Secretariat

Derby Rankings: Week 9

Some new developments this week, highlighted by the big decision regarding the filly Secret Oath. And we have returned to a Sweet Sixteen…sort of, as we try to clear up this still muddled picture. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Mar. 14, 2022 – Week 9

By Steve Haskin

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

I have run out of comments and background on him, so you know all there is to know about him, right? He’s run three times, lost his 3–year-old debut and is heading for a rematch with No. 2 Zandon in the Blue Grass Stakes. I will add that his 95 Brisnet figure in the Risen Star Stakes is the same figure Simplification got in his convincing victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. As much as I have liked this colt after his two races last year, his record is not typical of a No. 1-ranked horse. I have to admit being enamored with his female family, so maybe I am looking at that through rose-colored glasses. But in nine weeks I haven’t seen anything that would compel me to rank a horse ahead of him. It is rare at this late date not to have a horse run a negative Thoro-Graph number or close to it. So I’m still hoping the horse I saw last year will emerge, and I have to believe his 3-year-old debut under the circumstances was good enough to keep him where he is. He at least basically paired up his “2” Thoro-Graph number from the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in defeat, suggesting a big improvement next time out. But he cannot afford a single slip-up because there are a half dozen horses breathing down his neck. Both he and stablemate Rattle N Roll lacked the explosiveness we saw last fall, and that is what I’m looking for in their next start. With only two preps there is very little room for error or forgiving. It’s dangerous having to go into your final prep against top-class horses needing to finish second. Three-horse photos before have happened before in the final prep.

 

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

In many ways he may the biggest mystery horse of them all. I can’t recall ranking a horse No. 2 with only three career starts and losing two of them. But each one of his races has been better than the one before and it’s been Baptism under fire for him, so he is more battle-tested than most horses with three starts. We have learned more about him each time and can only imagine what he is capable of with a perfect trip. The Blue Grass will be his third straight mile and an eighth race, which also is rare and can dull most horses. But with his brilliance and jumping from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles in his second career start I believe it will help build a solid foundation going into the Derby. We know he has speed; we know he’s a fighter; and we know he can adapt and change his running style after a bad start and having to rally from last. And if you believe the Risen Star Stakes was the best prep this year, he did get a faster Thoro-Graph number than the first two finishers because of his wide trip. Now he gets Flavien Prat, who should fit him perfectly. He’s been sharp in the morning, working a half in :48 2/5 over the deep Payson Park track, second fastest of 43 works at the distance. Back on December 4 following the Remsen, Chad Brown said, “As you know, I have NEVER stretched a horse out that far off just one six-furlong race, but this horse is freaky good and can win the Derby.” That was, and still is, good enough for me.

 

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

He gave further warning that he is going to be tough to handle in the Louisiana Derby with a sharp five-furlong work in a bullet :59 3/5, fastest of 21 works at the distance and following that up with another bullet :59 4/5 drill. He can easily wire his field again, but this would be a perfect and final opportunity to show he can rate behind a horse and still be as effective as he has been controlling the pace. On the other hand, he just looks like a tractable horse who will sit off horses if he has to. And he likely will have to if Forbidden Kingdom makes the Derby He’s already been beaten when he went too fast early and I don’t see that happening again. His Brisnet speed figures have steadily improved (90-93-98) as has his Thoro-Graph numbers. I have known assistant trainer Scott Blasi for many years and I can’t remember him as high on a Derby horse as he is on this colt. “He has tremendous upside,” he said. “He’s fit, he’s seasoned, and he has good tactical speed. I’m as excited about him as much as any horse we’ve had on the Derby trail.” This is a classy horse with plenty of European stamina in his female family who can carry his speed a long way. He has already sent Smile Happy and Zandon off to the Blue Grass Stakes, and the way he beat them geared down the final furlong I’m not sure who will want to face him in the Louisiana Derby.

 

4Simplification (Antonio Sano, Not This Time – Simply Confection, by Candy Ride)

Sometimes it’s the intangibles that put a horse in the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May. And it is the intangibles that could separate this colt from the others. What you don’t see in the stats, speed figures, and pedigree is toughness, adaptability, and being able deal with adversity. He in many ways is the personification of his trainer, a third generation horseman who dominated the sport in Venezuela before he was kidnapped, held for four hours and then released. Then he was kidnapped again, which proved to be a traumatic experience, as he was held captive for 36 days until his family and friends were able to gather up the approximately $70,000 ransom money. Sano then said goodbye to his 165 horses and wound up settling in Florida where he had to start from scratch. He picked out Gunnevera as a yearling for $16,000 and wound up winning over $5.5 million with him. Now here he is with another tough blue-collar horse in Simplification, who was sold privately despite suffering from sesamoiditis. When Sano was a youngster his father tried to encourage him by telling him that someday maybe he’ll win the Kentucky Derby (like fellow Venezuelan Juan Arias with Canonero). When Sano first got Simplification he had him for 30 days before telling owner Tami Bobo, “You finally sent me my Derby horse; don’t ever sell this horse.” He told Bobo he was “tough as nails,” After breaking his maiden by almost 17 lengths in 1:09 4/5, Simplification was 1-5 in an allowance race, but he split his head open on the starting gate at the break. He was totally discombobulated early and jockey Miguel Vasquez could tell something was wrong. He still ran hard all the day and finished third. Afterwards it took 20 staples to close up the wound. He shrugged it off and destroyed his opponents in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. He is about to do something extremely rare – compete in all four Gulfstream Derby preps. We have seen how tough this colt is, how he can overcome adversity, and how adaptable he is by completely changing his running style. If he wins the Derby you just read why. All he has to do now is run somewhere other than Gulfstream.

 

5—Morello (Steve Asmussen, Classic Empire – Stop the Wedding, by Congrats)

As an aftermath of last weekend’s stakes, we’re going to focus on the speed figures. As you have read, Morello made a pretty big jump from a “7” to a “1 ¾” in the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes. It would have been great to see him pair up that number stretching out to a mile in the Gotham Stakes against better competition, but his slight regression to a “2 ¾” was understandable off that big a jump and certainly nothing to be concerned about. Remember, that “1 ¾” is the fastest number by any horse in the Derby Future Wager field. His Gotham number still was excellent compared to the others and what is important is peaking on the first Saturday in May. He still has another major prep going a mile and an eighth in his first two-turn race, so you don’t want him peaking in the Gotham. He did get a pretty strong 96 Beyer figure and his Brisnet figures have climbed every race, from an 87 to 94 to 99. His Brisnet Prime Power Rating (don’t ask) is first of the 23 Future Wager horses and in his two stakes appearances he has not run under a 90 in any of his early, middle, and late pace figures, so while he doesn’t blow you away in any one part of the race he is steadily quick and never runs slow in any part of the race. In short, he has a high cruising speed that he can maintain throughout the race. I know you’re totally confused, so let’s just say he is a horse with no weaknesses from a speed standpoint, and I can’t find any weaknesses anywhere else. He just needs to pass his two-turn test against quality horses.

 

6—Secret Oath (D. Wayne Lukas, Arrogate – Absenthe Minded, by Quiet American)

Her owner said of the Kentucky Derby last week, “We are still considering all options at the moment. We have made no final decisions yet.” Well, one decision that has been made since then is that she is heading for the Arkansas Derby, as reported in Daily Racing Form. So that is a good first step. Now we have to see if it’s on to the Kentucky Derby, assuming she runs huge, or she goes for the Oaks if she doesn’t, or she waits for the Preakness. Going to the owner once again, her reply on all counts was “undecided.” Looking at the Thoro-Graph numbers in last week’s three major preps, Forbidden Kingdom got a “2 ¼” in the San Felipe, Morello a “2 ¾” in the Gotham, and Simplification a “2 ½” in the Fountain of Youth. Compare that to Secret Oath’s “1 ½” in her last two races, the fastest number by any of the Derby Future Wager horses, and you can understand the enticement of seriously considering the Kentucky Derby, which would be difficult to pass up if she beats up on the boys in the Arkansas Derby. Also, on Brisnet, she is the only 3-year-old to be coming off back-to-back triple-digit late pace figures and that’s with winning both races in hand. Her Thoro-Graph number in the Honeybee Stakes made the Rebel Stakes horses look like plodders, and none of the colts seen so far can match her explosive turn of foot. And in case you forgot, her sire won the mile and a quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, and Travers Stakes in track-record time. Her dam won or placed in seven two-turn stakes, her broodmare sire sired a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, and her third dam is by Hatchet Man, who defeated Forego in the mile and a quarter Amory Haskell Handicap. What a legacy this would be for Arrogate.

 

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

I know he hasn’t defeated any world beaters in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby, but I don’t know if any horse has made more improvement from 2 to 3 than he has, thanks in part to the old school training of Lynch, who has been working him long and fast and has him on a three-prep schedule. Now he’ll be looking to get revenge on Smile Happy in the Blue Grass Stakes, which is shaping up as the toughest prep of the year. He just looks like a different horse this year. He’s sharper, more in command, and he runs low and hard and with more authority. He breaks like a shot, takes charge immediately, and is on cruise control on the far turn while the others are being pushed hard and unable to gain on him. But before you get too excited over him, the Tampa Bay Derby runner-up was 37-1 coming off a distant fourth in the Withers Stakes, and the third, fourth, and fifth-place finishers were all horses he defeated handily in the Sam Davis. The Blue Grass will be a far tougher test and he does have to make up those 3 ¼ lengths on Smile Happy. In the Tampa Derby he was able to control the pace with a 1:13 three-quarters over a deepish drying out track. His closing fractions of :25 1/5 and :06 2/5 after fanning wide turning for home were good enough on that track. I am curious to see his Thoro-Graph number. In his four previous starts he’s run a “5” in three of them, including the Sam Davis, so he needs to finally show some improvement and get significantly faster. His raw speed figures are all over the place. He got an excellent 99 figure on Brisnet in the Sam Davis, but an 88 Beyer, and that dropped to a meager 84 in the Tampa Derby. So he’s a horse you can like or dislike without getting much of an argument either way.

 

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

Handicapping these horses is so confusing this year because of the relatively slow overall speed figures. From a visual standpoint, his Holy Bull victory was very impressive, but like the Fountain of Youth, the race pretty much fell apart. And while his Thoro-Graph numbers have gradually gotten faster with each race, his “5” in the Holy Bull still leaves him with a lot of improving to do. But his Brisnet jump from a pair of 91s to a 97 in the Holy Bull contradicts that. And he did run a 96 in his career debut. So do we really have any clue how fast this horse is? Two works after a three-week absence from the work tab he went a swift half in :47 flat followed by five furlongs in :59 2/5, out in 1:12, so he sure bounced back OK and is razor-sharp. It is obvious he will be facing his best field by far in the Florida Derby and will be coming into the race off a two-month layoff, adding to the confusion, as does his pedigree, which overall lacks stamina, and because of the lack of big-name stallions he is an outcross through four generations. It is a common statement to make this year, but I have no idea what to make of him at this point. There is no doubt he is a very good horse, but is he a Derby horse?

 

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

The morning line Derby favorite at 5-1? Boy have I lost touch with this sport. But I am giving him more respect this week. I ranked him low last week because, unlike recent front-running Derby winners, he has sprinter’s speed, and I mean :21 and :43 speed that not even the fastest sprinters in the country can match. Yes, he won his two-turn debut in the San Felipe, but in that field he couldn’t help but win. When asked what this colt has that would help him get a mile and a quarter, Mandella said, “He’s very intelligent.”All he had to do in the San Felipe was pour it on early and keep going with no worries of anyone catching him and he crawled home in :26 and :07. His raw speed combined with a pedigree that has pure sprinters Five Star Day, Carson City, and Mt. Livermore in his first three generations on the dam side and his dam being very fast in her own right was enough to convince me he was a one-dimensional speedball with sprinters dominating his female family. So why am I moving him up? Upon further study of his pedigree, I will say that there is a bit of chance he can stretch his speed out. First off, to go along with his intelligence, his broodmare sire Five Star Day’s dam is by Vanlandingham, who won the 1 ½-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, as well as the Suburban Handicap and Washington D.C. International. Forbidden Kingdom’s third dam Til Forbid placed in the Alabama and Kentucky Oaks and is by Temperence Hill, who won the Belmont Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Travers, and Suburban. And you can’t forget the fact that Forbidden Kingdom’s sire is a Triple Crown winner. As for his speed, his 98 Beyer in the San Vicente was surely fast enough in this group and his 102 on Brisnet is the only last out three-digit figure. On Thoro-Graph, he improved from a “6” in his previous two starts to a solid “2 ¼” in the San Felipe. While he hardly looks like a typical Derby horse at this point, he has onIy one horse to beat in the Santa Anita Derby so I am keeping an open mind.

 

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

The main concern I had with him, especially being so hyped all year, were his two slow Thoro-Graph numbers of “8 ¼” and “8 ½.” They just didn’t fit the visuals, as I could find no flaws in him in either of those races. He just did everything right. Even though he then finished fourth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes I figured those numbers had to improve considering the terrible trip he had. It was a performance that actually moved him up in my eyes as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender, as he no longer looked like just another exciting young Pletcher colt who was beating up on inferior competition and having everything his own way on the lead. He now looked more like a tough professional colt who was battle-tested and could shrug off obstacles thrown in his path. As it turned out, he not only jumped to a “4 ¼” Thoro-Graph number, he was two points faster than the second- and third-place finishers. On the other side of the coin his Brisnet speed figure plummeted from a 96 to an 89 and his late pace figure from a 110 to an 83, but like Beyer that does not take into account the trip he had. He still needs to take another significant step forward on Thoro-Graph, but I am now confident that with a decent trip he is going show tremendous improvement on all his speed figures in  his final Derby prep, where he is going to have to run a big race to get enough points to make the Derby. If he does I believe he can make his presence felt on the first Saturday in May.

 

11—Early Voting (Chad Brown, Gun Runner – Amour d’ete, By Tiznow)

This colt has me totally confused. Brown was always considering the Derby, but he also felt pointing for the Preakness made a lot of sense. Well, it looks as if the Derby is where he’s headed, especially after Un Ojo came off a second in the Withers to win the Rebel Stakes at 75-1 and Grantham came off a fourth in the Withers to finish second in the Tampa Bay Derby at 37-1. And he pretty much blew them away in the Withers with an eye-catching burst of speed at the five-sixteenths pole. So here is another who will go into the Derby with only three career starts, but with him it had nothing to do with timing, as Brown decided to give him nine weeks between the Withers and Wood Memorial, and he’s had only four half-mile works since. Although his Withers victory was stunning, his 74 Brisnet late pace figure was pedestrian, as was his 91 speed rating and his palty 74 Beyer figure. When he was a youngster at the farm, he was considered more muscular and compact than the typical Gun Runners, who are more long and lean and look like stayers. A few minor vet issues at 2 caused him to sell for a lower price than expected. But pedigree-wise he is all stamina, with his sire and broodmare sire accounting for three Breeders’ Cup Classic victories, and any horse who can win his career debut going and head at a flat mile and then draw off and follow that up with a dominating victory going 1 1/8 miles over a deep tiring muddy track has to have a solid foundation despite having only two starts. His Thoro-Graph numbers of “6” and “5 ¾” are far more promising than his raw speed figures. I don’t like the three starts and the nine-week layoff, but I do like what I’ve seen visually, hence my confusion.

 

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

There is nothing to do with him but play the waiting game, as he prepares to face another confusing horse in Early Voting and the brilliant Morello in the Wood Memorial. So we wait for the Wood Memorial and wait for him to return to the work tab. He is just fortunate he’s built enough of a foundation with three two-turn races, two of them graded stakes, and a hard-fought victory in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes. But although he didn’t need the Fountain of Youth Stakes for seasoning, he did need it to get faster, as he is coming off three consecutive “6 ½” Thoro-Graph figures, which will not be fast enough to compete with the top 3-year-olds and he has yet to improve on them. The same goes for Brisnet, where he has yet to surpass a 93 speed rating. So when it comes to speed he has a lot of improving to do in the Wood Memorial, and he has to do it coming off a nine-week layoff, just like Early Voting. Because of his setback with a slight fever his Future Wager odds have gone from 14-1 in Pool 3 to 23-1 (on Sunday) in Pool 4. Between him and Early Voting, who knows what to expect in the Wood.

 

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

Watching this colt progress from race to race you have to feel he is heading in the right direction, and his second-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes was a big step forward in his first test against top-class stakes horses. Each person has his or her speed ratings that they follow. The expensive ones like Thoro-Graph and Ragozin, which are used by trainers, owners, jockey agents, and serious bettors and often are used in the purchase of horses, are far more advanced and provide far more information than the pure speed figures that don’t take things like loss of ground and other factors into consideration. The reason I mention this is despite In Due Time’s visually strong performance, his “6” Thoro-Graph number was a substantial regression from his “3” in his allowance victory, which was a big jump forward from the “8 ¾” he got in his first two starts. So did he “bounce” off his big move forward or was the “3” a one shot effort and he just returned to where he was? His jump from an 8 ¾ to a 3 was not big enough to justify such a regression, and he got the same number as the third-place finisher, who was 87-1 and coming off two sprint races in his career. I know I have been visually impressed with his last two races, but he did also regress from a 94 to 91 on Brisnet and only ran a 90 Beyer. I like his long fluid stride, but I need to see what he does next time out before deciding how good and how fast he really is. This one is perplexing.

 

14—Rattle N Roll (Kenny McPeek, Connect – Jazz Tune, by Johannesburg)

He wasn’t getting any respect in the Future Wager when he was coming off his impressive victory in the Breeders’ Futurity, and now if you are willing to overlook his disappointing comeback race in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, which I felt was a terrible spot for him, then you might be intrigued by his 31-1 odds in this week’s Future Wager Pool 4, as he now will seek redemption in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby over a far more appealing distance and racetrack. A fast-closing second to Epicenter at Fair Grounds would put him in the Kentucky Derby, and then the question would be did get enough out of his first race to have him peaking on the first Saturday in May off a six-week layoff.  Although I was apprehensive about the Fountain of Youth I expected him to show a lot more than he did. I just wanted to see him closing in the stretch, but he never got into the race. McPeek said he is a big galloping type of horse, which is not what you want at Gulfstream, and was not concerned at all about the way he ran. I am still a fan of this horse, but I am concerned and will be until I see a much improved effort under far more favorable circumstances.

 

15 and 16 — Pioneer of Medina (Todd Pletcher) and Call Me Midnight (Keith Desormeaux)

I am quickly filling in the final two spots for the Sweet Sixteen with Pioneer of Medina because he was right there with Smile Happy and Zandon in the best prep of the year, leaped from a “10 ½” Thoro-Graph number to a “3,” and worked a sharp five-furlongs in 1:00 flat this past weekend, and with Call Me Midnight because he did beat No. 3 Epicenter and is up to six furlongs in his works. Both likely will show up at Fair Grounds again for the Louisiana Derby.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Could it be the two most talented colts on the Derby trail have only two career starts at this late date and have not run in a stakes? It is a bit early to rank them, as I normally don’t like horses going into the Kentucky Derby with only three career starts, especially not yet having proven themselves in stakes company. But this year might be the exception. Read on.

I still haven’t figured out the reason behind Oaklawn Park pushing their 3-year-old stakes up two weeks, thus making it difficult for late-developing horses to use the Arkansas Derby as a final prep for the Kentucky Derby. But for some, like the connections of Secret Oath, they love having more time to the Kentucky Derby, and that might be what puts their filly in the big race. We saw a very exciting late developer in WE THE PEOPLE destroy an allowance field at Oaklawn for his second runaway victory in as many starts. But unlike past years when he would be a sure thing for the Arkansas Derby, he will now have to come back in three weeks if they want to stay home and prep for the Derby there. Fortunately for him the Oaklawn-based 3-year-old males do not look that strong, but Secret Oath is now heading for the Arkansas Derby. In this past weekend’s race We the People had Florent Geroux way up in the saddle and his feet in the dashboard trying to keep him off the front-running Ruggs. With this being only his second career start, Geroux pushed him along in the stretch to get something out of the race as he drew off to win by 5 ½ lengths. We the People wanted a lot more and had no desire to pull up after the wire and continued to gallop out strong. He makes an impressive appearance on the track and has beautiful action, but what was most impressive was how he got faster with each quarter, going his last three quarters in :24 4/5, :24 3/5, and :24 1/5, then coming home his final sixteenth in a swift :06 flat. We’ll see if Winstar Farm and trainer Rudy Brisset are willing to stay home and bring him him back in three weeks.

It seems we are having more and more exciting latecomers to the Derby trail for whatever reason, which makes the race all the more difficult to handicap. For those looking for exceptional talents to get in the gate on the first Saturday in May it is very frustrating.  Nowadays trainers are not afraid to run their horse at Churchill with only three career starts, which used to be an automatic toss until Big Brown and Justify came along. But they were no ordinary horses. In this day and age inexperience doesn’t mean what it used to. Todd Pletcher has run several horses in the Derby off three career starts and is planning to run CHARGE IT in the Florida Derby off a stunning maiden romp going a mile, in which he led all the way and still came home his final quarter in :24 flat while drawing off to an 8 ½-length victory in a quick 1:35 2/5, earning a huge 98 Brisnet figure and a whopping 117 late pace figure. This regally-bred half-brother to Travers winner Will Take Charge, by Tapit was beaten a neck by Volcanic in his career debut in a virtual match race, but it’s tough making your first career start at a flat mile and not only did he finish 12 lengths ahead of the third horse, Volcanic had two races under his belt and went on to finish a good third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes in his next start. This colt’s mechanics are flawless, his lead changes are so smooth you barely can see him do it, and I can’t remember seeing a horse run a straighter course down the stretch. What put me over the edge was watching him outwork Commandperformance in a quick 1:00 4/5 for five furlongs and then draw at least six lengths clear on the gallop out, despite being on the outside. I wish he had one more start, but I’ve learned my lesson.

If I’m going strictly by sheer talent and what I’ve seen in two non stakes I could rank both horses very high. But I’m obviously not going to do that and ranking them anywhere from No. 12 to 16 tells you nothing because you have no clue where they fit. So for now I feel it is better served to highlight both colts in Knocking of the Door until they show what they can do in stakes company. Remember, We the People has already beaten winners so he has a slight advantage, but Charge lt already looks like he can be special.

Well, it is apparent COMMANDPERFORMANCE is not the same horse we saw last year, whether it is the injury he suffered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or the wet tiring track or simply not making the transition from 2 or 3 and being asked to do too much too quickly early in his career. Considering he was thought highly enough to throw him into the Grade 1 Champagne against Jack Christopher coming off a second in his career debut, perhaps there is a reason why Pletcher went conservative and put him in a maiden race rather than the Tampa Derby. He was getting blinkers for the first time, and we mentioned last week that stablemate Charge It outworked him and left him far behind on the gallop-out, so who knows?. At 1-10, even with a wide trip and on a tiring track, he should have been more competitive against a weak field of maidens. I still think he’s a very good horse and will win stakes, but he is off course right now as a Derby horse and we’ll see if they give him another chance. Maybe he only runs well in Grade 1 company.

After discussing plans with owner Paul Reddam, Doug O’Neill said SLOW DOWN ANDY will make his next start in the Sunland Derby, which makes the Santa Anita Derby look even more like a match race between MESSIER and Forbidden Kingdom. I wonder who Churchill Downs is rooting for. How much longer are we going to have a normally top 3 ranked horse like Messier hanging over the Derby trail like some mysterious shroud? In typical O’Neill fashion, he then worked Slow Down Andy seven furlongs in 1:27 2/5, as he looks to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby. As for Messier, he continues to impress, working five furlongs in a bullet :59 2/5, fastest of 45 works at the distance. If he doesn’t have a new trainer by the Santa Anita Derby or if one or both Baffert bans are still in effect he will be running for the purse and Grade 1 status only and any Derby aspirations will be gone.

There is another fast horse in California, but it would seem like suicide to run the Cal-bred STRAIGHT UP G against Forbidden Kingdom even after a sharp half-mile work in :47 3/5, second fastest of 48 works at the distance. He definitely looks like he wants shorter distances.

Rebel Stakes runner-up ETHEREAL ROAD, who now will likely head to the Blue Grass Stakes with stablemate Secret Oath confirmed for the Arkansas Derby, returned to the work tab with a five-furlong drill in 1:01 2/5. Rebel winner UN OJO and third-place finisher BARBER ROAD have still not had a listed work since the race.

There has been some buzz around the Brad Cox-trained Gun Runner colt CYBERKNIFE, who scored a three-length victory last out in a Fair Grounds allowance race. He is an improving colt, whose Thoro-Graph number jumped from an “8 ¾” to a “3 ¼,” but he still needs to prove his poor effort in the Lecomte Stakes was a fluke and he can match up with far better competition. Another Cox-trained colt, the undefeated ZOZOS, a 10 1/2-length winner last out, worked a sharp five furlongs in :59 3/5. Cyberknife goes next in the Arkansas Derby and Zozos will take on Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby.

Remember the once highly regarded PAPPACAP, who ran an inexplicably poor race last time out? He worked a sharp five furlongs in a bullet :59 1/5 at the Casse Training Center.

TIZ THE BOMB, following his victory in the John Battaglia Stakes on Polytrack, could return to the dirt in the Florida Derby or possibly wait for the Arkansas Derby.


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225 Responses to “Derby Rankings: Week 9”

  1. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    I’m curious about Rattle N Roll in the Loui. He seemed to make two moves in the FOY. So he could fire a nice one here. The question is, will Galt show the early speed he’s capable of to keep Epicenter honest on the front end. If RNR improves substantially in this one, he’s on a nice path leading into the derby.

  2. carolyn says:

    Trainer Kenny McPeek sent Lucky Seven Stable’s Smile Happy and Rattle N Roll to the Gulfstream track to breeze in company following the break Saturday morning. Rattle N Roll on the inside and Smile Happy on the outside were credited with a joint bullet workout after breezing five furlongs in 58.81.

    “They worked super. They both needed a steady one and they both zipped along,” McPeek said. “I was really pleased with both of them.” Interesting he worked them together…..saw this yesterday in HRN

  3. TommyMc says:

    I hope Steve Haskin will comment on the path that Rattle N Roll is taking to The Derby. Maybe he can even get some inside information(wasn’t she a pretty nice horse?). I’m starting to wonder if there was an injury or problem that I didn’t hear about or might have forgotten about. Rattle N Roll started his Derby run in The Fountain of Youth. Will wheel back in just 3 weeks to run in next Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, leaving 6 weeks until The Derby. Does he then train up to The Derby if he has enough points? Does he wheel right back in another 3 weeks to race in The Lexington which is only a 20-pointer? If he does that, he would be wheeling back in 3 weeks yet again for The Derby. That would truly be old-school. Three races in a row off only 3 weeks rest.

  4. Matthew W says:

    Eddie’s New Dream won the irish O’Brien today–she had missed a week of training with a fever—Forbidden Kingdom has a lot more time than Eddie did–The race used to be called the Saint Patricks Day—but irish O’Brien, a Cal-bred filly won the race from way behind–two yea5rs in a row, and both times was 7-1 odds—so now it’s for Cal-breds, and named the Irish O’Brien…

  5. Bill Dawson says:

    It was good to hear that Joel Rosario has opted to remain stateside and ride Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby. If they (horse & rider) can replicate their Risen Star performance, the Louisiana Derby is theirs for the taking.
    I drew a line through Rattle N Roll’s performance in the FOY, where he was bottled up, on the inside, during the backstretch run. Positioned on the far outside, in P/P #9, for the La. Derby, should be of benefit for his closing style and avoid traffic problems like he experienced in the FOY. I’ll key Epicenter and RNR in the first two slots, with ALL underneath in the 3rd and 4th spots. That is: 6,9/ 6,9/ All, All. (superfecta wager).
    Brad Cox has Zoros entered. He’ll be making a major step up in class. His late pace figure of 111, last out, is scary.
    One thing to reminder regarding Epicenter’s win in the Risen Star, Rosario had him geared down, during the late stretch run. His last recorded work was a bullet 5 furlongs in 59.80 (1/14) on 3-14. It remains to be seen if Asmussen will give him one more work, prior to the La. Derby. We’ll see.

  6. TommyMc says:

    A nice 12-race card at Fairgrounds next Saturday on Louisiana Derby Day. The Louisiana Derby will run as the 12th and final race on the program. The 11th race is The Louisiana Oaks featuring the return of Echo Zulu who drew the #1 post in a small 6-horse field. With her speed, the rail shouldn’t be a problem for Echo Zulu. Returning from a layoff is more of a concern to me. Whatever. That late Daily Double of Echo Zulu to Epicenter should be a very popular bet. Overbet? Maybe/probably. If it hits, it will most likely pay peanuts.