Derby Rankings: Week 1

Welcome to the 2022 Derby Rankings. There is a lot to calculate, with a new twist thrown in regarding the Bob Baffert-trained horses, as you will read. There also are some new guidelines, which you’ll also read about in Knocking on the Door. We’ve started off with a Sweet Sixteen, and that will fluctuate between 12 and 15 from now on depending on the week’s activities and how many horses step up and earn a ranking. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Jan. 17, 2022 – Week 1

By Steve Haskin


1—Smile Happy (Ken McPeek, Run Happy – Pleasant Smile, by Pleasant Tap)

There is very little separating him from stablemate Rattle N Roll. He gets the top spot because he’s about four works ahead of him and he has been flawless, checking off every box. Yes, I know he’s by Run Happy, a pure sprinter who has not sired any classic type horses so far, but Run Happy actually is bred for distance and Smile Happy’s female family is one of the strongest classic and distance families I have ever seen. With names like Pleasant Tap, Pleasant Colony, full-brothers His Majesty and Graustark, inbreeding to Ribot and the great producer Flower Bowl, Stage Door Johnny, Relaunch, In Reality, and Bravura, the fifth dam of Empire Maker and Funny Cide, you’re not going to find more classic breeding in any female family. But what puts Smile Happy on top is purely visual. He settles beautifully, can take the rail route or get caught four-wide on the far turn. He displayed the most explosive turn of foot in his 1 1/16-mile maiden win I saw all year, as he slingshot himself between horses in what track announcer Kurt Becker called “a breathtaking move.” He changes leads perfectly, he carries his legs under him perfectly and is extremely light on his feet and runs perfectly straight down the stretch. This is the consummate pro. Finally, he ran a strong “7 ¼” Thoro-Graph number in his debut and then catapulted to a “2” in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, which was 2 ½ points faster than the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’s been working with stablemate Tiz the Bomb and the pair went a half in :46 1/5 on Saturday, faster than McPeek wanted. He is pointing both to the Holy Bull Stakes February 5.


2—Zandon (Chad Brown, Upstart – Memories Prevail, by Creative Cause)

Chad Brown rarely will stretch a horse out from a single six-furlong maiden race to a Grade 2 stakes at 1 1/8 miles. But when Zandon missed the Nashua Stakes he was forced to give it a shot and Zandon ran an amazing race in defeat, stamping himself as something special. Many, myself included, felt he should have been put up after being bumped several times and crowded into the rail by the nose winner Mo Donegal, who was more experienced, having run twice and won going 1 1/16 miles. But it was the way he fought back after being passed, despite the long stretch out, and the near 10-length gap to the third horse that is important in terms of the Derby. His “4 ½” Thoro-Graph figure was 1 ½ points faster than the winner. He was the subject of one of my Derby sleeper columns based on his maiden victory, in which he demonstrated push-button acceleration, a flawless stride, and showed the professionalism of a veteran, dealing with kickback and traffic. Brown called him “freaky good” and I’m certainly not going to downplay that comment after seeing what he has accomplished in only two races.


3—Rattle N Roll (Ken McPeek, Connect – Jazz Tune, by Johannesburg)

He has had to overcome being scratched after a horse in McPeek’s Saratoga barn, trained by Jose Abreu, came down with equine herpesvirus, which prevented all horses in that barn from racing for 21 days and training with the other horses. When he finally was able to run he bolted on the turn after moving like a winner. But when he finally put all that behind him he quickly became a serious horse with a ton of ability. In his next start, he ducked out slightly at the start and got creamed by the horse on his outside who came in on him. He then was trapped the entire run down the backstretch and around the turn with no place to go, while being caught behind a very slow pace. After straightening into the stretch there was an opening on the inside he quickly shot through and in a flash was gone. Running straight as the proverbial arrow this time and striding out beautifully with great extension, he drew off to a three-length victory without being touched with the whip and then just kept pouring it on with a monster gallop-out, leaving the others far behind. Jumping into Grade 1 company in the Breeders’ Futurity, he demolished 12 opponents with one of the most explosive moves on the turn seen all year. Once again he surged past everyone in a flash and drew off to win by 4 ¼ lengths. To demonstrate how strong his race was and how much improvement he had shown, his Thoro-Graph figures jumped from a slow “16” to a mediocre “10 ½” to a “3 ½,” which was faster than Jack Christopher, considered the fastest 2-year-old in the country, ran in the Champagne Stakes. He is a bit behind after having to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but is scheduled to work any day now and will tentatively target the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes.


4—Pappacap (Mark Casse, Gun Runner – Pappascat, by Scat Daddy)

He was my Breeders’ Cup Juvenile selection and ran a powerful second to front-running winner Corniche at odds of 15-1. He started his career with impressive victories in a Gulfstream maiden race and the six-furlong Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. You don’t normally see a 2-year-old win his first two starts on both coasts. You can excuse his fourth in the Del Mar Futurity, breaking from the rail, and he was up against it in his back-to-back seconds having to chase a loose on the lead Corniche in the American Pharoah Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His pedigree is geared mainly for longer distances and he should show a new dimension when the pace is more contentious. He is a steady grinder who keeps coming at you and his Thoro-Graph numbers have gotten steadily faster with a solid “4 ¼” in the Juvenile, which was slightly faster than the winner. He also also got a faster number than Corniche in the American Pharoah. He’s been turning in some strong works at Fair Grounds, including a bullet flat for five furlongs in preparation for the January 22 LeComte Stakes.


5—Slow Down Andy (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Edwina E, by Square Eddie)

His upset victory over the heavily favored Messier in the Los Alamitos Futurity was a surprise, especially considering how green he was in the stretch, lugging in and cocking his head out badly, something he’d done before. But when Messier appeared to come back at him he turned him away with no problem, even though he was doing everything wrong. That shows how much talent this horse has. O’Neill worked him five furlongs in blinkers on January 9 and put him with a pretty quick 5-year-old gelding, Strongconstitution, who won a small stakes and placed in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes in 2019. Andy broke several lengths back, collared his workmate in the final furlong and drew clear late, keeping his head perfectly straight and looking much more professional. His time of :59 3/5 was the second fastest of 62 works at the distance. It looks like he will point for the February 19 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. I have to admit to a personal affection for his pedigree. In my first four years as a racing fan my favorite horses were Damascus, Dr. Fager, Arts and Letters, and His Majesty (and still are), and they are all in his pedigree.


6—Mo Donegal (Todd Pletcher, Uncle Mo – Calingmissbrown, by Pulpit)

Although I felt he should have been disqualified in the Remsen, there is no denying he ran a terrific race, rallying wide turning for home and battling gamely in the stretch. And in his previous start, a 1 1/16-mile maiden race, he was relentless in the stretch wearing down the leader in the final sixteenth. But he was so sluggish on the far turn Irad Ortiz wound up hitting him eight times before they turned for home. He was much more responsive in the Remsen as he cruised up behind horses, swung to the outside and put in his strong run in the stretch. Ortiz brought him in to look Zandon in the eye, but in doing so he was too reckless and put Zandon in a precarious and potentially dangerous situation. But the bottom line is that Mo Donegal has improved with every start, has a 1 1/8-mile victory under his belt, and with that much bottom, Pletcher doesn’t have to do much more with him except improve his speed figures. I did like his five-furlong work in a sharp 1:00 2/5 at Palm Beach Downs January 8, so Pletcher does seem to be putting some speed into him.


7—Giant Game (Dale Romans, Giant’s Causeway – Game For More, by More Than Ready)

Romans has a tendency to hype, and sometimes overhype, his horses, but he sure had this colt pegged right when he sent him to California for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile off an impressive 1 1/16-mile maiden victory at Keeneland and he ran huge, finishing a strong third at odds of 21-1. I like when a horse’s pure speed figures and Thoro-Graph figures parallel each other, and his Brisnet figures jumped from the mid-80s to a 99 in the Juvenile, while his Thoro-Graph figures jumped from a 13 ½ and a 10 ½ to a “4 ¾” in the Juvenile. In his maiden victory, he tracked the leader in second, withstood several challenges from behind and drew off with fluid strides. What I liked the most was how powerfully he was striding out at the wire. In the Breeders’ Cup, he settled nicely in sixth, responded with good acceleration on the turn to challenge Corniche from the outside turning for him. He couldn’t match strides with the winner, who had controlled the pace the whole way, and lost second when Pappacap came off the rail and outran him for the place. But like in his maiden score he was running strongly at the wire. You never know how a horse will make the transition from 2 to 3, but his five-furlong work :58 4/5 at Gulfstream and follow-up :59 4/5 suggests we’re going to see a better colt than we saw last year. His future book odds in Vegas range from 60-1 to 70-1, which seem awfully enticing to me.


8—Tiz the Bomb (Ken McPeek, Hit It a Bomb – Tiz the Key, by Tiznow)

Yes, he’s by a turf horse and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner and he has won two stakes on the turf and closed like rocket to get second in the BC Juvenile Turf, almost emulating his sire, but McPeek had him in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and was forced to scratch him due to a minor leg infection. Let’s not forget that he broke his maiden in an off-the-turf race at Ellis Park by 14 lengths and turned in two bullet half-mile works (:46 4/5 and :47 1/5) on the dirt at Keeneland last fall, as well as  sharp five-furlong works in 1:00 flat and 1:00 1/5. He’s been working with Smile Happy and the pair went a half Saturday in a swift :46 1/5. His dam is by Tiznow, his second dam is by A.P. Indy, and his third dam is by Gone West. And his dam is inbred 3 x 4 to Seattle Slew. That is more than enough to suggest he will handle the dirt just fine. He’s been a powerful closer on the turf, but broke his maiden wire to wire and if McPeek, who already has two hot Derby contenders, feels this colt belongs on the Derby trail as well, that’s good enough for me. He’s quoted at 100-1 in the future book, and if McPeek is right about him, and he runs to his works, that could be the steal of the year. We’ll find out when he faces Smile Happy in the Holy Bull Stakes.


9—Commandperformance (Todd Pletcher, Union Rags – Smitten, by Tapit)

I’m taking a chance ranking this colt, not because he’s still a maiden and was a non-threatening fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but because of his uncertainty at this time. He was the subject of my first Derby sleeper column despite having only run second in a maiden race. But I saw enough in that race to convince me this was a future stakes horse. Pletcher, or the owners, obviously felt the same way when they entered him the Grade 1 Champagne even though he had only one start and hadn’t won a race. He ran a huge race putting in a long sustained run to finish second to Jack Christopher. Much was expected in the BC Juvenile and he was sent off at odds of 3-1. He was caught four-wide on the first turn and never put in a run, but still finished a respectable fourth. As it turned out he came out of the race with some minor bone bruising all around. He’s had some R&R and is doing excellent and should be back galloping in the next week or so. What he’s done so far as a maiden has been pretty impressive and the feeling here is if he gets back to top form and stays sound he will be a major factor on the Derby trail. But he better get back galloping soon. If no works show up in the next couple of weeks there will be no recourse but to drop him from the Rankings until he shows up on the work tab.


10—Simplification (Antonio Sano, Not This Time – Simply Confection, by Candy Ride)

All we need from him are two big efforts in a row. He looked like a monster breaking maiden going six furlongs at Gulfsteam, in which he went to the lead from the rail and just blew his field away, winning by almost 17 lengths in 1:09 4/5 despite never changing leads. He came back in a six-furlong allowance optional claimer and was sent off at odds of 6-5 and proceeded to run a disappointing race, battling on the lead and coming up empty in the stretch to finish a tiring third and again not changing leads. Despite that effort, Sano put him in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes and switched from Mario Vasquez to Javier Castellano. Simplification took the lead on his own and despite several horses closing in on him nearing the top of the stretch, Castellano never moved his hands through swift fractions of :45 4/5 and 1:09 4/5. The colt briefly looked like he was content again to stay on his left lead, but Castellano was able to finally get him to switch to his right lead while throwing a cross on him and he quickly opened up on the field, winning by four lengths as Castellano just showed him the whip. He came home his final eighth in :12 2/5 to complete the mile in a sharp 1:35 flat, with his Thor-Graph figure leaping from a “14” to a “2 ½.” Distance won’t be a question as he has plenty of stamina, with his dam being inbred 4 x 4 to the major stamina influence Herbager. They just need to be on bounce alert and take it slow with him.


11—Classic Causeway (Brian Lynch, Giant’s Causeway – Private World, by Thunder Gulch)

He looked like he could be any kind after his career debut at Saratoga when he trounced his field by 6 ½ lengths in a sharp 1:22 3/5 for the seven furlongs. But even though he ran well in his next two stakes appearances he kept running into a McPeek freak. First it was Rattle N Roll in the Breeders’ Futurity, in which he set a lively pace, but tired in the stretch to finish third, beaten 3 ¾ lengths in a 13-horse field. His next start was the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. This time he rated nicely in fourth and cruised up the leaders on the far turn, but Smile Happy was breathing down his neck from the outside. They turned for home on even terms 3-wide and 4-wide, but he was no match for Smile Happy who drew off in the stretch. Classic Causeway never quit and was well clear of the others, but he just didn’t have the closing kick to stay with the winner. By running “5” Thoro-Graph number in his debut and a “5” in the Kentucky Jockey Club he still has plenty of room for improvement. Distance is not a question and he is versatile enough; he just has to show he can match strides with top-class horses in the stretch.


12—Epicenter (Steve Asmussen, Not This Time – Silent Candy, by Candy Ride)

He sure didn’t look like your typical Derby horse in his career debut, but the transformation between that race, when he went to the lead and tired to finish an uninspiring sixth, and his next two races was pretty remarkable. Stretching out from seven furlongs to a mile, he again went to the lead, then lost the lead, then got the lead back through testing fractions of :45 4/5 and 1:10 2/5, and Brian Hernandez was not really asking him. He opened up in the stretch and was hand-ridden in the final furlong, winning by 3 ½ lengths in 1:36 1/5. He shipped to Fair Grounds and on December 26 he demolished his opponents in the 1 1/16 Gun Runner Stakes. Again, he kept alternating for the lead without being urged on at all. He established a clear lead after turning for home and when Tejano Twist tried to make a run at him, he shifted into another and in a flash he was five lengths in front and then pretty much coasted home to win by 6 ½ lengths, and then turned in a monster gallop-out while still hugging the rail. I loved how once he drifted just slightly to get close to the rail, he stayed right on his path and didn’t move off it even galloping out. His steady Thoro-Graph progression of “14 ½” to “8 ½” to “5 ½” is just what you want to see, with no fear of a bounce. I’d like to see him take back a bit off the pace and I think we’ll see that next time.


13—God of Love (Mark Casse, Cupid – No Wonder, by Three Wonders)

He’s never run on dirt, never run in the United States, and his pedigree certainly is nothing to get excited about. So why is he ranked? Because he has shown a monster closing kick on the Tapeta surface and grass at Woodbine, winning the Grey Stakes and Cup and Saucer Stakes and likely will be the Canadian 2-year-old champion. His fast-closing fifth in the Cup and Saucer Stakes was much more impressive than it looked on paper, as he had to check four times. The last and worst at the five-sixteenths pole stopped him dead in his tacks, but he still came flying in the stretch, closing from 11th and the eighth pole to finish fifth. He is an appealing looking son of Cupid with two white stockings in front and a funky blaze, and if he can close on dirt the way he does on synthetic and grass then he should be an exciting addition to the Derby trail. In the Grey Stakes he got  huge “4 ½” Thoro-Graph figure, faster than stablemate Pappacap got in the BC Juvenile, and he did work five furlongs on dirt at Palm Meadows in 1:00 2/5, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Gulfstream is not conducive to his style of running, so he will ship to Aqueduct for the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes on February 5. We won’t know for sure how he’ll take to the dirt until he does it, but this just looks like a really good colt, and I believe he will be equally as effective on dirt as he was on synthetic and grass.


14—Chasing Time (Steve Asmussen, Not This Time – Race Hunter, by Dixie Union)

I love when a young horse never deviates off his path, carries his legs under him perfectly, is never touched or pushed in the stretch, is light on his feet, and wins in hand with the rider looking back while drawing well clear of the field. Chasing Time didn’t beat much in his 7 ¾-length romp in a one-mile allowance races at Oaklawn, but he did everything right visually, mentally, and mechanically. And he did it in a short stretch coming home his last quarter in a solid :24 4/5. In his previous start, in which he was second by six lengths, he was dropping back from seven furlongs to six furlongs and simply ran into a very fast horse in In Dreams and couldn’t keep up with him through fractions of :21 4/5 and :45 2/5 and a final time of 1:09 3/5.  Before that he broke his maiden going seven furlongs and did it by having to bull his way out of a precarious situation, hanging a right to avoid running up on a horse’s heels in the upper stretch and then literally shoving another horse out of his way. He is a classy-looking, near-black colt who has plenty of stamina and looks ready to step up against better company.


15—Oviatt Class (Keith Desormeaux, Bernardini – Occasionally, by Tiznow)

One of these days, this colt is going to get a good pace setup and we’ll see just how good he is. The talent is there, the breeding certainly is there, and he has a strong closing kick that will win him a number of big races during the year. But in his three stakes appearance he’s been beaten by a Baffert horse each time, and he looks to be pace dependent, needing larger fields and a more contentious pace. He will run all day, but I just would like to see more versatility and for him to be right there at the finish when running closer to the pace, as he did in the recent Sham Stakes. But he really had no choice in a five-horse field, and was up against it with a :48 4/5 half, and Baffert horses don’t get beat setting a :48 4/5 half. He actually ran well to be third, beaten 2 ¾ by the Baffert pair. As the Derby trail progresses and he can find a race scenario that fits his late running style I believe he will start working his way up the Rankings. All I know is that with the right setup there isn’t a 3-year-old in California who can outclose him.


16—Trafalgar (Al Stall, Jr., Lord Nelson – Southern Drifter, by Dixie Union)

What intrigues me about this colt is the diversity of his running style. In his first start going seven furlongs at Saratoga, he broke slowly from the disadvantageous rail, was hustled up to fifth and turned in a steady rally to finish second to a very good horse in Classic Causeway in a sharp 1:22 3/5. Stretching out to a mile at Churchill Downs and switching from John Velazquez to Joe Rosario, he fell way back to ninth, 10 lengths behind sizzling fractions of :44 4/5 and 1:09 flat. Although he looked hopefully beaten swinging five-wide turning for home, he turned in a powerful stretch run to win going away by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:35 3/5. He was sent to Fair Grounds for a 1 1/16-mile allowance race for his two-turn debut. This time under Colby Hernandez, he sat right off the leader’s flank and stalked him through moderate fractions of :24 4/5 and :49 3/5. He wrested command after turning for home and began to draw clear. Hernandez may have thought he had it won after taking a peek at the horse he had just passed and seemed to let up just a little. Just then he looked to his outside and saw Naval Aviator charging up alongside him, actually sticking his head in front. Hernandez went to a left-handed whip to bring Trafalgar out to look him in the eye. Once he did, Trafalgar dug in and gamely battled back, winning by a head with a gap of five lengths back to the third horse. This horse is versatile ad can beat you in different ways.



BAFFERT BULLETIN – In an unprecedented move, Churchill Downs has banned Bob Baffert for two years and refused to offer points to any of his horses, while excluding all his horses from the Derby Future Wager. Therefore, not knowing the status of his horses and who will be training them, and many of those horses already losing out on Derby points, I am excluding his horses from the Rankings until some decision is made regarding Baffert’s Derby caliber horses and they officially can be considered on the Derby trail and earning points. Baffert is suing Churchill Downs over their ban, but that looks to be a longshot. We will be following his 3-year-olds each week in Knocking on the Door and keeping up with their training and racing and offering our observations and pedigree notes. Once a decision has been made as to the future of these horses and we know they officially are on the Derby trail and accumulating points, and who is training them, there is a good chance several will leap onto the Rankings. Although CORNICHE is the big horse, the more likely Derby horses appear to be DOPPELGANGER, MESSIER, and WHARTON, with an eye on NEWGRANGE, ROCKEFELLER, PINEHURST and WINNING MAP, along with several others.  So he is loaded again. We’ll catch up on all these horses next week, as there is a lot to sift through in Week 1.

With the exception of Commandperformance and Rattle N Roll, who should be just about ready to start training, I am also going to exclude horses who have not been working since last fall and their status is up in the air. Unfortunately for New York racing that applies to last year’s impressive Hopeful and Champagne winners GUNITE and JACK CHRISTOPHER, both of whom appear to be longshots to make the Derby. But another New York horse HIGH OAK, winner of the Saratoga Special, who hasn’t raced since that race, is back working at Payson Park, where he is up to a half-mile, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on this talented colt, as I will the runaway Sanford Stakes winner WIT, who looked like one of the most promising 2-year-olds in the country before finishing a well-beaten second in the Hopeful and a well-beaten third in the Champagne. Following the Champagne he had a tie-back procedure to correct an entrapped epiglottis, which no doubt affected his previous two performances. He’s back in training and reportedly doing great, so we’ll see if he can return to the form that saw him win his first two starts by a total of 14 lengths.

And finally, I am going to remove the temptation at this late date to rank horses who have only broken their maidens, as we have seen too many who look like world beaters knocking off fellow maidens, but often they don’t duplicate that form once they face winners. That leaves me with having to exclude EMMANUEL, who was one of the most impressive winners I saw last year. It looked like he was going to take the next step by crushing an allowance field at Tampa Bay last weekend, but he had to be scratched because of a fever. So leaving him off does not reflect what I think of him. I can see him vaulting way up the list when he does return. He’s that good. Remember, the Derby winner can just as easily be found in Knocking on the Door this early in the year, and this is a live horse who was visually impressive first time out.

Another horse who I see making the list shortly is the impressive maiden winner SIR LONDON, who has been tearing up the track at Santa Anita in the morning with back-to-back bullet works. His Thoro-Graph numbers have been slow, but he looks to have a bright future. He’s just about ready to show it.

We did have a couple of recent stakes worth mentioning. As if Kenny McPeek isn’t loaded enough with top 3-year-olds, he sent out the undefeated DASH ATTACK to score an impressive come from behind victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. A few minor issues at 2 delayed his debut, and he also was immature and had to be sent to the farm a few times. But he established a good solid work pattern and is now on the Derby trail. By Munnings, there is a question how far he wants to go, although his dam did break her maiden going 1 1/8 miles on the turf for McPeek. At Aqueduct, COURVOISIER ran a solid race in the slop to take the one-mile Jerome Stakes. By Tapit, out of Take Charge Brandi, you certainly can’t question his pedigree. These were both good efforts, but obviously we need to see more before considering them major players.

Last weekend was a good one for Mark Casse, who already has Pappacap heading to the LeComte next weekend and God of Love pointing fo the Withers. With Emmanuel scratching out of the Tampa Bay allowance race, he took advantage of his absence by winning the race with the Ghostzapper colt GOLDEN GLIDER, who had to come from far back with a powerful late run to break his maiden in his career debut on Woodbine’s synthetic surface. He was strong in the stretch again in his dirt debut going a mile and 40 yards, winning comfortably by 1 ¾ lengths. The following day at Gulfstream, Casse defeated the promising Pletcher-trained colt CHARGE IT with VOLCANIC, a son of Violence who hadn’t run since a dismal effort in the Hopeful Stakes. But with the addition of blinkers and Lasix he was able to outduel Charge It after a stretch-long battle in 1:36 flat for the mile. Both Golden Glider and Volcanic will head to the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. Casse also has GLIDER, who made an explosive move to easily win a maiden race at Gulfstream over the synthetic surface, and with his breeding, being by Quality Road, out a Lemon Drop Kid mare, the next logical step will be to try him on dirt.

Pletcher did send out an impressive first-time starter in the Distorted Humor colt IRON WORKS, who scored a four-length victory in 1:09 3/5 at Gulfstream. At Tampa Bay the same day, his Union Rags colt IN THE UNION rallied from seventh to win a mile and 40-yard maiden race by a length. Pletcher also sent out a pair of good-looking Quality Road colts, SHINNECOCK HILLS and MACALLAN, to finish noses apart in a seven-furlong maiden race at Tampa Bay. Both colts put in strong stretch runs and look to have a bright future. And he has several others waiting in the wings, including MAJOR GENERAL, who had his first work back this past Friday, DOUBLE THUNDER, and VARATTI. But year after year, Pletcher is a terror in Florida.

Right now it’s too early to separate MAKE IT BIG and OSBOURNE, the one-two finishers of the Springboard Mile at Remington Park. Both ran good solid races, with Osbourne losing a lot of ground on the first turn. I’m not sure what to make of the race in general, but they both ran well enough to keep an eye on. Osbourne has been working at Oaklawn Park and Make it Big is training at Gulfstream. Saffie Joseph, trainer of Make it Big, also has a promising colt in WHITE ABARRIO, who won his first two starts at Gulfstream by 6 ¾ and four lengths before finishing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, beaten six length after being bottled up in traffic in the stretch and closing well once he got clear. Just not quite sure how much farther he’ll stretch out.

Saturday’s Cal Cup Derby was an exciting race with FAST DRAW MUNNINGS outdueling the 3-5 favorite STRAIGHT UP G, but right now neither looks like they want to go classic distances. But we’ll keep an open mind until they go against open company. Third-place finisher FINNEUS, who was closer to the pace than usual, looks more like a Derby horse, having already finished second Pappacap in the Best Pal Stakes and second to Pinehurst in the Del Mar Futurity. And he defeated Slow Down Andy in the Golden State Juvenile Stakes.

Let’s go briefly to Maryland where JOE has emerged as a potential Derby horse with two solid victories in a row, including an impressive score in the seven-furlong Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel, overcoming a very wide trip to win going away. He hasn’t been over a mile, but he’s bred to run all day, being by Declaration of War, out of an Arch mare. He has nice low action, a classy look about him, and he should only get better as he stretches out in distance.

One horse to keep an eye on who has been turning in some strong works at Palm Meadows is the Rusty Arnold-trained SPIN WHEEL, who broke his maiden going 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs, breaking from post 11, hesitating at the start, going four-wide on the first turn, dropping back to 10th, then 11th, then 12th and looking like he had no shot to finish on the board. But he cut the corner, came around one horse, dropped back to the rail, squeezed his way through a narrow opening and just got up to win by a nose before opening up 10 lengths on the gallop-out. He looks like an intriguing colt who needs to get faster and not drop so far out of it.

In the “You Don’t See This Very Often” department, FROMANOTHAMUTHA, an impressive 4 1/4-length maiden winner at Aqueduct going seven furlongs, has two Kentucky Derby runnersup in his pedigree that you rarely, if ever, see. His broodmare sire is Aptitude, second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the 2000 Derby, and his third dam is by Sham, second to Secretariat in the 1973 Derby. He will now be pointed for the Gotham Stakes.


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