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 races. 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.
With three dominant wins in as many starts, Independence Hall is one of the most highly regarded prospects on the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve trail – at 10-1 odds, he ranks second behind Tiz the Law as a Derby favorite Jan. 5 on bookmaker William Hill’s future-book odds sheet. Is the Constitution colt a rising star in the division or has the hype exceeded the substance? Let’s dig a little deeper into Independence Hall’s chances on the Triple Crown trail.
Ability: Independence Hall overcame a slow start in his career debut by closing from off the pace to win a seven-eighths of a mile maiden special weight race by 4 ¾ lengths Sept. 21 at Parx Racing.
He earned an eye-catching 88 Equibase Speed Figure and was next tested against graded stakes competition in the one-mile, Grade 3 Nashua Stakes Nov. 3 at Aqueduct.
Independence Hall swamped the opposition in a 12 ¼-length Nashua runaway that earned a 104 Equibase Speed Figure and a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, numbers that indicated Independence Hall was a special racehorse.
Freshened after the Nashua, Independence Hall returned Jan. 1 in the one-mile Jerome Stakes, a points race for the 2020 Kentucky Derby.
As he did in his career debut, Independence Hall got off to a slow start. The overwhelming 1-10 favorite lunged out of the starting gate and trailed the field of six early. Independence Hall appeared eager to get right back in the race, however, and moved up to stalk the pace from the outside in second as a daunting presence alongside pacesetter Dubai Bobby.
Independence Hall then proved much the best again as he opened up a 2 ½-length lead in early stretch on his way to a four-length win. He completed the final quarter-mile in :24.65, about a half-second faster than both the second- and third-place finishers, and the final eighth of a mile in :12.53 according to Trakus data.
The speed figures came back very light for the Jerome – 95 Equibase Speed Figure and 83 Beyer Speed Figure – but I thought he finished well considering he needed to expend some energy after the slow start.
Physically, he looks like a potential monster; however, there are some mental issues that have cropped up. He really acted up in the paddock before the Jerome, a waste of emotional energy that might have contributed to the slower speed figures.
“We schooled him and he schooled well, but he’s obviously different in the afternoon when he comes over,” trainer Mike Trombetta said. “He’s smart enough to know it’s time to do something. I’m going to have to keep working on that. He’s a lot bigger and stronger than us. My guys did a great job and it can be hard to deal with him when they’re like that. … We’ll keep working with it.”
Independence Hall has also hurt his chances twice in his three starts with poor starts that he was able to overcome with superior talent, and in his last two races he shied from the whip. There is a chance all of this can be cleaned up – after all he’s only made three starts. But some racehorses can run a little hot and some develop a little more slowly mentally than physically. With Independence Hall, it is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Trombetta knew he did not have Independence Hall fully cranked coming off the freshening, preferring to build gradually to a long-range target. The trainer said he planned to ship Independence Hall to Florida to continue his Triple Crown trail preparations with the Feb. 8 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs a possibility.
“I think the plan will be … to head down to Tampa and train down there and get out of this weather and get him ready for the next step,” Trombetta said. “It could be the Sam F. Davis, it’s on the radar in five weeks. But the intent after today was to head south.”
It’s fair at this point to want to see Independence Hall navigate two turns and beat better competition – both the Nashua and the Jerome came up pretty light – before jumping on this Derby bandwagon. But in early January 2020, who has been better to date?
Running style: Twice in three starts, Independence Hall’s natural speed has allowed him to overcome bad starts. But as the competition gets better, the field sizes get larger, and he stretches out in distance around two turns, the Constitution colt will give himself a better chance to get a desirable pressing or stalking trip with a clean start. That will enable him to use his speed tactically and take it to his opponents. It looks like he’s best suited to race just off the pace with a target and then make his move nearing the stretch.
Connections: Robert and Kathleen Verratti’s Charlestown Investments purchased Independence Hall for $100,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale. Robert Verratti is the managing director of Charlestown Investments and an operating partner with TL Ventures. He previously served as CEO of Traffic.com and Finite Carbon Corp, among other companies.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Twin Creeks Racing Stables came on board after Independence Hall’s maiden win.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners is the racing partnership started in 2012 by Aron Wellman, son of longtime California breeders Michael and Cory Wellman. Eclipse teamed with Bridlewood Farm and Robert LaPenta to win the 2017 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets with Tapwrit. Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners also has raced Grade 1 winners Curalina, Danza, Capo Bastone, Byrama, and Illuminant as well as, in partnership, 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Sharing and 2016 Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin.
Twin Creeks Racing Stables is a private racing partnership established in 2007 between childhood friends Steve Davison and Randy Gullatt. Twin Creeks was part of Destin’s ownership group and also raced Grade 1 winner Graydar and 2010 Louisiana Derby winner Mission Impazible. Twin Creeks campaigned in partnership 2018 Travers Stakes winner Catholic Boy and multiple Grade 1 winner Constitution, the sire of Independence Hall.
Trainer Michael Trombetta has been one of the leading trainers in the Mid-Atlantic region for the last 12-plus years with purse earnings in excess of $3 million every year since 2007. Trombetta, whose father owned racehorses, earned his first win in 1989 and has amassed more than 1,800 wins to date. He won the Illinois Derby in 2006 with Sweetnorthernsaint, who was unplaced as the favorite in that year’s Kentucky Derby but ran second in the Preakness Stakes.
Jose Ortiz, the 2017 Eclipse Award winner as outstanding jockey, has been aboard for Independence Hall’s two most recent starts. Ortiz won the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in 2017 aboard Tapwrit and has finished second two other times in that race. He was second in the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Good Magic and finished third in the first jewel of the Triple Crown last year with Tacitus.
Pedigree: Independence Hall is from the first crop of 2014 Florida Derby winner Constitution, who ranked second on the first-crop sire list in 2019.
Constitution, by leading sire Tapit, missed the Triple Crown races with a hairline fracture in his right front leg. He won four of eight career starts, adding a second Grade 1 as a 4-year-old in 2015 when he won the Donn Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths.
Independence Hall is one of three stakes winners produced by the winning Cape Town mare Kalahari Cat, who also produced 2013 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes winner Black Onyx and Grade 3-placed stakes winner Francois among eight winners from 10 starters. Kalahari Cat won three of 14 starts at distances from three-quarters of a mile to one mile and ran second or third seven other times.
Independence Hall’s grandam (maternal grandmother) is the winning Storm Cat mare Desert Stormette, a stakes-producing full sister to 1995 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Desert Stormer.
Stamina is a bit of a concern for me with Independence Day as I’m not confident he’ll be at his best at 1 ¼ miles based on his pedigree and the fact that he has yet to compete in a two-turn race. Still, he’s been exceptional in three starts to date and looks like an elite 3-year-old with just a ton of potential.