Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of 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.
Silver Prospector has been a different racehorse since making the switch from turf to dirt in October at Keeneland. Last weekend, he powered to a breakthrough victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to earn 10 points on the road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Let’s take a closer look at this exciting prospect.
Ability: A $190,000 purchase at a 2-year-olds in training auction in April, Silver Prospector finished fourth in his July debut, third in August at Saratoga, and sixth in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint in September. His top Equibase Speed Figure for his first three races was a rather uninspiring 71.
Trainer Steve Asmussen switched him to dirt Oct. 13 at Keeneland and he showed immediate improvement with a two-length victory after stalking the pace. The significant jump to a 90 Equibase Speed Figure was eye-catching.
Silver Prospector was next tested against stakes competition in the Street Sense Stakes two weeks later and held his own despite coming back on short rest and stretching out from 6 ½ furlongs to a mile. He finished third, beaten by 1 ½ lengths, after dueling for the early lead. He improved six points to a new career-top 96 Equibase Speed Figure.
Silver Prospector made his graded stakes debut in the Kentucky Jockey Club on a sealed, sloppy track against highly regarded Tiz the Law as well as South Bend and Fighting Seabee, who finished in front of him in the Street Sense Stakes.
Silver Prospector rated nicely off the pace in sixth, 3 ½ length behind the leader, after the first half-mile. He rallied past pacesetter New Eagle and Tiz the Law in the stretch and edged away before holding off late-rallying Finnick the Fierce by three-quarters of a length.
The 87 Equibase Speed Figure came back a bit light as did the 81 Beyer Speed Figure, but Silver Prospector proved he could handle an off (wet) track and showed encouraging tenacity late. He also responded kindly to jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
“He was able to relax behind horses today and was really comfortable the entire trip.” Santana said. “He showed a lot of strength being able to kick that hard in the stretch.”
It’s hard to knock Silver Prospector’s three starts on the main track as his only defeat came on short rest and resulted in his best speed figure. He also seems to be maturing mentally as Asmussen pointed to Silver Prospector learning to relax early as a key to his Kentucky Jockey Club win. But it also is tough to move him into the top tier of 2020 Derby hopefuls given how slow the Kentucky Jockey Club looks on paper.
Running style: A quick glance at the past performances for Silver Prospector could lead to confusion regarding his preferred running style. However, the comments from his connections after winning from off the pace in the Kentucky Jockey Club paint a clearer picture. Both trainer and jockey were encouraged that he rated comfortably off the pace and was able to conserve his energy for the stretch. Look for them to employ similar tactics in his next start.
Connections: Silver Prospector is the first graded stakes winner for Ed and Susie Orr, who also have raced stakes winners Boldor and Zipp on By.
Ed Orr hails from a family of ranchers and has enjoyed success as a cattleman, real estate farm broker, and land developer in Colorado. He founded Orr Land Company in Greeley, Colo.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen ranks second all time among North American trainers with 8,684 victories through Dec. 2. He also ranks second by purse earnings with more than $322.4 million. Asmussen won the Preakness Stakes in 2007 with Curlin and 2009 with Rachel Alexandra, and in 2016 he won the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets with Creator. A two-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer, Asmussen also trained 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner and in 2019 won multiple Grade 1 races with Mitole and Midnight Bisou. Asmussen has finished second twice in the Kentucky Derby.
Ricardo Santana Jr. has ridden Silver Prospector in each of his six races and rides regularly for Asmussen. He won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint for Asmussen Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park with Mitole. Santana’s first Grade 1 win came for Asmussen aboard Creator in the 2016 Arkansas Derby. Santana’s best finish in a Triple Crown race was a third in the 2018 Preakness on Tenfold. Santana established a new benchmark for purse earnings in a season in 2019 with $15.9 million and counting.
Pedigree: Silver Prospector is from the fourth crop of European multiple Group 1 winner Declaration of War, who finished third in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic and has gotten off to a nice start at stud with 2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup winner Vow and Declare and French classic winner Olmedo to his credit.
Declaration of War also has had several top U.S. runners in Grade 1 winner Decorated Invader and graded stakes winners Peace Achieved, Speed Franco, and Opry. Most of his success to date as a sire has come with turf runners, so it made sense to try Silver Prospector on the grass first. But like Declaration of War’s sire, War Front — sire of 2019 star 3-year-olds War of Will (Preakness winner) and Omaha Beach (Arkansas Derby winner) — there could be significant potential on the main track as well.
Multiple stakes-placed winner Tap Softly, by Tapit, is the dam (mother) of Silver Prospector. Tap Softly won six of 24 career starts at distances ranging from five-eighths of a mile to 1 1/16 miles. She placed twice in stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, was a winner on both turf and dirt, and finished in the top three 15 times.
Silver Prospector’s grandam (maternal grandmother) is Grade 2 winner and stakes producer Silentlea, by Cherokee Run, while third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Lea Carter, by Dr. Carter, was a multiple stakes-winning sprinter on the dirt.
I’ll admit I’m skeptical of Silver Prospector at this point because his breakthrough win came on a sloppy track and he did not run very fast in victory from a speed-figure standpoint. He is improving and maturing, however, and it looks like he’s found a home on dirt.