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Unpredictable weekend of Derby prep races

A short-priced favorite and a longshot shocker won two Kentucky Derby prep races Saturday. Throw in a lightly-raced turf horse making his first start on dirt in the Grade One Santa Anita Derby and you get a capsulized summary of the weekend’s three qualifying points races.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher had two horses entered in the G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct race track, located just outside of New York City. He had to be convinced to take a shot with Bourbonic, who was 72-1. Now Bourbonic’s owners can sit back, sip some Kentucky bourbon, and tell a tall horsey tail of how their thoroughbred was barely on the television screen for most of the race. How he charged down the homestretch, going from last to first, and put his nose in front right at the finish line.

His stablemate, Dynamic One, had just broken his maiden last month when he won for the first time in his fourth career start. Dynamic One charged to the lead in the middle of the stretch, only to get passed in the final stride.

You can expect Bourbonic to be one of the longest shots on the board on the first Saturday in May. The final time of 1 minute, 54.49 seconds for the 1 1/8-mile race can best be described as pedestrian, although the track may have been playing deep and slow. You do have to be in it to win it, so credit Calumet Farm for taking a shot.

At bucolic Keeneland, Kentucky, heavy-favorite Essential Quality had to work extra hard to remain undefeated while winning the G2 Bluegrass Stakes. He was finally able to pass Highly Motivated in the last 40 yards after the top two separated themselves from the rest of the field at the top of the stretch. He will head to the Derby as one of the favorites. Second-place finisher, Highly Motivated earned his way into the Derby, adding 40 points to the 10 he had previously earned when finishing third in the Gotham on March 6.

Rock Your World set all the pace while winning the Santa Anita Derby in impressive fashion. He had previously won his only two career starts on turf, but looked very comfortable when switching to the dirt surface. Sprinting to the early lead in a very quick 22.42 seconds for the first quarter mile, he was able to slow the pace down while carving out a 24-second pace in the second and third quarter-miles, catching a breather in the process. Rock Your World then powered away down the stretch, with favored Medina Spirit easily taking second, 3 1/2 lengths behind. Both horses have more than enough points to qualify for the Run for the Roses.

Veteran trainer John Sadler, discussing Rock Your World’s unusual, turf-first path to qualifying for the Derby, said: “There’s a lot of different ways to hunt, I chose to lay in the weeds.” The quotable trainer, when discussing strategy with jockey Umberto Rispoli, advised him to “Go big or go home.” In horse racing, there’s nothing bigger this time of year than winning a G1 and qualifying for the Kentucky Derby.

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