By Dick Powell
Yes, 1-to-5 favorites are supposed to win and DREAM TREE delivered the goods by nearly four lengths in Sunday’s Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. But there were two issues I had with her dominating performance that might show up later in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Drayden Van Dyke took her off the pace going into the first turn and she sat three wide in third. Not that she was headstrong in her first three career starts but this was the farthest she had raced off the pace and she handled it perfectly. Her stride was good and there was no eagerness to go after the leaders.
Patiently waiting for her cue, Dream Tree got it around the three-eighths pole and the race was over. I can’t imagine trainer Bob Baffert had her wound up 100% but what was concerning was her last quarter in 27.72 seconds. Her competition did not help her any since there was no pressure from anyone after she broke the race open but that is downright slow.
Dream Tree’s BRIS Speed rating of 91 was a bit of a move backwards and Baffert is going to have to find 10 more points to win the Oaks. His ABEL TASMAN won it in 2017 with a BRIS Speed rating of 102.
To add to the downside of her finish, she drifted to the outside nearing the wire and continued to drift in the gallop out. I know she was eased at the wire and could have just taken a right-hand turn to the winner’s circle but it’s never a good sign. Right now, there is nobody that can run with her on the West Coast but the Oaks could be a different story on the first Friday in May.
AUDIBLE made his first appearance in a Kentucky Derby qualifier in Saturday’s Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park( G2) and his terrific win brings some excitement to a 3yo division that has been pretty quiet with last year’s top two juveniles still to make their seasonal debut.
Audible had been based in New York where he broke his maiden two starts back when stretching out to a mile in his second career start. The New York-bred son of the amazing INTO MISCHIEF was scheduled to make his next start in an open-company turf race at Aqueduct in the first week of December but the race came off the turf and the experiment was shelved.
Instead, Audible beat first-level allowance foes by almost 10 lengths in good time going a one-turn mile and earned a BRIS Speed rating of 94. With the New York City area being hit hard this winter with bad weather and many cancellations, Pletcher and Winstar Farm head Elliott Walden decided to call and audible and sent Audible to south Florida for the Holy Bull.
The third choice in the 1 1/16-mile race, Audible raced between horses early and did not have a perfect trip. He was not stuck in traffic but having horses on each side tends to sap energy but Audible paid them no mind.
When the race unraveled and the only horse he needed to pass was early leader MASTER MANIPULATOR, Audible cruised to an easy lead that lengthened to 5 ½ lengths at the wire. His final time of 1:41.92 was excellent and he earned a BRIS speed rating of 105. Coupled with a relatively slow pace, it was a huge effort in his first start in 59 days and left no doubt about his ability against graded stakes company going two turns.
Perhaps the most exciting horse to race last week was ARMY MULE, winner of a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday. The winner of his delayed career debut last April 30 at Belmont Park, he earned a BRIS Speed rating that day of 100 when he won going 6 ½ furlongs.
Off for nine months, he returned in a six-furlong sprint for Todd Pletcher. Army Mule sat off an easy pace of :45.11 for the first half-mile and Johnny Velazquez had him perfectly relaxed after having to use him some down the backstretch after a slowish start. Velazquez began to apply pressure nearing the top of the stretch and without any real urging, Army Mule pulled away to a 7 ½-length win.
What was so amazing about Army Mule’s win was when the final time of 1:08.87 was posted, you had to look twice to see if that was possible and then, quickly compute what he ran his final quarter in. Visually, it looked like 25 seconds but it was actually 23.40! According to Trakus, his fifth furlong was run in 11.40 seconds and his last furlong was when he was in shut-down mode and he still did it in 12 seconds.
Trying to figure out where they go next is pretty hard for a horse that missed his entire 2yo campaign and then was off for 276 days. His BRIS Speed rating was 105 and if Pletcher can keep him physically sound, the Pennsylvania-bred son of FRISAN FIRE could dominate any sprint field assembled anywhere in America.