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.
Last week, there were no domestic qualifying points preps for the 2020 Kentucky Derby. This weekend, action picks back up at Gulfstream Park with the $400,000 Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Check out America's Best Racing's Triple Crown page to keep up to date with stories and statistics on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
1. Tiz the Law
Is waiting two months between races the right way to go? He had a monster Thoro-Graph leap to run a career-high negative number in the Holy Bull Stakes; his Brisnet numbers show an equally huge leap; he will have five career starts; and has a strong 2-year-old foundation. It seems like the way to go. Let's take advantage of this slow week to go over his pedigree. He is by the hottest young sire in the country, Constitution, a son of Tapit. His dam was sired by Tiznow, who won two Breeders' Cup Classics, and her broodmare sire, Go For Gin, won the Kentucky Derby. Go For Gin's two grandsires, His Majesty and Stage Door Johnny, are two of the most potent classic and stamina influences in the country. And Tiz the Law's third dam is a half-sister to Horse of the Year and 2-year-old champion Favorite Trick, who won graded stakes from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.
2. Sole Volante
I still can't find a hole in him. He has used his explosive late run at 7 ½ furlongs and one mile on grass and at one mile and 1 1/16 miles on dirt on two totally different surfaces and he's won his three races drawing off, including his recent Sam F. Davis Stakes romp. In his Pulpit Stakes victory, he came home his last half in about :45 3/5. His Beyer figures are getting faster with each race, and his pedigree says he will get better the farther he goes. And remember, the Churchill Downs dirt track is conducive to grass horses. Remember, though, he is a gelding and very few geldings have won the Derby. But go ahead and tell him that.
Finally, the waiting is over, as he makes his long-awaited 3-year-old debut in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes. Going against some fast and classy horses, such as Chance It, your guess is as good as mine what we're going to see. He either has fooled everyone or he is as good as he's looked on his best days. I do know that Dale Romans has been raving about this colt since last August. I have seen him talk up his horses numerous times, but never quite to this extent that early. Flavien Prat picks up the mount. His last work, a half in :48.05, was flawless, as he cornered beautifully, was really extending his stride, and galloped out strong.
His high placing is not based on his record or statistics as much as it is an overall feeling that he is a gifted colt, who still has a way to go before he reaches maturity. That’s why I do have a concern about his having only one more start before the Derby. Can he be battle-tested by May 2? You're also playing Russian roulette with the points when you have to depend on a first- or second-place finish in a Grade 1 with only three career starts behind you, Sidelined for four months from 2 to 3, he is not going to have a strong racing foundation under him, taking the easier route in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance race, and he may need to be toughened up to hold up to the rigors of the Derby. But I just can't look past his untapped ability that could bust out at any time. It is up to Todd Pletcher to make sure he gets enough points in the Florida Derby and then have him peak on the first Saturday in May.
We know he's not going to leave your jaw dropping, but the Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner seems to have gotten lost in the rapidly-growing Bob Baffert battalion, overshadowed by horses who have shown more brilliance. It seems to be a relay team, with Eight Rings passing the baton to High Velocity, who passed it to Thousand Words, who passed it to Authentic, who passed it to Nadal, with each horse being less experienced than the one before. Has Nadal already passed it to Charlatan, with only a single start? Like so many others this year, we have no idea how good this colt is. We do know he's a fighter and extremely professional. He certainly wasn't flattered by Anneau d'Or's last start in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, but that was too bad to be true. Will Baffert be bold enough to have him and Authentic settle the score in the March 7 San Felipe Stakes? It looks as if he has Nadal headed to Oaklawn Park, so we'll see.
I normally would not put a horse that showed such greenness in his last start this high up, especially with his pedigree. But he is here mainly because of Bob Baffert's rave reviews. He knows a lot more about his horses than I do, and he has proven that there is no one better assessing the talent in his barn. The fact that he was able to romp in the Sham Stakes despite his antics in the stretch suggests Baffert could very well be right about him. Looking at him physically and the way he glides over the ground with gazelle-like strides, he could very well be the type who can outrun his pedigree.
As I stated last week, he looks to be headed toward some huge efforts based on his Thoro-Graph figures. And if you have any reservations about his pedigree because his second dam is a full sister to Grade 1 sprinter Desert Stormer, note that his broodmare sire, Capetown, won the Florida Derby and is by Seeking the Gold, out of Kentucky Oaks winner Seaside Attraction, who has had five foals, five winners, four stakes winners and one champion (Golden Attraction). Also, Independence Hall's third dam is by Damascus, whose stamina usually comes through his fillies.
He still has a lot of non-believers, especially since the form of the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile hasn't held up all that well. I still believe in him because he is my poster child for 3-year-olds starting off in a sprint. And you have to think the San Vicente Stakes (where he finished third on Feb. 9) sharpened him up nicely, sitting right behind a blistering opening half-mile. He's not going to have an easy time of it in the San Felipe Stakes with a number of talented horses pointing for that race, but if he can turn in a big effort and perhaps define his best running style, he should move forward when the distances stretch out.
With him being a newcomer to the Top 12 after major victories at Churchill Downs and Oaklawn Park that netted him Kentucky Derby qualifying points, let's check out his pedigree. His sire Declaration of War traveled from Europe and was beaten two noses in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He is an inbreeding bonanza, with his most interesting inbreeding coming from Ruby Slippers through Tap Your Heels, the dam of Tapit, and champion sprinter Rubiano, the broodmare sire of War Front. That gives him the Rasmussen Factor, being inbred to a top-class mare. He is also inbred to Fappiano, Nijinsky II, Blushing Groom, and Mr. Prospector, and his tail-female line traces to Hail to Reason through the hard-knocking Mr. Leader. His third dam is by Dr. Carter, winner of the 1 ¼-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap.
10. Three Technique
I am returning him to No. 10 now that he has worked and is right on target for the March 14 Rebel Stakes. He looks to be improving at the right time, has never been worse than second in five career starts, and he is coming off a career-high 96 Brisnet speed figure and a career-high “2 ½” Thoro-Graph figure. One more forward move and he's right there with the fastest 3-year-olds. He is already right there with Sole Volante and Independence Hall.
11. Ete Indien
We’ll know more about him after Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes when he takes on Dennis’ Moment, Chance It and other quality horses. He certainly can bolster the chances of the “all others” in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager with a big effort. Trainer Patrick Biancone has put a good deal of bottom under him, working him short on the dirt and long on the grass, with a pair of fast seven-furlong drills, and I expect him to make his presence felt.
12. Mr. Monomoy
He no doubt is improving with every race and could be better than many think, but it must be pointed out that he has won two of his five career starts and those two wins are the only times he set the pace, the last over a track conducive to speed. So, although he has shown a great of promise and defeated two top-class horses by daylight in the faster division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, he needs to show he can win from off the pace.
Knocking on the Door
So, this was an uneventful week with not much going on. Not so fast. Could it be that we actually saw a major Derby threat in Japan? As much as I question the thought process of leaving potential Derby horses out of the field to make way for horses from Japan and Great Britain, when you have a son of American Pharoah, who reminds one of his sire and has put together to extraordinary performances, it does add some excitement and intrigue to the Derby picture.
We’re, of course, talking about Café Pharoah, a 10-length maiden winner who put on a dazzling display of closing power to win the Hyacinth Stakes after a poor start, which put him well back in the pack. Looking hopelessly out of it, he kept improving his position while circling the field and just kept building momentum in the stretch to win by 1 ½ lengths without feeling the whip. What was most eye-catching was his resemblance to American Pharoah, especially with those smooth, fluid strides and professional manner about him.
Eddie Woods, who trained him for the OBS 2-year-old sale and acted as agent, said Café Pharoah was a very quiet, laid-back colt, much like his sire, but a touch better looking. “The whole family was like that,” Woods said. “That was a very dusty track and the way he closed after getting left so far behind was very impressive. His maiden victory was incredible. He’s only had two starts, but looks like he is well advanced.”
Now let’s see how he handles the other Japanese horse eligible for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, Dieu Du Vin, who is also undefeated in two starts, but skipped the Hyacinth Stakes and has never run on a fast track. He is by Declaration of War, out of a Tapit mare.
Sir Rick no doubt will face much tougher competition in the Sunland Derby on March 22, but after his impressive victory in the Feb. 23 Mine That Bird Derby he is not one to be taken lightly. A winner of four of his last five starts at four different racetracks, the son of Paynter went right to the lead, gave it up on the backstretch, then, after battling head and head, drew off to score by four lengths. Visually, he looks like the real deal, but now he just has to show his class.
To demonstrate how we tend to get caught up in hype on the Derby trail, Exaulted was put in the 23 betting interests for the Derby Future Wager despite having only a second-place finish to highly publicized Nadal in a maiden sprint. Off that one race in his career, he made the list over proven stakes horses, such as Ete Indien and Royal Act. He came back in a one-mile maiden race this past weekend and finished third, beaten five lengths at 9-10 odds. I was particularly impressed by the winner Kiss Today Goodbye, a son of Cairo Prince, who showed dogged determination running down second choice Divine Armor, who was 4 ¾ lengths ahead of Exaulted, the mile run in 1:37.25.
Speaking of Nadal, he turned in an exceptional work, going six furlongs in a sprightly 1:11 4/5. Sitting one length off his workmate, he just cruised to the lead with no urging at all and quickly drew off before galloping out some 10 lengths ahead of his workmate. His strides were smooth and powerful, and his presence in the March 14 Rebel Stakes will no doubt create a great deal of interest. If he can beat some talented Oaklawn-based horses going two turns for the first time then he becomes a major Derby contender.
Baffert also worked Thousand Words seven furlongs in 1:26 4/5, in which he worked in company, and although he couldn’t catch his workmate, he was going much easier of the two, as the workmate was being pushed pretty vigorously. Eight Rings is progressing nicely for Baffert, working five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, and couldn’t have done it any better. But he is up against the gun. High Velocity remains sharp, working six furlongs in 1:12 2/5.
Chance It continued his string of strong works, blowing out three furlongs in :34.68 for the Fountain of Youth, where he should give Dennis’ Moment quite a battle. This horse loves Gulfstream Park and has compiled a powerful record there, sprinting and around two turns.
Withers Stakes winner Max Player finally returned to the work tab, breezing a half in :50.24. Trainer Linda Rice said will space out his works and then work him every seven days as he gets closer to the Wood Memorial on April 4. Rice also has Montauk Traffic on target for the March 7 Gotham Stakes.
John Shirreffs continues to put a lot of bottom in Honor A. P., working him seven furlongs in 1:28 1/5 for the San Felipe Stakes, also on March 7. He sat a half-length off his workmate, fanned very wide turning for home, opened three lengths, and galloped out well ahead of his workmate. This colt has such a long stride, he appears to be going slower than he really is. He doesn’t have your typical stride, running low to the ground, so it’s something you have to get used to.
In other works of note, Robert B. Lewis Stakes runner-up Royal Act turned in a strong work, going six furlongs in 1:12 4/5. Maxfield, who could turn out to be the best of the bunch, continued on the road back, breezing a half in :51 1/5. But it looks like he just has too much catching up to do and his connections are not going to push him to try to make the Derby.
Horses who are under the radar or are way behind but have shown enough to keep an eye on are Attachment Rate (who could be any kind), Spa City, Unrighteous, Market Analysis, Mister Candy Ride, Great Power, Portos, and Background. The last will likely will run in an allowance race next, but trainer Michael Puhich has not ruled out the Rebel Stakes.
If there are going to be changes on the Derby Dozen, they should begin happening after this upcoming weekend’s results, as we start the final push and the races get much tougher.