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.
Last week, Nadal emerged as a leading Kentucky Derby contender with a gritty win in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, while Field Pass earned 20 qualifying Derby points in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. Of course, the major news of the week occurred on March 17 when Churchill Downs announced that the Kentucky Derby, originally scheduled for May 2, would be postponed to Sept. 5 in response to the rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic.
Fair Grounds will run its March 21 racecard without spectators, highlighted by the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, a qualifying points race offering 100-40-20-10 distribution to the top four finishers.
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.
A note about the Triple Crown series:
With the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodward Reserve moved to Sept. 5, we’ll have to be creative with the Derby Dozen, although as of now the major preps will still be run, including all three Grade 1 preps – the Curlin Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, and Arkansas Derby. Whether the Belmont Stakes will remain on schedule and serve as the target race, it is too early to tell, as NYRA is monitoring the situation.
weekend Television schedule
Also, decisions will have to be made what to do with the TVG.com Haskell Invitational and Runhappy Travers Stakes, both of which likely will have to be moved, and whether the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes remain as part of this year’s fall Triple Crown. Will NYRA stand up to Churchill Downs' intrusion on their biggest day and keep the Travers and all the other Grade 1s on that card? You can bet a lot of New York horsemen would still want to win the Midsummer Derby in all its normalcy more than a makeshift Kentucky Derby. So there is going to have to be a great deal of shifting and cramming all these races in from July to September. And what does NYRA do with the Jim Dandy Stakes, the traditional prep for the Travers? These are all questions that will have to be addressed by the tracks involved.
In any event, we will continue to forge ahead with Derby Dozen this week, as it is already written, but with the Derby's postponement, it seems futile to fill the Knocking on the Door section with last week's losing performances, workouts from this week, and pertinent information relating to the Derby. In the meantime, the preps still to be run are prestigious races worth winning and could be used as preps for the Belmont if NYRA continues to race.
This Dozen will take into account the schedule change and where these horses could be four and a half months from now.
Thank you all for your support and all your comments and opinions. The good news is that no one will lose money on the Derby this year…at least not for a while.
1. Tiz the Law
He turned in a strong six-furlong work in 1:13 4/5 in company for the Curlin Florida Derby. Despite the layoff, he looks to be fit and primed for a top effort. With horses dropping out of the Top 12 every week, it makes you wonder if perhaps it isn’t better to just not run and put all your eggs in one proverbial basket. But that no longer applies with a newly structured points system. With him at least, his Holy Bull Stakes victory was so brilliant and so fast on the various speed figures, he was in danger of peaking too early and benefited from the time off. He also had built a solid 2-year-old foundation in the Champagne Stakes and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He just keeps looking better and better as the others race. But he should get tested in what promises to be a competitive Florida Derby.
Well, the Derby scene certainly has changed for him. He would have been No. 1 from the beginning had he not missed all that time and had no shot of making the Derby. Now that he has plenty of time and has been on a good work pattern, we will still go by the premise that he was the best 2-year-old in the country, he possesses an explosive turn of foot, and looks like the quintessential classic horse who should be in the shape of his life in August and September. And he did dust Gouverneur Morris in his only class test.
3. Sole Volante
Glad to see he bounced out of a runner-up finish in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in good shape, breezing a half a week later in :50.15. He is scheduled to run next in the Wood Memorial Stakes, so we will see what happens there. To be honest, it is getting tougher each year trying to assess the Derby merits of all these front-running winners, especially the Bob Baffert trio, who bust out on the lead every race. Perhaps times are changing and closers in the Derby have become irrelevant, but I am depending on this guy to change that back to the way it was, as I believe the recent string of on-the-pace winners can be attributed to the number of sloppy tracks we’ve had. He did regress two points on Thoro-Graph in the Tampa Bay Derby. I can handle a regression after a three-point jump in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, especially because he never got a chance to run until late, and I expect another substantial move forward in his next start.
4. Honor A. P.
Who knows how good this big powerful lightly raced colt will be in September. His “3 ¼” speed figure on Thoro-Graph when finishing second in the San Felipe Stakes was almost two points slower than Authentic’s, but it was a three-point jump from his previous start and off a layoff, so you would have to think there is still plenty of room for improvement. I admit you have to get used to his piston-like action, but he is extremely powerful through the shoulders, and knowing trainer John Shirreffs he was only interested in having him peak on Derby Day, as he did with Giacomo. But now he will have to peak four weeks earlier in the Santa Anita Derby. The way he ran in the San Felipe, he could very well accomplish that.
One concern from a speed ratings standpoint going into the San Felipe Stakes was his two uninspiring Thoro-Graph figures, but he alleviated those concerns with a strong “1 ½” in the victory, which was a 3 ½-point jump from the number in his erratic Sham Stakes win. Now the big question is, can he maintain or improve that number stretching out to nine furlongs? I could easily have put him ahead of Honor A. P., but I will wait for one more stretch-out. His pedigree is not geared toward longer distances, but his action and the little amount of energy he uses as he bounds along effortlessly should help him go longer. I believe he gets that from his inbreeding to Icecapade, who was fast enough to set a six-furlong track record of 1:08 flat, but wasn’t built like a sprinter and could carry his speed two turns, just like his blazingly fast half-sister Ruffian, who could carry her sprinter’s speed a mile and a half. The sire and broodmare sire of their dam, Shenanigans, were Native Dancer and Fighting Fox (a full-brother to Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox), both of whom had tremendous speed, but could carry it long distances.
This is the one horse who now needs to be totally re-evaluated, as the eight-week layoff and one 1 1/16-mile race in five months no longer applies. His jump from a pair of “7 ¼” Thoro-Graph figures on grass to a “zero” in the Tampa Bay Derby suggests that he could be any kind. And he sure did look impressive visually. He is physically striking in action. I am sure the speed sheets pundits are going to say he is a “bounce” candidate next time out and needs the time off, but who cares now? He has a lot of time to play with and should be dynamite come September. We really have no idea how good he is, and if he is superstar material, especially with his strong closing fractions of :23.84, :24.40, and :6.23 in the Tampa Bay Derby and running off from Sole Volante. So, we’ll move him up and see how he moves forward.
He turned in a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00.51 in company. The Florida Derby has always been on his schedule, but trainer Todd Pletcher is noncommittal at this point and could very well opt instead for the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, which probably makes more sense, considering the strength of the Florida Derby field and no need for points anymore. The Wood is likely to attract a sharp one-turn horse in Mischevious Alex and strong closers in Sole Volante and Max Player. I have had him high up since day one and am still clinging to the belief he is even more talented than he has shown, although I can’t fault any of his races. It was his maiden race that hooked me and I believe that is the real Gouverneur Morris. He took all the worst of it against Maxfield jumping to a two-turn Grade 1 stakes last fall, and did just what he had to in a workmanlike Tampa Bay Downs allowance victory.
8. Ete Indien
You have to wonder how fresh horses like Tiz the Law and Independence Hall, and a lightly raced horse like Gouverneur Morris, if he runs, are going to be able to handle this colt’s speed and his ability to run horses into the ground and just keep going. He pushed Tiz the Law to a huge speed figure in the Holy Bull Stakes and then demolished his field in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes, as he would have done in the Holy Bull had Tiz the Law not been in there. This is a fast, powerful horse who will be dangerous in the Florida Derby and wherever else he runs and at any distance. His opponents just have to make sure to stay close enough to him and not wait too long to go after him, as Tiz the Law showed in the Holy Bull.
Is anyone talking about him? Does anyone have him in their Top 10? He wasn’t in the NTRA Top 10. Should he have been 27-1 in the latest Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby Future Wager based on one defeat to Sole Volante, in which he was ridden overconfidently and sent to the lead too soon? He went from undefeated sensation to an afterthought following that one defeat, in which he finished 11 ¼ lengths ahead of the third-place horse. I keep mentioning his upward move on the speed figures, and we’ll just have to see where he’s at in the Florida Derby. He continued his string of excellent works with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 at Tampa Bay Downs, second fastest of 34 works at the distance. And remember, he should improve the farther he goes. He could be the overlooked gem of this bunch.
Yes, I know he passed his two-turn test in the Rebel Stakes and probably is ranked too low, but I still want to see if he can rate off the pace, or rate at all. He just goes so fast early and slow late, I want to see him reverse that and look like more like a Kentucky Derby horse. To withstand pressure going a half in :46 flat was impressive, but breaking from the rail, he was benefited by an inside bias, and his final time in the Rebel was the slowest of all the 1 1/16-mile races that day, and that included a 3-year-old allowance race and 3-year-old maiden race. And you can’t just dismiss his :27.06 fourth quarter, compared to :25.31 and :25.40 in the 3-year-old allowance and maiden races. He is an imposing presence and seemed to dwarf the other horses, and proved again he is a fighter. I am not doubting his ability; I just want to see him show another dimension in the Arkansas Derby even if it is rating on the lead and not going so fast early. But for now I have no reason to lower any of those above him.
I couldn’t see him winning the Kentucky Derby off three lifetime starts and being a son of a champion sprinter Speightstown. But that has all changed with him getting more time to mature and get battle-tested. What is apparent is that this colt can flat-out run and does it so effortlessly. But we have no idea who or what he beat in his 10 ¼-length stroll in the park in a one-mile allowance race on March 14 that was run over a full second faster than the Grade 1 Beholder Mile the same day. He also came home his last eighth in :12.90 compared to :14.08 in the Beholder Mile for older fillies. What was most impressive was how efficient a mover he is, as he bounds over the ground. We will just have to wait until his next few starts to see if this was all an illusion or not. As for Speightstown, he was a fast sprinter, but did sire Travers Stakes winner Golden Ticket, Belmont Derby winner Force the Pass, and Hollywood Derby winner Seek Again. Two of those were on the grass, but all were 1 ¼-mile races.
He turned in a solid half in :48 2/5 in preparation for the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, in which he drew post 10, which should keep in out where he wants to be and out of trouble in a 14-horse field. With the speedy Wells Bayou breaking from post 3 and the front-running Ny Traffic and Modernist having to bust out of there from outside posts, he should have a decent pace at which to run. That is all he can ask for. If he gets it, and a clean trip and heads up ride by Julien Leparoux he should be a factor. He doesn’t have to win this, just be closing fast in the final furlong. He has a great deal of foundation now and should be an old pro come September.
Knocking on the Door
I am adding a No. 13 and 14 because I just didn’t want to drop Attachment Rate for no reason and am sticking with Three Technique.
13. Attachment Rate
As I mentioned last week, I thought he ran an excellent race in the Gotham Stakes, despite not being a one-turn horse and having to run hard every step of the way, while between horses. But I still go back a race to his runaway maiden victory in a sharp 1:35.03 for the mile, in which he earned a whopping 106 Equibase Speed Figure. I have him in the top 12 (sort of) for now because I can’t wait to see how he does going two turns, possibly in the Wood Memorial or Arkansas Derby. The Gotham was a perfect prep for him for his first two-turn race. His sire Hard Spun and broodmare sire Afleet Alex both placed in the Kentucky Derby as did Alydar, to whom he is inbred, so perhaps it is up to him to finally get his family back in the win column.
14. Three Technique
His fourth-place finish in the Rebel Stakes to me is a throwout, as he was four-wide into the first turn and raced four-wide the entire run down the backstretch and around the far turn. And I believe he doesn’t want to run that close to the pace, especially behind a testing :46 half-mile. He simply got a bit weary-legged in the slop and was running with his head cocked in the stretch. He is still very much a live horse, and I believe he will be a major force by September.
Three bombs for the Louisiana Derby are Mailman Money, who was compromised by a bad post in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and still was beaten only 2 ½ lengths; Sharecropper, who beat Excession in a maiden race and the had a terrible trip when finishing fourth in a good allowance race; and the versatile Lynn’s Map, who drew poorly, but who trainer Mark Casse thinks could be his hidden treasure.
A quick mention of Rebel Stakes runner-up Excession. Yes, he was 82.60-1, but never should have been anywhere near that. His best races were in the slop, including his only victory, and he was only beaten 1 ¾ lengths by Maxfield and 2 ¾ lengths by Mr. Monomoy. And in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes he broke through the gate. So this wasn’t that much of a shocker.