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Derby Rankings: Week 7

Monday, March 1st, 2021

The Derby picture got a lot clearer, at least at the very top, when Greatest Honour and Essential Quality separated themselves from the others, at least until next weekend’s San Felipe Stakes, which will be accompanied by the Gotham and Tampa Bay Derby. Stay tuned for another busy weekend on the Derby trail. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 7, Mar. 1

By Steve Haskin

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
At the half-mile pole of the Fountain of Youth Stakes, he had lost his No. 1 ranking to Essential Quality. Less than a minute later he had it back, as he somehow managed to make up a ton of ground, despite the shortened Gulfstream stretch to blow by the pace-setting Drain the Clock in the final yards to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths. The truth is, I was expecting him to take a slight step backward after his brilliant score in the Holy Bull, in which I thought he may have run too fast too soon, as reflected in his big jump to a “1” Thoro-Graph figure and a 103 Brisnet figure. I would have taken a fast-closing second, but he has emerged as a truly exceptional colt. He probably did regress just a bit on Saturday, but was good enough to pull this one out with a furious closing kick. I feel this performance sort of leveled him off after that monster effort and should be a perfect steppingstone to the Florida Derby. We’ll see if that is backed up by his Thoro-Graph number. But what is most important is that this colt continues to show new dimensions, a will to win, and he always fires. With three 1 1/16-mile races and a gut-wrenching stretch battle at 1 1/8 miles in less than four months, he will appreciate the five-weeks off after the Florida Derby.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Well, he still paddles that left leg, but who cares? He just keeps winning and I feel he and Greatest Honour are nose and nose for the top spot. He obviously is the more versatile of the two and can be placed anywhere on the track. And give him a load of credit for turning in this strong a performance after having the race postponed twice, shipping to Oaklawn, and running on a tiring sloppy track. So far, this colt has shown he can do it all, and as the 2-year-champ likely will be No. 1 on most Derby rankings and deservedly so. But of the two sons of Tapit, Greatest Honour gets our nod because he has a stronger mile and a quarter pedigree, although Essential Quality should have no problem with the 10 furlongs. To be honest neither horse beat the toughest field, with Greatest Honour running down a horse making his two-turn debut and Essential Quality beating Spielberg, who lost all chance at the start when he ducked sharply to the outside, dropped to the back of the pack, and then lost ground into the first turn. Essential Quality’s main threat, Jackie’s Warrior, had no excuse and was done by the quarter pole. But all in all you couldn’t have asked for a better result from both horses.

3. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)
OK, no more comments about his consistently sensational works and his flawless mechanics and how we haven’t seen a more beautiful moving horse since American Pharoah. It is finally time for all the morning praise to be replaced by equally strong accolades for his actions in the afternoon. Oh, OK, one more. He turned in yet another strong work on Sunday, going six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. Perhaps Baffert is right when he calls him “a beast.” Now we wait for Saturday’s loaded San Felipe Stakes, which will determine Southern California’s leading Derby contender. It is still only a mile and a sixteenth, so there is a lot of ground to cover before these horses get to a mile and a quarter. The question with him, and many of the Into Mischiefs, is whether he will be as effective stretching out to 10 furlongs. Although Life is Good’s female ancestors were sprinters tracing back to the swift Woodward filly Court Circuit, there is plenty of stamina from the males, and Court Circuit was versatile enough as a broodmare to produce the top-class late-running sprinter Honorable Miss, winner of the Fall Highweight Handicap twice, and her full-brother Bailjumper, winner of the Dwyer and Saranac, who is the grandsire of Skip Away and broodmare sire of Medaglia d’Oro. It is just a question of whether the sires or dams in his female family will prove dominant.

4. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
There is a reason I had him ranked No. 8 in the first Derby Rankings and kept him ranked until his baffling race in the Sam F. Davis Stakes when he pretty much fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the eighth pole when it was way too late. So a frustrated Pletcher added blinkers and Lasix for a mile and eighth last gasp allowance race Friday, and he certainly ran back to that initial high ranking with a powerful 11-length romp in a solid 1:50 2/5. Despite his being shoved four-wide into the first turn, you could tell down the backstretch this was a different horse, as he was striding out beautifully with great extension and was just biding his time. When it was time to go he quickly pounced on the leaders after a testing third quarter in :23 2/5, put the talented Top Gun Tommy, winner of his last two starts, away and bounded clear, winning in hand with his ears pricked and running perfectly straight down the stretch. One of the reasons I loved this horse from the start, in addition to his gutsy victory over Greatest Honour going nine furlongs, is the great European sire line on the dam side, which you can read about in Week 1’s rankings. I am going to assume it was the blinkers that woke him up and not the Lasix, and based on what I know he’s capable of, I am banking on this being the real Known Agenda and that we’re going to see a heckuva rematch between him and Greatest Honour in the Florida Derby. For now, welcome back to the Top 12.

5. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
He has run back-to-back mile and an eighth races, and you have to go back to the days of the Everglades, Flamingo, and Florida Derby to find a horse who went into the Kentucky Derby off three straight mile and an eighth races. That is another reason why I call this colt a throwback. He has that “hickory” look to him in that he is tough, sound, and runs hard. With all the speedy lightly raced horses pointing for the Derby we need horses like him. With Medaglia d’Oro and Forty Niner in his pedigree and being inbred to both Damascus and Buckpasser, you’re not going to find bloodlines with tougher, sounder horses. We really don’t know yet how talented he is, but he did defeat two pretty good horses in Overtook and Capo Kane in the Withers Stakes and did it the right way. And he’s only going to improve off that. Bad weather and poor track conditions in New York made a workout too risky, but there is plenty of time to the Wood and he is dead fit, so Brown has no concerns at all putting the work off.

6. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
He had his first work since his Risen Star victory, breezing an easy half in :50. Nothing to do now but wait for the Louisiana Derby where he will be stretching out to a mile and three-sixteenths. Let’s do something different this week and look at the Derby gods angle. Of course, this is a far cry from Mrs. Genter or the Sunshine Boys, Paul Mellon and Mack Miller, but what better time for one of racing’s great institutions, Juddmonte Farms, to get their first Derby winner after second-place finishes by Aptitude and Empire Maker. This would be the perfect year to celebrate the racing life of owner Khalid Abdullah, who passed away in January. Juddmonte bred Mandaloun’s dam, second dam, and third dam; bred his second dam’s sire Dansili; and bred Mandaloun’s broodmare sire, Empire Maker, and his dam Toussaud. The Derby is one of the few classics Juddmonte has not won. They have captured 13 classics in England, six in Ireland, and eight in France, plus five Arc de Triomphes. In America, they won the Belmont Stakes with Empire Maker, six Breeders’ Cup races, and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, Travers, and Pegasus World Cup with Arrogate, who died at the age 7 last June. We’ll see if the Derby gods are watching.

7. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Little Ms. Protocol, by El Corredor)
He turned in a strong six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5 in company for Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes. It is time to find out once and for all if he is worthy of his name and the person after whom he is named. Wayne Gretzky played several years as a King and a victory would make his namesake the king of California and among the top three early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. This is a big step up from a maiden victory, even if he did win by 14 lengths. But let’s remember he did get beat a nose in a Grade 2 stakes before that and has been a different horse since the addition of blinkers. Spielberg, who beat him in a near dead-heat in the Los Alamitos Futurity, ran a huge race to be second to Essential Quality in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes despite a horrendous trip and on his best day is a classy formidable opponent. As we’ve mentioned, The Great One’s last-out Thoro-Graph figure makes him the co-fastest 3-year-old in the country and Brisnet backs that up with his back-to-back triple-digit numbers, so he does have the credentials to suggest a possible star in the making. He will back that up if he can knock off Life is Good, Medina Spirit, and Roman Centurian on Saturday. If Life is Good is as special as he’s looked, then a solid second-place finish will still propel him into the ranks of leading Derby contenders.

8. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)
It’s difficult to put this any other way, but his schedule is totally messed up. There is nothing wrong with giving a horse two preps for the Derby, such as the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, but this horse was working lights out and was fit and sharp and ready for his debut in the Southwest Stakes. Then it was postponed a week and then another week, during which time he was unable to train; that’s three weeks with no works and two weeks with no training. Rather than run in the Southwest as planned off no training, he is now forced to wait another four weeks for the Rebel on top of the two weeks with no training. Can he still win the Kentucky Derby? Of course he can, but Diodoro is going to have to take a finely tuned athlete primed and ready for a race and start all over again. Even his first work back wasn’t ideal, as it came up sloppy for his five-furlong breeze in 1:03 1/5. So all we can do now is wait and see how he continues to train and how he looks going into the Rebel.

9.  Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)
He remains sharp, working five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at his new home base at Fair Grounds, where he has been stabled since Oaklawn Park closed down for racing and training due to prolonged horrible weather conditions. What looked like a possible thin field for the Rebel Stakes now appears to be a very competitive race with Baffert sending the undefeated Concert Tour; the addition of Keepmemind, who had to finally give up his attempt at the Southwest Stakes; and the 3-year-old debut of American Pharoah winner Get Her Number. This will be the test we need to see for this colt, who has been outdistancing lesser competition, but looking very good doing it. He has had an interesting Thoro-Graph pattern, pairing up a 9 1/2 in his first two starts, and then pairing up a 4 1/4 in his next two starts. So he should move up several points in the Rebel. His Brisnet figures show a steady progression of 87, 89, 94, and 96, and another move forward will make him very formidable, regardless of who he is running against. His strength is his mid-race speed, which has run his opponents off their feet allowing him to open up and cruise home from there. All we need to see now is for him to use more of his speed in the last part of the race when better horses will be testing him.

10.  Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)
OK, if you bet this colt in the last Future Wager at 41-1, this is your opportunity to put that ticket in a safe place and guard it with your life, because it is going to be a valued commodity if he runs big in the San Felipe, considering he is only going to get better going a mile and an eighth and a mile and a quarter. And with two Baffert beasts in there as well as the vastly improving The Great One, he doesn’t have to win this race going a mile and a sixteenth, just like he didn’t have to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, in which he came out of his blanket third-place finish smelling like roses, while earning a faster Thoro-Graph number than the winner. If he is closing again and is right there against theses horses then you can expect bigger and better things to come. He tuned up for the race with a sharp half-mile work in :48 1/5. Look for him to take the outside route again and come charging late. He did have every chance in the Robert Lewis, but considering the wider trip and coming off a maiden race, there is no reason to think he won’t improve off that effort.

11. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
Baffert has been in a dilemma trying to figure out where to run him. He already has horses confirmed for the San Felipe, Gotham, and Rebel Stakes. With no Sunland Derby this year there simply is no place to run him without doubling up. So after a so-so work last week, Baffert wanted to see how he worked on Saturday before confirming him for the San Felipe. As it turned out he worked “great” according to Baffert after his sharp six-furlong drill in a bullet 1:11 1/5, so we now have a rematch to look forward to, but this time you can bet Life is Good and Mike Smith are not going to fall asleep at the wheel and will have their foot on the gas all the way to the wire. Medina Spirit also will be ridden by john Velazquez, replacing Abel Cedillo who rode the colt in his first three starts. Medina Spirit has a sneaky good pedigree despite his little known sire and broodmare sire. There are plenty of class and stamina influences and his dam traces back to the Rokeby Stable owned and bred Leap Lively, who placed in the Epsom and Yorkshire Oaks and produced the dam of Blue Grass Stakes winner High Yield.

12. Proxy (Mike Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)
Although there have been small pockets of gold so far, you can’t help but feel it’s only a few more feet down before Stidham strikes the mother lode. He keeps digging but he may have finally found the right vein when he put blinkers on the colt for his last work and he sizzled a half in a bullet :47, fastest of 40 works at the distance. If ever a horse looked like he needed blinkers it’s this guy, who just has to learn to keep a straight course to go from being a good solid horse to a leading Derby contender. It is for that reason that he returns to the Top 12. After back-to-back “5” Thoro-Graph numbers, which is just OK, I fully expect him to improve several points with the blinkers and stretching out to a mile and three-sixteenths in the Louisiana Derby. With names like Broad Brush, Damascus, and Ack Ack in his female family, we know where he gets his toughness. Now we’ll see if he can use his five doses of Raise A Native and Mr. Prospector, along with the blinkers, to bring out his speed. We have seen how he manages to dig in and get up for second in his races. Now he has to take it one step further and get up for the win. That’s where we feel the blinkers will help.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

HOT ROD CHARLIE – Because he won’t be running for another three weeks, he has, for now, slipped just under the Top 12 until we can sort out the 3-year-old picture following next weekend’s three big stakes. We also need to sort out Doug O’Neill’s contenders, two of which will be running next Saturday. He is keeping busy, working five furlongs in 1:01 1/5. He’s still a very live contender and has proven to be a classy hard-knocking horse, so let’s see where he stands after next week.

OVERTOOK – He also has slipped from the No. 12 spot and we will know more once it is decided where he goes next. It was initially assumed he would remain in training New York and point for the Wood Memorial. He still may target that race, but has been shipped to Florida to train in better weather. He breezed a half in :50 at Palm Beach Downs in company with Dynamic One, and we’ll see where they decide to go with him.

CONCERT TOUR – He is sitting just below the Top 12 waiting to jump aboard with a victory in the Rebel Stakes, but we’ll have to wait two weeks to see if Bob Baffert’s praise for him is warranted. If he can beat the likes of Caddo River and Keepmeinmind in his two-turn debut after only a pair of sprints then we will know for sure he is the real deal and he will catapult up the rankings.

SENOR BUSCADOR – This year’s Cinderella story is over, at least as the Derby is concerned. The colt suffered a strained ligament and if off the Derby trail, just as his brother was three years ago. Hopefully there will other chapters to write for this talented horse.

To show just how dominant Greatest Honour and Essential Quality were in their own way on Saturday, there is not another horse coming out of the Fountain of Youth and Southwest Stakes that can be considered a serious Derby horse. That either says a lot about the two winners or more about the quality of horses they were beating. DRAIN THE CLOCK ran his heart out on the front end in his two-turn debut, but going longer distances certainly is a major question mark. He had every chance to win this race, controlling the pace and opening a clear lead at the eighth pole. SPIELBERG on his best day is a formidable opponent, but still is ranked No. 4 in the Baffert barn, although he did run big considering his horrible start. PAPETU, who actually had some decent Thoro-Graph numbers going into the Fountain of Youth, showed enough promise coming from far back to finish third to suggest that he could move forward in his next race and put himself into the mix. The obvious big disappoints were PRIME FACTOR, who surprisingly was farther back than expected and never fired, and FIRE AT WILL, who it is assumed will return to the grass. As for JACKIE’S WARRIOR, it looks like one turn will be his game unless the sloppy track simply was too tiring for him.

As much as I don’t like horses going into the Kentucky Derby off only three career starts (only freakishly talented horses like Justify and Big Brown have been successful in less than stellar fields), there are several horses apparently heading in that direction that have left a very strong impression and are worth following closely despite the task they will be undertaking. I am now resigned to the act that yesterday’s rules and trends no longer apply in these abbreviated career times. We really don’t know any of these horses going into the Derby anymore, so we’re all guessing.

The first horse who caught my eye was the New York-bred NICKY THE VEST, who like Tiz the Law is a New York-bred in name only. In his first start going a mile, he broke last and then made a dramatic move to take the lead on his own. He eased clear and won for fun by 3 1/4 lengths. In the one-mile Gander Stakes, he broke sharply and contested the early lead before again opening up on his own nearing the quarter pole and extending his lead through the stretch, winning by nearly 12 lengths, with Todd Pletcher’s undefeated Rego Park Stakes winner Perfect Munnings finishing third. What impressed me about this colt was his professionalism, especially for a May 11 foal; his smooth action, and how perfectly balanced he was, never deviating off his path in the stretch.

His paternal grandsire is a Kentucky Derby winner and his maternal grandsire is a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and he is inbred three times to the great Nijinsky. By Runhappy, he has a strong Paul Mellon (Rokeby Stable) influence in his female family and you don’t get much classier than that. In the just the bottom half of his female family are four Travers winners – Java Gold, Key to the Mint, Damascus, and Sword Dancer. And his fifth dam, Quill, was champion 3-year-old filly and the dam of top-class stayers One For All and Caucasus and the granddam of champion grass horse Run the Gantlet, winner of the Washington D.C. International, Man o’ War, and United Nations. Instead of running in the Gotham at one mile again, he will wait for the Wood Memorial. Expect to hear from this colt come April.

And then we come to SOUP AND SANDWICH, one of the most intriguing and fun horses we’ve seen all year. This striking gray son of Into Mischief has toyed with his opponents in his two starts despite not having a clue what he’s supposed to be doing. He breaks to the inside, gawks at everything, loses focus, and has no idea what he’s doing when it comes to his lead changes. We don’t know what he was beating in his maiden win at Gulfstream and allowance score at Tampa Bay going two turns, but he’s just out there having fun and goofing around. In his first start going 6 1/2 furlongs he just cruised to the lead on his own and drew off with ease to win by 7 1/4 lengths in a sharp 1:16 4/5 without changing leads until 30 yards from the wire and constantly looking at the grandstand. After returning he stood for a while just staring into the infield and had to be coaxed into turning around to head to the winner’s circle.

In his next start against only two opponents, he threw his head in the air as if intimidated when a horse started drifting in towards him. Then he managed to get himself boxed in down the backstretch in a three-horse field. But when the rail opened up he just burst to the lead while still under a hold. This time he changed leads inside the eighth pole, but ducked sharply to the inside for no apparent reason, jumped back to his left lead, then immediately back to his right lead. I mention this horse in depth because I don’t believe we have seen anything even close to his best, and who knows what’s in store once he figures it all out? Even trainer Mark Casse says he is clueless, but extremely talented. Casse said he didn’t even take a deep breath after this last race. He and owner Charlotte Weber, who surely does not wear rose-colored glasses, think so highly of him they are going to throw him right into the Florida Derby. When this horse figures it all out we could see something special. I just don’t know when that will be.

And to add one more, we had yet another freakish Into Mischief pop up and run off the screen when Three Chimneys Farm homebred COLLABORATE demolished his field in a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream, winning wire to wire under wraps by 12 1/2 lengths for Saffie Joseph in his second career start. His breeder Three Chimneys Farm sold him as a yearling for $600,000 to Bob Edwards and stayed in for part ownership. He had a few niggling physical problems that delayed his debut, but he showed enough promise for his owners to be patient with him. But that patience might be over, as Joseph is so high on him he is considering a jump into a major stakes race in order to possibly pick up enough points to get in the Derby. We’ll have to see if he becomes another late starter to try to get in the Derby off three career starts.

No, we’re not done quite yet. This past weekend we also saw a huge performance in the Pasadena Stakes by ROCK YOUR WORLD, who is now undefeated in two starts on the grass. The son of Candy Ride has mainly dirt influences in his pedigree and he showed he can rate off the pace and rocket home in the final furlong. But when I saw how strong he galloped out and how far he went at such a rapid clip it was time to find out if there was a major Derby prep in his immediate future. Sure enough, the plan is to run in one of the preps to get Derby points but it will be up to trainer John Sadler to decide which prep to use. And so we have another one to start following.

CAPO KANE, who will be cutting back to a mile in the Gotham, turned in a sharp five-furlong drill in 1:00 1/5 at Parx. The one-mile race looks to be the proverbial barn burner with the Baffert-trained FREEDOM FIGHTER, who just worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 1/5, fastest of 53 works at the distance; the brilliant HIGHLY MOTIVATED, who will be making his 3-year-old debut; and another California shipper, WIPE THE SLATE, who worked six furlongs in 1:11 3/5 and will race without blinkers after getting too speed crazy early in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Previously he had run second to Life is Good before breaking his maiden impressively.

The exciting maiden winner PREVALENCE, who was forced to miss the Fountain of Youth after spiking a fever, returned to the work tab, breezing a half in :48 2/5 in company and on the inside with the rider’s hands motionless throughout. CANDY MAN ROCKET worked a sharp half-mile in :48 2/5 at Payson Park, which is fast time over that track. He will try for a stakes double in the Tampa Bay Derby. HIDDEN STASH, who still needs to learn how to change leads, tuned up for the Tampa Bay Derby with a five-furlong breeze in 1:02 at Payson Park.

American Pharoah winner GET HER NUMBER is starting to get serious, working six furlongs in 1:13 at San Luis Rey Downs. Trainer Peter Miller says he’s not ready for the San Felipe, so they will wait for the Rebel Stakes for his 3-year-old debut. El Camino Real Derby winner ROMBAUER, whose next start is still to be decided, stayed sharp with a half-mile work in :48 flat.

My super duper Derby maiden longshot DYNAMIC ONE is scheduled to try one more time to get back that “W” he should have gotten in his last start when he goes in a mile and a eighth maiden race next Sunday. He worked a half in :50 in company with the newly arrived Overtook. This obviously is his last chance to catapult himself into the Derby picture and one of the major final preps. Remsen winner BROOKLYN STRONG finally made it back to the work tab after a series of setbacks, blowing out three furlongs in :36 4/5. With the Wood Memorial or Arkansas Derby mentioned as possible first starts back, that would be the ultimate in Derby fever.

In the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, HUSH OF A STORM made it three-for-three on Polytrack with an impressive come from behind victory, in which he rallied from eighth to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths despite trying to lug in. Unfortunately, his only start on dirt in his career debut was a dismal effort.

Derby Rankings: Week 6

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

This past weekend was the annual intermission on the Derby trail when the stakes races take a break and we have to come up with new things to say about these horses. The only difference this year is waiting for the Southwest Stakes to be run so we can find out once and for all if champion Essential Quality has made a successful transition from 2 to 3. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 6, Feb. 22

By Steve Haskin

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

He is No. 1 right now because he has earned it with the progress he’s made. He’s getting more professional, he’s getting faster with each race, he has shown the ability to run off from his opponents, and just has a look of class about him. He is pretty close to being Derby ready right now and just has to maintain his form, especially facing much more talented horses in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes. McGaughey had him on the inside in his half-mile work in company Sunday, as both horses hooked up on the turn, were well off the rail turning for home, and finished dead even in :51 1/5, with Greatest Honour’s rider keeping his hands way down on the colt’s neck. On the gallop-out, however, Greatest Honour asserted himself and drew five lengths clear. McGaughey is following a similar pattern with him as he did with Orb, giving him three two-turn races at 3, although this colt is a little ahead of Orb, who didn’t make his stakes until the Fountain of Youth. Greatest Honour already has an impressive graded stakes victory under his belt, in which he earned very fast speed figures, so McGaughey has to make sure he leaves enough in the tank to peak on Derby Day, as that “1” he got on Thoro-Graph in the Holy Bull might have been a little fast for January. I’m just looking for a good solid effort in the Fountain of Youth to move him forward into the Florida Derby.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

The No. 1 spot has been there for Essential Quality if he wanted it, but he hasn’t had the chance with two postponements of the Southwest Stakes. Now, he and Greatest Honour will vie for top billing on the same day at different tracks. It’s fortunate for him he is stabled at Fair Grounds and hasn’t missed any works. In fact, he turned in a sharp five-furlong drill in 1:00 4/5 on Saturday, third fastest of 41 works at the distance. Assuming they finally get to run the Southwest next week, a decision will be made where they go next for his final prep. It would be six weeks to the Arkansas Derby, so the more logical and likely spot would seem to be the Blue Grass Stakes a week earlier, where he scored impressive victories in the Breeders’ Futurity and BC Juvenile. It’s hard to believe, though, that it’s been 30 years since a Blue Grass winner captured the Kentucky Derby. Since Riva Ridge nearly 50 years ago, only Spectacular Bid and Strike the Gold have scored a Blue Grass – Kentucky Derby double. As for the Breeders’ Futurity, only one winner, Swale, has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby in the past 70 years. But enough of history; right now let’s just get a race in him and see what we’re dealing with 3 1/2 months after the BC Juvenile.

3. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)

It seems as if every week is devoted to praising his workouts. Watching him work five furlongs in 1:00 4/5, once again by himself, I was amazed how fluid his stride is. Going around the turn, if you put the proverbial glass of water on the rider’s back not a drop would have spilled. His mechanics are as close to perfection as you can get, and the one horse who comes to mind watching him in action is American Pharoah. He followed that work with a bullet five furlongs in :59 3/5 on Sunday that was a carbon copy of his other works except for watching him weave his way between horses galloping out down the backstretch like a runaway train. Baffert got him going six furlongs in 1:12, out seven furlongs in 1:25 4/5. With that said he still has had only two lifetime starts, one of which was the Sham Stakes, in which he and Mike Smith hopefully learned a lesson and won’t treat a race like it was nothing more than a stroll in the park. Horses, especially those with limited racing, need to know what competition is. You don’t want them to fall asleep in a race, like Life is Good and Smith did in the Sham, and then have to quickly rouse them out of their slumber when a good horse like Medina Spirit suddenly is breathing down their neck. Now that he got that out of the way, I trust he and Smith will take the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby more seriously. When they do, who knows what we’ll see.

4. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)

He’s been a totally different horse since the addition of blinkers. Or has he? It sure looks that way on paper, but in his poor performances without them, one was his debut going six furlongs, which he wants no part of, and the second was on the grass, which he really isn’t bred for. So doing what he wants to do – going two turns on the dirt — he is undefeated. No, he’s not the fastest horse, and he’s not the most dynamic, and in today’s Kentucky Derby he doesn’t fit the mold of the California Chromes, American Pharoahs, Always Dreamings, Justifys, Maximum Securitys, and Authentics, all brilliant horses with good tactical speed. But I can’t help falling for the throwback types; those sound hard-running, hard-trying horses with classy pedigrees geared toward stamina. So until he proves otherwise I will keep looking at that Thoro-Graph jump from a 10 1/2 to a 3 1/4 in the Withers and consider him a leading contender. He returned to the work tab Sunday, breezing an easy half in :50.

5. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

Because the Oaklawn track has been closed, he hasn’t worked in 13 days, which means he didn’t work the weekend the Southwest was postponed the first time and didn’t work the weekend it was postponed the second time. Even if he does work early in the week, he will have only one work in three weeks going into arguably the toughest test of his career against grade 1 winners who have been working regularly at Fair Grounds. Diodoro had him razor sharp for his debut, which he actually has missed three times if you count him being entered in the Risen Star Stakes the same weekend as the first aborted Southwest Stakes. So as of this writing there are question marks concerning him, with his missed works and training on top of missed races. He does have several serious works behind him, so there is at least some foundation, but this is far from an ideal situation and there is no way of knowing what to expect on Saturday. With his style of running and at this distance against these horses, he really doesn’t have to win this race anyway, so if he is at least closing in the stretch and can pick up a piece of it that is something to build on. Horses these days are not given many opportunities to earn points, so it could all come down to his final prep.

6. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)

He appears to be making big strides with every race and has now proven himself at a mile and an eighth, and with his female family I think we can put the question of distance to rest. If you want to judge his progress through his speed figures, he is improving slowly, one small step at a time. His Thoro-Graph numbers have gone from a 6 1/2 to a 4 to a 3, which means he still needs to get faster and only more race to do it before chilling out for six weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby. He has proven to be the fastest of his two rivals, Proxy and Midnight Bourbon, based on his wide trips. What he has in his favor is that there are very few fast 3-year-olds so far, so if he can improve several points going a mile and three-sixteenths in the Louisiana Derby he should be ready for the big test on the first Saturday in May, even off the layoff.

7. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

One of the few top 3-year-olds stabled at the frozen tundra of Oaklawn Park, he wisely skedaddled out of town and headed to the friendlier climes of Fair Grounds, where he worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 3/5 Saturday, fastest of 41 works at the distance. With the Southwest horses extremely unlikely to wheel back in two weeks for the Rebel, his main threat looks to be the annual Rebel raider Bob Baffert, who is scheduled to send his San Vicente Stakes winner Concert Tour. That should tell us just how fast Caddo River really is. Visually, he has looked faster than his back-to-back Thoro-Graph numbers of 4 1/4. We know he can run very fast early and can carry his speed, but the question with him is, how far can he carry it against a horse like Concert Tour, who didn’t dazzle anyone with his 5 1/4 Thoro-Graph figure in the San Vicente, but has sprinter’s speed and should be more formidable going two turns.

8. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Little Ms. Protocol, by El Corredor)

Now, if you’re looking for fast on the Thoro-Graph numbers, his gigantic leap from a 10 to a 1 makes him the fastest 3-year-old along with Greatest Honour and first-out winner Dream Shake. But was it too big a leap? We will find that out when he faces Life is Good and company in the San Felipe Stakes. When a horse runs a huge speed figure and wins by 14 lengths on top of that you have be very careful. You don’t want him running much faster than that now, but you do want him to stay in that range, possibly pairing it up to indicate that it was a legitimate number. He still has the Santa Anita Derby, so it’s OK if the San Felipe serves as a bridge to get there and shows that he can compete against far better horses than he faced in his maiden race and even in the Los Alamitos Futurity. As a side note, the highly touted Fenway, who he trounced by 30 lengths last time out, came back to run a good second behind another talented Baffert colt in Hozier. As we’ve mentioned, he will be coming off Lasix, and when they do after such a monster performance you just want to see that same spark. There is no reason why we shouldn’t, as his performance in the Los Al Futurity without Lasix was pretty impressive with second time blinkers. And he has run back-to-back 101 Brisnet sped figures, the only 3-year-old to do so, so all indications are that we are dealing with a vastly improved horse who could be any kind.

9. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)

If you offered me a Pool 3 Future Wager ticket on any horse it would be on this guy at 41-1. That is the kind of value I would be looking for. His third-place finish in the three-horse Robert B. Lewis photo went pretty much under the radar, which no doubt is why his odds are that high compared to the 25-1 on Medina Spirit, who beat him a neck. It should be noted, however, that Roman Centurian, coming off a maiden victory and battling two graded stakes-placed horses to the wire, earned a faster Thoro-Graph number than both of them. Rather than repeat in detail his terrific pedigree, dominated by four generations of Phipps breeding, let’s just say he should keep improving as the distances get longer and will relish the mile and a quarter. He demonstrated his sharpness by working five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, wearing four bandages. But unlike the Baffert horses, he was being pushed along in the stretch, continuing at a good clip past the wire.

10. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)

Baffert loves referring to him as his Real Quiet. So, if we assume then that Life is Good is his Indian Charlie, let’s go back to the 1998 Santa Anita Derby when the faster and more precocious Indian Charlie opened a two-length lead on Real Quiet at the eighth pole and couldn’t extend it. The fact that Real Quiet was able match strides with him in the final eighth, it set him up perfectly to turn the tables on the first Saturday in May. That is something to remember in the San Felipe when Medina Spirit and Life is Good are likely to meet again. The first time they met, Medina Spirit almost caught his stablemate napping, and that is not likely to happen again. Normally, Medina Spirit would have pointed for the Sunland Derby, but with that track closed, Baffert has little choice but to keep him home. Like Real Quiet, he is not a robust colt and Baffert does not want to ship him long distances. He did turn in a strong six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5, so he should be sharp and fit for the big rematch.

11. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)

He will add a fresh new face when he heads to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby in an attempt to break up the three-horse domination of Mandaloun, Proxy, and Midnight Bourbon, who have been virtually joined at the hip in the LeComte and Risen Star Stakes. Hot Rod Charlie showed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Robert B. Lewis Stakes he is a dogged competitor, whether it’s against Essential Quality or Medina Spirit or at Keeneland or Santa Anita. Now we’ll see what he can do stretching out to a mile and three-sixteenths at his third track in three starts. He is another who has improved big-time with the addition of blinkers. By taking this route he also will have only two starts this year and will have to go into the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff, which is why the new 10-furlong distance of the Louisiana Derby is such an important change based on the race’s poor record of producing Derby winners.

12. Overtook (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Got Lucky, by A.P. Indy)

As of Sunday morning, he still hasn’t worked since the Withers, which was more than two weeks ago, so that will bear watching. His place in the Top 12 is tenuous at this point with two huge preps next weekend. He has shown marked improvement since the blinkers were taken off, and although right now he doesn’t look fast enough or quick enough to be a legitimate Derby win prospect, he does look like a horse who can pick up a piece of it with his late run and strong pedigree. So far he hasn’t shown that instant burst that can put him in contention turning for home. It seems as if Pletcher always leaves his slower, stamina-oriented horses in New York with the early nine-furlong Withers to point for rather than the shorter preps in Florida that are often dominated by horses with good natural speed. But speed has been winning the Derby and he will always be pace dependent. What he has in his favor is a great deal of scope for improvement, so he could show us something new and different in the Wood Memorial with the two months between races.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

CONCERT TOUR – I came very close to putting him on the list at No. 12, but it is still several weeks to the Rebel Stakes, so there is time to see how next weekend’s Fountain of Youth and Southwest Stakes shake things up. For now, there is no need for any major changes. That will come next week. I was very impressed watching him work a half in :47 1/, second fastest of 39 works at the distance, especially the way he did it and how smooth he was down the stretch under no urging at all. Like most Baffert horses, he continued strong past the wire with the rider having to step on the brakes, his feet in the dashboard, when he ran up on horses training in front of him on the backstretch. Remember, he has plenty of stamina in his pedigree, although his female line is not strong at all.

PROXY AND MIDNIGHT BOURBON – I am putting these two together because of reasons I stated last week. Also, in the Risen Star, both horses paired up their “5” Thoro-Graph number from the LeComte when I felt they should have improved off that. So I still need to see a significant move forward with only one more prep to go. Both should benefit from the added distance of the Louisiana Derby, but Proxy still needs to show he can keep a straight course, and Midnight Bourbon still has to show he can close after tracking the pace. The one thing I like about Proxy is that when hits the shadow of the wire he knows how to dig in and get second. Now he just has to show he can do the same thing to get first.

TARANTINO – He will attempt to build on his second-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes when he takes on Greatest Honour again in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. The Holy Bull was his dirt debut, despite a pedigree that is geared toward dirt. He showed good tactical speed, but just couldn’t match strides with Greatest Honour. “I think we have to give him a chance to qualify on his own,” trainer Rodolphe Brisset said. “If it doesn’t work out we’ll focus on the grass. Based on what we’ve seen his past week, he needed (the Holy Bull).”

PREVALENCE AND PRIME FACTOR – You can’t win your career debut any more impressively than these two colts did, and now they both will try prove they weren’t one-race wonders. Prime Factor showed what can happen when you jump from one maiden sprint to a two-turn graded stakes, and now he will have to rebound off a disappointing performance in the Holly Bull Stakes. He has the Fountain of Youth or Tampa Bay Derby as a next possible start, but Prevalence will have to wait after spiking a temperature. He is back galloping now, and this could very well be a blessing in disguise, as perhaps he won’t be rushed to try to make the Derby.

JACKIE’S WARRIOR – He breezed an easy half in :50 1/5 as he awaits the Southwest Stakes. Like Essential Quality, he is fortunate to be stabled at Fair Grounds and has been able to work during the two postponements. Although he still needs to show he can win going two turns, he should have an advantage over Essential Quality going 1 1/16 miles, especially if he is able to establish an easy lead or can show he can win from off the pace. This may be his only opportunity to beat the champ, so he has to take advantage of it.

SENOR BUSCADOR – There isn’t much to add from last week other than to say if you are looking for something positive, his Springboard Mile was flattered on Saturday when runner-up Cowan closed very fast to narrowly miss winning the Saudi Cup Derby. I still can’t ignore what I saw in his first two races, but I also can’t ignore what I didn’t see in the Risen Star. With only three career starts and running only a half-mile with his late closing style, he really needs to step up in his final prep and show that incredible closing power and late burst he demonstrated at Remington Park. I still think there is a possibility he was a bit short in the Risen Star, having only two career starts and three three-furlong breezes and a one half-mile breeze at Sam Houston between races.

FIRE AT WILL – He will add some additional flavor to the Fountain of Youth making his dirt debut on a fast track. He did win the off-the-turf With Anticipation Stakes in the slop, but he has been working steadily on dirt. Mike Maker said he’s ready after his five-furlong work in 1:02 3/5, but admits this is a tough task, adding that the colt deserves a chance on the Derby trail.

ROMBAUER – Trainer Mike McCarthy said all options are open for him following his come-from-behind score in the El Camino Real Derby. With his style of running, the 9 1/2 furlongs of the Louisiana Derby would seem like a good fit and he should improve coming off the Tapeta surface. As mentioned last week, he just needs to get into the fray earlier and not give himself so much ground to make up late.

If you are looking for a powerful closer with a dramatic turn of foot you’re going to have to look all the way to Japan to find such a colt in LA PEROUSE, who appeared to be hopelessly beaten in the one-mile Hyacinth Stakes, but came charging between horses to snatch victory. By a grandson of Sunday Silence, his female family is dominated by top-class American sires and racehorses. In his previous start, he electrified the crowd with a devastating run to win going away and duplicated that in the Hyacinth after breaking slowly and falling far off the pace in a big field. He definitely will get the mile and a quarter and it’s only a question of whether he comes for the Derby and whether he is as good as he’s looked. But he is worth keeping an eye on.

Saffie Joseph was to decide on the next scheduled race for Swale winner DRAIN THE CLOCK after watching the colt work. Although always considered a sprinter, Drain the Clock has given his connections a touch of Derby fever and now a decision will be made whether to stretch him out to two turns in the Fountain of Youth or to a one-turn mile in the Gotham Stakes. Normally when a trainer considers a horse a sprinter and runs him in five sprints, he usually is. But there is always that nagging thought that maybe he was wrong. This horse looks to be a sprinter, but on the Derby trail it doesn’t hurt to give the horse a chance to prove people wrong.

If Drain the Clock goes in the Gotham it would be quite a slugfest with the speedy HIGHLY MOTIVATED, Baffert’s San Vicente runner-up FREEDOM FIGHTER, and runaway Jerome winner CAPO KANE all pointing for the race. Highly Motivated is up to five furlongs in his works, turning in a 1:02 2/5 breeze over the deep Payson Park track. Capo Kane, who got a bit tired in the nine-furlong Withers Stakes, stayed sharp with a :48 4/5 half-mile drill at Parx. Freedom Fighter worked six furlongs in 1:13 flat with SPIELBERG (remember him?), who also worked in 1:13 flat. Baffert will now send him to Saturday’s Southwest Stakes. When you have your typical overload of Derby horses, as Baffert does every year, it is hard to pass up a $750,000 purse.

I have no idea where DREAM SHAKE goes after getting that spectacular “1” Thoro-Graph number in his career debut, but he remains sharp, working five furlongs in 1:00 flat.

Todd Pletcher worked KNOWN AGENDA and DYNAMIC ONE a half-mile in company in :49 flat. I am looking for a big turnaround from Known Agenda if he can get his act together, and I still consider Dynamic One my megabomb sleeper as he awaits another two-turn maiden race in early March.

HIDDEN STASH, a fast-cosing third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, returned to the work tab with an easy half-mile breeze in :50 1/5 at Payson Park. We still don’t know how good this horse is because he has never changed leads, and until he does we really won’t know where he fits on the Derby trail. Sam F. Davis winner CANDY MAN ROCKET breezed a half in :49 at Payson Park and is looking to improve off that slowly run race now that he has a two-turn race under him.

Remsen winner BROOKLYN STRONG, who missed two months with an illness and has been unable to get back to the races, has all but run out of time. A start in the Gotham won’t happen and if Derby fever gets a firm grip on his connections he could still try to make the Wood Memorial or Arkansas Derby as a springboard into the Derby off only one start; further proof that the rule book has been tossed in the trash.

John Shirreffs could have the two most talented disappointments in California in RED FLAG and PARNELLI. But he continues to persevere, working both five furlongs in a snappy :59 4/5. Red Flag in particular deserves another chance based on his impressive early performances. Also in California, American Pharoah winner GET HER NUMBER is up to five furlongs in his works at San Luis Downs and should be ready for his return shortly.

Steve Asmussen-trained SUPER STOCK, third in the Breeders’ Futurity and Iroquois Stakes and second in the Street Sense Stakes has been working steadily for his return. He has plenty of bottom and wouldn’t need much to be ready for the Derby.

Derby Rankings: Week 5

Monday, February 15th, 2021

Rather than do another Sweet Sixteen when there are 17 horses that deserve to be on there, I felt it was best to go back to the standard Derby Dozen for now and see what transpires next Saturday in the loaded Southwest Stakes. After that race, we finally will have a good line on everyone and be able to put together a more definitive list. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 5, Feb. 15

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

With Essential Quality’s debut postponed a week, he is able to maintain the No. 1 spot. Last week we noted his continuous progress on his Thoro-Graph numbers, especially his jump from a 4 1/2 to a 1, which already has him fast enough to win the Derby. His Brisnet numbers back that up as evidenced by his steady improvement (84 – 88 – 92 – 97 and 103 in the Holy Bull, with the 103 being the fastest figure by any member of this crop). He also is the fastest and most consistent closer, based on his late pace figures. For all those who still don’t grasp the intricacies of speed figures, all you have to know is that he not only is the fastest 3-year-old and the strongest closer, he is also on the best pattern and is Derby ready right now. With only one more start in the Florida Derby and then a five-week gap to the Kentucky Derby, there should be no concerns of him peaking too soon. If he just pairs up his last Thoro-Graph figure or shows slight improvement he will be ready for a peak performance on the first Saturday in May.

 

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

We’ll have to wait a week now to see what kind of transition he’s made from 2 to 3. His speed ratings at 2 are fast and show an excellent progression, and his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest Stakes will tell us in what direction he’s going. He doesn’t need to improve much to be right on course. With the postponement of the Southwest it raises a question. If he was planning on a three-race Oaklawn campaign he will now have only three weeks to the Rebel instead of four. If he were to skip the Rebel he would have to wait seven weeks to the Arkansas Derby. So if he is unable to match strides with the brilliant Jackie’s Warrior in the Southwest going 1 1/16 miles it’s not a big deal. He just needs to run his race and be competitive and it’s OK if he is unable to catch a horse with that kind of class and speed. You also want to see if he can outclose the late-running Keepmeinmind. You really don’t want him having a grueling race or run some outrageous speed figure trying to catch Jackie’s Warrior, especially with two possible more preps ahead of him.

 

3. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)

The positive impressions I got watching his last two races were echoed by Barry Eisaman, who broke the colt  “He always acted like a high school student with a college student mentality,” he said. “Everything we asked him to do, he acted like he had done it a million times already.” As I said, he looks like a throwback to those sound, hard-knocking horses of the past who know exactly what they’re supposed to do. From a speed standpoint, Thoro-Graph, which takes trip and ground loss into consideration, had him running a very slow number in his maiden win, while Brisnet had him running a fast number and an equally fast late pace figure. Although Brisnet had him regressing from a 98 to a 92 speed figure in the Withers, Thoro-Graph had him making a big move forward from a 10 1/2 to a 3 1/4, which puts him right in line with most of the leading contenders. So, which one do you believe? Sometimes you have to go by the eye test, and I just liked what I saw in the Withers, and that is a professional horse who looks to be improving with every start. And I guess I’m a sucker for all that extraordinary Phipps breeding in his female family that reads like a “Who’s Who” and the 4 x 4 inbreeding to Damascus. Sure he needs to get a little faster, but he is relentless and just keeps coming at you. Now we have to see how he fares against better horses with the big points on the line.

 

4. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)

He turned in his strongest work so far, going six furlongs in a bullet 1:12 flat and did it with the rider never moving his hands. He was striding out beautifully right from the start and was pure poetry down the stretch. This horse’s mechanics are flawless and this was as perfect a work as you are going to see. To show how strong he was after the wire, he cut the corner sharply going into the turn and was smack down on the rail, then continued to pour it on around the turn and into the backstretch before the rider had to step on the brakes to pull him up. I have always maintained that you want to see plenty of stamina in the female family when you have an Into Mischief, but Authentic threw that theory out the window last year. It just looks as if the Into Mischiefs are pure runners and if they have the look of a stayer then they’ll get a distance of ground, and Life if Good reminds me a great deal of Authentic in many ways – a long striding horse who is very light on his feet and just glides over the ground. But I still want to see him settle off the pace and close and that seems to be the way Baffert is training him. Right now it looks as if the San Felipe Stakes on March 6 is next.

 

5. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

He was entered in the Risen Star just in case, and although there was a just in case with the postponement of the Southwest, he will ignore that and wait the extra week, giving up a 50-point race at a mile and an eighth in a wide-open race with no standout for a 10-point race at a mile and a sixteenth against Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior. Now that is what I call having faith in your horse. Granted, he did draw an outside post at Fair Grounds, but with his running style I doubt that would have compromised his chances. Diodoro said he feels much better running him out of his own stall and that certainly makes sense. After all, it’s not that he needs to win this race, he just needs to show the same big stretch run he showed in his last three races. But despite his big finishes in two Grade 1 stakes and a Grade 2, he still needs to improve his speed figures. The one thing you have to like about him is his consistency; he is always closing. Because he has been aggressive in the mornings and working fast, Diodoro wisely slowed him down with a nice easy :49 3/5 breeze over a track labeled good.

 

6. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)

After the LeComte I ranked him higher than the two horses who finished ahead of him, Midnight Bourbon and Proxy, because of his wide trip, stretching out to two turns for the first time, and being herded badly by Proxy in the stretch. For him to overcome the 10-post in the Risen Star Stakes, in which he raced three-wide the whole way going nine furlongs, and turn the tables on Midnight Bourbon and Proxy, that is proof enough that this is another Into Mischief who is for real and can handle a distance. With the addition of blinkers, he was able to stay close to the leaders and use his grinding style of running to power home by 1 1/4 lengths under a vigorous hand ride. This colt is not going to dazzle you with electrifying performances, but he is going to run hard race after race. After running a 4 on Thoro-Graph in the LeComte, it’s now only a question what kind of progression he made in the Risen Star. As we have mentioned, he has a ton of stamina in his female family and is inbred to classic/stayer influence His Majesty, so with a mile and an eighth victory already under his belt, I see no reason why the Derby should pose any problem. And his running style is geared for Churchill Downs. Could he provide a fitting farewell to Juddmonte founder Prince Khalid Abdullah, who recently passed away?

 

7.  Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

So, just how fast is this horse and how far can he carry his speed? His speed figures say he’s far from the fastest horse on the Derby trail, and there was little improvement in his last two races on Brisnet and no improvement on Thoro-Graph. Brisnet gives him strong middle pace figures, but he slows down late. In two of his four races, at seven furlongs and a mile, he went his first half in a blazing :44 and change. Although he doesn’t close fast from a speed ratings standpoint all he does is run off from his opponents, winning by huge margins. So, what do we make of this horse who no doubt is extremely talented and can decimate his opposition despite running fast early factions? And he has already hung two defeats on Greatest Honour sprinting. We won’t know any more until the Rebel Stakes, but for now he passes all the visual tests and he is by a sire who was known for carrying his speed classic distances.

 

8. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Little Ms. Protocol, by El Corredor)

We mentioned last week his dramatic move on Thoro-Graph from a 10 to a 1, making him the fastest 3-year-old we’d seen so far (now the co-fastest). He also became the first horse to run back-to-back triple-digit Brisnet figures (101 and 101), so it looks like his speed figures are legitimate, and combined with his 14-length maiden romp last out, we better start taking this horse seriously. O’Neill calls him a rock star. He will have to come off Lasix in his next start, the San Felipe Stakes, but he did run well without it when beaten the slimmest of noses in the Los Alamitos Futurity. I’m not going to pay much attention to the slow time of 1:15 4/5 in his latest six-furlong work. He sat off another horse with the rider never moving his hands and finished up strong. What interests me more is that he worked six furlongs coming off three one mile races and a mile and a sixteenth race, so O’Neill certainly isn’t babying him, just like he never babied I’ll Have Another and Nyquist.

 

9.  Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)

He returned to the work tab with a half-mile drill in :48 4/5 with the rider way up over his neck and never asking him to run. Looking at the Brisnet figures for the Robert B. Lewis for the first time, they came up a little on the slow side, but like with the Thoro-Graph figures he was the only horse to move forward. What was most disappointing on Brisnet were the slow late pace figures for the first three finishers. So once again we are left with the question, how good are these horses? I still like the progression he is on, jumping from a 13 to a 6 to a 3 on Thoro-Graph. And he has one of the more powerful pedigrees top and bottom, so all indications point to a horse who is making great strides with every race. Yes, he has to come home faster, but I am not going to judge him based on mile and a sixteenth races over a dead Santa Anita racetrack. I believe we won’t see the best of this horse until he goes a mile and an eighth and even more so a mile and a quarter.

 

10. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)

With Life is Good heading for the San Felipe at this point, there is a decent shot we could see him in the Rebel, but as we all know, Baffert can change his mind at any time. If there is one thing we know about him it is that he can run big on the lead or from five lengths back, and he doesn’t back away from a fight. As mentioned earlier, his Brisnet speed figure regressed a couple of points off his runner-up finish behind Life is Good in the Sham Stakes, but he paired up his number on Thoro-Graph. He has been tested in different ways in his last two races and stood up to the test each time. Baffert refers to him as his Real Quiet in that it was the more brilliant Indian Charlie who was his big horse, defeating Real Quiet in the Santa Anita Derby. But when they stretched out to a mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs it was all Real Quiet, who went on to be beaten the slimmest of noses for the Triple Crown.

 

11. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)

The more I watch the Robert B. Lewis Stakes the more impressed I am with his performance, which proved that his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile effort at 94-1 was no fluke. In the Lewis, I loved the way he rated and then accelerated on the turn when Joel Rosario moved his hands. In the stretch, he took all the worst of it, not only being in extremely tight quarters between Medina Spirit and Roman Centurian, but getting bounced around from both sides. While O’Neill was giving The Great One a six-furlong work in company, he breezed him an easy half alone in :51 1/5 with the rider sitting motionless throughout and then letting him run approaching the wire. As of now, The Great One will stay home for the San Felipe and he will head to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby.

 

12. Overtook (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Got Lucky, by A.P. Indy)

This colt still has a lot to learn and I’m not sure when we will see the best of him, but for now his race in the Withers and his Thoro-Graph jumps from a 20 to a 9 to a 5 1/4 suggest that he is improving enough to at least make his presence felt, especially with his powerful pedigree top and bottom. We know he can close and can sustain his run a long way and that could get him a piece of the Derby, but he is going to need to show more quickness and a turn of foot if he is going to have any chance of winning. And he is going to need to pick up points, whether it’s in the Wood Memorial or wherever he shows up. I know Pletcher is the last trainer to shorten a horse like this up to one turn and give him two more starts when he can give him one, but the one-mile Gotham might be a good place to sharpen him up a little and, win or lose, set him up for his big final prep. He also might pick up enough points the lessen the all-or-nothing pressure he would face in the Wood or wherever he shows up. But trainers today just don’t do that so I wouldn’t count on it.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

SENOR BUSCADOR – You just can’t get away with being that far back when you face better horses no matter how spectacular you looked before, especially on a track where every winner was first or second turning for home.  I really wanted this colt to work out because of the great story behind him, and I haven’t given up on him. I was just hoping he would at least be in position to give himself a chance to win or be in the money, but you can’t be a dozen lengths back nearing the top of the stretch and expect to be competitive. He seemed to be close enough down the backstretch, but just when he started his run going into the turn the field became strung out with everyone making their moves and he found himself with way too much ground to make up. I still thought he might come charging home to pick up a piece of it, but that monster kick just wasn’t there, even though he did come home in :24 flat and :06 3/5. Remember, he hadn’t run in two months, had only two career starts, and only three three-furlong blowouts and a half-mile-breeze in between. Because he only runs the last part of it, I wasn’t crazy about him having only two preps off a layoff, so perhaps it would serve him better to go to Oaklawn for the Rebel and Arkansas Derby over a track that is more conducive to late closers. Otherwise he will have only one race to pick up a ton of points, and with his running style you sure don’t want to see him flying late and finish fourth in a four-horse photo.

PROXY – He is another I thought would take a big step forward with John Velazquez up. This time, he wasn’t hit left-handed, but whether it was habit or something else, he started bearing out on his own, and then continued to do so despite Velazquez hitting him continuously right-handed. To his credit he again battled to the wire to get second, but until he shows he can keep a straight course and not continue to bear out I can’t rank him in the Top 12. He has the talent and the pedigree, and I believe there so much more to this horse that he hasn’t shown. But he can’t keep compromising his chances every race. If he stays at Fair Grounds he will have only more prep to work out his issues.

MIDNIGHT BOURBON – It is so difficult separating him, Proxy, and Mandaloun, as they have now finished pretty much on the wire together twice. He had his own way on the front end in the LeComte and was able to hold off the other two who were way out in the middle of the track. This time he was put in a stalking position with Mandaloun sitting right behind him. He ran hard down the stretch, but couldn’t match strides with Mandaloun and failed to hold on to second, despite having a perfect trip. He is another who will have to step up in his next race. He is by Tiznow, so he likely is still a work in progress. I’m just not sure if he has the weapons needed to win the Derby.

JACKIE’S WARRIOR – I’m putting him here for now even though I think he has a big shot to win the Southwest Stakes on Saturday at a distance that should favor him. But he still has to prove he is as effective around two turns as he was around one turn, and whether he can rate off the pace if he has to, something he was unable to do successfully in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He did, however, run a bang-up race chasing a brutal pace, so we’ll see what kind of progress he’s made since last fall.

ROMBAUER – I try not to fall into any synthetic traps and get too excited when a horse looks good over the Tapeta surface in the El Camino Real Derby, especially when they just get up to defeat a filly. But this horse has run big on dirt, grass, and synthetic and you can depend on him to be closing every race. It was a good move sending him up there to get a mile and an eighth race in him and now it’s on to bigger and better things. If this were a Sweet Sixteen ranking like the last two weeks he definitely would be on it. I just want to see him get into the fray earlier and not leave himself with so much to do.

Catching up from last week, while the eyes of the racing world were glued to BEZOS in his much-anticipated career debut going 6 1/2 furlongs, they might have missed that blur that blew right past him at the top of the stretch. Suddenly, all eyes became fixed on DREAM SHAKE, as he opened up on his field with every stride and looked like he was just getting started as he crossed the finish line 4 3/4 lengths in front. Even though he received a solid 90 Brisnet figure for a maiden race and a strong 95 late pace figure, it was his Thoro-Graph figure that was astonishing, as he received a “1,” which you rarely see for a first-time starter. That equals the number Greatest Honour ran in the Holy Bull Stakes. The big concern with that is, where does he go from there? If you’re a follower of Thoro-Graph, that is way too fast for a horse making his career debut. He is yet another horse who would have only three career starts before the Derby, so, like Prevalence, we really have no idea how to rank him. We saw what happened to another spectacular maiden winner, Prime Factor, when they rushed him into the Holy Bull off one sprint.

Speaking of PRIME FACTOR, he worked a solid half in :48 3/5 and should show improvement with that last race under his belt and more bottom under him. He just didn’t seem ready to tackle those horses in a graded stakes jumping from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth.

One horse who made a big impression in a maiden race at Fair Grounds Saturday was the Bret Calhoun-trained Runhappy colt RUN CLASSIC, who was stretching out to a mile and a sixteenth off a rough trip going six furlongs. Rating nicely in third, he took over at the head of the stretch, changed leads on cue, and drew off impressively. He kept building up momentum with long fluid strides and galloped out very strong, still hugging the rail. His time of 1:44 1/5 was a full second faster than Sainthood ran in the other division, three-fifths of a second faster than a strong allowance race on the same card, and a full second faster than the Rachel Alexandra Stakes. And you had to be impressed with his closing fractions of :24 and :06 1/5, which were significantly faster than the closing times of the other maiden race and allowance race. In addition, his time was only three-fifths slower than the Mineshaft Stakes won by the 4-year-old Maxfield, who many believe to be the best horse in the country. And to take it one step further his time compared favorably to the time of the nine-furlong Risen Star Stakes, run a tick under 1:50 2/5. His pedigree is a good mixture of speed and stamina and he definitely bears watching.

In the aforementioned mile and a sixteenth allowance race at Fair Grounds, the flashy American Pharoah colt BIG LAKE held off the late closing charge of DEFEATER to win by a diminishing half-length after opening a six-length lead at the eighth pole. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Big Lake has improved since stretching out to two turns and did well breaking from post 10, going three-wide on the first turn. His second dam is a full-sister to four-time Grade 1 winner Lakeway, who placed in the Alabama, Kentucky Oaks, and Breeders’ Cup Distaff. His third dam is a full-sister to Grade 1 winner Saratoga Six, and his fourth dam is a full-sister to Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Bold Forbes. You had to be very impressed with Defeater, who was making only his second career start and first around two turns, and he was gobbling up ground in the stretch and blew by the winner on the gallop-out. Trainer Tom Amoss thought so highly of the son of Union Rags he entered him in the Risen Star Stakes, but elected to run in this spot instead. He is another to keep an eye on down the road.

A few weeks ago I mentioned DYNAMIC ONE as my megabomb sleeper, despite still being a maiden. He has always been highly regarded, and Todd Pletcher still has time to get another race in him in early March and have him ready for a huge leap to one of the big 100-point preps. He had a number of excuses in his last start, which I believe he would have won by several lengths. Despite tiring a bit in the stretch, it was still one of the more visually impressive races I’ve seen this year, and I just want to see what he can do when he’s healthy, doesn’t lose a shoe, and can get a decent trip. It was good to see him return to the work tab for the first time, as he breezed a half-mile in :49 in company with Amount.

Pletcher also has another maiden who bears watching. BRACKEN has never had a race that was suited for him. In his debut he chased his brilliant stablemate Prime Factor home in second in what I felt was a promising effort. In his next race he wound up going head and head for the lead and tired to finish third. Pletcher put him on the grass Saturday and he drew post 11, got hung four-wide on both turns racing back in seventh, but showed a brilliant turn of foot to reach contention. He ran on strongly, but was outrun by the even-money favorite Floriform, who slipped through on the inside. Watch out for this horse if Pletcher puts him back on the dirt. He is ready for a bust out performance.

In other Pletcher news, KNOWN AGENDA, who I have always been high on but can’t figure out, likely will try blinkers in his next start after his bizarre race in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. He is still very slow on his speed figures and they can only hope the blinkers will wake him up and put some speed in him. We know the talent and the speed are there; we have seen it, but lately he’s been all over the place. Pletcher sent out two gutsy maiden winners this week. ATLANTIC ROAD, a son of Quality Road, battled to the wire and prevailed by a half-length going seven furlongs at Aqueduct. Then on Saturday his Mshawish colt SAINTHOOD battled back after appearing beaten to eke out a nose victory at Fair Grounds. It was a good week for photos for Pletcher, as he also scored a narrow victory with the Constitution gelding HYPERFOCUS, who got up by a neck in a four-horse blanket finish going a mile on the grass.

PREVALENCE, who had more than a few jaws dropping watching his sensational maiden victory, will be looking for a two-turn allowance race in the next few weeks. If there is nothing in the book for him or it doesn’t fill he probably would make a huge leap into the Fountain of Youth Stakes. But again we’re talking about a horse will have only three lifetime starts going into the Derby; a tall task. He did turn in a solid five-furlong work this week in 1:01.

HIGHLY MOTIVATED moved a step closer to his debut in the Gotham Stakes, breezing five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 at Payson Park. American Pharoah winner GET HER NUMBER continued on his road back with a half-mile breeze in :49 2/5 at San Luis Rey Downs. Also getting closer to his 3-year-old debut and a return to the dirt is Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner FIRE AT WILL, who breezed six furlongs in 1:15 2/5 for the Fountain of Youth Stakes. His only dirt race was a narrow victory in the off-the-turf With Anticipation Stakes run on a sloppy track. Holy Bull Stakes runner-up TARANTINO had his first work since that race, breezing a half in :49 2/5. He, too, could show up in the Fountain of Youth Stakes

If you are looking for an update on last year’s mile and an eighth Remsen winner BROOKLYN STRONG, he hasn’t worked since that race, but should be on the work tab in the near future. He needs to start working, as he doesn’t have much wiggle room if he expects to be ready for a debut by early March, possibly in the Gotham Stakes.

Derby Rankings: Week 4

Monday, February 8th, 2021

Although we had some movement this week, we now come to the make or break weekend when many of ranked horses compete in the Risen Star Stakes and Southwest Stakes, several of which were top 2-year-olds making their long-awaited debuts.  ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 4, Feb. 8

By Steve Haskin

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

If you’re questioning the quality of his Holy Bull performance from a speed aspect, you could not ask for a better progression Thoro-Graph, going from 9 3/4 to a 7 3/4 to a 4 1/2 to a 1. The Holy Bull figure equals The Great One’s last start as the fastest figure this year by a 3-year-old. But unlike The Great One’s dramatic leap from a 10 to a 1, his pattern has been such a steady improvement race to race there is no concern about a “bounce” and he is already fast enough to win the Derby. As is often the case, there are some who feel he is a deserving No. 1 and others who feel his not there yet, defeating a less than stellar field in the Holy Bull Stakes. But you should take note that runner-up Tarantino showed marked improvement switching to dirt going from a 10 to a very respectable 4 1/2, the same figure Caddo River ran winning the Smarty Jones by 10 lengths. No one really knows how good these horses are yet, so you go by what you see, pointing out strengths and possible weaknesses. In the case of Greatest Honour, I see no weaknesses or flaws, whether it is his progression speed-wise, his mechanics, consistency, versatility, professionalism, or his pedigree. And the horses he’s been running with, whether in sprints or two-turn races, have come back and run huge. So he checks off all the boxes.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

You normally don’t see the first, third, and fourth-place finishers of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile making their 3-year-old debut in the Southwest Stakes, to be run next Monday, February 15. What makes BC Juvenile Part 2 even more unusual is that Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior will be shipping over from Fair Grounds, even though the Risen Star is being run that same weekend and at a new 1 1/8-mile distance that would favor Essential Quality. But Cox has LeComte third-place finisher Manadaloun staying home for that race, as is Jackie’s Warrior’s trainer Steve Asmussen with LeComte winner Midnight Bourbon. And that also gives Cox the luxury of waiting for the Rebel Stakes with Smarty Jones winner Caddo River. To add to all the strategizing, Essential Quality going to Oakawn means that Godolphin doesn’t have to worry about him clashing with their other Derby prospect, LeComte runner-up Proxy, trained by Mike Stidham, in the Risen Star. So all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit. Essential Quality had a sharp five-furlong work in 1:00 3/5 and if he runs big in the Southwest he could very well return to the No. 1 spot.

3. Senor Buscador (Todd Fincher, Mineshaft – Rose’s Desert, by Desert God)

It is difficult keeping a horse as high as No. 3 when you have to wait this long between races and he hasn’t been doing much in the mornings, at least on the work tab. And that work tab is at Sam Houston Park, not exactly a proven base to launch a Kentucky Derby campaign. So we’re into February and still basing everything on two races at Remington Park. We will finally find out where he fits on the Derby scene in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes when he takes on far classier horses who have already proven their ability in stakes over this track. But he does get the added 1 1/8-mile distance, which he should appreciate. And I can’t get a good gauge on him in the mornings because he has been on an unusual work pattern. Since his explosive victory in the Springboard Mile he worked three furlongs 13 days later, then worked three furlongs again 10 days later, then three furlongs again 11 days later, and he finally went half 12 days later. Fincher has also been spacing his works, so we’ll see how that works when he faces proven stakes horses. And we’ll also have to see how he runs coming off Lasix. Fincher showed with Runaway Ghost that he knows how to develop a talented young horse so we’re not going to speculate what we’re about to see and instead focus on the two devastating moves we saw last year. He certainly doesn’t need to win the Risen Star, but with only two preps he is going to have to start earning points.

4. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

This horse has had enough of people thinking of him as a plodder with no speed. He tried to tell everyone they were dead wrong in his bullet work on January 22, but just in case they weren’t paying attention, he decided to give them one final preview of what just may be the new look Keepmeinmind. He worked five furlongs in a bullet :59 flat, going his opening quarter in a snappy :22 4/5 and then galloped out six furlongs in a Baffert-like 1:11 4/5, seven furlongs in 1:25 2/5, and pulled up a mile in 1:40 2/5 in what should not only hone whatever speed he has, but give him a great foundation for the arduous road ahead. This is the third straight sharp stamina-building work, and now Diodoro will have to decide whether to stay home for the Southwest or go for the longer Risen Star. As of now he is undecided, but has entered him in the Risen Star where he drew post 12 in the 13-horse field. Wherever he goes, I am sure Diodoro is looking down the road and just wants to see that familiar big stretch kick. He will give him an easy half-mile breeze on May and then a couple of stiff gallops during the week. Keepmeinmind is also going to have to erase the poor speed figures of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and the dismal performance of runner-up Smiley Sobotka in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.

5. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)

Could this be the year we finally see a horse take the New York path to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle? This high ranking may seem like a knee-jerk reaction, but he looks to be a throwback horse, of which I am particularly partial. Blinkers seem to have really gotten this colt’s mind on racing, as he improved dramatically after two dismal efforts to score a workmanlike victory going a mile and eighth over a dead Aqueduct track in December. The big question going into the Withers was how much progress he had made in the past two months. This was a much more professional effort, as he ran straight in the stretch and never flinched from the whip. As he showed in his maiden win, he runs hard and keeps coming at you, and he doesn’t miss a beat when a horse (Capo Kane) drifts out into his path. There is a term that isn’t used anymore, but it can be said he is all hickory – a tough, sound, hard-running horse who has no quit in him. With back-to-back nine-furlong wins he has a strong foundation and his pedigree says he can’t wait to stretch out even farther. This horse is the embodiment of Phipps breeding and it doesn’t get much classier than that. Ogden Phipps bred his third, fourth and fifth dams, and from these families have come Buckpasser, Personal Ensign, Numbered Account, Seeking the Gold, Reviewer, Private Account, Dance Number, Rhythm, and Majestic Light. In the bottom half of his female family alone through sires, dams and siblings are 12 horses bred by Phipps. He is inbred to Buckpasser, and to deviate from the Phipps family, he is also inbred to Damascus. And Buckpasser and Damascus were two horses who epitomized the term “all hickory.”

6. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

Returned to the work tab with an easy half in :50 3/5, going off a slow quarter in :26 and coming home in :24 3/5 before galloping out a strong five furlongs in 1:03. That’s just what you’re looking for – to teach him to relax early and come home fast. We know he can beat Greatest Honour sprinting and he has since gone on to bigger and better things with a pair of electrifying victories stretching out. Now it’s basically a question of how far he can carry his speed. Let’s remember, however, that his Thoro-Graph figures in his last two starts don’t quite reflect the margins of victory, so he does still have room for improvement and is far from speed crazy. Having decimated his rivals twice now, his trainer has the luxury of shipping Fair Grounds-based stablemate Essential Quality to Oaklawn for the Southwest Stakes and waiting until the Rebel Stakes on March 13 for this colt. Trying to get a good grasp of his pedigree is not easy, because his female family is fairly nondescript. I mentioned last week about his sire Hard Spun’s ability to carry his high cruising speed a classic distance of ground. That can be attributed to his dam being by Marlboro Cup winner Turkoman, out of a half-sister to Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current, both being stone closers.

7. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)

How many times have you been awestruck by a Baffert horse’s workout? You no doubt have lost count That is why you have to be impressed to see a fast colt like Life is Good working relatively slow half-miles, his most recent being a :48 4/5 breeze. Baffert knows how fast this horse is and he is content right now to just work him by himself and not ask for any speed. From strictly a visual standpoint these last two breezes were extremely impressive, as he was relaxed the whole way, but still striding out beautifully, his ears pricked and totally responsive to the rider. In short, he can catch the eye even breezing a slow half-mile. Now all he has to do is show that he can harness his speed enough to get him a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. The only reason he is not ranked higher is I am waiting to see a little more versatility and for him to get a tough test and look a horse in the eye. He has all the physical tools and is a pleasure watch run, but he has had two easy strolls in the park and it almost cost him last time. He also will have only four career starts before the Derby, so he needs toughening.

8. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)

If I had to put a future book bet on a horse at a big price he would be the one right now. I explained last week that he was ranked higher than Medina Spirit and Hot Rod Charlie in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes because of the ground loss, having to run 30 feet farther than the winner. After seeing the Thoro-Graph figures from that race I like him even more. Even though the figures for all three horses were extremely close, Medina Spirit and Hot Rod Charlie ran the same figures they did in their previous start, while he jumped from a 6 to 3 1/4. Also he was coming off a maiden score and they were coming off huge efforts in graded stakes company. So as of now I like the trajectory he is on and I don’t believe we have seen anything even close to his best. With his pedigree and his continued improvement I can see him peaking on Derby Day.

9. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)

Unlike Life is Good, we know what he can do when he gets in a dogfight. He looked like a beaten horse in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, but he showed his grit and refused to let two talented horses get by him. We also saw his determination when he didn’t get discouraged trying futilely to chase down Life is Good, who was on cruise control and on his way to coasting to an easy victory. But he kept running hard and when Life is Good practically fell asleep in the final furlong he was in position to put quite a scare in him. So we have seen what he do running from off the pace and on the lead. He is not getting a lot of respect, in part to the number of hyped horses in the Baffert barn and his obscure pedigree, which happens to be inundated with class and stamina influences. I am sure he also will be a huge overlay in this week’s Future Wager and looks to be a very enticing bet. I also believe as those above him sort themselves out he will move up several spots in the coming weeks.

10. Proxy (Michael Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)

Although I still want to see him take a left-handed whip and not react so strongly or show what he can do without the whip, I did get several things cleared up that makes me look at him in a more positive light. Stidham explained that in the LeComte his new rider Mitchell Murrill hit him left-handed to put the pressure on Mandaloun, who he felt was his main danger on his outside. It was a case of race-riding, and while he did force Mandaloun out as intended and was able to outgame him to the wire, he drifted well clear of the pace-setting Midnight Bourbon, who was able to eke out a narrow victory on the rail after setting a slow pace. That explains why Proxy never passed Midnight Bourbon; he was too occupied with Mandaloun and too far away from the winner to look him in the eye. Stidham believes he is learning with every race and has really matured physically from a tall leggy horse to a wider more muscular individual. He was extremely happy with his latest work, in which he went a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 in company with Jim Dandy winner and Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up Mystic Guide and gave the older horse “all he can handle.” What convinced me we are going to see a more polished horse in the Risen Star, and no disrespect to Murrill, is that he now gets John Velazquez, and that alone merits his rise in the rankings. I still believe Johnny V gets more out of a horse than any rider in the country.

11. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)

Like Proxy, he bounced out of his hard race in the LeComte with a sharp five-furlong breeze in a bullet :59 4/5 over a track listed as good. It was the fastest of 34 works at the distance, and now comes his big test stretching out to a mile and eighth in the Risen Star Stakes. But with his running style he will have a lot to overcome drawing the 11 post. Cox could have sent him to Oaklawn to run at the shorter distance of the Southwest Stakes next weekend, but decided to send Essential Quality there and run this colt at the longer distance. With Mandaloun having already run in a 1 1/16-mile stakes this year, this will give him even more bottom running in back-to-back nine furlong races, which he will need with the six-week gap between the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby. It is just a question how much ground he will lose breaking that far outside. You never know how far an Into Mischief will run, but he looks to be a grinder who just keeps coming and can sustain his run a long way. And he has plenty of stamina in his female family, as well as being inbred to class/stamina influence His Majesty. What I liked most about his race in the LeComte was that he was making his first start around two turns, while Midnight Bourbon and Proxy were already proven two-turn horses, and he had a wide trip the whole way, earning a faster Thoro-Graph number. Good luck not having an even wider trip this time.

12. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Little Ms. Protocol, by El Corredor)

Like with several other horses on the Derby trail this year, we are going to have to guess what will happen when he has to race without Lasix. In his case, he hadn’t run with Lasix until his last start, and even though he had run big in the Los Alamitos Futurity as a maiden he had never demonstrated the brilliance and explosiveness he showed in his devastating 14-length romp last time out. And we can’t remember such a dramatic leap in speed figures, going from a 10 to 1 on Thoro-Graph. Was it the Lasix or the addition of blinkers several races back or moving way down in class from a Grade 2 to a maiden race? Those questions won’t be answered until he runs again in the San Felipe Stakes. Because there is so much speculation regarding this colt I am going by what I saw in his last two races and will assume he is a horse who has finally matured physically and mentally and is just now figuring it all out. We’ll just have to wait until March 6 to find out what kind of horse we are dealing with.

13. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)

He turned in a solid five-furlong work in 1:01 as he prepares for a rematch with Proxy and Mandaloun in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes. The question is, how will he be ridden this time? In the LeComte he took advantage of a paceless race and was able to be in complete control all the way. I believe his best race is off the pace, but we still don’t know what kind of closing punch he has. It is difficult separating the first three finishers of the LeComte and I think strategy will play an important role again with the threat this time coming from the rear of the pack in the form of Senor Buscador. Midnight Bourbon has the look of a distance horse and the pedigree to match, so the extra distance of the Risen Star should only help him. We’ll just have to wait and see if there is any speed in the race this time.

14. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)

The main reason he is this far below Medina Spirit and Roman Centurian is that I know they will relish a mile and a quarter and I’m still not quite sure about him. Not that his pedigree suggests he’s a sprinter or miler, it’s just that it is somewhere in the middle of the road, possibly maxing out at a mile and an eighth. But that is pure speculation, especially in this day and age when horses with all kinds pedigrees are able to carry their speed. He did take all the worst of it the Robert. B. Lewis being the meat in the sandwich in a three-horse stretch battle and getting bounced around from both sides. As mentioned earlier he did pair up his Thoro-Graph figure from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so we still don’t know if he has improved from 2 to 3, and he will need to move forward off this race

15. Jackie’s Warrior (Steve Asmussen, Maclean’s Music – Unicorn Girl, by A.P. Five Hundred)

Well, we know Jackie the Jet is ready to take off judging from his five-furlong work in a bullet :59 2/5, fastest of 18 works at the distance. He will make his debut in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes and should have a distance and tactical advantage over the debuting Essential Quality. The big questions with him are whether he can win coming from off the pace and around two turns and how far he can carry his speed. I actually felt he ran a pretty strong race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile getting outrun by two horses, one of them a 41-1 rabbit for Keepmeinmind, and being shuffled back to fourth. He did look strong taking the lead nearing the top of the stretch and never quit, getting beat only three lengths despite chasing brutal fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 1/5. By comparison, the Juvenile Fillies went in :23 1/5 and :47. Despite all the speed in his pedigree he doesn’t have the physical appearance of a sprinter and has a very classy look about him. The word from the barn is that he is extremely intelligent and not speed crazy at all, so we’ll see how he runs in the Southwest before deciding whether he looks like a Derby horse.

16. Overtook (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Got Lucky, by A.P. Indy)

If you’re going to rank Risk Taking high then you surely have to at least acknowledge this colt’s improvement since the removal of blinkers and becoming a rare Pletcher deep closer. A $1 million yearling purchase, he has the looks and the pedigree, with his dam earning over $950,000. But in the Withers he was under a strong ride early, leaving the half-mile pole, and couldn’t close any ground on Risk Taking, who still hadn’t been asked for his run. He didn’t show much acceleration at any point and just kept grinding away, eventually passing tired horses, although he did seem to be leveling off nicely at the end. I just don’t know if he’s fast enough at this point to be considered a major player, unless he can demonstrate a quicker turn of foot.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

I am holding off a week or two before ranking CONCERT TOUR, mainly because he still hasn’t been two turns and he showed he is still a little green. And I want to see the results of next weekend’s big stakes. He was running beautifully after turning for home in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes, but then starting deviating off his course, drifting to the outside, possibly because he was under pressure for the first time trying to get by his speedy stablemate FREEDOM FIGHTER. If Concert Tour goes on to be a leading Derby contender, which I believe he will, he owes a good part of it to Freedom Fighter, who taught him some valuable lessons he probably would not have learned had he not been confronted with a horse this fast and game. But what you have to like about him the most is that, with the exception of his maternal great-grandsire Mt. Livemore, there is nothing in his pedigree to suggest he wants anything to do with sprinting. I like that Baffert is taking a gradual approach and not rushing him into two-turn stakes, and I believe we will see a much improved horse when he goes two turns in his next start.

For years, we’ve been talking about the quirkiness of the Tampa Bay surface. It is much faster than it used to be, but we still get head-scratching performances, such as those of KNOWN AGENDA and SMILEY SOBOTKA in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. I have no idea why Known Agenda, who had demonstrated good tactical speed, was running last and just couldn’t get going until it was way too late. He did get bumped around a little after the start, but it should not have affected him to that extent. He was able to make up a lot of ground in the stretch with horses tiring in front of him. I still feel he’s a very good horse, but we need to see what he does on a different surface and back to his usual running style. Smiley Sobotka was up there with pace, but quickly retreated to beaten nearly 23 lengths.

Right now I can’t get too excited about this race. Give the winner CANDY MAN ROCKET credit for stretching out from a 9 1/4-length romp going six furlongs to a mile and 40 yards and defeating his stablemate, Pasco Stakes winner NOVA RAGS, but these horses were tiring late and crawled home, so we’ll have to wait to see if they can improve off it. Third-place finisher HIDDEN STASH made up four lengths in the final furlong and just keeps improving, but he saved ground the whole way, was closing on tired horses, and never switched leads. We’ll see if he can take another step forward next out.

CAPO KANE, making his two-turn debut following a 6 1/2-length romp in the one-mile Jerome Stakes, looked like a winner turning for home after controlling the pace, but couldn’t keep a straight course and tired to finish third. He will now cut back to a mile in the March 6 Gotham Stakes.

Well, we saw the monster performance we expected from BEZOS, except it wasn’t from Bezos. It was the horse who flew by him at the head of the stretch and just spread-eagled his field from there with his ears pricked and jockey Joel Rosario looking back several times. That was DREAM SHAKE, who could be any kind for trainer Peter Eurton. As for Bezos, who finished up the track, the only bigger losers were all the people who bet on an unraced horse in the Derby future book and Future Wager. More on Dream Shake next week when we find out his plans.

Keep an eye on Tampa maiden winner UNBRIDLED HONOR, who showed a lot of professionalism after being trapped most of the way and staring at a wall of horses in front him after turning for home. But he waited patiently and when a hole finally opened on the inside he quickly altered course and shot through to win by a half-length for Pletcher. By Honor Code, his dam is a half-sister to two Grade 1 winners – Haskell winner Roman Ruler and Cigar Mile winner El Corredor.

Two very interesting first-out maiden winners entered in the Risen Star are both trained by Tom Amoss and both sons of Union Rags. CARILLO was extremely impressive breaking his maiden at a mile at Aqueduct for Chad Brown in his career debut. He then was sold for $875,000 at the Estate of Paul Pompa dispersal and turned over to Amoss. He worked five furlongs in a sharp 1:00 3/5 and could surprise a lot of people if he is as good as he looked in his debut and runs to his pedigree. The other maiden winner is DEFEATER, who drew off impressively going six furlongs at Fair Grounds, despite a rough trip.

Several horses are right on the outer edge of the Rankings. Because of this past weekend’s results and the big upcoming stakes, TARANTINO had to be dropped off the Sweet Sixteen, but I’m pretty sure it will only be temporary.

The late-closing ROMBAUER was scratched from the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and instead worked five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and most recently another five furlongs in a bullet :59 2/5, fastest of 38 works at the distance. Trainer Mike McCarthy elected to wait for the mile and an eighth El Camino Real Derby run over the Tapeta surface. We have no idea how he will handle it, but this horse is much more suited to nine furlongs than the 1 1/16 miles of the Lewis with a small field.

Another borderline horse is FIRE AT WILL, who will return to the dirt in the February 27 Fountain of Youth Stakes. A big race there and he surely has to be regarded as a leading contender. He turned in another solid work, going five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 at Gulfstream Park.

Still another on the outside waiting to get in is the impressive Nyquist Stakes winner HIGHLY MOTIVATED, who breezed a half in :49 1/5 at Payson Park, as he prepares for his debut in the Gotham Stakes.

American Pharoah Stakes winner GET HER NUMBER is up to a half-mile in his works, turning in a :50 2/5 breeze at San Luis Rey Downs.

 

Please Note: Oaklawn has canceled their weekend card and the Southwest Stakes will now be run Saturday Feb. 20. The next Rankings will be on Monday as usual.

Derby Rankings: Week 3

Monday, February 1st, 2021

Because of all the activity this week and so many horses now firmly entrenched on the Derby trail we are extending the Rankings to a Sweet 16 to give as many horses as possible ample space and a place on the list of top prospects. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 3, Feb. 1

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

It was a bold move putting an unspectacular maiden winner at No. 2 last week and it’s probably a bolder move elevating him to the No. 1 spot over a champion and two-time grade winner, especially when he beat a questionable field that had very little stakes experience. But sometimes you have to go by your gut feeling when you think you see all the qualities that make a Derby horse, and this colt certainly looked like a Derby horse when he crushed his field by 5 3/4 lengths in the Holy Bull Stakes. You’re not going to find a stronger pedigree, as we mentioned in detail in Week 1, and I moved him up from No. 5 to No. 2 last week when a very fast horse he ran right behind in two sprint races, Caddo River, came back to romp by 10 lengths in the Smarty Jones Stakes and the second- and third-place finishers in his maiden victory both came back to run huge races next time out. He was originally scheduled to run in next week’s Withers Stakes because of the 1 1/8-mile distance, but the horse McGaughey was pointing for the Holy Bull couldn’t make the race, so he decided to keep Greatest Honour in Florida and run at the shorter distance. In the Holy Bull he showed he could lay within striking distance, make a sweeping four-wide run, and draw off at will, running solid fractions of :24 1/5, :23 2/5 :23 4/5, :24 4/5 and :06 3/5. He is the consummate pro with no quirks and he runs perfectly straight down the stretch. The first time I saw him he looked like a classy horse and he has improved his speed figures with every race.

 

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

Yes he still deserves to be No. 1 and Hot Rod Charlie showed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a legitimate race with his gutsy performance in the three-horse blanket finish of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. But you still want to see what kind of transition he makes from 2 to 3, and a win in the February 13 Risen Star likely will put him back at No. 1. His works are progressing nicely and he has now had two solid five-furlong drills in 1:01 2/5 and 1:01 3/5 as he prepares for his 3-year-old debut, where he likely will face the brilliant Jackie’s Warrior and a number of other proven stakes horses, including possibly another Brad Cox horse, Mandaloun, and another Godolphin horse, Proxy. But it must be noted that taking this path will pretty much assure he will have only two Derby preps and a six-week layoff from the Louisiana Derby to the Kentucky Derby. No horse has ever accomplished that. In the past 25 years, the only three Kentucky Derby winners to have run in the Louisiana Derby – Grindstone, Funny Cide, and Country House – all had a race in between.

 

3. Senor Buscador (Todd Fincher, Mineshaft – Rose’s Desert, by Desert God)

What we mentioned about the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby pertaining to Essential Quality applies to Senor Buscador as well. But Fincher is convinced that won’t be a problem considering the way this colt trains. As of now he’s had only a couple of three-furlong blowouts so it is time for him to start picking up the tempo. I’m keeping him up this high one more week and then we’ll see what the picture looks like after next week’s Derby preps. I’m still ranking him with my heart at this point. The horse he defeated in the Springboard Mile, Cowan, came back to finish second to Caddo River in the Smarty Jones Stakes, but was beaten more than 10 lengths. However, before you link that performance to Senor Buscador you have to take into account that Cowan had to check sharply to avoid clipping heels with a horse who had cut in front of him, and despite the distance being shorter than he wants and trying to catch a runaway train he still managed to finish 7 1/2 lengths ahead of the third horse. So I think you can still say the Senor beat a quality horse at Remington. If you want to know where the name comes from it is actually pretty simple. They were struggling to come up with a name based on the colt’s pedigree until owner Joe Peacock’s son’s then girlfriend and now wife noticed the name Mr. Prospector in the sire and dam’s pedigree and pointed out that Mr. Prospector in Spanish is Senor Buscador. It had a ring to it; end of search.

 

4. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

After his quick five-furlong work last week he slowed down to a 1:02, galloping out a very strong six furlongs in 1:14 4/5 and pulling up seven furlongs in 1:27 2/5. Diodoro is putting a lot of bottom in him with these long strong gallop-outs, and the track was slower this time than for his last work when he had a target to run at. His works, especially this one, have been more about the gallop-out than the final time. The Southwest Stakes might be a bit short for him, especially if he runs into Caddo River, but he is fit and ready after a brief vacation and light training at WinStar Farm. We probably won’t see the real Keepmeinmind until they go a mile and an eighth, but he is one horse who only needs to be closing strong in the stretch to keep moving forward toward a peak performance at Churchill Downs, where he captured the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. His Thoro-Graph figures did regress ever so slightly in that race, but we’ll get a better gauge of its quality when runner-up Smiley Sobotka runs next Saturday in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.

 

5. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

Cox could be holding a pat hand at both Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, and with this guy I’m not sure who can beat him if he keeps displaying the kind of high cruising speed that we saw in his last two races. If he takes after his sire in any way then there is no telling how far he can carry that speed. And his female family certainly isn’t going to hold him back. The fact that he was able run half-mile fractions in :44 and change and :45 in sprint races and then throttle back and go :47 and change stretching out to two turns demonstrates how difficult it is going to be to beat this horse. He has an interesting Thoro-Graph pattern, pairing up a 9 1/2 in his first two races and then pairing up a 4 1/4 in his last two races. When a horse jumps five points you like to see him pair up that number to validate it and not get too fast too early. If he moves up several points next time and then pairs that up it would set him up for a peak performance in the Derby. This could mark the return to prominence after three decades of owner John Ed Anthony, who raced Eclipse Award winners Temperence Hill, Vanlandingham, and Prairie Bayou, and Preakness winner Pine Bluff under the name Loblolly Stable.

 

6. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)

If you were concerned that he hadn’t worked in 16 days since his sharp half-mile in :47 flat, he did have a slight setback but returned to the work tab January 27 with an easy half in :49 3/5, so assuming his next start will be the San Felipe on March 6, his missed work was pretty insignificant and he looks to be back on track. Although his time wasn’t fast, he looked sensational from a physical standpoint. He is a beautiful mover with a smooth efficient stride and is very light on his feet. Of more concern is whether Baffert can harness his speed and hopefully get him to settle off the pace. He sure didn’t look speed crazy in this work and had his ears pricked right from the start. He looks to have enough stamina in his female family to counteract Into Mischief, and if you want to bring up Authentic, let me say again I doubt he would have won the Derby on the first Saturday in May. This colt, like Authentic, is a big rangy sort and doesn’t look like a sprinter, but the question is, will he be ready to go a mile and a quarter off only four career starts? He certainly has the talent and all the mechanics, and I don’t believe we have seen anything even close to his best.

 

7. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)

He is another I took a shot with in Week 1 by ranking a maiden winner with only two starts in the Top 12, but he lived up to that maiden score with an excellent effort against proven stakes horses in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, finishing second in a three-horse photo and outdueling the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up while having the widest trip of the three. Mechanically, he did everything right, but just couldn’t get his head in front of a game Medina Spirit. The reason he is ranked higher is that, according to Trakus, he ran 30 feet farther than the winner, which is equivalent to far more than the head margin and the few hundredths of a second he was beaten. For example, turning for home he was 15.7 feet off the rail compared to 5.9 feet for Medina Spirit. As I stated in Week 1 for those who did not see it, if you’re looking for a pedigree loaded with class, the Phippses bred his first four dams, his second and third dams were Grade 1 winners, his fourth dam was a Grade 2 winner and the dam of three Grade 1 winners, and his fifth dam, Lady Pitt, won the CCA Oaks, Mother Goose, and Delaware Handicap. In his first five generations are 10 classic winners who won a total of 17 classic races, as well as eight Hall of Famers. There is no doubt the future is very bright for this colt.

 

8. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)

Well, we know he’s a fighter. When a Bob Baffert horse has the rail in a two-turn race, you can be sure he’s going for the lead if no one wants it. The feeling here is that this is not where he wants to be. Into the backstretch he was flicking his ears back and forth. When Wipe the Slate moved up to his flank he pinned his ears and once again eased clear. Around the turn he was back to flicking his ears and you could tell he hadn’t been asked to run. If his stride looked a bit sloppy for a brief instant turning for home it most likely was because he switched to his right lead too early. In any event, he still had plenty left in the stretch and refused to let Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie get past him. The most impressive aspect of his race was that, over a dead track, he set testing fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 3/5. By comparison, in the San Pasqual for older horses earlier on the same card they went in :23 4/5 and :48 3/5. He then went the three quarters in 1:12 1/5 compared to 1:13 3/5 in the San Pasqual. So it was understandable why they didn’t come home fast. The first three all look like top-class horses and they galloped out in a different area code from the others. We’ll see what kind of strategy they use next time on this colt. He showed in the Sham Stakes what he can do coming from off the pace.

 

9. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)

He certainly was flattered by Greatest Honour’s performance in the Holy Bull. When the two hooked up in a furious stretch drive going a mile and an eighth in November he made the first move and held on doggedly to win by a head. I believe his well-beaten third in the Remsen Stakes was due to his dislike for the sloppy track, as he never looked comfortable. He has been working well, going five furlongs in a sharp :59 4/5 then an easy half-mile in :49, which should set him up nicely for Saturday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. By Curlin, out of one of the great European sire lines, he will run all day. If he can get a fast track next week we’ll find out once and for all if the Remsen was a throwout race. A big effort and he puts himself right up there with the leading Derby contenders.

 

10. Smiley Sobotka (Dale Romans, Brody’s Cause – Dance Thewayyouare, by Mineshaft)

I know the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes didn’t get good speed rating and he has a lot of improving to do off his 8 1/4 Thoro-Graph figure, but the horse who beat him, Keepmeinmind, had already proven himself with his big efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Breeders’ Futurity. So we really won’t know how good this horse is until he makes his 3-year-old debut, which will also come next Saturday in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. After several five-furlong breezes Romans sharpened him up with a brisk half-mile work in :46 4/5, so he looks ready to come out running. He has improved with every start, has excellent tactical speed, and he should only get better as the distances stretch. He will get a good test from Known Agenda, which should make the Sam Davis an excellent prep.

 

11. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)

I’m not sure yet how effective he is going to be at a mile and a quarter, but he showed his excellent second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 94-1 was no fluke when he was third in a three-horse photo in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, while taking all the worst of it between horses the entire stretch run, getting bounced around from both sides and being in very tight quarters in the final yards. But he battled on gamely against two promising Derby horses. We’ll see how the speed figures come out on this race, but so far you couldn’t ask for a better progression, going from a 16 1/2 to an 8 1/2 to a 3 3/4 on Thoro-Graph. This is a horse who sold for a mere $17,000 as a yearling, then pinhooked later in the year for $110,000, where he was picked out by Dennis O’Neill.

 

12. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Little Ms. Protocol, by El Corredor)

Last week I said I was not sure if his 14-length maiden romp was quite as good as it looked, but after further scrutiny I am now convinced this is a serious horse based on his mechanics and his maturity from a gangly green colt to a polished professional. What put me over the edge was his Thoro-Graph figures and the most dramatic leap I can remember, going from a 17, 17, 16 and 10 to a 1. So, from wondering if he was too slow, you suddenly go to wondering if he went too fast too soon. With two preps left and six weeks to the San Felipe all you want is for him to maintain that form and not have any dramatic leaps forward or backward. He wasn’t flattered by the poor effort of Spielberg in the Robert Lewis, but he seems to have made great strides since that race. He was named by his co-owner, hockey star Erik Johnson, after his boyhood idol Wayne Gretzky. He had RNA’d at the sale for $195,000. But Dennis O’Neill had fallen in love with him and sent Johnson photos and a video of the colt. Others tried to buy him privately for $150,000 to $160,000, but Johnson told him to get over there and get the horse bought. He offered $185,000 and got the colt, and Johnson went in for 40%. Despite nearly pulling off a huge upset in the Los Alamitos Futurity as a maiden, in which he got beat the slightest head bob by Spielberg, track clockers told O’Neill he was running for second when he faced Baffert’s 3-5 favorite Fenway in last Saturday’s maiden race. But he sat right off Fenway’s flank, ran him into the ground through rapid early fractions over a dead track, and drew with every stride before galloping out some 25 lengths ahead of the runner-up.

 

13. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)

It will be interesting to see what Cox does with him. He likely will have Essential Quality making his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star Stakes February 13, and if he ships him to Oaklawn for the Southwest Stakes he could run into another Cox-trained horse, Caddo River, who looks to have a stranglehold right now on the Oaklawn 3-year-old picture. He does have the Rebel Stakes if he wants to wait that long. It is extremely tough separating the first three finishers of the LeComte, but he ran the best speed figures and just makes a classy appearance with a good deal of upside. He remains sharp, working a half in :48 1/5, second fastest of 99 works at the distance. He has never been flashy, but he is tough and consistent and can sustain his run a long way.

 

14. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)

I think in the long run he may turn out to be a better Derby prospect than Mandaloun, but I just want to see what he can do coming from off the pace and not controlling a race with an easy lead, as he did in the LeComte. He is built like a stayer, but I want to see him erase two of stakes defeats in which he sat off the pace. He gave up a clear lead in the stretch in the Iroquois Stakes and had Sittin’ on Go run right by him, and Sittin’ on Go has run poorly in his last three starts. He then tired badly in the Champagne Stakes, beaten over 14 lengths. I do believe he is a better horse this year, but he needs to show a little more versatility and the ability to come home fast and draw away from horses. For him, the real test will come when he faces some heavy hitters based at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes.

 

15. Proxy (Michael Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)

There isn’t much more to say about him until we can see one race where he’s ridden properly and doesn’t get hit continuously left-handed. If this horse can keep a straight course who knows how good he can be. To show how close he is to Mandaloun in the afternoon and the morning, he turned in the exact same work of :48 1/5, right down to the same one-hundredths, second fastest of 99 works at the distance. And no they did not work in company. To demonstrate how quickly he is improving he went from a pair 13 1/4 Thoro-Graph figures to a 5 in the LeComte and his pedigree suggests he should keep on improving. If Prevalence continues his meteoric rise, Godolphin could have a potent three-headed monster. This definitely is a horse who is still a work in progress and who knows what we’ll see in a few months.

 

16. Tarantino (Rodolphe Brisset, Pioneerof the Nile – without Delay, by Seeking the Gold)

He was no match for Greatest Honour in the Holy Bull, but it was an excellent effort for his first start ever on dirt. He has had an unusual journey so far. He was purchased as a yearling at Keeneland for $610,000 and turned over to Bob Baffert. He obviously was not turning heads in his works on dirt, so Baffert started him twice on grass, something you rarely if ever see him do with a young horse. After he finished second, beaten a nose, in the Zuma Beach Stakes it was decided to put him back in the sale, but no one was interested, so they bought him back for only $240,000 and sent him back east to Brisset. In his first start for his new trainer he was impressive winning a one-mile allowance race on grass, and when he started working well on dirt, Brisset decided to try him in the Holy Bull and he ran a bang-up second at 26-1, pressing the pace the whole way, finally putting the leader away, and then outrunning the favorite Prime Factor for second. Although he couldn’t handle the closing punch of Greatest Honour he never quit and was striding out well at the wire, while finishing almost four lengths ahead of Prime Factor.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

It was tempting to try to squeeze CONCERT TOUR into the Rankings considering he is reported to be one of Baffert’s best 3-year-olds. But he still has a ways to go before he stretches out to two turns, so we’ll wait a little longer before ranking him with the more accomplished horses. But from what I’ve seen so far in his one race and in his works he looks like the real deal. Baffert is moving him gradually up the ladder and we’ll what happens when he gets to the major preps.

For those, myself included, who have an urge to rank impressive first-out maiden sprint winners, all you have to do is look at the performances Saturday of PRIME FACTOR and AMOUNT. The former was way overbet at even-money in the Holy Bull stretching out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, and while he managed to finish a well-beaten third, he was rubber-legged turning for home and had nothing left. We’ll see if he can step way up next time with this race under his belt. Amount was up there early in the Holy Bull, but faded quickly and was eased at the head of the stretch.

One horse looking to get back in the Rankings is CAPO KANE, who will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in Saturday’s Withers Stakes. Trainer Harold Wyner has been giving him strong two-minute licks to put some air in his lungs and he is just beginning wake up and get more aggressive. He’s been thriving at Parx and if he repeats his performance in the Jerome he is going to be very tough to beat. Although the Withers is not expected to draw a strong field, there will be some potentially good horses in there, and another impressive victory by Capo Kane would make him a serious Derby horse.

One horse who could show up and bears watching is LEBLON, who has been training super at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington. Trained by Paulo Lobo, the son of Broken Vow has improved with every start and broke his maiden with a game performance going 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs. He has plenty of bottom under him with three two-turn races and three six-furlong works. He is bred to run all day and would be a welcome addition to the field. Todd Pletcher could have two in there with last-out winners OVERTOOK, who won coming from far back, and DONEGAL BAY, who won on the front end.

But keep an eye on two possible Maryland invaders SHACKQUEENKING, who shortened up to run a solid third in the seven-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes last out, and ROYAL NUMBER, who I find very intriguing. After a second and a third in allowance races at Laurel he was given Lasix for the first time and looked sensational, slipping through on the inside and quickly drawing off to win by 7 3/4 lengths with the jockey way up in the saddle the last quarter mile as if in a workout. His trainer Mike Trombetta is not sure how much of a role Lasix played and we won’t know until he runs again without it. But it just could be he is improving at the right time and is loving the two turns, being bred for stamina top and bottom. At this moment Trombetta is not sure what the plans are, but he is looking at all options, including the Withers.

On the training front, Nyquist Stakes winner HIGHLY MOTIVATED continues to work steadily at Payson Park for Chad Brown, his last being a half-mile breeze in :49 1/5. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner FIRE AT WILL moved a step closer to his 3-year-old debut with a five-furlong work in 1:01 3/5 at Gulfstream Park. JACKIE’S WARRIOR, pointing for his debut in the Risen Star Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:01 4/5. I like the way they’ve been giving him nice easy works, as he needs to harness some of that speed and learn how to win from off the pace.

Three impressive maiden winners DEFEATER, CARILLO, and PRATE all worked at Fair Grounds as they look to stretch out to two turns. Prate in particular was very impressive working five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 flat, fastest of 55 works at the distance. Carillo has an advantage over the other two having won first out going a flat mile at Aqueduct. All three look to have a bright future.

DRAIN THE CLOCK, impressive winner of the seven-furlong Swale Stakes, looks to be the dominant sprinter in Florida, but his connections still haven’t ruled out the possibility of stretching him out in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.

I don’t know how dead the Aqueduct track is or what to make of the 1:56 1/5 time for 1 1/8 miles, but THE REDS looked very impressive visually winning a maiden race with a strong move from last after splitting horses to win going away by almost four lengths. John Kimmel trains the son of Belmont winner Tonalist.

Another exciting prospect to watch stretching out in the Sam F. Davis Stakes is the Bill Mott-trained CANDY MAN ROCKET, who, following a dismal career debut in the slop, romped by 9 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream. The son of Candy Ride broke on top but took back and settled three lengths off the lead. When John Velazquez asked him at the head of the stretch he drew off under a hand ride. He does have a slight paddle to his stride but he is a classy looking individual and we’ll see how he does going two turns against some seasoned stakes horses.

Derby Rankings: Week 2

Monday, January 25th, 2021

Lots of activity this week, with some eye-popping performances, and lots of movement in the Top 12, as we await next week’s Holy Bull and Robert B. Lewis Stakes, which should bring more major changes. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 2, Jan. 25

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

He’s up to five furlongs in his works, as he prepares for his 3-year-old debut, most likely in the Risen Star Stakes February 13. I mentioned last week his inordinate amount of inbreeding, and I really don’t know what to make of his pedigree. His dam is a half-sister to 2-year-old champion filly Folklore, but Folklore is by stamina influence Tiznow, as opposed to Elusive Quality. And Delightful Quality was a pure sprinter with an aversion to winning, placing in seven stakes with no stakes victories. But if you follow the Thoro-Graph numbers, he is on a great pattern, going from a “9” to a “5” to a “3 1/4,” so he is already fast enough, but keeps moving forward with fairly significant jumps and has a lot more room for improvement. He certainly doesn’t run as if distance should be a problem, but we’ll see when they start going a mile and an eighth. Worthy No. 1 at this time, but that spot is open for someone to take it. So far no one has come close.

 

2. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

For this horse to finish two lengths and then a half-length behind Caddo River going seven furlongs each time tells you that he has more speed than you would think. And his maiden victory was boosted when the second and third-place finishers both came back and ran huge in a 1 1/16-mile race at Gulfstream Saturday. We mentioned last week what a great Thoro-Graph pattern he is on, but it is important to note that his Brisnet speed figures have also climbed steadily from 84 to 88 to 92 to 97 and his late pace figure of 110 in his last start is the fastest of all the horses in the Future Wager field you. And you can say he is also the most consistent closer speed-wise, having run a 106 late pace figure in his previous race. Right now he just needs to be tested for class and that will come in the February 6 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, as McGaughey is willing to ship up to New York to run him at a mile and an eighth and not have to contend with the often speed-favoring track at Gulfstream. Taking a shot putting a maiden winner this high, but he has run well against top competition, should only get better the farther he goes, and I can’t find and flaws in him.

 

3. Senor Buscador (Todd Fincher, Mineshaft – Rose’s Desert, by Desert God)

In 2018 I was following a New Mexico-based horse on the Derby trail owned by the Peacock family named Runaway Ghost, a son of Ghostzapper who was impressive winning the Sunland Derby but never made it to the big race. His dam Rose’s Desert, by five-time leading New Mexico-based sire Desert God was so successful as a racehorse, winning seven black type races and earning over $600,000, that when she was retired, 86-year-old Joe Peacock and his son Joe Jr. decided to disperse all their other mares and put all their efforts into making Rose’s Desert a successful broodmare by breeding her top Kentucky stallions. It looked as if they had hit pay dirt with Runaway Ghost, but even with him off the Derby trail they still had a 2-year-old colt by Curlin and a yearling by Ghostzapper waiting in the wings. At the time they were awaiting the birth of a Mineshaft foal who was due on April 22. Rose’s Desert finally gave birth to a colt on May 6, one day after Justify won the Kentucky Derby. The Peacocks joked that it was a good omen that she waited until Derby weekend. Sadly, Joe Peacock Sr. passed away last September at age 88, but that Mineshaft foal, named Senor Buscador, has put the family back on the Derby trail.

 

4. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

For a horse who is supposed to be a plodder he sure opened the eyes of the Oaklawn clockers when he worked five workings in a bullet 1:00 flat, fastest of 40 works at the distance. It worked out perfectly for him, as he saw a horse about six or seven lengths in front of him, which gave him a perfect target. He came home his last quarter in a sizzling :23 flat before galloping out six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 and pulling up seven furlongs in 1:26 4/5. That is one serious work. He will be at a disadvantage going against some fast, classy horses in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes February 15, but that is just stepping stone to much more important preps down the line. However, it is time he starts getting faster, as his last Thoro-Graph figure of “6” is not going to get it done and was a slight drop (from 5 3/4) from his previous start, and his Brisnet figure plummeted from a 98 to a 92. His female family is not particularly strong and his sire line is borderline speed and stamina, but he does get class and stamina from his broodmare sire Victory Gallop. I am keeping up here based on his strong and consistent stretch runs against top-class company, but as his competition gets faster he is going to need to keep up and make some serious progress on his speed figures.

 

5. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

If you want to know what it’s like to throttle down the engine, just watch this colt going a half-mile in :47 and three-quarters in 1:12 2/5, which is slow motion for him, and then see what he does when you give just a slight tap on the gas pedal. Now that he’s gotten two turns out of the way we have to take his powerhouse 10 1/4-length romp in the Smarty Jones Stakes seriously. This colt’s high cruising speed and the ability to carry it a distance of ground is reminiscent of his sire, who rattled off a wicked :46 1/5 half in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and still ran a game second to Street Sense, finishing almost six lengths ahead of Curlin in third. We mentioned last week how fast and athletic this horse is, and he continues to do things effortlessly running at high speeds. He also showed he can relax early and doesn’t need to go :44 or :45 halfs as he had been doing sprinting. With that said, this was far from a strong field, but the runner-up Cowan is a talented colt who was coming off a good second in the Springboard Mile, and although he had a rough trip early in the Smarty Jones, having to check sharply going into the first turn, he still finished 7 1/2 lengths ahead of the third horse. With Caddo River’s speed, agility, and his ability to keep generating power throughout a race, he is not a horse you want tangle with, at least not now.

 

6. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)

As in the first Derby Future Wager in November, he still is held in high regard, despite a less than spectacular victory in the Sham Stakes. We discussed why his race in the Sham was far better than it looked, as he paired up his brilliant “2 3/4″ Thoro-Graph figures and dropped slightly from 100 to 98 on his Brisnet speed figures, which in a way was a positive. His 100 figure was the second fastest of all the Future Wager horses and had he run faster in the Sham he might have been in danger of running too fast too soon. As we saw with Authentic last year, you have to nurture the Into Mischiefs and try to harness their speed a bit if you want them to be effective going a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. As it is, Baffert realizes he needs to slow this colt down, so we really don’t know how far he will carry his speed. Authentic lucked out last year with the Derby being run in September, and as we saw in the Haskell, he likely would not have been ready physically and mentally to run his best race in May. Perhaps the same can be said of Life is Good. For now he stays up here but I believe Baffert may have bigger guns in his arsenal that just need to start firing, one of whom is mentioned in Knocking on the Door and has started.

 

7. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)

He worked five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 in company with Spielberg and you normally don’t see Baffert working his Derby horses together. Medina Spirit sat a half-length off his stablemate and got the better of him in the final furlong to finish a half-length in front, despite going slightly the easier of the two with his rider never moving his hands. Even being on the outside he opened up by two lengths on the gallop-out. Baffert still hasn’t decided if he will run both horses in the January 30 Robert B. Lewis Stakes and it would seem too early for him to start shipping out of town. Medina Spirit, who as we mentioned ran too good a race in the Sham Stakes to be sent to Saudi Arabia for their Derby, is moving in the right direction on his speed figures, jumping from a “9 1/2″ to a “3 1/4” on Thoro-Graph and 94 to 97 on Brisnet, and even with a sire and broodmare sire not many have heard of he should have no problem stretching out in distance.

 

8. Smiley Sobotka (Dale Romans, Brody’s Cause – Dance Thewayyouare, by Mineshaft)

Talk about a lack of respect. Churchill Downs puts a horse in the Future Wager field who has never started and leaves off this guy who was a close second in their own Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to the top-class Keepmeinmind. The Albaugh family, who owns the colt, has had some bad luck on the Derby trail and this would seem like the right horse to finally end that. He was named after principal owner Dennis Albaugh’s best friend Mike Sobotka, who died of a heart attack last summer. He was remembered as a person who was a joy to be around, always laughing and smiling. Derby gods, are you listening? This horse has four Belmont Stakes winners and a Jockey Club Gold Cup winner in his first four generations and his sire is inbred to English Derby winner Roberto, so distance will not be a question. And he has the tactical speed you like to see in a Derby horse and will carry it as far as he needs to. But like everyone coming out of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he will have to improve big-time off his less-than-stellar “8 1/4″ Thoro-Graph number.

 

9. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
OK, I know it makes no sense to put him ahead of Midnight Bourbon and Proxy and an Into Mischief over a Tiznow and Tapit. But he took all the worst of it in the LeComte, racing wide every step of the way and then getting herded badly by Proxy the last eighth of a mile and winding up out near the middle of the track, but still came home as fast as the victorious Midnight Bourbon, and his “4” on Thoro-Graph was a full point and a half faster than the winner. What I like about him is his professionalism. In his debut he had to knife his way through horses and then alter course in the stretch through a :45 4/5 half before shoving another horse out of his way and winning under a hand ride. In his next start he had to circle his field four wide and eased clear in the final 50 yards. He has a great eye and is very alert and carries his legs under him perfectly with a smooth easy stride. He just has a look of class about him. Juddmonte bred his first three dams and he traces to a classy C.V. Whitney family that goes back to his eighth generation. He also has the major class and stamina influence His Majesty, a full-brother to Graustark, by Ribot, three times in his pedigree. Add to that, having Danehill, Fappiano, and El Gran Senor in his fourth generation just adds to the stamina needed to balance out the speed he gets from Into Mischief. We’ll give him a slight nod for now and see what happens when they go longer.

 

10. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)

Last year marked the end of the New England Patriots’ 20-year dynasty. What does that have to do with Midnight Bourbon? The Lecomte Stakes winner is by Tiznow, and it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick showing his mediocre team a replay of Tiznow winning the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic to impress upon them what courage and determination can accomplish that inspired the team to go on that year and win its first of six Super Bowls. What better time for Midnight Bourbon to win the Super Bowl of horse racing than the year following his sire’s retirement from stud duty 20 years after he helped inspire a dynasty. Midnight Bourbon has a beautiful way of moving with the look of a true distance horse. He did have all the best of it in the LeComte, but took advantage of the rail by going to the lead and pretty much controlling the race, which has not been his style of running. Setting a slow pace he was able to come home in :24 2/5 and :06 1/5. His first four races were all at a mile, so he has plenty of foundation under him. He is a half-brother to Haskell winner Girvin with a stronger stamina influence on the sire’s side. After pairing up “8s” on Thoro-Graph in his previous two starts he made a nice jump to a “5 1/2″ in the LeComte. I still don’t know what his best running style is, but we at least know that he can be opportunistic if the pace warrants it. I would expect to see him return to his off-the-pace style of running.

 

11. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)

Stablemates Prime Factor and Mutasaabeq both made the top 23 in the Future Wager field, but this colt is the one who is under the radar in the Pletcher barn. He has the pedigree to run all the day, good tactical speed, a good foundation with two 1 1/8-mile races under him, and he has already been in a dogfight with the top-class Greatest Honour and come out on top. Throw out his well-beaten third in the Remsen when he appeared to detest slop and you have a well-bred colt in good hands who seems to have all the tools. He showed his sharpness, working a bullet five furlongs in :59 4/5 in company with the brilliant maiden winner Prime Factor. If he shows up in the Holy Bull and the track is fast I would expect a big performance. He has a lot of bottom under him and as I mentioned last week he should improve as the distances stretch out.

 

12. Proxy (Michael Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)

It is very rare to rank three horses from the same race, but this is a “what have you done for me lately” year when every performance is like a swinging door with horses constantly coming and going. In the case of the LeComte, the first three finishers all were impressive and inseparable. Proxy could have a bright future, but watching his races has been a study in frustration. For some reason, in his last three races his two jockeys continued to hit him left-handed in the stretch despite the colt showing his total disdain for the whip by shying badly from it, and one time reacting so strongly he jumped onto his left lead. Even with a jockey switch in the LeComte, he was hit continuously left handed even though he kept drifting out to the middle of the track, carrying Mandaloun with him. In his allowance victory, it was only a four-horse field, but he hit the side of the gate at the break, was under constant pressure, first from the outside, then had a horse slip through on the inside to take the lead. He battled back to regain the lead, but was challenged again, turned that back as well and drew clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. This horse is a warrior, but we won’t know how good he really is until his riders stop hitting him left handed.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

I was going to make it a Top 15 this week, but simply had too many horses to fill the last three spots, mainly Capo Kane, who was in the Top 12 last week, Jackie’s Warrior, stablemates Hot Rod Charlie and The Great One, and Spielberg, who has beaten The Great One twice, the last by the slimmest head bob.

CAPO KANE had his first work back since his impressive Jerome rout, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 4/5, as he prepares for a likely start in the Withers, where he will attempt to stretch out to a mile and an eighth. His Thoro-Graph jump from a “10 1/2″ to a “5 1/2” in the Jerome shows he is moving in the right direction and making rapid progress. But if you follow Brisnet figures he does have to improve off his 87 last time out. Here is another horse with Hard Spun in his pedigree who looks like he can carry his speed a long way. And it’s not every day to see a horse’s sire and broodmare sire who ran 1, 2 in the Kentucky Derby.

JACKIE’S WARRIOR was the only 2-year-old last year who ran a negative Thoro-Graph number something you rarely see. We saw what his speed can do in the Hopeful, Champagne and Saratoga Special when he ran his opponents off their feet. But when faced with a rabbit in the BC Juvenile who set blazing fractions he was forced to come from off the pace and showed he was not as effective, but did run a big race getting beat 3 1/4 lengths and still running hard to the wire. The word from the barn is that he is not speed crazy at all and is a very smart horse, and they are throwing out the Breeders’ Cup. I love his demeanor and his classy presence. He’s been working steadily and easily and we’ll just see how he progresses from 2 to 3.

I admit I have no idea what to make of THE GREAT ONE and SPIELBERG. I don’t believe the latter is considered one of Baffert’s best and The Great One’s 14-length romp in a mile maiden race Saturday with first-tme Lasix is open to interpretation. Yes, he looked spectacular, but he had only three unproven opponents. One had no shot and was never a factor, the favored first-time starter Fenway ran into the proverbial brick wall at the five-sixteenths pole and staggered home last beaten 30 lengths, and Affable stumbled badly at the start and was spent by the quarter pole. So you can say The Great One basically was in a walkover the last part of it and came home his final quarter in a slow :26 3/5. There simply was no one running behind him. Yes, I believe he is a good horse with a bright future, but I just need to see more. As for HOT ROD CHARLIE, he ran lights out in the BC Juvenile at 94-1 coming off a neck maiden victory, but with his sprint-oriented female family I might as well just wait until next week to see how he runs in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes before moving him into the Top 12.

Because of several other performances worthy of stepping into the Top 12, we have put the two first-out maiden winners PRIME FACTOR and ROMAN CENTURIAN in Knocking on the Door this week to join AMOUNT, PRATE, and a few others until they beat winners or run well in stakes. We made our point last week concerning Prime Factor and Roman Centurian by putting them in the Top 12 and now it is time for them to take that next big step. I still think just as highly of them now as I did last week and expect both to return to the Rankings in their next start, which should be soon for Prime Factor after working a bullet five furlongs in :59 4/5 in company with the No. 11 ranked horse Known Agenda. A more accomplished Pletcher horse, MUTASAABEQ, turned in a sharp half-mile work in :47 1/5 and he, too, is right on the edge of the Top 12 or 15.

Speaking of first-out maiden winners, what in the world did trainer Brendan Walsh unleash on the Derby trail at Gulfstream Saturday? If you want a freakish performance to blow you away just watch the way PREVALENCE demolished his field in a common gallop going seven furlongs. After working a swift half-mile in :47 2/5 at Palm Meadows back on December 28, he was put on the grass for a couple of easy works and then blew out three furlongs in :36 4/5. Walsh’s best kept secret of the year at 7-1 then went out and had eyes popping with his 8 1/2-length stroll in the park, in which he bounded clear under wraps with Tyler Gafflione looking back. Unfortunately, it will be very tricky trying to get more than three starts in him before the Derby, and Godolphin does have the early Derby favorite in Essential Quality, as well as LeComte runner-up Proxy, so no need to push him. Ironically, the only horse to win the Derby with three career starts and not having started at 2 was Justify, whose half-brother, Stage Raider, was a well-beaten second to Prevalence the co-favorite.

The word obviously was out on a Baffert horse named BEZOS, who it was said could be something special. But as it turns out there was no desire by his camp to publicize the horse at that time. So what happens? Bezos shows up as one of the 23 horses in the second Kentucky Derby Future Wager field. Oh, did I happen to mention that Bezos has never started? I guess Churchill Downs had difficulty finding a 23rd horse that was a more appealing betting prospect, because he was also listed as the co-fifth choice. He did work a bullet five-eighths this week in :59 2/5, fastest of 33 works at the distance, and could indeed be something special, but he is way behind. Churchill also has maiden winner OLYMPIAD in the field of 23, but hopefully you didn’t wager on him, as he is on the shelf according to Bill Mott.

Now, if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor of a potential Baffert skyscraper who has at least run once, keep a close eye on CONCERT TOUR. This son of Street Sense, owned and bred by the Wests, could wind up as one of his best ones if not the best. He showed all the signs of a top horse when he broke his maiden first out going six furlongs. Joel Rosario had a handful of horse the whole way and let him coast to the lead on his own and never touched him in the stretch. He drew off from a highly promising Munnings colt named Mr. Impossible with his ears pricked to win by 3 1/2 lengths, geared down the final sixteenth with Rosario looking back for competition. He then galloped out very strong and had Rosario pulling back on the reins to slow him down. What I also loved was how straight he ran in the stretch, never even slightly moving off his path. Baffert will move him up in distance gradually, pointing for the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes February 7. The bettors obviously are believers, as he was only 14-1 in the Future Wager on Sunday.

As alluded to earlier, ANOTHER DUKE, coming off a third to Greatest Honour, broke his maiden at Gulfstream Saturday in fine fashion, but it was DYNAMIC ONE, second to Greatest Honour, who was much the best, going six-wide into the first turn from the disastrous 11-post and then making an eye-catching wide move on the far turn to battle for the lead four wide. He couldn’t sustain it for good reason and had to settle for fourth, beaten two lengths. This is my hidden gem of the year so far. With his amazing pedigree and explosive turn of foot I believe this could be a legit Derby horse who could run well in stakes company next time if they decide not to bother with maiden races anymore.

HIGHLY MOTIVATED, impressive winner of the 6 1/2-furlong Nyquist Stakes last fall, has had a pair of breezes at Palm Meadows for Chad Brown and is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the one-mile Gotham Stakes March 6. Brown is cautiously optimistic he can get a distance of ground, but acknowledges you never know with the Into Mischiefs. Brown said Champagne runner-up REINVESTMENT RISK just arrived at his barn and likely will be pointed to one-turn races.

If you’re wondering how BC Juvenile Turf winner FIRE AT WILL will take to the dirt he worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 flat. GET HER NUMBER, who hasn’t run since his victory in the American Pharoah Stakes, finally returned to work tab this week, breezing an easy three furlongs in :38 4/5. One California horse who has been working brilliantly is the Doug O’Neill-trained maiden winner WIPE THE SLATE, who went five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and followed that up with a strong six-furlong work in a bullet 1:12 3/5. We will see him in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, along with his stablemate Hot Rod Charlie and perhaps late-closing ROMBAUER, who worked five furlongs in 1:02 1/5. Another impressive first-out maiden winner, DEFEATER, turned in a sparkling five-furlong bullet work in :59 2/5 at Fair Grounds.

Not many horses have been working better than Aqueduct maiden winner WEYBURN, who will make his stakes debut in next Sunday’s seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, as trainer Jimmy Jerkens is going old school by moving him up gradually in distance. He will also nominate the son of Pioneerof the Nile to the Withers Stakes just as a back-up plan. Weyburn is bred to run all day. The six sires in his second and third generations have won eight Triple Crown races and three Breeders’ Cup Classics.

Derby Rankings Week 1: Back on the Trail Again

Monday, January 18th, 2021

Welcome to the 2021 Kentucky Derby trail and the start of our Derby Rankings. Unlike the Derby Dozen, the rankings will not be limited to 12 horses, but we will begin with a dozen in order to properly introduce each horse in detail. In future weeks, the comments will be shorter and we will provide more information in the Knocking on the Door section. All readers’ comments are welcome whether you agree or disagree. So please stop by every week, share your opinions, and hopefully we can create a much-needed diversion from these crazy and scary times. Let the fun begin. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Back on the Trail Again

By Steve Haskin

 

1. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

No need for any brilliant insight here, although I’m still not sure how good he is because of his great setups. He gets the No. 1 ranking because he’s an undefeated champion with two Grade 1 victories already, he hasn’t shown any noticeable weaknesses, and he has the right running style. He also showed the ability to adapt to any kind of pace, battling for the lead off slow fractions in the Breeders Futurity and coming from farther back off a fast pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, while showing good acceleration on the turn. And most of all, no one else has done enough to merit the top spot, although that may change after a couple of jaw-dropping first time out maiden winners step up in their next start. If you want to pick away at him a little, his pedigree is just OK with way too much inbreeding for my liking and his dam and third dam being pure sprinters. He had a perfect setup in the Breeders’ Juvenile when Keepmeinmind’s rabbit set a fast pace, hurting the chances of favored Jackie’s Warrior and everyone else near the lead. And finally he does paddle very slightly with his left leg. But at this point he is the most accomplished of this group, but I’m still waiting for someone to blow me away.

 

2. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

If there is one thing you want to see in a deep closer, it is consistency and the ability to rally off any kind of pace and not have to depend on perfect setups. This colt has run four times, three going 1 1/16 miles and once going a mile, and in each race he came home fast and was right there at the finish off fast half-mile fractions of :45 1/5 and :45 4/5 and slow half-mile fractions of :48 4/5 and :48 1/5. The farthest he’s been beaten was 3 1/4 lengths in the Breeders’ Futurity behind Essential Quality, who was right up on the lead through a slow three-quarters in 1:13 2/5. With blinkers added and help from a rabbit, he came from 18 lengths back in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to be beaten two lengths by Essential Quality. In the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he was last, but only six lengths behind a very slow pace, and rallied six-wide to win by three-quarters of a length with a rapid final sixteenth in :06 1/5. He has proven to be a relentless closer regardless of the pace and now has a victory and a second at Churchill Downs. From a visual standpoint, he keeps a straight course down the stretch and holds his legs under him perfectly. He looks to be the ultimate pro and there is nothing to dislike about him.

 

3. Senor Buscador (Todd Fincher, Mineshaft – Rose’s Desert, by Desert God)

This ranking is from the heart as well as the visuals and will be explained next week. It is based on two eye-popping performances at Remington Park, yes, Remington Park. People frown on horses who come from the clouds, but this horse doesn’t just rally from far back to win, he inhales his opponents and leaves them for dead. In both his starts he was never hustled out of the gate and immediately fell five lengths behind the next-to-last horse. In his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs, he took off around the turn, fanned seven-wide and flew by the leaders with only 50 yards to go and still won off by 2 1/2 lengths in a sprightly 1:03 3/5, earning a solid “7” Thoro-Graph figure. Stretching out to a mile in the Springboard Mile, he was 15 lengths back down the backstretch, but again kicked into high gear on the turn, fanned eight-wide, and blew by the leaders at the eighth pole like they were moving in slow motion. In a flash, he was three in front and just kept pouring it on to win by almost six lengths, coming home his last eighth in :12 flat and final three-eighths in a rapid :36 flat, this time earning a sensational “2 3/4″ Thoro-Graph figure, the same as Life is Good in the Sham Stakes. You rarely see such explosions and big winning margins from a deep closer. We should get a better line on him when runner-up Cowan runs in the Smarty Jones Stakes on Friday, but not sure he can beat Caddo River.

 

4. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beachwalk, by Distorted Humor)

OK, put on the brakes if you were disappointed in seeing his four-length lead in the Sham Stakes evaporate into a frantic three-quarters of a length victory. You have to take into consideration that he had earned a “2 3/4″ Thoro-Graph number in his maiden romp, going four-wide on the first turn, and went into the Sham having worked a scorching six furlongs in 1:10 3/5 six days before the race. He was going two turns for the first time and Mike Smith had him geared down completely in the stretch. When he realized another (Baffert) horse was closing in quickly, he went from a pull to a drive in a matter of seconds, something the colt had never experienced before and he began to drift out. This will, in my opinion, help him, as you don’t want a young horse to think everything is easy and not know how to react when pressured for the first time. With all this, he still paired up his “2 3/4” Thoro-Graph number, which is just what you want to see. You don’t want him to regress too much off that first race, but more important, you don’t want a young inexperienced horse to run faster this early in the year. Also note that the second- and fourth-place finishers in his 9 1/2-length maiden victory both came back to win their next start impressively.

 

5. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

He still needs to move up in class, but so far he looks like your quintessential Derby-type horse who is improving with every start, as indicated by his Thoro-Graph pattern, debuting with a “10” and three starts later running a “4 1/2.” In his first two starts sprinting he finished right behind a very fast and talented colt in Caddo River. Stretching out to 1 1/8 miles over a dead track at Aqueduct he hooked up in a gut-wrenching stretch duel with the highly regarded Pletcher horse Known Agenda after a long sustained run through dawdling fractions and was beaten a head with a gap of 21 lengths back to the third horse, another promising Pletcher horse. Then at Gulfstream going 1 1/16 miles, he dropped back to last early and was bothered by a horse who unseated his rider, but shrugged it off and moved up methodically going four-wide and ran down a $725,000 Pletcher horse under a hand ride to win by 1 1/2 lengths, coming home in a sharp :24 1/5 and :06 1/5. If you’re looking for a mouth-watering pedigree, his dam is a half-sister to Belmont winners Rags to Riches and Jazil, as well as Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Man of Iron and Peter Pan winner Casino Drive. His second dam Better Than Honour is a half-sister to the dam of Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks winner Peeping Fawn, and his third dam Blush With Pride won the Kentucky Oaks and Ashland Stakes and is a half-sister to Sex Appeal, the dam of Irish Derby and 2,000 Guineas winner El Gran Senor.

 

6. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)

Baffert ran this colt in the Sham Stakes against Life is Good with the thought of sending him to Saudi Arabia for their rich Derby, but he ran such a strong race he decided to keep him home and leave him on the Kentucky Derby trail. He showed good speed in his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs, winning off by three lengths. Stretching out to a two-turn mile in the Sham he put a scare into Life is Good, closing strongly to be beaten three-quarters of a length. What made this such a powerful race by the top two, it was 12 3/4 lengths back to the highly regarded Parnelli, who I had ranked in my Top 10 before this race. Medina Spirit’s Thoro-Graph number jumped from a “9 1/2″ to a “3 1/4.” I love the way this horse runs with his front legs perfectly aligned, while keeping a straight course. His breeding is not typical for a Baffert-trained horse but before you ask, “who are those horses?” Protonico is a son of Giant’s Causeway and was a graded stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles and placed in the 1 1/2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Brilliant Speed is by Dynaformer and his second dam is a full-sister to Belmont winner Touch Gold. In fact, of Medina Spirit’s four great-grandsires, one won the Belmont, one won the Kentucky Derby, one sired a Kentucky Derby winner, and one sired a Preakness and Belmont winner. Distance will not be a problem.

 

7. Smiley Sobotka (Dale Romans, Brody’s Cause – Dance Thewayyouare, by Mineshaft)

Not sure yet how he stacks up against stablemate Sittin’ On Go, who outworked him on Jan. 16, but he did beat him fairly soundly in his game second-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes coming off a maiden score and making his two-turn debut. I’m also not sure if he was in there to assure a good pace, but he did go to the lead for the first time and just kept going despite constant pressure from two horses on his outside. He actually was headed by both horses at the top of the stretch and battled back to take the lead again. I loved how gutsy he was turning back all challenges and I don’t believe he ever saw the victorious Keepmeinmind on his far outside. His maiden victory at Keeneland was very impressive, and I love his professionalism and the way he moves with his head low and neck extended. Despite a series of left-handed whips in his maiden win he never moved off his path the length of the stretch. And he ran just as straight down the lane in the Kentucky Jockey Club. I don’t believe he wants to be on the lead and I would imagine we’ll see him take back off the pace again. He has plenty of stamina top and bottom, and his fourth dam, Sabin, was a top-class grass filly who won 12 graded stakes and placed in the Alabama.

 

8. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)

This colt may have the best stamina breeding of any 3-year-old and he has already been a mile and an eighth twice. In his debut, he ran a strong second to the highly promising Highly Motivated going 6 1/2 furlongs and then stretched out to nine furlongs and outgamed Greatest Honour in a furious stretch dual, in which they finished 21 lengths ahead of the third horse. In the Remsen, although he was third, beaten nine lengths, he gets a pass, as it looked as if he detested the slop, having to be whipped three times down the backstretch. He still was trying in the stretch and never quit. He has one of the great European stamina lines. His maternal great-grandsire Darshaan won the French Derby and was a champion sire and broodmare sire in three countries: Darshaan’s sire Shirley Heights won the English Derby and Irish Derby and was a top-class stallion, siring a French Derby winner and English Derby winner in back-to-back years; and Shirley Heights’ sire Mill Reef was one of the greatest racehorses and sires of all time, winning the English Derby, Arc de Triomphe, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and numerous other Group 1 races, and siring eight classic winners and a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner.

 

9. Prime Factor (Todd Pletcher, Quality Road – Haylie Brae, by Bernardini)

I normally would never rank a maiden winner with one career start, but I’m getting bolder in my old age and this colt not only was super impressive in his debut, he did everything like a seasoned pro. He broke perfectly straight and rated kindly off the leader while just flicking his ears back and forth through testing fractions of :22 1/5 and :45 1/5 like it was nothing. At no point was he put to pressure, just coasting to the lead nearing the head of the stretch, still flicking his ears around. After switching leads on cue, Irad Ortiz gave him a couple of short crosses and he was gone, running straight as a proverbial arrow down the stretch, his legs perfectly aligned. And he was eased the last sixteenth, winning by nearly nine lengths with his ears pricked. This was as perfect a debut as you could ask for. His sire was brilliant and could carry his speed and his dam is by Bernardini, out of a full-sister to Canadian Triple Crown winner and Hall of Famer Dance Smartly and a half-sister to Smart Strike, sire of classic winners Curlin and Lookin At Lucky. He is coming off a pair of sharp five-furlong works and his next start against winners will tell us if he’s just a flashy maiden winner or a leading Derby contender.

 

10. Capo Kane (Harold Wyner, Street Sense – Twirl Me, by Hard Spun)

For every Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher there has to be a Todd Fincher and a Harold Wyner to assure some semblance of balance and give hope to the “little guy.” Wyner, who showed he knows how to develop a good young horse with his early work last year with Ny Traffic, now has a chance to take one all the way. Capo Kane has been in the auction ring four times, selling for $35,000 and then $75,000 as a yearling. He RNA’d for $87,000 as a 2-year-old before taking a major nosedive at the Timonium sale, selling for a paltry $26,000. Training at Parx, he was sent off at odds of nearly 7-1 in the one-mile Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, despite coming off an impressive romp in a mile and 70-yard maiden race. In the Jerome he went right to the lead from the rail and just kept pouring it on, winning by 6 1/2 lengths. What I love about this horse is his ability to repulse challenges while still on cruise control and then bound away from his rivals despite being green with a tendency to wander in the stretch. He is a very efficient mover with an effortless stride and is light on his feet. By a Kentucky Derby winner, his female family is loaded with European stamina with two English Derby winners and an Arc de Triomphe winner, and his third dam, French-bred Tuzla, earned $1.3 million, most of it in the United States.

 

11. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)

Because a precedent has been set regarding first-out maiden winners and to keep things lively on here rather than list only the obvious horses, I am including another maiden winner who really caught the eye. After chasing Life is Good in his debut he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles facing two more promising Baffert colts. He settled near the back of the pack, but always in sight of the leaders. When asked for his run on the turn he demonstrated an excellent turn of foot and quickly reached contention nearing the top of the stretch while going five-wide. He charged to the lead leaving the eighth pole and quickly drew off with a final sixteenth in :06 1/5 to win by almost four lengths, running perfectly straight down the stretch, and was a dozen lengths clear on the gallop-out. His Thoro-Graph number jumped from a “13” to a “6.” If you’re looking for a pedigree loaded with class, The Phippses bred his first four dams, his second and third dams were Grade 1 winners, his fourth dam was a Grade 2 winner and the dam of three Grade 1 winners, and his fifth dam, Lady Pitt, won the CCA Oaks, Mother Goose, and Delaware Handicap.

 

12. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

I don’t know how far this colt can carry his speed, but he is extremely fast and we know he can carry it a flat mile. There is no reason why he shouldn’t win Friday’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, so we’ll keep him ranked for now and see how he fares. He has shown he can rattle off :44 and change and :45 and change half-miles and keep going, but can he rate when he goes two turns? His breeding says he should, so Friday’s race could be a good spot to teach him to harness some of that speed if he is to be considered a Derby horse. What I liked most about his nine-length maiden romp last time out was the way he hugged the rail every step of the way, cut the corner sharply, and was never touched with the whip. That to me showed how athletic he is. And his jump from a pair of “9 1/2″ Thoro-Graph numbers to a “4 1/4″ was a good step forward. If he shows all the right signs in the Smarty Jones he likely will move up several places.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

It’s tough separating the first three finishers of the Lecomte, as MIDNIGHT BOURBON, PROXY, and MANDALOUN ran 1-2-3 the whole way around, so we’re going give that race a week to sink in and go more in depth next week. All three at this point look to be legitimate Derby contenders, but still are knocking on the door. Two other visually impressive maiden winners we’re watching closely are AMOUNT, who looks to have all the tools and certainly the pedigree, but needs to improve off his “9 1/2″ Thoro-Graph number, and PRATE, another Into Mischief who looked great visually but has some distance questions. The horse he beat handily, BLAMEWORTHY, came back and broke his maiden in game fashion Saturday. First-out winner WOLFIE’S DYNAGHOST, a beautifully bred half-brother to Sadler’s Joy, hasn’t worked since Nov. 14. Also WIPE THE SLATE was an impressive winner coming off his second to Life is Good, but with his questionable female family I need to see him go two turns. The same goes for first-out winner DEFEATER. Finally, the improving WEYBURN is working lights out at Belmont and bears watching when he stretches out to two turns.

Some of the more accomplished horses right on the edge of the Rankings who will be discussed in detail in the next couple of weeks are the immensely talented JACKIE’S WARRIOR, who has to show he wasn’t exposed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a need-the-lead type of horse; BC Juvenile runner-up HOT ROD CHARLIE, who is a half-brother to a Sprint champion and the great-grandson of a Sprint champion; SPIELBERG, who no doubt is a talented horse and worked a strong six furlongs Saturday, but not sure where he ranks in the Baffert barn; MUTASAABEQ, who beat a questionable field in workmanlike fashion in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes and may be a better grass horse; the John Shirreffs-trained RED FLAG and PARNELLI, both of whom I was very high on before their most recent disappointing performances; SITTIN ON GO, who has regressed speed-wise since his impressive Iroquois Stakes score, but deserves one more shot, especially with the way he’s been working; BROOKLYN STRONG, who hasn’t worked since his Remsen Stakes victory; ROMBAUER, who is classy and has a good closing kick, but needs to show a quicker turn of foot in the stretch; Nyquist Stakes winner HIGHLY MOTIVATED, who had his first work back on Saturday and if he can handle two turns, watch out; and we’re still waiting for major stakes horses REINVESTMENT RISK, DR. SCHIVEL, and GET HER NUMBER to return to the work tab, as well as the highly promising maiden winner SPEAKER’S CORNER.

Shug McGaughey has stopped on Remsen and Nashua runner-up TEN FOR TEN, and the horse who beat him in the Nashua, PICKIN TIME, ran poorly in his two subsequent starts. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner FIRE AT WILL is bred for turf but has begun breezing on dirt at Gulfstream and is expected to try the Derby trail.

So far, the claim of the year goes to RIGHTANDJUST, who was claimed for $50,000 in a race he won wire to wire by 5 1/2 lengths and then came back Saturday to wire his field again in a competitive 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Fair Grounds at 22-1. And how about this: his sire Awesome Again and broodmare sire Tiznow have three Breeders’ Cup Classic wins between them. One horse who has me stumped is Saturday’s Pasco Stakes winner NOVA RAGS. There is a lot about him I love, but I still haven’t decided if he’s better sprinting. More on him next week.

Derby Rankings Handicapping & Analysis – “Law and Order…Finally”

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020


This column marks the end of the wildest, wackiest, and most perplexing Triple Crown trail ever. Hopefully, next year we will return to a sense of normality. I want to take this time to thank all those who made the transition from Derby Dozen and Hangin’ With Haskin to
Secretariat.com and have continued to provide their comments, opinions and in depth analysis. And I want to welcome all the Secretariat fans and followers and newcomers who have joined us in this new endeavor. We will see you again in January, when we will begin what we hope will be the beginning of the traditional Derby Trail. In the meantime, please stick around for the weekly Askin’ Haskin columns, where we will continue to talk racing, both past and present, and provide more behind the scenes back stories of racing’s greats.~ Steve Haskin

Look, it doesn’t take a genius or even a novice handicapper to realize that, from the standpoint of talent, pedigree, accomplishments, and running style, there is a wide chasm that separates Tiz the Law and Honor A. P. from the rest of the horses. And there very well may be a wide chasm that separates Tiz the Law from Honor A. P. Some might put Authentic close up there as well with Art Collector dropping out, but as I have been saying, he still has to show that his pedigree and running style can get the job done. No one is doubting his talent, and his chances definitely improve now that the classy and versatile Art Collector is no longer around to possibly look him in the eye early on.

So, where does that leave you when it comes to betting on this year’s Labor Day weekend Derby, especially when so many handicapping tools are not at your disposal as in past years? Remember, we are now dealing with far more mature and experienced Derby horses, yet so many are coming off long layoffs we have no way of assessing them.

Even the overwhelming favorite, Tiz the Law, will be attempting something that has never been attempted before – winning the Derby coming off a mile and a quarter race. Will that hurt him or help him or have no affect on him at all? Unlike with your typical Derby, Tiz the Law will looking for a peak effort after having remained in peak form for seven months, with Barclay Tagg doing an excellent job spacing his races and keeping him fresh. But can he keep it going and deliver yet another bravura performance, his first being back in February in the Holy Bull Stakes? I have always referred to him as “The Machine,” and now we will see if new threats like Honor A. P., Authentic, Ny Traffic, and King Guillermo can turn him off or at least slow him down. So far, no one has been able to do either.

And then there is Honor A. P., who had his schedule disrupted early in the year, yet still would have been a leading contender for the Derby after his impressive score in the Santa Anita Derby. Now, after being cloistered away in California since then, with not many opportunities to race, he will be going into the Derby off a defeat in the non-graded mile and a sixteenth Shared Belief Stakes, which will be his only start in 13 weeks. Hardly the way trainer John Shirreffs mapped it out. But his last three works indicate he is sharp, fit, and ready to fire his best shot. Forget the Shared Belief. He was nowhere near fully cranked for that race and he made a big premature move on the first turn that I believe cost him the race. With his humongous stride, the last thing you want to do is make two moves with him. Breaking from post 16, he better break sharply and stay well clear of traffic.

With all that said, both these horses seem to tower over the others, many of whom have numerous question marks themselves. And there is an excellent chance that Tiz the Law towers over them all. His fastest Brisnet and Beyer speed figures are much faster than anything else in the race and he is the only horse who has run three negative Thoro-graph figures. So not only is he fast, he is consistently fast. And he was in a common gallop the last sixteenth of a mile in the Travers and was still drawing away.

So if you’re a big fan of Tiz the Law, who I have had ranked No. 1 for 17 straight weeks, and feel he can’t lose, you don’t want to bet him straight at odds-on, so pick three or four bombs and play them underneath or back end them on the trifecta and superfecta if you want to put Honor A. P. second.

And now we come to the post position draw, which, of course, turned out as wacky as the rest of the year with the three favorites, Honor A.P., Tiz the Law, and Authentic, drawing posts 16, 17, and 18, respectively. And remember what happened to Authentic when he broke from the outside post in the Santa Anita Derby and ducked out badly at the break. If he does that in the Derby he is cooked. As it is he will have to break very sharply and gun for the lead, as he has not shown he can win from off the pace. He has to do all that and not take too much out of himself, which means he is going to have get very lucky and have everything break perfectly for him. Fortunately, he has John Velazquez on his back, and there is no one I would rather have more under these circumstances.

Tiz the Law, who could wind up as the shortest-priced Derby favorite ever or certainly close to it, drew post 17, the only post that has never produced a Kentucky Derby winner. I don’t see this post hurting him one bit and he should get a good outside stalking position. And how about Finnick the Fierce of all horses drawing the rail? He has 17 horses outside him and is blind in his right eye. To further demonstrate what a screwball race this is, 12 of the 18 starters are listed at 30-1 or higher on the morning line.

I believe, Storm the Court, breaking from post 4 with three closers inside him, will be the first to strike the front before Authentic comes charging up from the far outside along with Ny Traffic. A fresh and sharp King Guillermo and Thousand Words will also be right up there with Tiz the Law and Honor A. P. tracking them on the outside.

With Art Collector out, watch out for King Guillermo and Ny Traffic to become the two wise guy horses, which means horses who will take a great deal of money in the wagering and get bet way down from their 20-1 morning line odds. They also will benefit from Art Collector’s absence from a strategy standpoint, as they can now sit right off the pace without having to contend with him occupying the same space. And both horses drew well with King Guillermo breaking from post 6 and Ny Traffic from post 15, where he can show his customary early speed and try to keep at least two of the three favorites parked outside him going into the first turn. Ny Traffic is the one who could be the proverbial thorn in Authentic’s side, because of his stalking style and the fact that he never goes away. He is like the terrier who grabs your pant leg and doesn’t let go. Like Authentic, it’s just a question of how far his pedigree will carry him, but he is always running hard at the wire, and having Dr. Fager in his sire’s pedigree twice doesn’t hurt when it comes to carrying your speed. I just fear he is going to be overbet.

THE LONGSHOTS

I know none of the longshots can match the top choices in ability, and on paper should not beat them. But one thing I have learned about the Derby is that longshots have won on occasion and finished in the money on numerous occasions. Very few thought anyone could beat Bellamy Road, Afleet Alex, and Bandini, all spectacular winners of their final prep, in 2005, but somehow 50-1 shot Giacomo managed to run by them all.

That probably won’t happen this year, but in a field this large you never know. Trying to pick out longshots, with so many who look similar and are fairly slow on speed ratings, is not easy, so I am going to make it simple. I am sticking with the horses I have been high on all year and who have been prominent in previous columns.

With that said, the horse who ranks way at the top of that list is SOLE VOLANTE, who was ranked in the top six 16 times, and as high as No. 2 six times. I am not crazy about his lack of racing and not having run a meaningful race since June 10, but here is what I wrote about him on Feb. 11 when he made his debut at No. 2:

“The reason he debuts so high on the rankings is because this is what a Derby horse is supposed to look like. He has a devastating closing kick on dirt and grass, in the Sam F. Davis Stakes he blew right on by an undefeated dual stakes winner and one of the leading Derby contenders and won going away with his ears pricked, with a gap of 11 1/4 lengths to Remsen runner-up Ajaaweed in third. To show what a spectacular move he made, he ran his third quarter in an eye-catching :23.26, according to Trakus, making up 13 lengths, then just kept going, coming home the final sixteenth in :06 flat. What makes his story so great is that you had to go through 3,493 yearlings at the Keeneland September sale to get him for a paltry $6,000. He was pinhooked at the OBS April 2-year-old sale and went for only $20,000 to Biancone.”

He has run back-to-back 108 Brisnet late pace figures, which at the time was the fastest late pace figure by a 3-year-old, and I trust Patrick Biancone to put a lot of bottom in him with those two-minute licks on grass, his pair of mile works on grass, and a blazing five-furlong work in :57 4/5, also on grass. I feel he will appreciate going back to the dirt and Churchill Downs dirt has always been conducive to grass horses. Of all the closers, he has the quickest turn of foot and can get into the race in a flash, and I know he will relish every inch of the mile and a quarter.

The longshot who is starting to really intrigue me is ATTACHMENT RATE, who was ranked in the top 12 four times and was taken off mainly because he refused to change leads and was grossly underachieving. But there was always something about him I liked, including his pedigree, and I was very impressed with his maiden victory. Then came the Ellis Park Derby and it was like watching a totally different horse, who had suddenly come into his own, doing everything the right way, and wound up finishing a strong second Art Collector, with his Thoro-Graph number jumping from “4s” and “5s” to a “1/2,” which puts him right in the mix. This is now the horse I thought he’d be and why I catapulted him all the way up to No. 4. And remember, his trainer Dale Romans has already finished third in the Derby with a two longshot grass horses. Normally one to talk his horses up, he appears to be sneaking in this time holding his cards close to the vest. In short, I just feel this new, improved Attachment Rate could be sitting on a big race, especially with the turn of foot he displayed in the Ellis Park Derby and how strongly he galloped out past the wire. And wouldn’t this be a good time for the Derby gods to take over, with Romans having been born a just a few miles from Churchill Downs and in the same barn since he was a kid working for his father.

The final longshot with whom I have had a history this year is MAJOR FED, who I admit does not have the speed figures to compete with the top horses and is another who is coming into the Derby off a long layoff, but I feel he is going to love the mile and a quarter and has proven versatile enough to run well from mid-pack or from far back. But with a pair of fast bullet works at Churchill Downs recently and drawing post 5, I expect to see him closer to the pace, racing in mid-pack. But he needs to break cleanly.

Here is what I wrote about him on his in the March 24 Derby Dozen, one of his seven times ranked in the top 12: “I am looking for a horse who has the turn of foot, the pedigree, and the class to launch a bid from mid-pack. A bad start in the Louisiana Derby, in which he had his head turned at the break, cost him all position, but he still closed from 14th to finish fourth after being forced eight-wide turning for home. What I loved was the explosive move he made after being taken off the rail on the far turn, losing so much ground and shrugging off two solid bumps from Shake Some Action and then Enforceable in the stretch. The reason he couldn’t get closer than 4 3/4 lengths was because Wells Bayou was loose on an easy lead in :48 and 1:12.42 and came home his final three-sixteenths in a rapid :18.86. In his two races at two turns, Major Fed was two to three lengths off the lead and now he found himself a dozen lengths back in 14th and last. So this was a promising effort and he will be a lot more formidable when allowed to run his race, especially at 1 1/4 miles. He has a pedigree inundated with European staying power, he will run all day, and his last two races indicate there is a great deal of improvement still to come.”

So these are the three longshots I was originally going to be focusing on, considering the impression they made on me earlier in the year, with the hope they can move up and utilize their strengths going a mile and a quarter.

And then came the monkey wrench thrown into the mix at the last minute. I am referring to SOUTH BEND, who has a powerful late kick and whose pedigree has always had me drooling. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why he was not being considered for the Derby, as I have always felt he was a Derby horse, despite his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Travers Stakes, in which he was beaten over nine lengths, and according to Bill Mott had no excuses. He sure looked like Derby material when he won the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last year. But after a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over a deep sloppy track, he went to the grass for six races, racing well on occasion but never winning. Finally he was returned to the dirt and was flying at the end of the Ohio Derby, finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length. Then came the Travers, and if you’re willing to forgive that effort, even though he still finished on the board, then he could be an enticing prospect trying a mile and a quarter for the second time. Yes, his broodmare sire, Old Trieste, was a speedball, but you won’t find a stronger pedigree. In his first four generations he has seven different classic winners (Bernardini, A.P. Indy, St. Jovite, Seattle Slew, Avatar, Pleasant Colony, and Majestic Prince), two of them twice. So of the 15 sires in his first four generations, nine of them were classic winners. And if you go to his fifth generation, you can add Secretariat twice, Spectacular Bid, and Nashua. So now I have to throw another longshot in there.

Although I likely will have no room for him unless I really stretch my bets, I will mention ENFORCEABLE, only because he has been the horse all along I was predicting could be the typical Derby longshot who rallies for second at a big price. But you can only play so many, and I have had closer ties to those mentioned above. But I know I’m going to pressure myself to add him to the exotics right before the race when I see his monster odds, which always costs me more money and adds to my losses. I could be successful if I only knew how to bet. So, let’s include him as one of the longshots, but a lesser one along with South Bend. Because of my previous comments I have to at least bet a Tiz the Law — Enforceable exacta.

I am going to mention one more horse, who, as I said earlier, likely will be lower odds than his 20-1 morning line, and about whom I am totally perplexed. I have no idea what I am going to do with him and probably will wait until race day to see what his odds are. That horse is KING GUILLERMO, who is attempting the unthinkable, which is coming into the Kentucky Derby off a four-month layoff. Normally, I would toss him, but I am a big fan of Venezuelan horsemen and there is that nagging feeling that his trainer Juan Avila might just be able to pull this off, as unlikely as it sounds. But the main reason I moved him up to No. 5 on my Derby Rankings this week is because I believe this horse is exceptionally gifted, he has that proverbial look of eagles, and his victory in the Tampa Bay Derby was too impressive to ignore.

He has already shown he can run huge (Tampa Bay Derby) off little racing, and as I wrote on my Derby Rankings, his :58 1/5 work at Churchill Downs last week may have been the best Derby work I have seen since Smarty Jones in 2004. Also, in his all-important tail-female family you will find Irish Derby winner El Gran Senor, who was beaten a nose in the English Derby, and Stage Door Johnny, winner of the Belmont Stakes and one of my favorite classic and stamina influences. I just don’t want a horse with his talent and sheer brilliance to beat me, so I likely will play him to win if his odds are enticing enough or throw him into a few exotics with the favorites. It’s just too soon to commit to anything with him.

So, as of this writing (and it could change on race day) I will be making win bets on longshots Sole Volante, Attachment Rate, and Major Fed, and lesser bets on Enforceable and South Bend, and will play them underneath Tiz the Law and Honor A.P. in the exactas and trifectas, and possibly underneath King Guillermo as well if he continues to look great in the morning. Check my Facebook page for any late changes and how I am keying the horses.

One thing I have to mention, if you are looking for the one horse who is as fast as Tiz the Law on Thoro-Graph it is Ny Traffic. So, excluding the longshots, he is the one horse at a half decent price who possibly could beat the three favorites on his best effort

So, the one bet I know I am making is a $1 trifecta box with Tiz the Law, Attachment Rate, Sole Volante, Major Fed, and Enforceable, as well as Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Attachment Rate, Sole Volante, and Major Fed.

Last year, I had a big win bet on Country House and had him underneath Maximum Security in the exactas, so I was in good shape either way. I can’t imagine getting that lucky again, but it’s fun trying.

RED IN THE PED

With this column appearing on Secretariat.com, we must pay homage to our founding father by devoting some space to his influence on this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Of the 18 entrants, 13 have Secretariat in their pedigree, including the top three choices – Tiz the Law, Honor A. P., and Authentic. It would have been the top four choices had Art Collector not been withdrawn. Of course, 12 come from Secretariat’s Tremendous Trio — daughters Weekend Surprise, Terlingua, and Secrettame, with the other coming from his daughter Sister Dot, the dam of Dehere.

Weekend Surprise has been one of the most powerful female influences in the sport through her prolific son A.P. Indy, while Terlingua is pretty close through her son Storm Cat. And right behind those two is Secrettame through her son Gone West.

Here are the Derby entrants who trace to Secretariat at least once – Tiz the Law (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy), Ny Traffic (Sister Dot—Dehere), Sole Volante (Terlingua—Storm Cat), Enforceable (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy), Necker Island (Secrettame—Gone West), Money Moves (Secrettame—Gone West), Mr. Big News (Terlingua—Storm Cat).

Those with a double dose of Big Red include Honor A. P. (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Authentic (Secrettame—Gone West and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Max Player (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), Finnick the Fierce (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy and Terlingua—Storm Cat), and South Bend (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy twice).

As for all the Meadow Stable fans, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Storm the Court has both Secretariat (Weekend Surprise—A.P. Indy) and Riva Ridge, his Kentucky Derby winning barnmate in his fourth generation.

Derby Rankings – Aug. 31, 2020

Monday, August 31st, 2020

I hope you enjoy reading my final 2020 Derby Rankings below. Later this week, I will be posting a bonus column handicapping analysis of the race they call the Labor Day Kentucky Derby. It doesn’t matter much this year whether you follow my analysis and overall betting selections or your pet parrot’s if he can read the past performances on the bottom of his cage and tell you who he likes. But at least you’ll have more fun losing with mine. And who knows, maybe we all will stumble upon the winner and cash some nice exotics tickets.

When we started Derby Dozen on that other website back in January, no one ever heard of Covid-19 and Corona was just a beer. It seems as if Tiz the Law has been ranked No. 1 for like eight months…Oh, wait, he has. But is he worth a bet as the big favorite? Is Art Collector and Honor A.P. his equal? Can anyone knock off all three of them? Who are the longshots who can fill the exotics and make you some money? That’s what we hope to discover in our September 2nd Derby Handicapping and Analysis column right here on Secretariat.com. ~ Steve Haskin

1—TIZ THE LAW (Barclay Tagg, Constitution – Tizfiz, by Tiznow)
The big question with him is whether everything can continue to go perfect for him. No one has adjusted better to the crazy changes on the road to the Derby than Barclay Tagg, and he and his horse have flourished since back in February when everything was still right with the world. Tiz the Law would have been a solid Derby favorite on the first Saturday in May, as he will be on the first Saturday in September. That says a great deal about horse and trainer. His five-furlong work in :59 2/5 at Saratoga was a thing of beauty, as he came home his last quarter in :23 4/5 and then galloped out very strongly in 1:12 4/5, pulling up seven furlongs in a powerful 1:26, which is faster than most horses work. You would think he’d have just a maintenance drill as his final prep, but he came back with another bullet work in :59 1/5, which to this horse is a maintenance drill, although it was a bit faster than expected. You couldn’t see much of it in the dark, but you had to love the way he hugged the rail on both turns and how easily he did it, and how strongly he galloped out six furlongs. As I keep saying, he is a machine; you turn on the switch and he goes…all the time. Speed-wise, although his Thoro-Graph figures are only a bit faster than the other leading contenders, he is the only horse to run three negative numbers and his 115 Brisnet figure in the Travers towers over the other horses. The only flaws he has shown in the past were a tendency to drift out and to cock his head to the right, but so far they have not affected his performance or his dominance. However, if you’re looking for a reason to bet on someone else, he hasn’t been running against anything even close to Art Collector and Honor A. P.

2—ART COLLECTOR (Tom Drury, Bernardini – Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor) OUT OF RACE
He turned in his final Derby work breezing five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 and was never asked to run. He hugged the rail beautifully turning for home and down the stretch with the rider never moving his hands. He did switch over to left lead at the sixteenth pole, but again hugged the rail on the gallop-out and continued strongly with his head still down into the bit. It sounds strange to say a Derby horse’s reputation was boosted by a filly, but after what he did to Swiss Skydiver in the Blue Grass Stakes, and what Swiss Skydiver did to her opponents in the subsequent Alabama Stakes, there is no doubting that Art Collector defeated a very serious horse at Keeneland whose 109 Brisnet speed figure in the Alabama is faster than any Derby horse has run other than Tiz the Law. In fact, there haven’t been many opponents tougher on the Derby trail than this brilliant filly, who has won major stakes all over the country. If Art Collector has any advantage over Tiz the Law and Honor A. P., it is that the Derby is being run over his home track, where he finished first in three consecutive races by an average margin of 5 1/2 lengths. Also, he has proven to be more versatile in that he can beat you from anywhere on the racetrack – on the lead, just off the pace or from midpack. All three of these horses have an exceptionally high cruising speed and never get tired. Unlike Tiz the Law and Honor A. P., Art Collector has taken advantage of the Derby date change and has burst on the scene much later than the other two, rattling off a series of impressive victories.

3—HONOR A. P. (John Shirreffs, Honor Code – Hollywood Story, by Wild Rush)
I admit I had some concerns about him going into the Derby off that effort in the Shared Belief Stakes, mainly whether he got enough out of it, with it being his only race in 13 weeks. But after watching his last three workouts those concerns are gone. Two works back he was so powerful and so smooth, and showed such great extension, I believe it was the best I’ve seen him work and that includes his previous work when he actually worked faster. Although he was credited with a five-furlong work in 1:00 1/5, he actually kept working past the wire with another eighth in :12 flat before galloping out seven furlongs in a sprightly 1:25 2/5 over a track that was not fast by any means. Shirreffs said he has learned to be cautious and not have him work too fast to the wire, but it is after the wire that he is asked for his best, as Shirreffs said, “To see what he’s made of.” Well, we sure saw what he’s made of. He then came back with a solid seven-furlong work in 1:27 starting on the clubhouse turn. This was a good foundation-building work with Smith keeping him three wide turning for home and nudging him along in the stretch, but this time he didn’t ask for much after the wire. Shirreffs said Honor A. P. is “very unique in that he hardly hits the ground. He has beautiful action and just floats over the track. He can rattle off :12 eighths and make it look effortless.” Shirreffs also is not concerned about the layoffs because the colt ran big in the San Felipe off a long layoff. So, with these three big works in him I am putting him right up there with the top two and am expecting a huge effort in the Derby. What makes Honor A. P. so special to Shirreffs and his wife Dottie is that his dam was Shirreffs’ first winner after they were married. As Dottie said, “It was a great way to start our honeymoon and marriage.”

4—ATTACHMENT RATE (Dale Romans, Hard Spun – Aristra, by Afleet Alex)
Obviously this ranking is outrageously high and I can’t take issue with anyone who thinks I’m out of my mind, but I like that Romans is keeping a lower profile than usual, as if he knows he has a live horse and wants to come in under the radar. I just liked his wake-up performance in the Ellis Park Derby and how much he has improved and what a huge turnaround he’s made. He certainly held his own against Art Collector, while finishing more than five lengths ahead of the third horse. Romans feels he has really matured over the summer after being a little behind earlier in the year, and we saw that when he demonstrated a huge turn of foot at Ellis Park that he had never shown before and when he changed leads on cue, something he had problems with all year. And add to that, you had to love how strongly he galloped out. In his final five-furlong breeze in 1:01 1/5, he did everything the right way, and when the rider asked him approaching the wire he really took off, showing that quick acceleration again, going a strong eighth of a mile past the wire before galloping out a long way. He is showing all indications of a horse ready to run a peak effort in the Derby. Now, whether that is good enough to be competitive with the big three is another matter. But when a horse runs five consecutive Thoro-Graph numbers ranging from “4” to “5” and then makes a gigantic leap to a “1/2,” you have to feel he is a changed horse and is sitting on big effort.

5—KING GUILLERMO (Juan Avila, Uncle Mo – Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band)
To win the Kentucky Derby off a four-month layoff is unfathomable. So, why in the world did I move him up? Because this is a crazy year where you can throw all the rules out and I believe this is a very gifted horse who turned in what I would call the quintessential Derby work, going five furlongs in :58 1/5 like it was nothing. He wanted to go galloping to the pole, throwing his around and pulling hard while under a tight hold. When the rider finally let him go he literally leaped in the air and quickly settled into a smooth fluid stride with the rider still pulling back on the reins and feet in the dashboard. Turning for home King Guillermo cut the corner beautifully, inches from the rail, showing off his athleticism, which I love to see. Down the stretch, the rider never moved his hands, allowing him to do everything on his own while on a loose rein. He then galloped out a long way. This work was reminiscent of Smarty Jones’ :58 1/5 work at Churchill, which I have always considered the best Derby work I have ever seen. This ranks right up there with that. Avila then wisely slowed him down considerably in his final work, which was somewhere between a work and an open gallop. I have tremendous respect for Venezuelan trainers, who I consider to be superior horsemen. This horse has an absolutely gorgeous head and carries himself with a great deal of class, and his Tampa Bay Derby victory was one of the most impressive Derby preps of the year. So I am going to throw out the history books and all logic and will consider him a very serious contender.

6—SOLE VOLANTE (Patrick Biancone, Karakontie – Light Blow, by Kingmambo)
Yes, I know, another totally bizarre and illogical ranking, but after the top three why not look for something wild, as none of these appear to be in the same class as the favorites. Not having run since the Belmont Stakes and performing so poorly in that race, it makes it difficult to profile him, especially with his unconventional training and not having run a meaningful race since June 10. And Biancone has said flat out that he is a turf horse who can run well on dirt. I still have confidence in him that he will run well, but you also have to take into consideration his jockey, Luca Panici, has no experience in races on this big a stage. With that said, I still can’t get his Sam F. Davis victory, his second in the Tampa Bay Derby, and his allowance score against a stakes quality field out of my head. And as I have always said, I love his quick-footed action, his European-like turn of foot, and his stamina-laden female family that has a European flair, but with plenty of classic American blood throughout his pedigree. And Biancone has proven on several occasions he can accomplish big things without going by the book, as he has done by working this horse on the grass, including two mile works. And if you’re still going gaga over Shirl’s Speight’s :57 work on the grass, what about his recent five-furlong work in :57 4/5. Biancone has been building this horse’s stamina and fitness with strong two-minute licks. The Belmont was a complete throw-out race, and it’s just a question if he is sharp enough to turn in that big move on the far turn. If he is within two or three lengths of the leaders turning for home he does have a powerful closing kick, and as Biancone says, if the pace is contentious enough and they go between :45 and :46 and change, then he might have a shot to run them down. From a physical standpoint, looking at photos of him in the spring and now, he has, as Biancone says, gone from a teenager to a grown man. That is what you want to see when you run the Kentucky Derby in September.

7—AUTHENTIC (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Flawless, by Mr. Greeley)
Based on accomplishments and natural ability, I admit he should be ranked higher, but I just can’t envision a scenario where he can win the Derby on the front end with Tiz the Law, Art Collector, Honor A. P., King Guillermo, Ny Traffic and others within striking distance the whole way, especially with his pedigree that seems more geared to a mile to a mile and eighth. And he still has not shown he can win coming from off the pace. I will say, however, I liked his mile work in 1:38 3/5, in which he was flicking his ears back and forth down the backstretch and was just gliding down the stretch with those big gazelle-like strides. It wasn’t until he hit the wire that he was really asked to run. He cut the corner beautifully and was pushed along all the way down the backstretch in what was an excellent stamina workout. He followed that up with a sharp six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5, in which looked ever better, flicking his ears back and forth and again was striding out smoothly. He was taken four-wide turning for home to prevent him from working too fast and was being pushed along to the wire. He hugged the rail on the gallop-out and was flying around the turn. So there is no doubt Baffert has built a solid foundation under him since the Haskell. Baffert feels he has turned the corner since his nose victory at Monmouth and all I can say is that you can never dismiss the white-haired wonder, and this colt has a ton of ability. But there are just several others ranked ahead of him that I find more fascinating at a huge price, something he will not be as the likely fourth choice. We’ll just have to see how far he can take them and whether he will make me look foolish for doubting his ability to wire the field going a mile and a quarter or win it from off the pace.

8—NY TRAFFIC (Saffie Joseph Jr., Cross Traffic – Mamie Reilly, by Graeme Hall)
While I have great admiration for this horse for his consistency and competitiveness, and feel he will make his presence felt in the Derby, I haven’t ranked him higher for two reasons. First, he has the same running style as the three top choices, and I have always found if you’re trying to beat a heavy favorite, as well as the strong second and third choices, find a horse who has a different running style, either one who will be ignored on the lead and possibly steal the race or a closer who can take advantage of a contentious pace and possibly pick up the pieces. I just can’t see Ny Traffic eyeballing Tiz the Law, Art Collector, and Honor A. P, and putting all three away. And second, he has a pedigree more geared to a mile, with the ability to stretch it out to a mile and an eighth. But I don’t regard him as a horse who you know will relish a mile and a quarter. I also believe the Haskell was more of a case of Authentic coming back to him than him suddenly accelerating in the final 70 yards. But if you are looking for a reason to bet him, his last-out negative-3/4 Thoro-Graph figure is as fast any horse in the Derby, his 107 Brisnet figure in the Haskell was a significant jump from his previous races, and he definitely will make you work for everything you get. That makes him a serious exotics play. He showed his sharpness working five furlongs in :59 2/5 in company at Saratoga. He will give you a thrill a long way into the race.

9—THOUSAND WORDS (Bob Baffert, Pioneerof the Nile – Pomeroy’s Pistol, by Pomeroy)
There was a time earlier, back in early December to be exact, when Baffert felt Thousand Words was his next star and Derby horse, and commented that he moves and has a stride like Arrogate and never gets tired. Of course, things have changed a bit since then and he drifted off the Derby path, but seems to be finding his old self, knocking off Honor A. P. in the Shared Belief Stakes, winning wire to wire. I’m just not sure if he’s fast enough (on Thoro-Graph) to compete with the top horses and would have to improve a good three to four points, but he at least is heading in the right direction. In his five-furlong work in 1:00 flat in company with Cezanne, he sat three-quarters of a length behind his workmate, went wide turning home, and in typical fashion got up to finish a neck in front at the wire. He was ridden out strongly past the wire and had to cut to the inside to avoid two horses in front of him and was kept to his task a long way. He then came back with a similar work in :59 4/5, second fastest of 44 works at the distance. He is another horse who likes to run on or close to the pace and will be put to a test right from the start.

10—MAJOR FED (Greg Foley, Ghostzapper – Bobby’s Babe, by Smart Strike)
He is another coming into the Derby off a long layoff, which I am not crazy about, but once again you have to throw out the book this year. And he will be a monster price. He needs to make a significant jump on his speed ratings, but he has always shown ability and can rally from far back or sit in midpack. It’s a tall task, obviously expecting him to win, but I believe he has shown enough in top-class races to be competitive enough to possibly pick up some of the pieces, especially since his pedigree says he should relish the mile and a quarter. And if you’re looking for a horse who has been thriving at Churchill Downs, do not discount his bullet half-mile work in :46 4/5 and especially his most recent work, a five-furlong drill in a bullet :59 flat, fastest of 36 works at the distance, in which he came home his final eighth in :12 flat and galloped out a strong six furlongs in 1:12. Jimmy Graham popped him on the shoulder a little past the wire and he galloped out very strongly and cooled out quickly afterward. His connections feel they are bringing a happy horse over there and it’s just a matter of him getting a good position in midpack and keeping himself in striking position. I like the fact he has had seven works at Churchill Downs and has really taken to the track.

11—MAX PLAYER (Steve Asmussen, Honor Code – Fools in Love, by Not For Love)
He is now in the barn of Steve Asmussen and showed his sharpness by working five furlongs in :59 3/5. Breaking four lengths behind his workmate, he was being pushed along to get his neck in front at the finish and kept going strongly past the wire. He has run three straight Thoro-Graph figures of “3 1/2,” so he hasn’t improved on that front and would have to jump several points to be competitive in the Derby, and like a number of others would need a fast pace to make any kind of impact. But this will be his third start off a layoff, and that is often when a horse will run his best race. So, all in all, he has shown he has ability and can close, but whether he is fast enough to run with the others is another question. All these closers in the field look pretty much alike and it will be a question of who gets the best trip.

12—ENFORCEABLE (Mark Casse, Tapit – Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
I still feel he is a sneaky one who can snatch a piece of it if he gets a contentious pace. He has had several wide trips and slow starts, but always seems to run strongly in the final eighth even though he hasn’t threatened the winners since his impressive score in the LeComte Stakes. I liked his six-furlong work in 1:12 1/5 in company even though you could only see the stretch run in the dark and fog. But he was striding out beautifully to wire, pulling away from his workmate with little urging. He came back with a half-mile work in :49 3/5, wearing blinkers and front bandages, and did it with enthusiasm. He is going to be a huge price and might be worth putting on the back end of the exotics. It looks like the big three and who can close faster than the others to get in the picture. And he is always coming in the stretch and should appreciate the mile and a quarter.

13—STORM THE COURT (Peter Eurton, Court Vision – My Tejana Storm, by Tejano Run)
The main thing he has going for him is the grass to dirt angle, hoping that this and his five-furlong work in :59 flat are enough to wake him up. Although he couldn’t match strides with the winner in the La Jolla, his first start on grass, I did like the way he was striding out strongly in the stretch. His main problem has been that he doesn’t seem to have an identity, meaning he doesn’t have any particular strengths and he has been pretty much one-paced in his races this year. In his one shining moment last year he took advantage of a paceless Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was able to score a dogged wire-to-wire victory. In his :59 work, he was asked a long way out, cut the corner nicely and was pushed along in the stretch. He went wide on the gallop-out but kept going. As I said, by asking him throughout the work, perhaps it was to wake him up and keep him sharp. Then as a late stamina builder he worked a sharp six furlongs in 1:12 4/5. You don’t often see horses working that far a week before the Derby unless you’re John Shirreffs. Good move by Eurton.

14—FINNICK THE FIERCE (Rey Hernandez, Dialed In – Southern Classic, by Southern Image)
He gets the final sport because he is only one of two horses to finish in front of Tiz the Law, and he did it at Churchill Downs in the grade 1 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and subsequently managed a third in the tougher division of the Arkansas Derby this year. So, although he has been up and down, we do know he is capable of putting in a big effort against the top horses. And he has thrown in some good allowance efforts for good measure. But he will have to rebound off a well-beaten seventh-place finish in the Blue Grass, in which he made brief move before tiring in the stretch. He has a good deal of stamina in his pedigree, so the distance will not be a problem.

15—WINNING IMPRESSION (Dallas Stewart, Paynter – Unbridled Sonya, by Unbridled’s Song)
Although he is not coming into the race with good form, having been well beaten in his last two starts, I did like his five-furlong work in :59 1/5. He was all business and really stretching out with fluid strides around the turn. He was nudged along down the stretch and finished well before galloping out strongly. Watch for him to take a lot of place money based on Stewart’s record of sneaking in late-closing longshots to finish second in classic races. This horse was showing excellent progress and finished a decent fourth in a division of the Arkansas Derby, but was banged around at the start of the of the Indiana Derby and lost a ton of ground in the Ellis Park Derby, finishing seventh in both races. He does have a good closing kick and we’ll have to see if he can bounce back with a good trip this time. Definitely watch out for him on a sloppy track, on which he is two-for-two, especially with Unbridled’s Song as his broodmare sire.

16—NECKER ISLAND (Chris Hartman, Hard Spun – Jenney’s Rocket, by Mr. Greeley)
Third in the Ellis Park Derby, he has been knocking off sharp half-mile works at Churchill Downs, including three sub :48 works, so Hartman obviously is keeping him sharp and not focusing much on stamina. In his last work, he came home his final quarter in a swift :23 2/5. He has already run seven times at a mile or farther, so he has plenty of foundation, and his back-to-back third-place finishes in the Indiana Derby and Ellis Derby were solid enough efforts. But he would really need to make a huge leap on his speed figures just to be competitive.

17—MONEY MOVES (Todd Pletcher, Candy Ride – Citizen Advocate, by Proud Citizen)
He is the last to join the show, and he’ll have to settle for the bottom spot, even though I believe he is going to be a top horse down the road. He just doesn’t look ready to tackle this assignment with only three career starts, no stakes appearances, and losing his two-turn debut as the 2-1 favorite. But he does have the pedigree to go long and I had him ranked in the Top 5 of new faces to watch a few months ago. He actually looked to be headed to the Pat Day Mile before his late detour to the Derby. After two workmanlike victories in a maiden and allowance race, he was beaten going a mile and an eighth in another allowance, losing by a neck. He did work a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 flat at Saratoga, and Pletcher said it’s once in a lifetime opportunity for “these guys” to take a shot with a horse who is training well, and he does get Javier Castellano, who just lost his mount on Caracaro. But also take notice that Pletcher will not be there to saddle him.

18—MR. BIG NEWS (Bret Callhoun, Giant’s Causeway – Unappeasable, by Galileo) LATE ADDITION
A last-minute entry, he certainly belongs as much as some of the other longshots, especially with his closing punch, as inconsistent as it may be, and a classic pedigree that will enable him to get the mile and a quarter for fun. His big moment came when he won the listed Oaklawn Stakes with a big wide rally at odds of 46-1. You can excuse his poor performance in the subsequent Blue Grass Stakes, in which he didn’t have the smoothest of trips and finished a well-beaten 10th at 34-1. He had been headed for the grass, with his grass-oriented pedigree, but with the expected rain in Kentucky this week, there is a good chance the course will be on the soft side, so why not take a chance and hope to pick up a piece of it in the Derby.

19—SOUTH BEND (Bill Mott, Algorithms – Sandra’s Rose, by Old Trieste) LATE ADDITION
Although this horse was entered at the last minute, I have always felt he was a Derby horse, despite his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Travers Stakes, in which he was beaten over nine lengths. He sure looked like Derby material when he won the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last year. But after a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over a deep sloppy track, he went to the grass for six races, racing well on occasion but never winning, Finally he was returned to the dirt and was flying at the end of the Ohio Derby, finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length. Then came the Travers, and if you’re willing to forgive that effort, even though he finished on the board, then he could be an enticing prospect trying a mile and a quarter for the second time. Yes, his broodmare sire, Old Trieste, was a speedball, but you won’t find a stronger pedigree. In his first four generations he has seven classic winners, two of them twice. So of the 15 sires in his first four generations, 9 of them were classic winners. And how about Bill Mott winning the Derby outright this year with another bomb? This horse is not really ranked No. 18. He is just here because of his extremely late entry.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Obviously, there is no one left to knock, and besides, the door has been wide open for quite a while for anyone to mosey on through. So we now have only 17 left who are willing to enter the cavernous halls of Churchill Downs and compete for the roses in dead silence. Yes, it will be eerie, and there will be no cheers for the winner resounding from the grandstand and infield, which will look like an empty cow pasture without the mass of humanity gathered there. But the race is still called the Kentucky Derby and trophy still is the same, and there is still a space in the history books reserved for the winner.

But what if Churchill Downs had left the Derby where it was and not used their own private crystal ball to foresee the future and force NYRA and the Maryland Jockey Club to have to scramble in order to find a spot for their classics? We would have had a normal Triple Crown and no mile and an eighth Belmont Stakes kicking off the Triple Crown and a Preakness left dangling out there in October when the world is already thinking Breeders’ Cup.

So, let’s assume the Derby was run on the first Saturday in May in front of the same size crowd they are going to get on the first Saturday in September. Here is what that field might have looked like:

Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Nadal, Charlatan, Maxfield, Authentic, King Guillermo, Sole Volante, Ete Indien, Gouverneur Morris, Modernist, Major Fed, Wells Bayou, Attachment Rate, Storm the Court, Rushie, Anneau d’Or, Enforceable, Ny traffic, and Silver Prospector.

So, that’s 10 horses who have survived the extra months and 10 who did not. Imagine a Derby with Tiz the Law, Honor A.P., Nadal, Maxfield, Charlatan, and Authentic heading the list. And King Guillermo would have been a hotter commodity coming off his huge win in the Tampa Bay Derby.

We still have some star-quality horses on the top end, but it drops off quite a bit after the first half-dozen. But hope for the longshots lies in the fact that we have so many horses taking unconventional routes and long layoffs to get here, and even the big favorite will have to win back-to-back mile and a quarter races, and no horse has ever won the Derby off a mile and a quarter race.

This is what is left, and if everything falls into place we at least should have a big-time showdown among the best horse in New York, the best horse in Kentucky, and the best horse in California.

So sit back, relax in your favorite chair and enjoy the strangest Derby show ever.

Derby Rankings – Aug. 14, 2020

Friday, August 14th, 2020

 

Welcome once again to “Steve Haskin’s Derby Doz”…oops, I mean “Derby Rankings.” Whatever the name it is still the same quest as always — ferreting out that elusive Kentucky Derby winner. After 22 years, the one thing we have learned is that it is the journey that is often more fun and more stimulating than reaching your destination, because for most, the destination ends in disappointment and second-guessing. So, every year we search for that diamond in the rough and hope it ends, not only in financial gain, but bragging rights for an entire year.

This will be the next-to-last general overview of who is left on the Derby trail. In two weeks, we will post our final Derby Rankings installment, followed by a bonus column going over betting strategy and who is coming into the big race sitting on a peak performance. For these horses, it has been an arduous and seemingly interminable eight-month journey in which only the strong survive. Tiz the Law of the jungle…! ~ Steve Haskin

 

1—TIZ THE LAW (Barclay Tagg, Constitution – Tizfiz, by Tiznow)
Not only is “The Machine” still operating at full power, it looks as if the longer you run it the more power it generates. The reason he’s been ranked No. 1 for so long is that he has no flaws and has an amazingly high cruising speed, which made him even more deadly cruising through a :48 1/5 half in the Travers and then knocking off :24 quarters the rest of the way. You knew he was going to win at the five-eighths pole, he was so much in control of the race; that’s why he is so special . Everyone who has ever been around him from the day he was born has marveled at his intelligence and how quickly he learns things. He is all muscle and sinew, and if you want to know why he’s so tough and never takes a step backward, just look at his family tree. His broodmare sire, Tiznow, was as rugged and tenacious as they come and is having a resurgence as a sire and broodmare sire at age 23. His maternal great-grandsire, Go For Gin, is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner at age 29. Go For Gin’s sire, Cormorant, lived until the age of 33. And Cormorant’s broodmare sire, Stage Door Johnny, was the oldest living Belmont Stakes winner until his death at age 31. Constitution’s broodmare sire, Distorted Humor, is still going strong at age 27 and his sire, Forty Niner, died recently at the remarkable age of 35. This is one tough, durable family. Watching Tiz the Law crush the Travers field by 5 1/2 lengths, becoming only the sixth horse in 156 years to break 2:01, while winning under wraps with his ears pricked, you just have to wonder who is going to beat this horse on Sept. 5. This no doubt is a horse on the verge of superstardom.

2—ART COLLECTOR (Tom Drury, Bernardini – Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor)
Well, it looks like we’ve got ourselves quite a Derby showdown. And it certainly isn’t your typical showdown. Barclay Tagg vs. Tom Drury and Manny Franco vs. Brian Hernandez Jr. You gotta love it. Like Tiz the Law, this horse does nothing wrong and knows how to take control of a race, but unlike Tiz the Law he has proven he can beat you on the lead, just off the pace, or coming from seven or eight lengths back, and he is more professional in the stretch, always keeping a perfectly straight course. Drury didn’t have him cranked for his best effort, and when he took Hernandez to the lead and set solid fractions like it was nothing, you knew no one was going to catch him, especially when you saw how he was on cruise control approaching the head of the stretch. And also like Tiz the Law, he was never really asked and won pretty much under wraps with his ears pricked. He has now finished first in five straight races and just keeps getting better. So it’s on to Churchill – the New York hero vs. the pride of Kentucky. It is hard to imagine at this point someone other than these two taking the roses. But they still have to run the race. Art Collector’s pedigree is so strong I will have to wait until the next Derby Rankings to do it justice. Let’s just say it is inundated with class and stamina everywhere you look. And we already know this horse has the class.

3 – HONOR A. P. (John Shirreffs, Honor Code – Hollywood Story, by Wild Rush)
Although I have my concerns following his defeat in the Shared Belief Stakes, he still probably is one of the few horses that can actually win the Derby if he is really as talented as previously advertised and John Shirreffs is able to work his magic on him, getting him ready to face up to 19 horses coming off only one 1 1/16-mile race in 13 weeks and stretching out three-sixteenths of a mile. Yes, the distance was short for him and he obviously wasn’t fully cranked, but I felt even an 80% Honor A. P. should have run over his three opponents, two of whom were totally overmatched. But he didn’t show any acceleration after switching leads. And let’s not forget he barely beat a 34-1 shot for second. But the biggest concern is whether he got enough out the race to propel him to the Derby off this one start. But there is one aspect of the race you can use to defend him. Racing in fourth going into the first turn, Mike Smith pulled the trigger early and sent him up to challenge Thousand Words for the lead with a bold early move entering the backstretch. Then he was put in neutral until the far turn, where he was pushed along to close in on the leaders. I believe this horse, with his big stride, is compromised when you have to make two moves with him, and while he looked like a sure winner turning for home, he was not able to sustain that second run. Although his speed ratings regressed, he did run a solid “1 1/2″ Thoro-Graph figure, which is something he can definitely build on, having already run a “zero” the race before.

4—CARACARO (Gustavo Delgado, Uncle Mo – Peace Time, by War Front)
I have to admit, as I have written before, I have a personal attachment to this horse going back to January, having recommended him to a prominent owner who was looking to purchase a potential Derby horse outright. Unfortunately, nothing ever materialized and he disappeared off the radar screen for six months. Now he has come back in full force with two huge runner-up performances in the Peter Pan and Travers, and we are only seeing the tip of iceberg with this colt, who is still lightly raced and is only going to get better as he gains experience with each race. To run the race he did in the Peter Pan off such a long layoff was a testament to his class and raw ability and the training skills of Delgado. Then to come back only three weeks later and finish a clear-cut second to the Derby favorite, while stalking the pace the whole way, bodes well for his ability to bounce back quickly after a hard race. What was most impressive was that it looked turning for home like the late-running Max Player was in perfect position to go right on by him, but he just kept going and finished two lengths ahead of him. Now, to come back in four weeks with another mile and a quarter race in a huge field, his third distance following a long layoff, is asking a lot of him. I don’t think he’s quite ready to beat Tiz the Law and Art Collector, but I do expect him to run another big race and certainly make his presence felt.

5—ATTACHMENT RATE (Dale Romans, Hard Spun – Aristra, by Afleet Alex)
Boy, have I been waiting for this all year. This colt has already been in my Top 12 several times this year, but he kept underachieving, mainly because he refused to change leads. I wrote four months ago: I know the talent is there. If he can accomplish what he’s done in his last three starts without changing leads then there definitely is something to work with.” But then he had rough trips in the Matt Winn and Blue Grass Stakes. He still ran decent enough races, but basically faded from the Derby picture…until now. His second-place finish to Art Collector in the Ellis Park Derby put him right back into contention for a number of reasons. Breaking from post 10, he got hung five-wide into the first turn, raced wide throughout, and when Joe Talamo asked him passing the three-eighths pole his rapid-fire acceleration was something I hadn’t seen before. In a flash he was right up there with the leaders and looked like a serious threat. Although he was no match for Art Collector, losing by 3 1/4 lengths, he finally changed leads smoothly and drew clear from the others, finishing 5 1/4 lengths ahead of the third horse, and then galloped out very strongly, passing the winner going into the clubhouse turn. This was a big step forward, as indicated by his huge Thoro-Graph jump from a “5” to a “1/2,” and with his classy pedigree, this new and improved version of Attachment Rate looks ready take on all comers over his home track on Sept. 5.

6—SOLE VOLANTE (Patrick Biancone, Karakontie – Light Blow, by Kingmambo)
I am well aware I am being extremely stubborn ranking this horse so high, coming off a dismal effort in the Belmont Stakes and training up to the Derby off an 11-week layoff. But I have been on his bandwagon since early February and have had him ranked as high as No. 2 on several occasions. First off, the Belmont was a throw out race, as he came back too soon (nine days) after his previous start and exited the race with a back problem. This is the year to throw out conventional handicapping when it comes to the Derby, and no one has been more successful doing the unconventional than Patrick Biancone. I have always loved this horse’s European-like turn of foot and his stamina-laden European pedigree, and I just love the way he moves, more like a greyhound than the typical American horse. After watching Tiz the Law’s bravura performance in the Travers, Biancone was having thoughts about passing the Derby. But when he watched Art Collector’s huge effort in the Ellis Park Derby, he became more confident, feeling both these extraordinary colts, with their similar running styles, could eyeball each other and force a half in :46, especially with Authentic right up there, and that is all Biancone is looking for. This horse gets fit fast with all his rapid two-minute licks, and I loved his mile workout on the grass this week, finishing with his ears up and galloping out strong. Biancone said he wasn’t blowing at all afterward. I know this is a good horse, so let’s see how he continues to train.

7—NY TRAFFIC (Saffie Joseph Jr., Cross Traffic – Mamie Reilly, by Graeme Hall)
This horse doesn’t win very often and has never won a stakes, but he has placed in four straight graded stakes, and he just doesn’t know the word quit. He is one-paced and is always up around the leaders, but he never backs up and is always running strongly at the end. You may beat him, but he’s not going to make it easy for you. He came within one stride of nailing Authentic in the Haskell Invitational and earned a rare negative Thoro-Graph figure (negative 3/4), which was a significant jump from his pair of “2 3/4″ figures. I don’t know if he can win the Derby, but count on him being right there at the eighth pole.

8—AUTHENTIC (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Flawless, by Mr. Greeley)
There is no doubting his brilliance and raw ability, but carrying his speed a mile and a quarter with his pedigree and his need-the-lead style is another matter. He likes to be in control on an uncontested lead, and even then he nearly gave away the Haskell after opening a clear lead at the eighth pole. His only defeat was the only time he faced adversity and had to fight with two other horses for the lead. His speed figures are excellent, but he will need a lot more than that if he’s going to have any shot to win the Derby with Tiz the Law and Art Collector breathing down his neck the whole way.

9—KING GUILLERMO (Juan Avila, Uncle Mo – Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band)
This is the biggest enigma of them all. I loved his last two races and everything about him. He has a beautiful head and a long smooth stride, is extremely professional, and most important, he has a world of ability. I can overlook an eight or even 11-week layoff in this crazy year, but a four-month layoff is something so far from the realm of the Kentucky Derby, I can’t even begin to compute it. I will never use the word never in 2020, and it must be noted he is working lights out in Florida, but can we bet on a horse with any confidence coming off that long a layoff? Talent-wise, he is right up there in with the top three. But I still need to see if this can be done. And if he shows it can, then kudos to him and especially to Avila..

10—THOUSAND WORDS (Bob Baffert, Pioneerof the Nile – Pomeroy’s Pistol, by Pomeroy)
I have to admit I have no idea who this horse is or how good he is. Is he Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? He certainly has shown both sides to him. I do not see him winning the Derby. Then again, I thought he was done nearing the top of the stretch in the Shared Belief Stakes when he had to be whipped on the turn. But he kept pounding away and went on to score one of his narrow, ho hum victories, beating Honor A. P. And to make things even more complicated, he earned a lofty 104 Beyer figure, which I will never understand, but earned only a mediocre “3 1/4” Thoro-Graph figure, far slower than the runner-up. In short, I am ranking the horse with three victories and a second in stakes and not the horse with two awful performances in the San Felipe and Oaklawn Stakes.

11—DR POST (Todd Pletcher, Quality Road – Mary Delaney, by Hennessy)
I’m not sure if he wants to go a mile and a quarter, but he does have enough credentials to be taken seriously, most notably his solid second to Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes, even though that race was run around one turn. He was never a threat to Authentic and Ny Traffic in the Haskell, but his third-place finish was probably better than it looked, as that race did not suit him at all, with the first two running 1-2 the whole way around on a speed-favoring track and he couldn’t get any closer than 4 1/2 lengths. But he did pair up his “2” Thoro-Graph figure from the Belmont and that still puts him in the hunt with a move forward.

12—MAX PLAYER (Steve Asmussen, Honor Code – Fools in Love, by Not for Love)
He ran okay in the Travers, but I was expecting him to take a bigger move forward from the Belmont Stakes, in which he was coming off a long layoff. Although he was widest of all turning for home, I thought he was moving well enough to get second, but he really had no kick in the stretch, finding his best stride in the final yards when it was way too late. The :48 1/5 half was too slow him, but Caracaro, racing two lengths in front of him, left him five lengths behind in a flash on the turn, and it just took him too long to finally kick in. He could move forward in the Derby, but he has a lot of ground to make up. It was odd, however, that he would be taken away from Linda Rice after finishing third in the Belmont and Travers to the big Derby favorite.

13—ENFORCEABLE (Mark Casse, Tapit – Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
I leave you with these names to ponder – Country House, 2nd at 65-1 (placed first); Lookin at Lee, 2nd at 33-1; Commanding Curve, 2nd at 37-1; Golden Soul, 2nd at 34-1; Bluegrass Cat, 2nd at 30-1; Closing Argument, 2nd at 71-1; and Invisible Ink, 2nd at 55-1. If you haven’t guessed where I’m coming from, this horse fits that bill. Yes, he’s coming into the Derby off an eight-week layoff, but he has so much foundation, having run in eight two-turn races, six of them graded stakes, he could benefit from coming into the race fresh. One thing you can count on, he will be closing in the stretch, and if he gets the pace he needs he could add his name to those above.

14—MAJOR FED (Greg Foley, Ghostzapper – Bobby’s Babe, by Smart Strike)
This is another horse I’ve been touting since his maiden victory in January and have had him in the Top 12 on numerous occasions. His second-place finishes in the Risen Star Stakes and Indiana Derby and his fast-closing fourth in the Louisiana Derby were all top efforts. I thought the Ellis Park Derby would be a good spot to prep for the Kentucky Derby, as he needed to improve on his Thoro-Graph numbers, and it would have been interesting to see how close he could have gotten to Art Collector. But it was decided to train him up to the Derby off an eight-week layoff. That may work out or it may not, I just don’t know. He doesn’t have the foundation of Enforceable, but I know he has the talent. And we also know he’s sharp judging by his half-mile work in :46 4/5.

15—PNEUMATIC (Steve Asmussen, Uncle Mo – Teardrop, by Tapit)
He was ranked No. 1 on my early list of new faces back in April, and he’s run well enough since, finishing third in the Matt Winn and fourth in the Belmont Stakes. I still believe he has a bright future, but I can’t rank him any higher until he runs in the August 15 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth to pick up enough to assure he gets into the Derby field. Check back in the final Derby rankings after we see how he runs at Monmouth.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Well, there aren’t many others around to knock. There is still RUSHIE, third in the Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, who skipped the Shared Belief Stakes. I’m not totally sure what his Derby status is at this time, as he is still not nominated, but, like so many others, he would have to train up to the race off an eight-week layoff. He was beaten more than eight lengths in the Blue Grass, so he also might have benefited from another race. His future might be a bit more down the road, but we’ll see how he works in the upcoming weeks and whether he’s headed to Louisville before making a final evaluation.

One fascinating horse is 2-year-old champion STORM THE COURT, who has not really moved forward at 3, but I did like his effort in the 1 1/16-mile La Jolla on grass. Although he was no threat to the winner, I did think he was running strongly in the stretch. No decision has been made yet, but the grass to dirt angle is always interesting, and he does want more distance. I was actually surprised when he earned an excellent “1” on Thoro-Graph in the Ohio Derby, his last start on dirt, although the winner and runner-up did not run well in their next starts.

As a historian, I can only relay historical trends with a bit of skepticism, because the First Saturday in May bears no resemblance to the first Saturday in September, as Derby horses are more advanced physically and mentally and have more foundation and racing experience. So, we are all venturing into unknown territory.

Please note: For newcomers reading the Derby Rankings, you will often see references to the Thoro-Graph figures, which are the figures I follow, as well as an occasional reference to the Beyer, Equibase, and Brisnet figures, which are based purely on speed. The Thoro-Graph figures, which are more difficult to obtain unless you are a subscriber, are based not only on speed, but other factors, especially ground loss, which is extremely important in determining just how fast a horse really runs. Trainers, owners, and bloodstock agents swear by the Thoro-Graph figures, as well as the Ragozin figures, which are fairly similar. To make it as simple as possible, the lower the figure the faster the performance, but it is analyzing the trends of these figures that is most important. Any figure close to zero indicates a very fast and top-class horse. Any figure below zero, referred to as a negative figure, is exceptional. If you read the term “bounce,” it refers to a horse that ran so much faster than he had previously run, there is a good chance he will regress (or bounce) off that effort if he comes back too quickly. Ideally, you want to see a horse make steady progress so that he will run his peak figure on Derby Day. If anyone has any questions about speed figures, feel free to email me at Sehaskin@aol.com.