Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin presents his Derby Dozen for the week, which offers an opinionated overview of leading contenders for the 144th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 5.
Promises Fulfilled jumped into the top echelon of Kentucky Derby contenders with his win in the March 3 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes, and March 10 brings three more 85-point Derby preps in the Gotham Stakes, Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, and San Felipe Stakes.
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1. Bolt d’Oro
Inherits the top spot, at least for one week, following the disappointing effort by Good Magic in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. Now it is his turn to show that he is a worthy Kentucky Derby favorite in the San Felipe Stakes, and it won’t be easy, facing a strong two-pronged Bob Baffert attack with McKinzie and Restoring Hope. He was very sharp in his half-mile work Monday, going a half in :46 2/5 in company head and head all the way until he began pulling away in the final yards with Victor Espinoza aboard. Let’s not forget that his debut was delayed due to a pulled muscle, but other than missing what I would consider a key start in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes, he is no worse off than the other leading Derby contenders who will be having only two starts prior to the Derby. His works have been strong enough to suggest he will be fit enough and sharp enough and will fire first time out. You just never know how a horse is going to make the transition from two to three until they do it. If he does win and Audible wins the March 31 Xpressbet.com Florida Derby, Javier Castellano is going to have a big decision to make. In other words, one major Derby contender will have an open mount, which will have either Mick Ruis’ or Todd Pletcher’s cell phone ringing off the hook. All Espinoza can do now is hope Castellano sticks with Pletcher. Espinoza said he was impressed with how much Bolt d’Oro has improved since the last time he worked him.
He turned in a sensational seven-furlong work in 1:23 4/5, galloping out some 20 lengths ahead of his workmate. It is now a California showdown for the top spot, and the way things have gone so far, nothing that happens in the San Felipe would be a major surprise. But at least he and Bolt d’Oro have taken a more conventional route to get here, with McKinzie having a slight advantage with a stunning victory in the Sham Stakes under him, in which he soundly defeated eventual Southwest Stakes winner My Boy Jack. He is still a work in progress, so we really don’t know how good he is or what his strengths are. What we do know from his races and his works is that he is, pardon the expression, poetry in motion, the way he just glides down the stretch and the way he holds himself. If either he or Bolt d’Oro win the San Felipe against what looks to be a talented field, they would certainly be a worthy Derby favorite.
3. Good Magic
Perhaps expectations were too high because of his rapid and unconventional rise to the top, but the truth is, after cruising up behind the Fountain of Youth leaders as if there was a lot left in the tank, the tank quickly emptied in a couple of strides, much to everyone’s surprise. He still could be a legitimate Derby contender, but he now has a lot to prove, and has only one more race to do it. Yes, it is possible he didn’t like the slower than usual track, a claim several others with good credentials could also have made, but he should have at least showed a little more than he did. And, yes, he was giving the winner six pounds, but was carrying equal weights with runner-up Strike Power, who finished well clear of him. I kept him up this high only because there was no one to put ahead of him right now, and we know what he is capable of. This wasn’t a terrible performance, but it was disappointing seeing him going nowhere on the far turn. The question we should be asking is, because of his unconventional and meteoric rise, did he do too much too soon, and simply wasn’t able to sustain that form into his 3-year-old campaign? But, with that said, just as you can't judge a horse off one sensational victory, you can't judge him off one defeat, as lackluster as it was, especially over the Gulfstream Park conveyor belt surface with the shortened stretch. This will be the last he sees of Gulfstream, as he likely heads to the April 7 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. With only two preps, this wasn’t what you wanted to see, and he will now have to rebound big-time in his next start and show he hasn’t lost that spark from last year and the aura that surrounded him because of his extraordinary performances in the Champagne Stakes and Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a maiden. The question now is can he shrug off this performance and return to his 2-year-old form? Only time will tell.
4. Catholic Boy
He could jump back to No. 3 next week depending on what happens over the weekend. He is not getting much respect in some of the polls, but I still believe he is a legitimate Derby contender who got a lot out of his first start at three, hooking up with a tenacious fighter in Flameaway down the stretch of the Sam F. Davis Stakes. It took him three weeks to get back on the work tab, but he did finally return, breezing a strong half in :48 2/5 at Bridlewood Farm on February 3. He’s not a robust horse and the Sam F. Davis was a hard race on him, so his connections are happy they gave him an extra week before working him. Being in a relaxed farm setting all winter setting should be good for him in the long run, but it is imperative that he runs big in his next prep, because that will be the last chance he has to earn sufficient points. His options are to come back in the March 24 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby or wait two weeks for the April 7 Wood Memorial – at the track where he romped in the Remsen Stakes – or the Blue Grass Stakes, where he would face Good Magic and a likely larger field. If the Louisiana Derby doesn’t work out as planned, there is still room for a desperate move by running three weeks later in the April 14 Lexington Stakes and a shot at 20 points. But that would mean three weeks to the Lexington and then three weeks to the Derby, hence the use of the word desperate. Years ago, running back three weeks would be common practice, but no longer.
I believe it was a good move scratching him from the Fountain of Youth Stakes and dropping him back to one turn in Saturday’s one-mile Gotham Stakes. Coming off three straight 1 1/16-mile races, this will give him a good sharpener for either the Wood Memorial or the Blue Grass Stakes. There was no sense running three horses against the 2-year-old champion and early Derby favorite when you could split them up and take advantage of a good prep like the Gotham, especially with Withers Stakes winner Avery Island heading down to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby and the connections of Strike Power and Kanthaka, both of whom looked very dangerous at a mile, passing up the race to try two turns in the Fountain of Youth and San Felipe, respectively. Also, after it was announced he was heading to the Gotham, the connections of California invaders Nero and Afleet Ascent canceled their flight to New York. As it turned out, it was his own stablemate that he had to fear in the Fountain of Youth more than Good Magic, so everyone in Dale Romans’ barn was happy with the way things worked out. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy pickings in the Gotham with old reliable Firenze Fire, who loves this track; Enticed, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner who will be looking for redemption; and the remaining California invader Beautiful Shot, from the barn who gave you the upset Southwest Stakes winner My Boy Jack.
The Holy Bull Stakes winner breezed a half in :49 in preparation for the March 31 Florida Derby, which could be a battle between two talented horses coming off a big performance going 1 1/16 miles down the shortened stretch at Gulfstream. And you can add another good one in Strike Power, meaning the three main contenders will all want to be on or near the lead. I’m not sure if any of them want to go ten furlongs. I keep trying to find enough stamina in his pedigree to justify any reasons for him staying a mile and a quarter. We know Into Mischief is basically a sire of milers, perhaps up to a mile and an eighth, and thus his foals need to get some stamina from the dam. And we know this colt’s broodmare sire Gilded Time was a pure sprinter, as was Gilded Time’s sire Timeless Moment. Also, Audible’s dam was a cheap claiming sprinter, and her dam made only one start, finishing ninth for a $30,000 claiming tag. But it must also be pointed out that Gilded Time’s only three millionaires were Elloluv, winner of the Ashland Stakes and second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Santa Anita Oaks; Gayego, winner of the Arkansas Derby; and Mandy’s Gold, winner of the Ruffian Handicap who placed in the Beldame Stakes, Apple Blossom Stakes, and Ogden Phipps Stakes. So there is some two-turn class there, just no success at 1 ¼ miles. But Audible’s third dam is by Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Easy Goer, out of Alabama Stakes winner Classy Cathy; and Timeless Moment is by Hall of Famer and Horse of the Year Damascus who won the Belmont and two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Woodward, Travers, and Brooklyn Handicaps at 1 ¼ miles. So maybe there is a ray of hope he can get the distance, especially if he can hold his early February form all the way to May.
He won’t be running until the Rebel Stakes March 17, so we’ll keep him here this week and see what transpires this weekend. He worked a solid six furlongs in 1:11 2/5, but was on his left lead again and was outrun by workmate Restoring Hope, who finished a half-length in front and wouldn’t let Solomini pass him on the gallop-out. He really needs to start showing a bit more professionalism and also show that he’s got more than one gear, and can separate himself from his opponents. He can use the extra time until the Rebel Stakes. He has proven he has the class and talent, and definitely looks to have the stamina, but at this point he is running more like a horse who has a better chance to finish on the board in the Derby than he has to win it, unless he can find a few more gears, get his lead changes straightened out, and keep a straighter course. He did show in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity he can wear horses down with that steady run by just continuing to come at them, but did cost himself a Grade 1 victory in the process, even though he had a huge class and experience advantage over his two opponents, who were both coming off maiden wins. Also, in the Los Al Futurity, he didn’t seem to be threatening the top two in the stretch until inside the final sixteenth, so we really don’t know if McKinzie and Instilled Regard were starting to back up a little after their stretch battle. He’s been sort of a frustrating horse because he has the talent, but will not fulfill his potential until he figures out who he is, what his strengths are, and how to best use them. If any jockey can help get him straightened out it is Flavien Prat.
8. Vino Rosso
Despite having talented horses such as Audible, Magnum Moon, and Noble Indy, I still believe this may be Todd Pletcher’s best Derby hope, even though he is barely an afterthought on the two main Derby polls, which have him ranked 18th and 20th. There is a question about Audible’s pedigree, and Magnum Moon and Noble Indy are on schedule to have only four career starts and will be bucking history. But Vino Rosso is bred to run all day, has a great mind, and should have five starts going into the Derby. He breezed a half in :49 2/5, as he prepares to take a huge step forward in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby. Another big effort and he surely will move up several notches here, and I would think many spots in the two polls. But because he likely will have another start after the Tampa Bay Derby and at a longer distance, it wouldn’t be a crushing blow if he ran big in defeat again going 1 1/16 miles. The important thing is that he is closing at the end, and if he does get beat, it is against a good horse like Flameaway or Tiz Mischief or if Untamed Domain takes to the dirt. But if there is a contentious pace and Flameaway doesn’t get an easy lead, I see no reason why Vino Rosso, with the Sam F. Davis under him and a race over the track, shouldn’t nail down his first stakes victory. His race in the Sam Davis is not that much different than Tapwrit’s last year, and that one came back to easily win the Tampa Bay Derby. This is the kind of horse I want leading up to and in the Kentucky Derby.
There is no denying that he is one fast, game horse, the way he outran two fleet horses coming off sprints after being hustled out of the gate, but winning a 1 1/16-mile race going wire to wire at Gulfstream Park is a far cry from winning the Kentucky Derby. This was a typical treadmill race at Gulfstream, where several seemed to struggle with the track. As a handicapper, it was difficult to look past his slow Beyer Speed Figures going into the race and predict he would improve by 20 points, and it was difficult to look past his three consecutive “7’s” on Thoro-Graph and jumping as far as he did. But he did. Before we start looking at him as a serious Kentucky Derby contender, he has been on the lead in all four of his career starts, and has to show he is versatile enough to sit behind horses and win. Although Dosage is a thing of the past that hardly anyone pays attention to anymore, if this were the 1980s or ‘90s, everyone would toss him because of his lofty 9.00 Dosage Index. But we’ll ignore that, considering his pedigree is not nearly as speed-oriented as some of the others, including Audible, who has a 5.00 Dosage Index, which is still too high. As mentioned, Dosage has not been maintained and is rarely used as a Derby handicapping tool anymore. Promises Fulfilled joins Bravazo and Reride as beaten horses in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to come back and win stakes this year. Ironically, the first two finishers in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Enticed and Tiz Mischief, both were drubbed by Audible in the Holy Bull Stakes. So, taking nothing away from his well earned victory, he just has to show he’s not locked into having the lead. There is a reason why only two horses in the past 30 years have won the Derby on the front end – both were able to get easy leads in a year with no speed.
10. Avery Island
I’m liking him more and more and I am starting to think he is a definite under-the-radar contender, despite his ranking. He is another who, when he moves up, will move way up. I think the March 24 Louisiana Derby should be an excellent spot for him to see how he handles that long stretch. What made me take more notice was his last work, a :48 2/5 breeze, in which he was moving smoothly down the stretch on his own and just looked very classy and professional, which is what he’s been his entire career. I’m still not sure how fast he is, but his Beyer numbers have steadily increased with every race, as has his Thoro-Graph numbers. But they will need to improve once again, and fairly substantially, if he is going to come even close to matching the numbers of the top contenders. After scoring two victories in graded stakes at Aqueduct, it was a bit surprising to see him head for the Louisiana Derby rather than stay in New York for the Gotham Stakes and Wood Memorial. His most authoritative victory came at a mile at Aqueduct. But again, we have the two-prep syndrome, and, having raced in early February, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin perhaps was looking for a race in between those two for his final prep. He does have an extremely solid foundation, with the Louisiana Derby giving him three 1 1/8-mile races, a 1 1/16-mile race, and a one-mile race going into the Kentucky Derby. So, although he needs to get faster, he does have the look of a Derby horse who could very well be ready to peak on the first Saturday in May. McLaughlin has been a major presence on the Derby trail with top-class horses such as Jazil, Cairo Prince, Frosted, Mohaymen, and Soldat, but he is still trying to make up that half-length defeat to Giacomo that 71.60-1 shot Closing Argument posted in the 2005 Derby.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes winner worked a half in :48 4/5 in preparation for a return to Tampa Bay Downs in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby. With the last two Florida preps won wire-to-wire, it does raise questions about these preps and the versatility of the winners. He is not a confirmed frontrunner, so I would expect to see his connections try to rate him unless there is no pace. He still has another prep after this, so if he can get a fairly easy lead once again, you have to go for it and focus on rating him in his final prep. As I said, he has rated in the past, and being by Scat Daddy, out of a mare by Fusaichi Pegasus, he is certainly bred to come from off the pace. The speed no doubt comes from Scat Daddy’s sire and grandsire, Johannesburg and Hennessy, respectively. His tail-female family, however, is inundated with European stamina through a number of classic horses. What we do know about him is that he is a street brawler who does not lose fights. But we’ll see what happens when they come charging at him in the stretch on Saturday. And you can’t dismiss Tiz Mischief based on one subpar performance or the late-running Untamed Domain making his dirt debut. So he should get another test.
12. Instilled Regard
The California form is the last hope for some stability, and if horses like McKinzie and Solomini are major Derby contenders, then you still have to keep him in your sights, despite his disappointing effort in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, not so much that he finished fourth, but that he raced greenly, shying from the whip, which likely was caused by his getting tired, having traveled to Louisiana, where he turned in a huge effort when winning the Lecomte Stakes, then back to California, and back to Louisiana. And that is after having raced in December, so he had no winter break. Dan Ward, assistant trainer to Jerry Hollendorfer, said he’s doing great, as indicated by his returning to the work tab just a week after the Risen Star. Ward also said he believed the speed-favoring track, as well as the travel, contributed to his defeat. According to Ward, his $1,050,000 purchase price as a 2-year-old was the result of his outstanding conformation and a presence about him he described as perfect. So, just take into consideration what he accomplished in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity coming off a maiden win and how easily he handled Snapper Sinclair, who was beaten a nose in the Risen Star, in the Lecomte, drawing off to win by almost four lengths. I believe that is the real Instilled Regard, who could have his final prep in either the March 25 Sunland Derby or the April 7 Santa Anita Derby.
Knocking At the Door
Before you start reading, it must be noted that I believe there is almost as good a chance of finding the Derby winner here as there is in the 12 spots above.
Oh, the dilemma of Firenze Fire. If he wins the Gotham Stakes, which he very well may, is it because he backed up to a one-turn mile, which he loves? We won’t know the answer, but for someone looking for a throwback type of warrior that we rarely see these days, how can you not love this plucky colt, who is making his fourth start of the year already, all in stakes. And this following a 2-year-old campaign that saw him compete in three Grade 1 stakes and a Grade 3. No horse tries harder or runs harder. There is also the dilemma of his pedigree. You couldn’t push his sire past six furlongs and you couldn’t push his sire’s sire past seven furlongs, but his female family has good doses of stamina, and he has already run big at 1 1/8 miles. I nearly put him back in the Top 12, but couldn’t justify taking another horse off after having to make room for Promises Fulfilled, who I’m still a bit shaky about. In any event, I am looking forward to putting him back up there and keeping him there. He is a refreshing change of pace from the standard lightly-raced bubble wrap horses that inundate the Derby trail. So let’s wait one more week and see where we stand with him. But he will be there at the finish; you can depend on that.
The more I watch the Southwest Stakes, the more I am convinced it wasn’t just the slop and the rail trip that contributed to the huge performance by My Boy Jack. He just ran like a top-quality horse, and actually had his hind end swiped by Mourinho rallying through tight quarters and came home in a sharp :06 1/5. Yes, the rail no doubt helped him judging by the other results, but he did dominate a pretty talented field, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, I believe Keith Desormeaux is pound for pound as a sharp a trainer as there is. He is another I nearly put in the Top 12 this week, but will wait for Saturday’s results to see how everything sorts out. But you can be sure he will be up there very shortly. This horse is for real.
A full pedigree profile on My Boy Jack will be forthcoming, but it must be pointed out that his tail-female great-grandsire, Gold Alert, won the 1 ¼-mile Dominion Handicap at Woodbine and is the sire of 30 horses who made 60 or more starts, including nine with between 70 and 79 starts, three between 80 and 89 starts, three between 90 and 99 starts, and five between 105 and 122 starts.
Another reason I love My Boy Jack is that I believe the horse he beat and ran away from in the final furlong, Combatant, is one of the true live value horses in the future book and will make his presence felt in the upcoming Oaklawn Park stakes at a big price. The more I watch his races, the more I like the thought of him stretching out to a mile and a quarter with a legitimate pace. I would love to have seen the Trakus numbers for the Southwest Stakes, but there aren’t any at Oaklawn. There is no doubt he ran substantially farther than the winner. Once this horse finds a race where he’s not at a disadvantage, as he has been in his last three starts, you will see a different result. He turned in a solid five-furlong breeze in 1:01 1/5.
I am also looking for big improvement from Sporting Chance, all of which adds up to the Southwest Stakes actually being one of the real legitimate preps so far, mud or no mud. Last year’s Hopeful Stakes winner turned in a sharp half-mile breeze in :48 1/5, fourth fastest of 102 works at the distance, and then came back with an old fashioned mile breeze in 1:41 2/5. He should be loaded for bear in the Rebel Stakes on March 17. All he needs is an uneventful and clean trip. D. Wayne Lukas also worked Risen Star Stakes winner Bravazo, who went five furlongs in 1:01 4/5.
We are all aware of the impending showdown between Bolt d‘Oro and McKinzie in the San Felipe, with the rapidly improving Restoring Hope sharp and fit and sitting on a big race, especially coming off a sensational work against Solomini. This is a horse I have been touting since his maiden race, when he finished second. But just as intriguing is whether Kanthaka can show the same explosive turn of foot going two turns that he demonstrated in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes when he inhaled the field in just a few strides. In his maiden victory we saw that turn of foot later in the race, as he came charging in the final sixteenth to just get up by a neck. In his work last week, he was on the other end of that big move when another worker pounced on him from out of nowhere nearing the head of the stretch. He pulled on even terms, but Kanthaka wasn’t about let this intruder get by him and was merely toying with him down the stretch, pulling away in the final yards, despite the other horse being in a full drive. He normally would be the quintessential Derby horse with the push-button acceleration you are looking for, except for the fact that his sire and broodmare sire were both pure sprinters and his unraced dam sold twice for a meager $5,000 and $4,000. If he has one thing to fall back on it is his tail-female great grandsire Dr. Carter, who won or placed in 12 stakes, including the 1 ¼-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap and whose dam is a half-sister to In Reality. He also is inbred on his dam’s side to the top classic sire Caro, so there is some stamina in his pedigree.
With My Boy Jack running so well in the Southwest, you have to pay attention to All Out Blitz, who was second to McKinzie in the Sham Stakes, finishing four lengths ahead of My Boy Jack, and who defeated Restoring Hope by a nose in a six-furlong maiden race. The son of Concord Point has been training well, working five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 last week.
All the buzz is still around Justify, who was featured in great detail here last week, and whether Bob Baffert can have him ready for the Derby despite being so lightly raced. He worked in company with Nero Monday, going five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. This colt continues to amaze. I can't remember seeing a smoother lead change; you can't even see him change he does it so effortlessly. And when the rider asked him a little at the end he just exploded. That was a spectacular gallop-out. Baffert has not said where he may run next, but the March 25 Sunland Derby is a possibility. He would still need another race just to have three starts, and there is always the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland three weeks before the Derby. But Baffert has not committed to any race yet.
Saturday also is a day of redemption for Enticed and Tiz Mischief, the one-two finishers of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, who were both well beaten by Audible in the Holy Bull Stakes. Enticed likely heads to New York for the Gotham, while Tiz Mischief tries the Tampa Bay Derby. As mentioned earlier, several horses who finished behind them in the Kentucky Jockey Club – Promises Fulfilled, Bravazo, and Reride – have come back to win stakes this year, and it would not be a surprise to see both colts rebound big-time. They simply looked too good last year for the Holy Bull to be a true indication of where they are right now. Tiz Mischief breezed five furlongs in a sharp 1:00 3/5 at Gulfstream, and Enticed went the same distance in 1:01 4/5 at Palm Meadows.
Another horse to watch in the Tampa Bay Derby is Untamed Domain, who finally will be making his long-awaited dirt debut for Graham Motion. He originally looked to be headed for the Holy Bull, but Motion wanted more Derby points to shoot for in his dirt debut. Winner of the Summer Stakes at Woodbine and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the son of Animal Kingdom had a decent prep, closing well for third in the Dania Beach Stakes on Jan. 7, which should set him up well for the Tampa Bay Derby. With Untamed Domain and Kanthaka set to run in Derby preps, Saturday is a big day for West Point Thoroughbreds, who would love nothing more than to win their second straight Kentucky Derby, but this time as majority owner and in their familiar gold and black silks. If they do make it to Churchill with one or both horses, managing partner Terry Finley better have an extra handkerchief on hand.
Machismo, who ran a surprising race in the Fountain of Youth coming from far back to finish fourth after going four-wide into the first turn, showed a whole new side to him and could have a bright future. There is a possibility he could head to Dubai for the March 31 UAE Derby. Also surprising some by the way he came from off the pace and looked like a possible winner at the head of the stretch was Strike Power, another with immense talent and a bright future, but he has to learn how to change leads. Once he does, there's no telling how good he can become. Who knows what would have happened had Storm Runner gotten through with his bold early move. He certainly would have challenged the winner, but once the hole closed up on him and he was forced to steady and then sit back waiting for another opportunity, he just seemed to lose interest and faded. But that was a serious move he was making, as early as it was.
Inclement weather postponed both European Derby preps, at Kempton in England and Dundalk in Ireland. They have been rescheduled for March 7 and March 9, respectively, with Derby nominee Gronkowski going in the Kentucky Derby trial at Kempton and the Aidan O’Brien pair of Mendelssohn and Seahenge heading the huge O’Brien contingent in the Patton Stakes at Dundalk. O’Brien could also run at Kempton, but most likely will remain home. (Update: Gronkowski won the Kempton race on March 7 to earn 20 Kentucky Derby points in the European division.)
Curlin’s Honor, who overcame severe traffic problems in the stretch in a six-furlong allowance race, yet still got up to win in a terrific effort, will stretch out to two turns in the Rebel Stakes. Trained by Mark Casse, the son of Curlin cost $475,000 as a yearling and then was pinhooked at two for $1.5 million. Time is against him, as it is many exciting late developers this year, but there is no doubt this is a talented horse who could be dangerous stretching out to two turns.
One of those late developers who did stretch out to two turns was Classic Empire’s half-brother Exclamation Point, who won a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn in his second career start in workmanlike fashion by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:38 4/5, despite being under a left-handed whip on the turn and drifting out in the final yards. He could have a bright future, but does not look quite ready to take on top-class stakes horses.
An interesting winner over the weekend was the Todd Pletcher-trained Maraud, who outgamed 8-5 favorite Speed Franco in the Palm Beach Stakes on grass, winning by a neck. Although all his starts have been on grass and he has won three of his five starts, with two thirds, he is by Blame, out of an Empire Maker mare, and has pretty much a dirt pedigree, other than his second dam being by two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged.
Speaking of Blame, he was also represented over the weekend by Demolition, who broke his maiden by two lengths at Tampa Bay Downs going a mile and 40 yards for trainer Ian Wilkes. He did it the right way, rallying on the outside from five lengths off the lead to win going away.
Pletcher sent out Magnum Moon for a half-mile breeze in :49, as well as Noble Indy, who went in :49 1/5. The Pletcher-trained Marconi never did get going over the Gulfstream track in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, racing evenly to finish fifth, beaten 7 ¾ lengths. He’s not a fast horse and appears to need more distance. Could he be sire Tapit’s fourth Belmont Stakes winner in the past five years? Pletcher also captured a 1 1/16-mile allowance race over the weekend with Biblical, who staged an impressive wide rally to win by a length at 1.70-1 odds. The son of Tapit, who cost $800,000 as s yearling, was making his first start since his poor showing in the Remsen Stakes.
Mark Casse, looking to run the swift Telekinesis two turns as soon as possible, will send him against older horses in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Fair Grounds on Friday. Like so many others, the timing is against him to make the Derby, but it will be interesting to see how he handles this test. The son of Ghostzapper, who won his only start by 3 ¼ lengths in 1:10 flat for the six furlongs, tuned up for the race with a sharp :48 half-mile breeze. Florent Geroux will be aboard. Casse and Stonestreet Stables also will be represented in Friday’s race by Chaos Theory, a 3-year-old son of Curlin.
With Dale Romans seemingly all over the place with his 3-year-olds, don’t forget about Hollywood Star, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01. He appeared to despise the surface at Tampa Bay in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and deserves another chance. My big sleeper, Higher Power, who I have been touting all year, if not for the Derby then down the road apiece, has been training beautifully after his slight setback, breezing five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Oaklawn Park. Recent Fair Grounds allowance winner Dark Templar, trained by Brendan Walsh, breezed a half in :49 for a possible start in the March 24 Louisiana Derby.
Potential comeback horse of the year Greyvitos stepped it up a little, breezing a half-mile in :50. It was his second work back after having knee chips removed in December.
Steve Asmussen worked several of his Derby horses in addition to Combatant, sending out Risen Star Stakes runner-up Snapper Sinclair for a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 4/5, New York Central five furlongs in 1:02, and Zing Zang five furlongs in 1:01 4/5.