Making the Grade, which will run through the 2018 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key 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.
Noble Indy confirmed on March 24 in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby that he relishes a fight, something he showed in a previous race, but this time he displayed that tenacity against top competition. He earned a starting spot in the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with the victory, so let’s evaluate his chances to win the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
Ability: From the first crop of 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, Noble Indy failed to meet his reserve at $45,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. He won his career debut by 8 ¾ lengths – looking another horse in the eye with about three-eighths of a mile to go before imposing his will upon him to put him away – on Dec. 3 going seven-eighths of a mile at Gulfstream Park.
Noble Indy was a handful at the starting gate in his debut, but the 90 Equibase Speed Figure hinted at his potential and prominent owner Mike Repole purchased an interest in the bay colt following the win.
In his second start, Noble Indy was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a solid allowance race at Gulfstream that also included Mississippi and Tip Sheet, both among the probable runners for the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby on March 31. Noble Indy was keen early in the 1 1/16-mile race and really looked like he wanted to accelerate while positioned on the outside flank of pacesetter Mississippi.
The duo dueled through the backstretch before Noble Indy took the lead on the far turn, but Mississippi fought on bravely into the stretch, where eventually Noble Indy wore him down en route to a three-quarter-length win and a 101 Equibase Speed Figure. You can see in that replay how much Noble Indy enjoys a good battle.
Next up was Noble Indy’s stakes debut in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden said Noble Indy acted like “a real brat” in the paddock before the Risen Star, and the race served as a learning experience. After breaking well from the starting gate and challenging for the early lead, he was taken back a few lengths off the pace. Noble Indy was again keen at times and in the stretch tried to rally with the top two finishers, but could not keep pace. He held off Lecomte Stakes winner Instilled Regard by a neck for third, two lengths behind winner Bravazo.
Trainer Todd Pletcher added blinkers – a cup-shaped device that limits a horse's vision, often used to try to improve a horse’s focus – for the Louisiana Derby, and Noble Indy pressed 141.50-1 pacesetter Marmello through an opening half-mile in :46.64 before taking command and opening a clear lead into the final turn.
Lone Sailor made his bid by rallying from seventh after a half-mile and overhauled Noble Indy in the stretch. Viewing the replay, it appears Noble Indy did not see Lone Sailor, probably because of the blinkers, until he was already past him, but Noble Indy fought back valiantly on the inside and got the better of his rival with a re-rally rarely seen in Thoroughbred racing that late in the stretch.
Noble Indy paired his Equibase Speed Figure from the Risen Star with another 106, which is a good sign that he could be able to improve off six weeks rest in the Kentucky Derby. He also earned a strong 100 Brisnet speed figure; a 118 Timeform figure that is within six points of the top number earned in 2018 in a Derby points race; and a solid, if unspectacular 95 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form.
What impressed me most about this race, not surprisingly, was how Noble Indy was passed by a full length or very close to it in the stretch but dug in determinedly and would not be denied. As I mentioned above, he absolutely relishes a fight.
My concerns are that he does get a little aggressive early in races and sometimes seems to be looking for a horse to battle the whole way around the track. That can be taxing physically and mentally, especially going 1 ¼ miles in what will be his fifth career race. Jockey John Velazquez said he’s “still green” after the Louisiana Derby, so he’s got some maturing to do before the big one.
Running style: Noble Indy showed speed in his first two starts and appeared to be taken off his game a bit when rated in third (dropping to fifth at one point between horses) in the Risen Star. He looked more comfortable pressing the pace in the Louisiana Derby with the addition of blinkers, and I expect he’ll be asked to use his natural speed to gain position early in the Kentucky Derby very close to the pace.
Connections: Co-owner WinStar Farm is loaded for this year’s Kentucky Derby as part owner of Noble Indy, Holy Bull Stakes winner Audible, Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby victor Quip, and unbeaten buzz horse Justify, who is scheduled to make his stakes debut in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
Owned and co-founded by Kenny Troutt, WinStar Farm boasts a résumé of success in Triple Crown races: WinStar homebred Super Saver won the 2010 Kentucky Derby; Drosselmeyer won the 2010 Belmont Stakes; WinStar owned in partnership 2016 Belmont Stakes winner Creator; and WinStar bred 2003 dual classic winner Funny Cide. WinStar won the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner in 2010 and outstanding breeder in 2016.
Mike Repole’s Repole Stable is the co-owner of Noble Indy. Repole made his fortune when he sold his company Glaceau, maker of Vitaminwater and Smartwater, to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion in May 2007. Repole is best known in Thoroughbred racing as the owner of brilliant champion Uncle Mo and 2011 Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty, who ran second that year in the Belmont Stakes.
Pletcher is a seven-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer. The former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has amassed 658 graded stakes victories from 1,218 total stakes wins through March 26. Pletcher picked up his second victory in the Kentucky Derby in 2017 with Always Dreaming. He also won the race in 2010 with Super Saver. Pletcher has won the Belmont Stakes three times (Tapwrit, 2017; Palace Malice, 2013; Rags to Riches, 2007).
Jockey John Velazquez won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in both 2004 and 2005 and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. His owns four victories in U.S. Triple Crown races to date, winning the Kentucky Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom and last year with Always Dreaming and the Belmont Stakes in 2007 on Rags to Riches and 2012 with Union Rags. Velazquez has won 180 Grade 1 races in his career from 630 career graded stakes wins.
Pletcher is the all-time leading trainer in North America with $354,850,121 in purse earnings, while Velazquez leads all North American riders with $381,026,352 through March 27.
Pedigree: From his races to date, it does not appear that stamina will be an issue for Noble Indy, but there are a few reasons for mild concern when digging into his pedigree.
Sire (father) Take Charge Indy, a son of 1992 Horse of the Year and Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, was a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles as a 3-year-old and is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, making him a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire) to 2013 Travers Stakes winner and champion Will Take Charge. But as a sire, he remains relatively unproven, although with seven stakes winners from his first crop, he’s off to a good start.
It is on the bottom half of this pedigree where my concerns arise. Noble Indy’s dam, Noble Maz, by Storm Boot, was a multiple stakes winner at five-eighths of a mile who never won a race longer than 6 ½ furlongs. Her lone try in a route was a 10th-place finish, beaten by 17 ¾ lengths, in a 1 1/16-mile turf race at Penn National.
Noble Indy’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Illusive Note, by Dixieland Band, was unraced as was his third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Niner’s Gal, by Forty Niner. It is not until you go back four generations that you find any stakes success beyond Noble Indy and Noble Maz.
There is a very good chance stamina will not be an issue, but I just can’t look at Noble Indy’s pedigree and rubberstamp him a 1 ¼-mile horse with my concerns about the bottom half. He’s been so keen early in his races that burning all of that energy early could be problem if he needs it for the final eighth of a mile on the first Saturday in May.