Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for April 17

Improbable, Omaha Beach, and Country House (left to right) all earned enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby with their second, first, and third-place finishes in the Arkansas Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve are not quite as strong as they were a week ago.

In this week’s edition, the focus is the final points standings after last weekend’s concluding two races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.



Omaha Beach (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tie 1. Omaha Beach and Improbable

I had these two listed No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, on my Kentucky Derby rankings heading into the Arkansas Derby, so I was not surprised when the duo pulled away from the competition en route to a one-two finish in the $1 million race on April 13. I included them here because they both needed a top-tier finish to guarantee a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. It’s rare for me to have a pair that had insufficient qualifying points entering the final weekend as two of my top three Derby contenders, but I view both as serious win contenders on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Omaha Beach will be my pick to win the Kentucky Derby. I loved how he made a middle move to take command through a half-mile in 47.50 seconds and still had the stamina to finish his final three-eighths of a mile in 37.45 with a final eighth in 12.38 seconds. Omaha Beach also has a Hall of Fame trainer (Richard Mandella) and Hall of Fame jockey (Mike Smith) in his corner. Omaha Beach’s 109-110-109 Equibase Speed Figures for his last three starts are right there with the best of the 3-year-old division and offer a pretty good benchmark of what to expect on Derby day. The 101 Beyer Speed Figure Omaha Beach earned is tied for the best by a points race winner this year and the 121 TimeForm US rating is tied for the best earned in a points race. As for Improbable, he lost some ground when second by a length to Omaha Beach but did not lose any respect or status in defeat, in my estimation. He’s never run a bad race in five starts, he’s a Grade 1 winner from the barn of two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert, and the speed figures say he fits in the top group. I’m less confident in his ability to run a monster race than either Omaha Beach or Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Tacitus, but Improbable has a dominant stakes win at Churchill on his résumé and he proved in the Arkansas Derby that he can handle a sloppy track.

Coady Photography

3. Country House

I admit I had written off Country House after fourth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, which forced him to come back on three weeks rest in the Arkansas Derby in order to earn the qualifying points for a spot in the Kentucky Derby. He did just that with a third-place finish, but he was well-beaten in his final prep (6 ¾ lengths behind winner Omaha Beach) and profiles more as a fringe player in the run for the roses. That’s why I could not rank him higher even though he made a bigger jump than either of the top two; I just don’t view him as a serious win contender. As a closer, he could pass a bunch of horses in deep stretch and he should get a faster pace to set up his closing kick than he did in the Arkansas Derby. But he would need 1) a true pace meltdown with multiple top contenders winging it for the lead early; and then 2) those contenders having no fuel in the tank in deep stretch to occur in order to have a chance to post an upset victory. Stranger things have happened –  Giacomo rallied from more than 16 lengths back after a half-mile in a blistering 45.38 seconds to win the Derby in 2005 – and, most importantly, Country House has a ticket to the big dance if his connections opt to send him. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said he would “assess the situation and see if it makes sense to enter.”

Honorable Mention: It would have taken a pretty significant stroke of bad luck for Spinoff to get bumped from the Kentucky Derby last weekend, but it almost  happened. Three horses from the Arkansas Derby leapfrogged the Louisiana Derby runner-up, and had either Anothertwistafate or Sueno won the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes, Spinoff would have been sitting in Bodexpress’s position needing a defection to get in the Derby starting gate. As it sits, Spinoff is in, and his Louisiana Derby speed figures say he belongs – 95 Beyer Speed Figure, 102 Brisnet Speed Figure, and 116 TimeForm US rating, although Equibase was less optimistic with a 95 figure – but I’m worried about his pedigree for 1 ¼ miles. The fact that he had the lead in the Louisiana Derby stretch and relinquished it late bolsters my case that it is a legitimate concern.


Keeneland/Coady Photography

1. Anothertwistafate

Of all of the horses who lost out with the final two races on April 13, Anothertwistafate was probably the biggest blow to the quality of the Kentucky Derby field. The dark bay or brown Scat Daddy colt needed a victory in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes to qualify for the Derby. He came up 1 ¾ lengths short while running a creditable second. His last three starts – won the El Camino Real Derby, second in Sunland Park Derby, second in Lexington Stakes – indicate he can compete with top 3-year-olds, and the El Camino Real Derby in particular was a freaky seven-length runaway that was striking visually. He’s as fast as many of the horses who qualified and he’s pretty versatile as a runner who can set or track the pace, but Anothertwistafate would need three defections to qualify for the Kentucky Derby with 38 points. It could happen, but right now it appears unlikely and that’s a shame because I’d like his chances to finish in the top three better than quite a few horses in the field. The El Camino Real Derby win earned Anothertwistafate a guaranteed starting spot in the Preakness Stakes on May 18, which is a heck of a backup plan.

Coady Photography

2. Galilean

This Uncle Mo colt is another who is arguably talented enough to compete with the best 3-year-olds in the Kentucky Derby, but Galilean needed a top-two finish in the Arkansas Derby and ran fifth. Back-to-back dominant wins in the King Glorious Stakes and California Cup Derby in December and February, respectively, offered a glimpse of his potential. A third-place finish behind Long Range Toddy and Improbable in the first division of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 16 confirmed Galilean was capable at that class level but left him needing a big effort in his final Kentucky Derby prep to qualify. It will be interesting to see when and where Galilean shows up next. I still believe he has top-level talent and the 105 Equibase Speed Figure and 115 TimeForm US rating he earned for the Rebel support that.

3. Bodexpress

Bodexpress probably should be first on this list after it appeared he had clinched a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a runner-up finish in the Xpressbet Florida Derby, but with the way the rest of the prep races played out over the next two weeks he now needs one defection to get into the race. The 40 points he earned in the Florida Derby typically is enough, but this year left him tied with Louisiana Derby runner-up Spinoff, who has the tiebreaker with more non-restricted stakes earnings. Spinoff ranks 19th on the qualifying list for 20 spots in the Kentucky Derby starting gate so, with Master Fencer making use of a spot dedicated to the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, Bodexpress might be out of luck. I moved him down to the third spot because it seems like almost every year there is at least one Derby runner who drops out in the final couple of weeks (unusually poor workout, spikes a fever, etc.). My hunch is Bodexpress will sneak into the race. Of course, he has yet to win in five starts and the Kentucky Derby is a tough spot for a colt looking for his first career win.

Of Note: Sueno is another who needed to win his final prep race to qualify for the Derby. The Atreides colt earned a career-best 101 Equibase Speed Figure in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes on April 13 at Keeneland, but it was only good enough for a third-place finish. With 32 points, Sueno would need four defections from the current leaderboard for a spot in the Derby starting gate. That seems unlikely. … Coming off a nice win from off the pace in the first division of the Rebel Stakes on March 16, Long Range Toddy had a spot in the Kentucky Derby secured before his final prep in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 13. Racing for the first time on a sloppy track, he faded late to finish sixth, beaten by 14 ¾ lengths. I really don’t like to see a significant regression like that in a 3-year-old’s final Kentucky Derby prep – his Equibase Speed Figure dropped from 109 to 87 and his Brisnet speed figure dipped 14 points – but the Take Charge Indy colt did have a built-in excuse with the off-track and it is possible he just hated the sloppy surface. In a normal race, he’d be a definite bounce-back candidate, but the Kentucky Derby is no ordinary race.

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