Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin unveils his Derby Dozen this week with a look at his leading contenders for the 145thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4.
Feb. 9 featured the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, which offered points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale and was won by Well Defined. This holiday weekend (including President’s Day on Feb. 18) is highlighted by the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford on Feb. 16 at Fair Grounds, the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, also on Feb. 16, and the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18 at Oaklawn Park. The Southwest and El Camino Real Derby distribute Derby qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 scale, while the Risen Star ups the ante, offering valuable points to the top four horses on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
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1. Game Winner
He again swapped works with Improbable, as they have yet to work fast or slow at the same time. This week it was Game Winner who worked five furlongs in a sharp 1:00 1/5, while Improbable went a slow six furlongs in 1:15. Looking at the Thoro-Graph numbers, his final two races are faster than any figure Improbable has run, which may surprise some. Again, he is not nearly as smooth as Improbable with funky action up front, but he hasn't done anything wrong yet. He is a determined runner who is all business, keeps his head down, and is always reaching out with good extension. Although it seemed as if he was trying to get in a little bit during this workout after turning for home, with the rider making the necessary adjustments, you had to like his final quarter in :24 1/5 after breaking two lengths behind his workmate. He did jump over to his left lead inside the sixteenth pole and finished a head in front of his workmate, who actually got the better of him on the gallop-out, but seemed to be asked a bit more. As I said, he hasn't blown anyone away with his works, except perhaps his first three-furlong breeze, but if he continues to show the same versatility, adaptability, and determination he did last year, he still will be the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May.
Don't make anything out of his 1:15 six-furlong breeze. After working five-eighths in a bullet :58 2/5 last week, you like to see them slow down next time out, even if it is rare to see a top-class Bob Baffert horse work quite that slow. The last thing you want is for him to come back too fresh and sharp. The key is to have him settle and conserve his speed, especially being a son of City Zip. His three Brisnet speed figures have been 92, 99, and 100, and his Thoro-Graph numbers have also gotten faster with each start, so he keeps improving, and his Brisnet 105 late pace figure in his Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity win shows he can come home. Even though his breeze was slow, he still displayed those same huge effortless strides that cover so much ground, and he continues to do everything in a professional manner. It bodes well for him as a Derby horse that he can switch that speed on and off at will.
3. War of Will
Just when you look at his Thoro-Graph figures and see the big number he earned when winning the Lecomte Stakes and the steady improvement in all his races, then he draws post 14 in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, which could make it tough on him with his running style. But trainer Mark Casse would rather have him out there than inside, especially at Fair Grounds. He worked a half in :47 2/5, second-fastest of 135 works at the distance. Although his Thoro-Graph numbers are excellent and put him right up there with the leading contenders, his Brisnet figures are not particularly fast. Still, his late pace figures in his last two have been good, so we just have to see what he does in the Risen Star before we know for sure just where he's at. If he can win or run a huge race from that post then there is no doubt he belongs right there with the best of them. One thing we do know for sure, he'll run all day. Casse, who calls him “WOW,” said the best thing that happened to him was losing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf – otherwise his connections likely wouldn't have tried him on dirt, although he did handle it beautifully in his works. What really has impressed Casse is the colt's turn of foot for such a big horse.
Being this is the week to look at various speed figures, and the fact that this colt hasn't run yet in 2019, we'll try to get a feel for him on that level. His best Brisnet figure is a solid 99 in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but his late pace figures surprisingly are not that fast and he needs to improve his Thoro-Graph figures by a good margin. He is well behind the leading contenders and did not improve at all in his last two starts. So you can make of all that as you wish. Some will claim he simply is too slow to challenge the best at this point, but we can't judge him until he runs. With the strong foundation he has built, he won't need more than two starts. We just have to see what kind of transition he's made from 2 to 3 and if he has gotten any faster. Following his half-mile work in a razor-sharp :46 3/5, trainer Ken McPeek slowed him down with a :49 2/5 half. I still like what I've seen, especially his physical prowess and the toughness he no doubt gets from his sire General Quarters, but I still don't know what to make of his pedigree, which is a bit questionable.
5. Win Win Win
I can't believe he is 35-1 in Churchill Downs’ recent Future Wager pool. His Brisnet speed figures have climbed every race – 89, 91, 95, and 101 – which makes him one of the faster 3-year-olds. That fits with his Thoro-Graph figures, with his number in the Pasco Stakes being the second-fastest this year behind Hidden Scroll. I can't wait to see him stretch out to two turns. Also, his last two Brisnet late pace figures of 102 and 105 show he has also come home faster with every race, the last off a fairly strong middle pace figure. He still has to go two turns, and his 1:02 3/5 breeze for five-eighths at Tampa Bay Downs should take a little of the edge off after his blazing 1:20 4/5, which that should only help when he stretches out in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. I like the fact that he showed good early speed going five furlongs in his first two starts, but came from eight to 10 lengths back after moving up in distance to seven furlongs. I would think he'll probably be somewhere in between going two turns, showing good cruising speed. Both his grandsires, Sunday Silence and Smarty Jones, had tremendous cruising speed, which enabled them to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Both also overcame extreme adversity as 2-year-olds, surviving near calamitous events, and perhaps their toughness and resilience can rub off on their grandson.
6. Omaha Beach
He made a huge leap in his Thoro-Graph figures after switching from grass to dirt and improved several points from his first start against Nolo Contesto to his brilliant score in his last start at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 2. One more similar move forward and he's in Kentucky Derby-winning territory. His Brisnet figures also are climbing with every start and should get faster when he goes two turns. Until he does go two turns and faces stiffer competition than he did in his last start, he's still a gamble, not having beaten winners. But it's difficult not to be impressed with his two dirt starts and the way he demolished his field last time out in very fast time. Owner Rick Porter said in his last race he reminded him of Songbird "with that easy stride, smooth as silk." Add that to his classy pedigree, his Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella who is Derby gods material, and the way he moves over the ground and you have a colt with enormous potential. And it is that potential that has earned him such a high spot.
7. Nolo Contesto
Like with Omaha Beach, I am gambling that he is as good as he looked in that classy maiden victory back on Jan. 4, especially defeating a horse who came back and ran such a brilliant race. I only wish he could have run in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, because with only two career starts he needed that race to not only earn him points, but to get more racing experience, as he did drift out just a bit in his last start. His connections are very high on him and believe they have something special. Other than the two Bob Baffert horses out West (Game Winner and Improbable), I wouldn't be afraid to run him against any of the 3-year-olds, with the same being said for Omaha Beach. As of now, there has been no decision whether to put this horse up against one of the Baffert beasts or ship out of town, which he probably wouldn't have needed to do had he run in the Lewis. But it's time to look ahead and try to pick out the two best spots for him. As for his Thoro-Graph numbers, his figure in his maiden win was the same Omaha Beach earned in his subsequent race, so they are now dead-even and don't have much further to go to put them right up with the best of the others. But Omaha Beach does have three more starts under him.
8. Mucho Gusto
After three mediocre Thoro-Graph numbers in his first three starts, he made a significant jump in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and is now a legitimate contender, numbers-wise. What no doubt helped was his change of tactics. Not only was it encouraging the way he rated back in third, but he did it in a race in which he looked to be the only speed over a speed-favoring track. Bob Baffert having him break far behind his workmate in his last drill apparently helped teach him how to control his speed. According to his Brisnet figures he still needs to improve, but his late pace numbers are improving with every race. When this colt’s sire Mucho Macho Man was preparing for the Breeders' Cup Classic, I wrote that since his career debut at Calder Race Course he was six-for-six when he had the lead at the eighth pole and 0-for-14 when he didn't. Well, guess what, for whatever it's worth, Mucho Gusto is three-for-three when he's had the lead at the eighth pole and 0-for-1 when he didn't. As another side note, Mucho Gusto's sire Mucho Macho Man, his broodmare sire Giant's Causeway, and his maternal great-grandsire Seeking the Gold were involved in three of the most exciting finishes in Breeders' Cup Classic history.
It is difficult to know just what to make of this, but there is only one 3-year-old who has run a negative Thoro-Graph number and that is a colt who did it in his career debut, which is unheard of. Not only did Hidden Scroll run a negative-2 in his debut on Jan. 26, that is four points faster than Game Winner's best and five points faster than Improbable's best, and they are the two favorites for the Derby by a large margin. So is Hidden Scroll some kind of freak and that much faster than anyone else? Did he peak too early and where does he go from here? Can he duplicate Justify's feat of winning the Derby without having started at 2 and having only three career starts? What are the odds of something that had never been done in the history of the sport being done two years in a row? Those are the questions that will hang over Hidden Scroll's head as he moves closer to the Derby. The truth is, at this point we have no idea what we're dealing with. Bill Mott, whose specialty is older horses and grass horses, is not Bob Baffert in that he has never had a young horse like this before. You can bet he will try to harness some of Hidden Scroll’s speed and build as solid a foundation as possible if Juddmonte Farms has plans to try to make the Derby and avenge Empire Maker's defeat in 2003.
10. Global Campaign
What do you know, another lightly raced horse pops up as a heavy hitter on the Derby trail. He is now two-for-two and hasn't even raised a sweat. It was quite a sight seeing the Grade 1-placed Standard Deviation being pasted seven times with the whip nearing the top of the stretch and unable to gain an inch on Global Campaign, who was still on cruise control, as Luis Saez sat motionless on him, just as he remained the entire length of the stretch, winning under wraps in the colt's two-turn debut on Feb. 9 at Gulfstream. Then, the following day, Growth Engine, the colt he beat by nearly six lengths in his career debut, came back to break his maiden. Global Campaign is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Bolt d'Oro, who was one of the early Derby favorites last year, and to multiple stakes winner Sonic Mule. His first three dams were bred by Claiborne Farm, and second dam, Trip, was a multiple graded stakes winner who won or placed in 11 stakes. His sire and dam are both descendants of Native Dancer, who was raised and stood at Sagamore Farm, the owner of Global Campaign. He does wear front bandages, but you can make of that what you want. You'd rather not see that, but horses have won the Derby with front bandages before.
11. Dream Maker
Yes, the gambles continue, and why not this year? I couldn't care who he beat in his Fair Grounds allowance romp on Feb. 9, it was the way he did it, his athleticism, his stride, the way he seemed to bounce off the ground, the way he ran through the wire, and the way he galloped out a full mile and a quarter, leaving his opponents in another area code. Yes, he was carrying his head a bit too high turning for home before dropping down and leveling off in the stretch, but trainer Mark Casse believes he just briefly lost focus having opened a clear lead so quickly. He added that you should see his gallops every morning, the way he just floats along, and that this colt the best behaving son of Tapit he has ever trained, and he has trained a number of them. He said he is "pure class" and that is the way he looked in his career debut and coming down the stretch on Saturday. Casse in fact had told owner John Oxley early on this was the next Classic Empire. He blamed himself for this horse’s defeat in last summer’s Hopeful Stakes, giving the wrong instructions to Julien Leparoux and then having the colt get stuck down on the inside and too far back. In the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, he got absolutely hammered, mugged, and squeezed badly at the start by Everfast, causing him to clip heels and Leparoux to nearly fall off him. He dropped far back in last and never ran a step. He wound up grabbing himself pretty badly and Casse decided it was in his best interest to back off and send him to his training center in Ocala to freshen up. Casse said he turned from a six-foot, 140-pound teenager to a six-foot, 200-pound athlete with a great disposition and presence about him, and a beautiful eye. He actually looks more like Monarchos (his broodmare sire) than his sire Tapit, exuding more power, and he has that same big stride. I admit this was not a strong field on Feb. 9 by any means, but sometimes you just go by your gut and what you see. In his pedigree are Secretariat, who ran the fastest winning Kentucky Derby in history; Monarchos, who ran the second-fastest winning Kentucky Derby in history; and Northern Dancer, who ran the third-fastest winning Kentucky Derby in history. His second dam is Oxley's $2.7 million earner Beautiful Pleasure, winner of six Grade 1 stakes, including the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and second in five others.
12. Bourbon War
After seeing his huge jump on Thoro-Graph in his previous start – the third-fastest race behind Hidden Scroll and Win Win Win – and the way he won that Jan. 18 allowance race in such a classy manner, I couldn't keep him off the Top 12 any longer. The fourth-place finisher in that race, beaten 12 ½ lengths, was Everfast, who then finished second in the Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes at odds of 128.70-1. I loved the way Bourbon War weaved his way through the field, going between, then inside horses, and then sliced through an opening between the two leaders and drew off to a very professional victory. He beat an improving Todd Pletcher horse, Cutting Humor, and then came back with a visually stunning :48 breeze, running with his head down into the bit and neck slightly arched, and with that same determined style he displayed in the allowance race. I also loved the way he galloped out. He was a little late changing leads in his last race and will have to work on that. His dam My Conquestadory was a classy filly, who won the Darley Alcibiades Stakes on dirt and beat the boys in the Summer Stakes on grass.
Knocking On the Door
First, I was very reluctant to remove Mucho and Instagrand, especially the former, considering I had him ranked No. 4 the first two weeks. That's how much I think of him. But the fact is, both these colts have not raced beyond seven- and six-furlongs, respectively, and have been out since the summer, and there have been too many impressive performances to keep them on for so long while waiting for their 3-year-old debuts. It was a matter of room, not ability. Mucho is just up to a half-mile in his breezes and Instagrand passed on last Sunday’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes and now will have only two starts before the Derby, having to stretch out from six furlongs to two turns off a seven-month layoff. We have no idea how he will come back after such a long layoff and only a pair of short sprints. But if he is as good as he looked in those two races last summer and can handle the stretch-out, then we will know what we're dealing with. He could be special, but it's time to show it, and coming back against Game Winner or Improbable in the March 9 San Felipe Stakes is a pretty tall order. Being by Into Mischief , there is a question whether Instagrand’s female family can carry him a classic distance. Both he and Mucho are going to have only four career starts going into the Derby, with long layoffs between their first two and last two starts. Instagrand turned in another big work, going six furlongs in 1:13 3/5, as his works get longer preparing for his first two-turn race.
If Mucho does return with the kind of performance I am expecting, he not only will return to the Top 12, he will be back where he was among the leading contenders. So, just because he's off the list for now doesn't mean I am any less confident he will be a major force once he returns. He was even taken out of Churchill’s Future Wager field, which surprised me, as did Instagrand's closing odds of only 10-1. But surely, Mucho belongs in that field that includes Coliseum and narrow maiden winner Tacitus
The Sam F. Davis Stakes was supposed to be the triumphant return of Knicks Go following his disappointing effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, but so far, several top 2-year-olds have regressed as 3-year-olds, and Knicks Go in particular seems to have lost the form that won him the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and a well-earned second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was 1.90-1 in the Sam F. Davis, but retreated to a fifth-place finish after tracking the leader and eventual winner Well Defined, who became the third horse to win a stakes this year after finishing out of the money in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Well Defined obviously improved big-time with the addition of blinkers and looked like the horse who aired by 7 ½ lengths in the In Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Series. But he stopped badly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and again in this year's Mucho Macho Man Stakes. As far being a major Derby horse, he still has a lot to prove, being a one-dimensional frontrunner, who is 0-for-3 when he doesn't get the lead. We'll see how far the new and improved Well Defined can carry his speed.
There has been three two-turn stakes in Florida so far this year, and we have seen three big favorites – Code of Honor, Maximus Mischief, and Knicks Go – come up short, with two of them finishing out of the money.
On the positive side of the Sam Davis, Kentucky Wildcat, coming off a slow maiden score at a mile over the highly regarded Country House, ran a bang-up second, finishing 8 ¾ lengths ahead of So Alive, who although beaten 11 ½ lengths, deserves another chance after a bad break that put him back in last, some 15 lengths off the pace. With the field all over the place nearing the head of the stretch, Javier Castellano made a very early decision to swing wide and circle the field just as the rail was opening wide. Instead of saving ground, So Alive wound up 10-wide turning for home and at least passed six horses in the stretch to get third, giving him some hope for his next start. Unfortunately, Kentucky Wildcat was vanned off after the race and is off the Derby trail with a condylar fracture.
The two seven-furlong stakes over last weekend, the San Vicente Stakes and Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, both used to be major steppingstones on the Derby trail in California an New York respectively, although the Winkfield used to be the Bay Shore Stakes before that race was moved. You normally don't see Bob Baffert get beat with a 7-10 shot and 2.20-1 shot in the same race on the Derby trail, but that happened in the San Vicente. Although 2.20-1 Dessman, with only one career start, was nailed at the wire by a nose by 7.40-1 Sparky Ville, the race bodes very well for Dessman becoming a major player, either for the Derby if he can play catch-up or more likely a little later on.
With a pretty decent horse in Savagery setting a wicked pace (:22 and :44 1/5) in the slop, Dessman made an early move down the backstretch to confront his stablemate, 7-10 Coliseum, for second. Rather than bide his time, Flavien Prat tried to get the jump on Coliseum and made another move to put distance between them. He charged to the lead, opened a clear advantage and looked like a sure winner until the far more experienced Sparky Ville, with seven races and a stakes win and two graded stakes placings under him, came with a late run to stick his nose in front in 1:21 4/5. Dessman finished 6 ½ lengths ahead of Coliseum. Watch out for Dessman when he starts stretching out. This race really moved him forward. We don't know how far Sparky Ville wants to go, but there is no reason to think he won't handle two turns.
In the Jimmy Winkfield, Shadwell Stable's Haikal turned in his third consecutive big stretch run, the last two coming up the rail, to nail 18.30-1 shot Joevia, with 1.10-1 favorite Tikhvin Flew another 1 ¾ lengths back in third. Taikal is another who should stretch out, but this might have been more of a case of Joevia tiring a bit late, as Taikal was making little impact in the stretch until he surged late, which often indicates the horse in front was starting to tire. The one-mile Gotham Stakes on March 9 will tell us more about these horses.
In Dubai on Feb. 7, the much hyped Walking Thunder disappointed in the UAE 2,000 Guineas when his rider allowed Christophe Soumillon on Godolphin's Estihdaaf to go to the front on the rail on yet another notoriously inside speed favoring track, while Walking Thunder raced in fourth, four-wide. He moved up to challenge like a winner, but Estihdaaf found another gear and drew off to a six-length victory, while never changing leads. Estihdaaf was coming off a second in the Al Bastakiya Trial to Manguzi, who had been trounced by Walking Thunder in the Guineas Trial. Estihdaaf is an improving son of Arch and will be formidable in the UAE Derby on March 30, but don't count Walking Thunder out just yet. His Guineas Trial rout was no fluke. This is a much better horse than he showed in the Guineas and the son of Violence should love the longer distances. No doubt a trip to Kentucky will be on the line for both horses.
As mentioned earlier, Global Campaign's reputation was boosted the day after his resounding victory when Growth Engine, who had finished second to him last time out, drew off to a 2 ½-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream. Trained by Chad Brown for Klaravich Stables, the son of Tapit looks to have a bright future.
Speaking of Brown, Network Effect, runnerup in the Nashua Stakes and Remsen Stakes, is up to four furlongs in his works, breezing his half-mile in :49 2/5. Looking at his Thoro-Graph numbers and Brisnet numbers, he was one of the fastest 2-year-olds last year and is only going to improve. He just needs to get in the race sooner and not let other horses build an insurmountable lead. But he's always coming late and is definitely one to watch. I will take 40-1 on him in the Future Wager in a heartbeat. Brown also sent out his Champagne Stakes winner Complexity for his first breeze since disappointing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He went three-eighths in :38 4/5 over the Stonestreet training track.
In other races over the weekend, Todd Pletcher is still reaching into what is left of his arsenal to try to find a Derby horse. He's a bit behind the eight-ball trying to get Outshine there, but you have to pay attention to the son of Malibu Moon after his impressive allowance Feb. 10 victory at Gulfstream, in which he scored by two lengths in 1:23 flat for the seven furlongs with first-time blinkers. It was a workmanlike performance as he drew clear under a stiff hand ride, and looked like he had more in the tank. This was his first start since finishing fifth in the Tremont Stakes back in June. He obviously was very precocious at 2, making his debut on March 17, but has a ton of stamina top and bottom, so it will be interesting to see what he does going two turns. He joins Pletcher's Soldado, who has run only once, as his two most visually impressive 3-year-olds so far, with several others still with a shot to move on. One of them, who also is still a work in progress, is Cutting Humor, who breezed a half-mile in :48 4/5. Pletcher had another winner when Last Judgment scored by a length in a maiden race for Florida-breds on Feb. 9 after acting up at the gate. He covered the six furlongs in a snappy 1:10 flat, with runnerup Lemniscate finishing 10 ½ lengths ahead of the third horse.
Also over the weekend, Bob Baffert sent out Sham Stakes third-place finisher Much Better to an emphatic 3 ½-length victory in a sharp 1:15 3/5 for the 6 ½ furlongs, also with blinkers added. The son of Pioneerof the Nile now has two victories and a third in his two starts on dirt. At Oaklawn Park, the Steve Asmussen-trained Captain Von Trapp spoiled the debut of Monomoy Girl's brother Cowboy Diplomacy, rallying in the stretch to score by three lengths in 1:11 1/5 for the six furlongs.
I am going to expand on last week's explanation why Withers Stakes winner Tax is not in the Top 12 at this point. It is difficult to include a horse who wins by a head in a three-horse photo and not include the second- and third-place finishers, especially when the second- and third-place finishers ran two full points faster on Thoro-Graph. I do love Tax's story and his pedigree, and the way he was willing to go through a very narrow opening on the rail before that hole opened up when the leader drifted out. Rather than ignore the excellent performances of Not That Brady and Our Braintrust I thought it appropriate at this time to let them slug it out again in the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets on April 6. But any of those three can show up in the Top 12 at any time, depending on how the Dozen shapes up.
Last fall's Remsen Stakes, in which Tax finished third, is a tough race to figure. It received extremely fast numbers on Brisnet, especially the late-closing figure, which far exceeded any of the other major 2-year-old stakes. However, the winner, Maximus Mischief, finished third to a 29.60-1 shot in Harvey Wallbanger and a 128.70-1 shot in Everfast when favored at 9-10 odds in the Holy Bull Stakes.
I can certainly excuse Maximus Mischief's race, even if there is a question of how far he wants to go. In addition to acting up and getting a bit washy before the race, he was ridden by a new jockey, Jose Ortiz, who gunned him out of the gate, apparently not expecting Epic Dreamer to charge to the lead and having to chase him through fairly testing fractions. He was hard used to stay within striking range and even harder used to run him down and simply got tired in the final sixteenth. I believe if he acts more professionally before his next race and is allowed to settle, either on or off the pace, he can rebound off this performance.
Galilean, who I still regret removing from the Top 12, finally returned to the work tab over a decent track, going six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 in company, finishing about a neck behind his workmate. The question is, can he repeat his monster score in the King Glorious Stakes when he takes on Cal-breds again in the Cal Cup Derby on Feb. 18? He should have no trouble winning impressively, and as I did with California Chrome back in 2013 and with this horse in his last start, I will go by the eye test and see if he can rattle off those quick quarter-mile splits once again and how he's moving in the final furlong. Another reason I removed him is because of the scheduling of his races. When Chrome won the 2013 Cal Cup Derby it was run on Jan. 25, giving him ample time to make the San Felipe Stakes to test open company and earn points. Now, the Cal Cup Derby is run Feb. 18, which would give him only 16 days to the San Felipe or otherwise wait for the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, which is a heck of a place to take on the best California 3-year-olds and earn enough points to make the Derby. It would require a victory or second-place finish to gain a berth in the starting field. So everything is a bit too tenuous with him right now, which is the reason to wait and see what develops.
We have a slew of Derby contenders running next week at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, with the Risen Star Stakes drawing a strong field of 14 with one also-eligible. Good luck trying to sort this one out. War of Will and the Baffert shipper Kingly drew posts 14 and 13, respectively, with Steve Asmussen's $2.6 million yearling Gun It on the also-eligible list (Kingly is a possible scratch). Kingly is still immature, based on the way he appeared to drop out of it in his last start, then came on in the stretch, and the way he had his cocked to the outside the entire length of the stretch in his last work. Country House, who could vault way up the Derby Dozen with a victory or good second, breaks from post 9, and is the one who has me most excited. Limonite, a fast-closing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, drew the 10-post, as many of the leading contenders drew outside. Also in the field are Owendale and Frolic More, who finished 1-2 in an allowance race; Hog Creek Hustle and Manny Wah, 2-3 in the Lecomte Stakes behind War of Will, Mr. Money, a surprising fourth at 41.40-1 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; stakes-winning Henley’s Joy making his dirt debut; and a horse who could be a huge overlay, Plus Que Parfait, beaten a neck in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes before stumbling badly at the start and racing wide the whole way from the 11-post in the Lecomte, finishing a respectable fifth. He drew the rail and if he can work out a clean trip he definitely is one to watch. For a megabomb, I was very high on Dunph after his first two starts, but he didn't handle the slop in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and then ran a decent third from the 10-post in the Springboard Mile. Now he has to overcome the 11-post.
Smarty Jones winner Gray Attempt heads the Southwest Stakes next Monday. The son of Graydar tuned up for the race with a strong five-furlong breeze in 1:00 1/5. Completing the trifecta in the Smarty Jones were Long Range Toddy and Boldor, both of whom will also return in the Southwest, along with 3-2 beaten favorite Bankit, who was a disappointing sixth, and who comes into this race off a solid 1:00 4/5 breeze. Fourth-place finisher Six Shooter get blinkers for trainer Paul Holthus after working a sharp five furlongs in :59 4/5. This isn't the strongest group of Derby horses, so we'll see if any shippers show up, possibly some of the outside draw horses from the far more competitive Risen Star.
A few more works of note: Hopeful Stakes and Jerome Stakes winner Mind Control breezed a half in :49 1/5 at Belmont for the March 9 Gotham Stakes. Nashua Stakes winner Vekoma returned to the work tab with a 1:02 2/5 breeze for five furlongs at Palm Beach Downs. The Baffert-trained Roadster continued on the comeback trail with a five-furlong work in 1:02. Also on the comeback trail is Grade 1-placed Rowayton, who breezed three furlongs in :36. Alwaysmining turned in a bullet work at Fair Hill, breezing a half in :48 for Saturday's Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park. Nitrous, winner of the Riley Allison Derby, breezed a half in :50 1/5 for a possible start in Saturday's Turf Paradise Derby. Returning to the work tab after a long layoff was Endorsed, who is looking to return to the form he showed in his impressive maiden victory. He is coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Champagne Stakes, but is a much better horse than he showed that day. Finally, Bill Mott sent out Tacitus for a half-mile breeze in :49 2/5. Also scheduled for Saturday is the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
We've mentioned Cal-breds and Florida-breds, so we'll conclude with New York-breds. Steve Asmussen either has a New York-bred who is a champ in the slop or a vastly improved 3-year-old in London House, who came off a good second in the slop to air by 15 ¼ lengths in the slop at Aqueduct on Jan. 20. In his only race on a fast track he was beaten 14 lengths in his debut, so we'll see what Asmussen and his New York-based assistant Toby Sheets have in store for this one’s next start.