derby off 22 days. The gap between the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby is close to all of those at 21 days.
The son of Two Step Salsa ran a spectacular 12.13 final eighth and 36.07 final three-eighths in winning the Blue Grass. Those numbers were the fastest of all Derby starters in their final prep. What makes them even more amazing is that Dance With Fate was within five lengths of the lead throughout the first half mile of the Blue Grass, so it wasn't as if he was last and made one huge run. In fact, he's been far off the pace in just one of his eight career starts and that was when he was squeezed at the break in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The bold move in the Blue Grass was not a one-shot deal. He ran his final quarter (prior to the final eighth) in the El Camino Real Derby in 23.86, the fastest quarter-mile of any of the Derby entrants in their second-to-last prep. What is interesting to note about that statistic is Dance With Fate ran his 23.86 in a 1 1/8-mile race while, outside of Harry's Holiday's race in the Spiral, all of the other horses ran their penultimate prep in 1 1/16-mile events
Dance With Fate is one of two horses in the field with a pair of 1 1/8-mile races as a 3-year-old. Harry's Holiday is the other.
Last year's Derby winner Orb had two nine-furlong starts prior to the first Saturday in May, and three years ago, both Animal Kingdom (first) and Nehro (second) had two 1 1/8-mile races under their belts. Only two other colts in this year's Derby - Wicked Strong and Intense Holiday - have two lifetime starts at nine furlongs.
It also is not surprising that Dance With Fate fares well going long since he's bred to handle the 1 1/4 miles. Anytime Saint Ballado (full brother to Devil's Bag and Glorious Song) is a horse's damsire; he has a great chance to excel at the classic distances.
Saint Ballado's dad is Halo, who sired a pair of Kentucky Derby winners in Sunday Silence and Sunny's Halo, as well as a second-place finisher in Strodes Creek. The key with this sire line is Halo's grandsire, Turn-To. Each of the last 11 Derby winners have had Turn-To somewhere in their pedigree. In addition, Dance With Fate's sire, Two Step Salsa, comes from the Mr. Prospector line, which has been the dominant Triple Crown sire line over the last 20 years.
Another positive sign is all the love Medal Count is getting. The Dale Romans- trained colt has been one of the few horses that have trained well over the Churchill Downs surface, which gives credence to the Blue Grass as being a legitimate prep despite being run on Polytrack.
With the scratch of Hoppertunity, Dance With Fate moves one post closer to the No. 11 post position. With almost all the speed to his inside (and all the closers to his outside), jockey Corey Nakatani should be able to settle into a great spot before the field hits the first turn. From there, look for the colt to be about 10-to-15 lengths behind a quick early pace set by the likes of Chitu, Uncle Sigh, Wildcat Red and Vicar's in Trouble.
As the field makes its way around the far turn, Nakatani will have his charge picking up horses one by one. At the top of the stretch, Dance With Fate will trail only California Chrome, Danza and Intense Holiday, and at the wire, it will be Dance With Fate coming out on top of Danza, with a slew of horses (Intense Holiday, California Chrome, Wicked Strong, Candy Boy and Medal Count) battling it out to fill the trifecta and superfecta positions.
WHY CALIFORNIA CHROME WILL FAIL AS THE FAVORITE
I had California Chrome on top of the Dirty Dozen from March 13 through this past week. However, three key items have caused me to drop him from first to third.
First, who wants a 5-2 favorite in a 19- or 20-horse field? Second, he has not galloped over the Churchill Downs surface as well as he had in California. And third, the No. 5 post position does not favor his running style.
That last item is the key. Throughout his four-race winning streak, jockey Victor Espinoza had California Chrome either on the lead or just off the early pace. In all of those efforts, the colt was not directly behind another horse and therefore did not get dirt kicked in his face. The last two times California Chrome had to deal with that issue, he finished sixth.
Danza remains at No. 2. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt has been galloping strongly at Churchill Downs and should be able to maintain his current form. The only knock is the price. With the scratch of Hoppertunity and the No. 19 post for Wicked Strong, Danza could easily be the second or third choice.
Intense Holiday is another one of Pletcher's stock that is soaring after a great week of training over the track. Look for him to revert back to his Risen Star performance and give a great account of himself in the Run for the Roses.
As for Wicked Strong, that No. 19 post position is a killer, especially with similar racing styles from the six horses right to his inside. Unless jockey Rajiv Maragh does not push him early and is able to save ground by moving closer to the inside, expect a wide trip as the field passes the stands the first time.
Two longer-priced horses that should not be overlooked are Candy Boy and Medal Count.
Candy Boy has a great opportunity to reproduce his run in the CashCall Futurity, but instead of rushing up to the top approaching the far turn, expect him to do so a little bit later in the race. He probably won't win, but he won't disgrace himself, either.
Medal Count has been the buzz of the track this week and should put forth a solid effort, even though it will be his third race in a month. Unlike Dance With Fate, he has a win on dirt and has a chance to duplicate that on Saturday.
THE $100 WAGER
Given a bankroll of $100, bet $52 to win on Dance With Fate. The next wager is a $2 exacta box of Dance With Fate, Danza, California Chrome and Intense Holiday for $24. With the remaining $24, bet two $6 exacta boxes of Dance With Fate with Candy Boy and Dance With Fate with Medal Count
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Dance With Fate - Primed for a huge effort after a great workout on dirt
2) Danza - Looking as good, if not better, than any other horse on the grounds
3) California Chrome - Too much to overcome to win, especially as the favorite
4) Intense Holiday - Loving Churchill Downs, so a top effort is within range
5) Wicked Strong - The post position almost kills any chances for the win
6) Candy Boy - Don't sleep on the son of Candy Ride, even from post No. 17
7) Medal Count - Owns a lot of experience training over track; could surprise
8) Ride On Curlin - Calvin Borel always gives his Derby mounts a chance to win
9) Samraat - Post No. 6 forces him to use his speed too early and will fade
10) General a Rod - Not a good sign that he was sold earlier in the week
11) Chitu - Baffert's lone entry is outside speed; will go as far as he can
12) Vicar's in Trouble - Must exert a ton of early energy from the inside post