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.
For the inaugural 2018 edition of this column, this week the main focus is the first month of the year. 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.
1. Noble Indy
There is much to like about Noble Indy, including the simple facts that he’s been consistently fast – Equibase Speed Figures of 101, 106, 106 in his last three starts – and he loves a fight. He showed his resiliency when, after taking the lead entering the stretch of the Twinspires Louisiana Derby on March 24, he was passed by Lone Sailor but battled back on the inside to prevail by a neck. It looked like he didn’t see Lone Sailor rallying (because he was wearing blinkers to restrict his vision and help him focus) but once he did eyeball his challenger he sure responded willingly. Noble Indy did not finish fast in the Louisiana Derby and has demonstrated some maturity issues that could be problematic in the Kentucky Derby with only four races (check out this week’s Making the Grade feature on Noble Indy for additional detail). But, he’s got tactical speed and all-world connections – seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Eclipse Award-winning breeder WinStar Farm – plus, you have to respect a 3-year-old that you know is always up for a challenge late in races. I slotted him in seventh in my new Kentucky Derby top 10 (bottom).
After finishing second to Reride in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park on Feb. 25, Runaway Ghost was simply dominant in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby on March 25, punching his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with 50 qualifying points. The most impressive aspect of his 2 ¾-length Sunland Derby victory was that he was wide throughout after starting from post-position 11 and was at least six paths wide when making his winning rally on the final turn. He has that sustained acceleration you like to see from a 3-year-old that can be very effective in the Kentucky Derby. No, the fractions say he did not finish very fast – covering the final three-eighths of a mile in about 38.43 seconds – but given the ground loss from the wide trip and the fact that he was only 2 ½ lengths off a swift opening half-mile in :45.80, I came away impressed. I might even move him up a bit if Reride runs well on Saturday in the $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard.
3. Lone Sailor
Lone Sailor looked like a sure winner deep in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby on March 24, but he was denied by a gutsy re-rally from Noble Indy. Still, the 40 points he earned for finishing second by a neck put him at 42 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby and should wrap up his spot in the starting gate. Well beaten in three previous attempts in graded stakes – although he was a close second in the ungraded Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs in October 2017 – the Louisiana Derby was by far his best race to date and marked a significant improvement to a 106 Equibase Speed Figure, 26 points better than his previous best. From the family of 1983 Broodmare of the Year Courtly Dee and her champion daughter Althea, there is plenty of class in this pedigree and he has plenty of foundation with eight career starts. You could do worse if looking for a huge price to fill out your Kentucky Derby trifecta.
Honorable Mentions: Dream Baby Dream does not find the winner’s circle often – just one win in eight races – but he does usually run well with six top-three finishes. I liked the way he finished in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in his graded stakes debut, closing from 11th for second, 2 ¾ lengths behind winner Runaway Ghost, but with three straight 92 Equibase Speed Figures, I think his baseline is pretty well established and with only 20 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, he probably will be on the outside looking in. … Trainer Jeremy Noseda initially planned to ship Gronkowski to the United Stakes for his final prep race for the Kentucky Derby, but with 20 points on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby that do not carry over for U.S. races, he will remain in England and target the final race on the Euro trail: Friday, March 30 at Newcastle. I expect him to be heavily favored and punch his ticket to the Derby in that race, however I would have liked his chances better on the first Saturday in May had he proved himself in a U.S. Derby prep.
After running a game second in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, Snapper Sinclair came up empty in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby when fifth, beaten by 11 ¾ lengths. With only 22 points, the City Zip colt might not have enough to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, but even if he does, it looks like the stamina concerns many had with Snapper Sinclair were well founded as he faded late at Fair Grounds. Should Snapper Sinclair make the Kentucky Derby, the odds are stacked against horses who enter the first jewel of the Triple Crown off unplaced finishes: only one of the 30 horses over the last 10 years to finish in the top three in the Kentucky Derby finished worse than fourth in their final prep (Denis of Cork, 3rd in 2008 Kentucky Derby); 20 of the 30 won their final start, including eight of 10 winners; 27 of the 30 finished in the top three in their final prep; only Mine Than Bird (4th in Sunland Derby) won the Derby off an unplaced finish in the last 10 years; and only four horses have done so in the last 60 years.
With 54 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, Bravazo’s place in the starting gate is secure, but it is really hard to back a 3-year-old colt who enters the race off an eighth-place finish, beaten by 21 ¼ lengths, in the Louisiana Derby in his final prep race. Coming off back-to-back wins that earned 104 and 110 Equibase Speed Figures, respectively, the latter for a visually impressive victory in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, I expected much more from Bravazo. Could there be a legitimate excuse? “We were going fast and I eased into the three-path going into the first turn and all of a sudden he wanted to go straight,” Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens said. “I didn’t make the turn, I had a steering malfunction for whatever reason. I just don’t know, but he was lugging out with me the entire trip.” I still think Bravazo is a very good 3-year-old racehorse, but as I explained in the capsule above, horses entering the Kentucky Derby off unplaced finishes have not performed well. The only reason I didn’t place Bravazo first is because it looks like there might be a plausible excuse.
I thought he showed serious promise earlier this year when he set the pace and finished second to McKinzie, a horse I really respect, in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at one mile in January. I was willing to give him another shot after he was beaten by 15 ¼ lengths sprinting when third in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, but he dropped an anchor in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby on March 25 after setting the early pace through a half-mile in :45.80 and wound up eighth of 12, beaten by 14 lengths. All Out Blitz is a very talented horse with a bright future, but I don’t think he’s shown the class or stamina yet that would indicate he’s ready to compete with the best of the 3-year-old male division in a Triple Crown race, and with only four Derby qualifying points, he has little to no hope of making the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Of note: I think I was one of the few holding out hope for Hollywood Star – his dam (mother), multiple Grade 1 winner Hollywood Story, was a personal favorite of mine – but in the Sunland Derby he was no factor for the third straight time in a graded stakes. In fact, his 11th-place finish, beaten by 35 ¼ lengths, seems to indicate he might need to build some confidence against significantly easier competition. … I didn’t drop My Boy Jack much off a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. Sure, he flattened out in the stretch after a very nice, sweeping rally into contention, but My Boy Jack was really wide and only lost by three-quarters of a length. In fact, he essentially paired his Equibase Speed Figure from his Southwest Stakes win (106) with a 105 and he showed he could run a big one on a fast dirt main track. I still think he’s a serious player in the Kentucky Derby.
Mike’s Top 10
1. Bolt d'Oro
3. Magnum Moon
4. Good Magic
7. Noble Indy