Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for Feb. 19

Impressive Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Sole Volante tops Mike Curry’s latest list of Kentucky Derby contenders who are rising up the rankings as February turns to March. (Eclipse Sportswire)

This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve are not quite as strong as they were a week or two ago.

In this edition, the focus is the previous two weeks of races. With the action on the Derby trail heating up, this column will now appear regularly to analyze to biggest movers approaching the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard


Eclipse Sportswire

1. Sole Volante

The most impressive performance from a 3-year-old over the last two weekends of Triple Crown trail action, in my opinion, undoubtedly came from Sole Volante in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 8 at Tampa Bay Downs. Making his second start on dirt, he improved noticeably as he rallied from 15 ½ lengths back after a half-mile under Luca Panici and made up 13 ½ lengths by covering his next quarter-mile in 23.26 seconds, according to Trakus data. Sole Volante showed the ability to sustain that powerful bid with a final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.53 and a final sixteenth in 6.11 seconds as he came up just 12 hundredths of a second short of the stakes record. Sole Volante certainly was aided by a solid early pace in the Sam Davis, but that is something he probably also will benefit from in the Kentucky Derby. He defeated a nice colt in Independence Hall to win the race and earned a strong 108 Equibase Speed Figure as well as a career-best 96 Beyer Speed Figure and a career-top 102 BrisNet speed rating. Sole Volante has yet to run a bad race in four starts and there is some serious class and stamina on the bottom half of this pedigree. I went into more detail in last week’s Making the Grade profile on why I’m a believer in Sole Volante.

Lou Hodges, Jr. /Hodges Photography

2. Mr. Monomoy

I profiled Mr. Monomoy for the new edition of Making the Grade and came away impressed with his steady progress that resulted in a career-best performance in the first division of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. Sometimes you’ll see a racehorse early in his/her 3-year-old season do something we never thought they were capable of. Other times, they take smaller, yet still significant steps that move them forward, and that’s the type of win Mr. Monomoy delivered in the Risen Star. He’d previously had trouble at the start of races and encountered other types of adversity, but in the Risen Star he went right to the front, set a pressured pace, and showed a solid foundation when he had stamina in reserve for the stretch drive. He completed the final three-eighths of a mile in the Risen Star in 37.58 seconds and the final furlong in 12.78 seconds to win by 2 ½ lengths in the 1 1/8-mile race. Mr. Monomoy, by 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, earned a career-best Equibase Speed Figure (97) and BrisNet speed rating (96), increases of three and four points, respectively, in what looks like a race he can build upon. He rallied gamely to finish fourth after a disastrous start in his career debut and really has never run poorly. There is much to like in this improving half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to champion Monomoy Girl, the winner of the 2018 Longines Kentucky Oaks and Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Eclipse Sportswire

3. Silver Prospector

Count me as one of those who was disappointed when Silver Prospector finished a well-beaten fourth in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 24, but that loss came on a muddy track that looked pretty sticky with a short stretch run and a difficult pace scenario. The Declaration of War colt bounced back in a nice way in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes Feb. 17 at Oaklawn Park with a one-length win that earned his best Equibase Speed Figure (103) and BrisNet speed rating (96). Likewise, the 97 Beyer Speed Figure was the second best posted by a winner to date in a road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby scoring race. I was also encouraged by his final sixteenth of a mile in 6.36 seconds with a final five-sixteenths in a little more than 31 seconds. Those are pretty impressive numbers for what usually is a deep main track at Oaklawn, especially considering Silver Prospector was only 1 ½ lengths behind an opening half-mile in a solid :46.60 under Ricardo Santana Jr. The more I look at his five dirt races (he made his first three starts on grass), the more inclined I am to draw a line through the Smarty Jones and rate him off his wins in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and Grade 3 Southwest. This was the type of race Silver Prospector needed to regain his momentum for the Kentucky Derby, and he really came through for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. “The last two weeks the horse was training unbelievable!” Santana said. “We didn't get any rain so the track was just how he liked it. He pulled me in a great spot the first quarter, and I just became his passenger.”

Honorable Mention: There is no place to start but with Nadal, who was incredibly impressive in winning the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes Feb. 9 at Santa Anita Park going seven-eighths of a mile. He pressed a blistering half-mile in :44.09 and wore down Ginobili late to prevail by three-quarters of a length. He earned a 107 Equibase Speed Figure after an eye-catching 102 for his career debut Jan. 19. He earned a 96 BrisNet speed rating and a 91 Beyer Speed Figure, the latter a seven-point drop from his debut. This is a quality 3-year-old with a heck of a future, but I’m unconvinced at this point that he’s the second coming of Justify. I want to see how he handles a two-turn race before I start thinking Kentucky Derby. For what it’s worth, I also was very skeptical of Justify in 2018 and was proven wrong. If that happens again, so be it. … Modernist missed the cut here because I just did not like the way he finished – final furlong in 13.11 seconds and three-eighths in :28.66 – in the second division of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. He still made a monumental jump from a maiden winner to a Grade 2 winner and looks like a promising prospect with a terrific pedigree, but the speed figures came up a bit light and I want to see another step forward before I buy any stock. … Like Nadal, Charlatan turned in an eye-catching debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert with a 5 ¾-length runaway win in the three-quarter-mile sprint Feb. 16 at Santa Anita Park. I’m always a little cynical when I see a horse get huge speed figures after getting an uncontested lead in a short field, but the 105 Beyer Speed Figure, 101 BrisNet speed rating, and 102 Equibase Speed Figure definitely pop off the page, especially for a debut effort. His dam (mother), Authenticity, was a graded stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles who ran third in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. … A couple of highly regarded members of this 3-year-old class returned to the workout tab as Grade 1 winner Eight Rings drilled a half-mile in :47.20 Feb. 13 at Santa Anita and Grade 1 winner Maxfield breezed three-eighths of a mile in :38.20 Feb. 17 at Palm Meadows Training Center. It’s just a start on the road back to competition, but it’s nice to see them finally get rolling because time is going to start getting tight.


Eclipse Sportswire

1. Anneau d’Or

There were several head-scratching performances from key players on the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail, but none more so than Anneau d’Or’s ninth-place finish, beaten by 12 ¾ lengths, in the second division of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds. The Medaglia d’Oro colt was near the top many analysts’ top-ten lists after finishing second by a head in the Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November 2019 and second by a neck to highly regarded Thousand Words in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 7. Sometimes, when a racehorse comes back off an extended layoff, the first start back is just that … a starting point. That might turn out to be the case for Anneau d’Or, but I’d feel much better about his chances to bounce back if he had come up short on stamina late and faded to third or fourth rather than his complete no-show in the Risen Star. The 75 Equibase Speed Figure was 31 points worse than his career best. It’s far too early to write off Anneau d’Or for the 2020 Triple Crown trail, but that was not the start his connections or fans were hoping for in his 2020 bow.

Eclipse Sportswire

2. Gold Street

Gold Street rode a three-race winning streak, which included a pair of dominant stakes wins, into the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes Feb. 17. Unable to get a good position on or near the lead early after traffic trouble, Gold Street never fired and finished 23 ½ lengths behind stablemate Silver Prospector while running last of nine. While there are obvious excuses built in here for Gold Street considering he prefers to race near the front, there also is the obvious explanation that his three previous wins – also his best career races – all came on off (wet) tracks and he is not the same racehorse on a fast track. While I do believe the sloppy or muddy tracks he encountered in his previous three starts helped move Gold Street up, I also don’t believe the Southwest is representative of this Street Boss colt’s true talent level. He was second twice on fast tracks before his winning streak with respectable Equibase Speed Figures of 89 and 91. Long-range, I was not especially optimistic about Gold Street’s chances to excel at 1 ¼ miles, but I do think he is significantly better than he showed on Monday at Oaklawn. Regardless, this was a clear step backward on the Derby trail for Gold Street.

3. Ajaaweed

The Remsen Stakes runner-up made his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 8 at Tampa Bay Downs and ran third, but he finished 13 ¾ lengths behind winner Sole Volante and 11 ¼ lengths behind runner-up Independence Hall. He also was not flattered when Remsen winner Shotski finished a well-beaten second as the favorite in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes Feb. 1. While it is encouraging that his best race to date came in his longest race (Remsen), I’m just not sure he’s good enough right now to compete with truly elite 3-year-olds. He feels like a one-paced closer capable of picking up minor awards on the Triple Crown trail but not a serious Kentucky Derby hopeful at this point.

Of note: TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court finished a disappointing fourth in his season debut in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, but he was only beaten by 2 ¼ lengths in his first start in 14 weeks in a seven-furlong race that pretty clearly was considered a steppingstone for his 3-year-old season. Unlike some of the other poor starts discussed earlier, this race actually feels like a decent start to a season for a colt with bigger long-term goals. The 103 Equibase Speed Figure was just three points off the career-best 106 he earned in the Juvenile and Storm the Court should be able to build off the San Vicente.

Mike’s Derby Top 10

  1. Tiz the Law

  2. Authentic

  3. Thousand Words

  4. Maxfield

  5. Sole Volante

  6. Mr. Monomoy

  7. Dennis’ Moment

  8. Silver Prospector

  9. Enforceable

10. Gouverneur Morris

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