Derby Trail: Three Rising, Three Trending Down


Candy Boy and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens after winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 8 at Santa Anita Park. (Photo courtesy of Coglianese Photos/Gulfstream Park)

Below is a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose Derby chances are not quite as strong as they once were.

Heating Up

1. Candy Boy

Eclipse Sportswire

Candy Boy looked like a much more mature horse in winning the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 8 in his first start of the year for trainer John Sadler. What was most impressive to me was how responsive he seemed to be for Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and how he really accelerated when Stevens asked him to pick up the pace. He finished fast and has a pedigree that says he will be at his best in two-turn races. This Candy Ride colt has a big chance to make a splash on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and probably will be one of the top two choices in the Santa Anita Derby.

2. Samraat


With two weeks since the last heating up, cooling down feature we go to Samraat for our second star on the rise. This unbeaten Noble Causeway colt put away a solid opponent in Uncle Sigh to win the Grade 3 Withers Stakes by a length on Feb. 1 and he showed as a 2-year-old he was as fast as just about anyone in his division when he posted a 108 Equibase Stakes figure while winning the Damon Runyon Stakes. I think 1 ¼ miles might be a tad out of his range, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins one of the major prep races and generates some buzz leading up to the Derby.

3. Harpoon

SV Photography

I strongly considered Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Vinceremos and Robert B. Lewis Stakes runner-up Chitu for my final spot here, but I kept coming back to Harpoon and his powerful finish that came up just a nose short in the Davis. He’s a half-brother to a couple of really talented sprinters – Cuvee and Will He Shine – so I don’t consider this a Derby pedigree, but boy this Tapit colt really looks talented. If the Tampa Bay Derby is next for Harpoon, he will be my pick. 

Cooling Off

1. Midnight Hawk

Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

As a huge fan of his sire (father) Midnight Lute, I was a proud member of the Midnight Hawk bandwagon after his Sham Stakes win in January. After his third-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, I’ve cooled off on his chances as the races get longer and longer on the Derby trail. He just looked like he hit a wall in the stretch and couldn’t keep pace with stablemate Chitu and winner Candy Boy. This is a very nice 3-year-old who could still be a player on the Triple Crown trail – trainer Bob Baffert has a knack for placing his Derby hopefuls and I have a hunch we see this one at Oaklawn Park – but I just don’t feel nearly as confident as I did about him a week ago.

2. Cousin Stephen


This might be a case where I was overvaluing a horse based on a single performance as a 2-year-old, but I was willing to forgive a fifth-place finish in Cousin Stephen’s season debut against a very good field based on his 1 1/8-mile maiden win in November at Aqueduct. He won that race by 7 ½ lengths and earned a 95 Equibase Speed Figure. But in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes, Cousin Stephen had the lead late in the race and was passed by two opponents. I’m a big fan of his sire, Proud Citizen and trainer, Chad Brown, so I’ll probably bet him again, but that doesn’t mean you have to.  

3. Diamond Bachelor

Eclipse Sportswire

Diamond Bachelor has two wins and a second in three races on grass and a pair of unplaced finishes in two races on the main track, albeit facing top competition in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Prior to the Lewis, his connections said unless he ran a big race the plan was to return to the turf for his next start, so after a well-beaten fourth I think we’ll almost certainly see Diamond Bachelor return the grass. This War Front colt should excel on the turf and has a very bright future. He could very well win a big synthetic surface race on the road to the Kentucky Derby, but I don’t think he’s a threat on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

Racing Terms

Allowance race – A race for which the racing secretary drafts certain conditions to determine weights to be carried based on the horse’s age, sex and/or past performance.

Also-eligible – A horse officially entered for a race, but not permitted to start unless the field is reduced by scratches below a specified number.

Apprentice – A rider who has not ridden a certain number of winners within a specified period of time. Also known as a “bug,” from the asterisk used to denote the weight allowance such riders receive.

Blinkers – A cup-shaped device that limits a horse’s vision. Blinkers, often used to try to improve a horse’s focus, come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow as little or as much vision as the trainer feels is necessary.

Bullet – The fastest workout of the day at a track at a particular distance.

Claiming race – A race in which each horse entered is eligible to be purchased at a set price.

Closer – A horse that runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace.

Connections – Persons identified with a horse, such as owner, trainer, jockey and stable employees.

Disqualification – Change in order of finish by stewards for an infraction of the rules.

Dam – The mother of a horse.

Entry – Two or more horses with common ownership that are paired as a single betting unit in one race.

Front-runner – A horse whose running style is to attempt to get on or near the lead at the start of the race and to continue there as long as possible.

Furlong – An eighth of a mile.

Graded race – A non-restricted race with added money or guaranteed purse value of $100,000 or more which has been run at least twice under similar conditions and on the same surface and has been assigned graded status for the year contested by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Handicap – This race type refers to a race where the weights are assigned by the track’s racing secretary or handicapper based upon past performances.

Length – A measurement approximating the length of a horse, used to denote distance between horses in a race.

Off track – A track that has a wet surface and isn’t labeled as “fast”.

Pacesetter – The horse that is running in front (on the lead).

Past performances – A horse’s racing record, earnings, bloodlines and other data, presented in composite form.

Prep – A workout (or race) used to prepare a horse for a future engagement.

Post Parade – Horses going from paddock to starting gate past the stands. The post parade provides spectators with a chance to get a final look at the horse before the race.

Post Position – Position of stall in starting gate from which a horse begins a race.

Rabbit – A speed horse running as an entry with another, usually a come-from-behind horse. The rabbit is expected to set a fast pace to help the chances of its stablemate.

Rank – A horse that refuses to settle under a jockey’s handling in a race, running in a headstrong manner without respect to pace.

Scratch – To be taken out of a race before it starts.

Silks – Jacket and cap worn by jockeys.

Sire – Father of a foal.

Stakes – A race for which the owner usually must pay a fee to run a horse. The fees can be for nominating, maintaining eligibility, entering and starting, to which the track adds more money to make up the total purse. Some stakes races are by invitation and require no payment or fee.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!