by Nick Hahn
It’s our second Turf Ten of 2014 — Nick’s picks for the top ten three year old horses with at least one North American start on the turf in 2014.
In previous years, the roster of the leading three year-old turf runners and the list of probables for the Virginia Derby have been one and the same. However, with the summer meet at Colonial Downs, along with its Virginia Derby, at least in question, and with the introduction of the $1.25 million Belmont Derby in New York this July, the arena for the top turf three year old performers changes, providing more options for a division whose universe was once anchored in central Virginia.
The removal of the synthetic surface at Keeneland will be missed by many who may be following three year-olds onto the summer turf. What a swan song in its impact on the Turf Ten.
Next major turf stakes? The $250,000, Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
- MR SPEAKER – The dirt transition in the Holy Bull really didn’t pan out, but the Dania Beach winner on turf recovered well in the Lexington, run on the Keeneland synthetic. His next start will likely be in the$200,000 Pennine Ridge at Belmont as a 1 1/8 mile turf prep for the $1.25 million Belmont Derby. Shug McGaughey’s focus returns to turf giving him a slight edge over Derby contenders.
- DANCE WITH FATE – Here’s a guy who is rapidly becoming a wise guy pick in the Kentucky Derby. We may learn a lesson about labeling horses with this colt as in…can’t a dirt horse also be a turf horse or a synthetic horse? After winning at a mile on the Santa Anita turf in January, the last two starts, including his win in the Grade 1 Bluegrass, have come at 1 1/8 miles.
- MEDAL COUNT – Overshadowed by Dance With Fate in both the Turf Ten ranking and in the Bluegrass stretch. Another Kentucky Derby contender whose immediate turf career is on pause while seeking a Triple Crown gem. There is plenty to like about the Dynaformer bloodline of Dale Romans’ colt, and he had a nice bounce back in the Transylvania over Keeneland’s synthetic after a dismal Fountain of Youth outing on dirt.
- DIVINE OATH – Pletcher’s colt may have started to answer the distance question in the Lexington after two 7 ½ furlongs wins on the Gulfstream turf. One of those wins was over Ring Weekend, the Tampa Bay Derby winner. The runner-up of the Lexington stakes ran wide the in the stretch and may have been no match for winner Mr Speaker.
- GALA AWARD – In the debut listing of the Turf Ten, Pletcher’s Bernardini colt was awarded the top line, usually reserved for the Palm Beach winner where he has a win over Mr Speaker. It’s perfectly fitting to draw a line through the Bluegrass race line where he ran 6th on the synthetic, but he’ll have to cede the top spot.
- WE MISS ARTIE – Another likely starter on the first Saturday in May on the Churchill Downs dirt, Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Canadian bred was sired by Artie Schiller — the horse the Ramseys’ champion stallion, Kitten’s Joy, beat in the 2004 Virginia Derby. The winner of the Spiral Stakes on Turfway’s synthetic ran well in the Kitten’s Joy on the Gulfstream Park turf in January but was dull in the Fountain of Youth.
- PICOZZA – More Than Ready’s colt out of a Menifee mare took a while to break his maiden in Gulfstream turf routes, but may finally be arriving as a player — perhaps as the favorite in the American Turf at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. He ran a good second to Medal Count in the Transylvania and now returns to the turf.
- FLAMBOYANT – Not much separates the contenders in California, but the French-bred emerged as the best in the West with his win over Enterprising in the 1 1/8 mile La Puente stakes April 19th at Santa Anita. That was the first US start for a horse who has has three wins and has never finished out of the money in seven career starts.
- WOODFIELD SPRINGS – Similar to Picozza, whom he almost caught in the Transylvania Stakes, Woodfield Springs took a while to bring his maiden and looks to step up in the American Turf. Should the turf list as firm on Derby Day, he may be a threat to avenge that defeat in this round. He simply may have run out of track last time out.
- RING WEEKEND – A fever spike forces trainer Graham Motion to decline the Kentucky Derby invitation his student earned by winning the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby. Motion’s reputation and a January turf near-miss at Gulfstream keep this Tapit gelding on this turf roster, and he now could be looking for more attractive turf options this summer.
(Featured image, of last summer’s Virginia Derby, by Laurie Asseo.)