At the start of 2020, no one could’ve predicted that the final 50-point Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep race would take place on the second Sunday in August at a Kentucky racetrack that's about two hours west of Louisville. But alas, the Ellis Park Derby this weekend will be one of the final opportunities for horses on the periphery of Kentucky Derby eligibility to secure the points needed to make the starting gate at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5.
One horse who isn’t on the periphery is Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner, and prohibitive favorite in the Ellis Park Derby, Art Collector. After securing 100 points in his dominant score at Keeneland last month, he stands fifth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. However, with several other horses in the Ellis Park Derby field still in desperate need of qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby – and with there not being a need to overextend Art Collector less than a month from his run for the roses – is the door open for an upset at Ellis Park this Sunday? Potentially.
Here’s a look at three horses who need points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby and who just might have what it takes to pull off an upset in the 1 1/8-mile Ellis Park Derby.
Attachment Rate: This horse ran a sneaky-good race in the Blue Grass Stakes. He didn’t break well which forced him to make a really early move down the backstretch. Often, you see those kinds of moves leading to horses fading in the stretch but Attachment Rate didn’t do that. He kicked on well and ultimately held on to finish fifth in that field of 13.
Attachment Rate’s effort in the May 23 Matt Winn Stakes was equally impressive when you consider he was caught six-wide into the first turn, he continued to race wide throughout and was only beaten a couple of lengths. The horses who finished in front of him were Maxfield (who would likely be one of the Kentucky Derby favorites), Ny Traffic (who came back to finish second in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes to Authentic) and Pneumatic (who finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets).
Prior to the Matt Winn, Attachment Rate was a game second in the Unbridled Stakes to Dr Post (subsequently second in the Belmont Stakes). He’s been flattered by the company he’s kept and he’s had excuses in his last several races. That could make Attachment Rate a dangerous sleeper on Sunday.
Rowdy Yates: Your past performances won’t adequately reflect how gutsy this horse ran in his most recent start, the Ohio Derby on June 27. For starters, he didn’t break out of the gate cleanly and then he took a few bumps as he tried to secure position near the rail. He ultimately got to the front but ended up setting pretty fast early fractions while taking pressure from horses to his outside. He then had to take up when eventual race winner Dean Martini came up on his inside. There were multiple reasons for Rowdy Yates to throw in the towel from there but he didn’t. With 100 yards to go, he’d battled back from fourth to second, before getting passed by a couple horses late to end up back in fourth.
Aside from the heart he showed there, he also has some back-form at Ellis Park where he won the Juvenile Stakes last August. He wired that field and it’s his early speed that could make him a player on Sunday. The Ellis Park Derby does not appear to be loaded with a bunch of horses who typically show speed from the gate, and while Art Collector could certainly press the early pace it wouldn’t be prudent for him to engage in an early battle given his aforementioned status on the Derby trail.
Truculent: This horse has run twice at Ellis Park including a runner-up effort in maiden special weight company last September. That was at a mile on the turf and he was forwardly-placed in that race. As mentioned, early speed will be an asset in this race and horses who drop too far off the pace might find it difficult to make up ground late. Truculent went on to wire a maiden special weight field at the Fair Grounds for his first win (and only win to date) in November. That was on the dirt. In his most recent start and 2020 debut, a seventh-place finish on July 3 at Ellis, Truculent was taken back a bit early and attempted to rate off the pace. Taking him out of his front-running style didn’t work so we’d have to imagine his connections are going to be a bit more aggressive with him on Sunday.
This might appear to be an extreme step up in class (and it is), but Truculent might have a tactical advantage given the pace picture in the Ellis Park Derby. Additionally, his young trainer Jack Sisterson has been red hot and has done a great job of prepping and spotting his horses lately. Just last weekend, Sisterson’s mare Vexatious upset Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign Stakes and paid $21 for a $2 win bet. Lexitonian nearly gave Sisterson another upset victory in the Bing Crosby Stakes but just ended up missing by a nose there at odds of 8-to-1.