Last weekend, three qualifying points preps for the Derby were held: the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park; the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct; and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park. This upcoming weekend, two more are on tap for Saturday, Feb. 12: the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Both of these preps offer Derby points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
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In years past, a 15-length score in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes from a horse like Messier would have vaulted such a 3-year-old toward the top of the Derby Dozen, but not in 2022 with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. Barring a change in the status of Baffert trainees (i.e. barn switch, legal action), there’s no cracking the Dozen for such types as of now. Clinging to the top spot is the Kenny McPeek-trained Rattle N Roll, who took the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity last fall at Keeneland and hasn’t raced since. He worked a half-mile in :48.66 Feb. 5 at Gulfstream Park toward an anticipated return in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby March 12.
2. Smile Happy
Right behind Rattle N Roll is stablemate Smile Happy, who is a few weeks ahead in his training. Smile Happy worked five furlongs in :59.52 Feb. 5 at Gulfstream Park as he gears up to head to Fair Grounds for the Feb. 19 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. Though not in racing action last week, his stock rose on the form-flattering victory from White Abarrio in the Holy Bull Stakes. White Abarrio was third behind Smile Happy in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes back in November.
He has remained on a steady winter schedule at Payson Park, topped by a five-furlong move there this past week in 1:01 1/5 as he readies for the Risen Star. Last week's Holy Bull at Gulfstream provided a barometer on this colt when Mo Donegal, a nose in front of him in the Remsen Stakes in December, finished a respectable third. He acts like trainer Chad Brown's best hope for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, though Brown also has Withers Stakes winner Early Voting on the trail.
As dominant as he was in the Holy Bull, note his leading foes had excuses. Simplification and Mo Donegal broke slowly, Giant Game displaced his soft palate, and Tiz the Bomb faltered with the surface switch from turf to dirt. Still, White Abarrio didn't win by a neck, but 4 ½ lengths; running a 102 Equibase Speed Figure. And, it was White Abarrio who had the troubled trip when he checked in third in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall at Churchill Downs.
5. Mo Donegal
Off a beat slowly in the short-stretch 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, he secured what seemed decent position down the backstretch to race in fifth, only to be out-quickened late on the backstretch and early in the second turn when in a bit of traffic. Looking as if he might finish off the board, he ultimately found his stride in the lane to be third, nearly catching Simplification for second. Anticipate him moving forward at 1 1/8 miles and with a full stretch.
Of the horses exiting the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, his runner-up performance most caught the eye given the fast fractions he threw down and his gritty effort down the stretch. The waters grow deeper in the Risen Star with several big-name members of the Dozen expected to come to town. He, Pappacap, and the other locals will have the edge of training in New Orleans through the winter.
This frontrunner blew the break in the Holy Bull but still managed to run second. Patiently handled after the tardy beginning, the colt launched a wide advance to move into contention on the second turn, only to flatten out in the stretch while not switching leads, just having enough left to hold off Mo Donegal for the place. This was a highly encouraging performance in his first start around two turns.
After a first-out score going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream, he passed a two-turn test racing a mile and 40 yards against first-level allowance optional claiming company Jan. 30 at Tampa Bay Downs. Able to get away with setting comfortable splits of :25.03 and :49.88, he had plenty left to turn back an early stretch challenge from Glider to pull away by 4 1/2 lengths. He elevated his Equibase Speed Figure from a debut 92 to a second-out 98.
Due to CDI's suspension of Baffert, the Doug O'Neill-trained Slow Down Andy is the top-rated Dozen 3-year-old training in California. This colt beat Messier in the Los Alamitos Futurity, and Messier, in turn, walloped a short field in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park last week. Slow Down Andy takes his show on the road for the Risen Star next, O'Neill said.
After several inside trips in his recent starts, trainer Mark Casse is eager to see what this colt can do if able to run freely on the outside. Perhaps this colt will find a little more of a burst. He fired when diving inside for a stretch rally in the Lecomte, though his bid evened out and resulted in him finishing third. He's yet to win in three starts going two turns, though those losses were the Lecomte and in two runner-up finishes last year in Grade 1s behind Corniche, the probable 2021 champion 2-year-old colt who has yet to post a workout this year.
11. Classic Causeway
He has shown his quality with a couple of graded placings when matched against horses in the Dozen. He was third to Rattle N Roll in the Breeders' Futurity and second to Smile Happy in the Kentucky Jockey Club, ahead of White Abarrio. He has maintained a regular work tab in Florida this winter and is pointed to swing back into action Feb. 12 in the Sam. F. Davis Stakes at Tampa.
12. In Due Time
Showing improvement from his seasonal debut when third Jan. 8 in a six-furlong sprint, this colt was a little slow into stride in a mile allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream Feb. 4, but quickly rebounded to stalk the pace of favored American Icon. Once in the stretch, he powered away from the chalk by 5 ¾ lengths. His time of 1:35.97 earned him a stakes-quality 100 Equibase Speed Figure; pedigree suggests he should handle two turns.