Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 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.
Gray Attempt posted his second straight stakes victory and earned his first points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby on Jan. 25 with a front-running win in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. After back-to-back triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures, let’s take a closer look at this exciting 3-year-old prospect.
Ability: A $50,000 purchase as a yearling in 2017, Gray Attempt has already earned more than triple his auction price on the racetrack in four starts. The gray or roan colt ran fourth by three lengths in his career debut on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs on the Breeders’ Cup Friday card. Twenty-three days later, Gray Attempt led from start to finish at Churchill to win a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight race by 1 ½ lengths. He improved his Equibase Speed Figure from an 82 in his debut to an impressive 95.
Trainer William H. “Jinks” Fires next tested Gray Attempt against stakes competition and he again seized command early en route to a front-running, one-length win in the three-quarter-mile Sugar Bowl Stakes on Dec. 22 at Fair Grounds.
That victory earned a 101 Equibase Speed Figure, an eye-catching 92 Beyer Speed Figure, and a strong 96 Brisnet speed rating.
The next hurdle for Gray Attempt was distance as he tried two turns and stretched out to one mile for the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Once again, Gray Attempt opened a clear lead through a fairly easy half-mile in :46.86. He turned away a bid from Boldor and fought off a late rally from Remington Springboard Mile Stakes winner Long Range Toddy to win by a neck.
Gray Attempt improved his Equibase Speed Figure by a point to a 102 while his Beyer number dipped to an 84 for the one-mile Smarty Jones. His Brisnet number dropped four points to a 92.
Gray Attempt showed determination in deep stretch of the Smarty Jones when he looked like he was tiring but fought off one challenge from the outside and another to his inside. The final quarter-mile in 25.93 seconds and eighth of a mile in 13.01 seconds do not on the surface inspire a lot of confidence when considering Gray Attempt still needs to find another quarter of a mile to be a legitimate Kentucky Derby hopeful.
But consider in his Nov. 25 win, the speedy colt was really shortening stride late, but four weeks later he looked like his foundation was much better and finished more powerfully against better competition in the Sugar Bowl.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that his second try navigating two turns — probably in the 1 1/16-mile, $500,000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18 at Oaklawn — Gray Attempt could continue to build his stamina/foundation and be even stronger late. As I explain in the pedigree section below, I’m viewing Gray Attempt cautiously as a Derby prospect, but he’s fast, game, and improving, and I think he could be a major factor in Arkansas on the 2019 Derby trail.
Running style: The Kentucky Derby is a tough race for dedicated front-runners. While Gray Attempt is not overly headstrong early, it is clear he prefers to get out in front and then impose his will on his challengers when they come calling. That style can be effective in Derby prep races but recent years have shown that horses who can rate just behind the speed are especially effective on the first Saturday in May. As a pacesetter in Derby preps or the classic races, he could be vulnerable in races where several other horses want to make the lead, setting up a taxing speed duel. That said, speed is Gray Attempt’s best weapon and so far he has utilized it very effectively. I would not expect the tactics to change until another horse shows Gray Attempt can be passed in the stretch.
Connections: Dwight Pruett purchased Gray Attempt for $50,000 at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale of selected yearlings. Pruett, 64, from Texarkana, Ark., also won the Smarty Jones in 2016 with Discreetness for his Xpress Thoroughbreds
Racing operation. Discreetness was unplaced in the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes, and Arkansas Derby.
William H. “Jinks” Fires trained Discreetness for Pruett as well as stakes winner Will Munnings. Fires, who took out his trainer’s license in 1976, has amassed 1,469 victories and 77 stakes wins through Jan. 28. He earned a Grade 1 win in the 2011 Arkansas Derby with Archarcharch, a multiple graded stakes winner who ran 15th in that year’s Kentucky Derby. Archarcharch is Fires’ lone Kentucky Derby starter to date. Jinks Fires is the brother of Racing Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has been aboard for all four of Gray Attempt’s races. Bridgmohan has amassed 3,202 wins, 262 stakes wins, and 95 graded stakes wins since taking out his jockey’s license in 1997. He finished second with Commanding Curve in the 2014 Kentucky Derby from six starters in the race. Bridgmohan has won multiple Grade 1 races with Room Service, Giant Oak, and Kodiak Kowboy.
Pedigree: Gray Attempt is from the second crop of Graydar, who like Gray Attempt utilized his high cruising speed to his advantage while winning five of six career starts. Graydar closed out his career with four straight wins, including a dazzling three-length runaway in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 1 Donn Handicap that earned a 125 Equibase Speed Figure. Lombo, from Graydar’s first crop of runners, won the 2018 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Triple Crown trail.
Graydar has four stakes winners and 81 winners from 131 starters to date.
Gray Attempt’s dam (mother), Attempt to Name, by Consolidator, was a winner at three-quarters of a mile from seven starts, while his grandam (maternal grandmother), Capacity, by Capote, was unraced. His third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Rare Opportunity, by Danzig Connection, won her first two starts in sprints before finishing third in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in May 1995. Rare Opportunity produced multiple Grade 2 winner Tower of Texas, Grade 2 winner Street Sounds, and Canadian classic winner Silver Highlight.
While I like Gray Attempt’s chances to stretch out to 1 1/16 miles or even 1 1/8 miles with the right pace scenario, I would be surprised if he’s able to carry his speed 1 ¼ miles.