Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin presents his Derby Dozen this week with a look at his leading contenders for the 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, now rescheduled for Sept. 5. Racing has been postponed at Santa Anita Park and Aqueduct and Keeneland cancelled its spring meet entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there are no Kentucky Derby prep races scheduled until the Arkansas Derby, which has been postponed to May 2, original date of the Kentucky Derby.
With little action to write about in the upcoming weeks, we’re going to focus a little more on speed ratings that we follow to detect patterns that could suggest where these horses might be on the first Saturday in September, which right now seems like an eternity away. They also can tell a great deal about a horse’s strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately how fast they are – not only when applied to final times, but also within the body of the race. We will also touch on the latest Churchill Downs Future Wager and see which horses might be overlays come September.
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1. Tiz the Law
Last week we discussed some of the possible reasons for this colt’s mediocre winning time in the Curlin Florida Derby and why it’s not worth paying much attention to. Well, despite the decline in his Brisnet speed figure, it is interesting to note that Tiz the Law actually paired up his Holy Bull Stakes winning Thoro-Graph figure of negative ¾. And you can’t ask more of a horse than to run back-to-back negative figures, especially considering no other 3-year-old has run a negative number this year. So, he has the speed, the pedigree, the running style, the temperament, and an owner and a trainer who have already won the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, he’s ready to win the Derby on May 2. No one knows where he’ll be on Sept. 5.
2. Sole Volante
I put him back to No. 2, where he had been, partly because he likely will run in the Arkansas Derby on May 2 and he has run back-to-back 108 Brisnet late pace figures, which is the fastest late pace figure by a 3-year-old. What’s more, he was able to duplicate it even in a defeat (second in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby), which was designed mostly as a learning experience. Watching him stride out in winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes is still one of the highlights of the year, and I am looking for a powerful closer who can move early and sustain his run while moving effortlessly through the stretch and getting stronger the farther he goes. And I haven’t seen one to match this guy. With the run for the roses so far off and so uncertain, I just want to see that big closing kick in the Arkansas Derby, which will should have a large field, or possibly be split. I love his 34-1 odds in Churchill’s Future Wager.
Deep down, trainer Bob Baffert would love to back off the Sham Stakes and San Felipe Stakes winner and give him time to grow up and mature. And with the Santa Anita Derby looking like it won’t be run, that is what he will do, as he points him for a summer campaign. Authentic again showed his greenness in his most recent work when he ran up behind a pair of workers and seemed to lose focus, cocking his head out and switching over to his left lead before switching back to his right lead. We already know the talent is there, and he relaxes so well I doubt there will be a problem stretching out. His Brisnet speed ratings have been good and he’s on an excellent pattern on Thoro-Graph, going from a 6 ¼ to a 3 ½ to a 1 ½. If there is no Santa Anita Derby, he should benefit a great deal from a little time off, after which he should return more of a polished pro.
4. Honor A. P.
From a speed rating standpoint, he’s not quite there, maybe a couple of races away if he continues to move forward. His Brisnet speed rating was a three-point decline from his maiden win to his San Felipe Stakes second-place finish behind Authentic, but he improved three points on Thoro-Graph, which seems to be the direction he’s heading from watching his races. He ran in the San Felipe like a horse who is improving. Trainer John Shirreffs said he’d love to run him in the Santa Anita Derby and would consider the Arkansas Derby as an alternative, but no decisions have been made. He tuned up with an easy half-mile in :49 and looked great, moving smoothly throughout with his head, as usual, down into the bit. He is extremely professional in his works and his races and you couldn’t ask him to be doing and looking any better.
With the Arkansas Derby now a good possibility and after seeing his speed ratings, you have to take him very seriously. His Thoro-Graph figure leaped from a 7 ¼ to a zero going from grass to dirt. But what I really loved was his 102 speed figure on Brisnet he earned in his Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby win and a whopping 107 late pace figure. When a horse who is always right up on the pace can put in that kind of closing pace figure, especially off a fairly solid 92 middle pace figure, you can see why he dominated that race. No one, not even Sole Volante, could have caught him with as strong a finish as that. The Arkansas Derby should tell us just how good this horse really is. If you got him at 36-1 in the Future Wager and he wins or runs big at Oaklawn Park, you’ve got yourself a pretty live ticket at a huge price.
He is another who should benefit from the extra time. He still has improving to do based on his Brisnet numbers, but his jump from three straight 5s on Thoro-Graph to a 2 in the Curlin Florida Derby (when fourth) is what you want to see. He needed to take a step forward and he did, despite a less than ideal trip, from which he should learn and gain a great deal of experience in dealing with tight traffic. Right now it is mostly gut feeling, visuals, and projecting where he will be on Sept. 5. I certainly would have taken a shot at him in the Future Wager at 31-1.
With him backing off before even getting started, it puts him right back to where he was. I still think as highly of him as I always did, and had him as my top-ranked 2-year-old, but until he starts working again and finds a race so we know what kind of transition he’s made from 2 to 3, he’ll have to stay around the No. 5 to No. 7 level. But if he comes back as good as he was in last fall’s Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, he likely will be battling Tiz the Law for the No. 1 spot. We still haven’t seen a horse with the explosive power he demonstrated at Keeneland. Only Sole Volante has come close. It was that move that people still remember and why he closed as one of the favorites in the latest Kentucky Derby Future Wager at 9-1 odds in spite of not having run this year.
This colt is one big effort in the Arkansas Derby away from leaping into the No. 2 or No. 3 spot. We know how brilliant and professional and dominating he is. We just need to see him tested for class. His speed ratings on Thoro-Graph and Brisnet are through the roof, and he runs like a horse who will go on despite the questions about his pedigree, basically being by Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Speightstown, who in fact has sired several Grade 1 winners at a mile and a quarter. The ease with which this colt does everything suggests he could be a major star in the making, which explains him closing as the co-favorite among individual interests in the Future Wager at odds of 5-1, despite never running in a stakes. Even doing things so effortlessly, he still runs monster numbers, including his ability to run triple-digit middle and late pace figures on Brisnet, something you very rarely see from a horse with only a maiden and allowance race. He is one horse who definitely will appreciate the delay and really wasn’t ready for the Kentucky Derby as originally scheduled. Now the pressure for points is off if trainer Bob Baffert sends him to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby as his big class test.
I like the way Bob Baffert has been working the Rebel Stakes winner, having him lay off his workmate for as long as possible. This colt needs to relax early and show he can rate. His early and middle pace figures on Brisnet have been strong, but his late pace figures have been pedestrian, so he needs to start evening that out, and the Arkansas Derby is a good place to start. On both Brisnet and Thoro-Graph, his numbers have been just okay and fairly even with no improvement. It is hoped that with his pedigree he can learn to settle better and save something for the end. Remember, his last two wins have both been by only three-quarters of a length. He will get his big chance to move up in the Arkansas Derby. Once this colt learns to push all the right buttons there’s no telling how good he can be.
10. Ete Indien
We established last week that you can excuse his third-place finish in the Florida Derby, and that he is a much better horse than that, and it would more helpful assessing his true ability if we could see what he’s really capable of when not breaking from outside posts at Gulfstream Park, even though he was able to overcome it in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes. Although his Brisnet speed figure dropped to a 94 after three consecutive triple-digit numbers, his Thoro-Graph number only dipped to a still respectable 2 ¾ following a pair of 2s. In his three previous starts, he ran triple-digit opening pace figures on Brisnet followed by triple-digit middle pace figures ranging from 103 to 106, and then still had enough left to run solid 99 late pace figures in all three. In the Florida Derby, he ran a 90 early pace figure, a 100 middle pace figure and a sluggish 85 late pace figure, all far slower than we know he can run. So, clearly this was not the same horse for whatever reason, and he deserves another chance to bounce back.
11. Mystic Guide
His Thoro-Graph numbers are pretty much what I expected them to be for a late bloomer just getting started. He jumped from a 10 in his career debut to a 5 ¾ in his allowance win at Fair Grounds on March 21, which gives him a good starting off point, and he has plenty of time to boost those numbers to where he is competitive with the leading Derby contenders. His pedigree suggests he will only get better the farther he goes, and his closing fractions of about :23 3/5 and :6.17 in his maiden victory were extremely fast. Yes, the early fractions appear on the surface to be on the slow side, but the half-mile of :48.59 was only .59 of a second slower than the victorious Wells Bayou ran in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. I believe this colt has a bright future and is the one horse to put in the Top 12 on pure speculation and visuals with the Derby so far off.
12. Major Fed
The Arkansas Derby is being considered, but with everything so up in the air, this colt’s connections are still trying to decide the best path for him, basically whether to plan for September or take the races available now. All we can do for now is wait and see what his connections decide to do. His Thoro-Graph and Brisnet figures suggest he is not quite fast enough at this point to beat some of the brilliant horses expected at Oaklawn, but there is no reason to think he won’t be by September, judging by his steady climb up the class ladder, the recent trips he’s had, and his scope for improvement. And let’s remember his 106 late pace figure on Brisnet (yes, off a slow pace) and his 99 late pace figure in earned when finishing fourth in the Louisiana Derby after going very wide both bode well for the future, especially with his pedigree that is inundated with stamina.
Knocking On the Door
This week’s Highlight Horse: Getting a chance to look at all the Thoro-Graph and Brisnet numbers, the one horse who fascinates me most is Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby runner-up Ny Traffic. It is remarkable how both figures parallel each other in rate of improvement. His last five Brisnet speed figures are 77, 83, 88, 90, and 96. His last four Thoro-Graph numbers are 13 ½ , 8 ½, 5 ½, and 2 ¾. That is about as steady an improvement as you can get. And what is most fascinating are his early Thoro-Graph numbers. Sandwiched between a 10 ¾ in his debut at Parx Racing and a 10 ½ in his third start is an outrageous 2 ¾, which is pretty spectacular for a 2-year-old at Parx.
The question with him is how far he wants to go, as his pedigree on the surface looks to be geared more to a mile and possibly up to 1 1/8 miles. His sire Cross Traffic did win the Whitney Stakes and his broodmare sire Graeme Hall won the Arkansas Derby and Jim Dandy Stakes, so there is a strong nine-furlong base. His maternal great-grandsire Silic won the Breeders Cup Mile and the Shoemaker Mile twice, and his maternal great-granddam Quilma won the Chilean 1,000 Guineas. But Quilma’s sire Semenenko is by Vaguely Noble, out of English Oaks winner Carrozza, so there is tremendous stamina there. And Silic’s sire Sillery was a Group 2 winner in France and was second in Grade/Group 1 races in France, Italy, and the U.S. at a mile and a half. On the sire’s side, Cross Traffic is inbred 4x5 to Dr. Fager. What is also fascinating about his pedigree is that in his first five generations on his dam’s side there are horses bred in the U.S. France, Chile, Ireland, and Australia.
He has excellent tactical speed and was up against it trying to chase Wells Bayou, who was alone on a slow pace in the Louisiana Derby. His majority owner John Fanelli started getting calls about him after his brilliant maiden score. He contacted Chuck Zacney, whose good horse Monday Morning Qb finished second in that maiden race, but the asking price was too high. After two disappointing efforts, Fanelli decided to move him to Saffie Joseph Jr. at Gulfstream and asked Zacney again if he wanted to buy in, convinced he was a two-turn horse. Zacney, who also has the swift Gotham Stakes winner Mischevious Alex, was intrigued that he was a New York-bred and had those races to look forward to, so he bought in for 20 percent at a more reasonable price.
Now, after a pair of graded stakes-placed efforts, it’s just a question of finding a spot for him, while still not quite sure how far he wants to go. It is interesting to note that Ny Traffic earned a faster Thoro-Graph number than the victorious Wells Bayou in the Louisiana Derby, despite ducking out in the stretch from left-handed whipping. But he did seem to find another gear in the final 100 yards and was striding out beautifully at the wire, and was still going strong past the wire. He also is one of the most consistently fast workers in the country with four-furlong drills in :47 3/5, :47 2/5, and :47 1/5, and five-furlong works in :59 2/5, :58 4/5, :59 3/5, :59 2/5, and 1:00 flat.
One thing the Derby postponement does is make allowance and even maiden races relevant once again, and we have had several worth mentioning over the past two weeks.
Todd Pletcher sent out another promising colt in Money Moves, who pressed the pace in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream before drawing off to 2 ¾-length victory in a sharp 1:35.30. The son of Candy Ride is now two-for-two and obviously has a bright future. Runner-up Edge of Fire, a son of Curlin trained by Jimmy Jerkens, is another to watch down the road. Both these colts will only get better the farther they go.
A mile and a sixteenth allowance optional claimer at Oaklawn turned out a bit disappointing with the sloppy track and the disqualification from first of Winning Impression, who defeated graded stakes-placed Finnick the Fierce by one length. The eventual winner ran a game race stuck down on the rail, and this was a good bounce-back race after a pair of disappointing efforts in graded stakes. He is one of only two horses to have finished in front of Tiz the Law, both in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Winning Impression had a great trip and was probably the best horse, but drifted in, bothering the 1-2 favorite Answer In, who was not going to win anyway, but it did likely cost him a fourth-place finish.
A perfect example of a late discovery this year is Sonneman. In a seven-furlong allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream Park, the rapidly improving Curlin colt dropped back in distance from a one-mile maiden score at Belmont Park after being away for six months and exploded by the leaders in the stretch, closing from last, almost a dozen lengths back after breaking slowly, to win going away by 1 ½ lengths. The negative is that the race was set up for him after some blistering fractions and a slow final eighth. But the positive is that Sonneman’s pedigree is inundated with stamina everywhere you look, including four English Derby winners (Sir Ivor, Mill Reef, Nijinsky, and Shirley Heights) and a French Derby winner, (Darshaan), as well as Sadler’s Wells, sire of six Irish Derby winners, three French Derby winners, two English Derby winners including Galileo, and two Arc de Triomphe winners, and you can add four American classic winners and the sire of two Kentucky Derby winners (Halo). So you wouldn’t think he would be effective sprinting. It is interesting to note that his dam Zardana upset the great Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in Rachel’s 4-year-old debut.
In his maiden victory, I loved the way he relaxed off the pace in seventh and let horses go by him on the turn, just biding his time and not getting stirred up, despite being in traffic. When jockey Jose Lezcano finally asked him he swung extremely wide and mowed down everyone in the stretch, including a stubborn Cost Basis, who came back and broke his maiden in his next start at 4-5 for Chad Brown and Klaravich Stables. What was most impressive was that Sonneman closed his final quarter in a rapid :23 3/5. It looks like Mark Hennig has a real good one for his longtime client Courtlandt Farms.
Sonneman is a handsome classy-looking nearly black colt with a great deal of appeal who has a fluid way of moving, keeping his legs perfectly straight under him. Definitely watch out for this guy when he goes two turns and beyond. I think by September we will all be talking about him as a serious Derby horse.
My No. 13 ranked horse Three Technique will skip the Arkansas Derby and point for a summer campaign. Looking at the closing Future Wager odds, one that looks to be a potential overlay projecting ahead to September is the 50-1 on Modernist, who is on an excellent Thoro-Graph pattern that suggests he will be a much better horse then than he is now, and he's pretty good now. Who would have thought fall that you would be able to get 53-1 odds on the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner. Storm the Court has not run a bad race this year, and if he moves forward after pairing up 3 ½ Thoro-Graph numbers he could be fairly live four months from now. He just needs to figure out what his most effective weapon is.
What a year Bob Baffert picked to have five potential Kentucky Derby horses. He has an arena for two of them at Oaklawn Park, but his two forgotten ones, Thousand Words and Azul Coast, are kind of lost right now, as is Eight Rings, who has been working brilliantly, but can't find anywhere to make his 3-year-old debut The all but forgotten Withers Stakes winner Max Player has been working six and seven furlongs, but also has nowhere to run. Linda Rice said she is spacing out his works until she can figure out what to do with him.
It looks like they could have a large field for Saturday's Oaklawn Stakes, which could attract Basin, who is coming off a strong third in the Rebel Stakes, his first start since romping in last summer’s Runhappy Hopeful Stakes.