Kentucky Derby Rankings – Week 2

This basically is a week to look ahead at next week’s four graded stakes, a fascinating allowance race, and the much-anticipated return of 2-year-old champion Fierceness. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: January 29, 2024 – Week 2

By Steve Haskin


1—Fierceness (Todd Pletcher, City of Light – Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty)

Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes will help define this year’s Derby trail, as the numbers say Fierceness is the closest thing there is to a sure thing, as none of his opponents have come within 19 Beyer points of his BC Juvenile romp. As of now there doesn’t appear to be any local horses who can get him to raise a sweat, especially with the way he has been working and how strong his gallop-outs have been. But if you’re going to take a shot at getting even close to him it most likely will be in his first start of the year. But the race that looks the most interesting with several budding stars is a mile allowance race earlier on the card, which we will discuss later. But you can always hope for a sloppy track, which his not uncommon in South Florida. That is if it was the slop that was the main reason for his 20-length drubbing in the Champagne Stakes at odds of 1-2. But he also broke poorly, lunging at the break, and that certainly had to contribute to it. The bottom line is if we see a performance like we did in the BC Juvenile then it’s time for the others to either leave town or take the Tampa route. We’re curious to see is if he actually improves on his already off-the-charts speed figures or drops back a little and gives himself a more realistic foundation from which to start. After all he’s already run a Thoro-Graph number that wins most Kentucky Derbys, so there is no need to blow this field away or run record times.


2—Locked (Todd Pletcher, Gun Runner – Luna Rosa, by Malibu Moon)

After he worked in company with Fierceness and was unable to keep up with him after passing the wire despite being pushed, Pletcher decided to go a different route and work him with another horse, which he has done often with Fierceness. Going five furlongs again, he sat two lengths back and was moving beautifully throughout, finishing noses apart in 1:00 3/5, and galloped out much stronger, opening up on his workmate, which is more difficult when working on the outside and having to cut that corner. He then had an easier drill, breezing five furlongs in 1:02. After four solid five-furlong works there is no doubt he will be sharp for his 3-year-old debut in the Sam F. Davis Stakes on February 10 at Tampa Bay Downs, where he should be facing several talented and improving colts whose trainers prefer this spot over the Holy Bull Stakes. We know he is versatile, as indicated by his pedigree, which has its share of stamina, mile, and sprint influences from the U.S. and Europe. He’s been consistently fast with Thoro-Graph numbers of 2, 3 ¼, and 3 in his last three starts. We should have a better idea of what his strengths are after the Sam Davis over a track that can be quirky, but has produced several classic winners, including horses who won or finished second in the Kentucky Derby.


3—Sierra Leone (Chad Brown, Gun Runner – Heavenly Love, by Malibu Moon)

He continues to train well at Payson Park, breezing a half in :49 2/5 for his debut in the Risen Star Stakes on February 17.  Last week we mentioned the usual concerns about confirmed deep closers. Horses who did come from the back of the pack to win, such as Rich Strike, Orb, Monarchos, Giacomo and Street Sense, did so closing off a blistering pace. He has not established himself as a deep closer, showing good early speed in his debut at six furlongs and then coming from far back in the mud in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes. He has speed in his female family, with his third dam being by Mining ad his fourth dam being by Clever Trick. You have to like his Thoro-Graph leap from a 9 to 4 ¾, the latter a full point and a quarter faster than the winner Dornoch, and jumping from an 85 Brisnet figure to a 98. It is hoped he has matured a bit over the winter and we’ll see a more professional horse in the Rise Star. What we know for sure is that he possesses an electrifying turn of foot.


4—Timberlake (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Pin Up, by Lookin At Lucky)

After looking at his impressive speed ratings last week and the other reasons to expect a reversal of form back to the Champagne Stakes, let’s just look at the horse himself, with his flawless action and the powerhouse bottom half of his dam’s pedigree. There is no need to analyze his sire Into Mischief. All you need is to give him enough stamina in his female family to all but assure having a horse who will stay. It is safe to say that Timberlake has more than enough stamina on the bottom, with a Who’s Who of European classic horses. His second dam is by Sadler’s Wells, sire of the great Galileo and more than 300 other stakes winners. His third dam is from one of the most dominant sire lines in the world, starting with her sire Darshaan, winner of the French Derby, continuing with Darshaan’s sire, Shirley Heights, winner of the English and Irish Derby, and Shirley Heights’ sire, the legendary Mill Reef, winner of the English Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Coronation Cup, and Eclipse Stakes. Timberlake’s fourth dam is by Crystal Palace, winner of the French Derby and third in the Arc de Triomphe. His fifth dam is by French 2,000 Guineas winner Zeddaan. We can keep going, but it’s just more classic winners. And let’s not forget that Into Mischief’s pedigree includes European superstars, Ribot, Sea-Bird, and Nijinsky.


5—Honor Marie (Whit Beckman, Honor Code – Dame Marie, by Smart Strike)

Although he has come from eighth and ninth in his three starts, he has shown speed in the morning and it’s obvious Beckman, who is a former assistant to Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher, is starting to crank him up, with a sharp five-furlong drill in a bullet :59 3/5 at Fair Grounds, as he prepares to take the Risen Star – Louisiana Derby route. The only reason he was so far off the pace in his three races is that his jockey, Rafael Bejarano, took him back, but the speed is there and Bejarano will fly in to work him twice and get a better feel for him. After all, the colt is a May 4 foal and has gotten bigger and stronger the past few months. He is by the late-running Honor Code, who, despite being a distance horse, ran his best race in the Met Mile. And Honor Marie, as we noted last week is inbred top and bottom to the speedball filly Crimson Saint, dam of the brilliant Terlingua, and he has a female family dominated by top-class European milers, including Crimson Saint’s son Royal Academy, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He has already shown us he has that European turn of foot, which is so important in large fields and getting out of potential jams. He has always acted like a turf horse who happens to be talented on the dirt. On the other end of the spectrum, Crimson Saint is by Crimson Satan, whose dam Papila was in the pedigree of eight of the nine horses in last year’s Belmont Stakes. Honor Marie has an excellent Thoro-Graph progression of 11 – 7 – 5 ½, and we see no reason why he shouldn’t continue that forward pattern.


6—Dornoch (Danny Gargan, Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown)

He finally had his first work since the Remsen Stakes, breezing an easy half in :51 4/5 at Palm Meadows on January 22. Rather than keep reminding everyone that he is a full-brother to last year’s Kentucky Derby Mage we’ll just assume everyone by now knows that distance should not be the slightest concern, especially considering he has already turned certain defeat into victory going 1 1/8 miles in the Remsen Stakes. Like his brother he still is a bit green, but we saw Mage get over that pretty quickly, and this colt has gotten a much earlier start with four starts at 2, three of them at one mile or farther. We’re still not sure if he is a confirmed frontrunner or he just used that strategy after drawing inside posts. We also know he doesn’t mind fighting it out early and doesn’t mind fighting it out late, and he can put you away and win by daylight. His Brisnet speed figures have climbed steadily and are up to a 98. But he does need to improve his Thoro-Graph numbers, having run a 6 in his last two starts.


7—Otello (Chris Clement, Curlin – Isabella Sings, by Eskendereya)

Hats off to Otello’s connections for having enough confidence in this lightly raced colt to throw him in the arena with Fierceness in Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes when they could have waited a week for the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. But they had no reservations running him in a stakes in his second career start, so it’s obvious they are willing to take on all challengers, even one whose speed figures tower over Otello’s. And when I say tower, Otello’s 76 Beyer figure in the Mucho Macho Man is 29 points slower than the 105 Fierceness ran in the Juvenile. Otello’s Brisnet figure is a far better 89, but so is Fierceness’s 112. Does a horse coming off a Thoro-Graph number of 6 even belong on the same track as one coming off a negative-1 1/2? Give credit to the Otello team for knowing what a prep is and that there can be more to gain competing against the seemingly invincible champion now and move way up the class ladder. Of course, you don’t want to discourage your horse and do damage to his confidence, but on the other hand if he can be somewhat competitive against Fierceness his speed figures will soar by association and give him a better shot when facing other top-class colts in his remaining preps. He has faced adversity in both his starts and emerged victorious each time, so just maybe he can get close enough to Fierceness to make his presence felt and then move on to bigger and better things. We’ll just have to see how this all plays out and if their move proves to be a wise one. Whatever happens I compliment them in this day of conservative thinking and fear of losing for embracing competition regardless of the opponent.


8—Hall of Fame (Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner – Flag Day, by Giant’s Causeway)

I’m taking a shot and replacing Parchment Party with this colt even though I don’t think he beat much in his maiden romp and was beaten by a 38-1 shot in his career debut. But I believe we have only seen the proverbial tip of the iceberg with him and there is a lot of improvement still to come. Someone very close to him feels he has a “big chance to mature into something special.” As of now, Asmussen has the Risen Star Stakes targeted for dual stakes winner Track Phantom, but he is seriously considering also running Hall of Fame, despite the former having proven himself in top-class company and Hall of Fame still being a work in progress. That tells me how much he thinks of this colt. And as a point of reference it is important to note that in his Lecomte Stakes victory Track Phantom set fractions of :24, :48 1/5 and 1:13, while in his 10 1/4-length maiden score the same day Hall of Fame pressed fractions of :23 1/5, :46 3/5, ad 1:11 2/5, ran a faster final time, and ran a full point faster on Thoro-Graph. In addition, his Thoro-Graph number leaped from a 12 ½ to a 5. He still has to prove his class and was being pushed midway on the turn in is maiden win. But he is still figuring it out and you have to like the way he kept getting stronger the farther he went. As for his debut, he actually was entered with Track Phantom going 1 1/16 miles, but was scratched after drawing post 13. Having no other choice but to sprint him, Asmussen entered him the next day going seven furlongs and he ran into traffic problems throughout and still finished a strong second.


9—Track Phantom (Steve Asmussen, Quality Road – Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief)

I’m still a bit torn with this colt, as he visually has looked strong in his victories in the Gun Runner and Lecomte Stakes, but I have no idea if the once highly regarded Nash, who he’s beaten twice, is a serious horse, and he is the only horse who did any running in the Lecomte. Also, as we mentioned earlier, his stablemate Hall of Fame ran faster in a maiden race and also got a faster Thoro-Graph number, with Track Phantom not yet showing much improvement in his speed ratings. He actually got a slower Thoro-Graph number in the Lecomte than he did in the Gun Runner. On the positive side, he did beat Snead in the Gun Runner and we’re very high on that colt. Asmussen has a number of Derby prospects, and with several going the Oaklawn route, he could very well run Hall of Fame against Track Phantom in the Risen Star Stakes. So although this colt still has a lot of questions to answer despite back-to-back stakes victories, we have to regard him as a serious Derby contender until he tells us otherwise.


10—Snead (Brendan Walsh, Nyquist – Raffle Ticket, by A.P. Indy)

There are so many good horses pointing toward the February 17 Risen Star Stakes we will just have to take them all seriously, even though the Rankings could change dramatically next week after Saturday’s four major stakes in Florida, New York, California, and Arkansas. As for this colt he continues to intrigue me, mainly based on his electrifying turn of foot in an allowance victory two races back, his solid second in the Gun Runner Stakes in his stakes debut in which he displayed another explosive move on the turn, his ability to handle all surfaces, his strong foundation with all five of his races being at a mile or longer, and with an improving Thoro-Graph pattern, from 17 to 16 on grass to 14 in the slop, to 6 and then 5 on fast dirt tracks. Like many of those we’ve seen so far, he is moving in the right direction, but he needs to keep moving forward. I’m a big fan of Brendon Walsh, so he is in good hands and distance should be no concern.


11—Liberal Arts (Robbie Medina, Arrogate, Ismeme, by Tribal Rule)

It’s difficult not to like and admire this colt, who goes out and gives his all regardless of the distance and track condition and runs his race whether he comes from one length off the lead or eight lengths off the lead. His connections are all old school and it’s a small-time family run operation with experience in owning, breeding, training, and sales. He hasn’t run since his victory in the Street Sense Stakes on October 29, but Medina’s plan was to give him four weeks off after that race and bring him back at 3. He will make his first start back in Saturday’s Southwest Stakes and sharpened up for the race with a sizzling half in :47 flat at the Lexington, Ky. Training Center. Medina said he has worked in :47 before, but not like he did last week, coming home his last quarter in :23 2/5. He needs to improve his speed ratings, but both his Thoro-Graph and Brisnet figures have improved every race. And I like that his Thoro-Graph progression has been steady, improving two to three points each time. He just has to keep that pattern going and could get a good setup Saturday with a contentious pace likely. Otello’s co-owner and breeder, Stephen Ferraro, who has been a long-time trainer, and Robbie Medina have both been around for years and are old school and looking for that big break. Ferraro and his son Evan, who is the director of marketing for Fasig-Tipton, sold Liberal Arts’ dam in 2022 and would love for this colt to be her going away present.


12—Conquest Warrior (Shug McGaughey, City of Light – Tea Time, by Pulpit)

His stablemate Change of Command is ahead of him as far as experience goes and that is why he is in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Conquest Warrior’s schedule is still undecided. It is believed McGaughey will look for a two-turn allowance race in mid-to-late February and then go from there, looking for a major Derby prep with the hope of getting enough points to qualify. If you have confidence in your horse’s ability that is the way to go by letting him take you there rather than the other way around. Don’t forget, Triple Crown winner Justify had zero points going into the Santa Anita Derby and needed a first or second to get in the Derby. As we mentioned last week this a huge horse who stands 17 hands tall and weighs well over 1,300 pounds. He has already shown the professionalism of a horse with far more experience by overcoming all kinds of trouble. He is keeping sharp, working a half in :48 4/5. The only reason I moved him down a few places is because of the wait we have for his next start, which probably won’t tell us much more than we already know. Between now and his final prep is a long time to simply speculate how good he is, and we have a big weekend of stakes coming up that could alter the Rankings. So we will take it week by week as to where he fits.


13—Catching Freedom (Brad Cox, Constitution, Catch My Drift, by Pioneerof the Nile)

The speed figures for the Smarty Jones Stakes came up slow, with his Brisnet figure only an 89 and his Thoro-Graph number a 7 following a pair of 9 ¾, so he still has a great deal of improvement to do in that regard. If you’re looking for a ray of hope it is that he is still a bit green, as evident in the Smarty Jones by his refusal to change leads until the eighth pole, so improvement would be likely once he becomes more professional. You can’t ignore the fact that he has won two of his three starts, had traffic problems in his one defeat, and he has a stakes win to his credit, as slow as it may have been. Starting next week, with four big stakes scheduled, there should be a major upheaval on the Derby trail and the Rankings, and several horses could pass him by. This is when we start to separate the contenders from the pretenders, and speed figures could help in determining who are the ones moving forward. Right now we still have to regard him as a serious contender, but his next start is critical.


14—Real Men Violin (Kenny McPeek, Mendelssohn – Meg Fitz, by Tapit)

He is another of the many top Derby prospects heading to the February 17 Risen Star Stakes, with its enticing mile and a eighth distance and million-dollar purse. What this colt has going for him is his consistency, never finishing out of the money in his six career starts, his improving speed figures, his ability to handle all kinds of surfaces, and finishing a good second to Honor Marie in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He is inbred top and bottom to Nijinsky and his dam is inbred 3 x 4 to Fappiano. I also like all the Argentine blood in his female family, including Fitzcarraldo, who finished second, third, and fourth in the Argentine Triple Crown. Real Men Violin’s dam Meg Fitz, a daughter of Tapit, who sired four Belmont Stakes winners, is a half-sister to 2009 Kentucky Derby favorite I Want Revenge, the Wood Memorial and Gotham winner who was scratched the morning of the Derby. And let’s not forget that Real Men Violin’s sire Mendelssohn won the UAE Derby by a staggering 18 ½ lengths and placed in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and his sire Scat Daddy sired Triple Crown winner Justify. If this colt can keep improving his speed figures, the sky’s the limit with his ability to close from anywhere on the track, off fast or slow paces.


15—Stronghold (Phil D’Amato, Ghostzapper – Spectator, by Jimmy Creed)

This is strictly a fill-in to put some kind of face on the California-based 3-year-olds. Although with D’Amato saying he will not run in Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes despite working five furlongs in :59 1/5, we can only speculate that either Baffert is running Nysos, who destroyed him in the Bob Hope Stakes, or D’Amato is planning to ship the colt back east, where he ran twice last year and did quite well at Ellis Park and Churchill Downs, breaking his maiden going a mile at the latter, defeating Resilience and Track Phantom. The other possibility is that with the colt’s speed-oriented female family he is not being considered a Derby horse, even though he ran quite well to be narrowly beaten in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Other than that I admit I have no idea what his plans are, as nothing was mentioned in the Santa Anita notes when reporting his work. But when a good horse like Stronghold works in :59 1/5 and passes up an important prep the next week you have to assume something is afoot.



I have been hearing about the poor record of 2-year-old stakes such as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Remsen Stakes in the Kentucky Derby. Be aware as we embark on another Derby trail that facts like this are totally useless when assessing the Derby hopefuls. The truth is that every 2-year-old stakes has a poor record in the Derby, as do the four stakes run this weekend, but we still taken seriously right now. We base our early rankings on these races because it is all that is available and chances are we probably haven’t even seen or heard of the Derby winner yet. Derby horses are coming around later and later and racing fewer and fewer times. At the start of the year who ever heard of Mage, Rich Strike, Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, Maximum Security, Country House, Authentic, Justify, Always Dreaming, Orb, and Animal Kingdom? These horses had either run for a claiming tag, were still maidens, or hadn’t even run yet.

Even though we use races like the Juvenile and Remsen, as well as the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Breeders’ Futurity, and Champagne Stakes as barometers of potential Derby talent, the truth is we haven’t had one Kentucky Jockey Club winner in the past 54 years win the Derby. The last Breeders’ Futurity winner to win the Derby was 41 years ago. The last Champagne winner to win the Derby was 32 years ago. Heck, even most of the final 3-year-old preps can’t produce a winner to come back and capture the Derby. If you combine the last 105 runnings of the Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial, Louisiana Derby, and Arkansas Derby you will find one winner who captured the Derby and that was American Pharoah.

As for this weekend’s four stakes, we have had one winner of the Southwest Stakes win the Derby in 38 years. Two Holy Bull winners have captured the Derby in the 33-year history of the race, and only one (Barbaro) in the past 29 years. Since the Withers was made a Derby prep 21 years ago we have had no winners go on to win the Derby. And the Robert Lewis Stakes has produced two Derby winners in the past 37 years and of those was the DQ’d Medina Spirit.

So where are the Derby winners coming from? Many of them have come from the Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby and a couple have even come from the synthetic surface at Turfway Park in whatever their big race was called at the time.

All we’re trying to say is let’s just consider each race as an equal and potentially successful Derby prep and each winner or even runner-up as a potential Derby contender or we can simply downplay them because of their history and wait for the unknown latecomers to show up in the next month or so.

Expect some major changes in the Derby Rankings after next weekend’s four big stakes, the Holy Bull Stakes, Robert Lewis Stakes, Southwest Stakes, and Withers Stakes.

We lost our first major contender this past week when our No. 5 ranked horse PARCHMENT PARTY was taken off the Derby trail and will be turned out and given some time off, according to trainer Bill Mott. No further explanation was given. Although Parchment Party has had only two career starts he had shown such professionalism and the ability to overcome adversity he no doubt was far more advanced that most horses with two starts. So he is a horse we were looking forward to following. Another of Bill Mott’s promising 3-year-olds, the exciting maiden winner KNIGHTSBRIDGE, had an easy half-mile breeze in :51 4/5 and has a great deal of catching up to do, especially not having run in three months and not having a serious work since his debut. Mott also has the Into Mischief colt RESILIENCE, who broke his maiden by 4 ¼ lengths at Gulfstream on January 1 with first-time Lasix and could be one to watch if he can get out of his rut, running three straight 7 ½ Thoro-Graph numbers, which he will have to improve.

As for this weekend’s races, in the Holy Bull, it looks as if Fierceness is going to have to duplicate his performance in the Champagne Stakes to get beat. As for the others in addition to Otello, the Chad Brown-trained DOMESTIC PRODUCT is coming off a poor effort in the Remsen in the mud, but did look good breaking his maiden by 4 ½ lengths going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct with first time blinkers. He’s been working steadily at Payson Park, gets Tyler Gaffalione, and Brown will remove the blinkers. Joe Orseno might have a runner in HADES, who rallied late to win his debut at Gulfstream going 5 ½ furlongs ad then wired his field going seven furlongs, with his Beyer figure jumping from a 60 to an 84. He drew the rail and should be right up there early. Finally there is SEA STREAK, who ran a gutsy third in the Mucho Macho Man and I have always liked the handicapping angle of second race blinkers on.

In the wide-open Southwest Stakes, we mentioned earlier that Liberal Arts should get a good pace setup with the undefeated CARBONE, the Bob Baffert shipper WYNSTOCK, the fast and game Springboard Mile winner OTTO THE CONQUEROR, and the recent 10 ¾-length wire-to-wire winner MAYCOCKS BAY all having excellent speed, as does one of Kenny McPeek’s entrants MYSTIK DAN. So on paper it doesn’t look like anyone should get an easy lead. Although Carbone has won his two starts by eight and four lengths; Otto the Conqueror is three-for-four and can beat you by daylight or in a photo; and Wynstock is a Grade 2 winner in California, showing a lot of grit, it is the Godolphin colt Maycock’s Bay who is the big head scratcher. He showed good speed in his first two races at Monmouth and Parx, but then turned in two dismal performances without showing any speed. Given Lasix for the first time by trainer Michael Stidham in an off-the-turf allowance race at Fair Grounds, he turned into a monster, wiring his field by almost 11 lengths, with his Beyer figure skyrocketing from a 69 to a 95, which towers over the other speed horses.

In addition to Liberal Arts, others who should benefit from the pace scenario are MAGIC GRANT, who was third in the Springboard Mile, but whose speed figures are extremely slow; and the Kenny McPeek-trained COMMON DEFENSE, a impressive maiden winner going at mile at Oaklawn. Also keep an eye on the maiden LINEBACKER, who has had some troubled trips ad gets blinkers for the first time. AWESOME ROAD was impressive winning his career debut, but has failed badly in his two stakes appearances.

Finally, we can’t really tell yet if the Wayne Lukas-trained JUST STEEL is a legitimate Derby horse or not because of his inconsistency, but he has run two good races in a row for the first time, winning the 6 1/2-furlong Ed Brown Stakes at Churchill Downs and then running second in the Smarty Jones Stakes. But his Thoro-Graph number leaped from a 9 ½ to a 2 ½ in the Ed Brown and then plummeted back to an 8 in the Smarty Jones. The son of Justify had a bullet five-furlong work in 1:01 at Oaklawn this past week.

One horse who is headed for the Sam F. Davis Stakes is the Shug McGaughey-trained CHANGE OF COMMAND, winner of his last two starts and second to Sierra Leone in a maiden race. He tuned up for the race with a half-mile work in a bullet :48 1/5, fastest of 66 works at the distance. If he can use that speed to improve noticeably on his speed figures, especially his pedestrian Thoro-Graph numbers of 12, 12, 12, and 8 he would jump way up in the Rankings. That is the only reason he is not in the Top 15. The Sam Davis can certainly change that. I believe the talent is there, but he still needs a little polishing to put it all together.

In addition to Otello, Chris Clement has the impressive first-out maiden winner ARI’S MAGIC going in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Saturday. The son of Good Magic breezed five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 at Payson Park. Also in this competitive and intriguing field is the impressive maiden winner, MERIT, who romped by 10 lengths first time out at Gulfstream for Saffie Joseph Jr. The son of Mastery breezed five furlongs in 1:02 at Palm Meadows. He is bred to run all day and is one to watch stretching out in distance. One interesting pedigree note to be aware of is that Merit and another impressive maiden winner SPEAK EASY, who won his debut like a good one last Saturday for Todd Pletcher, both have tail-female families that trace to San Igual, who is a full-sister to Triple Crown winner Assault and a full-sister to Equal Venture, the dam of Prove Out. You can’t ask for more stamina than that. Watch out for both these colts. And there is the unknown element with the Canadian invader PIPER’S FACTOR, runner-up in the Grey Stakes and Coronation Futurity, who will be making his first start on dirt and gets blinkers on.

But let’s head back to Todd Pletcher’s barn and look at the workouts of his exciting debut winner BORN NOBLE, who also is in this allowance race. Training at Palm Beach Downs, he worked five furlongs in a nondescript 1:02 followed by easy half-mile breezes in :49 2/5 and :51. Then Pletcher, as he did with Locked the work before, threw him in the lion’s den against Fierceness and they both flew around there in a rapid :59 2/5 for the five furlongs. Running eyeball to eyeball with the champ and going just as easily, he went toe to toe with him to the wire and then matched strides with him past the wire and into the turn. If you’re looking for a reason to believe this colt is legitimate and not a one-race wonder, this work could be an indicator, especially with him running a strong 4 ¼ Thoro-Graph number in his debut. He then came back with a :49 1/5 work by himself, which was two-fifths faster than Fierceness worked the same morning.

A quick mention of Saturday’s seven-furlong Swale Stakes, which has several promising colts dropping back to a sprint off two-turn races, including the Florida-bred stakes winner BENTORNATO, Nashua Stakes third-place finisher BILLAL, Zuma Beach third-place finisher GRAND MO THE FIRST, making his dirt debut, and the potential Derby sleeper RISK IT, who was second in the Iroquois Stakes, then had a nightmare trip trying to settle when fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and had his problems again settling down early in the Gun Runner. Dropping back to seven furlongs could be the jolt he needs to move forward.

The 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes Saturday likely will attract the Todd Pletcher pair of KHANATE and SPEED RUNNER, as well as DEPOSITION, EL GRANDE O, trained by Linda Rice, MISSION BEACH, Florida invader SEMINOLE CHIEF, UNCLE HEAVY, and possibly the Brad Cox-trained LIGHTLINE and SOCIETY MAN, trained by Danny Gargan.

As for the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Bob Baffert worked four of his nominated horses on Saturday and one of his monsters on Sunday, which obviously has no bearing on the Kentucky Derby. But if you are interested, the Saturday workers were Los Alamitos Futurity winner Wynstock, who ships out for the Southwest Stakes, maiden winner Imagination, San Vicente runner-up Pilot Commander, and G1-placed Wine Me Up. On Sunday, Baffert worked his undefeated bullet Nysos, who would have been ranked No. 2 on the Derby Rankings, five furlongs in :59 3/5.

Also, Gary Mandella sent out his Del Mar maiden winner BETTER THAN GOLD, who worked six furlongs in 1:14 2/5 and Doug O’Neill worked ACE OF CLUBS, fifth in the Los Alamitos Futurity, five furlongs in :59 4/5.

P.S. This evening, The Los Angeles Times reported no Bob Baffert horses will be transferred to other trainers for the Kentucky Derby. So moving forward Nysos, Muth, and Maymun will not be incorporated into our rankings as far as the Kentucky Derby goes, even though they could wind up scouring the country and knocking off major Derby contenders, which could actually begin Saturday if Wynstock wins the Southwest Stakes.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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278 Responses to “Kentucky Derby Rankings – Week 2”

  1. Matthew W says:

    Goldencents being a miler does not concern me—Secretariat, Unbridled and Fusiachi Pegasus were by Bold Ruler, Fappiano and Mr Prospector—all milers!….Colonel John is on the dam side, where you want to see stamina influence….

    • Nelson Maan says:

      You are right about Fappiano and Mr. Prospector however, I would think that Bold Ruler was more than a miler when you see him winning three 10-furlong Stakes and the Preakness…

  2. Davids says:

    When speculating on who is the leading three year old this year it is reflective to think back that at the same time a year ago no one had whispered “Mage” as the future Derby winner, had they?

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      I hadn’t considered him until he’d crossed the finish line first! That’s typically how my Derby selections go — I figure out every possible winner except the right one. This year my against-the-grain pick is Timberlake. I have an aversion to both the actor/singer AND a southern artist/merchandizer with that name. He’s a shoo-in.

      You may be the first to see Steve’s new rankings. Not posted as of Monday evening on the East Coast. Steve is allowed to take his time, in my opinion.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Maybe Steve is trying to figure out if the sectional times for the Holy Bull are correct… LOL

        I was trying to get the right time by clocking the video of the Holy Bull to no avail… I suspect the there was some missmarks for the stopwatch… it happened before at GP… the final time could be 2 full seconds faster.

        • Matthew W says:

          Or ……Maybe Steve is trying to figure out the last 5/16 of Mystic Dan’s time, which was faster than the leader’s times, being that he was not in front at the 5/16 pole….very serious racehorse time!..

      • Davids says:

        I was as guilty as you Ms Blacktype. The Florida Derby gave an impression, to some, that further distance would not be Mage’s friend while in fact it was only a ‘prep’ to advance a more arduous task. Often, a performance in a prep race can be quite deceiving.
        Good luck to those who are able to determine every twist and turn in every race.

    • Nelson Maan says:

      Gustavo Delgado and Mage’s owners were more louder than a whisper about their Derby hopes in the evening of January 28th… remember that the Trainer had taken maidens to the Derby and optimism was warranted with Mage being so superior (relatively) to his previous Derby entries.

      After the Fountain of Youth I was so full of hope that I forced everyone here to take “vacation” in Florida to just see the son of Good Magic run in the Florida Derby…

      As you wrote earlier, history can be repeated with Speak Easy or any other wondrous newcomer (not necesarily from January)…

      In my mind a leading sophomore pre Triple Crown should be determined after the 100-point races are over… after the grind of the TC things may change dramatically as you have seen the last 6 years.

      Right now I got Hall of Fame, Speak Easy, Tuscan Sky, Island Cruiser and Just a Touch in my word novus list.

      • Davids says:

        Yes, Nelson, I remember you were very high on Mage for the Florida Derby but perhaps more patriotic than true conviction but I may have been wrong.

        There is nothing better than riding the wave all the way to the shore so let’s hope for a long ride with Speak Easy. Honor Marie is my other main ‘speculation’ after losing Parchment Party.

    • John Goggin says:

      Davids, I believe at this point today that Nysos is the leading three year old…by far and nobody even close. No question about that, at least from my perspective. But the leading three year old and the leading contender for the Kentucky Derby are two different stories. That said, my opinion and $5 might get you a tall latte at your local Starbucks.
      And I make those assumptions with no knock at horses that disappointed Saturday but more of being overwhelmed by Nysos in the Bob Baffert Stakes….oh excuse me….the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
      Speaking of Baffert, Churchill Downs, Carstanjen and the suspension this year…if there is going to be any movement-it might have to go through the folks at Keeneland Race Track as a third party mediator They have a relationship with CD and as welcomed Baffert when he goes there.

      • Davids says:

        Yes, John, without a doubt Nysos looks the best contender and frankly, I expect him to win the Santa Anita Derby in a canter. Even so, I’m not so sure on who he is beating until he faces the other Bob Baffert runners. Maymun, looks more a brilliant miler to me and, hopefully, come Belmont Stakes day, is in the Met Mile rather than the Woody Stephens where Muth would appear unbeatable at this stage.

        Saratoga “Belmont Stakes Day” could have fond memories for Bob Baffert.

  3. Isaac says:

    This year crops appears suspect at best, beside Baffert horse Nysos who is not eligible all other 3yr olds don’t look right.
    Fierceness will be a roller-coaster all year his best can dominate or he will clunk it up. Right now I leaning Honor Marie or Catching Freedom obvious there next race will determine if they are 1st Saturday forreal.

    • Bill Dawson says:

      Mystik Dan’s win in the Southwest Stakes stamps him as a legitimate Derby contender, IMO.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        I am starting to think like you… In principle I thought Mystic Dan would be a good miler like his Sire… but I am now liking his maternal family a lot… I really love seeing Tiznow, Turkoman, Siphon, Pleasant Colony and Conquistador Cielo no less.

        Colonel John was a favorite of mine going to the Triple Crown but Big Brown was a freak of nature that year… at least Colonel John was top 5 after winning the Travers after great campaign in the All Weather track of the time in California…

        Dan got enough stamina to spare indeed …!

    • Mike Relva says:

      Way early to write off Derby. Doesn’t revolve around one trainer.

  4. Lou A says:

    Fellas, the KY Derby is still 3 months away. I like to see a horse moving in the right direction and not necessarily winning or throwing up big numbers yet. I am a Nysos fan partly because I liked his daddy (that was the year we took my dad to the Derby) and because I like his physical form and how it shows on the racetrack. It’s too bad he won’t get the chance to follow his daddy as an undefeated in the Derby. He’s the most impressive horse I’ve seen so far. I was there when Fierceness won the BC Juvenile. It was his day. Did he peak? Can he return to the form he showed that day? I’m not sure. I think there are plenty of horses who could improve between now and the first Saturday in May. I saw Speak Easy win in person. He’s a nice horse. I saw Hall of Fame win at Fairgrounds the week before. He ran a faster time than Track Phantom did later that day although he didn’t beat much. He’s a good-looking horse. Phantom is solid though I don’t see him as a Derby winner. I liked Mystik Dan yesterday and hit a cold DD with him. He was the right horse for that race, but he’s another that I don’t see winning the Derby. This crop, as a whole, needs to improve. Let’s hope that happens and leads to a good race in May.