Byron King’s Derby Dozen for Feb. 8

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Newgate (left) defeats Hard to Figure in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 4 at Santa Anita Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

BloodHorse news editor Byron King presents his latest Derby Dozen Presented by Spendthrift, with a look at his leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 6.

Last week, Rocket Can won the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park to earn 20 Derby qualifying points, and Newgate won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park but did not earn any qualifying points due to Churchill Downs’ ban of Bob Baffert and horses trained by him from competing in the 2023 Derby. This upcoming weekend, three more points preps will be held: the rescheduled Withers Stakes at Aqueduct; the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs; and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Check out America's Best Racing's Triple Crown page to keep up to date with stories and statistics on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Eclipse Sportswire

1. Forte 

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has gradually picked up the workout pace with last year’s champion 2-year-old male, capped by a :50.61 half-mile move Feb. 4 from the colt at Palm Beach Downs. Look for Pletcher to get even more serious with the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by TAA winner leading toward an intended return in the March 4 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Pletcher’s prior champion juveniles – Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby – missed the Kentucky. The eight-time Eclipse Award-honored trainer is a two-time winner of the run for the roses, capturing it with Super Saver in 2010 and with Always Dreaming in 2017.

Coady Photography

2. Arabian Knight 

Trainer Bob Baffert was in court in Louisville, Ky., Feb. 2-3, with his legal team requesting a preliminary injunction that could allow the Hall of Famer to participate in this year’s Derby. Baffert is seeking legal relief given Churchill Downs Inc.’s ongoing ban of him from racing at its tracks through early July of this year and from his trainees earning qualifying points toward the May 6 Derby. Barring legal success for the trainer – look for the judge to make a ruling this month – this talented prospect would need to join another barn to qualify and start in the Derby. Short on seasoning but not talent. By summer, Baffert feels this colt “is going to be ridiculous,” he said after Arabian Knight’s win the Jan. 28 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Coady Photography

3. Instant Coffee  

The Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes winner at Fair Grounds has not worked since that race, suggesting he is likely to sit out the Feb. 18 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at the New Orleans oval. That is not altogether surprising as Brad Cox typically spaces out the starts of his runners, and this 3-year-old already has 32 qualifying points for the Derby. His late-running style makes him a good fit for the long stretch at Fair Grounds, suggesting the March 25 Louisiana Derby there could prove his next target.

4. Faustin 

Runner-up to his crack-sprinting stablemate Havnameltdown in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes Jan. 29 at Santa Anita Park, he is likely to race around two turns next. By 2007-08 Horse of the Year Curlin out of multiple Grade 1-winning grass mare Hard Not to Like, he is bred for added distance. Baffert said of Faustin after the San Vicente, “Once he goes two turns, you’ll see a big difference in him.”

Coady Photography

5. Verifying 

Midnight Bisou’s little half-brother turned heads with a fast first-level allowance optional claiming win at Oaklawn Jan. 14 in which he defeated Gun Pilot by 5 ¼ lengths. The latter returned last week to impressively win a similar race at the Arkansas track, flattering this colt’s performance. Additionally, Verifying ran quickly in that Jan. 14 contest, registering a 102 Equibase Speed Figure. Timing of the upcoming Risen Star Stakes suggests he is likely to make his next appearance at Fair Grounds.

6. National Treasure

Though he let down his mutuel backers with a third at 3-5 odds in the Jan. 8 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park, the Sham was a quick race, and seemingly quite legit. Runner-up Newgate returned to win the Feb. 4 Robert B. Lewis Stakes there. This one’s trip was less than perfect, as he rated inside behind horses before angled out and running evenly down the lane. Most young horses will fare better with trips in the clear, avoiding dirt kickback. The Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park or the March 4 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita could be in the plans next.

Eclipse Sportswire

7. Blazing Sevens 

He and Forte both resumed breezing at the same time this year and have kept roughly the same weekly workout schedule over the past few weeks. Blazing Sevens was beaten 5 ¼ lengths by Forte when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, though a slow break left this one playing catchup from the start. He appeared to lose at least a couple of lengths with an awkward start. Then, having reached contention at the top of the lane, his rally evened out. A top-level winner at age 2 over Verifying in a sloppy Champagne Stakes, though that race was only at a mile and around one turn.

8. Tapit Trice 

Rocket Can won the Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park, but this colt left the greatest impression on the Saturday program. Racing against first-level allowance optional claiming opposition, he stalked the pace and overwhelmed his stablemate Shesterkin to win by eight lengths. Though the race was simply a one-turn mile, the reach displayed in this one’s stride gives the impression that he should not only handle two turns but move up under such a scenario and with further distance for Pletcher.

Coady Photography

9. Victory Formation 

He and Verifying look like Cox’s most likely prospects for the Risen Star Stakes, though the trainer’s bench is so deep that he could shuffle his lineup without fuss. If Victory Formation runs in the Risen Star, the race will represent both a class and distance test for the speedy colt. In improving to 3-for-3 in capturing the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, he raced down the short stretch in mile races at Oaklawn. The Risen Star is 1 1/8 miles and will represent by far his toughest challenge.

Coady Photography

10. Curly Jack 

Trainer Tom Amoss gave him a quick five-furlong drill in :59.80 Feb. 2 at Fair Grounds to prepare the colt for a return in the Risen Star. Although not as fast as others based on speed figures, he has kept good company in races such as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, from which a number of colts have exited to perform at a high level in subsequent starts. He also had considerable traffic problems in the Nov. 28 Kentucky Jockey Club when bottled up for much of the race.

11. Hejazi 

He sizzled 6 ½ furlongs in 1:14.58 in graduating from the maiden ranks Jan. 8 at Santa Anita, earning a 105 Equibase Speed Rating. The runner-up, Worcester, subsequently ran third, beaten two lengths, in a swift running of the Robert B. Lewis, though the latter race had just four entries and was relatively unaccomplished. So this one’s stock dips a bit. A $3.55 million purchase as a 2-year-old, Hejazi still must prove himself at a route, having finished a distant third in the 1 1/16-mile American Pharoah Stakes last fall in his lone route.

BENOIT photo

12. Reincarnate

Coming off a sharp five-furlong workout in :59.40 at Santa Anita Feb. 5 and with his form flattered by next-out Robert B. Lewis Stakes success from Newgate, who he defeated in the Sham, he moves into the Dozen – beating out Newgate, Cave Rock (does not have a published workout this year), Practical Move, Dubyuhnell, Rocket Can (slow time in winning the Holy Bull), and others. Reincarnate was not as quick to develop as others in this lineup but has rattled off two victories in a row, showing speed, staying power, and grit in fending off Newgate by a neck in the Sham.

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