Is Wells Bayou Emerging as a Serious Kentucky Derby Contender?

Wells Bayou, with Florent Geroux aboard, won the Louisiana Derby in wire-to-wire fashion on March 21 to earn 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. (Lou Hodges, Jr. /Hodges Photography)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Wells Bayou, winner of the $1 million Louisiana Derby March 21 at Fair Grounds.

wells bayou

Bay Colt

Sire (Father): Lookin At Lucky

Dam (Mother): Whispering Angel, by Hard Spun

Owners: Clint Gasaway, Lance Gasaway, Madaket Stables and Wonder Stables

Breeder: Knowles Bloodstock (Ky.)

Trainer: Brad Cox

Well Bayou opened a clear early lead through the opening quarter-mile of the 2020 Louisiana Derby and never was seriously threatened in a 1 ½-length win that earned him 100 qualifying points toward the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Let’s take a closer look at his chances in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby, which has been rescheduled for Sept. 5 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ability: Lance Gasaway purchased Wells Bayou for $105,000 at a 2-year-olds in training auction and he got off to a nice start with a debut win by 2 ¼ lengths Oct. 26 at Keeneland on a sloppy track. A reminder that not all sloppy tracks are alike came in his next start, when Wells Bayou faded to seventh after setting the pace in a one-mile allowance-optional claiming race Nov. 30 on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.

Wells Bayou got back on track in his 3-year-old bow when leading from start to finish in a four-length win Jan. 26 going a two-turn mile on a muddy track at Oaklawn Park.

From there – with a career-high 94 Equibase Speed Figure and an 82 Beyer Speed Figure – trainer Brad Cox targeted the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn for the Lookin At Lucky colt’s first foray on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Wells Bayou broke sharply from the inside post in the Southwest and jockey Florent Geroux urged him right to the front. They opened a clear lead and set a strong pace through an opening quarter-mile in :22.89 and a half-mile in :46.60.

Silver Prospector, who enjoyed a ground-saving, stalking trip in the Southwest, reeled in Wells Bayou near the eighth pole, but to his credit Wells Bayou battled on determinedly and finished only a length behind the winner.

Wells Bayou earned a 101 Equibase Speed Figure and a 96 Beyer Speed Figure for his first try on a fast main track, both of which were career bests, and showed he was capable of competing against elite opponents.

Cox decided to bring Wells Bayou back in the Louisiana Derby and, as retired jockey Rosie Napravnik explained, he looked like a winner by the time the field entered the first turn thanks to a heady ride from Geroux.

Wells Bayou maintained a clear advantage essentially from start to finish and won by 1 ½ lengths as a tepid 3.20-1 favorite. He finished well with a final three-sixteenths of a mile in 18.86 seconds, especially considering it was a 1 3/16-mile race (the distance of the Preakness Stakes).

The speed figures came up somewhat light: 100 Equibase Speed Figure, 91 Beyer Speed Figure, 115 TimeForm US rating, and a 98 BrisNet rating. But with no time crunch to run a career-best race on May 2, he still has time to improve and his connections have identified the rescheduled Arkansas Derby on the first Saturday in May as the target.

Running style: So far, Wells Bayou has the look of a committed front-runner who is gung-ho to set the pace in his races. He has shown the ability to settle on the lead but has not yet rated behind horses, which could be an issue in a 20-horse field with others naturally fleet runners such as Authentic and Ete Indien, not to mention Nadal, King Guillermo, and several others who will be vying for tactical positioning. This might be my biggest concern for Wells Bayou. Several elite contenders also boast tremendous cruising speed, and I’m not sure he can rate behind horses or is quite fast enough to beat them all to the front.

Connections: Arkansas native Lance Gasaway purchased Wells Bayou at the OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training on the recommendation of Liz Crow of BSW Bloodstock (with a thumbs up from trainer Brad Cox). Gasaway’s father, Clint Gasaway, came on board the ownership group at the start of his 3-year-old campaign, while Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stable and Marc Lore’s Wonder Stables purchased a minority interest before the Louisiana Derby. Kumin was part of the ownership group for 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, 2018 champion 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl, and 2019 champion older dirt female Midnight Bisou.

A Louisville, Ky., native, Brad Cox took out his trainer’s license in 2004 after serving as an assistant to Dallas Stewart. Cox has won 1,314 races, including 170 stakes, through March 23, 2020. Cox has won three Breeders’ Cup races –  the 2018 Longines Distaff with Monomoy Girl, 2019 Juvenile Fillies with British Idiom, and 2019 Filly and Mare Sprint with Covfefe – from 65 graded stakes victories to date. His best finish in a Triple Crown race came with Owendale, who finished third in the 2019 Preakness Stakes.

Florent Geroux has ridden Wells Bayou in three of his five races. He was the regular rider of Wells Bayou’s stablemate Mr. Monomoy, winner of one of the two divisions of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, until that colt was sidelined by injury. Best known as the jockey for 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, Geroux has won five Breeders’ Cup races, including the Classic in 2017 on Gun Runner and the Longines Distaff in 2018 with Monomoy Girl. He finished third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby on Gun Runner and ran third with Owendale in the 2019 Preakness. He has won 1,566 races through March 23.

Pedigree: Wells Bayou is from the sixth crop of 2010 Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky, the sire of 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and champion older dirt male Accelerate and Chilean Horse of the Year Wow Cat, runner-up in the 2018 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Lookin At Lucky also is the sire of Country House, winner via disqualification of the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, among 36 group or graded stakes winners and 60 stakes winners through March 23.

Wells Bayou’s dam (mother), Whispering Angel, by Hard Spun, won two of her three career races at 7 ½ furlongs and 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Wells Bayou is the first starter for his dam.

His grandam (maternal grandmother), Campy, by Theatrical, was winless in 11 starts with 10 coming on grass, while third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Miasma, by Lear Fan, was stakes-placed in England and a winner at 1 1/8 miles in the U.S.

Miasma produced stakes winner Queen of the Creek as well as Mien, the dam of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown.

I’d be less optimistic overall about Wells Bayou’s chances to win the Kentucky Derby if the race was still on May 2, but Cox said he always thought he would be a bit of a late developer and now he has time.

He needs to improve significantly to compete with the best of this class of 3-year-olds, but now Wells Bayou has a chance to make incremental improvements and, perhaps, time to learn to rate behind horses, over the five months rather than needing to take a massive step forward in six weeks.

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