A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
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 weekend, four qualifying points preps were held: the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds; the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park; the UAE Derby Sponsored by Atlantis the Royal at Meydan Racecourse; and the Sunland Park Derby at Sunland Park. This Saturday, two preps offering a total of 200 qualifying points to Derby 149 are scheduled: the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa at Gulfstream Park and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
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.
Drawn in post 11 in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa, last year’s champion 2-year-old male could experience a wide trip in the 1 1/8-mile race. But even if he loses a few lengths by running outside, he still ought to be mighty tough to beat. After taking the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by TAA last fall, he won the Fountain of Youth Stakes with authority, pushing his record to 5-for-6. “As impressively as he’s won a couple of these races, he’s kind of come to the wire with his ears up taking everything in,” said Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, a six-time Florida Derby winner.
2. Tapit Trice
Pletcher now is 1-2 in these standings following the Derby Dozen exit of Instant Coffee, who ran a listless sixth, beaten 9 ¾ lengths, when attempting to rally behind a slow pace in the March 25 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. As for Tapit Trice, the talented gray looked good in his first workout since capturing the March 11 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, breezing a half-mile in :49.82 at Palm Beach Downs March 25 in tandem with stablemate Dreamlike. As well as he ran in the Tampa Bay Derby, closing with a rush after breaking slowly and climbing behind kickback, hopeful to see a more complete performance in the April 8 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
The San Felipe Stakes winner turned in an excellent workout March 26 at Santa Anita Park, roughly two weeks before a start in the April 8 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Breezing by himself, he zipped five furlongs in a bullet :59.20 without any urging. At 1 1/8 miles, the Santa Anita Derby should provide a good gauge of this colt’s staying ability. He pulled away late in his last two graded starts at 1 1/16 miles, running a bit farther than some other leading stakes-winning progeny of one-turn specialist Practical Joke (i.e. Chocolate Gelato, Tejano Twist, and Little Vic).
The San Felipe runner-up easily dispatched a workmate in his Sunday breeze at Santa Anita, in which he completed six furlongs in 1:13 while given a stiff gallop out. After a pace-pressing trip in the San Felipe chasing Hejazi, who weakened to fourth, Geaux Rocket Ride might elevate his game further if able to assert command early in the Santa Anita Derby. The San Felipe was just his second outing after a frontrunning six-furlong maiden win in 1:09 and change.
Since being withdrawn from the San Felipe with a tender foot, this colt has fired one fast drill after another, with his latest, a six-furlong move in 1:12.20 on Sunday being among his most visually impressive. He outworked Reincarnate for five furlongs, then breezed an additional eighth on his own. His connections want him on tilt for his final Derby prep in the Blue Grass. Out of action since finishing third in the Jan. 8 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park, and without any Derby points, he may need a 1-2 Blue Grass finish to book a trip to Louisville.
On the strength of his troubled third-place finish at Oaklawn Park in the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes, in which he was shut off in midstretch after being slow to get going early over a sloppy track, he was installed as the 5-2 favorite for Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. Before the Rebel, he won a maiden race and the Sham, taking the latter with grit. Stablemate National Treasure got the better of him in a joint drill Sunday at Santa Anita, though it was apparent the connections were looking for a stiffer breeze from National Treasure, who worked an extra furlong after missing the San Felipe with a foot bruise in early March.
7. Two Phil’s
Not inclined to overlook the Jeff Ruby Steaks winner this year in the Kentucky Derby. Unlike in many years, when turf horses won the Jeff Ruby on Turfway Park’s synthetic surface, this colt took it March 25 after going from dirt to synthetic. Two Phil’s is a hard-trying, talented 3-year-old – irrespective of surface – similar in versatility to Animal Kingdom (the lone synthetic Jeff Ruby winner to capture the Derby, in 2011). Two Phil’s even won over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs last year in taking the Street Sense Stakes. His Jeff Ruby was quick (1 1/8 miles in 1:49.03) and he decisively defeated one of the top 3-year-old grass horses in the country, Major Dude.
This progressive colt improved to 3-for-3 in capturing the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, spurting away at the head of the lane and scoring by 3 ½ lengths. As exciting as his performance was, he enjoyed a favorable trip up front with leisurely splits of :49.60 and 1:14.69 en route to winning the 1 3/16-mile race in 1:57.33, the slowest Louisiana Derby in four runnings at the current distance but a performance that still earned him a 100 Equibase Speed Figure. Runner-up Disarm also ran into traffic problems or he would have been closer to this colt at the finish. This 3-year-old’s ability to win on and off the lead should continue to serve him well.
Trainer Brad Cox tends to give his stiffest drills to his horses two weeks or so before a scheduled start, and so it was for this colt on Saturday. He went six furlongs in 1:12.80 at Fair Grounds in preparation for the Blue Grass, while barnmate Hit Show went the same distance in 1:12.60 for the April 8 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino. In winning an allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn earlier in the year, Verifying pressed the pace and pulled away, a far better trip than when he was fourth after being bottled up in traffic in the Rebel. He also showed promise at 2 by placing behind Blazing Sevens in the Champagne Stakes.
10. Confidence Game
Trainer Keith Desormeaux plans to run the Rebel winner next in Kentucky, either in the Blue Grass or the April 15 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, or go straight into the May 6 Kentucky Derby. Would not be surprised to see Desormeaux bring this 3-year-old in fresh in the Derby, knowing his colt is already in the race with 57 qualifying points. Desormeaux wants to have a horse with plenty in the tank for the Triple Crown. Two works since the Rebel, coming March 18 and this past Saturday at Fair Grounds, have been relatively easy. Look for him to pick up the pace in his April breezes.
11. Rocket Can
After racing twice in Derby preps this winter in South Florida, where he won the Holy Bull Stakes and ran second to Forte in the Fountain of Youth, he travels to Oaklawn Park to run in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. He should provide a barometer of how one of Florida’s best stacks up against horses that have been running at Oaklawn and the Fair Grounds this winter. First or second in four consecutive routes, he is a determined colt, though perhaps not with the upside of the divisional leaders.
12. Angel of Empire
While many 3-year-olds are still needing to prove they can go 1 1/8 miles, he has already won the Feb. 18 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford at the distance. So class and distance handicappers will likely think more of him than those who emphasize final times and speed figures. The Risen Star developed with a fast early-slow late race shape that played to his closing strength, and his time of 1:51.47 was slow. But 2 ¾ lengths behind him in third was Two Phil’s, next-out winner of the Jeff Ruby.