Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based on ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Two starts, two impressive victories for Thousand Words. The bay colt made his stakes debut a winning one Dec. 7 with a hard-fought neck victory in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. Let’s take a closer look at his chances to be a major player on the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve trail.
Ability: The Albaugh family and Spendthrift Farm purchased Thousand Words for $1 million at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale. A seven-figure auction price tag typically means a yearling was physically impressive with a strong pedigree.
Sent to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the bay Pioneerof the Nile colt made his career debut Oct. 26 at Santa Anita Park and won the 6 ½-furlong race by a half-length. He earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure for the win.
Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in a graded stakes made the Los Alamitos Futurity a significant test on several levels. It was a class hurdle against significantly better competition than he faced in his career debut and he was navigating two turns for the first time. Thousand Words also was racing on an “off” track for the first time as rain led to a sealed track rated good.
The Los Alamitos Futurity drew only four horses, but his opponents were TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or and third-place finisher Wrecking Crew along with graded stakes-winning stablemate High Velocity.
Thousand Words pressed High Velocity early on through a half-mile in :45.87, took the lead in the stretch, and gradually edged away from his stubborn stablemate. Anneau d’Or, however, was finishing faster on the outside and loomed the main threat as he passed Thousand Words inside the final eighth of a mile.
Thousand Words battled back gamely from the inside under Flavien Prat and edged away to win by a neck.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said after the race that he thought Anneau d’Or surprised Thousand Words, who did not see him until late because of the blinkers he was wearing.
“Prat did a great job. He brought him out and showed him the other horse,” Baffert said. “I had a lot of blinker on today, probably too much blinker, but when he saw the other horse, he kicked back in gear, came back, and handled it really well. That’s pretty impressive for second time out to run that way and run that well.”
Thousand Words earned a 104 Equibase Speed Figure, essentially pairing the figure he ran in his debut while stretching out and encountering a wet track. He also earned a promising 91 Beyer Speed Figure and 95 BrisNet rating.
Thousand Words has flashed elite ability in two starts and also showed impressive will to win late in the Los Alamitos Futurity. That combination of talent and tenacity should be especially potent in the hands of Baffert, who swept the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah (also by Pioneerof the Nile) and 2018 with Justify.
Running style: Thousand Words stalked the pace while sprinting in his career debut and was closer to the front in his second start when the pace slowed a bit while stretching out in distance. In the Los Alamitos Futurity, he looked comfortable about a length and a half behind High Velocity on the first turn and then used his natural speed to draw alongside the pacesetter on the backstretch. He was not overeager once he gained that position and Thousand Words responded immediately when Prat let out a notch on the reins. Given his responsiveness and the fact that he was caught off guard a bit by Anneau d’Or in the stretch, don’t be surprised to see Baffert remove the blinkers for his next start, which he often does with his best prospects late in their 2-year-old or early in their 3-year-old seasons.
Connections: Dennis Albaugh and his family have owned several talented Kentucky Derby hopefuls in recent years, including Grade 1 winners Brody’s Cause and Free Drop Billy as well as graded stakes winners J Boys Echo and Not This Time.
Not This Time finished second in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Albaugh Family Stable is the Des Moines, Iowa-based racing operation of Jason Loutsch and Dennis Albaugh, founder of the multibillion-dollar international pesticide company Albaugh Inc. Albaugh Family Stable also races 2019 Iroquois Stakes winner Dennis’ Moment, who stumbled badly at the start as the favorite in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Both Free Drop Billy and Brody’s Cause stand as stallions at B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm. Hughes is the billionaire founder and chairman of Public Storage who purchased Spendthrift Farm in 2004 and raced among many standouts four-time champion Beholder.
Bob Baffert has won 15 U.S. Triple Crown races and four Eclipse Awards during his Hall of Fame career. He has five career victories in the Kentucky Derby: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018). In addition to Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify, Baffert won two legs of the Triple Crown with Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given, and War Emblem.
Jockey Flavien Prat is enjoying a breakout season with $19.6 million in purse earning through Dec. 9, eclipsing his previous career-best total of $12.9 million set in 2018. Prat’s six Grade 1 wins in 2019 include the Kentucky Derby aboard Country House and the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Storm the Court. Prat also finished third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby aboard Battle of Midway.
Pedigree: Thousand Words is by multiple Grade 1 winner Pioneerof the Nile, runner-up in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Pioneerof the Nile is best known as the sire of Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner American Pharoah, but he has 31 stakes winners and 17 group or graded stakes winners from seven crops of racing age. Other standouts include 2016 champion 2-year-old male Classic Empire, who was second in the 2017 Preakness Stakes; and Grade 1 winner Midnight Storm.
While Thousand Words gets a dose of stamina from Pioneerof the Nile, who is by 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, the bottom half of his pedigree slants a bit more toward speed.
Thousand Words’ dam (mother) is multiple graded-stakes winning sprinter Pomeroys Pistol, by Pomeroy. Pomeroys Pistol finished second in the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes at three-quarters of a mile and the Grade 1 Test Stakes at seven-eighths of a mile in 2011. She finished a well-beaten third in the one-mile Davona Dale Stakes in her lone try stretching out beyond a sprint. Likewise, her sire, Pomeroy, was a multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter.
Thousand Words' second dam (maternal grandmother) is unraced Prettyatthetable, by dual classic winner Point Given, and third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Swearingen, by Deposit Ticket, was a multiple stakes winner at both one mile and 1 1/8 miles.
If you buy the talent and respect the ability of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, which I do, it might be tempting to sell the pedigree of Thousand Words when considering his chances for the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Sure, his dam was a talented sprinter and he might want no part of 1 1/4 miles, but I see far more positives than negatives in evaluating Thousand Words. He looks like a legitimate 2020 Derby prospect to me.