Sunday, January 1, 2012

Derby Hopeful: Secret Circle

In 2011, I posted “Juvenile Spotlights” about two-year-olds I had followed since early on in their careers. Now that it’s 2012, everyone’s focus is on the Kentucky Derby. Some horses from past Juvenile Spotlights will be featured, as well as additional horses on the Derby trail.

Secret Circle captured my attention more so than any other two-year-old in 2011. On July 23, 2011, I kept my eyes glued to the television for the third race at Del Mar. As a two-year-old race, I was eager to see how the race would play out. A superstar could very well come out of the race.
When Secret Circle overcame his rail position and pounced to the lead in the early stages of the race, my eyes focused on the flashy bay. I had missed the post parade, so I hadn’t gotten a good look at the horses prior to the race. However, this colt just screamed class and I could tell he was a Bob Baffert trainee with his Mike Pegram silks and blue shadow roll. My eyes were riveted by the bay two-year-old and I didn’t look at any other horse as the juveniles raced down the backstretch of the synthetic track.
Secret Circle
Photo: Terri Cage
He moved beautifully, his knees flat and his stride fluid as he galloped along on the lead. With slight asking from Rafael Bejarano, Secret Circle accelerated and drew away from the field. In the final stages of the race, Bejarano geared the colt down and even pumped his fist after they crossed the wire. Secret Circle had impressed me exceedingly and galloped his way into my heart.
Immediately following the race, my words were, “I found my Derby horse!”
Not only had Secret Circle impressed me with the way he ran, but when I looked at his pedigree, I was left even more fascinated. He is by one of my personal favorite stallions, Eddington, who is by the Kentucky Derby (GI)- and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI)-winning Unbridled. He is the second foal out of his dam, Ragtime Hope, who was a multiple stakes winner.
Secret Circle earned his spot in my Equibase Virtual Stable © and I followed him closely. However, he did not start for over eleven weeks. He made his return in the Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita. Not only was it his first start against stakes company, but it was his first start on dirt. It was not a problem, however. The son of the grade one-winning Eddington drew off to win the stakes by 5 ¼ lengths and was geared down late, though he drifted in slightly.
With his two remarkable victories, the last stop for the Bob Baffert trainee’s juvenile career was the inaugural Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs. I was excited to see the colt in person and was impressed by the class he carried himself with as he strolled past me, just inches away. I knew the race was his.
Photo: Terri Cage
The win didn’t come as easily as expected, at least in terms of winning margin. Secret Circle and Trinniberg set an absolutely wicked pace: the first quarter in 20.96, the first half in 44.55, and the initial five furlongs in 56.99. Secret Circle didn’t come home very quickly (13.53), but that was to be expected with the slow track labeled “good” and blazing fractions. He drifted out severely, but surely he was weary from the intense fractions and tiring track. Plus, he was running with blinkers for the first time.
Secret Circle returned to the work tab thirteen days after his Breeders’ Cup victory and has recorded six works since that win. The point of these works was to teach the fast colt to relax. He has been worked with and without blinkers, though the bay colt seems to be more relaxed without them. On December 22, he worked in company with Candrea without blinkers, relaxing several lengths behind her before catching up. Six days later, the colt went six furlongs in 1:10.80. He is expected to make his three-year-old debut in the Sham Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita on January 7, which would also be his two-turn debut.
Many people doubt Secret Circle’s ability to go long, but I believe that if Bob Baffert continues to train the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint-winning colt to relax, Secret Circle will have no problem routing. His sire, Eddington, was by Unbridled, a horse that placed in the top four of all three 1990 Triple Crown races – including a victory in the Kentucky Derby –, won the ten-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic as a three-year-old, finished second in the ten-furlong Secretariat Stakes (GI) on turf, and finished third in the Breeeders’ Cup Classic as a four-year-old. Eddington himself won two mile and three-sixteenth races: the Pimlico Special Handicap (GI) and the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII). He also finished third in the mile and three-sixteenths Preakness Stakes (GI), fourth in the twelve-furlong Belmont Stakes (GI), and third in the ten-furlong Travers Stakes (GI).
The longest distance Secret Circle’s dam, Ragtime Hope, won at was a mile and one-sixteenth. Ragtime Hope is also a half-sister to Really Polish, whose greatest victory came in the mile and one-sixteenth Dogwood Stakes (GIII). Really Polish, whose longest winning distance was nine furlongs, also finished third in the nine-furlong Kentucky Oaks (GI).
As long as Secret Circle has the mental toughness to learn how to relax, he has the ability to go long. He is an extremely fast, talented colt that I will be closely following for the rest of his career. Hopefully this is only the beginning of his journey.

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