Monday Morning Trainer: Taper Time

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The eyes of the world are on New England today with the much-anticipated running of the Boston Marathon that gets underway mid-morning and goes well into mid-afternoon.

The 2014 Boston Marathon will be the 118th, so the race is 22 years younger than racing’s signature event, the Kentucky Derby. The two events are rich in history, not without a black eye or two, and similar in many ways. How is a 26.2-mile race for two-legged humans similar to a 1 1/4-mile one for four-legged animals you ask?

Easy answer. The similarities are not so much in the micro – those dealing with the months of training, weeks of anticipation, and days of preparation – but the macro. Training for a marathon can basically be broken down into three phases – the early weeks where you build your base, the middle to late weeks when you prove you belong and the last few weeks when you taper for the big day.

Sound familiar? Think about January, February and early March in the world of racing? Triple Crown contenders start to develop a base in their collective resumes during this time. Miles are logged, races run and points are picked up.

The real work gets done in late March and early April. Those are the “long runs” that two-legged runners know all too well. Gut out a 20-miler when it’s barely above freezing, still icy, raining or even snowing, and you know you belong. Get through races like the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby and you know you belong.

Then comes the taper, the last few weeks before race-day. For the runners it’s the time to rest those legs. For Derby horses it’s a time to stay in the barn, all the serious prep racing done.

The just under three-week stretch between Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby weekend and Derby Day are like the taper. Sure you run during the taper, just like there are races during the taper, but they don’t count for much when it comes to the ultimate goal on the horizon.

So last weekend’s races, while important, didn’t do much to change the complexion of the Kentucky Derby picture.

The early indications out of the camps of the winners of the weekend’s would-be classic preps – the Illinois Derby, Coolmore Lexington and Federico Tesio – are that they won’t be seen in 12 days in Louisville. And even if they wanted to run they are on the outside looking in anyway from a points standpoint.

Dynamic Impact upset Midnight Hawk in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby, a race that doesn’t carry any Derby points, and trainer Mark Casse said he might not even think about the May 17 Preakness for the Tiznow colt. Midnight Hawk looked like a Derby horse going into the Hawthorne race but all signs indicate he’ll go back to shorter races, bypassing Louisville and Baltimore.

Watch the Illinois Derby.

Shug McGaughey got a little case of Derby fever late last year after Mr Speaker won the Grade 3 Dania Beach on the grass at Gulfstream. A failed effort on dirt in the Grade 2 Holy Bull followed and the Pulpit colt returned to the grass. He finished second in the Grade 3 Palm Beach in early March then returned in Keeneland’s Coolmore Lexington Saturday.

The Lexington used to be a significant Derby prep, but considering today’s training methods that trend toward more time between starts, the 14 days between that and the Derby now make it almost obsolete. That and the fact it only offers 10 points to the winner when 20 will be required to get in the race.

Watch the Coolmore Lexington.

The Federico Tesio probably produced a classic starter in Kid Cruz, who added the $100,000 race to his earlier win in the Private Terms and appears Preakness bound for trainer Linda Rice and owners Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds and Black Swan Stable.

The Derby, by way of the April 5 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, was actually in his connections’ thoughts after the Lemon Drop Kid came from way back to win the Private Terms. A sore shoulder knocked him out of the Wood and Rice opted to use the Tesio to get the Kentucky-bred colt back on track.

Watch the Federico Tesio. …

Saturday night’s Charles Town Classic looked like a layup for Game On Dude, or at least that’s how the race was billed. Game On Dude won the race a year ago, handling the small and tight turns at Charles Town, and he was back in form off a victory in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Imperative, a $50,000 claim by George Papaprodromou for owner Kenji Morinaga’s KM Racing Enterprise Inc., finished ahead of Game On Dude when he was second in the Grade 2 San Antonio in early February but no match for that same rival in the Big ‘Cap. The Bernardini gelding turned the tables again in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic, winning by 1 1/2 lengths from Game On Dude and returning $55 to win.

Watch the Charles Town Classic. …

Two-time champion Beholder got her 2014 campaign off to a quick start with a 5 ¼-length win in the $80,500 Santa Lucia Stakes at odds of 1-10. The victory, which prompted Gary Stevens to say the filly might be the best horse he’s ever sat on, set up what most likely will be her only out-of-California race in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the June 7 Belmont Stakes undercard.

Watch Beholder in the Santa Lucia. …

Finally, a huge weekend from the world of jump racing with the Grand National in Butler, Maryland, the Middleburg Spring Races and Atlanta Steeplechase events marking the penultimate Saturday in April.

Spencer Road was the star in the $30,000 Grand National, winning a thrilling battle with Foyle for owners Gerry Brewster, Eleanor T. Russell and Joseph Tydings. Eric Poretz rode the winner for trainer Blythe Mller Davies. Other winners on the Grand National card were Raven’s Choice in the $20,000 Benjamin H. Murray Memorial going 3 1/4 miles over timber and Brother Sy in the $10,000 Western Run Plate going 3 miles over timber.

Decoy Daddy scooped his third Temple Gwathmey in four years with a 1 1/2-length score over Gustavian under Carol-Ann Sloan at Middleburg. Cyril Murphy trains the winner, a 12-year-old gelding by Lord Of Appeal, for owner Irv Naylor.

Other winners on the card at Middleburg were Cocodimama in $25,000 maiden hurdle, Absolum in a $20,000 allowance-optional claiming hurdle, Cornhusker in a $20,000 allowance timber, Casual Creeper in a $12,500 maiden claiming hurdle, Schoolhouse Woods in the $15,000 Alfred Hunt Memorial steeplethon and Jamarjo in a 1 1/2-mile training flat.

Kisser N Run defended her title in the $30,000 Georgia Cup for fillies and mares, winning by 6 1/4 lengths under Robbie Walsh over Opera Heroine. Owned by Clarke Ohrstrom, the 6-year-old Pleasant Tap mare is trained by Richard Valentine.

Other winners at Atlanta were Easy Reach in a $30,000 allowance-optional hurdle, Broxbourne in a $25,000 maiden hurdle, Love Of Flying in a $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle and 2013 Colonial Cup winner Alajmal in a 1 1/8-mile training flat.

Check out the results for the Grand National, Atlanta and Middleburg.