Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin presents his Derby Dozen this week with a look at his leading contenders for the 145thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4.
Last weekend, By My Standards and Cutting Humor shared the spotlight with wins in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby and Sunland Park Derby, respectively, each earning enough qualifying points to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. This Saturday, two more major preps will be held, each offering 170 qualifying points distributed to the top four finishers: the $1 million, Grade 1 Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park; and the $2.5 million, Group 2 United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group at Meydan Racecourse.
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1. Omaha Beach
The more I watch the second division of the Rebel Stakes the more impressed I am with his performance. Game Winner appeared to have him measured, but he dug down deep and fought back gamely to prevail, and as I mentioned last week, he was two lengths in front shortly after the wire. For a horse who had never faced winners and was coming off a seven-furlong race, that was a huge step forward. He did pair up his Thoro-Graph number from his maiden win, but still needs a move forward to put him in Derby-winning territory. Trainer Richard Mandella kidded earlier in the year that he was going to hang around Bob Baffert’s barn to pick up some pointers on how to get to the Derby. He used to say when they gave out lessons on how to win the Derby he probably was out that day. Well, so far he’s looked like a scholar and is in a good position to ace the next test in the Arkansas Derby on April 13. And then it’s on to the finals for the first time in 16 years. But this year he may have the Derby gods as tutors.
2. Game Winner
He and Improbable actually received the two fastest Thoro-Graph numbers in the Rebel Stakes (both divisions). He is on the best progression of any of the Derby horses and does not need much of a move forward to win the Derby; he’s pretty much right there already. He was fast as a 2-year-old and he’s faster now. The two questions with him are: should he have caught a maiden winner he seemingly had measured, and will having only three weeks to the Santa Anita Derby on April 6 affect him after such a hard race off a layoff? No one has a better line on his horses coming out of a race than Bob Baffert, so if he shows up he’ll be ready to go. The positive is that he doesn’t even have to win again. If he runs the same kind of number he did in the Rebel coming back that quickly he then has four weeks to the Kentucky Derby and would be in good shape to run his peak race. Baffert compares him to Silver Charm, basically in their tenacity and consistency and will to win, and Silver Charm lost his final prep, but used the race to set him up perfectly for the ’97 Derby.
As good a race as he ran in the first division of the Rebel Stakes, there is a question with him as well. Despite his wide trip, should he have been caught by a horse (Long Range Toddy) whose Thoro-Graph and Beyer Speed Figure numbers were not even in the same ballpark as his? When a son of City Zip gets caught at 2-5 going 1 1/16 miles, you have to wonder about distance. The Arkansas Derby will tell us a lot as he gets his chance to avenge his defeat and square off with fellow Californian Omaha Beach. Like Game Winner, his Thoro-Graph number in the Rebel was a career best and puts him right with the champ as the horse on the best progression and with the fastest number in a stakes. His defeat might be a bit more of a concern than Game Winner’s, even though he did not have a good trip, and that is because he is the more brilliant of the two and is more likely to overcome a bad trip on sheer talent. You have a tendency to get a little more overconfident on him, feeling he can win from anywhere. So, was he exposed at all? Probably not, but we won’t know that until the Arkansas Derby. He certainly has the ability to bounce back with a monster effort and make everyone forget about the Rebel.
It’s not every day you see a horse have a half-length lead going into the first turn, ease back to fifth without fighting the rider at all, bide his time patiently, and then shift to another gear and come flying home like a fresh horse. When you have a horse that adaptable who is improving with every start, you have to believe he is a legitimate Derby horse. If you’re curious how he got his name, he is named after owner Willis Horton’s daughter-in-law’s nephew Todd Rayburn, who is an avid hunter and excellent at long range. His family calls him Toddy. Amazingly, Horton only owns two broodmares – Pleasant Song, the dam of Long Range Toddy, and Take Charge Tressa, a full sister to Omaha Beach, so it is safe to say that Horton enjoyed both divisions of the Rebel.
This is like picking names out of a grab bag. You can make a case for any of the remaining horses or find faults in any of them. This is what you call a real mishmash (“jumble, mess, confusion”). So is Spinoff a mish or a mash? It could very well be that he is as clear as the nose on your face. I’m not crazy about his having only four career starts going into the Derby, or now having to wait six weeks, or losing the lead to a recent maiden winner in By My Standards as he did in the Louisiana Derby. But I still like this colt moving forward, even more so now. He had an outside post, was wide on both turns, was making only his second start in seven months, and finished five lengths ahead of the third-place horse at Fair Grounds. And in his first race back off the layoff he barely raised a sweat winning in a common gallop. But that was at Tampa Bay Downs (on Feb. 22), which had to give him a pretty decent foundation. And as I mentioned before, he was pulling away from everyone else. I wouldn’t be surprised if his Thoro-Graph number is right there with the Louisiana Derby winner, or even better. If you believe in the third race off a layoff angle, he fits that perfectly going into the Kentucky Derby. He has the looks, he has the pedigree, he has the right running style, and he has the long, fluid action you like to see. Getting back to that first negative of now having six weeks to the Derby, it is far from ideal, but Todd Pletcher was able to get Revolutionary to come off the Louisiana Derby and finish a fast-closing third in the Kentucky Derby after being 20 lengths back at one point. As I have been saying all along, I just like this colt a lot and have faith he will do whatever is asked of him.
Speaking strictly as a Derby horse, I would have preferred to see him run the race he did in the Sunland Park Derby and finish second than winning wire-to-wire as he did in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. I like the way he took back, but he constantly had horses move up on his outside and was unable to get out and launch his bid, allowing Cutting Humor to get the jump on him. But boy was he striding out powerfully at the end. He showed that he has that same fluid action and great extension on synthetic or dirt. The bottom line is that showing the ability to sit behind horses and then close stamps him as a legitimate Derby contender. But with 30 points and no more preps, he could be right on the borderline of getting in. I don’t take much stock in fractions and the final time at Sunland Park. I value how the horses look running over the track. And the way he came charging down the stretch, leaving 9-10 Mucho Gusto nearly six lengths behind, was all I needed to see. Again, I’m not crazy about him having six weeks off to the Derby, but in his case it is different, because he is the only horse to have had two 1 1/8-mile races this year, and he’s also been a mile and 1 1/16 miles, so he has built a pretty strong foundation. If it looks like he’s going to be on the outside looking in, he has proven he’s resilient enough to handle a pit stop in the April 13 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes, where he probably would only need to finish second. Although his broodmare sire First Defence was mainly a sprinter, he has more than enough stamina as his extended pedigree shows he’s inbred to English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II, and his third dam is by Nijinsky II, out of a Round Table mare.
In a year like this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when a horse goes from a maiden victory to a win in the Louisiana Derby. But that race told us a lot about him. When the outside path didn’t open for him, he darted to the inside and split horses, then came home in :12 3/5, running one and three-fifths seconds, or eight lengths, faster than the older horses in the New Orleans Handicap earlier on the card. What I found most impressive about his victory, especially for a horse with no stakes experience, is that the fourth, fifth, six, and seventh-place finishers, all closers, lost five lengths from the eighth pole to the wire, as did third-place finisher Sueno. Even the runner-up Spinoff lost 1 ¾ lengths. My main question with him is whether he will be as effective at 1 ¼ miles. His sire Goldencents was a sprinter/miler, both his grandsires were sprinters, and there are a number of other speed influences in his female family. The one factor in his favor is that he sure didn’t look like a sprinter or a miler in the Louisiana Derby. But that next furlong is the tough one. This colt has taught me a valuable lesson. In the Feb. 19 Knocking On the Door I wrote: “One non-stakes race of interest was the impressive maiden victory by the Bret Calhoun-trained By My Standards, who after a pair of seconds and a third, finally found the winner’s circle at Fair Grounds despite breaking from the 12-post, a bumping incident at the start, and racing wide the whole way. Tracking the favorite Free Speech in fourth, he moved up to challenge and had no trouble drawing away to win by 4 ¼ lengths, covering the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.04, which was only 45 one-hundredths of a second slower than the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and faster than the Mineshaft Handicap for older horses. I’m not sure how far this son of Goldencents wants to go, but he sure looked good going 1 1/16 miles.” The lesson I learned is, when handicapping these races, remember what I wrote.
8. Win Win Win
I think it’s fair to say I am the only one who has him ranked in the Top 10. He’s back at Fair Hill where he continued his sharp works, breezing a half-mile in a bullet :48 flat, fastest of 14 works at the distance. Even trainer Michael Trombetta is still trying to figure out how far he wants to go. His pedigree is a bit of an enigma and it could go either way. But he sure is talented and ran better in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby than that third-place finish might look on paper. So I am sticking with him until he proves me wrong about his ability or shows he doesn’t want any part of classic distances. Trombetta has to decide whether to hop up to New York for the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets or head down to Keeneland for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, both on April 6. I just want to see him break sharply and get position and not have to come from so far back. With the speed he has shown in sprints and his “¾” Thoro-Graph number he earned in the Pasco Stakes, it puts him at a distinct disadvantage to have to rally from far back. He has only one more race to establish his running style, and hopefully jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. knows him a lot better now if he decides to stick with him.
All systems are go for Saturday’s Florida Derby after he breezed a bullet half-mile in :48 2/5, fastest of 12 works at the distance. Trainer Shug McGaughey was looking for :49, so this should set him up perfectly. McGaughey said he liked what he saw from a physical standpoint and from the work itself. The main improvement you’d want to see is a better timed move and looking stronger at the end, as he started to get out a bit late in the final sixteenth of the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes and had Bourbon War bearing down on him and just running out of ground. I would love to see him run like he did in the Champagne Stakes last fall when he broke poorly but still managed second, which is still the best race he’s run. As I keep saying, I am a sucker for the Champagne, which, at a one-turn mile, was always the race that decided the 2-year-old championship and prepared a horse best for the Derby trail. I have loved all his recent works and how smooth and professional he’s looked, so there is no reason to doubt he will move forward and run big on Saturday.
If you are going to consider Tacitus among your leading Derby contenders, it’s going to have to be based on his performances in the afternoon and not the morning. He’s never been the greatest worker, but his last work on March 22 was not pretty, as he was running with his head way up in the air, showing no inclination to catch his workmate despite being asked. He finished several lengths behind and remained well behind on the gallop-out. Now before you panic and start contemplating dropping him from your fantasy stable, he is still raw when it comes to talent and maturity, and he no doubt did not like the deep track on this particular morning. But he still worked his half in 49 seconds flat, which is pretty solid. And he is a Tapit. His Tampa Bay Derby score came a huge surprise to me, as he did not look ready at all for such an assignment, especially after being embarrassed by Hidden Scroll when they worked in company and he had to be hit three times with no result, as Hidden Scroll drew well clear with ease. But like the NFL, sometimes it’s best to go by the game tapes and not the draft combines. He obviously is a totally different horse when it is game time and probably has more room for improvement than any of the others.
11. Bourbon War
The Fountain of Youth runner-up breezed a half in :49 4/5, and as usual had his head down into the bit with his neck slightly arched. I loved the way he cornered, but it did take him several strides before he changed leads. Trainer Mark Hennig said he has made great progress and that the Fountain of Youth really woke him up, considering he was never really enthusiastic about training before he ran and seemed bored by it. But once the light came on he’s been a different horse. It all depends what you thought of the Fountain of Youth. He looked terrific in his previous start when he just sliced between two horses at the head of the stretch without flinching. But because of the wicked pace in the Fountain of Youth he was far back early. They did come home slowly, but he was flying and still got his final sixteenth in about :06 1/5. On the negative side, his “4” on Thoro-Graph was a pretty substantial regression from his “1 ½” in the allowance race. And he also dropped two points on Brisnet. So he needs to bounce back with a big number in Saturday’s Florida Derby, as do all the Derby contenders.
12. Cutting Humor
It has reached the point on the Derby trail where production takes precedence over speculation, as well as securing a spot in the starting 20, and at least for now the Sunland Park Derby winner has produced enough to warrant a Top 12 placing, having won a major prep and finishing a solid second to a top-class colt in Bourbon War. His Southwest Stakes seventh-place finish was a total throwout after he got wiped out on the first turn and was forced to race five-wide a good portion of the race. I don’t know if a son of First Samurai can get a mile and a quarter, and his female family is loaded with speed, but he has earned his way into the Derby, and as a result earned a spot in the Top 12, at least for now. I do like that he was able to rebound off his Southwest debacle, as Todd Pletcher found the perfect spot for him in the Sunland Derby, and he had a perfect trip. Getting first run on Anothertwistafate was very important, as that neck margin got him in the Kentucky Derby – and any horse in the Derby has to be respected. For the final time, he is up against history trying to go the six weeks from the Sunland Park Derby to the Kentucky Derby, but history doesn’t seem to deter any contender anymore, especially after Justify tore up the history books last year. So he gets the final spot, but there is a lot of action to come and a lot of shifting and juggling expected.
Knocking On the Door
For years I have been discussing John Nerud’s impact on the sport, especially through Fappiano and the homebred stallion’s sons and grandsons. If you want an example of Nerud’s and Fappiano’s remarkable impact on this year’s Derby trail, consider that the following Derby contenders have Fappiano in their pedigree: Game Winner, Omaha Beach, Long Range Toddy, War of Will, Hidden Scroll, Tacitus, Bourbon War, Win Win Win, Vekoma, Anothertwistafate, Cutting Humor, Outshine, Intrepid Heart, Sueno, Signalman, Nolo Contesto, Mind Control, Sparky Ville, Gray Attempt, Alwaysmining, Admire, Soldado, and Come On Gerry.
Nerud’s influence can also be found in the pedigrees of Spinoff, through the Nerud owned and bred Cozzene; Mucho Gusto through Dr. Fager’s Hall of Fame sister Ta Wee; Blue Grass Stakes hopeful So Alive through Dr. Fager and his son Dr. Blum, and UAE Derby hopeful Plus Que Parfait through the Tartan-owned and bred Codex.
This year may turn out to be Todd Pletcher’s best training job ever on the Derby trail. Normally, Pletcher comes charging out of the gate in January and February and then usually runs out of gas before, in, or shortly after the Kentucky Derby (He still hasn’t won the Derby on a fast track and neither of his two winners ever won another race). But this year, he had zero Derby horses in January and February and has had to play catch-up. He now has been forced to train the way you want your horses to run: Take back early, progress at a steady pace, and use each race as a prep instead of breaking fast and running off the screen with high speed figures and winning by big margins. In short, Pletcher’s horses will not be peaking too soon, as they often do. Because many of his most talented horses had setbacks early, he now is approaching the Derby the right way, with live horses such as Spinoff, Outshine, Cutting Humor, and So Alive, all of whom should be peaking on Derby day. He also has a newcomer on the scene, Oaklawn Park allowance winner Last Judgment. No one even heard of these horses early in the year and all of them are now legitimate contenders, which is why this may be Pletcher’s best training job ever. He also has the late-developing Intrepid Heart and Soldado, both very talented colts who probably should wait for races down the road.
I am going to make a prediction: Could it be the best of Bob Baffert’s horses actually is Roadster, and he is just lurking in the background, waiting to leap to the top in the Santa Anita Derby? Don’t dismiss that possibility. I was torn between putting him or Cutting Humor in the Top 12 this week, but had to go with the horse who has already won a stakes and is in the Derby. With Roadster it is pure speculation. But my prediction is that next week, with the Santa Anita Derby looming, he will be in the Top 12 based on the speculation that he is going to run huge, although we’ll have to see what happens in Saturday’s Florida Derby. Roadster has excellent tactical speed and can close, with two triple-digit late pace figures on Brisnet. And he has moved forward every race on Thoro-Graph. After six months off due to a breathing problem that has been corrected he returned with a winning effort over Nolo Contesto on March 1, drawing off and coming home in :24 1/5 over a deep track, and earning a strong Thoro-Graph number. I think this could be Baffert’s secret weapon and I would love to get him in the Top 12 before the Santa Anita Derby because I feel there is a good chance he will be there after the Santa Anita Derby. If there is a negative, I’m looking at his four career starts, and he will have only one race over a mile. But, hey, if Justify can do it with three starts why can’t Roadster? I really want to see the rematch with another of my early favorites, Nolo Contesto.
For a while I had Omaha Beach and Nolo Contesto both ranked in the Top 12 off maiden wins. Nolo Contesto, who I wrote up very strongly, was dropped after he scratched out of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and ran instead in a one-mile allowance race, in which he was beaten by Roadster after a less than ideal trip. Well, don’t be surprised to see him back in the Top 12 after the Santa Anita Derby. He has been working well and I liked his latest six-furlong drill in 1:14 in company and the way he picked it up at the end. I believe he is much better than he showed in his last start and would not be surprised to see him finish first or second to secure a spot in the Derby field. The thought of Nolo Contesto and Roadster going up against Game Winner brings very exciting possibilities.
To show how this year’s Derby trail can leave you numb and emotionally drained, I also hated to drop Galilean, another who I latched onto early and who could easily make it back on the Top 12 after being there pretty much every week. But those 12 spots get very jammed up and sometimes horses have to drop off even if it’s just temporarily. That doesn’t mean I think any less of him, but he still has to prove himself and earn a spot in the Derby. In other words he needs to finish first or second wherever he goes next.
The Rebel’s first division was his first big test, but between his slow start, rushing up to challenge for the lead, and being under pressure between horses on the backstretch, he never had a chance to relax and get a breather. It was good to see him bounce back a week later with a :47 4/5 work at Los Alamitos. Until he gets a trip that shows off his true talents and shows he can relax and turn in a strong closing kick, he has to remain a question mark.
It will be interesting to see who Jerry Hollendorfer runs in the Santa Anita Derby. In addition to Galilean, he worked Instagrand five furlongs in a bullet :59 2/5 at Los Alamitos, fastest of 12 works at the distance. He should be much tighter after tracking that wicked pace in the Gotham Stakes and finishing third, in which they blazed a half in :44 2/5. The Santa Anita Derby could be the most intriguing race of the year. So many possibilities and so much to prove by so many. Sadly, Hollendorfer had to bid farewell to Gunmetal Gray, who suffered a condylar fracture in a workout and is out for the year.
Looking back at last weekend, the big news obviously was the misadventure at the start by Louisiana Derby favorite War of Will. He apparently strained something or hit himself shortly after coming out of the gate when his back end gave out, and he never fired, finishing ninth. The good news is that he seemed fine the next couple of mornings and still is on the Derby trail. The bad news is that the race did little for him, he has six weeks to the Derby, and horses simply do not win the Derby after finishing up the track in their previous start. The keys going forward will be when he can get back to training and how he trains, and how vigorously Mark Casse trains him in order to get him tight and fit for the mile and a quarter. You never like to drop a horse this talented who was ranked at No. 3, but there are too many uncertainties surrounding him.
Another horse who had to be dropped was Country House, who ran decent enough in the Louisiana Derby to finish fourth, but after making a strong move on the far turn and looming boldly on the outside turning for home, he came up empty in the stretch and was beaten 6 ½ lengths. It was disappointing considering the upward spiral he appeared to be on. Perhaps he just needs more time to mature.
As for Sunland Park Derby favorite and third-place finisher Mucho Gusto, it just seems as if he doesn’t want to go this far and likely will be a top-class sprinter and miler.
You can’t say Harvey Wallbanger isn’t going into the Florida Derby sharp and rarin’ to go following a two-month vacation. The Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes winner followed up his fast work last week with another eye opener, going his half-mile in a bullet :47 flat, fastest of, get this, 99 works at the distance. Who knows, maybe ‘Harvey’ is the real deal and he’s ready to bang down the wall that has kept him out of the Top 12. He is bred to run all day, and his third dam is by Spectacular Bid, out of a full sister to Hall of Famer Numbered Account.
Maximum Security disappeared off the worktab after his last victory in a starter optional claimer back on Feb. 20. After a month he finally returned and breezed a half in :52 4/5. Off that one slow breeze he is now headed for the Florida Derby. This horse has had a very bizarre career and I would expect to see a pretty strong work next week if he is to be at all competitive in the Florida Derby. What was unusual about this last work was that he was basically open galloping around the far turn and down the stretch, but didn’t really get motoring until after the wire and was moving along at a strong clip down the back stretch. So I have no idea what the dynamics of that work were supposed to be. He sure will add some intrigue to the Florida Derby.
Hidden Scroll once again worked behind a horse, breezing five furlongs in 1:02 2/5. It’s much better to see a 1:02 than a :59. We know he has brilliant speed, but sure don’t want to see him use it early in Saturday’s Florida Derby. In his latest work, he wasn’t allowed to get dirt kicked his face like he was in his previous work. Running with his head low and with a great deal of head movement, he blew by his workmate by two lengths at the wire. He kept going, quickly leaving his workmate, who in about four or five seconds found himself some 20 to 25 lengths behind Hidden Scroll. The track was on the slow side, so you can’t really go by time too much anyway. Despite his defeat in the Fountain of Youth, there should be a lot of action on him at the windows Saturday. With him, the questions all concern his three pre-Derby starts and no races at age 2. Can something that had never been done before last year be duplicated the very next year? That is asking a lot. I do think he is the horse to beat in the Florida Derby. It’s the following race that gets tricky. Also working for the Florida Derby was Everfast, who went five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 at Gulfstream Park.
George Weaver still hasn’t made a decision where he will run Vekoma next. The Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, and Blue Grass all are under consideration. That’s not exactly a firm plan on how his connections want to get to the Derby. He worked five furlongs in company in 1:02 4/5, actually breaking off a couple of lengths in front of his workmate. He seemed comfortable leading the way and wouldn’t let his workmate pass him, finishing about three-quarters of a length in front. Both horses shut it down quickly without any kind of gallop-out. His stride did seem a bit smoother than in the past, but I never saw it head-on. He seems to be filling out and doing well in general and should improve off his third-place showing in the Fountain of Youth, his first start off a layoff. Also note that Vekoma is a May 22 foal, so he won’t actually turn 3 until after the Preakness Stakes. It’s no surprise that he is growing and maturing, and those horses can be dangerous.
One horse who has been training sharply for the April 6 Wood Memorial is the hard-knocking Mind Control, who worked a half in :47 3/5 at Belmont Park, second fastest of 30 works at the distance. Another Wood hopeful, Not That Brady, breezed five furlongs in 1:03 at Aqueduct. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Gotham Stakes winner Haikal is scheduled to work later in the week. The son of Daaher has not worked since his Gotham score on March 9. If he does work later this week that would be nearly three weeks since the Gotham. This is one horse I am anxious to see go two turns for the first time. If he can unleash the same kind of powerful stretch run going two turns as he has going one turn then he will stamp himself as one of the Derby favorites. We’re also still waiting for Withers Stakes winner Tax to make the worktab. The son of Arch, who hasn’t run since Feb. 2, last worked on March 16.
One horse whose recent works have been very impressive is Signalman, who had been ranked high up early in the year, but turned in a disappointing effort when finishing seventh in the Fountain of Youth. I didn’t think he was suited for that race at all, especially with the short stretch, but he is stabled at Gulfstream and has been working there all year. Don’t be surprised if he bounces back with a big effort in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He ran second in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity over that track last fall. In his most recent work he breezed five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at Gulfstream Park.
Also working for the Blue Grass was So Alive, who breezed five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Palm Beach Downs. He is another with a strong stretch kick who should appreciate a move to Keeneland. Over at Turfway Park, Jeff Ruby Steaks winner Somelikeithotbrown, another Blue Grass contender, worked five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 on the Polytrack.
One horse on whom I was very high after his impressive maiden victory going 1 1/8 miles was Motagally. He disappeared after that, but has returned to the worktab, breezing a half in :48 2/5. I don’t know if he can be ready for the Derby, but watch out for him in the Belmont Stakes. He’s a big long-striding colt who should love Belmont Park. Staying in the Chad Brown barn, we’re still waiting for Standard Deviation to work. His last work was March 16. This is a colt with a lot of potential, but he hasn’t run since finishing second to Global Campaign on Feb. 9.
We’ll see if Saturday’s UAE Derby produces any Kentucky Derby horses. Three Americans who could have a say in the outcome are the Doug O’Neill-trained Stubbins, winner of the off-the-turf Pasadena Stakes, who has the speed you look for at Meydan; the Brendon Walsh-trained Plus Que Parfait, who is looking to regain his form of last fall when he was narrowly beaten by Signalman in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes; and the Peter Miller-trained Gray Magician, second in the Miracle Wood Stakes and fourth in the Sham Stakes. One European invader looking to earn his ticket to Louisville is Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum’s Jahbath, who has been on a roll on the all-weather tracks, winning the Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park in England. We even have a Japanese colt with eyes on the Kentucky Derby, the Pyro colt Derma Louvre.
Of the local horses, many felt that Walking Thunder was a star in the making after crushing everything in sight at Meydan, but he was beaten soundly into second by Estihdaaf in the UAE 2,000 Guineas. A return to his earlier form could very well earn him a trip to Louisville. He is a classy-looking son of Violence with beautiful action and could rebound at the longer distance. The horse to beat could actually be a filly. Godolphin’s Divine Image, a daughter of Scat Daddy, won the UAE Oaks and then knocked off the boys with authority, winning the Al Bastakiya, the second leg of the UAE Triple Crown. A big effort here and she likely will be off to America for the May 3 Longines Kentucky Oaks. Another horse worth mentioning who has good tactical speed is Manguzi, who defeated Estihdaaf in the Al Bastakiya Trial, but could finish no better than third in the Al Bastakiya. No race would be complete without the presence of Aidan O’Brien, and the master of Ballydoyle will send out Van Beethoven, who was fourth in Ireland’s Kentucky Derby prep, the Patton Stakes, at Dundalk last out. Winner of the Group 2 Railway Stakes at the Curragh last year, the son of Scat Daddy was fourth in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster before testing out the all-weather track at Dundalk. Also in the race are Swift Rose and Razeena, second and third, respectively, in the UAE Oaks.