Road to the Kentucky Derby: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for July 21

Art Collector emerged on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with three impressive wins in May, June and July, including his 3 ½-length win in the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes. (Keeneland/Coady Photography)

This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve are not quite as strong as they were a week or two ago.

Between the previous edition of this blog on May 6 and today, quite a bit of action on the Triple Crown trail has taken place, not the least of which was a dominant 3 ¾-length win by Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets June 20. The early favorite for the Kentucky Derby entering the Belmont Stakes, Tiz the Law’s win at 4-5 odds cemented his status as the leader of the 3-year-old division.

Outside of the Belmont Stakes, there was quite a bit of movement within the division since early May when the three heating up on this list were Charlatan, Nadal, and Maxfield. Charlatan and Maxfield are now off the Kentucky Derby trail with injuries and Nadal has been retired, so let’s take a closer look at the 3-year-olds on the rise and those heading in the wrong direction approaching the rescheduled Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve Sept. 5.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard


Keeneland/Coady Photography

1. Art Collector

The bay Bernardini colt has reeled off three straight open-length victories since this blog was last published: winning a sprint by 2 ¾ lengths May 17 at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race by 6 ½ lengths June 13 at Churchill, and then rolling to a 3 ½-length runaway in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes July 11 at Keeneland. The runner-up from the June 13 allowance, Shared Sense, came back to post a three-length win in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby July 8. Art Collector’s Equibase Speed Figures look a bit light in comparison with other elite 3-year-olds, but the 102 and 103 Beyer Speed Figures he earned for his two most recent starts stack up well as do the 103-104 BrisNet speed ratings and a 123 TimeForm US speed rating for the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass. Art Collector began his career on dirt but he’s been electric in his last four races on the main track, the first of which was a disqualification after testing positive for the prohibited substance levamisole that led to him being transferred to trainer Thomas Drury Jr. Art Collector owns multiple wins on the main track at Churchill Downs; he has won on wet and dry main tracks; he’s won on the lead, from just off the pace, and while closing from far back; and he’s by a Preakness winner out of Distorted Legacy, who was Grade 1-placed at 1 ¼ miles. There is much to like with Art Collector.

BENOIT photo

2. Honor A. P.

A highly regarded ridgling by Honor Code entering the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby on June 6, Honor A. P. thoroughly dominated previously unbeaten Authentic in the 1 1/8-mile race. Although Authentic was compromised by a poor start, Honor A. P. pulled away from that rival in the stretch to win by 2 ¾ lengths, a win that looks even better now given Authentic won the Haskell Stakes in his next start July 18 at Monmouth Park. One of the things I liked most about Honor A. P.’s Santa Anita Derby win was that he looked like he’d relish every step of the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby. He shifted gears powerfully when asked on the final turn under Mike Smith and surged well clear. “He gives every indication that he can go a mile and a quarter, just the way he galloped out [in the Santa Anita Derby]. I mean I had to pull him up,” Smith said. “He just keeps going with that big stride, it’s almost as if horses have to take two [strides] to his one, it seems like. He just really reaches.” Likewise, the speed figures were reason for optimism as he equaled a career-top 105 Equibase Speed Figure, posted an 11-point top BrisNet Speed rating of 108, and earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure and a 122 TimeForm US speed rating. I would have liked to have seen him finish a little bit faster (final eighth of a mile in 12.87 seconds) in the Santa Anita Derby, but he drifted in a bit in the stretch and it was only his fourth career start. Out of multiple Grade 1 winner Hollywood Story and trained by John Shirreffs (Zenyatta, Giacomo, Life Is Sweet, Hollywood Story), the potential for Honor A. P. is enormous. I view him as a serious Kentucky Derby win candidate.

BENOIT photo

3. Uncle Chuck

The final spot here was really tough. Do I go with the Belmont winner who already was atop my list but now looks even better for the Kentucky Derby; Haskell winner Authentic or fast-finishing runner-up Ny Traffic; or maybe Peter Pan Stakes winner Country Grammer or Los Alamitos Derby winner Uncle Chuck? Ultimately, I opted for Uncle Chuck because he had not raced as of the writing of the last edition of this blog and he’s probably now the top Derby contender for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who has trained two Triple Crown winners in the last five years and five Kentucky Derby winners in his career. Uncle Chuck made his career debut going a mile June 12 at Santa Anita Park and airmailed, winning by seven lengths under Mike Smith. The Uncle Mo colt returned 22 days later for the 1 1/8-mile Los Alamitos Derby, a tall order for his second start making the jump in class and distance, and dominated again in a four-length romp. Uncle Chuck earned 96 and 98 Equibase Speed Figures, respectively, while BrisNet had him making a nice 10-point jump from an 88 to a 98 speed rating for the Los Alamitos Derby. His Beyer Speed Figures (95-94) also came back quite strong considering these were his first two starts, and the 124 TimeForm US speed rating for the Grade 2 win was encouraging. But let’s not forget Uncle Chuck has beaten a grand total of seven horses in his two starts and was the odds-on favorite in both, and I’m not sold on this pedigree for 1 ¼ miles no matter how good he looked stretching out to a mile and an eighth with a final furlong in an eye-catching 11.85 seconds. Being sired by Uncle Mo out of a multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter in Forest Music, by Unbridled’s Song, doesn’t conjure up visions of a true classic horse, but it’s tough not to be impressed by what we’ve seen thus far.

Honorable Mention: Tiz the Law was by far the best horse on paper entering the June 20 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and lived up to expectations. He was the best 3-year-old in training entering the race and remained there after his 3 ¾-length win. … From last weekend’s Haskell Stakes, I prefer runner-up Ny Traffic moving forward to winner Authentic as he was gaining considerable ground on the victor with every stride in the final sixteenth of a mile. Ny Traffic has quietly emerged as a nice Derby candidate with three straight runner-up finishes in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes, and Grade 1 Haskell in his last three starts. … I’m less enthusiastic about Authentic’s chances in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby as he seemed to be running out of steam late in the Haskell despite setting a moderate pace. Mike Smith said he lost focus in deep stretch, and while that probably was a factor, I have serious stamina concerns with this one for the first jewel of the Triple Crown. … I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Country Grammer’s breakout performance in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes at Saratoga Race Course July 16. Sure, he enjoyed a picture-perfect trip, but Country Grammer finished well with a final furlong in 12.74 seconds and I think there is room to improve with a colt by 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist in the hands of Chad Brown.


1. Modernist

This Uncle Mo colt had won a division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and run third in the Louisiana Derby in the spring, but he’s gone into a tailspin of sorts since then. He finished seventh, beaten by more than 20 lengths, in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets before he was fifth by 12 lengths in the Peter Pan Stakes July 16 at Saratoga. With 70 points, a spot in the first jewel of the Triple Crown is probably secure, but Modernist would need to right the ship quickly to be a factor for the Kentucky Derby.

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2. Ete Indien

Like Modernist, Ete Indien almost certainly has sufficient points (74) to qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, but after fading late in the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby in March, he tossed in a clunker when fourth by 5 ¾ lengths as the 7-10 favorite in a one-mile allowance race June 10 at Gulfstream Park that was won by stablemate Sole Volante. He has one published workout after that race but none so far in July, so I think it’s fair to be skeptical about his Kentucky Derby chances at this point. He finished three lengths behind Tiz the Law in a Grade 2 race in February and their paths have gone in opposite directions since that race.

3. Sole Volante

I was optimistic about Sole Volante’s chances to run well in the Belmont Stakes after his allowance win June 10 over a solid group that included stablemate Ete Indien, Jesus’ Team, and Shivaree. I though he was the most likely entrant other than Tiz the Law to finish in the top three in the Belmont Stakes but had little to no support in the betting that day, which was not an encouraging sign before the race, and he barely picked up his feet while finishing sixth by 15 ¾ lengths. With 30 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, Sole Volante remains a threat for the race. Given the Belmont came just 10 days after his allowance win, I’m inclined to be a bit more forgiving of the Belmont loss than I am about the recent efforts of two 3-year-olds listed above on the cooling down list. Less encouraging, however, is the lack of a timed workout since the Belmont Stakes, which makes the Derby look increasingly less likely by the day.

Notable: What a difference a week makes! Had I written this blog a week ago, Dr Post would have been on the heating up half after his runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes. But I have to admit I was disappointed that he could not make up ground late on Authentic in the July 18 Haskell Stakes and I thought he was outshined by Ny Traffic in a race where he was the 9-5 second choice. … Charlatan will miss the Kentucky Derby due to minor ankle injuries but trainer Bob Baffert said he could be back in time for the Preakness Stakes Oct. 3, although that might be too tight of a window. The connections of Charlatan took another hit last week when he was disqualified from his win in a division of the Arkansas Derby because of excessive amounts of the legal medication lidocaine. Not a great couple of months for the promising colt. … Maxfield looked terrific in winning the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes May 23 at Churchill Downs, but he suffered a condylar fracture that will sideline him through the rest of the year. … Nadal looked like a beast of a racehorse while winning his first four races, three in graded stakes, but one of the leading Kentucky Derby hopefuls was retired in late May with a condylar fracture in his left-front leg.

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