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 on May 2.
The Kentucky Derby leaderboard shuffled considerably over the previous week, with three qualifying points preps held on Feb. 15 and another on President’s Day, Feb. 17. Mr. Monomoy and Modernist won the first and second division, respectively, of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, each earning 50 Kentucky Derby points, while Silver Prospector boosted his total with 10 more points in the Southwest Stakes and Azul Coast earned 10 as well in the El Camino Real Derby.
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1. Tiz the Law
His 108 Equibase Speed Figure is by far the fastest number by a 3-year-old this year. What is even more impressive is that he was able to run a 105 late pace figure after running a 106 middle pace figure and a 98 early pace figure. That is a horse who has a high cruising speed and can maintain it a long way, which basically means he can run fast throughout the race and doesn't get tired. All you have to do is watch the Champagne Stakes from last fall and see how strong he is when he blows by a very good horse in Green Light Go, coming home his last quarter in a powerful :24.33.
2. Sole Volante
The only question mark people can have with the Sam F. Davis Stakes winner is that his jockey, Luca Panici, is a relative unknown, but trainer Patrick Biancone has always had a history of using new riders, and so far you can't knock the way Panici has ridden this colt. Will Biancone stick with him now that he has a leading Derby contender who should and will have big-name jockeys pounding on Biancone's door to land the mount, or follow in the footsteps of trainer Doug O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam, who continued to use the then-unknown Mario Gutierrez on I'll Have Another, on whom he rode a perfect race to win the 2012 Kentucky Derby? Look for this one to head to the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on March 21 for the longer distance and stretch. There is so much about this horse I like. He just does everything the right way.
He worked five furlongs in a sharp :58.78 for his long-awaited debut in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 29, the second-fastest work at the distance. But the fastest work was turned in by his workmate Admire, who he couldn't catch in the stretch, falling two lengths short, despite Admire going the easier of the two. Then he shied a bit to the outside on the gallop-out and never really did get in front of his workmate until they were pulling up. I'm not going to get too concerned about that, because I just don't know enough about this horse due to the strange career he's had so far. It's all speculation and gut feeling considering that his reputation is based on a maiden romp at Ellis Park and a victory last September in the Iroquois Stakes over a horse (Scabbard) who hasn't done much since. He could be special and we'll just let the Fountain of Youth determine where he belongs on the Derby trail.
Well, it wasn't the toughest spot for his 3-year-old debut, but the mile and 40-yard allowance race on Feb. 14 at Tampa Bay Downs definitely served its purpose. He ran into a runner in Untitled, overcame a stumble at the start, was under pressure on the far turn, and still managed to run down Untitled to win going away by 1 ½ lengths, missing the track record by two one-hundredths of a second. Remember, he hadn't run in four months. Jockey John Velazquez kept after him and only hit him once right-handed, then hand rode him to the wire. I would like to see him have two more races just to give him more experience and get him more battle-tested and boost his speed figures a bit, but at this point, it looks like he will only have one more race, likely the Xpressbet Florida Derby on March 28. That requires a lot of faith in your horse as well as luck from a Derby points perspective. If his connections stick with that plan, then this was a perfect prep for him; not too easy a race and not too hard a race.
I honestly have no idea if Anneau d'Or's dismal performance in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford with blinkers added was a statement on the overall form of California-based horses. If it’s accurate, then this colt’s close win over Anneau d’Or in December’s Los Alamitos Futurity becomes less impressive. These 3-year-olds as a whole seem a bit enigmatic and it's all a guess. Is this colt a winning machine who just does what he has to or is he struggling to beat mediocre horses? I'm still banking on him being a good horse who is extremely intelligent and professional and will figure out a way to beat you, but let's say my confidence in him is not overwhelming at this point.
He turned in a strong six-furlong work in 1:12 1/5. The question is, can a son of Into Mischief out of a Mr. Greeley mare go a mile and a quarter? He also has two doses of Ruffian's dam and one dose of Ruffian's sire in his pedigree, so we're talking some heavy-duty speed. But as trainer Bob Baffert said, he has gazelle-like strides, looks like a stayer physically, and any horse that can draw off to a 7 ¾-length win while ducking in sharply twice in the stretch, nearly hitting the rail – as he did in the Sham Stakes – has to be pretty exceptional. We will learn a lot more when we see how much he has matured in the San Felipe Stakes on March 7.
He actually is on a terrific Thoro-Graph pattern and looks to be two or three races away from peaking, which is exactly what you want to see. His "negative 2" in only his second career start was a monster effort and the fastest figure by any member of this crop. He understandably regressed almost six points in his next start, but it still was a solid number, and he then moved forward in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (when second to Sole Volante) to be right there with most of the other leading contenders. With that negative 2 to fall back on, he should only keep improving, and a return to anything close to that figure should put him right there in the Derby. I also like that he was hand-ridden the final eighth in the Sam F. Davis, so there is a lot more in the tank.
He actually got a slightly faster Thoro-Graph figure in the San Vicente Stakes than the victorious Nadal. Many point out that Nadal had to run a brutal half-mile in :44.09 coming back in only three weeks, but let's not for forget this colt ran his half in about :44 1/5 in his first start of the year and sprinting isn't his game. His Thoro-Graph figures show steady improvement with each race and this effort was an excellent sharpener. I would prefer his having two more starts, as there is always the question of racing fitness if you have only two pre-Derby starts and only one of them is around two turns. Nyquist was able to pull off the seven- and nine-furlong double in the Derby but was never the same horse after that.
You couldn't ask for a better bounce-back race in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, as he laid closer to the pace stalking solid fractions, moved out at the top of the stretch and wore down a very stubborn front runner in Wells Bayou, coming home his final sixteenth in an excellent :06.38. He is now three-for-five on dirt and has two big efforts at Churchill Downs on fast and sloppy tracks. And he has a victory over Tiz the Law, last November in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. There is much to like about him and I expect him to climb up a bit in the next couple of weeks.
10. Ete Indien
He had a strong two-minute lick last week, which I love, and then came back with a huge seven-furlong work in 1:23 1/5 on the grass in company with the older Diamond Oops, who couldn't get near him in the stretch, even on the gallop-out. Patrick Biancone said he has a lot of speed and reminds him of the brilliant Lion Heart, but is easier to train and manage. Why Ete Indien wasn't on the list of 23 betting interests in the last Derby Future Wager pool administered by Churchill Downs after finishing second to Tiz the Law in the Holy Bull Stakes and 11 ½ lengths ahead of the third-place finisher is beyond me.
11. Mr. Monomoy
He showed the most improvement in the first and faster division of the Risen Star Stakes and was never really threatened, winning on the front end and turning the tables on his Lecomte Stakes conqueror Enforceable. The first indication of how highly he is thought of was when Florent Geroux elected to ride the half-brother to champion Monomoy Girl over Enforceable in the Lecomte Stakes. His time for the Risen Star was 85 one-hundredths faster than the second division. Geroux did a masterful job from post 9 clearing the field and getting him to the rail and allowing him to set an easy pace on an uncontested lead over a track where you had to be on or close to the lead. When Blackberry Wine pulled on even terms on the far turn, he had plenty left and pulled away, winning by 2 ½ lengths. Now I want to see the same kind of performance from off the pace.
12. Three Technique
He skipped the Southwest Stakes and we're still waiting for him to work after his half-mile breeze on Feb. 8. Once he works, he could jump back up a couple of spots. In his last race, the Smarty Jones Stakes, his Thoro-Graph figure soared over six points to put him right up there with the best of them, He has really never run a slow figure, but this last one showed how much he has improved in a short period of time.
Knocking On the Door
Enforceable still had the No. 12 spot until Silver Prospector knocked him out. He lost no stature in his second-place finish in the faster division of the Risen Star Stakes. Over a track on which it was difficult to close from far back, he came from 11th early behind slow fractions of :48.57 and :1:12.85 and made up ground every quarter. In his division, they came home the final three-eighths in :37.58 compared to :38.66 in the other division. He was relentless in the stretch trying to run down Silver State for second.
Although the second division of the Risen Star Stakes was run 85 one-hundredths slower than the first division and received a much lower Beyer speed figure, do not ignore the first two finishers, Modernist and especially runner-up Major Fed, who we discussed in the first Dozen. Both these colts have a bright future and we haven't seen anywhere near the best of them. Remember, these were lightly raced maiden winners compared to the proven stakes horses who occupied the first three spots in the first division – Mr. Monomoy, Enforceable, and Silver State – as they did in the Lecomte Stakes in a different order. This turned out to be more of a non-winners-of-two allowance race, so we will forgive the slower time and look farther ahead. We'll get more into Modernist and Major Fed next week, as well as the fast-closing fourth-place finisher in the first division, Farmington Road, another recent maiden winner you will hear from soon enough. And you can't ignore the third-place finisher of the second division, Ny Traffic, who showed he can be dangerous when he gets the lead. As for Anneau d’Or who finished ninth in the second division as the even-money favorite, that was simply a disaster.
Remember Bob Baffert's forgotten Derby hopeful Eight Rings? Well, he returned to the work tab, breezing a half in a sharp :47 1/5. Time for Baffert to start separating him, Thousand Words, Authentic, Nadal, and High Velocity.
Oh, yes. Baffert also has Azul Coast, workmanlike winner of last weekend’s El Camino Real Derby, and a new Justify-like star in spectacular maiden winner Charlatan, who put on quite a show over the weekend, winning his debut at Santa Anita Park by 5 ¾ lengths in a snappy 1:08.85, earning a lofty 105 Beyer Speed Figure, and galloping out a mile ahead of his three overmatched rivals. He most likely is too far behind others in his age group, even a bit more so than Justify and his miracle run two years ago. Charlatan’s sire Speightstown is pure speed, but his dam, Authenticity, was a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles and placed in four Grade 1 stakes, including the Breeders' Cup Distaff and Personal Ensign. And if you're looking for distance speed, his sire is inbred to Secretariat and his dam is inbred to Dr. Fager. He also traces to Quack, who won the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1:58 1/5, breaking the track record and equaling the world record. Is there another miracle run on the horizon?
We actually had coast-to-coast monster maiden wins this weekend, as Dale Romans sent out Attachment Rate to blow his field away at Gulfstream, winning by six lengths in a sharp 1:35.03 for the mile in the slop after making a huge middle move through insane early fractions. And he never changed leads in the stretch. By Hard Spun, out of an Afleet Alex mare, this promising colt was coming off a second-place finish, in which he turned in one of the most explosive late moves you'll see all year.
And you can add the performance of Background in a maiden race at Oaklawn based on his powerful turn of foot and the way he burst clear of the field in a flash, winning by 4 ¾ lengths. He needs to get faster, but this was only his second start, so he's worth following.
It was great to see Maxfield finally back on the work tab, breezing an easy three furlongs in :38 1/5 at Palm Meadows. It's still a very long way to go, but at least it was a first step.
One horse who looks ready to explode on the scene is Honor A. P., who turned in a strong seven-furlong work in 1:27. He looks a lot like his sire Honor Code, and he has that long sweeping stride that covers a lot of ground. I'm not sure how shifty he is, so you probably don't want to get him stopped, but he sure makes quite an appearance out there.
Keep remembering the name Spa City, who looked like the consummate pro winning a mile and an eighth allowance race at Gulfstream Park Feb. 8 over a very talented up-and-comer in Unrighteous, who finished 14 ¾ lengths ahead of the third horse. To show the dramatic improvement Spa City has made, his Thoro-Graph number leaped from an “8 ½” to a "1," which makes him one of the fastest 3-year-olds in the country. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he could run next in the Fountain of Youth, but the March 7 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is more likely. As for Unrighteous, as I mentioned last week, this colt looked so good and has so much potential, I would say enough of maiden races, let's just go right into a stakes and take a shot if we want to try to make the Derby. Speaking of Thoro-Graph leaps, he went from “14 ¼” to a "2," so that allowance race could prove to be an important one in the long run.
McLaughlin said Ajaaweed, third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, will run in either the Louisiana Derby or the UAE Derby on March 28, both at the 1 3/16 miles he would prefer more than the shorter distances he’s been racing at. Shotski, who defeated Ajaaweed in the Remsen Stakes before finishing second in the Withers Stakes, likely will head south for the Fountain of Youth Stakes, as trainer Jeramiah O'Dwyer felt the Aqueduct surface might have been too testing and tiring for him, considering he never got a breather.
If you go by workouts, then Chance It is going to take a lot of beating in the Fountain of Youth after coming off back-to-back works in :59 3/5 and :58 1/5 at Gulfstream Park.
One horse who has sort of gotten lost is the third-place finisher of the San Vicente Stakes Fast Enough, the Cal-bred who was coming off a neck victory in the 1 1/16-mile California Cup Derby and dropping back into an open company sprint stakes. The son of Eddington ran hard the whole way, coming from sixth and outfinishing Storm the Court for third. Winner of two of his three starts and having a pedigree, while not fashionable, that should get him a distance of ground, Fast Enough is a sneaky horse to keep in the back of your mind in upcoming stakes.
A quick recap of interesting workers, undefeated grass star Structor breezed a half-mile in :48 1/5, former highly-ranked Derby Dozen horse Green Light Go breezed a half in :48 4/5, Robert B. Lewis runner-up Royal Act breezed five furlongs in 1:01 1/5, undefeated Louisiana-bred No Parole breezed a half in :49 4/5, and Mucho Macho Man Stakes runner-up As Seen on Tv breezed five furlongs in 1:03 4/5.