Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from the three major 170-point prep races for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on April 7:
JUSTIFYING HYPE: Much was expected of lightly raced but hugely promising Justify in the $1 million, Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. He did not disappoint. He took control early for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and held off battle-tested Bolt d’Oro with relative ease. Winning jockey Mike Smith could not be more enthusiastic about the youngster’s future. “What you’re seeing right now is really just raw talent,” he said. “If he moves forward off this race, which he should, then it’s even kind of scary to think about.”
NOT DISCOURAGED: Justify had everything his way after flashing his early foot at Santa Anita. Javier Castellano, who rode runner-up Bolt d’Oro, is confident that will not be the case in the Kentucky Derby. “I think there will be more speed. It will be interesting,” he said. “It will suit my horse. He’ll be able to sit off that faster pace.” Mick Ruis, who trains Bolt d’Oro, believes the move to a mile and a quarter will benefit his colt. “We knew we were up against it a little bit at a mile and an eighth,” he said.
MAGICAL AGAIN: Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Good Magic was rather disappointing when he ran a lackluster third in the March 3 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. But he rebounded strongly to take the $1 million, Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes by a length and a half against Flameaway and should primed for a big effort when it counts most. Trainer Chad Brown acknowledged that Good Magic was not fully cranked for the Fountain of Youth while saying, “I was hoping to be peaking for the Derby, and hopefully we’ll take another step on Derby Day.”
NO FLAMEOUT: Although Flameaway has not shown he belongs in the top tier of 3-year-olds, he is not very far behind and must be respected every time out. The Blue Grass runner-up has not been worse than second in four starts this season. He began the year with a turf victory in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes, then transitioned to dirt to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes before running second in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. “He’s just so classy. You’ve got to love him,” said trainer Mark Casse with justifiable pride.
WORTH THE WAIT: Trainer Todd Pletcher kept reassuring owners Vinnie Viola and Mike Repole that Vino Rosso possessed talent and was outworking some of his more accomplished horses in the morning. But where were the results? In his previous two starts as a 3-year-old, the son of Curlin ran third in the Sam F. Davis and fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby, both at Tampa Bay Downs, before asserting himself in the $1 million, Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct. “Todd keeps saying as he gets older and he goes longer, he’s going to get better. And you saw a little of that,” said Repole, noting how powerfully Vino Rosso galloped out after the 1 1/8-mile prep.