Derby Rankings: Week 3

A bit of a shakeup this week with some polarizing additions, as we wait for the first big weekend coming up when more changes are likely and the Derby Rankings hopefully will seem clearer. But at this point it looks like the top of the Rankings won’t come into focus until the Risen Star Stakes on February 19. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Jan. 31, 2022 – Week 3

By Steve Haskin

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

It’s still early, but if you go by what their trainers say, there is a good chance the No. 1 and 2 ranked horses will square off in the Risen Star Stakes on February 19, along with the No. 6  ranked horse. It’s apparent that points have now become the major focus when planning a horse’s schedule, and if you wait two weeks you can run for 50 points at Fair Grounds instead of running for 10 points at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull Stakes. So many trainers now are content to run their horse only two times before the Derby and you might as well go for the bigger points. Even the No. 3 horse looks like he’ll wait for the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby with the alternative being to debut a week earlier in the Fountain of Fountain of Youth. So we won’t be seeing our current top-ranked horses for quite a while. As for Smile Happy, he didn’t have his usual work this weekend and McPeek said he’s probably going to work him only two more times before the Risen Star, saying he’s “plenty fit” and that he could probably get away with only one more work if he wanted to. He still has the fastest Thoro-Graph number, having run a “2” in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in only his second career start, which is already approaching Derby-type numbers. And both of his races have been two turns, so he does have bottom under him.

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

He’s had good steady works, his latest being a :49 4/5 half-mile breeze at Payson Park, and Brown said he’s doing great. With only two lifetime starts, having already run a mile and eighth, and Gulfstream not being the kind of track on which you want to shorten up in distance, he will also wait for the Risen Star Stakes to get another mile and an eighth race in him, with the 50 points to the winner being an additional incentive to wait. Like with Smile Happy, It’s hard to fully assess the true quality of a horse after only two starts, especially to rank him this high, but he has done things in those two starts to suggest he is an extraordinary colt, who has already checked off all the boxes, at least the important ones. And to be honest, other than the McPeek horses, no one has come even close to demonstrating the special qualities you want to see in a highly ranked horse. So we are all taking a wait and see approach before feeling totally confident in a horse’s ranking. And until we start seeing horses display those qualities we’re just going to go by what we’ve seen so far, statistically and visually. And so far this guy has left a big impression.

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

He had another three-furlong breeze, this time going in a sharp :35 3/5. He has shown he can overcome trouble at the start and being trapped in tight quarters, he has an electrifying turn of foot that can put him in contention in a flash, is maneuverable enough to be taken outside, inside or between horses, and can burst clear of horses under a hand ride. And he runs straight and true in the stretch and holds his legs under him perfectly. In short, he is a true professional with no flaws. McPeek remembers him very well at the sale, right down to which barn he was in and what path he walked on. “He had a great presence and walk, huge shoulders and a great hip” he said. “He brought a little more than we expected, but obviously he was worth it.” It would have been interesting to see how he handled Corniche in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but, as much of a cliché as it is, it might have been a blessing in disguise if he can improve even a little from his 2-year-old form and come back a fresh horse. Because of his huge Thoro-Graph leap from a “10 ½” to a “3 ½” and the foundation he has built, the time off could be very beneficial.

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

Last week I concentrated on his strong series of works and on his pedigree. From a numbers standpoint, he is on a great Thoro-Graph pattern, going from a “13 ½” to a “10 ½” to a solid “4 ¾” in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I also like that his Brisnet figures jumped from an 84 to a 99. His Beyer figures show a more steady improvement, going from a 69 to 79 to 86, indicating he’s still has a lot more improving to do. It all depends on which numbers you believe are more accurate. The Beyers as a whole have not treated the top horses kindly. Of the 23 Future Wager horses, the only horses to get higher than a 90 are Jack Christopher and Commandperformance, and Jack is gone. Following four rapid works at Gulfstream he was given more of a maintenance work, breezing a half in :49 2/5 and then came back Sunday with a :48 3/5 half. It has been decided to enter him in Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes and we’ll see what kind of transition he’s made from 2 to 3 and how he stacks up with a hard-knocking graded stakes winner like Mo Donegal and the unknown Tiz the Bomb. Judging by his three fast five-furlong works in January and his two subsequent half-mile breezes he looks ready for a big effort.

5—Newgrange (Bob Baffert, Violence – Bella Chianti, by Empire Maker)

OK, I’m giving in. but only because I’ve got to liven things up on here and because all the top ranked horses will be gathering dust for quite awhile and I’m running out of things to say about them. I need some fresh faces. Newgrange has already lost 20 points, having won two graded stakes this year. But that actually bodes well for the horse because it shows that the owners have enough faith in him that they are willing to pass up these points and wait for the 50 and 100 point races before making any decision, and I’ve been saying all along, if a good horse can’t get enough points in those last two races he doesn’t belong in the Derby. For Baffert, all that was on his mind was taking home the $750,000 purse of the Southwest Stakes. He had to be thrilled to see Newgrange change tactics and win from off the pace for the first time, stamping himself as a leading Derby contender. What happens next is out of his control and I’m sure he has come to terms with that, knowing the time will come for the owners to start thinking seriously about the Derby. They have stood by him and supported him and are in no rush to do anything now. In the Southwest, Newgrange broke sharply from the 10 post, but was outrun into the first turn and was content to track the leaders in third. He didn’t look that comfortable on the far turn as three horses came up on his inside, with two of them getting a slight lead on him. But he quickly shifted gears and began closing in on the leaders. He found his best stride after switching leads in the upper stretch and was relentless down the stretch, drawing off to a 1 ½-length victory. The fractions and final time were pretty slow, but he still ran two-fifths faster than Secret Oath, who had scored a spectacular victory in the Martha Washington Stakes earlier on the card. Anyway, here he is, like it or not. With victories in the Sham and Southwest and the distinct possibility he will be moved when the time comes, he’s done a heckuva lot more than anyone else this year and I can’t pretend any longer he doesn’t exist.

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

O’Neill decided to bypass the 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes and, like McPeek and Brown, will wait for the more enticing 50 points of the Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. Watching last week’s work he still hasn’t gotten rid of his habit of cocking his head to the outside. Somehow he was able to upset the heavily favored Messier in the Los Alamitos Futurity while not only cocking his head, but lugging in as well. Right now, his resume is based on that one race. Is he that good or did Messier have an off day?  Andy gave him every chance to come back and beat him by goofing around and he couldn’t get it done. What I found most fascinating about Andy is that he was pretty mediocre in his two Cal-bred races, but jumped from an “8 ¼” Thoro-Graph number in his defeat at even-money in the state-bred Golden State Juvenile Stakes to a “5” in the Los Al Futurity. In addition, he went from an 89 Brisnet figure to a sensational 101 and from a 71 Beyer to an 85. Getting back to this colt’s unsightly little habit, he is still immature and showing no signs of correcting it. I have no idea how long he can get away with it and no idea how good he really is. He still has several boxes to check off. He did turn in a sharp work over the weekend going five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and his head movement wasn’t quite as bad, as he crushed his workmate by some six lengths and was striding out beautifully. It won’t be until he carries his head straight on a regular basis and in a race that we will be convinced he is over that. Hopefully this was a step in the right direction.

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

The time of judgment has come. He finally gets reunited with a dirt track to see if can handle horses like Giant Game and Mo Donegal and others. His works suggest he can, and McPeek’s high praise for him suggests he can. And yes his dirt heavy female family suggests he can. Can McPeek wind up with three of the top four ranked horses after Saturday? Can Tiz the Bomb actually turn out to be the best one? That certainly adds some intrigue to the Holy Bull, where he’ll have to run big against the Remsen winner and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-place finisher. So stay tuned. He had his final work Saturday, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 3/5. I haven’t bothered going into speed ratings because his last three races have been on grass, but if he can close from far back the way he did in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf or from closer to the pace as he did in the Bourbon Stakes that’s all you can ask for right now. He just needs to show that same explosive kick on dirt so he can move on to the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby.

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

It will be interesting to see how sharp he is when he makes his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes. Right now he looks to be a determined stretch runner without a huge turn of foot, but who keeps coming and wears you down. How that style will play out over a normally speed conducive Gulfstream track and short stretch we’ll just have see, especially dropping back in distance from 1 1/8 miles. A lot will depend on how the pace scenario shapes up. He tuned up for the race with a :49 3/5 half-mile breeze. At this point I usually state that I’m not a big fan of running 2-year-olds a mile and an eighth over dead track in the Remsen, feeling it can dull a horse. But I won’t say it this year because I have the runner-up in that race ranked No. 2. The reason is that he was coming off one six-furlong race and was up with the pace in an extraordinary performance, while Mo Donegal was coming off a 1 1/16-mile maiden victory, so I want to see how sharp he’s going to be coming off that race, in which they crawled up front in :51 2/5 and 1:16 1/5. But that is more about the track than the horses. He’s not going to ‘wow’ you with his fancy footwork, but he’s 100-percent dependable and will always give you a run for your money.

9—Messier (Bob Baffert, Empire Maker – Checkered Past, by Smart Strike)

If I’m going to start ranking a select number of Baffert horses who I’m fully expecting to be in the Derby, whoever the trainer may be, and competing in the 50 and 100 point races then I have to include this colt, who has a ton of ability and will run next weekend in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. He has the same ownership as Newgrange and could very well be a more serious Derby threat, but Newgrange has two stakes victories this year and Messier still has to rebound off a shocking defeat in the Los Alamitos Futurity. I’m expecting him to do just that in the Lewis. In his first start at five furlongs he was all over the track, racing greenly down the stretch, and still finished second, beaten a length. In his next start going six furlongs he demonstrated a quick turn of foot and blew by the leader while still under wraps and quickly opened a three-length lead, then kept increasing it with every stride with Flavien Prat looking back and easing him up the final eighth, winning by 6 ¼ lengths. In the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes, he sat back in fourth behind a very rank Forbidden Kingdom, made his move three-wide, and drew clear to win by 3 ½ lengths in a sharp 1:22 3/5. And we saw what Forbidden Kingdom did to three talented Baffert horses in Saturday’s San Vicente Stakes. Sent off at 1-2 in the Los Al Futurity, his first start around two turns, he was on the muscle early and didn’t relax like he did in his previous races. He ran well and finished far ahead of the third-place finisher, but Slow Down Andy just had his number. It must be noted that both of Messier’s defeats came at Los Alamitos, so let’s see what he does at Santa Anita, where he ran his most impressive race.

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

Pletcher said he’s scheduled to have first work this week. He is just one of the many ranked horses who is still a question mark. Being a maiden, what path will he take and can he duplicate his form in the Champagne Stakes? I’m sticking with him because I was on him after his career debut, even though he got beat, and had him as the subject of my first Derby Sleepers column. So I admit I might be a little biased, but I still can’t get his Champagne performance out of my head, running a strong second to Jack Christopher, arguably the most brilliant 2-year-old in the country before being sidelined. That is why his 41-1 odds in the latest Derby Future Wager could turn out to be a huge overlay. Remember, his sire won the Belmont Stakes and his broodmare sire has sired four Belmont winners. His third dam is by Fit to Fight, the fourth and last horse to sweep New York’s prestigious Handicap Triple Crown (Met Mile, Suburban, and Brooklyn). He also is inbred to Nijinsky, the last horse to sweep the English Triple Crown more than 50 years ago, and he is inbred to Seattle Slew, the first undefeated horse to sweep the U.S. Triple Crown. In other words, the farther this horse goes the better he should get. Although he doesn’t seem to have a big turn of foot, he just gets stronger as the race goes on and keeps coming at you. Considering his injury, his wide trip, and running closer to the pace than usual, his fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was not that bad.

11—Emmanuel (Todd Pletcher, More Than Ready – Hard Cloth, by Hard Spun)

I realize his competition has been questionable, but I also remember Pletcher sending Always Dreaming to Tampa Bay for an easy allowance win against inferior competition and he used that race as a springboard to impressive victories in a Gulfstream allowance, the Florida Derby, and Kentucky Derby. This colt might have gone a similar route had he not scratched out of an earlier Tampa allowance race with a fever. His speed figures have not been dazzling, and he is behind because of that scratch, but visually he has been spectacular and his mechanics are flawless. There were some promising colts in Sunday’s allowance race and he just toyed with them, loping along on the lead after disposing of a rank Cloud Play. The Mark Casse-trained Glider, an impressive maiden winner on grass, moved up along the inside turning for home and cut the corner, actually pulling on even terms in the upper stretch, but jockey Pablo Morales still hadn’t moved his hands and paid no attention to him. Then, passing the eighth pole he finally set him down, throwing two crosses on him, and he was gone, showing push-button acceleration. He drew off under a hand ride to win by 4 ½ lengths, again just gliding over the ground and running perfectly straight the entire stretch. Following a slow opening half, he went his next two quarters in :23 4/5 and :24 flat without breaking a sweat. Yes, I am taking a shot, going against several of my rules, and I acknowledge he is untested and has a lot of catching up to do and still will be lightly raced, but sometimes it’s fun to take at least one shot based on the feeling that you’re seeing a colt who could be exceptional.

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

He was on a good Tho-Graph pattern, going from back-to-back “10s” to a “6 ½” to a “4 ¼” in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, “but regressed back to a “6 ¾” in the Lecomte, and you don’t want to see a horse regress in his 3-year-old debut, especially when it was his fourth straight loss. The only reason he is still ranked is because he’s run well in top-class company and just might be waiting for the distances to stretch out to take that big step forward. At this point I will give him the benefit of the doubt because he always runs hard, but need to see some electricity and not just those even races picking up a piece of it. Although he’ll be facing much tougher competition in the Risen Star, Casse is not intimidated. When told who is planning on coming, he said. “At least they are coming to our house.” We’ll give him one more shot to defend his house and send the invaders packing.

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

He turned in another strong six-furlong work, this time in 1:13 flat. The more I see him turning in these powerful long works the more confused I am what the plans are for him. Regardless what owner Tami Bobo said last week I cannot see him waiting three months from the Mucho Macho Man to the Florida Derby, regardless of the huge leap in his Thoro-Graph figures. Even the two months to the Fountain of Youth is a long time, but makes much more sense and gives him two more starts. I have been trying to straighten this out, but have not had any luck. As I’ve been saying, this is a very talented horse who could easily become a major Derby contender, and a repeat of the Mucho Macho Man would move him way up. But where that repeat will take place is puzzling at this time. Watch out for any late developments.

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

He is the only horse from the Lecomte who is showing a good progression in his Thoro-Graph numbers, going from a “12 ¾” to an “11” to a “7 ¾” to a “5.” I know he had the right pace setup with Epicenter going too fast early, but he passed some very good horses in the stretch and perhaps he is as good as he looked. I’m not sure what to make of his pedigree because he has both strong speed and stamina influences throughout. He has some strong European stamina in his tail-female family and I believe that overshadows the speed influences, but who can really know for sure how far he wants to go. I’m not counting Midnight Lute as a speed influence because he only sprinted due to a breathing problem and he has sired horses who could run long. This colt’s running style certainly will help him.

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

If his six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5 at Palm Meadows is any indicator, he should be ready to fire his best shot in his 3-year-old debut, whether it’s the Holy Bull or Sam F. Davis a week later. It’s difficult to know what to make of him, having run well in the Breeders’ Futurity and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, but was no match for Rattle N Roll and Smile Happy, who beat him pretty soundly, even though he was the 7-5 and 9-5 favorite. But he did show brilliance winning his debut at Saratoga by 6 1/2 lengths, covering the seven furlongs in a sprightly 1:22 3/5, earning a strong 90 Beyer figure. But he hasn’t improved on that going two turns in graded stakes company. However, it’s no disgrace finishing third and second to two of the leading Derby contenders. He’s already had a five-furlong bullet work at Palm Meadows and the recent six-furlong work was very strong, so he could be a handful.

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

He paired up “5 ¾” Thoro-Graph numbers in the Lecomte, which is OK as long as he shows improvement next time. On one hand you can forgive his nose defeat in the Lecomte if you attributed it to simply going too fast early, but we’re talking Kentucky Derby and that isn’t a habit you want to get into going a mile and a quarter. Unlike the past, speed horses have fared well in the Run for the Roses, but you still want to see a horse who can relax and not use up too much energy, whether it’s on the lead or just off it. We know he’s game, as he showed in the Lecomte and we know he can run off from you as he did in the Gun Runner Stakes. There is still a lot to like about him, but remember, the first three finishers of the Lecomte are going to face some heavy hitters shipping in for the Risen Star, so we should get a good idea how the local group of 3-year-olds shape up.


With three new additions and a logjam at the bottom, I had to drop a few horses off the rankings, at least for now. I reluctantly dropped CHASING TIME because he hasn’t worked in over two weeks, and once he does he likely will return to the Rankings. With everyone lumped so close together there is always going to be movement, and while not working for two weeks is not a big deal yet, you have to pick on any little thing you can find. Hopefully, he’ll be back on the work tab soon and back in the Rankings. I also dropped GOD OF LOVE because Mark Casse said he may not run him in Saturday’s Withers Stakes as originally intended with the weather being so bad in New York. But the snowstorm has come and gone and there is no telling what the weather will be next weekend. So if he doesn’t run we’ll just have to wait for him to show up somewhere else to see how he handles the dirt. Two potential Derby horses from Casse’s barn, GOLDEN GLIDER and VOLCANIC, both turned in sharp works at Casse’s training center, with the former going five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 and Volcanic going a half in :47 3/5. We could see both next at Tampa Bay Downs.

The aforementioned FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is an absolute rocket of a horse who did the unthinkable – defeat three Bob Baffert horses in a five-horse field. This colt rattles off :21 and change and :43 and change fractions like nothing and he ran the Baffert horses off their feet, and that included his highly regarded DOPPELGANGER and the Del Mar Futurity winner PINEHURST. Although he most likely is a sprinter or miler with all that early speed, trainer Dick Mandella said they will at least try him two turns in the San Felipe Stakes. He did “slow down” to a :44 2/5 half in the San Vicente. He is by American Pharoah, and though there is a lot of speed in his female family in the second and third generations, there is stamina in his fourth generation. These days you never know how far a horse will run.

OK, what are we going to make out of ETHEREAL ROAD’S Silky Sullivan-like performance in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Oaklawn Saturday? Making his fourth career start, he is either climbing the ladder five rungs at a time or this race was some sort of aberration brought about by weak competition. I have no idea, but I will say that performance opened my eyes a lot wider than any other 3-year-old race this year. There is no way he should have won that race, never mind win it by four lengths. In his first three starts he went from seventh to fifth to third, beaten 6 ¼ lengths. But that last race gave us just a slight glimpse of what was to come. In this race he was sent off at 19-1 and hesitated at the beak and then stumbled, dropping back not only to last, but completely out of the picture. Down the backstretch he was some six lengths behind the next to last horse and 15 to 20 lengths off the lead. Then, as if someone had turned on the switch, he took off, split horses and began picking the others off one by one passing horses with every stride. Track announcer Vic Stauffer said, “He’s up to midpack and could actually get a piece of this purse. If he does it’ll be a giant effort.” Seconds later he changed his tune: “Here comes Ethereal Road and he’s gonna get a heckuva lot more than a piece of the purse; he’s gonna get it all. Look at this run — Wow!” That pretty much describes the race, in which he went from hopelessly out of it to a runaway winner. I don’t know if that was for real, but it sure was breathtaking to watch. And guess what? He is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, so that would make it doubly exciting if he were the real deal. Lukas doesn’t know the meaning of the word conservative, so watch for him to go right into stakes competition.

At Gulfstream Park, HAPPY BOY ROCKET, another son of Runhappy, appreciated the stretch-out from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, sitting some three lengths of the pace in fifth after going four-wide on the first turn, charging to the lead from the outside at the five-sixteenths pole and then drawing off under a hand ride to a 2 ¾-length victory for Bill Mott. His first start was a throwout, as he broke horribly, was wide on the far turn, then was stuck on his left lead for most of the stretch run, but still just missed second before galloping out very strongly. He is a powerful long-striding horse who carries his head high and is still a work in progress. But he has tremendous upside. And do not overlook Pletcher stablemates COMPLETE AGENDA and BEYOND BEST, who both had their share of trouble and finished well to be third and fourth, respectively. Complete Agenda got caught five-wide on the first turn, moved up quickly on the far outside while still five-wide, and in a flash was second, right off the flank of the leader. At that point I thought he had no shot, having done way too much too early, but he kept coming after the winner went by him and was striding out well at the wire. Closing fast on his outside was Beyond Best, who bobbled coming out of the gate from the inside post, got squeezed along the rail approaching the first turn and dropped well back in ninth, but he accelerated on the turn and moved up four-wide turning for home. He also was striding out well, and both colts look ready to win next time out with a decent trip. And also keep an eye on runner-up MONTAUK POINT, who was down on the inside most of the race, fanned wide nearing the top of the stretch and clearly outran both Pletcher horses to the wire in his stretch-out race from 5 ½ and six furlongs. He is another with big potential. This has the making of being a very live maiden race.

A mention must be made of the second-place finish by BARBER ROAD in the Southwest. Normally closer to the pace he dropped well out of it, was wide into the turn, and then made a long sustained run. He came on strong in the stretch, but like in his other races, he found one horse who closed stronger than he did. He is a horse who always tries hard and is always coming in the stretch, but he needs to find a little more to finish the job.

In a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream, the Pletcher-Winstar pair of first-timers SWING SHIFT and CONGRESSMAN put on a show battling head and head for the lead to the head of the stretch until Swing Shift asserted himself, but did drift out into his stablemate, which caused a chain reaction that surely did not help eventual third-place finisher POSITIVE REVIEW. Swing Shift ran a gutsy race to hold everyone off and then survived a foul claim and stewards’ inquiry. All these horses are way behind to be considered Derby horses.

Catching up on Pasco Stakes winner MARKHAMIAN, he is a head away from being undefeated and was impressive breaking his maiden and then capturing the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes, in which he pressed a fast pace and then fought off all challenges in the stretch before drawing off to a 2 ½-length victory in 1:23 1/5. Turning for home it looked as if his early battle and the testing fractions had taken their toll, especially when two horses moved up to challenge who seemed to be going much stronger. But Markhamian kept fighting back and finally pulled away in the final furlong. He does have the pedigree to suggest he will stretch out in distance with no problem, so we’ll see if they come back in the Sam F. Davis. But it must be noted he has not worked since the Pasco.

Assuming that 10-length maiden winner SIR LONDON is heading for the Robert Lewis Stakes, he should be plenty sharp and fit with two bullet five-furlong works and a half-mile drill in :47 2/5 on Sunday. We won’t know how good he is until he faces winners, but he has the look of a very talented colt. Doug O’Neill is planning on running his first-out six-furlong maiden winner HAPPY JACK in the Lewis. Another horse Baffert is high on in the impressive maiden winner WHARTON, who worked a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 3/5.

The Withers Stakes lost God of Love, but we’ll have first and fourth-place finishers of Jerome, COURVOISIER and UNBRIDLED BOMBER attempt to stretch-out to a mile and eighth. If Courvoisier can repeat his Jerome victory going a flat mile he will have to be considered a serious contender for the Wood Memorial down the road.

Saratoga Special winner HIGH OAK has now turned in back-to-back five-furlong works at Payson Park and should be nearing his 3-year-old debut. This is a very talented horse and I can’t wait to see how he bounces back off his layoff. Chad Brown said Champagne winner JACK CHRISTOPHER is just starting back and is too far behind.


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