This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances are not quite as strong as they were a week or two ago.
Since the last edition of this blog on March 11, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was postponed from May 2 and rescheduled for Sept. 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We still don’t know for sure when the Preakness Stakes or Belmont Stakes will be held, so for now I’ll widen the view to how these 3-year-olds might stack up for the classic races in general.
In this edition, we have several weeks of races to sort through, including several major prep races.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s 3-year-old Speightstown colt did not make his career debut until Feb. 16, but unlike Justify in 2018, Charlatan (and Nadal below) do not have to rush to make the Kentucky Derby after it was postponed. Baffert can take his time a bit with his lightly raced 3-year-olds, and Charlatan could be the big beneficiary. After winning a three-quarter-mile sprint by 5 ¾ lengths in his debut at Santa Anita Park, Charlatan came back with another dazzling win by 10 ¼ lengths going a mile in a March 14 allowance-optional claiming race at the Southern California track. The speed figures for Charlatan’s first two starts came back incredibly strong. He earned a 102 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and a 108 for his second start. Daily Racing Form gave him 105 and 106 Beyer Speed Figures, respectively, and Charlatan’s BrisNet speed ratings were 101-105. The Beyer Speed Figures, in particular, are exceptional for a 3-year-old in late winter-early spring. This is a fast 3-year-old with the ability to click off quick quarter-mile fractions while hardly breaking a sweat. Being by champion sprinter Speightstown, I was a bit worried about how Charlatan would perform when stretching out in distance, but he was even more dominant in his second start while navigating two turns and racing one mile. His dam (mother), Authenticity, by Quiet American, was a graded stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles and placed in multiple Grade 1s at 1 1/8 miles. He moves into my top 10, but I am still exercising a bit of caution because he’s been unchallenged on the lead in both of his races and has beaten a total of seven horses in those starts. A race like the Preakness might really play to his strengths.
I rate Nadal (read his in-depth Making the Grade profile) as a slightly better prospect than stablemate Charlatan (above), but he entered the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park already a highly regarded graded stakes winner. I admit before the race I was a bit of a Nadal skeptic, but I moved him way up on my Kentucky Derby top 10 because he showed me a lot in his determined three-quarter-length Rebel win. Nadal set a strong pace through an opening quarter-mile in 22.89 seconds and a half-mile in 46 seconds, and still had enough left in reserve in his first try around two turns to hold off a deep closer coming from more than 12 lengths back. The speed figures were a bit of a mixed bag but solid enough overall to offer reason to dream big with Nadal. His TimeFormUS rating of 120 for the Rebel is elite for the division thus far and he improved his Beyer Speed Figure from a 91 in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes to a 96 for the Rebel. I was encouraged by Nadal’s final sixteenth of a mile in 6.53 seconds and, while he has terrific natural speed, he also showed in the San Vicente the ability to rate. There are some significant sources of stamina on the bottom half of this pedigree and his sire, Blame, was a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and champion older male. I think Nadal is the real deal, and he’d be a threat in any of the classics. His speed-stamina combination could be especially dangerous in the Belmont Stakes.
3. Wells Bayou
The Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby winner did not quite crack my top 10, but he’s right there knocking on the door. Wells Bayou maintained a clear advantage essentially from start to finish and won the Louisiana Derby by 1 ½ lengths March 21 at Fair Grounds, finishing well with a final three-sixteenths of a mile in 18.86 seconds. That is especially encouraging considering it was a 1 3/16-mile race, which is the same distance as the Preakness. He’s shown significant signs of improvement and looks like a 3-year-old on the rise, and I think based upon pedigree he should continue to improve with the extra time. My main point of worry with Well Bayou is that he seems to be a pot-committed front-runner in a year where many of the top horses have terrific cruising speed. I’m not sure he’s naturally faster than the two horses above him on this list or their stablemate Authentic. His speed figures are good to date but not great (read more in his Making the Grade profile), but Wells Bayou is another 3-year-old who could be a much different racehorse in September than he would have been on the first Saturday in May. Depending upon race shape, he’s another who could use his speed to carve out a nice trip in the Belmont Stakes and have something left for the stretch run.
Of note: Tiz the Law was again dominant in winning the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby by 4 ¼ lengths March 28 at Gulfstream Park and maintained the top spot in my Kentucky Derby top 10. I think he is pretty clearly the top 3-year-old in training right now, and I think he probably is hurt the most by the date change of the Derby to September. I believe he would have been very tough to beat on May 2. He might be just as tough four months later but it gives his peers a whole lot of time to catch up to him.
His Rebel Stakes sixth-place finish was the big shock for me in recent weeks. The Grade 3 Southwest Stakes winner was beaten by 12 lengths by Nadal in the March 14 Rebel at Oaklawn Park. Silver Prospector’s Equibase Speed Figure plummeted 21 points from the career-best 101 he earned in the Southwest to an 82, his lowest number since moving from turf to dirt. Perhaps the sloppy track was a viable excuse as he’s now run below expectations on wet tracks at Oaklawn after winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on a sloppy track at Churchill as a 2-year-old. Different racetracks handle rain differently and it might be that an “off” track at Oaklawn just doesn’t suit him. The Declaration of War colt has been a little too inconsistent for my taste so far in his career, so I bumped him out of my Kentucky Derby top 10 and he’ll have to earn his way back.
2. No Parole
After winning his first three starts by a combined margin of 34 lengths, all in front-running fashion, No Parole ran into a monster in Nadal in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and proved no match for that opponent. He was forwardly placed early but gave way and finished last of eight, beaten by 49 lengths in his graded stakes debut. The Louisiana-bred Violence colt was stretching out in distance and moving from state-bred stakes to a major Kentucky Derby prep race, so this was a significant test for No Parole. The test proved too much to handle in his fourth start, but he’s a talented colt with a bright future ... even if that future might not include the Triple Crown trail.
3. Royal Act
After finishing second by three-quarters of a length to Thousand Words in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes and earning a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure for his first race on dirt, Royal Act showed little when ninth in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby March 21 at Fair Grounds. The bay colt by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah faded to ninth, beaten by 14 lengths, and was never a serious threat in the race. The fact that Thousand Words also disappointed in his next start (fourth behind Authentic in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes) makes me wonder if the Robert B. Lewis was simply a lackluster Kentucky Derby prep race. I think it’s worth keeping Royal Act on your radar as he was shipping out of California for the first time and perhaps the major change to his routine had an impact, but right now his status on the Derby trail has taken a significant hit.
Of note: Independence Hall burst onto the Kentucky Derby trail with a dominant performance in the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes in November 2019, winning by 12 ¼ lengths in an eye-catching score. He followed with a win in the Jerome Stakes in his 3-year-old bow but has not been the same racehorse in two subsequent starts, finishing second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 6 and fifth, beaten by 10 ½ lengths, in the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby March 28. He’s a tough one to figure out because the talent is there, but he sure doesn’t look like the budding star many of us thought he was last November.
Mike’s Derby Top 10
1. Tiz the Law
4. Honor A. P.
6. Sole Volante
9. Major Fed
10. Ete Indien