Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin presents his Derby Dozen this week with a look at his leading contenders for the 145th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4.
Last Saturday saw a major shakeup of the Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard based on results from the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct, and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course.
This Saturday, April 13, the final two qualifying points preps for Derby 145 will be held. The $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park distributes points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale, and the Grade 3, $200,000 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland offers points to the top four on a 20-8-4-2 scale.
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1. Omaha Beach
His exceptional works continued with a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 3/5, fastest of 18 works at the distance, followed by a strong six-furlong gallop-out. Mike Smith, watching the work, was so impressed he told trainer Richard Mandella, “That was my work of the meet.” It is apparent Smith is very high on this colt, but he will have to deliver in the April 13 Arkansas Derby to prevent Smith from jumping ship to Roadster. Realistically, he is heading into the toughest prep of the meet, and all he needs to do is run his race, look strong at the end, and not lose ground in the final furlong. In his last two starts he paired up his career-high Thoro-Graph number and now needs only to move forward a little more and not regress to put him in position to fire his best shot at Churchill Downs. As owner Rick Porter said, “He’s betting better and better and Dick is on cloud nine.” For now, that is good enough for me.
2. Win Win Win
Sometimes it’s good to go against the crowd. This colt is ranked 16th in the latest NTRA poll. Yes, this is a bold move, but in a year so wide open and with so many question marks and not having a clue where to rank these horses, sometimes you just go with your gut and lean toward a horse you have always liked and who you’ve stuck with all year. On the logical side, unlike many of the others he has already run in a 14-horse field and showed he can handle traffic and recover from adversity. I have no idea how he managed to get up for second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, but that final closing burst bought his ticket to Louisville. If only this colt for once could have an uneventful start and use his exceptional speed. This is a horse with sprinter’s speed who has been forced to run like Silky Sullivan. And who knows what would have happened if he didn’t have to steady at the five-sixteenths pole in the Blue Grass and lose all momentum at a crucial point. As it is, he recovered, was forced seven to eight wide and still came home his final eighth in :12 2/5, by far the fastest of any horse in the race, including the winner Vekoma, who had a perfect stalking trip. The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby form also was boosted when Tacitus won the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets. And it must be noted that in six of the seven dirt races on the April 6 Keeneland card, the winner was running first or second, no more than a half-length off the lead and on the inside part of the track. In the other dirt race the winner came from two lengths back. Win Win Win had to come from 13th and rally extremely wide over an apparent speed-favoring track. He was really rolling around the turn, slicing through the big field, when he ran right up on the heels of a pair of retreating longshots. Irad Ortiz Jr. no doubt expected to go around them, but another horse moved up outside him and blocked his escape route, which forced Ortiz to step on the brake and then have to put him in gear again. What bodes well for the Derby is we know he has speed and has several gears and has the capability of winning from anywhere on the track. And having five Kentucky Derby winners and four Belmont Stakes winners in your pedigree doesn’t hurt.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a crapshoot and these rankings are interchangeable with very little separating each horse. I put him up high for the same reason I put Win Win Win up so high. He has run big in a large field and has overcome adversity. And, he is the first horse this year to win back-to-back major preps, accomplishing that while still a bit green and learning how to be a racehorse. I don’t believe we have a clue how good this horse is or how much improvement he still has in him. First, he wins the Tampa Bay Derby off a neck maiden win, only two career starts, and four-month layoff. And he did it rallying between horses, learning his first valuable lesson. Watching the Wood Memorial, I thought he had lost all chance early on after getting slammed into so hard shortly after the start it turned him sideways. That apparently got his blood up and he had to bull his way into the clear, shoving horses out of his way going into the first turn. If that wasn’t a good dress rehearsal for the Kentucky Derby, I never saw one. This colt has so much raw talent, just wait until he actually matures. And, yes, he still has some maturing to do, as indicated from the way he loses a bit of focus once he makes the lead, flicking his ears around. The fact that he keeps finding ways to win and is so resilient and professional before that shows how much ability he has. And he was being pushed on the turn, so you know he can sustain his run a long way. As assistant trainer Riley Mott said, “It gives you the feeling there’s more to be discovered with him.” He’s been toughened and tested and now looks ready to put it all together.
Well, he’s no secret weapon anymore, and in fact is now the favorite for the Derby on Churchill Downs’ final Future Wager pool and is ranked No. 1 on the NTRA poll. He started out last July as Bob Baffert’s next big horse and after having a breathing problem corrected and a long layoff, he could very well be right back where he started heading to Churchill. So why don’t I have him ranked higher? First off, unlike Win Win Win and Tacitus, he’s been running in five- and six-horse fields and only has four career starts, and only three horses in the past 101 years have won the Derby with four or fewer starts. Yes, Tacitus also has four starts, but has gotten far more experience out of those four starts, facing bigger fields and more obstacles. Also, if Omaha Beach wins the Arkansas Derby, Roadster likely will lose Mike Smith and will have a new rider in the Kentucky Derby, and losing Mike Smith would be a big negative. If Omaha Beach disappoints and Roadster keeps Smith, then this one could very well move up the list. Roadster no doubt is very gifted and quick on his feet and his future is limitless. Many thought he would be sitting right off Instagrand in the Santa Anta Derby, but Smith took him well off the pace and then fell even farther back heading into the far turn. He looked dead in the water with way too much ground to make up, especially not being a come-from-behind horse heading into the far turn. But he closed in quickly, swung wide, and powered home like a natural closer to edge out Game Winner. This added an entirely new dimension to the colt. You have to love the continuity of his pedigree, just like the old private stables. The late Edward P. (Ned) Evans not only owned and bred his sire Quality Road, he bred his first four dams after purchasing his fifth dam. As Evans’ former farm manager Chris Baker, now the farm manager of Three Chimneys Farm, said, “This family has been winning Grade 1 stakes for over 30 years. Arthur Hancock (from Stone Farm, who bred Roadster) told me breeding Ned top and bottom is his new nick.”
5. Game Winner
I was surprised he was given such a wide trip in the Santa Anita Derby in such a small field, and it could very well have cost him the race, as he was parked wide every step of the way. But take nothing away from Roadster’s huge performance. The bottom line is that Game Winner has been beaten twice as the odds-on favorite, once failing to catch a horse and once being caught. The last thing you want to see in your final prep is to either lose ground in the stretch or get caught. But the wide trip definitely is a legitimate excuse, as was coming back in only three weeks following a hard race in the Rebel Stakes’ second division and traveling cross-country. I just don’t know what his real strength is. It’s not his speed or his closing kick or his turn of foot. He just keeps coming at you. In his last four races, however, he has beaten Gunmetal Gray and Knicks Go (who has been a huge disappointment this year) and then was beaten in his two starts this year. So perhaps we really don’t know as much about him as we thought we once did. What we do know is that he is tough, runs his heart out every time, and Baffert said he “has a lot of Silver Charm in him.” That is high praise indeed, and although he has fallen off the top spot, he is still a horse to be feared and respected.
Few if any horses have made such a dramatic ascent on the Derby trail as this colt. For a horse who was deemed so inferior that he was culled to thin out Gary and Mary Wests’ crop of 2-year-olds to rise to leading Kentucky Derby contender is something out of an old-time Hollywood flick. But here he is, a $16,000 claimer only four months ago on the threshold of Derby immortality. People still wonder how a horse with this kind of brilliance and so much quality wound up running so cheaply. The detailed explanation and the entire story behind the colt can be found below in my Knocking on the Door section. This is a horse you can easily rank No. 1 off his brilliant Xpressbet Florida Derby victory. His Thoro-Graph, Brisnet, and Beyer figures all make him the fastest horse in the Derby. I like to hold off on speed horses until I see how the Derby field shapes up and how much speed is in there. But with him I believe he can rate off the pace if he has to, and in fact could be a budding superstar. With his unusual background, he’s a hard horse to root against. The thought of him charging down the Churchill Downs stretch eyeball to eyeball with last year’s 2-year-old champion and the Wests’ more illustrious star Game Winner is the old “too Hollywood to be true” formula that was the basis for most old-time horse racing films. It is Bluegrass vs. Postman all over again (from the classic movie Kentucky).
Talk about no respect – of the voters in the NTRA poll, eight different horses received first-place votes, none of them Vekoma, despite winning the Blue Grass Stakes with authority. Even Bellafina, pointed to the Longines Kentucky Oaks, received a first-place vote. I had been reluctant to put him in the Top 12 because of his awkward way of going, between paddling badly and cocking his head, but he sure doesn’t let it affect his performance. Yes, he beat Win Win Win by open lengths, but he had a much better trip pressing the pace on a speed-favoring track. He actually had the fastest Thoro-Graph number of any 2-year-old last year, which is still the fastest number of any 3-year-old among the top 20 point leaders. And his Thoro-Graph number in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes was faster than the two horses who finished in front of him, Code of Honor and Bourbon War. And judging from his Trakus numbers in the Blue Grass, I will guess he’ll get another good number in the Blue Grass. He has never run slower than a “4 ¼” (in his debut), which makes him the fastest 3-year-old in the country on a consistent basis along with Game Winner. As for his unsightly stride, look at it this way: throughout history, we have had lessons in beauty being in the eye of the beholder. We had the Phantom of the Opera and Christine, Cyrano and Roxane, Quasimodo and Esmeralda, and The Beast and Belle. If those beauties could see beyond the deformities, we will learn to see beyond Vekoma’s unsightly action and his head cocking as long as he keeps running like he did in the Blue Grass. To those who bet him, you can be sure he looked awfully attractive opening up in the stretch. We really have no idea when or if his action will catch up to him. I remember Pine Bluff paddled his leg and he won a Preakness. Right now, all I know is that he is fast. How far he can carry his speed with the number of sprinters and speed influences in his female family we have no idea. He sure had no problem with a mile and an eighth.
If you’re in a tizzy over him dropping several places, there simply were too many good performances last week by horses who have proven themselves at 1 1/8 miles in top-class company. And he’s not even in the Kentucky Derby yet. He needs a top-three finish in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby to earn a starting berth at Churchill Downs, and in such a talent-laden field a nose could make the difference, so he needs a better trip than he got in the first division of the Rebel Stakes when he was forced to go wide all the way, much the same way Game Winner did in the Santa Anita Derby. He gets a new rider in Jose Ortiz and gets blinkers because he’s had a tendency to lose focus in the stretch, and he’s been cocking his head in his works lately. Remember, Ortiz is also the regular rider for Tacitus, so Bob Baffert better start planning his follow-up shot. But all in all he appears to be coming into the race in good shape, and a big effort will put him back up near the top. Baffert is confident he will run big and let’s not forget he is on a very strong Thoro-Graph pattern. He did get caught at 2-5 in the Rebel and even with the wide trip, many believe a 2-5 shot should never get caught in the final furlong, especially by a horse (Long Range Toddy) who was on the lead and dropped back to fifth, then came on like a fresh horse. We’ll learn a lot more on Saturday when we see if the blinkers keep him more focused. There is no doubt the raw ability is there, and he still has the biggest and smoothest stride I’ve seen this year. When he is focused, he is pure poetry to watch.
He’s another one who had to be lowered to make room for others. But I still think a lot of him and feel he is improving in leaps and bounds. And he has a lot more mileage under him than his main opponents, having already competed at a mile or farther five times, winning or placing in five stakes. The reason I lowered him as opposed to any of the others is that, while his Thoro-Graph numbers are improving, his number in the Rebel’s first division was significantly slower than those of Improbable and Game Winner due to his ground-saving trip. So it looks as if he needs to jump at least three points in the Arkansas Derby to repeat. He will be the great defender of Oaklawn Park, as he attempts to hold off the onslaught of California invaders Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Galilean, as well as Country House from the Bill Mott barn. With everything that’s happened since the Rebel he seems to have fallen a little under the radar, but a victory could actually make him the Derby favorite or no worse than second choice. This is a gorgeous horse who could become a fan favorite heading into the Derby with a victory Saturday.
Lowering this colt from No. 5 really hurt, and I have to admit, now that I have a phone betting account, I actually played him in the last two Future Wagers, figuring there is no way I’m going to get 35-1 on him on Derby Day. But this year you never know. Like with Win Win Win and Omaha Beach, I’ve been going by gut instinct with him, believing he is a very talented colt. Even with the six-week layoff to the Derby and getting caught in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, I feel strongly he needed that race badly coming off only one allowance laugher at Tampa Bay Downs in 7 ½ months. If you go into a major stakes a Fair Grounds race a little short, that long stretch can seem endless. I liked his :48 4/5 breeze in his first work back and expect trainer Todd Pletcher to give him several serious works leading up to the Derby. He now looks like Pletcher’s main hope, along with Cutting Humor, and we’ll see who John Velazquez decides to ride at Churchill Downs. It would be hard to go off this colt, who is just coming into peak form and looks to have a world of ability. He is lightly raced and will have only two starts in the last nine months and a six-week layoff going into the Derby, so, as I said, keep a close eye on his works. If I like what I see, he could very well creep his way back toward the top.
This gelding is obviously the best claim of his crop other than Maximum Security, and was claimed from Bill Mott and Claiborne Farm no less. I love that he was able to lay seven lengths off the pace in the Wood Memorial, put in a strong run and then go toe-to-toe with Tacitus, hanging tough despite being crowded late by the winner, while finishing nearly three lengths ahead of the late-running Haikal. He has three straight mile and an eighth races under him. I didn’t put him in the Top 12 after his Withers Stakes win because it was a three-horse photo with horses of unknown quality, the runner-up seemed to be coming back at him at the wire, and his Thoro-Graph number regressed three points off his third-place finish in last year’s Remsen Stakes. But I am now sold on him. Despite coming into the Wood a fresh horse off a two-month layoff and several very fast works over the deep Belmont Park training track, he never was headstrong and was content to sit way behind the battling leaders. Unlike Jason Servis with Maximum Security, Mott went to the claiming well once too often, getting away with it for $30,000 and then losing him for $50,000. The reason he is a number of places below Tacitus is because the winner had a far worse trip early, but I loved the way he ran, even getting passed in the stretch, which I usually frown upon. We now know he is versatile and doesn’t need to be close to the pace, and with his stamina-laden pedigree it makes him a legitimate contender who comes into the Derby with a great foundation under him. Unlike many of the others, there is absolutely, unequivocally no question he will relish the mile and a quarter. Too bad Churchill dropped him from the Future Wager field; he is a live longshot.
12. By My Standards
The Louisiana Derby winner is another who had to be reluctantly lowered and probably will be forgotten come Derby Day. When you have six weeks off before the big race it’s natural for him to be out of sight, out of mind. Although it looked as if the Kentucky Derby’s added distance shouldn’t be a problem, his pedigree still raises questions. But like several of the others, he is improving at the right time. However, he still has a ways to go. Although he improved his Thoro-Graph number three points off his maiden score, he still has to improve at least another three points to be competitive with the top horses, and he has to do it in the Derby off a six-week layoff. He is by a young stallion, so we can’t say Goldencents, who was a sprinter/miler for most of his career, can’t sire a classic horse. We just don’t know, and when trying to assess these Derby horses who are so close together, you have to go by something, and Goldencents’ sire, Into Mischief, also is a question mark over a distance of ground. They said Distorted Humor, Elusive Quality, and Boundary were not classic sires, so we’ll just have to wait and see. All we can go by right now is the way he came off an impressive maiden victory and won the Louisiana Derby. But now he has to step it up a notch, perhaps a few notches.
Knocking On the Door
Getting back to the NTRA poll, eight horses received first-place votes – none of them the Blue Grass or Louisiana Derby winner – which shows you what a crazy, wide-open year this has been. We’re even going to have two former claimers and a maiden in the field, and all three have good credentials, finishing first or second in 100-point stakes.
There are some very live horses knocking on the door, including Anothertwistafate, who I had to drop because he is currently at No. 23 on the points leaderboard. So the Sunland Park Derby runner-up likely will have to run in Saturday’s Stonestreet Lexington Stakes to try to pick up the needed points. A victory there and he could easily make his way back on. Having run six weeks before the Derby, that probably is a good spot for him anyway even if he didn’t need the points. But, as mentioned last week, it could negate the altitude angle. If there is such a thing, you want to use it in the Kentucky Derby as Mine That Bird did, not in the Lexington. I do love that he is still training at Sunland Park and blazed a half-mile in a bullet :46 4/5.
Two other very live Derby horses who will run in the Arkansas Derby looking for an upset or at least a second-place finish are Galilean and Country House, who I wrote about last week. Country House has some flexibility with 30 points and in the No. 24 spot. But Galilean, with only 7 ½ points, definitely needs a first or second-place finish. Jockey Flavien Prat was thrilled with his six-furlong work in 1:14 3/5 and he now looks to be trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s last shot at getting in the Derby with Instagrand likely going back to shorter distances. Galilean was in the Top 12 for a number of weeks and he should be ready for a much-improved performance with a better trip than he got in the Rebel Stakes. I still believe this is a very talented horse.
As for Country House, hats off to Bill Mott for running him back in three weeks and then another three weeks to the Kentucky Derby. That is as old-school as you’re going to get these days. Yes he’s doing it partly because of the points and the $1 million purse, although he could have taken his chances with 30 points, but he has no reservations about doing it with this particular colt.
Assistant trainer Riley Mott said, “With another type of horse we would probably just let it be, but we feel he is a true mile and a quarter type of horse that could certainly be right in the mix in the final eighth if he gets the right set up, so this is why we would like to get him into the field. Another reason to run him back in Arkansas is because we feel he’s a sort of a throwback type of horse that just gets better the more you do with him. He’s a big, hardy type of horse that’s very tough physically and mentally so he should improve the more he runs.” Yep, that’s old school all right. And a very interesting tout for Country House as a Derby horse.
Speaking of points, sitting at No. 20 on the leaderboard right now is Bourbon War, who is another trying to get in the race and also could be a live longshot, as his Florida Derby fourth was a lot better than it looks on paper, and he does have a big turn of foot he can use on the far turn or in the stretch. In the Florida Derby he definitely was hurt by the slow early pace and rapid final three furlongs. I can see him rebounding in the Kentucky Derby.
Going into the Wood Memorial, I was looking to see if Haikal was just a one-turn closer because of his pedigree and his come-from-the-clouds running style. Well, he wound up finishing third, but he ran like a two-turn closer, so I actually feel better about him now as a Derby horse. He didn’t have than same late burst he’s shown in his other races and maybe that final furlong did get to him. But he showed that he does belong in the Kentucky Derby.
Also, it was good to see Signalman rebound off his poor effort in the Fountain of Youth, just getting nipped on the wire for second in the Blue Grass. He always seems to find himself on the inside and Saturday was no different. He is a one-paced grinder and does have to show a little more punch in the stretch, but he is a big long-striding horse and the mile and a quarter should suit him well, especially over a track on which he scored his biggest victory (in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes).
As promised last week, here is the story behind Maximum Security. First off, his sire New Year’s Day wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire, so Gary West told his longtime racing manager and bloodstock agent Ben Glass to sell the stallion and find a farm who would buy half-interest. Although the asking price was cheap, no one wanted to stand him. Finally, a syndicate from South America bought him and sent him to Brazil. Maximum Security’s dam, Lil Indy, had sold for a meager $2,200 as a yearling before being purchased by Glass for $80,000 in foal to Pioneerof the Nile. The resulting foal finished out of the money in all five of her starts. Lil Indy’s third foal, a full brother to Maximum Security, ran for $7,500 to $10,000 claiming races and finished out of the money in six of his final seven races.
Maximum Security was a late foal, born May 15, and his knees didn’t close (the bones didn’t fuse together). West, with over 100 horses, needed to get rid of those who didn’t measure up, and this colt, physically and family-wise, certainly didn’t measure up. They decided to wait until July for his knees to close so they could eventually run him for a claiming tag. They sent him to Jason Servis along with several other maidens they needed to cull and told him to move them along. But this colt immediately came down with sore shins, so they had to wait for him to get healthy.
The colt hadn’t shown anything on the farm or at the track in the morning, so when Servis told Glass he wasn’t working that well, Glass said to just put him in for $16,000. However, once he got over his shin problems and was ready to run, Servis noticed something about him and told Glass, “You know, this horse may better than we think. Maybe we should run him for $40,000.” But then there were these points to consider: 1) having just practically given his sire away because no one wanted him; 2) having just sold his dam for a meager $11,000 after having paid $80,000 for her and seeing her go off to Korea; 3) having seen his sister, Lily of the Nile, sell at the sale as a 4-year-old for a paltry $3,000; and 4) with his siblings having done nothing on the track, the Wests decided to stick with the original plan to run for a $16,000 claiming tag, figuring people would see he’s a homebred with a dismal family history and assume they were just trying to get rid of a crooked horse.
Even though Maximum Security surprised everyone by romping by 9 ¾ lengths, with no one claiming him, the following month Lily of the Nile sold again, this time for only $5,000. Now, three months later, here is that one-time reject, a winner of the Grade 1 Florida Derby, a winner of all four of his starts by an average margin of 9 ½ lengths, and one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby, and somewhere out there, someone has his dam for $11,000 and his half-sister by Pioneerof the Nile for $5,000.
As Ben Glass said, “I honestly don’t have the answers. All of a sudden this colt woke up. You just never know in this game. When you have over 100 horses you have to move some of them along. Dr. David Lambert once told me a horse’s heart develops by racing and putting stress on it because it isn’t fully developed before they run. Sometimes you can’t tell about a horse until they test out their heart. We don’t even know yet if he’s just a horse for course or if he’s this good. It was totally different with Game Winner. The first time we breezed him I sent a text to Gary, saying, “We just breezed the next Gun Runner (another son of Candy Ride).”
Don’t forget about Plus Que Parfait and Gray Magician in the Derby discussion, both coming off superb performances in the March 30 United Emirates Derby. With them it’s all about whether they can recover from the trip to and from Dubai and having a hard race., and then improving their U.S. form. Plus Que Parfait is another horse who is guaranteed to love the mile and a quarter, even though he already showed that winning at 1 3/16 miles. His sire Point of Entry won several mile-and-a-half races and is inbred to class/stamina specialist His Majesty through his son, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, and his daughter Andover Way, the dam of distance-loving Dynaformer. Plus Que Parfait’s female family is inundated with stamina. Gray Magician’s pedigree has more question marks, but with the amount of ground he lost in the UAE Derby, it is safe to assume the 1 ¼ miles will be no problem.
With the Derby trail so wide open and the battle for points so intense and the possibility of several top horses getting left out, you can expect some disgruntled trainers and owners if two of the spots are occupied by foreign-trained horses. We already know that the Japanese-trained and bred Master Fencer is heading to Louisville after finishing second in the nine-furlong Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama. The 16 points he earned makes him the point leader of the Japanese nominated horses. Master Fencer was back in last early and was under the whip a long way out. He did demonstrate of a good turn of foot to circle the field, sweeping by everyone around the turn, only to get hung very wide at the head of the stretch. He continued on strongly but was outrun by the victorious Der Flug to be beaten 1 ½ lengths. The extremely tight turns might have hurt him in this race as he tried to corner while running so wide, but could help him make the transition to American racing. The race, however, was on a right-handed track, so he also will have to make that transition.
Master Fencer is by Sunday Silence’s grandson Just A Way, out of a Deputy Minister mare. His second dam is by Broad Brush and his third dam is by Chief’s Crown, so there are plenty of U.S.-bred horses in his pedigree.
The other spot we won’t know about until we see how the Aidan O’Brien-trained U S S Michigan and Antilles, both sons of War Front, do in the April 11 Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes over a mile on the Polytrack surface at Chelmsford. U S S Michigan is coming off a victory at Dundalk going six furlongs, while Antilles won his last start at Naas going seven furlongs.
We’re still waiting for Sunland Park Derby winner Cutting Humor to return to the worktab (This was sent in before the works on April 9). It’s been more than two weeks, so we’ll see when he shows up. If John Velazquez decides to go with Spinoff he will need a new rider.
We’ll also wait to see when Shug McGaughey decides to send Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Code of Honor to Kentucky. He works beautifully at Payson Park, but I want to see how he handles Churchill Downs. He is another who gets a pass in the Florida Derby (he finished third) because of the pace scenario, but I would have liked to have seen him make a little more of an impact with the ground-saving trip he had. He still needs to learn how to keep a straight course in the stretch, which he does in his works. I don’t know whether he’s getting a bit tired or loses focus at the end of his races. He did seem to pull himself up in the Fountain of Youth, so he is another who is still a work in progress and has to get it all together, and now.
It’s too early to tell how good this crop is. These horses are not fast if you go by all the speed ratings, but it does seem to be a very deep crop with a number of live longshots outside the Top 12 and in the mutual field in the Future Wager. Everything will finally come into focus after Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, which will have a major impact on the Kentucky Derby picture.