Derby Rankings: Week 2

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.


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. If you’re looking for a real early sleeper for the Derby, 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 even 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.


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