Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for March 21

Racing
Magnum Moon (center) vaulted to a top-rank spot on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with his win in the March 17 Rebel Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

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 Woodford Reserve are not quite as strong as they were last week.

With the action on the Derby trail percolating, this column will now appear regularly to analyze to biggest movers approaching the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard


HEATING UP

Coady Photography

1. Magnum Moon

Right now, I have Magnum Moon ranked third on my Kentucky Derby top 10 behind only Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie. I loved the way he finished in the stretch of the Rebel Stakes on March 17 and looked like he was hardly even blowing after the race on what can be a deep, tiring Oaklawn Park surface. The speed figures also came back strong (check out this week’s Making the Grade feature on Magnum Moon for additional detail). He’s shown a ton of maturity despite having only three races, rating nicely in his last two starts and responding on cue to take command. I do have some concern about the bottom half of his pedigree as it pertains to his chances to run a monster race at 1 ¼ miles in the Kentucky Derby, but that question is present with just about every 3-year-old at this time of year. I like that he’ll get two graded stakes prep races for the Derby since he did not race at two; he’ll need that foundation to overcome the “Curse of Apollo” (no horse has won the Derby without a race as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882).


Tenfold (outside) defeats Navistar. (Coady Photography)

2. Tenfold

Make room in the “Curse of Apollo” armada for Tenfold, who improved to 2-for-2 with a win over Navistar in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming race on March 18 at Oaklawn Park. Both of his wins came at 1 1/16 miles and he earned a 96 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut win and a 100 for the recent allowance score. It’s probably too late for him to make a serious bid to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby having made his career debut on Feb. 9, but if he earns his way into the race, he’s bred to run all day. By two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of the Tapit mare Temptress, whose two wins both came around two turns, Tenfold races for trainer Steve Asmussen and is a homebred of Winchell Thoroughbreds, the connections of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. I think Tenfold might just be scratching the surface with the potential to develop into a special 3-year-old.


Coady Photography

3. Blended Citizen

This is a fast, talented racehorse who ran a strong race to win the Grade 3, $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 17. His last four Equibase Speed Figures – 112, 106, 109, 109 – indicate he can run with the best of his division. Unfortunately for his Kentucky Derby chances, none of those strong races came on the dirt.  The Jeff Ruby Steaks was by far his most important race to date as it marked his first stakes win and earned him 20 points toward qualifying for the run for the roses. But the win was on the synthetic Polytrack surface at Turfway Park. His two starts this year both came on synthetic main tracks after his impressive maiden victory on turf set the table for at fourth-place finish in the Eddie Logan Stakes on grass in his final race at two. Blended Citizen has not raced on dirt since the first three races of his career, in which he finished fifth, sixth, and eighth, beaten by 21 ¼ lengths in the last of them, which prompted the surface switch. He’s squarely in the Derby picture thanks to the Jeff Ruby Steaks win, but I have serous doubts that his talent will transfer to dirt, which is why he just squeaked onto this list in third.


Greyvitos (BENOIT photo)

Honorable Mentions: Multiple stakes winner Greyvitos has now had five timed workouts since he returned to training following surgery to remove bone chips from both knees. Prior to the surgery he won the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at seven-eighths of a mile and defeated Rebel Stakes third-place finisher Combatant by 2 ¼ lengths while winning the Remington Springboard Mile. He earned 107 and 104 Equibase Speed Figures, respectively, for the two stakes wins and will be pointed to a race on the Derby trail. It’s a lot of ground to cover in a short time for a racehorse coming off an injury, but this Malibu Moon colt out of multiple graded stakes winner Snow Top Mountain has plenty of talent. … Navistar ran a solid second by a neck to Tenfold in the aforementioned Oaklawn Park allowance race. It was a nice sign for a Union Rags colt who looked like a winner in a February allowance race before blowing the turn. He set a solid pace in the March 18 race and still finished willingly in a race that should be a nice steppingstone should trainer Todd Pletcher want to try him in a stakes race next. … Alternative Route won the Rushaway Stakes by 1 ¾ lengths on the Jeff Ruby Steaks undercard and he did previously run the fastest race of his career on the dirt, so there might be some upside. I’m just skeptical that he’s fast enough to compete with the elite 3-year-olds. I think it’s a pretty strong, deep group on the 2018 Derby trail, and this Tiznow colt might just be a cut below. … I thought Title Ready ran an encouraging race in his stakes debut for trainer Steve Asmussen in the Rebel Stakes. He set a solid pace through an opening half-mile in :47.15 and held on to the lead into the stretch before fading to fourth, beaten by five lengths, at 14.70-1 odds. Like Alternative Route, I’m just worried he might not be quite good enough to compete with the best of the best.


COOLING DOWN

Eclipse Sportswire

1. Sporting Chance

Entering the Rebel Stakes on March 17, I thought Sporting Chance was a legitimate win contender. He was not my top pick, but I did view him as one of the contenders with a real shot, and the betting public shared my optimistic view by sending him off as the third betting choice at 4.70-1 odds. The Tiznow colt was in a good position –  fourth by a length after a half-mile – but never accelerated in what looked like a flat effort from the 2017 Hopeful Stakes winner. I thought he had a legitimate excuse when a troubled third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 19, but he just didn’t fire in the Rebel and that’s a concern at this time of year. I expect Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will give Sporting Chance a shot for redemption, as he, too, expected more out of him in the Rebel. “It’s hard for me to handle that one because I thought I had him trained to the minute,” Lukas said. “I really felt like he would run a monster race, and he didn’t. … I was disappointed in him.”


2. Hazit

This one might be more than a bit unfair because he stumbled badly at the start of the Jeff Ruby Steaks, but there really was not a large group to choose from for the cooling down section this week. The reality is it’s bad timing for a 3-year-old to run last of 12 in a Kentucky Derby prep seven weeks before the big race, especially after he was only 6 ½ lengths back after a half-mile. He never fired and faded to last, beaten by 20 ¼ lengths as the 3.30-1 favorite. The race was his first try on a synthetic surface and with his awful start in the Jeff Ruby, hopefully this is a race we just draw a line through and forget even happened. But Hazit’s chances to be a factor on the Triple Crown trail became significantly longer after this race.


3. Solomini

The runner-up finish in the Rebel was actually a decent performance in Solomini’s first start off a 3 ½-month layoff, but given that he’s been knocking heads with the top two on my Kentucky Derby list, he should have been a little more of a threat to winner Magnum Moon. On the bright side, there was a crystal clear excuse as he got shut off on the inside when making his move and lost momentum. On the other hand, he again did not change leads in the stretch and that’s just not going to cut it in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby against 19 elite 3-year-olds. Let me be clear though, he’s still FIRMLY in my top 10 and I consider him a win candidate for the Derby, but the issues in the stretch led me to drop him a few spots. It’s great to see Solomini back on the racetrack, but he has some maturing left to do.


Of note: Combatant closed willingly for third in the Rebel Stakes at 8.40-1 odds and earned a new career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure, so it was a useful race. I just hoped he might take a major step forward in the Rebel and show me something to make me optimistic he can win a Triple Crown race. I’m still waiting and time is running short, but you’ve got to hand it to Combatant – he always tries his hardest and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him rally for a top-three finish at huge odds in one of the spring classics.

Mike’s Top 10

1. Bolt d'Oro

2. McKinzie

3. Magnum Moon

4. Good Magic

5. Bravazo

6. Solomini

7. Audible

8. Justify

9. Enticed

10. Promises Fulfilled

Four on the bubble: Instilled Regard, Quip, Greyvitos, Tenfold

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