Kentucky Derby Back to Playing Music in May

With the Kentucky Derby likely back to the first Saturday in May, it is time to take a look at the (very) early contenders on the Future Wager’s Pool 1, as well as several more emerging from Churchill’s “Stars of Tomorrow” card. ~ Steve Haskin

Kentucky Derby Back to Playing Music in May

By Steve Haskin


It is still too early to know for sure what songs we will be singing next year about the Kentucky Derby besides “My Old Kentucky Home.”

As of now it looks as if the Derby will be back running “In the Merry Merry Month of May” and that we no longer will “See You in September.” The Belmont Stakes will again be run when “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” but will return to its place as the final leg of the Triple Crown. And finally, thank goodness we won’t have to wait for the Preakness to be run during “Autumn Leaves.”

Churchill Downs, having acted hastily in vacating its traditional spot on the first Saturday in May and pushing the race to September, thus bastardizing the entire Triple Crown, has vowed not to repeat that, so as of now it looks as if we will again be running the Derby when the roses are in bloom. That means that the Preakness and Belmont will not have to again acquiesce to the actions of Churchill Downs and will also return to their proper place on the calendar.

But we still have to trudge through December, January, February, March, and April. If it seems as if the Derby is a long way off, there is one more song reference we have to keep remembering, and that is the beautiful and profound words of Amanda McBroom, who wrote: “Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed, that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.”

That seed has already been planted, and this past week’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 allowed us to get our Derby fever up a couple of degrees and enable us to get a very early start on throwing our money down the proverbial toilet. And we had additional seeds planted all over Churchill Downs with Saturday’s all-2-year-old “Stars of Tomorrow” card, which included the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and three maiden races and two allowance races for males.

The first Future Wager gave racing fans a chance to catch early lightning in a bottle and ferret out that elusive Derby winner, assuming he is not among the multitude of young horses who have yet to see the inside of a starting gate. If you had taken a wild shot last year in Pool 1 you could have gotten Authentic at 50-1 ($103.60 payout) compared to 8-1 on Derby Day. You could have had loads of fun along the way getting Tiz the Law at 11-1 when he was 3-5 on race day. And think of the hefty exacta price you could have gotten on those two back in November of 2019. Of course, 18 of the remaining 20 horses on that first list did not make the Derby, so were you one of those who had the backbone (or were crazy enough) to put up your money before you even came down from your Thanksgiving turkey high?

At least this time you won’t have to wait nine months hoping your horse keeps his form and doesn’t have any physical setbacks. So, for all those who had to wait that long to find out if a front-running son of speed-oriented sire Into Mischief with only one sprint victory in November at Del Mar and trained by Bob Baffert was going to lead you to the promised land, kudos to you. You can bet that ain’t gonna happen again. Oh, wait, the favorite in this year’s Pool 1 is a front-running son of Into Mischief with only one sprint victory in November at Del Mar and trained by Bob Baffert. Never mind.

This horse is named Life is Good, a very appropriate name if you are Baffert, WinStar Farm, and Spendthrift Farm, who stands this phenomenon of a sire, whose stakes winners are sprouting like weeds. All three are living the good life these days.

Life is Good looked sensational in his career debut, drawing off under no urging to win by 9 1/2 lengths. Thanks in good part to Authentic, he closed at a ridiculous 5-1 in Pool 1, which are shorter odds than the undefeated two-time Grade 1 winner Essential Quality (7-1), who clinched the 2-year-old championship with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Speaking of Into Mischief, the one positive aspect of being compared to Authentic is that the Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner was a big rangy colt with long gazelle-like strides and looked more like a stayer than a sprinter-miler type. Well, we saw another Into Mischief at Churchill Downs on Saturday who has the same traits and is just a big gorgeous colt who looks more like an older horse. His name is Mandaloun, a Juddmonte Farm undefeated homebred who scored an impressive victory in a seven-furlong allowance race, covering the distance in 1:23, coming home his final eighth in a sharp :12 flat. He was very professional and looks like he wants more distance. He has plenty of stamina in his female family, being out of an Empire Maker mare and having three daughters of the top stamina/class sire His Majesty in his pedigree. And he has several physical traits of His Majesty, who was destined for big things, but was injury plagued throughout his career. Remember the name Mandaloun.

We’ll get back to Saturday’s 2-year-old races at Churchill, Del Mar, and Aqueduct. But first let’s finish up with the Future Wager. We know that last year’s Pool 1 produced a 50-1 steal and the Derby’s first two finishers, but that was then. Now we have to see if there are any potential steals in this year’s Pool 1. I have gone over the Thoro-Graph speed figures on numerous occasions this year, so rather than bore you with numbers and a refresher course on their meaning I will just use the figures myself to point out several horses who are much faster than their odds would indicate, are on a steady progression, and have the pedigree to go a mile and a quarter.

What is most evident about Pool 1 is the lack of respect for the accomplished California 2-year-olds. While they bet the unproven Life is Good down to favoritism off only one start they completely ignored the Del Mar Futurity winner Dr. Schivel at 72-1, American Pharoah winner Get Her Number at 64-1, and the Bob Hope winner Red Flag at 35-1. Red Flag was particularly impressive romping by 7 1/4 lengths for John Shirreffs, while pressing the pace for the first time in his career. He blew the field away on the turn and drew off with every stride, despite not changing leads. Red Flag’s third dam, Mackie, is a graded stakes winner and a half-sister to Kentucky Derby, Travers, and Champagne winner Sea Hero, as well as multiple Grade 1 winner Hero’s Honor, and Diana winner Wild Applause. Their dam, Glowing Tribute, was a multiple Grade 2-winning daughter of Graustark. Glowing Tribute’s dam Admiring is a half-sister to the brilliant fillies Priceless Gem and Affectionately. The family, which is the basis of the Hirsch Jacobs empire, continues with names like Searching, War Admiral, and La Troienne. Red Flag’s pedigree top and bottom has no less than nine classic winners, so I am looking at this colt as a potential steal at 35-1.

But to really demonstrate the lack of respect for the California horses, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Essential Quality was sent off as the second choice in Pool 1 at 7-1. However, runner-up Hot Rod Charlie, who he defeated in the closing strides by three-quarters of a length, closed at 34-1. Yes, the Doug O’Neill-trained son of Oxbow was 94-1 in the Juvenile, but that was his second race with blinkers on, and in his previous start, he outgamed the John Shirreffs-trained Parnelli to win by a neck going head and head the entire race, with Parnelli finishing 16 1/4 lengths ahead of the third horse. And this past weekend Parnelli broke his maiden by nearly six lengths at Del Mar stretching out to a mile and was one of the stars of the weekend.

In the Juvenile, Hot Rod Charlie changed tactics racing in seventh, eight lengths off the pace after going four-wide on the first turn. He made a huge early move passing the half-mile pole and was right alongside the leaders turning for home, still four-wide. He put the big favorite Jackie’s Warrior away and gained a narrow lead, but his move may have been just a bit early and he couldn’t hold off Essential Quality. His Thoro-Graph figure jumped from an “8 1/2” to a “3 3/4.” Hot Rod Charlie is a half-brother to last year’s champion sprinter and Met Mile winner Mitole, but he does have enough stamina to suggest he should be able to get classic distances, especially with his running style. His sire is a Preakness winner, and Oxbow is by BC Classic winner Awesome Again, out of a full-sister to two-time BC Classic winner Tiznow. At 34-1 he looks extremely appealing.

Another California horse getting no respect at all is Rombauer, who was second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the American Pharoah after a poor start and then rallied from 10th, 13 lengths back, to finish a respectable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after breaking from the post 13. Despite all that, he closed at 88-1 in the Future Wager.

My other potential steal is the 96-1 Pickin’ Time, a son of Travers winner Stay Thirsty, who was impressive winning the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct by 2 1/4 lengths, earning a strong “4 1/2″ Thoro-Graph number. He has a good blend of speed and stamina, with more than enough stamina to stretch out to classic distances. As with Rombauer, that is a monstrous price for an accomplished graded stakes horse.

Finally, if I had to pick out one exciting horse who looked like a potential star at a decent price it would be the 27-1 shot Caddo River, a son of Hard Spun who has a ton of early speed, but can carry it a long way, as he showed when breaking his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths going a mile at Churchill Downs. This horse rattles off :44 and change opening half-miles under pressure and doesn’t stop, as he demonstrated when narrowly beaten by Godolphin’s Speaker’s Corner, who took a lot of late money in the Future Wager to get bet down from 47-1 to 29-1 on the final day. We’ll just have to see if Caddo River can keep stretching out, but he’ll have to harness some of that early speed.

Now, getting back to Saturday’s races, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes we saw the continued emergence of Keepmeinmind as a legitimate early Derby contender. Although Essential Quality was the star of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, what really caught my eye was the powerful move on the turn by Keepmeinmind, a maiden who was wearing blinkers for the first time. He was able to sustain his run to finish a fast-closing third and then proved that performance was no fluke when he again exploded from last, circled the field six-wide, and powered home with a final sixteenth in about :06 1/5 to run down a stubborn Smiley Sobotka to win by a half length. I thought after that race he would take a lot of late money in the Future Wager, but still closed at an enticing 19-1. What I love about this horse is his ability to accelerate on the turn, make up a lot of ground quickly, and then sustain his run a long way.

Smiley Sobotka, trained by Dale Romans, has been improving with each start and is bred to run all day with stamina all through his pedigree. He was under pressure the whole way, put the speed away and opened a clear lead in the stretch only to get caught in the final strides by Keepmeinmind.

Of the maiden and allowance races, the performance that stood out in addition to Mandaloun was the aforementioned maiden romp by Parnelli going a mile at Del Mar. By Quality Road, his dam is by Bernardini and his second dam is by Not For Love, the broodmare sire of California Chrome. Considering what Hot Rod Charlie has gone on to do after beating him by a neck, there is little doubt that this colt, with his steady improvement, his pedigree, and trained by John Shirreffs, is a serious horse to watch.

Getting back to Churchill Downs, you had to be impressed with Leblon’s performance in a mile and an eighth maiden race, in which he made a long sustained run, circled seven-wide, and outclosed the promising Shadwell colt Saqeel to win by a neck. Also keep an eye on third-place finisher Scarlet Fusion, who was equipped with blinkers after two disappointing efforts. He fought for the lead the whole way and hung tough in the stretch, fighting back in the closing yards to be beaten a length. Keep an eye on all three of these colts.

If you’re looking for a buried treasure on the Churchill card, watch out next time for Boldish, one of only two first-time starters in a mile and a sixteenth maiden race. The son of Dialed In, sent off at 62-1, was bumped at the start, dropped back to 10th, and then launched a powerful run circling seven-wide at the top of the stretch. He continued to close strongly, finishing fourth despite racing a bit greenly in the stretch, running with his head cocked to the outside. For all you Secretariat fans, this colt has Big Red in his pedigree four times and he has the much coveted Rasmussen Factor (RF), being inbred top and bottom to Weekend Surprise through A.P. Indy and Weekend in Seattle. His trainer, Joe Sharp, sent out another promising colt in Twilight Blue, who ran a strong second to Mandaloun.

In the other seven-furlong maiden race, Runhappy had a good winner in Runway Magic, who pulled away from 3-2 favorite Outasite to win by 3 3/4 lengths. And finally, in a mile and a sixteenth allowance race, the even-money favorite Scarred, who closed at 49-1 in the Future Wager, was run down late by the steadily improving Hidden Stash, a well-bred son of Constitution, trained by Vickie Oliver. He won despite not changing leads, so he will have to work on that, but he no doubt is immensely talented.

If this column raised your Derby fever a degree or two, be prepared for it to skyrocket in six or seven weeks when the Derby Rankings, formerly known as Derby Dozen, begins. Who will be the first to get the coveted No. 1 ranking? See you then and tell your friends. ~ SH



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