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 or two ago.
For the inaugural edition of this column leading up to the 2020 Kentucky Derby, this week the main focus is the last two weeks. With the action on the Derby trail just beginning to warm up, this column subsequently will appear regularly in early 2020 to analyze the biggest movers approaching the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The first edition of this blog essentially is a ranking of the three winners of the Derby points races held over the last two weekends, and I slotted Thousand Words into the top spot with little hesitation. I get that there are some pedigree concerns because his dam (mother) was a graded stakes-winning sprinter and because he faced only three horses in winning the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 7. Those are fair critiques. But as I outlined in this week’s Making the Grade profile, Thousand Words has shown both talent and tenacity in his two starts. He recorded a 105 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and a 104 for the Los Alamitos Futurity, battling back gamely in the latter after he was headed in the stretch by TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or. The 91 Beyer Speed Figure and 95 BrisNet rating also were encouraging signs for the Pioneerof the Nile colt trained by two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert. While dam Pomeroys Pistol was a sprinter, she was a damn good racehorse and there are enough stamina influences in this pedigree to be optimistic about his chances as the races get longer. With only two starts, Thousand Words has a ton of potential and his willingness to respond to his jockey during his races indicates he has a good mind.
While Kentucky Jockey Club winner Silver Prospector has made six starts, like Thousand Words it seems like there is untapped potential in him. His first three largely forgettable starts came on the grass and the Declaration of War colt has flashing significantly more ability in three subsequent starts on the main track. He followed a maiden win at Keeneland with a third-place finish in the Street Sense Stakes before winning the Nov. 30 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by three-quarters of a length Nov. 30. Neither the 87 Equibase Speed Figure nor the 81 Beyer Speed Figure for the Kentucky Jockey Club was especially inspiring, but the race was his first try around two turns and on an “off” (sloppy) track. He beat several nice 2-year-olds and appears to be maturing nicely both physically and mentally. He needs to get faster, but Silver Prospector did post a 96 Equibase Speed Figure for the Street Sense Stakes and should be able to handle added distance under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
While I placed Shotski third on this list, I wouldn’t say that I’m unenthusiastic about his long-term potential. I am, however, skeptical of the quality of competition he faced when winning the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes Dec. 7. Only two of the nine horses entered off wins and those two horses ran last and second-to-last in the Remsen. Shotski entered the race off a fourth-place finish, three-quarters of a length behind the aforementioned Silver Prospector, in the Street Sense Stakes and employed different, front-running tactics to win the Remsen by a half-length from Ajaaweed. He’s earned a 95 and 97 Equibase Speed Figure for his two most recent starts, and the 98 BrisNet rating for the Remsen also was encouraging. By Blame out of a Bluegrass Cat mare who also produced multiple Grade 3-place Colonist, Shotski has a very good chance to improve with added distance. He’s been overlooked in each of his four starts, never going off at less than 8.80-1 odds, and perhaps I’m doing the same here. I just want to see him duplicate the Remsen victory and overcome a little more adversity than he did in setting an uncontested pace through an easy half-mile in :50.08 that day at Aqueduct.
Honorable Mentions: The result of the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was shocking with Storm the Court winning at 45.90-1, Anneau d’Or running second at 28-1, and Wrecking Crew checking in third at 39.10-1. A race like that makes it tough to decide whether to take the result seriously or toss it. So Anneau d’Or coming back and running a credible second by a neck to Thousand Words in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity while essentially pairing his Equibase Speed Figure (106-104) provided a bit of welcome clarity. Anneau d’Or looks like a quality 2-year-old with a pair of seconds (by a head and a neck) against top competition in two-turn graded stakes. He’s a half-length from being in the conversation for champion 2-year-old male. … A colt who caught my eye last weekend was Azul Coast. He made his career debut Dec. 8 at Los Alamitos as the only first-time starter in a field of seven. He was carried very wide on the first turn by eventual third-place finisher Jeffnjohn’sthunder on a sealed track and trailed through the first half-mile. Azul Coast rallied into contention with a sweeping six-wide bid into the stretch and pulled away to win by four lengths despite a disastrous trip. The Bob Baffert trainee earned a 91 Equibase Speed Figure that probably does not do justice to the overall performance. He’s one to put in your Equibase Virtual Stable.
1. Tiz the Law
As someone who was extremely high on Tiz the Law after his dominant win in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, I was disappointed by his third-place finish as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Nov. 30. He was only beaten by three-quarters of a length and it was his first try on an “off” (sloppy) track, so I’ll definitely give him another chance. I do not believe we saw near the best from Tiz the Law, but some of the shine did come off as he lost for the first time after a pair of dominant wins. His Equibase Speed Figure line — 97-91-86 — is also trending the wrong way, so while there is still a lot to like about Tiz the Law there also are some causes for concern. With the same owner-trainer combo that raced 2003 dual classic winner Funny Cide, his next start will no doubt be highly anticipated.
2. South Bend
The Street Sense Stakes winner was undefeated entering the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Nov. 30 but weakened late as the 2.60-1 second choice and faded to finish sixth, beaten by 4 ¾ lengths by Silver Prospector. Like Tiz the Law, South Bend encountered a sloppy track for the first time in the Kentucky Jockey Club and disappointed. I would have liked to have seen more fight late from South Bend, but given it was his first try navigating two turns and it came an “off” track, I’m inclined to forgive this performance and expect a race more in line with the 99 Equibase Speed Figure he earned while winning the Street Sense. There is some stamina on the bottom half of his pedigree and the talent is there, so while the unblemished record is gone South Bend’s potential remains.
Maxfield missed the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with what was diagnosed at the time as a foot bruise. He would have been my pick for that race coming off a visually impressive 5 ½-length runaway victory in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity. A subsequent veterinary evaluation revealed a more serious issue, and the 2-year-old by Street Sense will be sidelined for a few months after undergoing surgery to remove a chip in his ankle. While this injury is not career threatening and he is expected to be back in time to test his talents on the Triple Crown trail, every surgery brings with it some risk. Sometimes the rest of the class catches up with a precocious type. Sometimes the recovery process takes longer than expected or it’s more difficult to get a horse in ideal condition for his return. The hope is that this is just a minor setback, but I added him here in the third spot because there just is no guarantee Maxfield will return and look as good as he did in the Breeders’ Futurity after missing key development time.