Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down


Cupid made his way onto the Kentucky Derby trail with a win in the Rebel Stakes. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire unless otherwise noted)

This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands are not quite as strong as they previously were. For this week's edition, the focus is the previous two weeks of Kentucky Derby prep races.



1. Cupid

In a make-or-break race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Cupid came through in a big way with a victory in his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 19. At this point in the season, Derby hopefuls need points to solidify a spot in the starting gate for the first jewel of the Triple Crown. With nary a point on his resume, Cupid led from start to finish in a clear win that cemented his spot in the Derby starting gate. By two-time leading sire Tapit and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Cupid is an exciting prospect. He boasts tactical speed and showed some serious determination when battling back when challenged by Whitmore in the stretch. The bottom half of his pedigree is a little light on stamina, but Cupid flashed plenty of talent and with only four starts he still has plenty of room to improve.

2. Whitmore

Would I like to see a stakes win on Whitmore’s resume at this point in his 3-year-old season. Absolutely. It’s a little concerning that in his last two races — the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 15 and the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 19 — he was right there in the stretch but couldn’t finish the job. But there are some things to like here. He essentially paired his best Equibase Speed Figure, earning a 104 for the Rebel after getting a 103 in the Southwest, which means he could be ready to take a step forward. His sire (father), Pleasantly Perfect, won the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2004 Dubai World Cup at 1 ¼ miles and got better with age and added distance. The bottom half of this pedigree is really light, but with 24 points and sitting in 10th place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, Whitmore probably has his Derby spot locked up and he could be sitting on a big race for a very good trainer in Ron Moquett.

3. Collected

Collected looked great in winning the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in January but threw in what appeared to be a clunker in February when fourth in the Southwest Stakes. It turns out that race might have been a little better than it looked on paper, and Collected’s victory in the Sunland Park Festival of Racing (the artist usually known as the Sunland Derby) confirms he is a very nice racehorse. I still can’t see him thriving at 1 ¼ miles, but he’s very fast and showed he can carry his speed 1 1/8 miles at Sunland. Ultimately, I think we’ll see Collected develop into a very nice miler who has the potential to go a bit longer and the versatility to race on grass or synthetic surfaces as well. But this blog is about the Derby so the point is Collected could make an impact in one of the key final prep races … or perhaps even the Preakness.


1. Cherry Wine

Photo by Coglinese Photos/Lauren King

This is definitely not an indictment of Cherry Wine’s ability, rather an indication of the uphill climb he faces to get into the Kentucky Derby with six weeks left until the race and only five points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. He finished an even fourth in the Rebel Stakes, never seriously threatening but passing 10 horses after finding a bit of traffic. The Rebel was a step forward in development in his stakes debut but he probably needed a real breakout performance to have a shot to be a serious threat in the Kentucky Derby. Keep in mind, Cherry Wine also missed some time training due to a mild fever and a cough in February. Don’t forget about Cherry Wine, his two starts before the Rebel were visually impressive, but time is running out.

2. Found Money

A multiple stakes winner who finished fourth in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in January, Found Money made his first start since that race on March 20 in the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes and came up empty. This Square Eddie colt was a precocious 2-year-old who had a couple of wins, including a stakes victory, to his credit by June 21. He closed his 2-year-old season with a stakes win going a mile against California-breds, but it looks like the combination of longer races, stepping up in class and a steady string of races might have caught up with him. Found Money looks like a candidate for a freshening.

3. Suddenbreakingnews

This Mineshaft gelding took a huge step forward in winning the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, which was a 21-point jump from his previous top Equibase Speed Figure. I feared he might bounce (react negatively off an especially taxing effort) off that performance and it looks like that might have been partially the case in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 19. Suddenbreakingnews also lost momentum on the turn when encountering significant traffic. The combination of the two probably led to his fifth-place finish when he didn’t show the acceleration in the stretch that he flashed in the Southwest. He’s not higher here because I think he has a chance to bounce back and I’m always on the lookout for a closer at big odds capable of rallying into the trifecta in the Derby. 

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.

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