I am a voter in the weekly National Thoroughbred Racing Association polls for the top thoroughbred and 3-year-old. It’s an honor I don’t take lightly. Every Sunday night, I dutifully email my vote to the NTRA office.
The No. 1 vote-getting 3-year-old is Verrazano with 475 points, 27 votes for the top spot. The respect is fully warranted as he is unbeaten in three starts, including the recent Tampa Bay Derby. The poll runners-up include Itsmyluckyday (401; 10), Orb (378; 6) and Vyjack (324; 7).
However, none of those horses is my top choice.
There must be something in the water with this newspaper’s voters in national polls. Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney recently was the only college basketball pollster in the country to vote for Gonzaga as the No. 1 team. Only a week later, Graney was proven right, and most everyone else got on board.
The leading 3-year-old in my poll is Super Ninety Nine, and I am alone in that choice. The Bob Baffert colt is favored in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.
In fact, Super Ninety Nine barely made the NTRA top 10 as he snuck in at No. 8. I hope I’m right that he is grossly underrated, or maybe I just need a new pair of glasses.
The Rebel looks like the best Kentucky Derby prep race so far this spring. Horses have shipped in from Aqueduct, Fair Grounds and Santa Anita, thus this could be a good barometer of where the strength lies.
Super Ninety Nine was an 11-length winner of the Southwest at Oaklawn over a sloppy track. He won while in front the whole way, and that’s where the rub is.
The Rebel field is loaded with early speed types, including Delhomme, Title Contender and Oxbow. Super Ninety Nine has won twice while sitting second early on. I think that tactic can be effective for jockey Rafael Bejarano on Saturday.
■ RUDY, RUDY, RUDY — Top New York trainer Rudy Rodriguez will serve a 20-day suspension beginning March 16. Two of his horses tested positive post-race in New York for the banned anti-inflammatory drug Banamine.
Rodriguez has experienced a mercurial career since retiring as a jockey in February 2010. He was a longtime employee of trainer Rick Dutrow, who is serving a 10-year suspension from the sport.
Many have placed Rodriguez in the “super” trainer category. Those are horsemen who — seemingly out of nowhere — are winning a high percentage of starts while claiming horses who improve by leaps and bounds next time out.
Rodriguez runs a split stable during the winter. At Aqueduct, his barn had won with 39 of 139 starters through March 13, a 28 percent win rate. At Gulfstream, he has won with 1 of 23 starters, only a 4 percent strike rate. The dichotomy is striking, though granted the competition in Miami is much tougher this time of year.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.