The following post first appeared at Paulick Report last week.
With the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby less than two weeks away, the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and Illinois Derby at Hawthorne were essentially the final two preps for classic colts, especially since trainers apparently can no longer prepare a colt for the Derby on less than two weeks’ rest.
What would the great trainer Ben Jones think about this puzzle of highly trained and lightly raced colts?
All the thinkage may be moot, however, because neither winner of the weekend preps is likely to start in the classic at Churchill Downs.
The Lexington Stakes winner, Winning Cause (by Giant’s Causeway), is trained by Todd Pletcher, who already has five colts confirmed for the first classic (the highly rated and unbeaten Verrazano, as well as Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, and Charming Kitten). Pletcher noted after the race that Winning Cause had been entered for the Lexington because he had raced so well at Keeneland before, not because the connections were gunning for points to make the classic.
If the Giant’s Causeway colt, now a winner in three of his seven starts, challenges for a Triple Crown race, it is more likely to be the Preakness, two weeks after the Derby and four weeks from the Lexington.
That race is also a possible target for Illinois Derby winner Departing (War Front). Although a winner in four of his five starts, Departing doesn’t have sufficient points to be in the top 20 among prospective Kentucky Derby starters, even if his seasoning suggested that he would benefit from the experience.
So few colts actually come out of the Derby better than they went in that the horsemen overseeing Departing’s development are more likely to choose a conservative course that will offer the gelded bay son of War Front the time to develop and show his ability through the season.
Bred in Kentucky by co-owners Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm (Departing races in the Claiborne colors), the son of War Front is the third foal of the Pulpit mare Leave. Unplaced in her only start, Leave is a full sister to Laity, winner of the Cradle Stakes and the John Battaglia Memorial. The mare is also a half-sister to the highly accomplished stakes winner Trip (Lord at War), who won a trio of G3 stakes and $888,773, and to the speedy stakes winner Joke (Phone Trick), who is also the dam of freshman sire Zensational.
Leave and her siblings are out of the stakes-winning Forty Niner mare Tour, and she is one of three stakes winners out of the Full Pocket mare Fun Flight, a stakes winner herself. This is a family known for its speed and quality, and Departing represents another generation of its success at Claiborne.
The first two foals out of Leave are solid winners by Claiborne stallion Arch, but Departing is a major step up in class from his siblings. A winner of his début on Dec. 22, Departing bowled over his opponents for his next condition with victory in a Feb. 1 allowance, both races at Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orléans. Departing became a stakes winner in his third start, the Texas Heritage Stakes at Sam Houston over a mile on March 2.
The gelding’s only loss to date was a third in the Louisiana Derby, and after four victories in five races, Departing’s earnings now total $628,000.
The Illinois Derby winner is by the Claiborne stallion War Front, a son of the great sire Danzig. War Front had a good weekend, when Departing ran successfully in Illinois and the year-older Summer Front won the Miami Mile at Calder.
The 11-year-old stallion has 20 stakes winners to date. A winner of the Alfred Vanderbilt and second in the Vosburgh, Forego, and Tom Fool, War Front had impressive speed. That is the signal quality of his offspring, allied with an enthusiasm for racing and class.
Speed and class such as that seen in the stallion’s sons The Factor and Soldat, and now in Departing, have made War Front one of the most prominent young stallions, and his offspring are in high demand, just like seasons to the stallions, who now stands for $80,000 live foal and is receiving stronger books of mares each year.