A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
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 last week.
In this week’s edition, the focus is the previous two weeks races. With the action on the Derby trail percolating, this column will now appear regularly to analyze to biggest movers approaching the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard
Over the last two weeks there were a number of exciting prospects that resurfaced or took a significant leap forward outside of the Kentucky Derby points races, led by this talented Uncle Mo colt from the barn of Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. Part of the placement here, admittedly, is due to his final start of 2018 when he set the pace in the one-mile King Glorious Stakes at Los Alamitos on Dec. 16 and finished with a final quarter-mile in :23.94 to win by nine lengths. I love to see a racehorse who can run fast early and still run fast late. He made his 2019 debut on Monday in the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita Park and was a dominant 4 ½-length winner at 1-20 odds. He did not come home as fast and the Equibase Speed Figure dropped from a 111 to a 101, but the race off the layoff looked more like a maintenance workout against overmatched opposition and I was encouraged by his willingness to rate comfortably three wide until jockey Flavien Prat gave him the cue to accelerate. I’ve said before and I’ll repeat here, there have not been a ton of fast horses in this crop, so in February I’m siding with horses who have proved they can run fast. I also like some of the back class in the family as his fourth dam, (maternal great-great grandmother) Classy ’n Smart, produced Canadian Horse of the Year Dance Smartly and leading sire Smart Strike from four stakes winners with graded stakes winners also under the second and third dams. I have Galilean slotted in just behind my top five for the Derby: Improbable, War of Will, Game Winner, Hidden Scroll, and Instagrand.
I won’t go into all of the details about why I like Anothertwistafate since I did a detailed profile on the El Camino Real Derby victor on Feb. 19, but he, too, has shown the ability to set a strong pace and still finish races powerfully. Granted, his three wins have come on synthetic surfaces, but still the separation we’ve seen him get in the stretch of his last three races is atypical for races on synthetic tracks. His final eighth of a mile in 12.08 seconds in a 1 1/8-mile race gave me a goose-bumps tingle. I’m not as concerned that he lost his only start on a dirt track because it came in his career debut and he was between and behind horses in a sprint race. Lots of great horses have needed a race or two as a learning experience. I also like his pedigree – by Scat Daddy, sire of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, out of a nice Juddmonte Farms family – and his speed figures (102 Equibase, 111, Timeform US, 94 Beyer Speed Figure for El Camino Real Derby) offer reason for optimism.
3. Dream Maker
I went back and forth on this one between Dream Maker and Super Steed – two 3-year-olds who went from Derby afterthoughts to legitimate contenders over the last two weeks – and ultimately sided with the former because I think he might have the slightly higher upside. Unplaced in two Grade 1 races at 2, Dream Maker had a solid excuse in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity as he was bounced around and clipped heels right after the start, trailed the 13-horse field early, and looked very agitated on the first turn. He made a bit of a move on the final turn but the jockey took care of him when it was clear he had no shot. In his return to racing, Dream Maker stalked the pace from third in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Fair Grounds and surged clear to an 8 ½-length runaway, leveling off nicely in the stretch and finishing like a serious racehorse. He earned a new career-best 95 Equibase Speed Figure and an 89 Beyer Speed Figure for the win. Dream Maker’s pedigree also is eye-catching. He is by leading sire Tapit and a full-sibling (same dam, same sire) to Grade 1 winner Dream Dancing. Dream Maker’s grandam (maternal grandmother) is 1999 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner and champion older female Beautiful Pleasure.
Honorable Mentions: I have to start with War of Will, who was ultra-impressive in winning the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford by 2 ¼ lengths on Feb. 16 at Fair Grounds despite breaking from post-position 13. I loved what I saw, but this is a blog about big movers and I already had War of Will ranked second in my Derby Top 10, which is where he stayed. … I have to admit I thought the criticism of Super Steed’s Southwest Stakes win was a bit unfair and propelled largely by a bunch of handicappers who barely gave a second glance to a 62.30-1 longshot. While I, too, missed the boat on a 3-year-old I’d been keeping tabs on, I thought he ran very well for a trainer I really respect in Larry Jones. It was nice to see him approach the 100 Equibase Speed Figure he earned sprinting at 2 with a 99 in a 1 1/16-mile race. He should expect to continue to get more pace to set up his closing kick than he did when seventh in the Smarty Jones Stakes in January. I’m not booking a Derby future bet on him, but I think he’s a major player for the Rebel Stakes and, possibly, the Arkansas Derby. … Global Campaign improved to 2-for-2 with a 2 ¼-length win on Feb. 9 at Gulfstream Park. While the Equibase (99) and Timeform US (107) speed figures were solid, the Beyer Speed Figure (77) came up a bit light. He looked good visually and he’s got the pedigree to run all day: by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro. … Well Defined bounced back nicely to win the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes after back-to-back unplaced finishes, but as I mentioned in my Making the Grade profile on the With Distinction gelding I worry that he is a need-the-lead type with some distance limitations. … I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Alwaysmining, who won the one-mile Miracle Wood Stakes on Feb. 16 at Laurel Park by 4 ¼ lengths to run his winning streak to four, including a clear win on Dec. 29 in the Heft Stakes over highly regarded Win Win Win. … Country House closed from 11th in the Risen Star Stakes to finish second to War of Will. While he was pretty green in the stretch, it was a nice stakes debut from a 3-year-old with significant potential for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
1. Knicks Go
You know the old saying, “Fool me one, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, many were willing to forgive a disappointing effort in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to close out Knicks Go’s 2-year-old season because it was the last of six races in five months and it came on the heels of a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But after another dud in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes – fifth, beaten by 13 lengths – it’s fair for fans and bettors to want to see better from Knicks Go in order to consider him a true Derby contender. He just hasn’t looked like the same horse since the Breeders’ Cup. Let’s hope he can turn things around quickly.
2. Gray Attempt
The Graydar colt had won three straight races, including earning triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures in the Sugar Bowl Stakes in December and the Smarty Jones Stakes in January, entering the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes. In each of those three wins, Gray Attempt went right to the lead, but in the Southwest he was in close quarters inside of Jersey Agenda and ducked out entering the first turn. He subsequently made it to the front and led through three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.73, but he was pretty aggressive and offered little resistance when the challengers came calling on the second turn, fading to finish last of 11, beaten by 15 ¾ lengths. I’m still worried about his long-term chances because he does seem to be a dedicated front-runner, but I think given the incident entering the first turn he warrants another chance. That said, I’m significantly less enthused about his chances to carry his speed 1 ¼ miles now than I was a few days ago … and I wasn’t all that optimistic then.
It probably is a bit unfair placing Cutting Humor on this list given the Southwest was his stakes debut, but after back-to-back strong performances he did not deliver as the 2.20-1 favorite at Oaklawn. Plus, there were only a handful of candidates for the cooling down slots. Cutting Humor made a nice middle move into contention and was challenging for the lead when victor Super Steed swept past on his outside, which really seemed to discourage him. He retreated from there and finished seventh, beaten by 8 ¾ lengths. Cutting Humor was talented enough to post a 103 Equibase Speed Figure in his prior start, so it would be premature to give up on him, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more fight in him in the stretch of the Southwest.