Derby Rankings: Week 8

With the top three separating themselves from the pack and the rest of them fairly equal at this time with a few new twists thrown in, it is best to expand the rankings again to a Sweet 16 until we know the true depth of this crop. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 8, Mar. 8

By Steve Haskin


1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)
Let’s look at the numbers this week. As I mentioned before the Fountain of Youth I was afraid that his “1” Thoro-Graph number in the Holy Bull might have been too fast too early and I wouldn’t have been discouraged at all by a slight regression. As it turned out he actually got another “1,” which was exactly what you want to see. By pairing up it showed that the Holy Bull didn’t take anything out of him. If he continues to follow his pattern of never taking a step backwards and pairing up a fast career best he will move forward in the Florida Derby and then just needs to maintain that number at Churchill Downs as he did in the Fountain of Youth. He wasn’t as sharp early as he was in the Holy Bull, which was understandable, and had to use an explosive closing kick to get the job done after looking hopelessly out of it. So we know from his last few races that he can engage in a stretch-long battle and won’t back down, he can run off from his opponents, and he can launch a huge late run. In other words, he can beat you in different ways.

2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)
Let’s continue looking at the speed ratings. His negative-1/2 in the Southwest on Thoro-Graph makes him the fastest 3-year-old so far and the only horse to run a negative number. Although his Brisnet figure of 98 was three points slower than his BC Juvenile, it was a big number to start off the year following a four-month layoff, and his triple-digit late pace figure shows that he can come home. I admit the most logical move was to rank him No. 1, but I am going to give Greatest Honour the edge on pedigree, partially because Essential Quality’s dam was a pure sprinter and his broodmare sire, with the exception of his freakish son Smarty Jones, is still a speed influence. As an old schooler I feel one of the problems with today’s bloodlines is too much inbreeding, and Essential Quality’s pedigree lights up like a Christmas tree of inbreeding. Not only is he inbred to five stallions, he is inbred four times to Mr. Prospector, three times to Secretariat, three times to Northern Dancer, and is also inbred to Fappiano and In Reality. Is that going to stop him from winning the Kentucky Derby, along with his paddling motion? Absolutely not; he definitely is the real deal. But for now I will give the slightest edge to the horse with the classic pedigree who has more bottom under him.

3. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)
It’s very simple, this horse is just too fast for those horses and Baffert has been trying to harness his speed by working him alone and never asking too much of him. Once Medina Spirit took himself and The Great One out going wide into the first turn and Life is Good was able to quickly open an easy three-length lead from the rail the race was over. Even on cruise control, he still went the three-quarters in 1:10 2/5, which was two full seconds faster than they ran in the Big Cap. The only thing we need to see now is for him to realize these races are supposed to be competitive and he can’t have his mind wandering and be distracted so that he either falls asleep in the stretch, like in the Sham Stakes, or he drifts out to the middle of the track like he did in the San Felipe. He runs with his head high and as he began to get out turning for home his stride got just a tad sloppy for a second. But once he straightened out he just powered away all on his own to win by eight widening lengths and continued to open up past the wire despite drifting the entire length of the stretch and winding up closer to the outside rail than the inside galloping out. The question is, with only three career starts, can he get tougher mentally by the first Saturday in May and how will he react if some horse eyeballs him early or even outruns him, which I admit doesn’t seem likely? When a horse runs this fast this easily his opponents better hope he doesn’t want to go a mile and a quarter.

4. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)
After an easy half-mile breeze in :50 last week, he got back to serious works, drilling five furlongs in a bullet :59 1/5, fastest of 36 works at the distance. Last week we mentioned his strong Juddmonte Farms breeding, but when looking for stamina to go with Into Mischief on top, look no further than his having the strong classic/stamina influence His Majesty three times in his pedigree. If you’re not familiar with His Majesty, he is a full-brother to Graustark, both by the legendary Ribot, and a half-brother to Hall of Famer and two-time champion Bowl of Flowers winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks and Spinster Stakes. His Majesty was the leading sire in North America in 1982 and sire of 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, who also is a strong classic/stamina influence. Considering we have already seen Into Mischief sire a Kentucky Derby winner from a female family with not nearly as much stamina as Mandaloun, a mile and quarter should not pose any problem at all. And he has already looked strong going a mile and an eighth.

5. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)
Eddie Woods, who gave him his early training at 2, remembers him as being a very classy colt who always showed potential. He didn’t have much speed but was a beautiful mover with a good mind. Going into his last race, a mile and an eighth allowance at Gulfstream, he had frustrated Pletcher with his recent disappointing efforts after showing so much promise. After running a decent “8” Thoro-Graph figure when he outgamed Greatest Honour going a mile and an eighth at Aqueduct last fall over an extremely slow track, he regressed to an “11” in his next two starts in the Remsen and Sam F. Davis Stakes. In the latter he inexplicably took himself completely out of the race and decided to run after it was way too late to even finish in the money. So a desperate Pletcher added blinkers and Lasix for his next start and he ran off the screen, winning by 11 lengths. To show that was no fluke, his jumped all the way to a “3 1/4″ Thoro-Graph number, putting himself right in the hunt. That was pretty much the same number that Mandaloun and Risk Taking ran in their stakes victories and faster that Derby contenders Caddo River, Medina Spirit, Proxy, and Midnight Bourbon. Now he just has to build on that and not go backwards again.

6. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Medaglia d’Oro – Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor)
After this past weekend, Brown now has a trio of top-class 3-year-olds, but he still is the only one who has excelled going two turns and has a much stronger foundation under him. The big question with him is whether he is fast enough to compete with the horses we’ve seen the past two weekends. Although his Thoro-Graph numbers leaped from a “10 1/2” to a “3 1/4” in the Withers Stakes, his Brisnet speed figure dropped from a 98 to a 92. So you will just have to decide which one makes more sense. Also, the horse he ran down in the Withers, Capo Kane, who finished a strong third, was beaten more than 19 lengths in the Gotham Stakes. So you can see the questions that surround him. The reason he still is ranked high is his powerhouse pedigree, his toughness, and his ability to sustain a long run. I also liked how quickly he opened up in the last sixteenth to draw off by nearly four lengths. I am looking for continued improvement with two mile and an eighth races under him already.

7. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)
He turned in his third consecutive strong five-furlong work at Fair Grounds, this time in 1:00 1/5. Now that he has gotten accustomed to his new home and obviously has taken a liking to the track, someone needs to tell him he has to return to Oaklawn for next week’s Rebel Stakes, where he will be facing graded stakes winners Concert Tour and Keepmeinmind and Sam F. Davis runner-up Nova Rags. With his natural speed and his ability to run his opponents into the ground, this will be a real test, trying to outrun the speedy Baffert-trained Concert Tour and holding off the late-closing Keepmeinmind. He has paired up a “4 1/4″ Thoro-Graph number in his last two starts after a five-point jump, so now he has to move forward several points to put him up there were some of the faster horses. If he wins this race and then stablemate Mandaloun wins the Louisiana Derby the week after, that will be three major Derby prep victories in four weeks for Cox, and he will go into April with one of the strongest Derby contingents in years.

8. Proxy (Mike Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)
If you like Mandaloun it’s hard not to like this horse, assuming the blinkers in which he has been working so sharply moves him up in the Louisiana Derby and helps him stay focused and keep a straight course in the stretch, something that may very well have cost him victories in the LeComte and Risen Star Stakes. Also, the new mile and three-sixteenths distance of the Louisiana Derby should help him. So with him it is all about projection and what we’re going to see on March 20. What you do have to like about him is the way he battled back in the final yards of his last two races to snatch second from Mandaloun and then Midnight Bourbon, finding his best stride after his erratic running in the stretch. If the blinkers do help as much as I believe they will, there is a good chance we’re going to see a different horse next time out.

9. Helium (Mark Casse, Ironicus – Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch)
This has nothing to do with being a prisoner of the moment. The truth is I am totally in awe of what this colt did in the Tampa Bay Derby and I am fascinated, yet torn about his immediate future. In a year like this with three standouts on top, everyone else looks pretty similar except this colt because of the mystery surrounding how good he is and how much meaning you can put in his freakish performance. Here is a horse who had never gone two turns, had never run on dirt, and hadn’t run in 4 1/2 months due to Woodbine canceling because of snow, then Covid closing the track, and then suffering a wrenched ankle while pointing for a return at Fair Grounds. Now in a Grade 2 race, he is forced six-wide going into the first turn, is still six-wide around the turn and down the backstretch, makes a huge sweeping move five-wide on the far turn, going from 10th to the lead, cuts the corner beautifully, dropping down to the rail, gets caught by the 3-1 second choice Hidden Stash inside the eighth pole, and battles back to actually draw clear to win by three-quarters of a length. Even Casse wasn’t expecting anything like this. He said in his 40-plus years of training he has had few “Wow” moments, but this definitely was one of them. On top of that he said the colt didn’t take a deep breath after coming back. So what are we dealing with? What I am torn about is that I’m not sure what he was beating and Casse said he is leaning toward going straight to the Kentucky Derby, bucking history on several counts (what else is new?). If you’re concerned about his low Beyer speed figure, remember that does not take into account ground loss and he easily had to run a mile and an eighth. So I need to let all this sink in and see what we’re dealing with.

10. Weyburn (Jimmy Jerkens, Pioneerof the Nile – Sunday Affair, by A.P. Indy)
Here is another head scratcher regarding a horse who did something he shouldn’t have done. I commented in Week 1 that this horse, with his pedigree, is going to improve big-time going two turns, but to do what he did in a tough Gotham field was pretty extraordinary considering he had his whole schedule disrupted by hoof problems and then was supposed to run in an allowance race on the Gotham undercard only to have the race not fill. So Jerkens had no recourse but to throw him to the wolves going a flat-mile against several proven stakes horses. To battle back in the stretch the way he did to stick his nose in front at the wire was pretty impressive. In his first three generations alone he has three Kentucky Derby winners, two Preakness winners, three Belmont winners, three Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, a Kentucky Derby runner-up, and an Alabama winner who produced a Filly Triple Crown winner and Hall of Famer. Going into his fourth generation you will find an American and English Triple Crown winner. What makes this pedigree so special is that Jerkens’ father, the legendary Allen Jerkens, trained the aforementioned Filly Triple Crown winner Sky Beauty, who Jimmy was around and knows very well. This horse assuredly will be made a late nominee to the Triple Crown, and as I said in Week 1, I can’t wait to see what this colt can do going two turns.

11. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)
All he needs is a fast-closing second in the Rebel to move back up the rankings. We finally are going to get to see the Kentucky Jockey Club winner’s long-awaited debut after two postponements of the Southwest Stakes. With no training at Oaklawn because of track conditions, Diodoro opted to wait two more weeks for Rebel. He tried to make Keepmeinmind feel good by telling him, “You should be happy; now you just have to run down Caddo River and Concert Tour instead of trying to outrun Essential Quality, so it’s not all bad.” Keepmeinmind went out and worked five furlongs in 1:02 1/5, coming home his final eighth in :12 2/5 before galloping out three-quarters in 1:16. Diodoro just wanted jockey David Cohen to keep him relaxed early because he can get a little tough and he did just that. With eight works this year, you can’t say he won’t be fit. Right now, I just want to see that patented late run and for him be close at the finish and then he can be ready for a big performance in the Arkansas Derby.

12. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)
His big hope right now is that, like his his sire, he is going to keep getting better. Whether he will be near his peak in the Kentucky Derby is another matter, as Tiznow didn’t develop until later in his 3-year-old campaign. But this colt is more precocious, breaking his maiden at a mile last August, and has never been out of the money in six career starts. He is on a very similar Thoro-Graph pattern as Caddo River, pairing up an “8” and then basically pairing up a “5.” He will need to improve four or five points in the Louisiana Derby to put himself in position to win the Kentucky Derby. There is not much separating him, Mandaloun, and Proxy.

13. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Into Mischief – Strong Incentive, by Warrior’s Reward)
I don’t know how far he wants to go, but in my mind he turned in the most under-the-radar performance of the week. Following a four-month layoff, he had a dreadful trip in the Gotham Stakes. He was crowded at the start with Wipe the Slate constantly coming in on him and actually forcing him off the straightaway and onto the turn at the gap. He had to steady and regroup and then was boxed in most of the way. He finally was able to fan five wide turning for him, but shied from a left-handed whip, moving out several paths and losing some of his momentum. Once he came back in, he leveled off and was striding out well in the final sixteenth, while narrowing the margin on the first two. He is another who hasn’t been two turns yet, so his next start will tell us all we need to know about him.

14. Concert Tour, (Bob Baffert, Street Sense – Purse Strings, by Tapit)
We’ll know for sure what we’re dealing with when he ships to Oaklawn for Saturday’s Rebel Stakes and his two-turn debut. He turned in a monster work, breaking about 10 lengths behind a workmate, cut to inside turning for home, and drew away to finish three lengths in front before galloping out strong, completing the six furlongs in a bullet 1:11 2/5. Baffert has been saying for a while he is one of his best 3-year-olds despite having had only a pair of sprints in his career. He is bred for distance, so we should expect a big performance from him in the Rebel.

15. Hidden Stash (Victoria Oliver, Constitution – Making Mark Money, by Smart Strike)
On the surface it looked like he had Helium measured in the Tampa Bay Derby and should have gone by him, but couldn’t finish the job and let him come back and beat him. But he gets a pass because he was a total run off before the race and was out of control tearing around there along the rail throwing his head around wildly. He finally had to be grabbed by the outrider. That had to take a lot out of him, so he can be excused for not finishing off Helium, especially with the winner coming out twice and brushing with him. The negative aspect of running off is that he did it, and you have to wonder why. You certainly don’t want to see that again, especially on Derby Day. The fact is he has been on the board in all six of his races with his only fourth coming in his career debut last August. He did finally change leads, which is encouraging, so we’ll give him another chance.

16. Medina Spirit, (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)
Well, at least you can say he’s the only horse ever to get close to Life is Good. You have to wonder now how good the Robert B. Lewis Stakes was, with him and Roman Centurian getting trounced by Life is Good. He’s still a hard-knocking consistent colt who tries all the time and will win his shares of races. The problem Baffert has is figuring out where to run him next. I would doubt he’ll try the “beast” again. If he goes out of town at least he’ll be able to run his own race. But Baffert says he’s a lightly made colt, so we’ll have to see how he handles shipping.



On several occasions I have mentioned DYNAMIC ONE as my hidden gem and my super maiden sleeper. Well, he finally got that maiden win out of the way, but he’s still my sleeper. Granted, he didn’t beat much and they ran very slow over a deep and tiring track, but he trudged his way through it to defeat a highly touted Chad Brown colt by 5 1/4 lengths, and his final fractions of :24 4/5 and :13 were good enough on that track. His time for the mile and an eighth was a sluggish 1:55 1/5, but let’s remember that Greatest Honour and Known Agenda went in 1:55 4/5 last fall at Aqueduct, and he just shipped up to New York from Florida and was not used to such a dramatic change in surfaces. He certainly will get fit after this race. He already demonstrated his explosive turn of foot in his last race, in which he was six-wide on the first turn, lost a shoe, and came back with some mucus in his lungs. So this was a piece of cake and should springboard him to bigger and better things. If you are a fan of the Phipps breeding, how about this colt’s tail-female line having Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, Numbered Account, Buckpasser, My Flag, Storm Flag Flying, Relaxing, and Private Account.

Dynamic One wasn’t the only impressive maiden winner for Todd Pletcher over the weekend. He also sent out the Nyquist colt UNTREATED, who destroyed his field at Tampa Bay Downs, winning off by 8 3/4 lengths going two turns for the first time. Racing four-wide into the turn, he settled back in seventh and when jockey Luis Saez asked him he demonstrated an explosive turn of foot and was in front in a flash. He continued to draw away under a hand ride and could not have kept a straighter path the length of the stretch. He keeps his legs under him perfectly and has the look of a classy, professional colt and we’ll just have to see what he does against far better horses. But visually this was a flawless performance. Who knows, maybe he’ll be my sleeper. Pletcher doesn’t have any big names so far, but he sure has several who could burst on the scene in a hurry. This colt sold for $550,000 as a yearling and raced in one sprint for Chad Brown and the Estate of Paul Pompa, showing little. Shortly after he was sold at the Pompa dispersal and went for only $300,000 to Team Valor, which could turn out to be quite a bargain thanks to that poor debut. Watch out for this guy.

CROWDED TRADE – Coming off only one six-furlong sprint in his career, he either is an exceptional colt to run that big a race in the Gotham or that was not a strong race in general. The 95 Beyer suggests it likely is the former. But this is a year with so many huge performances by lightly raced horses we really don’t know what to make of it all. Times indeed are changing.

DREAM SHAKE – He ran well to finish third in the San Felipe, but really had little chance coming off one maiden sprint. He should build on this and we can look forward to bigger and better things from him. If you’re looking for another positive, Law Professor, who he beat by 18 lengths in his maiden win, came back to break his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths going a mile at 20-1. The horse who finished second to Law Professor, Harbored Memories, had previously finished second to Dream Shake, so two horses have come out of that maiden race to run big.

HOT ROD CHARLIE – He also is coming off the Robert Lewis, so all we can do is wait for the Louisiana Derby to see just where he fits. He did take all the worst of it in that race so he still may have a say in the Derby picture. He did turn in a solid six-furlong work in 1:14.

ROMAN CENTURIAN – He never had a prayer in the San Felipe and all he could do was plod home for fourth and just wait now for the distances to stretch out and get some speed up front to use his staying power and late kick.

THE GREAT ONE — As mentioned earlier, any chance he had to run with Life is Good early was taken away when Medina Spirit carried him wide going into the first turn. But even so, his 16 3/4-length drubbing was puzzling to his connections. You always have to wonder how a horse will react coming off first-time Lasix, a 14-length win, and a monster Thoro-Graph jump. So we’re back to square one as to how good he really is. He will get another chance in three weeks when he ships to Gulfstream for the Florida Derby.

OVERTOOK – He had a brief stay in the Top 12, but with all the action since his Withers second he must earn his way back up there and show everyone he’s not just a plodder. He just had an easy half-mile breeze this week in :50 3/5

ROMBAUER – He is a consistent closer and handles all three surfaces, but his Thoro-Graph numbers were the second slowest of the 23 horses in the Future Wager, so he will need to get faster in a hurry. I did like is five-furlong work in a sharp 1:00 flat.

As if Godolphin doesn’t have enough good horses in the U.S., they added another potential Derby horse when their homebred HIGHLAND AVENUE won the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes over the Polytrack at Kempton Race Course in England. The son of Dubawi, who is bred for the grass, now has two victories and a second in three career starts. The next European Derby prep was Friday’s Patton Stakes at Dundalk Race Course in Ireland, which is also on an all-weather track. That turned out to be a an unexpected result when the Joseph O’Brien-trained 5-4 favorite Messidor was upset by stablemate MY GENERATION, a Kentucky-bred Speightstown filly with only a third-place finish in a maiden race to her credit. Not only did she win at odds of 11-2, she drew off in the final furlong to score by five lengths. Did we possibly find an Oaks filly hiding in a Derby prep?

One performance in the Fountain of Youth that got overlooked was the fourth-place finish of TARANTINO, who got shoved out going into the first turn and lost a ton of ground, then raced wide for most of the race, but kept battling and was beaten only 5 1/4 lengths. Trainer Rudy Brisset said he came out of the race in good shape and with two victories and a nose defeat on grass he will now point for the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and try the Polytack, as many grass horses do.

Another under-appreciated performance that day was by SPIELBERG, whose fastest Thoro-Graph number had been an “8,” with his previous race being a “9.” Whether it was the slop or just finding a track he loved, his number in the Southwest catapulted to a “1,” which was the second-fastest of the year behind only the victorious Essential Quality. That can be attributed to his terrible start, dropping back to last, and racing very wide into the first turn and wide on the second turn. He’s been up and down his entire career, and we’ll see what Baffert has planned for him next.

The spectacular maiden winner PREVALENCE, who was forced to miss the Fountain of Youth when he came down with a bug and was forced to miss his final work, had his second work back, drilling a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 on Friday. Needless to say things are getting desperately tight if he is to have any bchance of making the Derby even with only three career starts. If trainer Brendan Walsh can’t get a race in him in the next week would Godolphin, who already has two major Derby contenders, push this promising colt to try to make the race with such little foundation under him when he has such a bright future?

Last week we touted two lightly raced colts who have shown a great deal of promise. One of them, SOUP AND SANDWICH, did not get a strong Thoro-Graph figure in his last start, running a “ 9 3/4″ following a strong “6” in his debut. But part of that can be attributed to his greenness, ducking in and changing leads three times. I have no doubt he will get faster as he matures, but will it be fast enough to be competitive in the Florida Derby? On the other hand, NICKY THE VEST went from an “8” in his debut to a “4” in the Gander Stakes, and he should continue to improve based on everything we’ve seen so far. I don’t care that he’s been facing New York-breds, this colt is a flat out runner.

American Pharoah Stakes winner GET HER NUMBER continues to impress in his long workouts, as he drilled six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 at San Luis Rey Downs for his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel Stakes. BROOKLYN STRONG continues to work, breezing a half in :48 4/5 at Laurel. Even in today’s racing, he just seems too far behind to make the Derby without doing something totally unconventional and illogical.


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