Derby Rankings: Week 2

The changes you see this week are the result of one thing – confusion. There are no standouts as we know them from past Derby Rankings and we’re all just trying to project who might develop and step up as clear contenders. We all thought we had Saturday’s LeComte Stakes figured out and we almost did, but on the Derby trail always expect 28-1 shots like Call Me Midnight to come along and throw things in disarray. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Jan. 24, 2022 – Week 2

By Steve Haskin

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

It’s safe to say McPeek will never have a better shot at winning the Derby than this year, with four major contenders and the No. 1 ranked horse. He has decided to bypass the lesser point stakes with Smile Happy and probably shoot for 50 points in the Risen Star at the preferred distance of 1 1/8 miles. Then he would return either in the Louisiana or Arkansas Derby. Once again, this colt has all the tools, no flaws, a sensational last-out Thoro-Graph number, and a dynamite female family. His speed figures all reflect a colt moving in the right direction, with his Thoro-Graph figs catapulting from a “7 ½” to a “2,” his Brisnets climbing from an 87 to a 98, and his Beyers from an 82 to a 90. In addition, his Brisnet pace breakdown of 80 (early), 90 (middle), and 102 (late) in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes show a horse who can run fast throughout while getting faster the farther he goes. We still don’t know how far the Run Happys want to go, but if a female family is going to carry a horse classic distances, this is the one. And we have seen sprinters Boundary, Elusive Quality, Lucky Pulpit, and Into Mischief all sire Kentucky Derby winners. Last week, he worked in company with Tiz the Bomb and the two were really cooking down the stretch, going a half in :46 3/5. McPeek did not want a repeat of that, so he worked them separately in company this past weekend, with Smile Happy going a solid five furlongs in 1:01 2/5.

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

It’s time to look at his pedigree, even though his powerful performance in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes, which saw him come home with a super Brisnet late pace figure of 116 after stalking a slow pace, suggests another eighth of a mile will be no problem. And this was only his second career start, and he was stretching out from six furlongs, with his Beyer figs jumping from an 80 to a 90 and his Brisnets from an 88 to a 93. Also his Thoro-Graph numbers went from a “6 ½” to a “4 ½,” which was 1 ½ points faster than the nose winner Mo Donegal. As for his pedigree, while there is nothing that is going to pop out at you, his sire Upstart won or placed in six Grade 1 stakes from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, and Upstart’s two paternal grandsires, A. P. Indy and Touch Gold, both won the Belmont Stakes. On his female side, his dam traces to the great producer Boudoir, from whom came such classic horses as Majestic Prince, Kelso, Graustark, His Majesty, and Bowl of Flowers. Zandon also has Secretariat three times in his pedigree and is inbred on the dam side to the top-class European miler Siberian Express. He had a nice maintenance half-mile breeze in :49 2/5 this past Sunday.

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

McPeek had him run down the lane last week with the intention of having him go in :24 or :25, but the exercise rider was too conservative and he was timed three-eighths in :40 1/5. So McPeek brought him back Saturday and worked him three furlongs in company and he went in a strong :36 flat, actually going a quarter and out an eighth. Right now the target is the Tampa Bay Derby, with the alternative being to wait for the Fountain of Youth, but McPeek would prefer keeping him separated from Tiz the Bomb, who is going the Gulfstream route. Although the Breeders’ Futurity was back in early October, let’s not forget the way he demolished 12 classy opponents with one of the most explosive moves on the turn we saw all year, with his Thoro-Graph figures jumping from a “10 ½” to  “3 ½” and his Brisnets from an 82 to a 95. With his early, middle, and late pace figures all in the 90s, it shows a horse who has a high cruising speed from start to finish. Pedigree-wise, his sire, Connect, is a son of Curlin out of a Holy Bull mare who won the Cigar Mile and Pennsylvania Derby. He has a great combination of stamina and speed top and bottom. His second dam is by Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap winner Pleasant Tap, who is by major stamina influence, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, a son of the Ribot stallion His Majesty. Pleasant Tap’s broodmare sire is another major stamina influence, Belmont winner Stage Door Johnny. Rattle N Roll’s third dam Dance Review produced two Grade 1 winners and is out of Dumfries, a half-sister to the top-class racehorse and champion sire Lyphard and the Vaguely Noble filly Nobiliary, who has the unique distinction of finishing second in the English Derby and then coming to America where she won the Washington D.C. International against a star-studded field. She is the only filly since 1916 to place in the Derby.

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

With the Bob Baffert horses hovering somewhere in the Twilight Zone, we really have no way of truly assessing the merits of the other California horses. Will the big dogs who are officially on the Derby trail at this time be barking just as loudly if the Baffert horses remain with their trainer for whatever unforeseeable reason or if they are turned over to one or more of the other top local trainers and can finally embark on the Derby trail? Or more likely, what if they are sent to one or more of the powerhouse stable back east? None of that will matter to Doug O’Neill, whose only thought right now is to make sure Slow Down Andy shows no signs of slowing down and that his upset victory over the heavily favored Baffert colt Messier in the Los Al Futurity was no fluke. Can O’Neill win his third Kentucky Derby for owner Paul Reddam, this time with a Cal-bred by Reddam’s 2016 Derby winner Nyquist? As we’ve mentioned, this colt has won despite being green, lugging in and gawking at the grandstand. Blinkers seem to have helped in the morning, and despite never having run in open company, he did get an excellent 101 Brisnet speed figure in the Los Al Futurity and a decent “5” Thoro-Gaph number. So all signs point to him being legit. How good legit is will be determined in his next start, which O’Neill now says could be the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn next weekend. First he has to talk it over with Reddam.

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

If you’re looking for a razor-sharp horse who is sitting on a big race, his last four works have been a half in :47 3/5, followed by three five-furlong works in :58 4/5, :59 4/5, and :59 3/5 as he prepares for his 3-year-old debut in either the Holy Bull Stakes February 5 or the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay the week after. His speed figures have improved dramatically and he should only get better the farther he goes. I love that he has one of the great classic stallions, Hail to Reason, three times in his pedigree, twice through his son Halo and once through his son Roberto, both major classic influences. Halo, of course, sired Kentucky Derby winners Sunday Silence and Sunny’s Halo. Hail to Reason sired six champions as well as Kentucky Derby winner Proud Clarion, Preakness winner Personality, Belmont winner Hail to All, English Derby winner Roberto, and Travers winner Bold Reason, the broodmare sire of the great stallion Sadler’s Wells, who was the champion sire in the United Kingdom 14 times, including 13 in a row, and sired an amazing 323 stakes winners. As if that isn’t enough of a pedigree, Giant Game’s second dam is by Sea Hero, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Travers, and his fourth dam is by Honest Pleasure, who set a new track record in the Travers.

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

McPeek is extremely high on him, saying he is “so talented,” and is confident that he will handle the dirt just as well as the grass and firmly believes he will run on anything. He sure has been working lights out on the dirt at Gulfstream just as he did last fall in Kentucky. McPeek added that the colt just landed on the turf because the schedule fit and he wanted to keep him separated from his other top 2-year-olds. He definitely will be McPeek’s big horse at Gulfstream, aiming for the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth, and Florida Derby, assuming all goes well. I’m not sure Gulfstream will suit his running style, but we still have to see what his running style is on dirt. As we stated last week, he has a ton of dirt horses in his pedigree, and he sure has an explosive stretch run, so just maybe he could be the McPeek horse to get down on now. But go to Vegas because he’s getting bet like crazy in the Future Wager. Let’s not forget he did break his maiden in an off-the-turf race by 14 ¼ lengths at Ellis Park, in which he led every step of the way, so there is still a lot to learn about him. Last week when he worked a swift :46 3/5 half in company with Smile Happy, he might have been going a little better of the two coming to the wire. This week McPeek had them work separately in company and he went his five furlongs in 1:01 1/5, a tick faster than Smile Happy. I cannot imagine this colt not excelling on dirt. He sure loves it in the morning and romped over it at Ellis Park last year. The Future Wager bettors apparently feel the same way, making him second choice at 9-1 behind Smile Happy.

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

His Brisnet late pace figure of 117 in the Remsen Stakes is the fastest of any 3-year-old, but it must be added that his early and middle pace figures of 59 and 66 were very slow, so that race set up for a strong closing figure. He is the type of horse I would love see come back in a sprint just as a sharpener, but that’s not going to happen, so he will continue with his gradual progression, with a Brisnet figures of 82 to 91 to 93 and Beyers of 72 to 82 to 90. So we’re not talking real fast, but steady. Pletcher has given him three straight five-furlong works, with each one getting slower. Remember, his Thoro-Graph number in his Remsen victory was 1 ½ points slower than runner-up Zandon, who many felt should have been put up on a disqualification. So, while we really don’t know how good this colt is and how much faster he can get, he is steady and he runs hard in the stretch. His sire Uncle Mo, grandsire Indian Charlie, and great-grandsire In Excess were all horses who had good natural speed and could carry it a distance. His dam showed good sprinting speed in her brief career and his second dam Island Sand won major stakes from a mile to 1 ¼ miles. He is a horse with plenty of bottom, is a determined stretch runner, and we’ll just have to see what kind of transition he’s made from 2 to 3.

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

We’re still waiting for that one breakout performance that establishes him as a serious Derby contender, but as well as he ran in the LeComte Stakes in his 3-year-old debut, he keeps running the same race and keeps coming up short. You can’t say he doesn’t try hard, but since his victory in the Best Pal Stakes, he’s been beaten in four straight stakes, running fourth in the Del Mar Futurity, second in the American Pharoah Stakes, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and now third in the LeComte, and each time he lacked the stretch kick to catch the leader. In the LeComte, he saved ground all the way in fifth and moved up along the inside turning for home to challenge the front-running Epicenter, who had set too fast a pace, based on the other 1 1/16-mile races on the card. But he still couldn’t get by him, with both getting nailed in the final stride by 28-1 shot Call Me Midnight who took advantage of the fast early fractions and slow closing fractions. Although the first four finishers ran well and no doubt are good horses, we still don’t know what to make of any of them. Pappacap does have plenty of stamina, especially at the very top and bottom of his pedigree, so he could still prove to be a major Derby contender when the distances get longer, but he just needs to land a knockout punch in the stretch and break this losing streak.

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

He returned to Pletcher’s barn this past week, so it’s just a matter of time before we see him on the work tab. On one hand he has plenty of bottom, is tested in Grade 1 company, and has shown he can run with the best of them. On the other hand he is still a maiden, so Pletcher will have to decide whether to take a huge step backwards and try to break his maiden or just keep him in top company looking for Derby points. While it’s good to give a horse confidence by actually winning a race, why take a chance he could run into a tiger and you’re back where you started and with a wasted race with no points. If you aim for the Fountain of Youth Stakes or a stakes at Tampa Bay and he shows he’s still the same horse who ran a strong second to the brilliant Jack Christopher in the Champagne Stakes off a second in a maiden race, then it’s time to forget he’s a maiden. His connections certainly forgot it when they decided to run him in the Champagne. And even being a maiden, of the 23 horses listed in the Derby Future Wager he has the highest Prime Power rating by Brisnet. Prime Power combines many factors into one potent figure. BRIS Speed, Class, Pace, form, weight, distance and more are all combined by a sophisticated computer algorithm into the Prime Power rating. Using dozens of qualitative handicapping factors, Prime Power basically measures the quality of each horse’s most recent starts and consolidates them into a single rating. I know I lost you, but I’m just throwing it out there for you because it’s in the PPs. Also, he has the steadiest Brisnet progression, running a 92, then 94, then 96, which is a stark contrast to the Beyer figures, which had him plummet from a 96 in the Champagne to an 82 in the BC Juvenile. The Thoro-Graph figures for those two races basically stayed the same at a “5,”so choose your weapon.

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

We’re going to have to start taking this colt seriously after his stunning victory in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, which he won by four lengths in a swift 1:35 flat for the mile. What was most impressive was his huge improvement from a “14” Thoro-Graph figure to a “2 ½,” and his powerful Brisnet pace figures of 95 (early), 101 (middle), and 95 (late) and final speed rating of 99. To show that was no fluke, when he broke his maiden, winning by almost 17 lengths in 1:09 4/5, his pace figures were 93, 101, and 95, with a 103 final speed rating. These are spectacular numbers for a young horse, who runs fast from start to finish. In his last work, he went six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 under Javier Castellano, with DRF’s Mike Welsch getting his last quarter in :23 4/5 and a one-mile gallop-out in 1:38 4/5. He keeps his head low and has great extension and a fluid stride. If you’re puzzled by his third-place finish in a six-furlong allowance race, beaten 5 ¼ lengths at 1-5 two starts back, he reared in the gate at the break and split his head open, requiring well over 20 staples to close the wound. He still ran through it. This colt has always been tough as nails, very competitive, and loaded with talent. A month after getting him, Sano, who trained the top-class Gunnevera several years ago, told owner Tami Bobo, “You finally sent me my Derby horse. Do not sell this colt; trust me, this is a Derby horse.” Bobo said she is considering giving him two months off and waiting for the Florida Derby, which would not be your typical plan of attack, especially with a horse who hasn’t been two turns, but perhaps that monster Thoro-Graph leap spelled major bounce and peaking way too early and it was best for the horse to give him time to recover off that effort.

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

He was no match for McPeek’s pair in the Breeders’ Futurity and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and he is another without a preferred weapon to knock off the top horses. Does he want to be on the lead, as he was in the Breeders’ Futurity or sit back in fourth, two lengths off the pace, as he did in the Kentucky Jockey Club? It didn’t matter because Rattle N Roll and Smile Happy ran right by him in the stretch and pulled away. He ranks fifth in Brisnet’s Prime Power rating, so he is still a horse with a lot of upside, and with only three career starts he still has time to figure out who he is. He’s had some solid five-furlong works at Palm Meadows and should come out running. It doesn’t look as if he’ll have any problem stretching out in distance, but like so many others on the Derby trail so far he hasn’t done anything to “wow” you. But if you’re looking for a horse to put in your exotics, you can at least depend on him to be fighting to the wire. It all depends on who he’s fighting with. Right now he looks to be a notch or two below the best.

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

It was estimated that 55 of the 3,220 My Racehorse shareholders crammed into Oaklawn Park’s winner’s circle after his impressive 7 ¾-length romp in a one-mile allowance race. Even Joel Rosario, coming back from an injury, was impressed. “I was excited after the race and then to see so many people in there cheering – it was very emotional for me and very good to see that,” he said. “It was unbelievable.” If Chasing Time continues his winning ways, to quote the great Al Jolson, “You ain’t see nuthin’ yet.” After remaining stagnant in his Thoro-Graph numbers with a mediocre “8 ½,” “7 ½,” and “8,” showing no improvement, he jumped to a “4” in his last start and is now in position to be competitive with good stakes horses. His Beyer progression has been more gradual, going from a 72 to a 74 to a 77 to an 81, meaning he needs to keep getting faster to handle quality stakes horses. It all depends which figures you like to use. None of that matters to his My Racehorse mass following, who no doubt helped bet him down to 16-1 in the Future Wager. The way he ran last time he may be worth it.

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

If you want to give him an excuse in the LeComte Stakes, it was simply that he went too fast early. In the Louisiana Stakes, with Midnight Bourbon setting the pace, they went the half in :48 1/5, and in the Silverbulletday Stakes, they went the half in :48 3/5. In the three other 3-year-old races on the card at 1 1/16 miles they went in :48, :48 1/5, aand :48 2/5. Although Epicenter was alone on the lead he still went his half in :47 flat and slowed down quite a bit in the stretch. The positive take is that he gamely dug in and fought off the challenge of Pappacap, only to get nosed right on the wire by the late-closing Call Me Midnight. The negative take is that he has been on the lead or fighting for the lead in all four of his races, at seven furlongs, a mile, and 1 1/16 miles, and that is not what you want to see in a Derby horse unless you’re convinced he can shut it off if he has to. If he can show he is able to sit off the pace and come home strongly, then you have to consider him a horse to take seriously by the time we get to the first Saturday in May. So he is another horse on whom we have to take a wait and see approach. There is no doubt the talent is there and distance should not be a problem. It’s all up to him to harness some of that speed.

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

We will know a lot more about him when he makes his U.S. debut in the 1 1/8 miles Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, February 5. Casse is always the optimistic type, but I sense he really likes this colt and is looking forward to running him on dirt for the first time and showing off that same powerful closing kick he showed on Tapeta and grass in Canada, where he looks to be a sure thing to be voted champion 2-year-old. Casse also loves pointing out his “4 ½” Thoro-Graph figure in his last start, the Grey Stakes, as you normally don’t see figures that fast on synthetic surfaces. We don’t know too much yet about his sire Cupid, who did win the 10-furlong Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita, as well as three Grade 2 stakes at 3. But his dam was a nondescript sprinter who won four of 31 starts and is by an unheralded son of Storm Cat named Thee Wonders, who won four of 30 starts, including the Kent Stakes at Delaware Park. The bottom half of his female family is pretty underwhelming, so he is going to have to rely mainly on his talent and liking the dirt to become a leading Derby contender. He sure doesn’t run like a horse with distance limitations, but a lot of questions will be answered on February 5.

15—Call Me Midnight (Keith Desormeaux, Midnight Lute – Overseen, by First Defence)

If you cross off his 10th-place finish in a maiden sprint in his second career start when he went to the front and got cooked in a speed duel by a suicidal pace, which we now know is not his style of running, and if you cross out his seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at 48-1 when he bobbled a bit coming out of the 11-post, was very wide the entire race, and did make a nice run on the turn to get to within four lengths of the leaders, then you could have made a longshot case for him in the LeComte. This time he took advantage of a fast pace and a battle up front between the two favorites, and slow closing fractions, and was able to come flying late to stick his nose in font right on the wire.  I’m not so sure he will ever beat Epicenter and Pappacap again, but this was his day and he took advantage of it. And horses do improve this time of year. His Thoro-Graph figures were pretty pedestrian going into the LeComte, but he at least came off three slow figures and improved them, going from an “11” to a “7 ¾” in the Kentucky Jockey Cub Stakes. His 88 Beyer speed figure in the LeComte was not in the same stratosphere as Mandaloun’s 106 in the Louisiana Stakes, but it was solid enough to build on.

16—Major General (Todd Pletcher, Constitution – No Mo Lemons, by Uncle Mo)

I have to put someone here, so why not a horse who is undefeated in two starts and won the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes? He has been out since then, but is back on the work tab, with a three-furlong and four-breeze and has to be considered a potential Derby horse until someone beats him. I have no idea how good this colt is, but he does have the pedigree, he looks to be a battler, and down this far in the rankings I can say the same about the others. Who knows how good they are? He is by a Florida Derby winner who has sired the top-class Tiz the Law, and his second dam is by the good stamina influence Lemon Drop Kid, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Travers. He’s probably several weeks from a race and likely will be off the Rankings by then, but for now we have to at least keep an eye on him.


BAFFERT BULLETIN – So, will Bob Baffert’s refugees at some point be given their green card so they can live and work as productive citizens on the Derby trail? Will they be taken away from their ostracized guardian and teacher and be sent to another home to prepare for the arduous journey to Kentucky while finally being allowed to earn enough wages to pay their way? That’s what we’re all waiting to find out. In the meantime, as Baffert fights the system, he must continue to mentor his pupils as he would any other year. At some point, if Baffert is not granted a pardon, The “Wolf” Pack and its “Kumin” Resources will have to make a decision, and make it quickly, or forfeit points that could prove valuable in the months to come. Ironically, despite several late developers, this could tur out to be one of Baffert’s deepest and most talented group of 3-year-olds, even with Corniche on the missing horses list.

With that said, here is what the Baffert Brigade has been up to. The most impressive one we’ve seen so far is DOPPELGANGER, whose one and only start was eye catching, as he got slammed into from the inside post, dropped back to fifth, then found a seam and merely cruised home the rest of the way to win by 3 ½ lengths in a swift 1:09 1/5 for the six furlongs without even the slightest bit of urging. His stride is smooth as silk and he could not have run any straighter down the stretch. He’s been working brilliantly since, but that race was back on December 11 and he has an awful lot of catching up to do if he’s going to be able to get three more starts in; and a lot of that catching up might very well have to be done in a new barn and with a new trainer. The only races for him in California are the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on February 5, and more likely the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes next weekend, and we’ll have to see what his status is then. If he is as good as he looks he should have no trouble getting in the Derby, with a 50-point race and a 100-race to follow. There isn’t much more to say about him until we know what’s going on.

The same goes for impressive first-out winner WHARTON, who romped by 5 ¼ lengths, and the more proven MESSIER, both of whom who we’ll go into in more detail next week. But I can see a huge bounce back race from Messier, who should settle a little better with that Los Al Futurity under his belt. He is extremely gifted. Another talented colt, the undefeated Sham Stakes winner NEWGRANGE, looks to have a lot of ability and a bright future, and ARMEGNAC, who was soundly defeated by Wharton first time out, came back and won this past Friday going two turns, but they came home in slow time, so I’m not sure what to make of him. As for Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner CORNICHE, owned by Speedway Stables, he has not worked since that race, so until he does there are doubts about him that so far have not been dispelled. There are other Baffert horses who have shown ability that we’ll discuss in the coming weeks. This just goes to show the depth of talent in the barn. Right now that doesn’t mean a thing in terms of the Derby. If and when that will change we should find out soon enough.

Two horses who were left off the rankings – OVIATT CLASS and WHITE ABARRIO – were done so only because, as of Sunday, they have not worked in a while, and missed works are always a red flag until we know the reason why or they show up again on the work tab. Once they do they certainly will be ranked, having proven themselves against the best in major stakes.

I have been very high on the Pletcher-trained EMMANUEL, who would be ranked had he run in that Tampa Bay allowance race, which he likely would have won with no problem. However, he had to scratch because of a fever, but following his bullet half-mile work in :47 4/5 this past weekend, it shouldn’t be long before we see him back in the entries. He still has to prove he wants to go classic distances, but his maiden victory was as impressive as it gets.

As for last Saturday’s two-turn races at Fair Grounds, all the winners – GUNFIGHTER (Brad Cox), PIONEER OF MEDINA (Todd Pletcher), and PEACEFUL WATERS (Al Stall) — all looked good, with the last two winning wire-to-wire, but none of them stood out and made you take notice. And FEROCIOUSLY ran well first time out in a six-furlong maiden race. However, I will be watching three of the runners-up. I’ve been a fan of KEVIN’S FOLLY since his maiden victory first time out at Saratoga. He hadn’t lived up to expectations, running mostly dull races, but with blinkers added he showed new life, making a strong run on the turn and bearing down on the leader, but couldn’t catch him, while still striding out well at the wire, suggesting there may b better things to come. The horse who has me excited and is a huge longshot to make the Derby, still being a maiden, is PIONEERING SPIRIT, who has never had a trouble-free race.  If this colt can ever get a decent trip there’s no telling how good he can be. It’s just too bad he couldn’t get this maiden victory out of the way and move on to better things. I thought he had a shot in the stretch even with a very wide trip until a horse way on the inside came out four or five paths and nearly made contact with him, causing him to jump back to his left lead, losing some momentum. Once he switched back to right lead after about six strides he kicked into another gear and made up about 4 lengths in the final furlong cutting the winner’s margin from five lengths at the eighth pole to 1 ½ lengths at the wire. I don’t know if he has time to get back on track to make a run at the Derby, but I think he’s eventually going to turn out to be a good horse. The third horse to watch is the $1.5 million yearling VINCO, who had a horrible break from the rail, dropped back to last, a dozen lengths off the pace, and was hopelessly out of it at the top of the stretch. But he came flying down the stretch, going between horses and having to cut across the track to get to the inside, and then charged home to get second. He is way behind as far as the Derby goes, but watch him down the road.

With two works at three furlongs, one at a half-mile, and now one at five furlongs, look for HIGH OAK to make an appearance on the Rankings very soon. His Brisnet pace figures of 94, 101, and 92, and a speed rating of 97 in his Saratoga Special romp stamped him as an exceptional colt before an injury in the Hopeful sent him to the sidelines. But he is back and looks almost ready to get back in action. By the way, if you want to know who picked him out at the sale and bought him for Lee Einsidler, it was Kenny McPeek, who is all over the Derby trail this year.

The tales of JOE continued at Laurel on Sunday when Maryland’s new favorite horse extended his winning streak to three with a workmanlike performance in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race, in which he had to do a little broken field running, going outside, inside, and between horses before drawing off to a 2 1/2-length victory at odds of 2-5. Jockey Victor Carrasco tried to get him to change leads in the stretch, but the son of Declaration of War was stuck on his left lead and showed no inclination to switch. I doubt the Derby is in his plans, but you never know, as trainer Mike Trombetta likes to take shots once in a while.


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