2023 Derby Rankings – Week 2

We had a minor shakeup in Week 2, due in good part to a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park, resulting in some disappointing performances, and of course we had the emergence of yet another Bob Baffert bullet, as we lead into what promises to be an action packed weekend on both coasts. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Jan. 30, 2023 – Week 2

By Steve Haskin

1—Forte (Todd Pletcher, Violence – Queen Caroline, by Blame)

He had his second work back, breezing an easy half in :51 2/5. We know he can beat you in many ways, winning by open lengths with strong stretch runs and fighting it out to the wire. He seems to have no weaknesses and can handle any kind of surface. All that is left right now is making the transition from 2 to 3, which we won’t know until he runs, and how far he wants to go. So let’s go to his pedigree. His sire Violence, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, was on his way to stardom, winning graded stakes at 2 on both coasts, but suffered a fractured sesamoid in his second-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, his only defeat in four career starts. Violence is a magnificent-looking horse who has already had success at stud. Forte’s dam, who won five minor stakes in Maryland and Indiana, is by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame, who is making a name for himself as a broodmare sire. Third dam Kew Garden is by Seattle Slew, out of multiple graded stakes winner Jeano, a daughter of Fappiano, out of Delaware Handicap winner Basie. This female line traces though three generations of top-class Phipps/Wheatley breeding to the Colonel Bradley mare Baby League, dam of Horse of the Year Busher, and finally to Baby League’s dam, the iconic La Troienne. Forte also has Secretariat in his pedigree three times, Dr. Fager twice, and Damascus once, as well as three English Derby winners. In short, Forte will run as far as they card races.


2—Arabian Knight (Bob Baffert, Uncle Mo – Borealis Night, by Astrology)

What to do about these (temporary?) Baffert horses? One thing about watching them win, you know they’re going to very early in the race. It didn’t take long to realize that Arabian Knight had the Southwest Stakes field at his mercy. Not only did he, like the vast majority of Baffert horses, skip to an uncontested lead at 2-5, he had John Velazquez riding high in the saddle and doing everything effortlessly. He turned back a brief challenge from 46-1 shot Frosted Departure and then opened up in the slop, winning by 5 1/2 lengths over a fast-closing Red Route One in typical Baffert fashion. I still don’t like this colt’s action the way he paddles his left leg, but it certainly doesn’t affect his performance. He’s just plain faster than anyone else. We won’t know if his main threats simply didn’t handle the sloppy track or they’re just not in his league. What we do know is that Arabian Knight and others will have to leave Baffert’s barn by February 28 to be able to earn Derby points if Baffert doesn’t win his hearing this Thursday to get an injunction that would allow his horses to run in the Derby and get points. As for his pedigree, he is a complete outcross through his first five generations. His fifth dam is by Accipiter, a son of Damascus, and he has Dr. Fager in his female family three times. So we have yet another lightly raced Derby horse who likely will have only four career starts before the Run for the Roses. We know he handles the slop and can set solid fractions and come home his final sixteenth in :06 1/5. We just don’t know what he beat on Saturday with the sloppy track.


3—Cave Rock (Bob Baffert for now, Arrogate – Georgie’s Angel, by Bellamy Road)

Now that we’re heading into February and the major action is about to pick up he needs to show up on the work tab in order to assure us he is well and on schedule. We’ll keep him hanging around the Top 5 for one more week, but it is looking more and more like he will run out of time. Like with stablemate Arabian Knight It’s too early to tell if he is a need the lead type of horse and how far he can carry his speed. We know he also is incredibly fast, having demolished his opposition in his first three starts and running seven furlongs in 1:20 4/5 in the Del Mar Futurity. So what can we expect to see this year? Looking at his pedigree, it is interesting to note that his sire and broodmare both turned in two of the freakiest performances anyone has ever seen when it comes to carrying speed a distance. We’re talking about Arrogate in the Travers and Bellamy Road in the Wood Memorial, both of whom had speed figures busting through the roof while winning by the length of the stretch. Arrogate’s sire Unbridled’s Song was another brilliantly fast horse who could carry his speed (seven furlongs in 1:21 2/5) a distance (1 1/8 miles in 1:47 4/5). Also note that one of the most dominant Kentucky Derby winners was Barbaro, whose sire Dynaformer is the maternal great-grandsire of Cave Rock. Dynaformer is by English Derby winner Roberto, who crushed the previously undefeated Brigadier Gerard in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup in course record time. Finally, Cave Rock’s fifth dam, Town Ad, is by a son of Triple Crown winner War Admiral, out of a dam by Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Middleground. So this is a family filled with brilliant horses who can carry their speed, with plenty of connections to classic winners.


4—Practical Move (Tim Yakteen, Practical Joke – Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex)

We really won’t have a good idea who he is until he gets on a plane and breaks loose from the Baffert Brigade that he has been battling in droves every race. He has held his own, getting placed first on a disqualification in a maiden race and soundly beating a trio of Baffert horses in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Just think, if he hadn’t been put up on a DQ he might still be trying to break his maiden, although Yakteen might have said the heck with it, let’s put him in the Los Al Futurity as a maiden. His pedigree is not that revealing, but he has enough balance top and bottom to combine good miler’s speed with classic-winning stamina. He is by the fast and classy Practical Joke, who was strong going seven furlongs, one mile, and 1 1/8 miles in top company, out of a miler-type mare by Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex. His second dam is by General Meeting, a graded stakes winner by Seattle Slew, out of an Alydar mare. His fourth dam is by Dr. Fager’s son Dr. Blum, who won or placed in 11 stakes in New York. So, while this is a solid pedigree that suggests distance will not be a problem it doesn’t tell us that much more about him that we don’t already know.


5—Cyclone Mischief (Dale Romans, Into Mischief – Areyoucominghere, by Bernardini)

Here is a great example of what you’re looking for with Into Mischief on top. Cyclone Mischief’s dam is by the top-class Bernardini, winner of the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Travers, out of a half-sister to 2-year-filly champion Composure and West Virginia Derby winner Ready Set, by Belmont and Preakness winner Afleet Alex. Third dam Party Cited is by two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged. And talk about a blast from the ’70’s, racing golden age, Cyclone Mischief has all three Triple Crown winners, Secretariat. Seattle Slew, and Affirmed in his pedigree, as well as Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid. Now that’s what you call four aces. No trainer wants to win the Kentucky Derby more than Dale Romans, who grew up a few blocks from Churchill Downs and is still in the same barn as his father, for whom he worked for when he was just a kid over 40 years ago. Cyclone Mischief tuned up for the Holy Bull Stakes with a five-furlong drill in 1:01 2/5.


6—Instant Coffee (Brad Cox, Bolt d’Oro – Follow No One, by Uncle Mo)

I had been hung up on his speed figures, but watching his races again he looks like a tough honest horse who likes to win. He had been running mediocre 7 1/2 and 8 1/2 Thoro-Graph numbers but made a big jump to a 2 1/2 in the Lecomte Stakes, so it looks as if he is moving forward the right way. Bolt d’Oro has become one of the hot young sires, on the track and at the sales. Of course being by the ageless Medaglia d’Oro, whose offspring are still selling for big numbers, out of an A.P. Indy mare doesn’t hurt. He should not have any problems with distance, as his broodmare sire Uncle Mo is a Derby-winning sire, and Uncle Mo’s sire Indian Charlie is the broodmare sire of Flightline. Now we do have to add that Instant Coffee’s dam and second dam were mediocre sprinters, and his third dam was three-for-19, but did manage to finish third against the boys in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes and produced the classy million-dollar earner Lady Apple. His fourth and fifth dams were unraced, but his fifth dam is out of a full-sister to Affirmed. And returning to his second dam, she is by Belmont winner Empire Maker, who is by Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled. Finally, breeders should latch on to Instant Coffee because he is a rare outcross though five generations.


7—Tapit Trice (Todd Pletcher, Tapit – Danzatrice, by Dunkirk)

This colt made a quantum leap into the rankings this week in anticipation of his next race, which will be in an allowance race on Saturday, as Pletcher decided not to rush him into stakes just yet. He really caught my eye watching his first two races based on his overall appearance and demeanor, as well as his fluid action, the huge extension of his stride, and the way he drops his head and levels off in the stretch. This is a bold move putting him up this high, but he just has a look of class about him, and with his pedigree and the length of his stride he will get better the farther he goes. His Brisnet speed figures are impressive, jumping from an 85 to a 96, with 99 late pace figures in both starts, which indicates a strong and consistent closer. His Beyers also showed big improvement, going from a 73 to an 87. In his first start going a flat mile, he broke to the outside, dropping far off the pace. He was still sixth at the quarter pole and then closed through a narrow opening, which I liked to see. He was too far back to catch the leaders, but was running strongly to the wire and continued to gallop out strong in an excellent debut. In his next start, also at a mile, he broke last and trailed the field before moving up steadily and settling in seventh. This time, however, he showed a good turn of foot, unleashing a big move while circling the field five-wide before hooking up with Slip Mahoney turning for home. The two battled the length of the stretch with Slip Mahoney bumping Tapit Trice, who outgamed him to the wire to win by a neck. And we saw how courageous Slip Mahoney is when he came back to win last week, refusing to be passed by the Pletcher-trained Crupi. It’s still early and he has a lot to prove, but he has two strong flat miles under him and one can see why he sold as a yearling for $1.3 million.


8—Giant Mischief (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Vertical Oak, by Giant Oak)

This horse has looked so good visually, displaying a powerful turn of foot and the willingness to fight in the stretch and come out on top, that I have overlooked the speed that inundates his male and female families. I no longer believe for obvious reasons that Into Mischiefs are a question mark going classic distances. But I still prefer to see stamina in the female family. Giant Mischief’s dam Vertical Oak won or placed in 11 stakes at six furlongs and her only other stakes placing was at 6 1/2 furlongs. Vertical Oak’s dam also won or placed in 11 stakes, all of them sprints. But there is a little stamina to fall back on. Broodmare sire Giant Oak was a top-class horse mainly at 1 1/8 miles, but did finish second in the 1 1/4-mile Hawthorne Gold Cup and third in the 1 3/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Giant Oak’s sire Giant’s Causeway was best at 1 1/4 miles in Europe and was beaten a neck by Tiznow in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Giant Mischief also has the stamina-laden His Majesty, a son of Ribot, in his male and female family. So you can make of that what you wish. It’s not an ideal classic pedigree, but horses today seem to go farther than their pedigree might suggest if they have the mind, and this colt seems to have that attribute.


9—Signator (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Pension, by Seeking the Gold)

If you feel bloodlines was even partly responsible for Flightline’s greatness then you’re going to love this guy. If you rely heavily on speed ratings to influence you you’re not going to like him, at least not now. If you go by the visual aspect of a horse’s performances then you’re going to like him. I gave you the visuals last week, and now I can add that his Beyer, Brisnet, and Thoro-Graph numbers have been slow, although the Thoro-Graph numbers are not that bad for January and an improvement of just three or four points will put him right there where he belongs. As for his pedigree we must start with Flightline, who is by Tapit and whose fifth dam is the Phipps-bred Blitey though her daughter, Grade 1 winner Fantastic Find. Signator also is by Tapit and his third dam is Blitey through her daughter, grade 1 winner Furlough. So both Signator and Flightline share the same sire and trace to the same mare through their grade 1-winning half sisters. They also are both inbred three times to Mr. Prospector. Blitey is by Riva Ridge, champion and winner of two legs of the Triple Crown, out of Lady Pitt, champion and winner of two legs of the Filly Triple Crown. Lady Pitt is by Horse of the Year and Belmont winner Sword Dancer. Lady Pitt won the CCA Oaks, so she, along with Sword Dancer and Riva Ridge all won the third and most demanding leg of their respective Triple Crowns. Speaking of the Belmont, Signator has an amazing eight Belmont winners in his first five generations, not to mention Tapit, who has sired four Belmont winners. So I’m not going by speed figures at this early stage, because I feel this colt, with his pedigree and strong mechanics, is only going to keep improving.


10—Banishing (Brendan Walsh, Ghostzapper – Dowager, by A.P. Indy)

He has to be considered a bit of a question mark until he gets over the cuts he suffered before last week’s allowance race that forced him to miss an important prep race, in which he would have been a big favorite. We’ll see if he’s recovered enough to show up on Saturday. As I mentioned last week he seems to have all the physical tools and does have good bottom for such a lightly raced horse. And he covers a lot of ground. From a pedigree standpoint he has three Breeders’ Cup Classic winners in his first two generations – Ghostzapper, Awesome Again, and A.P, Indy. His second, third, and fourth dams are all stakes winners and his fifth dam is by Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Vaguely Noble, one of the great stamina influences. His female family also includes top stamina influences Buckpasser, Round Table, and Hail to Reason twice, so he is another with enough stamina top and bottom to get classic distances with no problem. All he has to do now is get back on track and find a good spot for his return…and fairly quickly.


11—Dubyuhnell (Danny Gargan, Good Magic – Wild Gams, by Forest Wildcat)

My big question with him is how he will do on a fast track, as his only two victories have come in the slop, including an off-the-turf maiden race. His career debut was an OK race finishing a non-threatening fourth behind Instant Coffee. I believe the proverbial light bulb went on in midstretch of his second race when he switched to his right lead and quickly shifted to another gear, blowing by the leaders and drawing off impressively with his ears pricked. I loved the way he was striding out at the end. It was bold move then putting him in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes, and you had to love the way he hooked a tough competitor in Arctic Arrogance and out-fought him the length of the stretch. His 1 3/4 Thoro-graph number was the fastest of any horse from this crop, including Forte and Cave Rock. He is nominated to Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes and we’ll see if he runs and if he can step up in competition and duplicate his form on a fast track. His name even showed up in the early Saudi Derby entries. From a pedigree standpoint, he’ll get plenty of stamina from his male side. His dam was a top-class sprinter who won seven stakes all at six furlongs, but his tail-female family traces to the Greentree-bed Cohoes, who could sprint in top company or run long, winning the Brooklyn Handicap and Whitney Stakes. Cohoes is best known for siring the Belmont and Travers winner Quadrangle.


12—Red Route One (Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner – Red House, by Tapit)

He ran a bang-up race to finish a fast closing second in the Southwest Stakes at 15-1, and I believe if he didn’t have a horrendous trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes he would have won or at worst been a close second. Intent on bypassing sprints with him they ran him twice on grass to start off his career. In his first race at Saratoga going 1 1/16 miles he got caught behind and agonizingly slow pace and was beaten 4 1/2 lengths, coming home in a swift :23 and :06. He then showed up in a mile race at Kentucky Downs and that gave him a ton of bottom over a very deep, undulating course and long stretch, as he drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Thrown into the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity for his dirt debut he rallied along the inside after changing leads late to finish third, just edging out Instant Coffee for the show spot. He then finished a well-beaten fifth in the Street Sense Stakes in the slop, but was bounced around like a three-cushion billiard shot going into the first turn. In the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes he was trapped the entire race and was unable to get out when Instant Coffee went by him with a clear outside run. Turning for home he was “crying out for room,” as the track announcer said. He tried to ease out twice but was bumped each time, knocking him back behind a wall of horses. He tried to make another run, but there was no room inside or outside. He finally found a small opening inside the sixteenth pole and shot through. He rallied strongly to be fourth, beaten in a four-horse photo for second and 1 1/2 lengths for all the money. In the Southwest, he dropped some eight lengths behind the next to last horse before unleashing a big late run five-wide. He jumped back to his left lead in midstretch and still flew home on his wrong lead to finish a clear-cut second. Dirt, grass, slop, traffic, bumping, he has seen it all.


13—Disarm (Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner – Easy Tap, by Tapit)

He continues to progress in his training, breezing a half in :49 3/5 at Fair Grounds. Again, I’m taking a real shot with him considering he’s had only two starts and hasn’t been farther that seven furlongs. But he did make a good impression in his last race, with his Beyer speed figure jumping 20 points from a 68 to an 88, his Brisnet figure from a 76 to a 91, and his Thoro-Graph number from a 15 3/4 to a 6 1/4. Those are all dramatic leaps forward and I’m banking on seeing another jump when he goes two turns. By Gun Runner, out of a Tapit mare, he has royal blood up close and I love that his only inbreeding is in the fifth generation and it is to Fappiano three times. The Fappiano sire line is arguably the most potent in the country, and Disarm traces to him through his sons Unbridled, Quiet American, and Cryptoclearance, the last going through Cryptoclearance’s grandson Candy Ride, the sire of Gun Runner. What I found interesting about his tail-female family is that his fourth generation sire is by the seldom seen Crimson Satan and his fourth generation dam is by the seldom seen Jaipur. And Jaipur and Crimson Satan finished first and third, respectively, in the 1962 Belmont Stakes and first and second in the Jersey Derby, separated by a nose.


14—Victory Formation (Brad Cox, Tapwrit – Smart N Soft, by Smart Strike)

He turned in his second work since his victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes, breezing a solid half in :48 3/5 at Fair Grounds. There are so many horses you can round out the rankings with, but there is something to be said for being undefeated, especially at three different distances and winning by open lengths twice and gutting out a photo after a hard-fought battle. His sire is a Belmont winner and his paternal grandsire Tapit sired four Belmont winners. Broodmare sire Smart Strike sired 12 champions, four Breeders’ Cup winners, and two classic winners. Victory Formation also is inbred three times to Seattle Slew. Once again we have his fifth generation sire and dam being by Jaipur and Crimson Satan, the one-three finishers of the Belmont Stakes. So there are plenty of classic influences in his pedigree.


15—Blazing Sevens (Chad Brown, Good Magic – Trophy Girl, by Warrior’s Reward)

He had his second three-furlong blowout at Payson Park. There is no rush with him, as he has enough bottom and experience at 2, and Payson Park’s surface should get him fit fairly quickly. Although his pedigree is solid enough and distance should not be a problem, there is nothing too exciting about it, as he is inbred four times to Mr. Prospector. Good Magic has been a presence so far on the Derby trail with two sons in the Top 15 and others knocking at the door. Broodmare sire Warrior’s Reward’s only stakes victory came in the seven-furlong Carter Handicap, but he did place in the Jim Dandy and Dwyer and he is by Medaglia d’Oro, out of a Seeking the Gold mare, and his third dam is by Graustark, out of a Princequillo mare. Blazing Seven’s fourth dam Hortensia was a top-class filly in France who won the Prix de l’Opera. We will just have to sit on him for a while until his works pick up and Brown maps out a schedule for him.



JACES’S ROAD and CORONA BOLT were big disappointments in the Southwest Stakes, but we really don’t know if they are not as good as they looked in their previous start or simply couldn’t handle the sloppy track. Did Brad Cox lose two of his big Derby hopefuls already? There is nothing to do now but see where they show up next and if they can improve off their dismal efforts. It was a shock to see the only horse posing a threat to Arabian Knight at the top of the stretch being FROSTED DEPARTURE, a mediocre sprinter who had already run nine times. He actually hung on well to finish third, which does raise the question about how legitimate this race was under the conditions. Frosted Departure’s stablemate, SUN THUNDER, who finished fourth in the Southwest, was considered a far better Derby prospect.

Remember when Bob Baffert used to win all those big races with what he called “ham sandwiches?” Well, this year he’s dining on a 10-course feast from Baluga caviar to filet mignon. The menu reads as follows: Hejazi ($3.55 million), Arabian Knight ($2.3 million), Newgate ($850,000), Faustin ($800,000), Fort Bragg ($700,000), Carmel Road ($650,000), Arabian Lion ($600,000), Cave Rock ($550,000), National Treasure ($500,000), and Harlocap ($400,000).

My vote for trainer of the week goes to Ryan Hanson, that’s right, Ryan Hanson, who prevented Baffert from becoming the only trainer in memory to have every starter in a stakes race, or likely any race for that matter. With Baffert having four of the five horses entered in Sunday’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes and running three, it didn’t scare off Hanson, who entered Man Child even though the last time they went up against three Baffert horses in the American Pharoah Stakes Man Child was beaten 24 lengths at 72-1. The other cupboards in Southern California must be awfully bare of 3-year-olds to allow Baffert to run amok in every stakes, but at least this trainer’s got chutzpah. Oh, wait, Santa Anita lists four horses for Saturday’s Robert Lewis Stakes and all four are trained by Baffert. Ryan Hanson, where are you?

As for the race itself, it went pretty much according to script with the far more accomplished and experienced HAVNAMELTDOWN going wire to wire and holding off the impressive maiden winner FAUSTIN by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:22 1/5. Both horses went off at even-money and basically ran around there in a paid workout. While the winner looks like a superior sprinter, Faustin, who is by Curlin, should be better suited to two turns.

Catching up from last week, the Leonatus Stakes at Turfway Park, which Rich Strike put on the map last year, was won this year by FUNTASTIC AGAIN, who now has back-to-back impressive wins over Turfway’s synthetic surface. Trained by Wesley Ward, the son of Funtastic did beak his maiden in an off-the-turf dirt race by 6 3/4 lengths, but was well beaten in the Breeder’s Futurity at 40-1, a race that was way over his head. He no doubt will remain on Turfway’s road to the Derby.

Add another name to Bob Baffert’s legion of 3-year-olds. HARLOCAP, a son of Justify, out of a Bodemeister mare, broke his maiden on January 22 going 1 1/16 miles following two second-place finishes. As the even-money favorite he went wire to wire, winning by 4 1/2 lengths and getting an 85 Beyer speed figure. He is an efficient mover and I like the way he kept opening up without being asked when challenged. In his previous start he had to take up sharply in tight quarters going into the first turn, dropping back to fourth, and then rushing up to challenge for the lead. He opened up a two-length advantage at eighth pole, but his early problems caught up to him and he was nailed near the wire. With his maiden victory out of the way he could prove to be a sleeper in the Baffert barn.

Also last weekend at Fair Grounds, the Upstart colt CAGLIOSTRO gave trainer Cherie DeVaux a nice winner when he broke his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths, breaking awkwardly and dropping back to last and then circling the field four wide.

The hard-knocking ARCTIC ARROGANCE tuned up for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes, breezing five furlongs in 1:02 3/5. He likely will face the Brad Cox-trained HIT SHOW, who was scratched from the Southwest Stakes. As a point of interest, they are calling for temperatures of well below zero for Saturday and much warmer for Sunday, so we’ll see if NYRA reschedules the Withers for Sunday.

Another Brad Cox-trained colt, VERIFYING, runner-up in the Champagne, had his first work at Fair Grounds since his impressive 5 1/4-length score in an allowance race, breezing a half in :49 1/5. The son of Justify is right on the edge of being ranked in the Top 15.

With the Kentucky Jockey Club form now looking as if it might be better than originally thought, we have to throw the runner-up CURLY JACK into the mix. Another son of Good Magic, he boasts enough credentials in six starts, at distances from 5 1/2 to 1 1/16 miles, to be considered a legitimate Derby contender. After a brief freshening he has returned to the work tab at Fair Grounds with a pair of easy breezes for trainer Tom Amoss.

The highly touted EXTRA ANEJO could be back training in the not too distant future, but making the Derby looks like a huge longshot for the son of Into Mischief, who won his only start last October at Keeneland by 9 1/2 lengths under wraps for Steve Asmussen before suffering a setback.

There is a good 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Gulfstream Monday afternoon, featuring a pair of Todd Pletcher horses. We will update later in the afternoon if warranted.

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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