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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, Last week, Tapit Trice fulfilled expectations as the 1-2 favorite in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby by rallying late for a two-length win. This weekend, there are no qualifying points races for the 149th Kentucky Derby, but action picks up in a major way on March 25 with three scheduled preps.
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The gap between him and the rest of the Derby contenders expanded this past week when Zedan Racing Stable announced that the promising Arabian Knight would be away from racing until the summer. He was one of the few that seemed to have the talent to threaten Forte, the 2-year-old champion of 2022. Trainer Todd Pletcher indicated after this colt’s splashy victory in the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes that the April 1 Curlin Florida Derby is the upcoming target. That is a race Pletcher used to propel Always Dreaming to Derby glory in 2017, giving him his second victory in the run for the roses.
With the defection of Arabian Knight from the Derby picture, he moves to second in the Derby Dozen rankings, primarily based on the company he has defeated. He beat subsequent Rebel Stakes winner Confidence Game in taking the Lecomte Stakes January at Fair Grounds, and among those behind him in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall at Churchill Downs included Red Route One and Cyclone Mischief, both graded stakes-placed this year. The March 25 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby appears next up for this 3-year-old.
3. Tapit Trice
Passing more than half the field in the final furlong, he won the March 11 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby by two lengths – noteworthy considering he did not appear to run near his full potential. Slow into stride and toiling at the back of the pack, it was not until he was in the clear late that he kicked into gear. This Toyota Blue Grass Stakes-bound colt did not run down any leading Derby prospects at Tampa, however. Runner-up Classic Car Wash finished at 85.66-1 in the latest Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
Another trip to Oaklawn for the April 1 Arkansas Derby seems on deck for the Sham Stakes winner, who, despite losing the Feb. 25 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, caught the eye most with his third-place finish. Farther off the pace than accustomed when racing over a sloppy track for the first time, he rallied to finish just 2 ½ lengths behind victorious Confidence Game after getting steadied in midstretch. Sharp subsequent solo breeze in :47.80 March 9 at Santa Anita Park.
His trip in the San Felipe Stakes began inauspiciously, with him losing about two lengths at the break, though this colt’s athleticism quickly put him back in the race. That allowed him to carve out a smooth stalking trip, and for the second straight race, just as in the Dec.17 Los Alamitos Futurity, he shot through a large hole along the inside exiting the second turn. His San Felipe was the fastest since 2015 and earned a 108 Equibase Speed Figure, though his Ragozin Sheets and Thoro-Graph numbers were downgraded a bit due to his ground-saving trip.
When a lightly raced horse experiences something for the first time – such as much tougher company, a new distance, or a difficult trip – it is not uncommon for them to take a step back. But this colt gave his all despite facing challenging conditions in the San Felipe, finishing second to Practical Move. This horse raced wider than that rival and did some of the dirty work, occupying pacesetting and fourth-place finisher Hejazi early. Chief drawback is his limited experience. Should he run well in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby in another anticipated matchup with Practical Move and proceed to Louisville, he will have made only three starts.
Initially close to a demanding pace in the Rebel, he fell back in traffic on the second turn and in early stretch, only to come on again and grab fourth. Previously he stylishly won a first-level allowance optional claimer in quick time at Oaklawn. Months earlier, he was sixth in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by TAA and second in the Champagne Stakes. Easy half-mile workout in :50 March 11 at Fair Grounds, with the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass likely next.
After being scratched from the March 4 San Felipe with a sore foot, he resumed training last week, and on March 14 he zipped six furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:11.80. His Derby participation will depend on how he performs in one of the top-tier Derby preps early next month. Based on historical trends, he will likely need a 1-2 finish to secure enough qualifying points to safely make the Derby, though a third could be enough. Plenty talented with three graded placings, including twice in Grade 1s.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux is weighing this colt’s options after his breakthrough race in the Rebel. He could bring him back in the Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass, or another final prep, or bring him in fresh by awaiting the May 6 Kentucky Derby. With 57 qualifying points, he has safely secured a spot in the starting gate. Troubled trips from Reincarnate and Verifying worked in his favor in the Rebel and perhaps the slop also helped him, but Confidence Game is a quality colt.
10. Rocket Can
Not as flashy as others on this list, but the Holy Bull Stakes winner is honest. He has been first or second in four consecutive routes, with his only defeats around two turns coming behind Forte in the Fountain of Youth and to Confidence Game in an allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs last fall. In addition to that runner-up finish in Louisville, he also broke his maiden over that track. He could travel to Oaklawn next for the Arkansas Derby, trainer Bill Mott told Daily Racing Form this week.
11. Angel of Empire
After this colt won the Feb. 18 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford, trainer Brad Cox opted to keep him in training at Fair Grounds rather than send him back to Oaklawn Park, where he had trained leading up to the Risen Star. That does not mean the Louisiana Derby will be his next start. Two half-mile workouts since Rebel – and not more demanding five-furlong drills – hint that heavier training is still to come, raising the likelihood of running him early next month.
12. Red Route One
Though ahead of Reincarnate and Verifying in the Rebel, he trails those two in the Derby Dozen rankings – as well as victorious Confidence Game – given how the race unfolded. The pace was hot, and this 3-year-old, far behind early, had a trouble-free journey, sling-shotting out of the second turn and closing well. Being a deep closer, passing nearly so many rivals in a race like the 20-horse Derby could prove a challenge unless he can work out a Mine That Bird-like rail-skimming trip.