Welcome to 2024 Kentucky Derby Prospect Profiles, 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.
This week, we’ll take a closer look at Fierceness, winner of the $1,820,000 FanDuel Breeders' Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park.
Fierceness earned 30 points toward qualifying for the 2024 Kentucky Derby with that win and moved into first place on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Racing Résumé: Fierceness bounced back from a disappointing seventh-place finish, beaten by 20 ¼ lengths in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, with one of the most dominant performances of the weekend at the 2023 Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
The City of Light colt surged away to a 6 ¼-length romp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in a race that closely resembled an 11 ¼-length runaway win in his career debut Aug. 25 at Saratoga Race Course that had racing fans at the track and on social media buzzing.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Fierceness ran so poorly in the Champagne Stakes, although a bad start certainly did not help his chances, but he could be a future superstar if the quality on display in his debut and at the Breeders’ Cup is what we get from Fierceness moving forward.
Speed Figures: Part of the basis for the buzz surrounding Fierceness following his debut was the 95 Beyer Speed Figure and the 7 ¼ number on the Ragozin Sheets (lower is better) he earned for the three-quarter-mile sprint. He earned a solid 101 Equibase Speed Figure, but both the Beyer and Ragozin numbers were exceptional for a career debut.
Obviously, very little went right in the Champagne and his speed figures fell off a cliff, but the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a major jump forward across all of the aforementioned speed figures: 105 Beyer, 113 Equibase, and a 4 ¾ Ragozin figure. Fierceness is a fast racehorse who delivered an extraordinarily fast race on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.
Running Style: Tactical speed is a major asset for racehorses targeting the Kentucky Derby. Fierceness won his debut leading from start to finish and rated just in behind pacesetter General Partner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He was about a half-length back through a half-mile and took command approaching the stretch on the final turn. In recent years, tactical speed has been increasingly important in the first jewel of the Triple Crown, although both Rich Strike in 2022 and Mage in 2023 rallied from off the pace to win the Kentucky Derby.
Connections: Repole Stable owns and bred Fierceness. Mike Repole made his fortune when he sold his company Glaceau, maker of Vitaminwater and Smartwater, to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion in May 2007. He subsequently co-founded BODYARMOR Sports Drink, which he also sold in November 2021 to Coca-Cola for a reported $5.6 billion. Repole Stable also won the Juvenile in 2010 with Uncle Mo and in 2022 with Forte, the latter in partnership with St. Elias Stable. Repole and St. Elias also teamed to win the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Vino Rosso.
Repole has never won the Kentucky Derby, although he had a big chance with Forte in 2022 before he was scratched the morning of the race with a hoof bruise.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is a seven-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer with six wins in U.S. Triple Crown races to his credit. He won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver in 2010 and with Always Dreaming in 2017.
Four-time Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Fierceness in his first two starts and Hall of Famer John Velazquez picked up the mount on the bay colt for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Ortiz has never finished in the top three in the Kentucky Derby; Velazquez won the Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom, 2017 on Always Dreaming, and in 2020 aboard Authentic.
Pedigree Notes: Fierceness is from the second crop of City of Light, winner of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes in 2019. City of Light, by Quality Road, boasted an abundance of speed and the ability to carry it around two turns, much like Fierceness, who is by far his best runner to date.
Repole bred Fierceness out of his homebred Nonna Bella, by Repole’s multiple Grade 1 winner Stay Thirsty. Nonna Bella won two of five races with one win coming at 6 ½ furlongs and the other at seven furlongs, and she is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to Grade 1 winner and sire Outwork.
Fierceness shined in his two-turn debut and ran the fastest race of his career, but from a pedigree standpoint there are some concerns about whether or not he will be able to carry that speed 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday in May.
Derby Potential: We published an interesting BloodHorse feature exploring the fact that only two horses have ever won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and gone on to win the Kentucky Derby the following spring: Street Sense in 2006-’07 and Nyquist in 2015-’16. It’s a good read packed with lots of details and comments from experienced Triple Crown trainers, but the easy answer is simply that it is just so hard to win a Kentucky Derby.
The winner must to be peaking at the perfect time, avoid trouble in the race, get the right pace setup, and have the talent to run fast and the stamina to run 1 ¼ miles. As it pertains to the Juvenile winner, it’s just tough to predict how a 2-year-old will mature with time off between seasons and then progress as a 3-year-old once training begins to ramp up for the following year’s Kentucky Derby trail.
The key factor, of course, is talent, and Fierceness appears to have that in spades. But that’s just a starting point. The colt must stay sound and healthy, improve mentally and physically, and build the foundation to run a monster race at a 1 ¼-mile distance he will be trying for the first time in front of 150,000 fans on the first Saturday in May. Let’s just say the odds are stacked against Fierceness no matter how good he is, even if he proves to be exceptional.