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 impact 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.
This is the time of year when a lightly raced 3-year-old can jump up and surprise in a key Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep race, forcing analysts to scramble to figure out if he is a pretender or contender. On March 7 at Tampa Bay Downs, King Guillermo pulled off the shock of the Triple Crown trail to date when he surged clear to a 4 ¾-length win in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at 49.20-1 odds. Let’s take a closer looks at this talented colt and evaluate his Derby chances.
Ability: Retired Major League Baseball player Victor Martinez signed the ticket for a bay colt by Uncle Mo for $150,000 at the 2019 OBS spring sale of 2-year-olds in training and named him King Guillermo after his father, who died when Martinez was 6 years old.
King Guillermo made his career debut Sept. 29 at Gulfstream Park in a dirt sprint and was never a threat. He next showed promise on grass with a 6 ¼-length maiden win at Gulfstream Park West in a one-mile turf race Nov. 2 and a third-place finish in the Pulpit Stakes Nov. 30.
He earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure for his maiden win and a 103 for the Pulpit Stakes, a massive jump from the 59 from his debut on dirt.
Pulpit Stakes winner Sole Volante subsequently made a successful transition from turf to dirt to win the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, and King Guillermo was asked to handle the same task in a rematch with his familiar rival in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Based solely upon King Guillermo’s past performances, it’s easy to see why he was dismissed and sent off at long odds. His only start on dirt was uninspiring to say the least and he improved significantly when switched to grass.
There are many racehorses, however, who disappoint in a dirt sprint debut where a slow start can mean little to no chance to win. That’s exactly what happened to King Guillermo in that September start. He was eighth by 10 lengths at the first call as the 6-5 favorite in a 5 ½-furlong sprint, passed a couple of horses late, but was no threat.
If that debut was viewed simply as a learning experience – which it wasn’t by most bettors as evidenced by his Tampa Bay Derby odds – King Guillermo did fit in the race based upon speed figures and a decent stakes debut.
Local rider Samy Camacho hustled him out of the starting gate from post-position 11 into an ideal stalking position. That really set up King Guillermo nicely for the rest of the race, especially once he settled in and relaxed under a loose hold from Camacho all the way down the backstretch.
Camacho urged King Guillermo to accelerate early on the final turn and he reeled in Relentless Dancer by the top of the stretch and then powered clear to take a three-length lead near the eighth pole. He completed the final five-sixteenths of a mile in an eye-catching 30.59 seconds with a final sixteenth in 6.23 seconds, showing he could finish powerfully after stalking/pressing the pace, albeit through fairly easy fractions.
The speed figures for the 4 ¾-length runaway came back strong, which was no surprise given runner-up Sole Volante had proven graded stakes form on the track and the final time (1:42.63) was the third-fastest in the history of the race.
King Guillermo improved five points to a 110 Equibase Speed Figure, earned a 102 BrisNet speed rating, and a 99 Beyer Speed Figure that was just a point off the highest winning figure to date on the road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Likewise, TimeFormUS gave him a 119 rating that places King Guillermo squarely in contention.
After the race, King Guillermo’s connections said they planned to train the colt up to the Kentucky Derby May 2. Given he has only one race this year and one since Nov. 30, it seems like a curious decision as it will be tough to have him fit for 1 ¼ miles off a single race eight weeks before the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
Running style: After a slow start in his career debut that probably eliminated his chances, King Guillermo set the pace in his turf debut and in his two most recent starts tracked from just off the pace in second. Like his sire, Uncle Mo, King Guillermo has a high cruising speed that can be a huge advantage, especially in dirt races. King Guillermo used that to his benefit in the Tampa Bay Derby, and I’d expect jockey Samy Camacho to use similar tactics in the Kentucky Derby to try to get good position in the clear just behind the pace.
Connections: Victoria’s Ranch is the racing operation of five-time MLB All-Star Victor Martinez, who belted 246 career home runs and finished second in the American League MVP voting in 2014. Martinez named Victoria’s Ranch after his three daughters and, as previously mentioned, named King Guillermo after his deceased father.
Martinez lives with his wife, Margret, 15-year-old son Victor Jose, and three daughters in Orlando, Fla. He was surrounded by family, including his mother, Margot, at the Tampa Bay Derby.
King Guillermo is one of three horses Martinez purchased at the 2019 OBS spring sale. He said he heard from former Detroit Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez after King Guillermo’s victory.
“I’ve been telling them that someday I would have a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and it looks like that dream has come true. It’s been crazy,” Martinez said.
Fellow Venezuelan Juan Carlos Avila trains King Guillermo. He won the 2012 Clasico del Caribe with El de Chine and earlier on the Tampa Bay Derby card earned his first U.S. stakes win in the Grade 3 Challenger Stakes with Trophy Chaser. Avila has amassed 43 winners from 293 starters through March 8.
Likewise, Samy Camacho is a Venezuela native. He took out his jockey’s license in 2012 and has won 607 races from 3,917 starters through March 8. His lone previous graded stakes win among 17 lifetime stakes victories came Feb. 8 when he guided Admiralty Pier to victory in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes.
King Guillermo would be the first Kentucky Derby starter for his owner, trainer, and jockey.
Pedigree: King Guillermo is from the fifth crop of champion Uncle Mo, who was the rare racehorse for whom the term brilliant was legitimately applicable. By Indian Charlie, Uncle Mo boasted dazzling speed and the ability to carry it around two turns.
Uncle Mo has gone on to a strong career at stud as he was the leading freshman and juvenile sire of 2015 and the top second-crop sire of 2016, when his leading earner Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby. Other notable runners include the following Grade 1 winners in two-turn races: Unbridled Mo, Bast, Outwork, Gomo, and Dream Tree as well as Mo Forza and Mo Town on the grass.
I would not consider Uncle Mo a classic-type sire, but he’s certainly capable of siring a two-turn horse who could successfully navigate 1 ¼ miles, especially given some stamina on the bottom half of the pedigree.
King Guillermo is out of the Dixieland Band mare Slow Sand, who was winless in two starts coming at seven-eighths of a mile on dirt and one mile on grass. Slow Sand is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to group stakes winner Slow Pace and graded stakes winner Funny Duck. Slow Pace won a Group 3 race at about 1 ¼ miles and was a stakes winner at about 1 ½ miles; Funny Duck won the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by LG and E and KU in 2018.
King Guillermo’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Slow Down, by 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, was a stakes winner on turf at 1 1/16 miles who won at about 1 ¼ miles in France for prominent owners-breeders the Wertheimer brothers.
King Guillermo’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Corrazona, by El Gran Senor, won five stakes, including a Grade 1 win at 1 1/8 miles on grass and a group stakes win in France in a race at a little longer than 1 1/8 miles. Corrazona produced a trio of stakes winners and was a half-sibling to 1990 Wood Memorial Stakes winner Thirty Six Red.
King Guillermo looked like he had plenty left in the tank in the stretch of the Tampa Bay Derby, and it’s easy to see why with a nice stamina boost from the bottom half of his pedigree.
I’d much, much prefer to see King Guillermo have another start before the Kentucky Derby for foundation, but I can understand why his connections don’t want to shoehorn another race in between. I really liked what I saw from him in the Tampa Bay Derby and I think he is a serious racehorse, but winning the Derby with one start in five months is a monumental challenge that leaves me a bit skeptical of his chances.