Horses

Derby Watch: Two top contenders faltered in prep races

Anthony's Cross and jockey Joel Rosario, right, outran Riveting Reason, ridden by Victor Espinoza, left, to win the Grade II, $250,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
Anthony's Cross and jockey Joel Rosario, right, outran Riveting Reason, ridden by Victor Espinoza, left, to win the Grade II, $250,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. AP

There is a reason many people wait until about an hour to post on the first Saturday of May before fully committing to a Kentucky Derby horse — and this weekend was a perfect illustration why.

Saturday featured a trio of Derby prep races that, on paper, were supposed to be little more than paid showcases for three of the more highly regarded members of the 3-year-old division.

Although WinStar Farm's homebred Brethren held up his end of the bargain by winning the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes by an easy 4 lengths, the Grade II Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita Park and Grade III El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields proved to be the early bracket busters as respective favorites Tapizar and Comma to the Top both failed to hit the board against what were perceived as soft fields.

The losses by Comma to the Top and Tapizar weren't the only setbacks this weekend. Grade I winner Boys At Tosconova, runner-up to champion Uncle Mo in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was officially taken out of training after Richard Dutrow continued to be displeased with the colt's energy level and progress.

Tapizar's bandwagon started filling up following his dominating win in the Sham Stakes on Jan. 15, but something got to the colt big time in the Robert B. Lewis. The son of Tapit was wound up in the paddock and post parade and then extremely rank on the front end as he dragged Garrett Gomez through fractions of 22.48 and :45.64 before fading to fifth behind race winner Anthony's Cross.

Trainer Steve Asmussen didn't have any immediate plans for the colt on Sunday morning but was still wondering what caused the horse considered to be his leading Derby contender to get so upset.

"You're never as wrong as when you're sure. This is why they let you bet on it," he said.

Those in the camp of Grade I winner Comma to the Top were also looking for answers following his fourth-place effort in the El Camino Real Derby. The gelded son of Bwana Charlie came into the race with a five-race win streak and appeared ready to blow by his rivals at the top of the lane, only to flatten out leaving Silver Medallion free to collect his first graded stakes score.

Jockey Corey Nakatani said afterward he thought Comma to the Top might have needed the race as he had not run since winning the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 18.

While there is certainly the chance both Tapizar and Comma to the Top can rebound next time out and reestablish themselves, the fact they each faltered so badly in what were supposed to be easier spots has to make one a bit leery about how each will perform when the talent level gets cranked up over the next couple of months.

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