Derby Rankings: Week 7

Lots of changes this week, including a new and exciting name, and because of the three major stakes on Saturday we have extended the Rankings to a Top 20 to include some new faces who could emerge and make their presence felt on the Derby trail. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Mar. 1, 2022 – Week 7

By Steve Haskin

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

Looking at his Thoro-Graph numbers from the Risen Star, his “2 ½” was the same number the victorious Epicenter received, but what I liked most was that it pretty much verified his “2” in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, which was a good jump from his “7 ¼” in his career debut. What all that means is that his Kentucky Jockey Club leap was legitimate and now that he has basically paired up strong numbers he should move forward in his final prep, and it would only take a slight improvement to set him up for a peak performance on the first Saturday in May. In order to get that slight improvement and subsequent peak performance he has to be allowed to use his strength, which is to sit four or five lengths off the lead and then make that big move on the turn to put him right up there with leaders turning for home. I have no idea what Lanerie’s strategy was in the Risen Star but all he has to do is watch a replay of the Kentucky Jockey Club and his maiden victory and just ride him the same way rather than taking him farther back and then sitting motionless on him all the way to the head of the stretch. By then he was hopelessly out of it.


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

As I figured he did get the fastest Thoro-Graph number in the Risen Star. You can’t ask for a more steady improvement with each race, as he went from a “6 ½” to a “4 ½” to a “2 ¼.” I am looking forward to seeing what kind of number he can run with a clean trip. He nearly got shoved into the rail by Irad Otiz in the Remsen and still was beaten only a nose. I have no idea what the NYRA stewards were looking at when they failed to disqualify Mo Donegal and suspend Ortiz for another reckless ride. Then he hopped in the air at the start of the Risen Star and dropped back to last instead of sitting right off Epicenter. It was the wide trip he had that enabled him to get a faster number than Epicenter despite getting beat 3 ¼ lengths. No one really has any idea how good he and Smile Happy are with only three career starts, so all you can do is speculate based on their Thoro-Graph pattern and what you’ve seen visually, just as you did with American Pharoah, who had only three career starts at this time and didn’t make his 3-year-old debut until March 14. Justify didn’t make his career debut until February 18. In this day and age you just never know.


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

He followed up his five-furlong work in :59 1/5 last week with a :58 3/5 drill, second fastest of 42 works at the distance. He is going to face some talented horses in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes, and as I have said about Smile Happy and Zandon, he doesn’t have to win this race, as long as he is coming fast in the stretch. But McPeek has him razor sharp and he is very capable of winning even if they did make him sixth choice at 12-1. If McPeek had decided to run him a week earlier in the Rebel instead of Dash Attack I believe he would have had no trouble beating those horses for a million bucks. The Fountain of Youth is not the ideal spot for him on that track and with the short stretch. He is very close to being ranked No. 1; the only thing keeping him from it has been his inactivity since October. If he can turn in the same kind of explosive run he did in the Breeders’ Futurity while coming off a 4 ½-month layoff it would be difficult to keep him out of the top spot.


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

I love the fact that after back-to-back “5 ½ ” Thoro-Graph numbers, which were a career high, he improved to a “2 ½” in the Risen Star going 1 1/8 miles. So how far can he carry his speed? He gets most of his speed from his sire side through top-class sprinters Trippi, Great Above, and Ta Wee, but his paternal grandsire Giant’s Causeway was one of the best 1 ¼-mile hoses in the world. On the female side, Epicenter’s broodmare sire Candy Ride set a new track record winning the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic, and Candy Ride’s grandsire Cryptoclearance was a multiple stakes winner at 1 ¼ miles and was second in the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. In the bottom half of his pedigree you have English 2,000 Guineas winner King of Kings; the great Sadler’s Wells; Ela-Mana-Mou, winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Eclipse Stakes and third in the Arc de Triomphe; and Busted, also winner of the King George and Eclipse Stakes, who sired St. Leger and Coronation Cup winner Bustino. It is those European classic-distance horses that enable him to carry his speed and come home in fast fractions. That makes it tough on his opponents, who can only hope there will be someone fast enough to not only run with him early, but stay with him long enough to slow him down in the stretch.


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

The feeling here is that he will be heavily bet in the Fountain of Youth. If the intentions are to go to the lead from post 2 or press the pace following the Holy Bull debacle he will have to deal with the speedy Pasco winner Markhamian breaking inside him and Howling Time, who has shown some early lick, directly outside him. He is fast, but Markhamian has sprinter’s speed who has run his halfs in :44 and change. And of course there is Emmanuel, an easy wire-to-wire winner in both his starts, breaking farther out in post 8, as well as a couple of others with speed. So although he used his speed to win the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, getting left at the gate in the Holy Bull and closing from last to get second might have given his connections confidence that he can be just as effective coming from off the pace and that will be his strategy on Saturday. If he can lay just off the speed and close, as he did in the Holy Bull that will make him even more formidable. His five-furlong work in a leisurely 1:02 3/5 suggests we will see him come from off the pace this time. But the speed is there if he needs to use it.


6—White Abarrio (Saffie Joseph, Jr., Race Day – Catching Diamonds, by Into Mischief)

He finally returned to the work tab with an easy three-furlong blowout in :36 1/5 and was strong coming down the stretch. Because he wasn’t 100 percent fit going into the Holy Bull and still ran such a powerful race, Joseph gave him a little three-week vacation, as he has plenty of time before the Florida Derby. Although his Thoro-Graph numbers have shown slight improvement every race he still needs to improve off his career best “5” in the Holy Bull. Let’s keep remembering that his four main contenders in that race had issues and were never a factor. He is going to face a much tougher field in the Florida Derby and will be going up against horses who have far better Thoro-Graph numbers. And he will be coming off a two-month layoff. I believe he is a very talented horse who does all the right things, but he still has to prove himself against top-class horses and show that distance should not be a problem.


7—Secret Oath (Arrogate – Absenthe Minded, by Quiet American)

I normally would never consider ranking a filly, especially with no points, but we are dealing with Wayne Lukas. In typical fashion, Lukas is playing it cool, saying right now they are looking at the Fantasy for Secret Oath and the Arkansas Derby with Rebel runner-up Ethereal Road, but added they are leaving their options open, and he did mention how much faster Secret Oath ran in the Honeybee Stakes than the boys did in the Rebel and that she did it under cruise control. I have known Lukas for 35 years and I have seen how bold he can be, especially with fillies, such as Winning Colors, Lady’s Secret, Serena’s Song, Althea, and a number of others who were successful against the boys. He loves doing things others wouldn’t think of doing and I can see Lukas, at age 86, being daring one more time, especially with a filly this special and in a year when there are no real standouts.  I’m not sure he can pass up this opportunity at this stage of his career. If he goes the Oaks route no harm done. As for Secret Oath, not only did she run a full second faster than the colts in the Rebel, she again coasted home an easy winner by 7 ½ lengths after having to steady behind horses nearing the top of the stretch. In her last three starts she has demonstrated an explosive turn of foot that propels her to a clear lead in the blink of an eye. In the Rebel they ran the first three-quarters in 1:14 1/5 compared to 1:12 4/5 in the Honeybee. After blowing her fields away by 8 ¼ lengths, 7 ¼ lengths, and 7 ½ lengths, she no doubt has inherited the power and brilliance of her sire. In her only poor effort I am guessing she bled because Lukas put her on Lasix for her next start in which she romped, and then like an old-fashioned trainer took her off it. We’ll see what happens, but for now she is too exciting to leave off, and I wouldn’t have ranked her if she were trained by anyone but the old daredevil.


8—High Oak (Bill Mott, Gormley – Champagne Sue, by Elusive Quality)

Taking a big shot debuting him this high despite not having run since the Hopeful Stakes, but I thought this colt could be a star in the making when he trounced eventual Hopeful winner Gunite in the Saratoga Special, but he suffered an injury in the Hopeful. He has been turning in some sensational works over the deep Payson Park track, especially his most recent five-furlong drill in a bullet 1:01 4/5 that had his jockey Junior Alvarado raving about him. And for Bill Mott, who has been extremely high on him since day one, bringing him back in a loaded 12-horse Fountain of Youth Stakes off a six-month layoff and never having run two turns shows you just how much he thinks of him and how confident he is that he has him primed and ready for a big effort. You never know how a horse is going to return off an injury and this long a layoff, but all signs indicate he is sitting on a big effort, so I’ll go out on a limb and put him in the Rankings and see just how much progress he’s made and if he is as talented as his connections believe he is. If they are right then No. 8 is a perfect launching pad to a much higher ranking.


9—Mo Donegal (Todd Pletcher, Uncle Mo – Callingmissbrown, by Pulpit)

Pletcher can’t be happy with him drawing post 12 in the Fountain of Youth, which is not where you want to be at Gulfstream, especially with a horse who likes to run anywhere from two and four lengths off the lead. To be parked in the far outside gate with a short run to the first turn it makes you wonder if Pletcher might consider scratching him and waiting for the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby and taking his chances there. This is not what you would call a quick-footed horse. It can take him a while to find his best stride, so this is far from an ideal spot for him. If Pletcher does run him you would think he feels the timing is perfect for him and is just hoping he gets some luck and can get in the fray without losing too much ground. He did turn in a solid enough half-mile work in :49 1/5, so we’ll see what transpires over the next few days.


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

He had his first work since his victory in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, breezing a half in :48 2/5. We know he has good speed and there is little question about his stamina. As mentioned before his Thoro-Graph numbers seem to be stuck at “5” and that will have to improve, but we know he has sprinter’s speed from his brilliant maiden victory at Saratoga, which he won by 6 ½ lengths in a sprightly 1:22 3/5 for the seven furlongs. He then had the misfortune of running into Rattle N Roll and Smile Happy, who handled him with ease, creating questions of this colt’s finishing power. That is why his victory in the Sam Davis was so important, as it showed he could battle through quick fractions and still finish. The only questions are the competition he beat and what he will do when he faces the leading Derby contenders. And of course if he has progressed enough to be competitive against the McPeek pair. The Tampa Bay Derby should tell us if he can take another step forward and improve his Thoro-Graph numbers.


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

With only two career starts and no stakes appearances, the Fountain of Youth is his big opportunity to show that all the hype and all the high rankings have been justified. He hasn’t beaten much and his only victory against winners came at Tampa Bay Downs, so what makes him so highly regarded and why has he been bet so heavily in the Derby Future Wager? Yes, it’s Pletcher and yes both of his victories have been walks in the park, but it is the visual aspect of his performances that attracted me from the beginning and why he’s been ranked in the Top 10 or close to it every week. When you base it on that it is pure speculation because he really hasn’t accomplished anything of note or faced anyone of note. We have seen many brilliant unproven horses fall apart when they step up in class, and there is no telling if he will be one of them. And he will be coming off Lasix. So all we can do is see if all the signs he has given are for real and he is indeed a budding star. He most likely will not have the easy lead he’s had in his two races, so this will also be his big test to see if he can be adaptable enough to be placed anywhere.


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

I still like this colt a lot and am impressed with what he has accomplished so far, but it’s time to produce. And that time will come on March 12 at Tampa Bay, the day of the Tampa Bay Derby, when he runs in a maiden race as a prep for the Wood Memorial. Needless to say you don’t see Grade 1-placed horses running in maiden races at Tampa Bay Downs, so it’s again needless to say he has to win that race or at the very least run a super second to some hotshot highly regarded colt. He worked five furlongs in 1:02 1/5 following a 1:01 3/5 work last week so I would assume he’s ready to run his A game. He is a horse with a long sustained run rather than a quick turn of foot, but obviously we don’t know how he wants to win because he hasn’t won yet. I am hoping we learn a lot more about him in the maiden race other than him just winning. At least this race should add some interest to the Tampa Bay Derby card.


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

He has been playing it cool since his surprising victory in the Lecomte Stakes at 28-1 and now is living off his accomplishment of having beaten Epicenter, even if was by a nose in a perfect setup race. But he did beat him and has to be respected. He has been content to work easy half miles in :50 1/5, :49, and :51 1/5 as he prepares for the Louisiana Derby. For now he has to remain a question mark having turned in three impressive performances and finishing out of the money four times. His pedigree also is a question mark and is borderline as far as stamina goes, so we’ll just keep him around here depending on what others do and wait to see how he handles the 1 3/16 miles and if his Lecomte victory was legitimate.


14—Pioneer of Medina (Todd Pletcher, Pioneerof the Nile – Lights of Medina, by Eskendereya)

You never know how quickly a 3-year-old is going to come into his own this time of year, and if you were surprised how big he ran in the Risen Star at odds of 33-1 it is because his Thoro-Graph number catapulted from a “10 ½” to a “3.” With a leap that big it’s a question whether he will regress in his next start, pair it up, or even improve off it. That will tell us just how serious a Derby horse he is. His pedigree is loaded with stamina top and bottom and his third dam was a Grade 1 winner in Chile. He has run five times at five different distances at four different racetracks, so you know he is adaptable as well as consistent. Most of the talk in the Pletcher barn has been about Emmanuel and Mo Donegal and some of the impressive maiden and allowance winners, but his guy could very well be a sleeper who is improving with every start.


15—Ethereal Road (Wayne Lukas, Quality Road – Sustained by War Front)

I have to admit I’m not thrilled with races like the Rebel Stakes, where you can’t separate the first three horses, and if you rank one you have to rank all three, not having a clue if any of them are really serious Derby horses. In addition to running a full second slower than the filly Secret Oath it seemed as if this race was won only because someone had to win it. He looked as if he was in complete control in the stretch, as Un Ojo and Barber Road were doing nothing behind him. Then he seemed to put it in neutral and let one get up to beat him near the wire and one to almost nail him for second. But of the three, I was most impressed with him, as he raced wide the whole way while they both saved ground, and I fully expect him to get a faster Thoro-Graph number than the winner. I also like that he was about 15 lengths closer to the pace this time than in his explosive victory last time out and still was able to close. However, I was dismayed that the winner went into the race off an “8 ¼” Thoro-Graph number and he went in off a “9.” Did both horses make huge improvement or was this simply a slow race? We’ll find out when the figures are released. I also don’t like the fact that he seemed to have this race won and gave it away in the final yards, but I will give that a pass because he traveled so much farther than Un Ojo and Barber Road.


16—Un Ojo (Ricky Courville, Laoban – Risk a Chance, by A.P. Indy)

As I said I have to lump all three of the Rebel horses together and I can’t rank them any higher than this. I do think he has improved since his second-place finish in the Withers Stakes behind a very good horse in Early Voting and he would have been ranked above Ethereal Road if he didn’t have such a perfect ground-saving trip and tons of room on the rail. After his Withers performance I think he was grossly overlooked at 75-1. He shouldn’t have anywhere near that in this field. He looked beaten at the sixteenth pole and I’m not sure if he found a bit more at the end or Ethereal Road opened the door for him by failing to sustain his run after having a much wider trip. People seem to love one-eyed horses and he is even named One Eye in Spanish. Probably the most unique thing about him is that last year he was a New York-bred running at Delta Downs. All these horses are going to have to sort themselves out in the Arkansas Derby. I learned very little from the Rebel.


17—Barber Road (John Ortiz, Race Day – Encounter, by Southern Image)

He has a great story coming from humble beginnings, as did his dam. Now if he can only figure out a way to win a race. Since breaking his maiden for a $30,000 claiming tag and then romping in a starter allowance race he has three consecutive second-place finishes in stakes and a fast-closing third in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes. But his performance actually was difficult to figure out. Like the winner he saved ground all the way and despite being hit a number of times left-handed in the stretch he was not making up any ground. It seemed obvious he was not going to catch the top three, so Reylu Gutierrez put the whip away and appeared to let him finish on his own, and when he did, Barber Road found another gear and quickly took off, prompting Gutierrez to go back to the whip. He was flying at the end, just missing second, but I can’t tell if he suddenly found this late surge on his own or the race just slowed down at the end. The bottom line is that he found another way to look good and still get beat. I admire this colt and his consistency and back story, but I just can’t figure him out.


18—In Due Time (Kelly Breen, Not This Time, Sweet Sweet Annie, by Curlin)

Another who is about to face his biggest test in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. I don’t know good those two Pletcher horses are that he blew away in his last start, but if they are good then chances are he’s for real, especially earning a 100 Equibase speed figure and jumping from an “8 ¾” to a “3” on Thoro-Graph. He seems to have a high cruising speed and can close off it, and he should take up a good striking position breaking from post 4. I don’t know what to expect from him moving way up in class, but the way he ran last time it would not surprise me if he made his presence felt and was competitive with these horses.  He is another who will be coming off Lasix. As mentioned last week he is a complete outcross through his first five generations, so that is something else that is different about him.


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

I don’t believe there was a bigger shock this year than his 24-length drubbing in the Holy Bull Stakes at odds of 4-1. It was his first start since his excellent third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he was coming off a maiden victory. In the Holy Bull, he was in perfect position early and then just stopped and quickly dropped out of it. When a good horse does that it usually is a sign that he bled or had a breathing problem, and that seems to be the case here. The important thing is that he’s come back with two strong works, including a :59 flat drill for five furlongs, and if we see the same horse we saw in the Breeders’ Cup then he could wind up being the overlay of the year, as he no doubt will be big odds, as he was at Del Mar. Romans always seems to be live on the Derby trail every year, but it never works out for one reason or another. Maybe this year he will spring a surprise attack when you least expect it. Don’t count him out.


20—Forbidden Kingdom (Dick Mandella, American Pharoah – Just Louise, by Five Star Day)

This is one fast horse, perhaps too fast to be considered a Derby horse. If he can win this race he will have beaten five Bob Baffert-trained horses in his last two starts, which is ironic considering Baffert trained him for a while before he was taken away from him. Mandella feels he has to give him a chance to see if he can stretch out to two turns, but having a gone a half in a blazing :43 1/5 in the Bob Hope Stakes two races back he is going to have to harness some of that speed going two turns. He had a serious tuneup for the San Felipe, working seven furlongs in company in 1:25 flat, as Mandella tries to build up his stamina. Breaking off six lengths behind his workmate, he collared him at the head of the stretch and the pair raced head and head down the lane, finishing together with Forbidden Kingdom just unable to get his head in front at the wire and in the gallop-out. He may not have things his own way this time with the presence of another sprinter in Beautiful Art, who is fast, but not nearly as fast as Forbidden Kingdom. But he could make Forbidden Kingdom go faster than he wants. It all comes down to how rateable he is and good the two Baffert horses are.



After being ranked for several weeks MESSIER has to be dropped until we find out what’s going on already with all the Baffert horses and the bans, suspensions, stay of suspension denial, appeals, and law suits, and I can’t wait until the Santa Anita Derby to see who is training him and if he even is being considered for the Kentucky Derby. The owners are intent on playing it cool by giving up points all winter and going down to the final prep before making a decision about going in the Derby and finding other trainers. If they do want to go in the Derby they are playing Russian roulette by relying on one race, a new trainer, and an uneventful trip to get in the Derby. Let’s just say the first four letters of this horse’s name tell it all. If Messier, who I believe is as talented as any of these and likely would be ranked No. 1 any other year, remained on the Rankings what do you do if Baffert wins or even runs one-two in Saturday’s San Felipe with DOPPELGANGER and ARMAGNAC, both of whom he is very high on and who look to have promising futures, especially Doppelganger stretching out to two turns. And what if he runs ROCKEFLLER, who is listed as probable by NYRA, in the Gotham and wins that? Then it really gets messy. NEWGRANGE took himself off the Rankings with a disappointing effort in the Rebel Stakes.

Speaking of Baffert, whatever you wish to make of it, Del Mar Futurity winner and San Vicente runner-up PINEHURST scored a gutsy victory in the $1.5 million Saudi Derby over a mile, holding off several challenges. He could be an interesting Preakness horse, whoever is training him, if they wish to stretch him out or they can keep him at one turn, which seems to be what he prefers.

I have been raving about MORELLO for the past few weeks as a potential star. Although I didn’t have room for him on the Rankings with so much going on I fully expect him to crack the Top 10 with a victory in the Gotham Stakes. I know he’s up against Rockefeller and some other good ones, but he was extremely impressive in the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes and if he improves even a little off that race then it’s on to the Wood Memorial. But with only two career starts everything will have to go perfectly for him.

STRAIGHT UP G landed his first win in open company wiring his field in the Mine That Bird Derby, but he again showed distance limitations by just hanging on to win by three-quarters of a length, coming home his last sixteenth in :07. He is going to win a lot of races, but as of now I don’t see him as a Derby horse.

Although he finished seventh in the Southwest Stakes at 90-1 racing wide the entire race, you had to be impressed with CALL ME JAMAL, who won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Oaklawn Saturday after being bottled up in traffic most of the way and then surging to the front in the final furlong to win going away by 2 ½ lengths and running a fifth of a second faster than the Rebel Stakes. He has four Belmont Stakes winners in his first three generations, including the rarely seen Risen Star, a son of Secretariat, to whom he is inbred 4 x 4. Trained by Mike Puhich, he could be an interesting one to keep an eye on.

Also at Oaklawn on Saturday, CURLY TAIL, a son of Curlin, was relentless down the stretch, just getting up to win by a half-length and finally breaking his maiden in his sixth try. His 1:45 3/5 for the 1 1/16 miles equaled the time of the Rebel Stakes.

Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Gulfstream did not seem to be much of a race on paper with four horses in a blanket finish and a final time of 1:51 1/5, but watching the race there was a great deal more to take from it, as the winner ICONIC ADVENTURE got hung six-wide on the first turn, raced very wide the rest of the way, and was game in the stretch to score by a half-length, making this a far better performance than it looked. Owned and bred by Godolphin and trained by Bill Mott, the son of Ghostzapper seems to have made great strides from 2 to 3.

There are several other Fountain of Youth horses who cannot go overlooked. One of them is HOWLING TIME, yet another horse coming out of the live Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. The fact that he hasn’t run since that race is enough to throw out his performance, in which he went to lead for the first time and tired. Before that he was very impressive winning the Street Sense Stakes from off the pace, and if you’re looking for a horse who has been lighting up the track in the morning, this colt has turned in three straight super quick works indicating he is razor-sharp for his return. Toss the Kentucky Jockey Club and he could be any kind.

One other horse in the Fountain of Youth I want to mention is the rail horse MARKHAMIAN, winner of the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes. Why he doesn’t return to Tampa for the Tampa Bay Derby I have no idea. Perhaps it was his bullet five-furlong work at Gulfstream in 1:00 2/5. He is not bred to sprint and should be able to handle the two turns, so we’ll see if he shows his usual speed from the rail with Simplification directly outside him or if they try to rate him.

This year’s Derby trail has not gone the way Mark Casse planned. His Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up PAPPACAP threw in a clunker in the Risen Star, which was unusual for a horse who has been so consistent is entire career. Casse said he is baffled by his performance and because it was so bad he is going to assume it was an aberration; just a bad day, and possibly give him another shot in the Florida Derby

Casse sent out three horses in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, with VOLCANIC finishing a strong third, GOD OF LOVE fifth and GOLDEN GLIDER sixth. Volcanic will go next in either the Blue Grass Stakes or Wood Memorial, Golden Glider will return to Tampa for the Tampa Bay Derby, and God of Love, a proven synthetic horse, will run in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. Casse also will run GLIDER, a distant second to the highly regarded Emmanuel last out, in the Gotham Stakes.

TIZ THE BOMB, who is headed for the Polytack at Turfway Park, breezed a half in :48 at Silverleaf Hills training center. Pletcher’s Iroquois Stakes winner MAJOR GENERAL is nearing his 3-year-old debut, breezing five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.

Probables for Saturday’s Gotham Stakes are: DEAN’S LIST (Todd Pletcher), EAGLE IN LOVE (Rob Atras), FROMANUTHAMUTHA (Ray Handal), GLIDER (Mark Casse), GOLDEN CODE (Todd Pletcher), MORELLO (Steve Asmussen), NONEEDTOWORRY (Herold Whylie), and ROCKEFELLER (Bob Baffert), with possibles BOLD JOURNEY (Bill Mott) and LIFE IS GREAT (Robert Klesaris).


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283 Responses to “Derby Rankings: Week 7”

  1. Coldfacts says:

    Did Todd Pletcher have 19 starters on Saturday and secured zero win?
    Did Bob Baffert’s Rockefeller finish last by 47 1/4L in the Gotham?

    The two trainers have combined for 11 Eclipse Awards for outstanding trainer. It just got to show that Horse Racing is a tough game.

  2. Matthew W says:

    96 Beyer number for Morello, that is PERFECT….now all he needs is one more step up—in the Wood Memorial—his first two turn race–his race spacing and gradual longer distances are just how it is drawn up—a first or second in the Wood—maybe a slight Beyer upgrade—and Morello will be sniffing the roses! Simplification got a 96 Beyer also, and runs on left lead….most of the big preps have been won on the lead–Morello RATES, and rates well! Morello is starting to check all the boxes!

    • EddieF says:

      At nice odds, he could be a good bet in the Derby — assuming a bang-up effort in the Wood. He moved like a Derby horse yesterday. On the debit side, is just a single 2-turn race enough for a Derby win? I believe that only one horse since at least 1970 finished first in the Derby after having just a single two-turn race (all surfaces considered). That was Maximum Security. Also, considering the NY and Wood hex, Asmussen may have just been looking for a softer race for Morello and doesn’t think he’s quite ready for prime time. Has Asmussen ever prepped in NY? Of course, with his Derby record, he may be looking to change things up.

  3. Coldfacts says:

    Newgrange –

    Undefeated in 3 starts that up to the Rebel included the Sham (G3) and Southwest (G3). As the favorite in the Rebel returning $.80 on the dollar. He finished 6th by 4 1/4L. He won at OK Park on his previous visit.

    Rockefeller –

    Winner of 2 from 3 starts up to the Gotham that included the Nashua (G3). He was also runner up in the Sham (G3). As the 2nd choice in the Gotham, he finished 47l last. He won on his previous visit to NY.

    Doppelganger and Armagnac

    Forbidden Kingdom inflicted 5 1/4L and 27 1/4l defeats on the respective colts above.. It is likely that with Johnnie V being the first call rider for the stable. He would have the choice of the best of the 2 entrants in the race. His mount was in receipt of a 27 1/4L shellacking.

    The Bob Baffert loyalist are of the opinion his horses need to be in the KD as he is the face of the race. Will any of the above 4 be missed in they are not in the KD starting gates? They appear to be in decline and/or not good enough to win the KD. But let’s not forget. Medina Spirit was beaten 8L & 4 1/4 and appeared to be the unlikely winner of the KD.

    On Derby day he showed up and was not for catching. Folks, this is one of the reason Bob Baffert will always be under suspicion. The miraculous form reversal of many of his horse in the KD cannot be attributed to training. But many think he is a genius and one that is being bullied.

  4. Matthew W says:

    Prat is heading to ride Keeneland after March—then on to Belmont and then Saratoga……his agent says he wants the Eclipse Award…..Rispoli also is heading back there, and sooner.

  5. Bill Dawson says:

    As it stands now, my top ten contenders on the Derby trail are as follows.
    1) Simplification
    2) Epicenter
    3) Forbidden Kingdom
    4) Smile Happy
    5) White Abarrio
    6) Classic Causeway
    7) In Due Time
    8) Morello
    9) Zandon
    10) Messier
    Now that Simplification has secured enough points to make the Derby starting gate, I have a “chance” to make big money on my Derby Futures bets. The fact that Simplification stayed on his left lead throughout the running of the FOY, and the Holy Bull as well, could be a concern moving forward, as the distance increases. We’ll see.

    • Coldfacts says:

      Hu Bill,

      The last time I commented on EddeF’s KD list it appears he wasn’t too happy. I didn’t read his response, but I gathered from your take, that I am cable of defending myself, that he wasn’t appreciated of m comments. I meant neither harm nor offence.

      Let me take this opportunity to state that I am merely providing my perspective based on my analysis of the available cold facts. I am in no way being critical of the analysis you used to arrive at your rankings.

      A notable omission from your lists is Rattle and Roll. As previously states. I considered his #3 ranking and hype not in sync with his ability. He probably hasn’t recovered from his injury. Irrespective, I never saw him as talented as Steve and man assessed him to be.

      Simplification won an incident marred FOY in a slow time. His assigned Equibase figure for the win was 93 as compared to the 95 he was assigned for his HB runner up finish. His figures are therefore trending in the wrong direction.

      The last FOY winner to win the KD was Orb. His winning time for the FOY was 1:42.24. He was assigned an Equibase figure of 105. Before Orb there was Thunder Gulch whose winning time was 1:43.21. He was assigned an Equibase figure of 109. From the perspective of Equibase figures. The 93 assigned to Simplification is the lowest in the last 20 renewals of the FOY.

      What does above cold facts indicate. Simplification is unlikely to emerge the winner of KD 2022. Further, the colt seems unwilling to change leads at a crucial point in his races. Many are of the opinion that if Alydar was not plagued by the same problem he would have won at least one of the TC races with Affirmed. It is unlikely with Simplification with his numbers can win the KD without changing leads. I do not believe he has the talent advantage to so do. But as usual stats do not run races, horses do, and they can rise to the occasion.

      You know my views on Epicenter. I think he is the current leader of the division. This is despite his #4 ranking assigned by Steve. His win in the RS was ultra-impressive but not given the quality rating it deserves.

      I know very little about Forbidden Kingdom. But he seems to be a nice colt. Anytime there is a colt in CA that is beating BB’s charges. It should be taken seriously ala I’ll Have Another. He was sired by a KD winner which makes him an automatic toss form the top spot for me. He doesn’t appear to have a lot of stamina in his dam line. He has won with uncontested leads against what appear to be slow opponents, even those from the barn of BB. But again, my nonsense is just that.

      EddieF hates when I state that Smile Happy is vulnerable to classy high cruisers that can accelerate out of their cruising speed and hold through the lane to the line. But that’s exactly the kind of colt he is. For the first time in his races, another opponent closed with him. If Zanon wasn’t compromised by a poor start. He wouldn’t have out run that colt to the line. But he has a running style that should the pace breaks down. He could capitalize. But he isn’t alone in this category.

      I am still waiting to see a few more prospects run their 2nd 3YO race, including my dark horse Gilded Age. The Tampa Bay Derby will provide Golden Glider, another colt that I am closely watching, with an opportunity to get into the Derby picture.

      Your list appears to cover the top contenders. But as a longshot hunter the other 10 is where I am focussed.

      As usual it’s my pleasure.

      • Mike Relva says:

        CF, you push one agenda here.

      • Bill Dawson says:

        Hey Facts

        Regarding Simplification not changing to the correct lead in the stretch run, one thing to keep in mind, he’s still maturing.
        I suspect Sano will address that issue in the upcoming weeks, during his training regimen, prior to the Fla. Derby.
        With respect to final time and the 93 Equibase Speed Figure that Simplification was assigned for his FOY win, the early fractions with moderate, at best, which Jose Ortiz wisely held back, waiting to make a late run approaching the far turn. In other words, the final time (1:44.04) is of little consequence, Simplification won the race on his terms. If in fact the early fractions would have been faster, I’m convinced he would have made a similar late run, winning the race in impressive fashion. BTW, did you notice he had a very strong gallop out?
        Regarding RNR not making my current top ten list, I dropped him due to his disappointing performance in the FOY. How he responds coming out of the FOY is anybody’s guess.

      • Matthew W says:

        EVERY HORSE—-is vulnerable to “classy high cruisers that can accelerate…”.

    • RJessie says:

      If the connections of O Captain decides to run him in the Florida Derby,
      “Watch Out!” This maybe a good pick as the distance gets longer.
      He looked great in the FOY this past weekend finishing in the trifecta.
      What I really like about him is that he has another gear in which he was about
      to switch to but ran out of track. He’s a dangerous horse IMO. And if I’m right
      I plan on seeing him on your Top 10 list but if I’m wrong, well nevermind.

  6. TommyMc says:

    Yesterday was a marathon day of racing that started just before 10:30am when I checked the scratches and changes at Gulfstream. After the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway last night, I looked at the clock and it was 8:30pm. That’s 10 hours of looking at races in the Form and on my bigscreen. 21 races at four different tracks. That’s crazy! Mercifully, we only have one(1) Derby Points Prep race next Saturday. The Tampa Bay Derby which is another 50-pointer. Steve Haskin has pointed out that Classic Causeway hasn’t really moved forward numbers-wise from his 2-year old season. So, I’ll be looking forward to seeing if he can improve next week. Let’s see who shows up to oppose him.

    • EddieF says:

      Belgrade could be one to watch for in the TB Derby. Funny about the 10 Hours of Racing. I had other things going on yesterday and only had time for the Fountain of Youth. It was the only race that I bet….for the whole day. 😮

  7. TommyMc says:

    With all the hullaballoo about BB not being able to run horses in The Derby, I have to ask: how many Derby horses does he really have? Messier? I want to see him run a second race like his Robert B. Lewis win. Could BB’s best prospect for May 6th & & 7th in Louisville be the filly Adare Manor?

  8. EddieF says:

    The big question for the next Derby Rankings is…does Smile Happy stay at #1 while others continue to impress with prep wins? My guess is he stays at the top until he performs below expectations. So here’s my prediction: 1) Smile Happy, 2) Zandon, 3) Simplification, 4) Epicenter, 5) White Abarrio, 6) Secret Oath, 7) Morello, 8) Forbidden Kingdom, 9) Mo Donegal, 10) Classic Causeway, 11) In Due Time, 12) Commandperformance.

    Any word on where Brad Cox’s Zozos will run next? I’m hoping it’s the Arkansas Derby. Shades of Justify? — with a debut maiden win, an allowance win, and a big final prep, all in the same year.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      DRF reported that Cox is leaning toward the Louisiana Derby for Zozos and Arkansas for Cyberknife.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      I expect Steve will have a few surprises in store for us. All three winners were impressive, but I was intrigued enough by Forbidden Kingdom’s win to do a little pedigree research on him. He’s from the same (obscure) female family as TIZNOW, although having the same 6th/7th dam is pretty distant. That said, his immediate female family is loaded with graded stakes winners (TIL FORBID, SCOOP, SARA LOUISE, SOFTLY, JUST LOUISE). All but Forbidden Kingdom’s dam Just Louise won graded stakes at a mile or more.

      Female pedigree aside, that horse runs a lot like his daddy. Who is to say he won’t run all the way to Louisville and win it all?

  9. Ross says:

    After past luck… to now see Mandela with a real KD hope in his barn gives balance to the game. All that colt’s talent directed by a guy with such knack and experience… him getting the distance today only confirms sometimes matches are meant to be.

    Right now Richards on the lead to the KD gate… However, there’s something about him that tells me he’s not the kind of trainer that’s comfortable with being on the KD a lead. Today’s race should help with that… his horse seemed to like the lead, as he proved the race was never in doubt.

    I hope Forbidden Kingdom just up and takes Mandela to Louisville… Sometimes when horses are so very special trainers can do nothing but just stand back and get out of their way…

    I hope FK is that kind of colt… in that case the trainer’s job could just be choosing the right hat.

  10. Ross says:

    After past luck… to now see Mandela with a real KD hope in his barn gives balance to the game. All that colt’s talent directed by a guy with such knack and experience… him getting the distance today only confirms sometimes matches are meant to be.

    Right now Richards on the lead to the KD gate… However, there’s something about him that tells me he’s not the kind of trainer that’s comfortable with being on the KD a lead. Today’s race should help with that… his horse seemed to like the lead, as he proved the race was never in doubt.

    I hope Forbidden Kingdom just up and takes Mandela to Louisville… Sometimes when horses are so very special trainers can do nothing but just stand back and get out of their way…

    i hope FK that kind of colt… in that case such a trainer’s job could be choosing the right hat.

  11. Matthew W says:

    Taiba…..Santa Anita had some good races today, the Kilroe Mile was one of the best I’ve seen here, ever—and the straight and strong lumbering Express Train got the Big Cap…..great day! Don’t sleep on Taiba, maiden winner by Gun Runner…big finish!

  12. Matthew W says:

    I’m calling it from the cheap seats: Morello #1 Week #8….;.

    • Bill Dawson says:

      Hey Matthew W

      I’m calling it from the box seats: Simplification #1 Week #8, and Epicenter #2 Week 8.
      Rattle N Roll drops down considerably, Smile Happy drops to #3 and Zandon drops to #4.
      Simplification proved he can rate, and close from off the pace, just as he did today, in the FOY, and as he did in the Holy Bull.
      More than likely he inherits his impressive tactical speed from his sire, Not This Time and his stamina influence from his dam’s sire, Candy Ride.
      IMO, as it stands now, Simplification and his half-brother, Epicenter, are the top two contenders on the Derby trail.
      Smile Happy and Zandon will have to prove they belong at #1, and #2 moving forward in their next race.
      As for Morello, it will be interesting to see where our host places him in Week 8.

      • Matthew W says:

        Another thing about today–Santa Anita was not fast–:45 and change in San Felipe and horse just has an answer/another gear is pretty solid…the stock on Forbidden Kingdom and Morrelo both went up today!…it now becomes the question, WHO goes with Forbidden Kingdom, and LOSES…..or does this one have his own way for a half, or does that even matter??!!….

        • TommyMc says:

          It looks like a showdown between Forbidden Kingdom and Messier in The Santa Anita Derby on April 9th. Forbidden Kingdom proved that he is much more than a sprinter yesterday. He looked like a BB horse the way that he blew them all away. People will say that he didn’t beat much in The San Felipe, but, that’s unfair. He can only beat what they run against him. If he can pass the mile and an eighth test in The Santa Anita Derby, it will be on to Louisville where speedsters White Abarrio, Classic Causeway, and Epicenter could be waiting. Maybe one or two of them will drop off the trail by then.

          • Matthew W says:

            He was a BB horse.

          • EddieF says:

            Yes, he can only beat those he runs against. But it’s an important point for consideration that he beat a very weak field in a G2.

            • Matthew W says:

              Eddie it seems like all of the preps this year (and most) are won by the pace—Forbidden Kingdom is a need-the-lead type—he sends! Juan Hernandez said he cannot be wrangled back—so he’s the type of horse that either wins or runs out, and I’m on the runs out bandwagon….two months out I’m liking Smile Happy and Morello.

      • Davids says:

        Bill, Simplification and Epicenter are not half-brothers. Simplification comes from the family of Ashado.

        • Bill Dawson says:


          Both colts were sired by Not This Time. Technically you’re right, to be half-brothers they would have to be “out” of the same dam, which they are not. However, from my view, having the same sire and same broodmare sire (Candy Ride) makes the two colts closely related.
          Both colts should make the KD starting gate. As it stands now, I would give the edge to Simplification as the better of the two.

  13. TommyMc says:

    Tiz the Bomb salvages a rough day for Kenny McPeek despite being caught wide all the way around the track. I’m making a new rule for myself. Never bet a McPeek or Dale Romans first time starter or horse coming off the layoff. That being said, I still like Smile Happy and Rattle N Roll moving forward. Maybe they can both do like Tiz the Bomb and win their 2nd starts back. Maybe. The competition only gets tougher from now on.

  14. Matthew K W says:

    All four three year old races today were IMPRESSIVE! Just saw Tiz the Bomb, he was so wide the whole way….Mandella’s colt is pretty good…..Fountain of Youth turned into a romp….and Morello—for my money his prep was f antastic, cuz it was a step forward, with another step to come, in timely fashion….LOVED the way his rider was sitting still—and he did his work—one more step forward!

  15. Bill Dawson says:

    I had a $100.00 win wager on Simplification, and he didn’t let me down. O’ Captain (My Captain) blew up my exotic wagers, but I still managed to make a little money on the day.
    My Futures wagers on Simplification are looking better and better.
    On Friday, March 4th, I bet $100.00 to win on him at 65-1.
    Back in January, I bet $100.00 to win on him at 43-1 (Derby Futures Pool 2). In addition, I boxed Simplification with the entire field in my $2.00 exacta wagers, (in Pool 2).
    Now that Simplification has earned 50 Derby points, will Antonio Sano point him to the Florida Derby, or rest him, and just train up to the KD?
    I’d like to see him in the Florida Derby, just to see if he can turn the tables on White Abarrio.
    It was good to hear the horses and jockeys that went down in FOY race are all ok.
    One more thing about Simplification’s impressive win today, he stayed on his left lead, which may or may not be a concern going 10 furlongs.

    • TommyMc says:

      Great job!

      • Bill Dawson says:

        Thanks, TommyMc

        Just out of curiosity, do you have any thoughts or opinions on why Simplification stays on his left lead? He did the same thing in the Holy Bull. I would think as the distance increases, this could have a tiring effect, especially going 10 furlongs.
        I’d sure like to know if his trainer, Antonio Sano, is concerned about this issue.

  16. EddieF says:

    How about a word for Simplification. He was awesome, even though I don’t think that he changed leads in the stretch. Can anyone confirm?

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      I was too busy watching the replay to see how the horses who went down came out of it. I’ll bet Steve is all over it.

    • 1JoeP says:

      Hi Eddie – congrats on your KDFW bet on Simplification. He looked good mowing them all down in the stretch. Not changing leads has to be a concern as the distances only get longer and the competition gets better. My 2 KDFW Bets are Zandon and Commandperformance. Zandon is back on the work tab and should be ready to roll as one of the FAV in the Bluegrass. Commandperformance worked today and should fire a big confidence building MSW race on the TB Derby undercard next weekend. The Wood Memorial looks to come up very tough with Morello and MoDonegal targeting the race. I hope CP looks good in the MSW race next week and should be ready to fire , second off the layoff in the Wood. He will need at least 3rd because he only has 6 derby points now. Jack Christopher put up very big numbers and CP ran a solid second behind him in the Champagne. If he can duplicate that form, he could be a real threat in the Wood Memorial. I also bet Tiz The Bomb in KDFW2 and it was good to see him win on synthetic today and pick up Derby Points. I wonder if his connections will try the KY Derby if he gets the win in the 100 point Jeff Ruby Stakes where Tiz will be favored. Really liking Zandon who can rally off the pace. Forbidden Kingdom has serious speed and Epicenter and Classic Causeway will have to rate. The Derby IMO could be won by a mid pack horse like Zandon to pick up the pieces in what should be a hot derby pace.

      • EddieF says:

        Thanks, JoeP. I had the exacta but my major was WPS on In Due Time. Indeed, Simplification’s inability to change leads is a big concern. I don’t know much about how a horse is trained to change leads, but I’ve been told that it comes naturally to many young runners. If the same jockey was aboard in all of his races, I’d suggest a change. But Simplification had Castellano aboard in the Holy Bull and Jose Ortiz yesterday. I really like Zandon, but you may recall my concern about the string of 9f races. As for Commandperformance, I’m not as confident. Even if he wins the maiden race, how much do we learn from that? Then the Wood, which has been a treacherous road to the Derby. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you! After Saturday, all that’s left are the semifinals.

  17. TommyMc says:

    It’s a shame that Santa Anita had to run a 4 horse race as part of the late pick-4 on such a big day of racing.

  18. TommyMc says:

    I have to say that I was very impressed with Forbidden Kingdom. He ran fast all the way around the track. But, I don’t like any of the horses that finished behind him. No offense. Let’s see him stretch out to a mile and an eighth in The Santa Anita Derby. If that works out, it will be on to the mile and a quarter Derby where it looks like he’ll meet up with some other competitive speed.

  19. Matthew K W says:

    Hey Steve I like Morello! LOVED his race—thought he got a LOT out of it—VERY deep and tiring surface, he was in hand and when it was GO TIME he said bye bye—1:39 1/5 but it was faster than the fillies and I thought the filly winner looked good, too—I’m bullish on Morello!

  20. Lynda King says:

    Reported that both of Bill Nott’s entries in FOY went down, High Oak and Galt.
    Prayers for the jockeys, Joel Rosario and Robby Alverado and the horses.

  21. Betsy says:

    David, Golden Code acquitted himself very well, I thought – he was very game to not give up third

    • Davids says:

      Yes, Betsy. I felt Golden Code and Life is Great would perform better than most of the bettered favored colts. Worth having a try in the Wood Memorial.

      • Davids says:

        ‘beaten favored colts.’

      • Betsy says:

        I wonder if he will go to the Wood..I wouldn’t, but it’s Calumet and you never know with them…The horse who beat him in his debut, Bold Journey, finished next to last

        • Davids says:

          Betsy, I think the memory of Bourbonic might answer that question. Ha ha Why not though, you have to be in it to win it.

          • Betsy says:

            How well I remember, David !

            I assume we’ll hear from Todd in the next few days, so we’ll know for sure….Hey, he took a chance running today and got rewarded with a fine effort!

            It’s very cool that he’s a NY-bred, as is his stablemate Best Idea…

  22. Matthew K W says:

    Taiba wins debut for Bob B and Mr Zedan…..very impressive 1:09 4/5…’s looking like Bob will be leaving the sport for 90 days, and soon.