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.
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset and the owners of Quip bypassed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in favor of targeting the Preakness Stakes with additional rest and, logically, less stress on the racehorse. Did they worry that Quip was not good enough to compete with the best of the best on Kentucky Derby day? Or, did they think it was simply too much too soon coming back on three weeks rest after the Arkansas Derby and it would jeopardize his chances to have a long, successful 3-year-old campaign with so many great races in the summer and fall. Based on the quotes from the Quip camp after the Arkansas Derby, it sounds like the latter as there were no Derby-or-bust quotes and the patient approach seemed to be appealing.
Ability: Quip made his career debut in September 2017 at Churchill Downs in a three-quarter-mile sprint and outdueled heavy favorite Crosswalk to prevail by a head at 11.50-1 odds. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in October at Keeneland, Quip led from start to finish in a visually impressive 6 ½-length runaway victory. He earned a 90 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and a 93 for his second start, showing signs of promise from the very beginning.
Quip made his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill on Nov. 25. After being on or near the lead in his first two starts, he raced in fifth early in the 14-horse field and faded late after he was steadied in traffic on the final turn. Quip finished seventh of 14 and regressed to an 81 Equibase Speed Figure, but that race might have been just the learning experience Quip and his connections needed.
“I think that was a case that if you had run the race 10 times there would have been 10 different winners,” Brisset told Jeff Lowe for a feature story in April. “Everything went wrong for us from the get-go. I over-thought the race and put too much focus on there being a lot of speed in the race on paper. If had a chance to do it over, maybe we would have changed our approach, but that was last year and these were still green 2-year-olds. We have a different horse this year as he has matured.”
The Kentucky Jockey Club also probably was much better than it looked on paper at the time.
Since Nov. 25, each of the top eight finishers in the Kentucky Jockey Club has subsequently either won a stakes race or placed in a graded stakes. In fact, 12 of the 14 runners fit those criteria, with four subsequently winning graded stakes and two winning multiple stakes races.
After the Kentucky Jockey Club, Quip received a nice freshening. He returned on March 10, 2018, for his season debut in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and pressed the pace from second early before seizing command in the stretch and edging away to a one-length win at 19.10-1 odds. Quip earned a then-career-best 97 Equibase Speed Figure and his Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form (94) and Brisnet Speed Figure (98) both established new benchmarks as well.
After originally targeting the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 7, Quip was rerouted to the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 14 when Justify, who shares two owners with Quip, was pointed to the Santa Anita Derby rather than the Arkansas Derby.
At Oaklawn Park, Quip settled in just behind pacesetter Magnum Moon through an easy half-mile in :48.60. He could not match strides with Magnum Moon in the stretch and fought bravely to fend off three opponents for second in the 1 1/8-mile race.
According to Equibase, Daily Racing Form, and Brisnet, Quip’s Arkansas Derby was very similar to his Tampa Bay Derby win. Equibase rated it a two-point improvement to a new career top of 99, which his Beyer Speed Figure dipped two points and his Brisnet number dropped three points.
With five weeks of rest, Quip is eligible to take a step forward in the Preakness Stakes on May 19, and he will need to improve to compete with Kentucky Derby winner Justify and runner-up (and 2017 champion 2-year-old male) Good Magic, both of whom to this point have run significantly faster than Quip.
Running style: Quip has won from just off the pace and also has won by leading from start to finish, in both scenarios using his tactical speed to place himself in an ideal position depending upon pace. If no challenger in the Preakness wants to take the lead, Quip could easily find himself in front, which might be the best option if the expected rain turns the Pimlico main track to slop. He also could race just off the pace if another challenger is intent on taking the lead. The main concern is that Derby winner Justify essentially has the same running style as Quip and, on paper, appears to be faster. Justify also is proven on a sloppy track having won in a quagmire on Derby day.
Connections: Quip is owned by the partnership of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing.
Kentucky Derby winner Justify is owned by a partnership that includes two of the same owners – WinStar Farm and China Horse Club – along with Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing. The exact same group also races Xpressbet Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Audible.
Owned and co-founded by Kenny Troutt, WinStar Farm won the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner in 2010 and outstanding breeder in 2016. WinStar homebred Super Saver prevailed in the 2010 Kentucky Derby and Drosselmeyer won the 2010 Belmont Stakes. WinStar also owned 2016 Belmont Stakes winner Creator in partnership and bred 2003 dual classic winner and champion Funny Cide.
The China Horse Club was founded by Teo Ah Khing, the architect who designed Meydan racecourse in Dubai. SF (Soros Fund) Bloodstock is a bloodstock and racing operation founded by Gavin Murphy and operated by Murphy, Tom Ryan, and Henry Field.
An assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott for more than 10 years before venturing out on his own in April 2017, Rodolphe Brisset earned his first career stakes victory when Quip won the Tampa Bay Derby. The native of France previously was a jockey in his home country before deciding to focus on training.
“One of the main things I learned was to sometimes back up and see the bigger picture,” Brisset told America’s Best Racing in April when asked what he learned from Mott. “It makes you make better choices.”
Best known as the regular rider for 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, Florent Geroux has ranked in the top 10 among North American riders by purse earnings in each of the last two seasons while establishing himself as an elite jockey. His best finish in a U.S. Triple Crown race came when third with Gun Runner in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. He was 17th aboard Noble Indy in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Pedigree: Quip is by multiple graded stakes winner Distorted Humor, a sprinter-miler best in one-turn races who could capably stretch out in distance as well as evidenced by his runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes at 1 1/8 miles in 1997.
As a sire, Distorted Humor has a terrific track record of success with 66 group or graded stakes winners from 152 stakes winners in 17 crops of racing age. While speed is definitely an asset Distorted Humor passes along to his progeny, many of his best runners have shown the ability to carry that trait a long way, including dual classic winner and champion Funny Cide; Drosselmeyer, winner of the 2010 Belmont Stakes and 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic; two-time Whitney Handicap victor Commentator; and 2005 Travers Stakes winner Flower Alley.
Quip is out of the Indian Charlie mare Princess Ash, who raced exclusively in sprints in seven lifetime starts. Princess Ash is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2013 Wood Memorial Stakes runner-up Normandy Invasion.
It’s a pedigree that would have been a little short on stamina for me for the Kentucky Derby, but I do think Quip can carry his speed an extra sixteenth of a mile from the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby to the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.
If it seems like I have not been especially optimistic about Quip’s chances, it is only because of the presence of Justify, who has been dazzling in four career starts and has a running style that has typically been very successful in the Preakness for Kentucky Derby winners. In fact, I think Quip has a great shot to finish second in the Preakness and, if lightly raced Justify takes a step back on short rest, Quip could be the prime beneficiary. In his third start of the year, Quip should be ready to deliver a career-best race and I also think he’ll really relish a wet track.