Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Evaluating prospects for the Kentucky Derby trail can be a frustrating endeavor in the summer and fall of their 2-year-old seasons, especially with young runners who have raced exclusively in sprints. Such is the case with Bob Hope Stakes winner High Velocity, who has shown promise in two starts but still has several hurdles left to clear before he stamps himself a legitimate Derby contender.
Ability: A $350,000 purchase by agent Ben Glass on behalf of current owners Gary and Mary West at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale, High Velocity won his career debut by two lengths as the 7-10 favorite Oct. 13 at Santa Anita Park in a 5 ½-furlong sprint.
He followed with a front-running, 1 ¼-length win as the even-money second betting choice in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes Nov. 16 at Del Mar.
High Velocity improved his Equibase Speed Figure from a 93 in his first race to a 100 while stretching out to seven-eighths of a mile for his stakes debut. He completed his final eighth of a mile in a solid 12.46 seconds under Drayden Van Dyke.
What really impressed me was how High Velocity dug in determinedly after he was headed, very briefly, near the top of the stretch by 9-10 favorite Strongconstitution. High Velocity leveled off nicely and then surged away from his challenger, showing he had plenty of fight and fuel left in the tank.
I really like what I’ve seen from High Velocity to date and the speed figures and growth from his debut to his second race are encouraging.
However, he has beaten only seven horses in his two starts – four challengers in his debut and three in in the Bob Hope – and he still must prove he can stretch out in distance to be a true Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve contender.
I’m interested to see if Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert removes the blinkers High Velocity has worn in his first two starts for his next race (or the race after that), a move that often signals Baffert is pleased with the maturation of a young prospect.
Running style: After stalking a swift pace in his career debut, High Velocity used his natural speed to set a pressured pace in the Bob Hope. He did not look like the pace pressure adversely affected him, and perhaps the blinkers helped in that regard.
I expect High Velocity is fast enough that he will be a pace factor when stretching out in distance, but it was nice to see in his debut that he can rate comfortably behind horses. As the races get longer, I’d expect High Velocity to settle in as a press-the-pace type who can seize command if the tempo is fairly easy or settle in behind a rival who is set on going to the front.
Connections: Gary and Mary West have raced a number of notable horses over the years, including 2005 Louisiana Derby winner High Limit, 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day, and 2017 Travers Stakes winner West Coast.
This has been a tumultuous year for the Wests after Xpressbet Florida Derby winner Maximum Security crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve but was disqualified in a controversial decision that has led to legal appeals. Maximum Security subsequently won the TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes and Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is a four-time Eclipse Award winner who has trained the winners of 15 Triple Crown races, including five Kentucky Derby winners and Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
Drayden Van Dyke rode High Velocity in the Bob Hope. Van Dyke enjoyed the best year of his career in 2018 when he won four Grade 1 races, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. He was sidelined for several months in 2019 after a spill in September, but Van Dyke has amassed 12 graded stakes victories this year that includes a Grade 1 win aboard Bast in the Del Mar Debutante.
Pedigree: High Velocity is from the sixth crop of Quality Road, a four-time Grade 1 winner who won the Met Mile as well as three Grade 1s at 1 1/8 miles. Quality Road was extremely fast and very consistent with eight wins, three seconds, and one third in 13 career starts.
Quality Road has likewise developed into a very good sire with champions Abel Tasman and Caledonia Road as well as 2019 Pegasus World Cup Invitational winner City of Light to his credit. Quality Road also is the sire of 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hootenanny, multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina, and Grade 1 winners Dunbar Road, Spring Quality, Salty, Illuminant, Roadster, and Klimt. Represented by elite sprinters and routers as well as Grade 1 winners on dirt and turf, Quality Road has been a productive and versatile sire with 47 stakes winners from 414 starters through Nov. 19.
Ketel Twist, by 2000 Haskell Invitational winner Dixie Union, is the dam (mother) of High Velocity. She won three of 21 career starts with all three of her wins coming at one mile. Ketel Twist was Grade 3-placed at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.
High Velocity’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Frozen Treat, was a winner at 1 1/16 miles and third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Pedicure, was a winner at one mile.
Frozen Treat, by Dynaformer, produced stakes winner Catrageous as well as a pair of stakes-placed runners, while Pedicure, by Mr. Prospector, produced three stakes winners.
Given the early talent High Velocity has shown, top connections, and a promising pedigree, there is plenty of reason to be encouraged by this unbeaten but largely untested 2-year-old colt.