Making the Grade, which will run through the 2021 Triple Crown races, 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 Known Agenda, winner of the $770,000 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa on March 27 at Gulfstream Park.
Since trainer Todd Pletcher equipped Known Agenda with blinkers two starts back to improve focus, the Curlin colt has emerged as a much-improved 3-year-old capable of matching strides with the best of his class. He proved as much March 27 with a dominant win in the Florida Derby in a breakout performance that punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Ability: Known Agenda is a reminder that there is no perfect was to develop a racehorse or predict how quickly a Thoroughbred will mature into the best version of him or herself. They are all individuals – sometimes it takes some trial and error to unlock the ability within.
In three starts as a 2-year-old, Known Agenda never finished out of the top three and demonstrated potential from the outset with a second in his September 2020 debut at Belmont Park. He then won a November race going 1 1/16 miles by a head and finished third, beaten by nine lengths, in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes on a sloppy track on Dec. 5, both at Aqueduct.
Known Agenda generated some buzz leading into his 3-year-old debut with a Jan. 23 workout at Palm Beach Downs that was the fastest of 13 at that distance, and he was sent off as the 3-2 favorite in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 6 at Tampa Bay Downs. He disappointed at Tampa, where after racing 11th of 12 runners early he made a mild late bid to finish fifth, beaten by 4 ¼ lengths by Candy Man Rocket.
From there, trainer Todd Pletcher made a couple of decisions that turned things around. Jockey John Velazquez suggested adding blinkers for his next start, and Pletcher did just that and also entered him in an allowance-optional claiming race that gave him a bit of class relief and enabled him to build confidence. He responded with a runaway 11-length romp Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park under new rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
“Johnny [Velazquez] recommended blinkers last time,” Pletcher said after the win. “We just needed to get him a little more focused. We know he’s got a lot of talent. He’s shown it in the mornings and hints of it in the afternoon. We’re just trying to get him a little more consistent. It looks like today the blinkers helped. He got into the race a little bit more and won impressively in the end.”
In the Florida Derby, Known Agenda was again much more involved early and settled in at the front of the second flight of runners, about three lengths off the pace after the opening half-mile. After saving ground along the backstretch and on the final turn, Irad Ortiz Jr. angled Known Agenda three wide entering the stretch and he swept forward to take command from runner-up Soup and Sandwich before surging clear to win by 2 ¾ lengths.
When making his winning move from three-quarters of a mile into the race to the eighth pole, Known Factor completed that quarter-mile almost a half-second faster (0.49 seconds) than any of the other 10 runners in the race, according to Trakus data. His final three-eighths of a mile were clocked in :36.59, which is a terrific finishing time for a 1 1/8-mile dirt race.
The victory earned Known Agenda a new career-best Equibase (112) and Beyer Speed Figure (94) as well as a new top BrisNet speed rating of 101. His Equibase number improved nine points with his BrisNet rating improving by five points from his 96 in the 2020 Remsen. Those figures place Known Agenda well within range of the top 3-year-olds – in fact, the 112 Equibase number is the best by a 3-year-old in a stakes race in 2021.
With five weeks of rest before the Kentucky Derby and making his fourth start of the year, Known Agenda could pair his speed figure and be a serious contender in the Kentucky Derby. He most likely will need to improve to win on May 1, but it would only take a small jump from a colt on the rise.
Running style: With the addition of blinkers, it looks like Known Agenda slots into the Derby as a stalker who is at his best using his speed to get a decent early position and then rating a few lengths off the pace. There is a very high likelihood that the pace will be faster at Churchill on May 1 than the tepid :47.73 opening half-mile in the Florida Derby, but the way Known Agenda finished is encouraging when evaluating his chances to go a little faster early or make up a bit more ground should he drop six or seven lengths back going 1 ¼ miles. Traffic is always an issue for Derby runners who come from off the pace, but a little tactical speed can go a long way in a 20-horse field.
Connections: Known Agenda is a homebred of St. Elias Stable, the racing and breeding operation of Vincent “Vinnie” Viola, the owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers.
St. Elias Stable was a co-owner of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and 2019 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso. St. Elias also raced Grade 1 winner Army Mule and Sweet Loretta and campaigned in partnership Grade 1 winners Ring Weekend and Greenpointcrusader.
Seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, a 2021 Racing Hall of Fame finalist, trains Known Agenda. Pletcher, a former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, is the all-time leading North American trainer by purse earnings with more than $402 million. Since going out on his own in 1996, Pletcher has won more than 5,000 races and amassed 703 graded stakes wins and 163 Grade 1 victories through March 29.
Pletcher has won the Kentucky Derby twice with Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017) and the Belmont Stakes three times. He also has two runner-up finishes in the Derby and six in the Belmont Stakes.
A native of Trujillo Alto in Puerto Rico, Irad Ortiz Jr. is a graduate of Escuela Vocacional Hípica, a prolific school in Puerto Rico for prospective jockeys, and took out his jockey’s license in 2011. His grandfather, also named Irad, was a jockey, and so are his uncle, Ivan, and brother, Jose.
Irad Ortiz Jr. has won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey three times (2018, 2019, 2020) and ranked first among North American jockeys by both wins and purse earnings in each of those three seasons. While he has won 185 graded stakes, 11 Breeders’ Cup races, and the 2016 Belmont Stakes aboard Creator, Ortiz has yet to finish in the top three in the Kentucky Derby.
Pedigree: From a stamina perspective, you would be hard-pressed to find a 3-year-old better bred for 1 ¼ miles than Known Agenda. His sire, Curlin, won the 2007 Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup Classic en route to Horse of the Year honors. In 2008, Curlin won the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Woodward Stakes – all Grade 1 races at 1 1/8 miles or longer – on his way to his second Horse of the Year title.
At stud, Curlin has sired among others 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso; champion Good Magic, runner-up in the 2018 Kentucky Derby and winner of the Betfair.com Haskell Invitational and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes; 2015 champion older female Stellar Wind, a five-time Grade 1 winner at 1 1/16 miles; 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice; 2015 Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice; and 2016 Preakness and Haskell winner Exaggerator.
Known Agenda’s dam (mother), Byrama, by Byron, was a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic main track as well as a multiple stakes winner on grass. His grandam (maternal grandmother), Aymara, by Darshaan, produced three stakes winners and her lone victory in five starts came in a 1 ½-mile race in England. Known Agenda’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother) is European stakes-winning miler Chipaya, by Northern Prospect.
I have little doubt Known Agenda can excel when stretching out to 1 ¼ miles based upon how he finished in the Florida Derby and his pedigree. I’m a little more concerned about handling the track at Churchill. His speed figures at Gulfstream were far better than the ones he earned at Belmont Park, Aqueduct, and Tampa Bay Downs. Some of that is, no doubt, due to the addition of blinkers, but for a 3-year-old with a turf pedigree on the bottom half it’s fair to wonder if some dirt tracks might suit him better than others. He’s a Derby contender to keep a close eye on during daily gallops (and workouts) once he arrives at Churchill Downs to see how he takes to that main track.
Known Agenda sure looks like a talented 3-year-old maturing at the right time with the stamina and pedigree to excel at the Kentucky Derby distance.