Derby Rankings: Week 11

After 10 weeks we finally have a new No. 1, but that could change in the next couple of weeks when the final preps will be run, with a number of top horses needing first or second-place points to even get in the Derby. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Mar. 28, 2022 – Week 11

By Steve Haskin

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

Sometimes a horse will force you to do something, and Epicenter finally forced me to do something I have been reluctant to do since day one and that is to knock my No. 1 and 2 horses down a notch. I may have to put them back after the Blue Grass Stakes, but they are going to have to run exceptional races for me to do it. I have been saying for weeks the only thing I need to see from Epicenter is the ability to sit behind horses if he had to and use his tactical speed rather than his front-running speed. That would make him the complete Derby package. Not only did he demonstrate that adaptability, he was able to sit behind two very good horses while hemmed in along the rail, but acting like he had been doing that his entire career. When he finally came off the rail nearing the top of the stretch and fanned out, he went right by the pace-setting second choice Zozos and drew off to win by 2 ½ lengths, closing his final three-sixteenths in a sensational :18 1/5. Good luck finding any Preakness winners who came home faster than that. And he did it following a :24 1/5 quarter. He did everything Rosario asked him to and never was touched with the whip. Epicenter came to the wire flicking his ears back and forth, and when Zozos came alongside him on the gallop-out he re-broke, took off, and just kept going as if he were ready to go around again. If you are looking for the perfect Derby prep this was it. Now I cannot think of a thing this horse can’t do or a reason to keep him off the top spot.


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

He did nothing to lose his No. 1 ranking except not run enough and not win a race since November. It has all been speculative with him, and I still think very highly of him, but he is going to have to run a huge race in the Blue Grass against a tough field and show that explosive kick we saw last year to erase the image of Epicenter toying with him in the Risen Star. So for now let’s just look ahead at the all-important final preps coming up and what he and the other horses have to accomplish and what is expected of them. Now that Messier is officially on the Derby trail, you can certainly make a case for him as No. 1 if he knocks off Forbidden Kingdom in the Santa Anita Derby. So Smile Happy has no room for error in the Blue Grass when he takes on Zandon and Emmanuel among others. He had his “we’ll give him that one” race in the Risen Star, and now he has to live up to his promise. If he is defeated again he better have a darn good excuse and show that he is ready to peak on the first Saturday in May and can win the Derby off two defeats this year. This is what happens when you have lightly raced horses that you don’t know much about. He did have a setback last year, which could be the reason why he was ridden so conservatively in the Risen Star. It took him time to get back and that could hurt him if he doesn’t get a lot out of the Blue Grass. He has been No. 1 all year based on what we saw in his two starts last year, but that was a long time ago, and, although he ran a good race in the Risen Star he did not show that same spark as last year. I just need to see that spark and for him to get something out of the race. In short, everything hinges on whether we see that same horse who was flawless in every aspect last year.


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

A lot of what was said about Smile Happy can be said about him, except for the fact he has faced more adversity and has been at more of disadvantage in his races, and in many ways has shown more versatility. We may have seen the best of Smile Happy, but with him there seems to be more room for improvement and perhaps giving him a higher ceiling, because it is obvious we have not seen his best. I have no idea what he is capable of when things go his way and he is able to put it all together. In many ways he needs a victory more than Smile Happy because, with everything he’s shown so far, he still has lost two of his three races, although as I have stated several times he should have been placed first in the Remsen Stakes after clearly being mugged late by Mo Donegal. To do what he did going a mile and an eighth in a Grade 2 stakes coming off one six-furlong maiden race and pressing the pace the whole way was exceptional, as was his performance in the Risen Star when a bad start dropped him back to last and he had to rally wide like a seasoned closer. That is why we still have no idea how good this colt really is. After April 9, who knows what the Rankings are going to look like. But he intrigues me more than any of the others, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a breakout performance at Keeneland…if things go his way for a change.


4– Messier (Tim Yakteen, Empire Maker – Checkered Past, by Smart Strike)

If you like this colt don’t let the switch to Yakteen dissuade you. He’s been around, he’s a good horseman, and he’s very close to Baffert, having come with him to the Thoroughbreds from Quarter-Horse racing as an assistant. But although Messier is in good hands, this is still the Bob Baffert show regardless of who puts the saddle on him for the Santa Anita Derby. His foundation is Baffert and his works are Baffert, as we saw with his recent six-furlong drill in 1:11 2/5 with John Velazquez up. If Messier wins the Kentucky Derby what an interesting scene that will be on the winner’s podium, as Baffert’s presence no doubt will be felt, especially by the people who banned him. We’ll see how many times Yakteen mentions him and thanks him for the opportunity and how many times SF Racing thanks him for the great job he did developing the horse. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. This is a very talented colt, and if he is as impressive as he was in the Robert, B. Lewis Stakes and beats Forbidden Kingdom the way he did in the Bob Hope Stakes there is a good chance you’re looking at the Kentucky Derby favorite. We had him ranked pretty high for several weeks, and now that he’s officially on the Derby trail and eligible for points there will be no ignoring him any longer. He’s in good hands with Yakteen. He is bred to easily handle a mile and a quarter, and if you want an appropriately named sire to describe Baffert’s career and an appropriately named dam to describe Churchill Downs’ opinion of him here they are – Empire Maker and Checkered Past. Regardless of what the program says the empire ain’t dead yet.

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

The Florida Derby will not only tell us how good he is, but who he is, as we have seen several different sides to him. We know he can beat you with pure speed and can come home fast being on a strong pace the whole way; we know he can rally from far off the pace due to a bad start; and we know he can win from off the pace when he is simply asked to do so. And of course we know he can draw off in the stretch and win by three or four lengths or by 17 lengths, as he did in his brilliant maiden victory in 1:09 4/5. He did get in a bad habit of not changing leads in his last two races, but he changed smoothly after several strides in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, so we know he can do it; he just has to make sure he fixes that in the Florida Derby. We have also learned he’s tough as nails, splitting his head open on the starting gate at the start of an allowance race that would require 20 staples to close the wound and he still ran though it to finish third. Between his brilliance, toughness, and adaptability and the story behind his trainer he surely would be one of the more popular horses at Churchill Downs. We just have to see how he handles White Abarrio and Classic Causeway and the others in the Florida Derby and find out for sure how he likes to run. And, yes, if he can get back to changing leads. He showed his sharpness with a five-furlong work in :59 4/5, so all systems are go.


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

He is another lightly raced colt with a world of potential who still has to prove himself, in his case going two turns and facing better quality competition. The Wood Memorial could draw a large field of horses looking to avoid a confrontation with Smile Happy, Zandon and Emmanuel in the Blue Grass Stakes. I believe he is another who needs to win to uphold his image as a potential star or at the very least run an outstanding second to an accomplished horse with two-turn experience. You can excuse a first career defeat in a first attempt at two turns if it looks like he is going to show big improvement in his second attempt. Also, he has to build a solid foundation in this race and put some bottom under him to prepare him to go a mile and a quarter in only his second two-turn race and fourth career start. I don’t see any problems in the talent department because I believe his talent is limitless. He has checked off every box so far, especially his mechanics and professionalism, and he gives the impression that there are a lot of important victories ahead for him. The Wood should tell us where he is now in relation to the other Derby contenders and if he is ready to take that next big step.

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

One has to have mixed feelings about her winning the Arkansas Derby, as she is far from a certainty to go on to the Kentucky Derby. Yes, there will be pressure on her connections to run her, but as of now they still seem to be leaning toward the Oaks, which could very well leave the Arkansas Derby irrelevant in relation to the Kentucky Derby. But we’ll deal with that after we see how she does on April 2. She sure has all the tools to win the Arkansas and Kentucky Derbys, from her pedigree to her explosive turn of foot that has decimated her opponents this year. We have also seen her overcome trouble in a race. But although the Arkansas Derby doesn’t look like it has any world beaters coming out of the preps, there are exciting new faces like We the People, Chasing Time, Call Me Jamal, Cyberknife, and the Baffert/Yakteen invader Doppelganger. So, as sensational as Secret Oath has looked, she hasn’t faced horses of this caliber and she was well beaten in two of her three starts last year. But she has been an absolute beast this year and if she is as good as she has looked crushing her opponents in her three starts then it could get very interesting if she wins the Arkansas Derby.


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

What makes the Florida Derby so appealing are the back stories of two of its headliners, White Abarrio and Simplification, a pair of hard-knocking lunch pail horses on the verge of stardom. White Abarrio actually was bred by Spendthrift Farm, but there was nothing about him that made it worthwhile to keep him. He was on the small side and not fashionably bred, so they put him in the Keeneland January mixed sale as a newly turned yearling. But in November they scratched him from the sale after selling majority interest in him as part of a package deal made up of weanlings with lesser bred pedigrees. The buyer was Raul Reyes of Kings Equine who has been breaking the Spendthrift yearlings for years and selling horses for them. The colt, in addition to being small, was not a standout physically. So instead of selling at the Keeneland January sale, he was put in the Ocala January mixed sale, where he sold to Jose Ordonez for a paltry $7,500. He was then pinhooked to the Ocala March 2-year-old sale and was purchased by owner/trainer Carlos Perez for $40,000. In his first start for Perez at Gulfstream on September 24 and racing under the name Clap Embroidery he went off at 12-1 and broke slowly from the rail before quickly moving up into fourth. Seemingly trapped behind horses, he charged up between the two leaders nearing the head of the stretch and burst clear at the eighth pole to win by 6 ½ lengths. Watching in the stands was Mark Cornett of C2 Racing, who was so impressed with what he saw he purchased the colt, turned him over to Saffie Joseph Jr., and now is only one race away from having one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. More on Joseph in Knocking on the Door.


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

Lynch has decided to stay home and come back in three weeks for the Florida Derby rather than wait for the Blue Grass Stakes. His races from a visual standpoint tell me he has made great strides from 2 to 3. His speed figures as a whole tell me he has not, as his Thoro-Graph number of “5” in the Sam Davis and Tampa Bay Derby is the same number he got in his career debut. From a visual standpoint it’s hard to believe he hasn’t improved since then, but if you go by the numbers a “5” will not come close to winning the Kentucky Derby. So can he make a big jump on Saturday to put himself in position to win the Derby? That’s what we’re going to find out. He also has to show he can beat better horses than the ones he beat at Tampa. I believe he probably is a better horse than his speed figures indicate, but in order to analyze all aspects of the colt and what he has to do to move forward they must be mentioned. Lynch has done a super job training him, combining speed with stamina by giving him long stiff works. You don’t see many trainers work their horses like that anymore. He had an excellent final work for the Florida Derby, drilling a half in :47 2/5, second fastest of 93 works at the distance, so you can expect him to be right up with the pace again. He has the stamina and he has good early speed when needed. Now we just have to see if he can combine everything and take that next big step.


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

I know I have him ranked much lower than most, but I need to see how he handles Messier going a mile and an eighth before I can consider him a horse who will stay the mile and a quarter in a 20-horse field. He has not faced more than six opponents in his career, and in the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes last year he was extremely rank early, blazing along in :21 2/5 and :43 1/5, and Messier blew right by him. He still set very fast fractions in his San Vicente victory this year against a trio of Baffert horses and Mandella has since had him break off well behind his workmates in the morning. He seemed more relaxed early in his two-turn debut in the San Felipe while opening a big lead, but that was not a strong field and he just outdistanced everyone. I did like his most recent work when he went six furlongs in 1:14 1/5 and continued strong past the wire. Mandella got him working five-eighths in 1:01 and galloping out in 1:13 and change. “This was the first work since the San Felipe Stakes.” Mandella said. “He went the first eighth in :13 and finished in :24 sittin’ easy, so it couldn’t be better.” Slow early and fast late is the key to this colt, and we will see if that’s the way the Santa Anita Derby plays out. It’s still going to be hard to keep him off the lead, which actually is where you want to be in what looks to be a virtual match race. It’s all about controlling his speed and saving something for the end, and coming out of the race looking like a Derby horse.


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

I still consider him a sleeper after his race in the Fountain of Youth, in which he had a terrible trip, losing a lot of ground, and even though he finished fourth, beaten 5 ¼ lengths, he still was able to improve his mundane Thoro-Graph numbers from back-to-back “8s” to a respectable “4 ¼.” And I did like the wide move he made to get into contention before tiring a bit, which was to be expected considering his bad start, loss of ground, and making only his third career start against much better competition. He previously had toyed with his opponents, loping along on an easy lead. This time he had to face adversity and proved to me he was a serious horse. The Blue Grass will be an even tougher field, but the main contenders are also lightly raced horses, so we will get a good idea how much he has improved and how he stacks up against the highly ranked horses. He will have to take another significant step forward in his Thoro-Graph numbers if he is to handle horses like Smile Happy and Zandon, but as I mentioned they also have had only three career starts, so we really don’t know how good any of these horses are.


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

It’s been so long I barely remember this horse other than he is a consistent closer who would move way up with a big performance in the Wood Memorial. Despite his nine-week layoff after getting sick and having his schedule disrupted he does have a strong foundation with several excellent two-turn performances under his belt. He did show his sharpness Saturday with a five-furlong work in 1:00 4/5. Right now I would call him solid. He’s not going to dazzle you and as I have mentioned several times I felt he should have been disqualified in the Remsen Stakes. But the Derby picture is going to start changing dramatically in the next few weeks and a Wood victory or even a strong second would surely put him in contention. His Thoro-Graph numbers have been stuck around “6,” which he has run in his last three starts, so he is going to have to make a pretty big leap to put him in position to win or be competitive in the Kentucky Derby. One thing you can count on is he will be closing in the Wood, and I’m not sure how deep that field is going to be, with Morello and another seldom seen colt, Early Voting, his main threats. But you can bet others will migrate up to New York to escape the tougher prep races.


13– Doppelganger (Tim Yakteen, Into Mischief – Twice the Lady, by Quiet American)

I’ve been waiting to put him in the Rankings for a while, because like many others I believe he is a lightly raced horse on an upward trajectory and has not had an opportunity recently to show who he is. He showed it in his career debut when he rallied from seventh going six furlongs to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:09 1/5 at Los Alamitos. But in his two starts since he has had to chase a loose on the lead Forbidden Kingdom and did at least close the gap on him each time. In the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes he wanted no part in chasing a :44 2/5 half, trying to catch not only Forbidden Kingdom but another fast horse in stablemate Pinehurst, winner of the Del Mar Futurity. In the San Felipe Stakes, his first race around two turns, he never saw Forbidden Kingdom who was so far in front of him right from the start after he broke a bit slowly. But he wasn’t rushed and rated kindly some 10 lengths off the pace. He had no shot to win, but was the only one to at least go after Forbidden Kingdom, cutting his margin down to 5 ¾ lengths at the finish while finishing well clear of the others. Since that race he turned in a sensational six-furlong work in 1:10 4/5. Now he heads to Bob Baffert’s playground, Oaklawn Park, for the Arkansas Derby where he faces Wayne Lukas’ fabulous filly Secret Oath, a possible up-and-coming star in We the People, and for the most part a field of OK horses who have not set the world afire in the Oaklawn prep races. I can’t predict what he’s going to do, but I can say that a big performance will make him a serious Kentucky Derby horse.


14– Zozos (Brad Cox, Munnings – Papa’s Forest, by Forestry)

When I first looked at his pedigree I felt his first three generations leaned more heavily toward shorter distances, and obviously it still does, but when a horse can finish second to arguably the best 3-year-old in the country going 1 3/16 miles in his third career start, setting all the pace and hanging tough in the stretch, then you have to conclude he is just a darn good horse who is utilizing the stamina he does have farther back in his pedigree, such as his third dam being by the distance-loving Big Spruce, a son of the great stamina influence Herbager, and his broodmare sire being out of a daughter of Pleasant Colony, a son of His Majesty. As an added point of interest, Saturday’s Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer is inbred to Pleasant Colony. Zozos also is inbred three times to Secretariat. It looked like a bold move trying to outrun Epicenter early, but he did it with little effort and had the improving Pioneer of Medina lapped on him most of the way. As fast as they came home he never showed any signs of tiring and was still striding out strongly at the wire. I don’t know how effective he will be going a mile and a quarter with his running style and his lack of experience, but there is no doubt he has a bright future.


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

The Wood Memorial is coming up a strange race. Yes, Morello is making his two-turn debut, but what makes this race so hard figure out is that you have two horses who have already won stakes at 1 1/8 miles and are coming into the Wood off nine-week layoffs, so we have no idea what to expect from him or Mo Donegal. They both are coming off sharp five-furlong works, with Early Voting going in 1:00 2/5 at Belmont Park. What I loved about Early Voting’s Withers victory was how quickly he separated himself from the rest of the field approaching the head of the stretch, and this was only the second start of his career. Of course, two horses who came out of that race, Un Ojo and Grantham, both went on to turn in huge efforts in the Rebel Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby, finishing first and second, respectively at big prices. We just have to see if Early Voting can follow suit. Like many 3-year-olds this year he just doesn’t have enough of a resume to get a good line on him. Whatever he does in the Wood will not surprise me.

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

Although he has proven on two occasions he is no match for Epicenter, he also has proven he is a tough consistent colt who is going to give you 100 percent every race. He is improving, but is short on weapons. He apparently likes to track horses and keeps running hard to the wire, but he hasn’t shown enough punch to pass them or hold off horses coming from behind, so he is forced to settle for third or fourth. He only has 25 points, which normally would put him either way down the list or on the bubble, but this year there is a good chance it can get you in the Derby. The big question is whether he is good enough right now to make an impact on the race with his running style and lack of a big closing punch. But as I said, he is moving forward with each race, so you never know.


Continuing with the story of WHITE ABARRIO, Saffie Joseph grew up on his father’s farm in Barbados and has been around horses since he was 3. His parents wanted him to go to college, but after one year at Florida International University he realized that horses were in his blood and he returned to Barbados and started training. But he had higher aspirations, so he returned to Florida to train even though he had no horses. He picked up a few claimers and then in 2019 he won a six-way shake and claimed a horse named Math Wizard, who would go on to win the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. After the race an emotional Joseph said, “This is what I dream of. It’s all I ever wanted to do in life. I never doubted my ability. If I had the horses I felt I was as capable as anyone. Without the horses I’m nothing.“ Well he might have THE horse and now we’ll see if he can take him from his father’s farm in Barbados to racing’s ultimate glory.

I will say this for SLOW DOWN ANDY he sure knows how to win ugly. I had a spot all reserved for him in the Rankings once he took care of business in the Sunland Park Derby. But now, with this race being run on Sunday night, well after my column is usually sent in, I have to give it time to sink in. So he gets blinkers for the first time and runs the speedy Straight Up G off his feet after taking it to him right from the start and blazing along in :22 1/5, :45 1/5 and 1:09 2/5. After putting him away, Mine That Bird Derby runner-up BYE BYE BOBBY comes charging up alongside and looks like he going to blow by Slow Down Andy, who battles back, but starts his antics of cocking his head to the right again. Just like with Messier in the Los Alamitos Futurity, he appears beaten, but refuses to give up even though he looks like a mess, cocking his head and swishing his tail every time he gets hit. After those suicidal fractions, Andy went his next quarter in a pokey :27 2/5. But his final eighth in :13 1/5 was not bad all things considered. He certainly is an entertaining horse who does everything unconventionally, and he knows how to fight, but I need a little more time to determine whether he is a Derby horse, especially if he’s going to get keyed up with blinkers. It sure put speed in him, but now it is time to slow down Andy. I’ll probably rank him next week just so I can keep writing about him.

It looks as if there is interest in running UAE Derby winner CROWN PRIDE in the Kentucky Derby if his owner can be convinced. With Japanese horses starting to dominate international racing, having won five stakes on the Dubai World Cup card and two Breeders’ Cup victories last year, you certainly can’t dismiss this colt, who loved the stretch-out to 1 3/16 miles, wearing down a stubborn SUMMER IS TOMORROW before drawing clear to win by 2 ¾ lengths despite never changing leads in the stretch. He was in the clear all the way before rallying four-wide. Crown Pride, who is inbred 3 x 4 to Sunday Silence, won his first two starts convincingly, but faltered in the mud in the Hyacinth Stakes. The final time and closing fractions of the UAE Derby were pretty slow, but it’s tough to figure out how to interpret that. The runner-up, who was coming off an 8 1/4-length victory at Meydan, also is being considered for the Derby, but unlike Crown Pride, his pedigree is all U.S. breeding, having been bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones’ Airdrie Stud, who is also the breeder of Zandon.

It apparently took IN DUE TIME a while to recover from his second-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, which was his stakes debut, but he finally returned to the work tab with a five-furlong drill in a sharp 1:00 flat, so he apparently has fully recovered, as evidenced by Breen working him five furlongs first time back and letting him roll. Despite running second, his Thoro-Graph number regressed significantly, going from a “3” to a “6.” That “3” came off a huge leap from an “8 ¾,”so maybe a “bounce” should not have come as a surprise, but that was a big step backwards even though he looked good visually, closing fairly strong and striding out well at the finish. Whatever the effects were from that race, which kept him off the work tab for three weeks, we will have to see how he bounces back and what the plans are for him. Once we learn more I am sure he will be back in the Rankings

It doesn’t take a genius to see that RATTLE N ROLL is not the horse we saw last year. Whether he hasn’t recovered from the injury he suffered after the Breeders’ Futurity or has just lost that spark he showed when he blew his field away at Keeneland. For a brief second you could see him lower his head as if he were going to make that big move on the turn, but he went nowhere and at least was able to get fourth, beaten eight lengths, in a three-horse photo with two other disappointments, GALT and CALL ME MIDNIGHT.

After three strong five-furlong works, the exciting but lightly raced CHARGE IT blew out a half in :48 1/5 for the Florida Derby. The half-brother to Will Take Charge is taking a big step up from a maiden race, but that maiden race was so impressive it stamped him as a star in the making. Todd Pletcher could have run Emmanuel back in the Florida Derby or even Mo Donegal, but he elected to run an unproven maiden winner instead. I wrote extensively about him after that race and how impressive his performance was. Once again, he has run only twice and would be up against in the Kentucky Derby with only three lifetime starts, but these days you can never dismiss any horse with exceptional talent. If he can beat the likes of Simplification, White Abarrio, and Classic Causeway off that maiden race I wouldn’t even venture a guess what he’d be capable of at Churchill Downs.

Speaking of the Florida Derby, the real sneaky horse could be PAPPACAP, who turned in another sharp work, going a half in :47 1/5 at Mark Casse’s training center. If you can forgive his one baffling performance last time out you already know what he’s capable of and he has been working brilliantly. Picture a company which had been successful, but suffered one bad blow and its stock plummeted. Now that company is making strides to try to get back on its feet. If you believed in that company before, this is the time to buy up stock because you’re never going to see that price again. Many a killing has been made on Wall Street that way, buying up stock in a company when their market is down. I’m not saying Pappacap is going to win the Florida Derby, but if he can bounce back and look like the horse we saw in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and you have invested in him when his market was down, who knows what kind of killing you can make on the first Saturday in May.

Another horse pointing for the Florida Derby, O CAPTAIN, who is coming off a fast-closing third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at 87-1, had a leisurely five-furlong breeze in 1:03 at Gulfstream. At Tampa Bay, SHIPSATIONAL, who was second in the Sam F. Davis and third in the Tampa Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:02 for the Florida Derby.

At Oaklawn, three Arkansas Derby hopefuls had their final works Saturday, with Rebel winner UN OJO going an easy half in :48 4/5, out in 1:02; the undefeated WE THE PEOPLE working a sharp half in :47, out in 1:00 4/5 in company, with trainer Rudy Brisset aboard; and BEN DIESEL going five furlongs in a brisk :59 flat in company with the older stakes winner Last Samurai. On Sunday, BARBER ROAD, who has been knocking on the door all year, worked a half in :49 2/5, out in 1:01 4/5. Earlier in the week, CHASING TIME worked five furlongs in 1:00 flat, as he tries to rebound off his fifth-place finish in the Rebel. One Oaklawn horse heading to the Blue Grass Stakes is ETHEREAL ROAD, who worked five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 for Wayne Lukas. I feel he was the best horse in the Rebel Stakes and definitely is improving, as his Thoro-Graph numbers indicate.

Mark Casse’s other horses also continue to work well at his training center, with VOLCANIC going five furlongs in :59 2/5 and GOLDEN GLIDER a half in :48 2/5. Volcanic, who likely is heading for the Blue Grass Stakes, passed the Tampa Bay Derby after a solid third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, in which he was three-wide the whole way and got a “5 ½” Thoro-Graph number, only a half-point slower than the victorious Classic Causeway. Remember, this is a horse who outdueled Charge It in a virtual match race in his previous start.

At Keeneland, TIZ THE BOMB had another sharp drill, working a half in :47 1/5 for the Jeff Ruby Steaks.  If he passes that test it will be interesting to see if they take a shot and point him for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket..

COMMANDPERFORMANCE is off the Derby trail after failing in a maiden race at Tampa Bay. We know the talent is there, having seen him finish a strong second in the Champagne Stakes as a maiden with only one start. But after battling through ankle problems he has to get his mind back into racing. If Pletcher can find that spark again we still could see him in the Belmont Stakes.


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