Went the Day Well joins Derby chase

Two Kentucky Derby hopefuls were exposed as pretenders while Went the Day Well and Daddy Nose Best proved themselves contenders for the Run For the Roses last weekend.

With only five weeks until the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, connections with top 3-year-olds are tightening the screws and getting them ready for their last prep races.

There is $2 million in graded earnings up for grabs this weekend, and the only way to get a spot in the starting gate is to be among the top 20 sophomores in graded stakes earnings.

Derby Kitten was last in the gate last year with $120,000, but the cut-off in 2010 was the $218,7509 in the bank by Make Music for Me.

With increases in purses for some of the Derby preps this year, it might take around $250,000 to guarantee a ticket to Louisville this year.

Union Rags is going to be the likely favorite Saturday in the $1 million Florida Derby, a Grade 1 race, and his connections don’t have to worry about what is in the bank. The colt has accumulated $1,070,000 in graded earnings and is assured a spot in the starting gate.

Others in the race, including the highly regarded El Padrino ($200,000 in graded earnings), could use a nice payday.

A field of seven looks likely for the Florida Derby, but the $1 million Louisiana Derby drew a crowd, with a field of 14 set to go.

The betting favorite for the Grade 2 event figures to be Mark Valeski, who lost the Risen Star (Grade 3) in a photo to El Padrino.

With only $50,000 in graded earnings, the colt needs to win to get in, although a runner-up finish might also do the trick.

Here is a look at the major contenders for this year’s Run for the Roses (and odds from Bovada):

1. Union Rags, 4-1

Trained by Michael Matz, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby with Barbaro, this colt is going in his final prep race on in the Florida Derby. The colt is proven over the surface, having won the Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) on Feb. 26. He figures to get a stern test facing six talented foes, including El Padrino and Take Charge Indy. All signs are pointing toward a career top effort Saturday, which should set things up nicely for this guy come the first Saturday of May. He ran well over the Churchill Downs surface last fall in his lone defeat, beaten a head by Hansen on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade 1).

2. Creative Cause, 10-1

This colt was another length back in third behind Hansen and Union Rags in the Juvenile, which certainly is looking as a key race on the Derby trail this year. He came back three months late to finish third in the seven-furlong San Vicente (Grade 3), then moved forward nicely when stretched out to a route in a good-looking score in the San Felipe (Grade 2) on March 10. It looks as if trainer Mike Harrington will keep the colt in Southern California for his last prep, which will come in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

3. El Padrino, 9-1

It seemed logical for the Risen Star (Grade 2) winner to stick to Fair Grounds and come back in the Louisiana Derby (Grade 2) on Sunday, but trainer Todd Pletcher is electing to go up against Union Rags on Saturday in the Florida Derby. That should give us a good idea of just how good this guy is, as the Risen Star field was not one of the deeper Derby preps. The colt needs to pick up a check; he is sitting with $200,000 in graded earnings, which puts him around No. 14 on the list. It means he could be passed with all of the rich preps coming up over the next couple of weeks.

4. Hansen,10-1

Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner seemed destined for the Wood Memorial (Grade 1) at Aqueduct, but now it appears he is going to make his final Derby prep on Polytrack in the Blue Grass (Grade 1) at Keeneland on April 14. His trainer, Mike Maker, likes the idea of keeping him in Kentucky as opposed to shipping him to New York. Don’t forget last year’s upset Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom made his final prep on Polytrack.

5. Alpha, 12-1

The game of musical chairs continues for some of the top Derby candidates, and Alpha is now pointing toward the Wood instead of the Louisiana Derby, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Currently at Palm Meadows in Florida, McLaughlin changed his plans when he heard that Hansen was not going to the Wood and instead to the Blue Grass. Alpha is coming off wins in the Count Fleet and Withers (Grade 3) at Aqueduct, but both of those victories were on the winterized inner track and the Wood will be contested on the main dirt track.

6. Secret Circle, 15-1

A winner of five of six starts, he is perfect in two trips to Oaklawn Park, winning the faster division of the Southwest (Grade 3) followed by a victory in the Rebel (Grade 2). He will head to Hot Springs a third time on April 14 to go in the Arkansas Derby (Grade 1). Much has been made about this guy’s pedigree, and perhaps 1-1/4 miles is a tad bit too far for the colt. However, he does have Bob Baffert in his corner. Baffert is recovering from a heart attack suffered in Dubai, where he will stay to recuperate for the next 10 days. He is planning to be at the track Saturday for the Dubai World Cup (Grade 1), where he has one of the favorites, Game On Dude. From intensive care in Dubai to the winners circle in Kentucky five weeks later would make for one heck of a story.

7. Went the Day Well, 20-1

The colt won the Spiral Stakes (Grade 2) last out over Polytrack at Turfway Park in his stakes debut for Team Valor and trainer Graham Motion. That group teamed up to win last year’s Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom, who used the Spiral as his final prep. The connections mentioned the colt may make another start before the Derby, but the window is tight. Barry Irwin, chief executive of Team Valor, said the Lexington (Grade 3) on April 21 is a possibility. The colt has a ton of upside potential and will be flying under the radar.

8. Daddy Nose Best, 20-1

I did not give this colt much of a shot in the Sunland Derby (Grade 3) last Sunday, and he proved me wrong, beating Isn’t He Clever by three-quarters of a length while Southwest winner Castaway was a disappointing seventh. The colt was busy last year as a juvenile, making eight starts, but winning just twice. He has matured, winning the El Camino Real (Grade 3) two back over a synthetic surface and is now a stakes winner on conventional dirt. He is in good hands with the Steve Asmussen barn and earned a 100 Beyer speed figure for his win on Sunday. It was just the fourth triple-digit Beyer we have seen in major Derby preps this year.

Key Derby preps this weekend:

March 31

The Florida Derby (Grade 1), Gulfstream Park ($1 million)

April 1

The Louisiana Derby (Grade 2), Fair Grounds ($1 million)

Michael Dempsey provides his full card report for Aqueduct each racing day.

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