Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for March 11

Honor A. P. walked the paddock at Santa Anita Park with jockey Mike Smith and trainer John Shirreffs shortly before finishing second in the San Felipe Stakes on March 7. (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. Honor A. P.

I was waiting for Honor A. P. to make his stakes debut and I had to wait a little longer than anticipated after he missed a planned start in the Jan. 4 Sham Stakes because of a bruised foot. The Honor Code ridgling made his first start of the year (and first since a maiden win Oct. 13) in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes March 7 and finished second to Authentic. Regular readers of this blog know I’m very high on Authentic. He ranked second on my Derby Top 10 list entering the week and remained in that spot after a 2 ¼-length win. But I was also closely watching runner-up Honor A. P., and I thought he ran a strong race off the long layoff for trainer John Shirreffs. While he took a slight step back from an Equibase Speed Figure perspective from a 105 for his October maiden win to a 101 for the second in the San Felipe, he looked like a racehorse who can and will handle added distance while 3 ½ lengths clear of 2019 champion 2-year-old male Storm the Court. He stalked a strong pace through an opening quarter-mile in :22.84 and still finished willingly, plus he has plenty of room to improve off his San Felipe effort in his next start in the April 4 Santa Anita Derby. He improved his Beyer Speed Figure from a 91 to a 95 in the San Felipe, and while he has a way to go to catch Authentic, I think he might be better-suited to 1 ¼ miles. Honor A. P. is out of Hollywood Story, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles for Shirreffs, and his sire, Honor Code, also was a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles.

Eclipse Sportswire

2. King Guillermo

I’ll admit I’m not clear on where I stand on King Guillermo. On one hand, I loved his win in the March 7 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby visually and it graded out well on paper with strong speed figures and a fast final time of 1:42.63 for 1 1/16 miles. He finished his final sixteenth in a racehorse time of 6.23 seconds and earned a 110 Equibase Speed Figure, 102 BrisNet speed rating, and 119 TimeForm US rating. His 99 Beyer Speed Figure was faster than Authentic earned for winning the Grade 2 San Felipe and just a point off the best figure for a winner in a 2020 Kentucky Derby points race. Coming off a 14-week layoff, it makes sense not to rush the Uncle Mo colt back after a career-best effort, but that is a double-edged sword. It would take a hell of a training job to have King Guillermo ready to win at 1 ¼ miles against the best of his generation with only one race since Nov. 30, and that’s what the connections of King Guillermo said they would try to do by training up to the Kentucky Derby (they nominated him to the Triple Crown on March 11, paying a $6,000 late fee). The talent here is tantalizing and he gets a dose of stamina from the bottom half of his pedigree, but I’m worried he may not be 100% fit to tackle the greatest challenge of his life on Derby day for a trainer in Juan Avila who earned his first two U.S. graded stakes wins last weekend. Check out King Guillermo’s Making the Grade profile for more information.

Lauren King/Coglianese Photo

3. Ete Indien

His victory in the Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes was a true breakout performance from a 3-year-old I believe has a ton of ability and potential. He took a nice step forward from his runner-up finish to Tiz the Law in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 1 when he led from start to finish in an 8 ½-length Fountain of Youth runaway. The Summer Front colt improved his Beyer Speed Figure from a 95 to a 97, earned a very strong 120 TimeForm US rating and now has earned 103, 104, 104 BrisNet speed ratings for his last three starts. Only Equibase was a bit down on him as he dipped from a 113 in the Holy Bull to a 106. So why isn’t Ete Indien higher this week? My concerns are two-fold. First, I think there are some legitimate stamina questions that I outlined in my March 3 Making the Grade profile. Second, I don’t think he’ll get an easy, uncontested lead in the Kentucky Derby with several other speedy horses in the mix, most notably San Felipe Stakes winner Authentic, who looked like a buzzsaw cutting through wind on the front end March 7 at Santa Anita.

Mischevious Alex (Chelsea Durand/NYRA Photo)

Honorable Mention: Mischevious Alex has run three-straight big races. By winning the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes March 7 and earning 50 qualifying points toward the 2020 Kentucky Derby, he guaranteed a spot in the starting gate May 2. The speed figures for the Gotham were good but not great, but visually the Into Mischief colt looked terrific in his two-length win. His connections have had concerns all along about his stamina and ability to thrive racing around two turns, so I share them with the people who know him best. His only previous try around two turns was his lone previous start on grass, so I’m not sure we can take much from that seventh-place finish. He looks like he has a chance to be an elite sprinter/miler, but I think enough of the talent that Mischevious Alex cracked my Derby Top 10. I think his upside is significantly higher than several others and I’d rather err on the side of talent. … Authentic ranks highest on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 from among the prep winners over the last few weeks, but I had him rated second behind Tiz the Law and kept him there this week so there was no movement after his March 7 San Felipe Stakes win. I loved the way he waited for a challenge from Honor A. P. at the top of the stretch and then dug in to put him away. I’m not concerned at all that the San Felipe speed figures came up a bit light: 98 Beyer Speed Figure, 105 Equibase Speed Figure 97 BrisNet speed rating. Authentic is the real deal and, I believe, boasts the highest cruising speed from this year’s cast of Derby hopefuls.


BENOIT photo

1. Thousand Words

The most unexpected disappointing performance, in my opinion, over the last few weeks came from Thousand Words when he faded to fourth, beaten by 11 ¼ lengths in the Grade 2 San Felipe by stablemate Authentic. What I liked about Thousand Words in his first three starts (all wins) was that he showed he was a fighter, especially when holding off Anneau d’Or to win the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. In the San Felipe, it looked like Authentic stole his spirit when he accelerated away from Thousand Words, who had no response. After he had posted 101, 101, and 107 Equibase Speed Figures for his first three starts, he regressed to an 87 for the San Felipe and would need to bounce back in a big way to be a serious player on the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail.

2. Dennis’ Moment

The Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes was the second straight poor result for Dennis’ Moment. The first disappointing start came with a reasonable excuse as Iroquois Stakes winner Dennis’ Moment stumbled badly at the start of the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and lost all chance when last of eight as the even-money favorite. There was no built-in excuse in the Fountain of Youth as he faded to 10th, beaten by 25 ¼ lengths, as the 13-10 favorite on Feb. 29. Trainer Dale Romans expressed his disappointment on Twitter after the race. Romans said Dennis’ Moment was not injured, but clearly something was not right and the Tiznow colt has not had a published workout since the race.

3. Mr. Monomoy

Mr. Monomoy put everything together for a career-best effort to win the first division of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford by 2 ½ lengths Feb. 15. He led from start to finish and looked like a serious player on the road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby, but on March 1 it was confirmed that he was off the Derby trail with an ankle injury and Mr. Monomoy’s connections sent him to WinStar Farm for 60 days of rest. A half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to champion Monomoy Girl, Mr. Monomoy still has a bright future; unfortunately, it does not include a trip to Churchill Downs May 2 for the Kentucky Derby.

Of note: Chance It entered the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby with four wins in six starts and had never finished worse than second for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. Included among his wins was a victory around two turns in the FTBOA Florida Sire In Reality Stakes as a 2-year-old, but Chance It failed to fire at Tampa Bay Downs and finished a nonthreatening fifth, beaten by 8 ½ lengths. Tampa can be a bit of a tricky main track for some racehorses and he was asked to rate much farther back than normal in the race, so while this is a step in the wrong direction, I’m willing to give him another shot. … Grade 1 winner Maxfield has four published workouts as he prepares for his first race wince winning the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity Oct. 5 at Keeneland Race Course, but time is growing tight. Trainer Brendan Walsh said they are considering bypassing the Kentucky Derby and perhaps targeting the Preakness Stakes rather than rush him back in a tough spot to try and make the May 2 Derby. Perhaps there is still an outside chance he makes it into the Derby field, but at this point it looks like his connections will take a conservative approach.

Mike’s Derby Top 10

  1. Tiz the Law

  2. Authentic

  3. Honor A. P.

  4. Sole Volante

  5. Silver Prospector

  6. King Guillermo

  7. Ete Indien

  8. Enforceable

  9. Gouverneur Morris

10. Mischevious Alex

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