Ali Baba's derby
Triple Crown aspirant ALI BABA, who won the 2000 Guineas in April, looks the one to beat when he takes on 14 opponents in the 95th running of the Cal's Jamaica Derby over 2400 metres for native bred three-year-olds at Caymanas Park today.
Sponsored by Cal's Manufacturing for the second time since 2011, the derby offers a total purse of $7 million and with the cream of the crop present, it promises to be an intriguing contest.
Champion trainer Wayne DaCosta, who last won the derby with PEFFECT NEIGHBOUR in 2013, holds a strong hand with the trio of ALI BABA under stable jockey Robert Halledeen,, SEEKING MY DREAM with four-time champion jockey Omar Walker and POKER STAR, the mount of top apprentice Shamaree Muir.
All three should carry the bulk of the betting, with the Winston Kong-owned ALI BABA, by virtue of his performances in winning four of his five races this season, expected to start favourite.
Others such as the recent Lotto Classic (Governor's Cup) winner KRONUS, to again be ridden by Richard Mairs for trainer Richard Azan, and the Anthony Nunes-trained pair of SIEMPRE BUENO under big-race jockey Shane Ellis and SOUTHERN CRUISE with Andre Martin in the saddle, should come in for good support.
Nunes is hoping that his trio comprising SIEMPRE BUENO, SOUTHERN CRUISE and the filly BERRANCA (Orlando Foster up), who was second to MOM'S STUDENT in the April 26 Oaks, will figure prominently in the outcome.
'SIEMPRE BUENO has class and although a bit suspect over the distance, has trained very well and should impact on the outcome. The lightly-raced SOUTHERN CRUISE and BERRANCA seemingly lack his class, but both will stay he distance," said Nunes, whose RELAMPAGO won last year's derby.
Azan believes that KRONUS has come along at the right time following his late run to catch and beat SEEKING MY DREAM in the Lotto Classic over 2000 metres on May 23.
"Kronus reminds me of Dorval who came into prominence by winning the Governor's Cup for me in 1995 and followed up some weeks later in the derby.
"Kronus truly stays a distance of ground and this could be the key to the outcome," said Azan, who seeks his third derby success following DORVAL and MARK MY WORD in 2010.
ALI BABA, however, has the best credentials and remains my strong fancy.
Trainer DaCosta is confident.
"He has done everything asked of him this season and was a bit unlucky to be beaten in open allowance company in his derby prep. He looks the class horse in the field and along with Seeking my Dream, whose dam Alsafra won the derby in 2008 and is bred to stay, should ensure a good race and may the best man win," said the 14-time champion trainer.
For me, however, ALI BABA's last run when beaten in a driving finish by stable-companion HOVER CRAFT and grade one campaigner COMMANDING CHIEF, represents the best derby prep, considering he would have won had he not been hindered by COMMANDING CHIEF when challenging for the lead entering the straight.
He should have no problem getting the distance and gets the nod over the consistent colt, SEEKING MY DREAM.
I expect him to race just off the early pace set by SIEMPRE BUENO, POKER STAR and ROAD WI SEH, before starting his winning run leaving the half mile.