A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
Welcome to 2023 Kentucky Derby Prospect Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail, usually from the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule from which the racehorses earn points toward qualifying.
The 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held May 6, 2023, at Churchill Downs.
This week, we’ll take a closer look at Hit Show, winner of the $250,000 Withers Stakes on Feb. 11 at Aqueduct.
Hit Show earned 20 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with the Withers win and moved into fourth place on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 20 total points.
Racing Résumé: Hit Show made a memorable impression in his stakes (and 3-year-old) debut in winning the Grade 3 Withers Stakes by 5 ½ lengths while stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time. The Withers is just an eighth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby, which made for an encouraging career-best effort by Hit Show as he improved to three wins from four starts.
The speed figures (see below) supported the eye test that this was a very nice stakes debut from Hit Show; however, if there was one area worth nitpicking it was the finishing fractions. Granted, Aqueduct played quite slow on Withers day, but still you would prefer to see a final three-eighths of a mile faster that the approximately 41.08 seconds in which Hit Show finished and a quicker final furlong than 14.06 seconds. On the bright side, Hit Show did not need to exert himself much late, the early pace was fairly strong, and he galloped out powerfully, but those closing fractions are exceptionally slow. It’s something to track and consider when evaluating his chances on the 2023 Derby trail.
Looking back on his 2-year-old campaign, Hit Show won two of three starts with his only defeat a troubled fourth behind subsequent Lecomte Stakes third-place finisher Confidence Game and recent Holy Bull Stakes winner Rocket Can in a Nov. 26, 2022, allowance race at Churchill that looks more and more like a key race.
Speed Figures: Equibase Speed Figures show a steady upward trajectory for Hit Show: 81-86-90 for his three starts as a 2-year-old, capped by a 3 ½-length win Dec. 17, 2022, at Oaklawn Park at a mile. He earned a new career-best 93 Equibase Speed Figure, a three-point improvement, for the Withers score. Those figures are a bit slow compared with some of his peers on the Derby trail, but a 91 Beyer Speed Figure is much closer to other top 3-year-olds and places him within striking range of the competition with improvement.
Running Style: Hit Show has rallied from off the pace in each of his four races. In his three wins, he was within 3 ½ lengths after the first quarter-mile and within 2 ½ lengths after running a half-mile. He ran into trouble when he bobbled at the start of his lone career defeat and had too much ground to make up late in the race as he was 8 ½ lengths back after a half-mile.
Horses who prefer to race off the pace – both stalkers and closers – must contend with variables outside of their control on the Derby trail and when facing 19 opponents in the run for the roses. A poor start like he had in his lone defeat could cost Hit Show the race in the Kentucky Derby. The simple reason 3-year-olds with early speed have been so successful in the Derby in recent years is that trait typically allows a talented horse and rider to control their own fate without relying on racing luck, whereas Hit Show would need some good fortune to win from off the pace.
Connections: Brad Cox trains Hit Show for prominent owners-breeders Gary and Mary West, who have raced champions such as Game Winner, Maximum Security, and West Coast among a long list of Grade 1 winners and accomplished graded stakes winners. The Wests made their fortune in the telecommunications industry and now operate West Health as well as the Gary and Mary West Foundation. They have been involved in the Thoroughbred industry for more than 30 years.
Cox, the 2020 and 2021 Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer, led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the 2023 Triple Crown and has a terrific hand for the Derby that includes Hit Show, Lecomte Stakes winner Instant Coffee, Smarty Jones Stakes winner Victory Formation, Gun Runner Stakes winner Jace’s Road, Remington Springboard Mile runner-up Giant Mischief, and the promising Verifying. Cox won the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with Mandaloun following the disqualification of Medina Spirit and the 2021 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets with Essential Quality. Cox trained 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go.
Manny Franco is the third rider to date for Hit Show, following Florent Geroux, who was aboard for his first two starts, and Joe Talamo, who rode him to victory in December at Oaklawn. Franco won the 2020 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets with Tiz the Law, who also ran second under Franco in that year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which was the edition that was postponed until September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pedigree Notes: One box that Hit Show appears to check as a derby prospect is stamina. His dam (mother), Actress, by leading sire Tapit, won the 2017 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Preakness weekend. Like Hit Show, Actress was a homebred of the Wests.
Hit Show’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Milwaukee Appeal, won the 2009 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser and finished third against males in the 1 ¼-mile Queen’s Plate en route to Canadian champion 3-year-old filly honors.
Hit Show’s sire, Candy Ride, was an unbeaten track record-setter at 1 ¼ miles who has developed into a very good sire. Candy Ride’s top runners include 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, winner of that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic; champion Shared Belief, winner of the 1 ¼-mile Santa Anita Handicap in 2015; and 2018 champion 2-year-old male Game Winner. Candy Ride has sired 56 graded stakes winners to date and many of them boast a combination of speed and stamina.
Derby Potential: The 2023 Triple Crown trail appears to be quite wide open at this point with only a couple of eye-catching performances to date this year and with last year’s top 2-year-olds, Forte and Cave Rock, yet to race this season. Because of that, there is a deep list of 3-year-olds that need to show significant improvement to compete in a Triple Crown race that also still look like viable Derby candidates. Hit Show slots in there as a talented, well-bred 3-year-old for a top trainer who has a chance to emerge as a key player in the division with a breakout performance in his next start, which Cox expects to be the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on April 8 at Aqueduct.
“It’s pretty tough to get one on the Derby Trail; we have found that out,” Ben Glass, racing manager for the Wests, told BloodHorse. “And even when you sometimes get one there, it doesn’t always work out. It’s exciting to have a good horse. No one knows how nice he is yet, we’re not going to get too crazy from a Grade 3, but it’s exciting.”