Which 2019 Kentucky Derby Runners Should Benefit From Wet Track?

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The horses in the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve race through the stretch just after the start of the race at Churchill Downs. (Eclipse Sportswire)

When Hidden Scroll won his first start by 14 lengths on Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream Park, there was quite a hullabaloo about the Juddmonte Farms’ 3-year-old.

The manner of victory was surely impressive and the final time of 1:34.82 for a mile was significantly faster than the 1:36.22 older stakes horses needed to cover the same distance later in the card in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper Stakes.

The good and bad news was that the eye-opening performance came on a soaked, wet racetrack.

The bad part was that it raised questions about how well Hidden Scroll would fare on a dry surface, the kind of footing he traveled over in his next two starts – and next two losses.

The good news is that Hidden Scroll established himself as a superior runner on a wet track, which isn’t a bad thing these days. Especially when you consider that going back to the start of 2018, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Pegasus World Cup, Whitney, Santa Anita Handicap, and Arkansas Derby, just to name a few, have all been contested on wet tracks.

That preponderance of rain could also cast a shadow over the upcoming 145th edition of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. With May 4 and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve rapidly approaching and a wet weather forecast, being aware of which horses are “mudders” can surely come in handy.

Helping matters is that a wet fall and winter has created a situation in which 14 of the 19 horses in line to run in the opening leg of the Triple Crown have raced on dirt tracks listed a something other than fast.  

Five of the 14 own a victory on a wet track, but the 3-year-olds who stand out the most include one who ran second in his lone try on sloppy surface. Funny as it may seem, a horse who earned his ticket to the Kentucky Derby in the desert should relish a wet track in Kentucky.

Plus Que Parfait, left, battling with Signalman in Kentucky Jockey Club. (Coady Photography)

We’re talking about Plus Que Parfait, who raced in Kentucky and Louisiana to start his career and then was shipped to Dubai to win the United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group and collect enough points to lock up a starting spot in the run for the roses.

Prior to that victory, in his final start at two, Plus Que Parfait turned in an effort that should stick in the mind of handicappers should it be another soggy Derby day. In the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on a sloppy track, Plus Que Parfait engaged in a lively stretch duel only to finish second by a neck to Signalman, who will need two scratches in order to run in the Kentucky Derby.

The importance of that effort is that it gave Plus Que Parfait experience on a wet track at Churchill Downs, something only two other horses in the field have. As a result, while other horses have been tested on wet tracks and might like the surface at Churchill Downs, it’s a known fact that Plus Que Parfait can handle it. For the others who competed on a wet surface at different tracks, there’s a chance that the composition of the dirt track at Churchill Downs may not be to their liking, even if they handled the mud just fine at Santa Anita or Oaklawn Park.

Aside from Plus Que Parfait, War of Will raced on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in his first start on dirt and breezed to a five-length victory, making him another to watch on a rainy day.

The third horse, By My Standards, was second in his career debut at Churchill Downs, but lost by four lengths. He was also third in a Fair Grounds maiden race on a track rated good, losing by four lengths. Looking at both of those races, it would seem By My Standards neither moves up nor flounders on a wet track.

Only one of the originally scheduled 20 starters owned two victories on sloppy tracks: morning-line favorite Omaha Beach. Unfortunately, the Arkansas Derby winner was scratched on May 1.

There are five other Derby runners with a wet track win to their credit.

Four of them are 1-for-1 on “off” going, including Tacitus (maiden race at Aqueduct), Maximum Security (starter race at Gulfstream Park), and Spinoff (maiden race at Gulfstream Park). The Japanese starter, Master Fencer, also posted a win on a “good” track in a maiden race.

Haikal, batting .500 with a win by a neck and a second by a neck, both on “good” tracks at Aqueduct, was scratched from the race May 3.

Of those without a win, besides Plus Que Parfait, three starters were second on a wet track: Improbable (Arkansas Derby), Win Win Win (Heft Stakes at Laurel Park), and Cutting Humor (maiden race at Belmont Park).

In Country House’s lone effort on a wet track, he finished third in the Arkansas Derby, 6 ¾ lengths behind Omaha Beach.

Of the 15, only three struggled in the wet going, Long Range Toddy was sixth in the Arkansas Derby, beaten nearly 15 lengths, and Gray Magician was fifth, eight lengths behind, in a Santa Anita allowance race. Also-eligible Bodexpress, still a maiden, was fourth in his only start in the slop, beaten by 18 lengths in Hidden Scroll's bravura maiden win back in January.

That leaves five who are inexperienced on wet tracks: Vekoma, Roadster, Game Winner, Code of Honor, and Tax.

So far, they have avoided rainy days, which these days is quite an achievement.

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