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.
Kingsbarns earned 100 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with the Louisiana Derby win and ranks fifth on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, meaning his spot in the first jewel of the Triple Crown is secure.
Racing Résumé: There is something about an unblemished record that adds to the allure of a Thoroughbred racehorse. Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns will be part of a select group that falls into that category among the 2023 Kentucky Derby contenders, in fact it looks increasingly like he’ll be the only undefeated starter in the first jewel of the Triple Crown barring a lightly raced runner posting an upset this weekend.
Kingsbarns did not race as a 2-year-old – had Justify not closed the book on the “Curse of Apollo” by sweeping the Triple Crown in 2018, we’d almost certainly be hearing quite a bit about how no horse had won the Derby after not racing at 2 since Apollo in 1882 – but has won his three races in 2023 by a combined margin of 13 lengths.
The bay colt won his career debut in a one-mile race Jan. 14 at Gulfstream Park, rallying from fourth to prevail by 1 ¾ lengths. He followed with a 7 ¾-length romp Feb. 12 going one mile and 40 yards at Tampa Bay Downs that opened some eyes to say the least for a colt from the barn of Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. The hype surrounding Kingsbarns preceded his start in the Louisiana Derby as he was the 9-2 second betting choice in the race behind only 3-2 favorite Instant Coffee, who was coming out of a win in the Lecomte Stakes.
Kingsbarns showed a new dimension in the Louisiana Derby as he set the pace under Flavien Prat in the 1 3/16-mile race, opening a clear lead through a half-mile in :49.60 and a leisurely three-quarters of a mile in 1:14.69.
“It appeared on paper that there was not a lot of pace, so we drew up a plan with Flavien that if we came away in good order to be placed forward and hopefully dictate the race on our terms,” Pletcher said.
The easy pace left plenty of fuel in reserve at the top of the long Fair Grounds stretch and Kingsbarns finished quite well with a final three-sixteenths of a mile in 18.20 seconds. That followed a :24.44 quarter-mile – from six furlongs to a mile into the race – that allowed him to build a commanding lead in the stretch and win easily by 3 ½ lengths.
There is no doubt the front-running win was aided by the slow pace, but it was noteworthy how well Kingsbarns finished in a race only a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby.
Speed Figures: Kingsbarns earned an 84 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut win and back-to-back 100s for his next two races. The Daily Racing Form’s Beyer Speed Figures show a steadier progression from a 74 to an 85 to a 95 for the Louisiana Derby. Brisnet has a line of 95-91-98 for his three starts. Kingsbarns looks like a win candidate on paper if he can take an incremental step forward. A significantly less favorable view of the Louisiana Derby came from the Ragozin Sheets, which gave Kingsbarns a 12 ½ (lower is better) with par for a U.S. Triple Crown race winner in the 2-3 range.
Running Style: Kingsbarns won his first two starts using stalking trips but shifted to setting the pace when the early tempo in the Louisiana Derby was remarkably slow. My best guess is that in the Kentucky Derby he will ideally be positioned just in behind the pace as he was in his first two starts and try to stay in the clear with a chance to launch his rally on the far turn. Tactical speed has been increasingly valuable in the Kentucky Derby in recent years, and Kingsbarns has enough natural speed to use that to his advantage.
Connections: Kingsbarns races for Spendthrift Farm, which was founded in 1937 by Leslie Combs II and sold to B. Wayne Hughes in 2004. Under Hughes, Spendthrift was reinvigorated and regained its status as one of the leading commercial breeding operations in Central Kentucky. Hughes died in 2021 and the farm is now owned by Eric Gustavson, who joined the team at Spendthrift in 2004 and served as marketing director and president before becoming owner. Spendthrift stands more than 25 stallions, including 2020 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Authentic, a colt that Spendthrift owner in partnership and who is by top Spendthrift stallion Into Mischief. Other Spendthrift stallions include 2021 champion sprinter Jackie’s Warrior and 2022 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Mo Donegal.
Two-time Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher (Super Saver, 2010; Always Dreaming, 2017) trains Kingsbarns along with 2022 champion 2-year-old male and leading 2023 Kentucky Derby contender Forte, Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapit Trice, and Jeff Ruby Steaks runner-up Major Dude. Pletcher could add to that group this weekend with three major prep races looming, but the Hall of Famer and eight-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer has a formidable hand as it stands.
Flavien Prat was the third jockey in as many starts for Kingsbarns in his Louisiana Derby victory. Prat also rode Angel of Empire to a win in the Arkansas Derby last weekend and has been aboard promising California-based colt Geaux Rocket Ride who is slated to run in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby this Saturday. Needless to say, the rider of 2019 Kentucky Derby winner (Country House) and 2021 Preakness victor (Rombauer) has a tough decision to make in the weeks ahead.
Pedigree Notes: Kingsbarns is from the eighth crop of 2010 champion 2-year-old male Uncle Mo, a brilliant racehorse capable of huge speed figures trained by the aforementioned Pletcher. Uncle Mo has sired 52 group or graded stakes winners at a variety of distances and on multiple surfaces, such as 2021 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Golden Pal, 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and 2022 Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal. In short, Uncle Mo has become a terrific and versatile sire.
Grade 3-placed Lady Tapit, by leading sire (and stamina influence) Tapit, is the dam (mother) of Kingsbarns. Lady Tapit was a winner up to a mile and is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to Grade 1-winning turf router Gozzip Girl.
Derby Potential: It stands to reason that Kingsbarns should be able to handle the 1 ¼-mile Derby distance having already won at 1 3/16 miles in the Louisiana Derby and given his pedigree. He’s a talented 3-year-old colt clearly on an upward trajectory with room to improve for a Hall of Fame trainer.
The lack of seasoning is a concern – three starts before facing 19 other top 3-year-olds in the most important race of your career in front of 150,000 fans is a huge ask – and there is no doubt he would need to take a step forward in terms of speed figures to win the Kentucky Derby. How big of a jump depends on the speed-figure maker.
Kingsbarns looks like an extremely promising racehorse and I would not try to dissuade anyone that might be inclined to bet him on May 6 at Churchill Downs, but I prefer a 3-year-old with a little more of a foundation under the saddle for this race. So, Kingsbarns is a worthy contender … just not my Kentucky Derby contender.