By T. D. Thornton
Getting a 3-year-old to peak precisely on the first Saturday of May is an over-arching goal in our sport. But even for the very upper crust of colts, a brush with GI Kentucky Derby aspirations ends up being nothing more than an early diversion on a much longer development arc.
It's always intriguing to watch how one-time Derby hopefuls progress over months and even years, and two of them from Todd Pletcher's barn signaled Saturday that they might be A-level factors in the second half of this season.
Within the span of 15 minutes June 4, 'TDN Rising Star' Emmanuel (More Than Ready) and Dynamic One (Union Rags) each posted one-length victories, respectively, in the GII Pennine Ridge S. at Belmont Park and in the Listed Blame S. at Churchill Downs.
Emmanuel had been brought up to the cusp of this year's Derby, but after running a no-impact third in the GI Toyota Blue Grass S. over a drying-out track that he might not have cared for, Pletcher said the $350,000 KEESEP colt would be freshened for nearly two months and then resurface on grass in the Pennine Ridge against fellow sophomores.
The switch yielded immediate-gratification results, and Emmanuel could now be targeting a bigger lawn party, the GI Belmont Derby Invitational S. July 9.
Debuting last Dec. 11, Emmanuel won his first two dirt starts at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs by a combined 10 1/4 lengths while on the front end at every call. In the GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S., this robust pacemaker was favored until the final flash, then got knocked off his game by failing to attain the lead and enduring a tour-of-the-track trip that hooked him four and five wide on the turns.
After that, Pletcher was on the fence between running back in the GI Florida Derby or shipping for the Blue Grass. Since he had fellow 'Rising Star' Charge It (Tapit) primed for the Gulfstream spot, Emmanuel had to take his show on the road to Keeneland.
Charge It ended up running second in a Florida Derby that featured a three-way pace meltdown, while Emmanuel was no match for blunt-force closer Zandon (Upstart), who would end up going off as the second fave and running third in the Derby.
Pletcher, who also trained Emmanuel's sire in the early 2000s, said as far back as January that Emmanuel was “a bigger, scopier colt” than most of More Than Ready's progeny. He likened Emmanuel to his trainee Verrazano, “a big, physical, strong imposing colt” who won the 2013 GI Haskell Invitational S.
Emmanuel dispatched with his Pennine Ridge foes like an in-control 19-10 favorite who relished being on the lead, practically walking through the first six of nine furlongs, but igniting to life when roused for run in both upper and deep stretch. Like we saw in his first two dirt starts, Emmanuel was never fully extended.
And while his 88 Beyer Speed Figure appears at first glance to be on the soft side (matching his Blue Grass number on dirt), it's also an artifact of the dawdling internal fractions, and offset by a final furlong timed in an eye-catching :11.89 for the “about” distance.
Better late than never…
Dynamic One has taken a bit longer to figure things out. Now four, he ran the worst of four Pletcher entrants in the 2021 Derby, getting pinballed at the break and checking hard the first time past the sixteenth pole. He was never in it to win it, turning for home last at the quarter pole and gaining only one position by passing an eased-up entrant.
After an 0-for-3 start in the winter of 2020-21, Pletcher hadn't sugarcoated that he expected better out of this $725,000 KEESEP colt. But he also explained how Dynamic One was hindered by shorter distances and outer gate draws before breaking his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths in start number four when stretched out to nine furlongs. In a bid to accrue last-chance Derby qualifying points, Dynamic One earned respect with a wide-on-both bends effort in the GII Wood Memorial S. at 15-1 odds, losing the race only on the final head bob.
Despite a top-side pedigree anchored by the 2012 GI Belmont S. winner and a female family that resonates with Phipps-homebred stayers, Dynamic One was in way over his head when taking the seemingly obligatory shot in the Derby. He rebounded by winning the Listed Curlin S. at Saratoga last summer, ran seventh in the GI Runhappy Travers S., then was shelved until this spring, when he ran third in the GIII Challenger S. at Tampa and second in the GIII Ben Ali S. at Keeneland.
But Dynamic One's trip-troubled go in the Ben Ali was far better than it appeared on paper. Committed to the rail, he was rated back “on hold” for a good portion of his backstretch run, then got shuffled to last to regroup. He blitzed through a wall of traffic off the turn with his head cocked out toward the stands, and was getting to the tiring repeat winner, Scalding (Nyquist), in the final stages.
On Saturday in the nine-furlong Blame, bettors let Dynamic One drift up to 6-1 behind second-favored Scalding and another Pletcher entrant, the 11-10 chalk Americanrevolution (Constitution). A five-way speed scrimmage broke out on the first turn, then percolated down the backstretch, playing right into Dynamic One's off-pace tactics.
Cued to quicken three-eighths out, he methodically picked off speed-sapped leaders, and being spun out to the six path turning for home was no worry given the head of steam Dynamic One had built over the course of his prolonged, quarter-mile bid.
Despite his name, this is not the type of colt who will wow you with one spectacular flourish. But slow and steady still wins a few races here in speed-centric North America, and when five horses lined up at the eighth pole, all with a chance to win it, it was clear that Dynamic One had built the best momentum.
Off a career-best 99 Beyer, Dynamic One is a candidate for either the GII Stephen Foster S. at Churchill July 2 or the GII Suburban S. at Belmont July 9.
That latter option could set up both Emmanuel and Dynamic One for important 10-furlong tries on the same afternoon in two different races.
Not exactly the 1 1/4-mile test those Pletcher stablemates were initially aimed for at earlier points in their careers–but not bad consolation prizes, either.