Making the Grade, which will run through the 2017 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
After J Boys Echo finished fourth in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes and third in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes, many fans and horseplayers (myself included) jumped off the bandwagon. The Mineshaft colt showed that was a big mistake in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes when he rallied from seven lengths back after a half-mile for a dominant victory that impressed the speed figure makers.
J boys echo
Ability: The Albaugh Family Stable bought J Boys Echo for $485,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale. He was the top-priced yearling of the fifth session of the 12-session sale.
The Mineshaft colt broke poorly in his career debut going 6 ½ furlongs on Oct. 2 at Churchill Downs but charged from well off the pace to finish a promising second. In his second start, he showed some serious potential. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 27 at Keeneland Race Course, he closed powerfully to score a 5 ½-length victory despite being steadied and bumping the rail near the top of the stretch.
J Boys Echo was my upset pick to win the Delta Downs Jackpot, but he never seriously threatened winner Gunnevera. J Boys Echo passed some tiring rivals to move from seventh to fourth but was beaten by more than 10 lengths.
The Equibase Speed Figures indicated he’d been steadily improving from an 82 in his debut to an 85 to an 89 for the Jackpot, and he took another small step forward to a 93 when he ran third, beaten 4 ¾ lengths by El Areeb, in the Withers Stakes. While the steady improvement was promising for a lightly raced 3-year-old colt, it felt like he needed to take a significant step forward to be competitive with the best of his age group. In the Gotham Stakes, J Boys Echo did just that.
J Boys Echo raced comfortably in fourth while saving ground early in the Gotham and made a sweeping, eye-catching rally entering the stretch. He surged to a clear lead and pulled away to win by 3 ½ lengths. He earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure, which was a 10-point jump, a very strong 102 Beyer Speed Figure and a 122 TimeForm Speed Figure, which ranks third to date among all winners on the 2017 Derby trail.
No doubt, the Gotham was a big performance from J Boys Echo. But for me, there were a couple of areas of concern. First, despite a relatively moderate pace, J Boys Echo did not come home very fast (about 32.35 seconds for the final five-sixteenths of a mile). Second, the New York prep races have not been a hotbed for winners of Triple Crown races in recent history and I’m not sure the field for the 2017 Gotham was especially tough or deep.
Don’t get me wrong, J Boys Echo ran a big race in the Gotham and punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby, but I’m exercising caution in my evaluation of this performance.
Running style: J Boys Echo is a 3-year-old who does his best running from off the pace. He’s not devoid of speed, forcing him to drop way back and close from the clouds, but he definitely is at his best when he reserves his stamina for one sustained late run. In the Kentucky Derby, that will mean navigating a clear path through traffic and ideally getting a solid pace to set up his finishing kick.
Connections: J Boys Echo is owned by the Albaugh Family Stable, which is the Des Moines, Iowa-based racing operation of Jason Loutsch and Dennis Albaugh, who teamed to race multiple Grade 1 winner Brody’s Cause and last year’s Iroquois Stakes winner and Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Not This Time.
Albaugh mortgaged his home to start his own pesticide company Albaugh Inc., which is now a multibillion-dollar international company. Dennis Albaugh also raced graded stakes winners Cozzetti and Miss Macy Sue, the dam (mother) of Not This Time.
Kentucky native Dale Romans trains J Boys Echo. Romans, who took out his trainer’s license in 1986, has amassed 1,900 career wins through March 6, including a victory in the Preakness Stakes in 2011 with Shackleford. The 2012 Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer has twice finished third in the Kentucky Derby with seven starters. In addition to his Preakness win, Romans runners have finished second or third in eight Triple Crown races. Romans also has trained three winners at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Robby Albarado has been aboard J Boys Echo for four of his five career starts. Like Romans, Albarado has three Breeders’ Cup wins and has finished in the top three nine times in Triple Crown races with his lone victory coming in the Preakness Stakes in 2007 with Curlin. A Louisiana native, Albarado earned his 5,000th career win aboard Vivacious V.V. on Jan. 22, 2017, at Fair Grounds.
Pedigree: J Boys Echo is from the 10th crop of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, a son of 1992 Horse of the Year and Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy. Mineshaft won seven of nine starts with two seconds during his championship season, which included Grade 1 wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Pimlico Special Handicap, Suburban Handicap and Woodward Stakes (Robby Albarado was his jockey for all starts during 2003). The Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban wins both came at 1 ¼ miles while the Pimlico Special and Woodward were at 1 3/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles, respectively. Most of Mineshaft’s 20 graded stakes winners have been best-suited to two-turn races, including the 2011 Florida Derby winner and young sire Dialed In, who is the sire of top Kentucky Derby contender Gunnevera.
J Boys Echo’s dam, Letgomyecho, by Menifee, won her first three races, including a victory in the Grade 2 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes at seven-eighths of a mile. She did not race again after finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes in her fourth start.
His grandam (maternal grandmother), Echo Echo Echo, competed almost exclusively in sprints. None of her five career wins came in a race longer than three-quarters of a mile and she placed in a stakes race at that distance.
J Boys Echo is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to Grade 3-placed winner Unbridled Outlaw. Other notable family members include 2004 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Singletary and Grade 1 winners Voodoo Dancer, Engine One, Next Question and Pool Play.
J Boys Echo gets a healthy dose of class and stamina from his sire, while the bottom half of this pedigree slants more toward speed, plus a nice dose of class.
The Gotham Stakes was a real coming-out party for J Boys Echo. Romans said he probably would target the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 8 at Keeneland for his next race, and there I think we’ll find out for sure if J Boys Echo is a true threat to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.