Secretariat

Derby Rankings: Week 13

Well, all the preps are over with the exception of the Lexington Stakes and we’re now in the homestretch. We lost two, possibly three top-class horses this past weekend, but all in all the form held up very well and we now have a solid base of contenders. I know a Top 17 is an odd count, but that’s all I have to rank. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: April 11, 2022 – Week 13

By Steve Haskin

 

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

I just needed to see what this colt could do when he was able to run his race. I wrote last week, “Once he puts it all together and gets a good trip and a little luck, we could see something special.” And I believe we did. I also admit to a certain lack of objectivity with him, as I wrote a “Derby Sleepers” column on him way back on October 18 after his maiden victory, giving his entire back story, so I have felt close to him, following his every move since then, from Derby sleeper to now possible Derby favorite. When I texted Chad Brown and told him I thought he had a potential star he wrote back, “I have NEVER stretched a horse out that far before off just one race (from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles), but this horse is freaky good…he can win the Derby.” Those last words have stuck with me ever since because I was amazed how well he ran in the Remsen. Yes, I know Epicenter beat him geared down in the Risen Star, but he was going 1 1/8 miles off a two and a half-month layoff, got left at the gate and had to rally five-wide from last to finish third. I was expecting him to be just off the pace in the Blue Grass, as he was in his maiden win and in the Remsen Stakes. But he again dropped back to last. Each time he tried to move up he got shuffled back again. But he was always in striking range. Finally, he took off, weaved his way through the field, overcame some bumping in the upper stretch, and blew right on by Smile Happy, who looked like he had the race won. This was the horse I was waiting to see, and we know now that he is shifty enough to overcome traffic and find his own openings. His final fractions of :24 1/5 and :12 1/5 were strong and if ever a race can set you up for the Kentucky Derby this is it.

 

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

He turned in a solid five-furlong breeze in 1:01 in company, out six furlongs in 1:14 3/5, pulling up seven panels in 1:29 2/5. He will have a good feel for Churchill Downs training over it for this long. You’re splitting hairs with the top three; I believe they are that close. It’s not common for a Derby winner to go into the race having never earned a Thoro-Graph number faster than a “2 ½,” but if you look at his pattern you can see him winning the race if he takes the next logical step. After running an “8 ½” last year he improved to a “5 ¾”in the Gun Runner stakes, then paired that number in the Lecomte Stakes. That set him up for another jump to a “2 ½” in the Risen Star, which he again paired up in the Louisiana Derby. When a horse pairs up a career best and shows a pattern of doing it you can expect a move forward in his next race, which he did in the Risen Star. If he makes the same kind of improvement in the Kentucky Derby it definitely would be put him in the zero to negative range, which would be good be enough to win. I don’t know what the Thoro-Grraph numbers will be from this past weekend, but no one has run faster than a “1,” which leaves the door open for a number of horses who in other years might have been considered too slow. It all depends on how he handles the six-week layoff. With the new 1 3/16-mile distance, the Louisiana Derby form held up very well last year.

 

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

Despite two defeats this year by more than two lengths, I am remaining loyal to the horse I had ranked No. 1 for the first 10 weeks, seeing just what I was hoping to see in the Blue Grass Stakes, which was the spark he showed in his first two starts last year that was missing to some degree in the Risen Star Stakes when he was ridden way too conservatively and being asked to run way too late. He really needed to put in a strong run and get something out of the race. First off, he needed to be closer to the pace, but had to overcome the 10 post, and as feared was caught five-wide going into the first turn, which was the last thing you wanted to see. Corey Lanerie had to make an early move with him to get him in a decent position in third down the backstretch in order to stay close to a loose on the lead Emmanuel. He was also forced to go after Emmanuel a little early, collared him turning for home, and took a couple of solid bumps from him. Lanerie, after throwing several crosses on him, went to a right-hand whip and the colt resented it, throwing his tail up and ducking in. Just then, Zandon came storming up on his outside, and by then he was starting to get a little tired from his earlier efforts, switching back to his left lead at the sixteenth pole. Although he was no match for the winner he still finished almost four lengths ahead of Emmanuel in a race he desperately needed. This should move him toward a peak performance in the Derby and I strongly believe he can win it coming off this race.

 

4– Taiba (Tim Yakteen, Gun Runner – Needmore Flattery, by Flatter)

Is this the freak of all freaks? If he wins the Kentucky Derby off two lifetime starts then there is no use handicapping the Derby anymore based on logic even if he is a freak. I would never consider ranking a horse with two starts this high, but no matter what you think of Baffert, no one puts a foundation into a horse like he does and this colt has a tremendous foundation, turning in some sensational long works over  deep tiring racetracks. Also, he’s a powerfully built colt with a massive shoulder on him and big hind end, yet he runs low to the ground and is very light on his feet. I refused to rank Justify high because of the three starts and I would hate to make that mistake again. Even though Baffert no longer trains him he tried the same thing with Paynter, who finished a strong fourth in the Santa Anita Derby coming off only one 5 ½-furlong maiden victory. He then went on to be beaten a neck in the Belmont Stakes and easily win the Haskell. What I wouldn’t give to see Churchill Downs have to present the Derby trophy to Amr Zedan, the owner of Medina Spirit, who they recently disqualified from last year’s Derby, made an event out of taking down his Derby winner’s sign in the paddock, and made him give this horse to another trainer. And remember Zedan couldn’t stop raving about Baffert after winning last month’s Dubai World Cup. But getting down to the reality of it all, this horse not only has to be a freak to have won this race, it was the way he did it, looking like a seasoned veteran who didn’t seem to raise a sweat, blowing right by Messier and winning by 2 ¼ lengths in a solid 1:48 2/5 with a final furlong in :12 2/5. He ran an amazing “2” on Thoro-Graph in his career debut so we knew he was special. After this victory is he in danger of bouncing big-time in the Derby?  I have over 50 years of history telling me he can’t win off two career starts and coming off such a monstrous performance. Now someone has to tell him that.

 

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

It was agonizing trying to figure out which horse to rank higher. You can knock him for getting beat by his stablemate who had only one six-furlong maiden win, but let’s assume Taiba is a total freak and Messier needed this race coming off a two-month layoff and a stroll in the park victory against inferior competition. I know he officially is not trained by Baffert, but let’s not forget that Baffert has won three Kentucky Derbys with horses coming off a second in the Santa Anita Derby, and that doesn’t include Authentic because of the timing factor. He did miss the break on Saturday and had to be rushed a bit to split horses going into the first turn. John Velazquez no doubt was focusing all his attention on Forbidden Kingdom who he was chasing all the way. He got the lead from him easier than expected and before he knew it Taiba was all over him. I know there is very little depth to the 3-year-old division in California and I don’t know how much he is going to improve in the Derby, but he did do the dirty work and you have to think this race will move him forward. Because of the winner’s lack of experience and Forbidden Kingdom packing it in early it makes the Santa Anita Derby all the more confusing. This horse has shown some chinks in his armor, getting beat by Slow Down Andy, but he has also shown sparks of brilliance. I believe he will improve in the Derby, but how good he really is depends in some ways on how special Taiba is. I could reverse their rankings after watching them train at Churchill Downs and perhaps coming to my senses. But for now let’s give the slightest nod to the freak.

 

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

Kudos to him for tossing his lackluster Thoro-Gaph numbers in the trash. Going into the Wood Memorial off a “6 ½,” a “6,” and a “6 ½” he looked like a horse who was going nowhere numbers-wise and showing no improvement, despite good efforts in the Remsen and Holy Bull. Also, his Brisnet numbers of 91, 93, and 92 were nothing to rave about, nor were his Beyers of 82, 90, and 90. Plus he missed the Fountain of Youth with a fever and was coming into the Wood off a nine-week layoff. So from a handicapping standpoint there had to be doubts about him going into this race. But he took advantage of a fairly solid pace set by Early Voting over a drying out track and was able to wear him down late with some brilliant closing fractions of :23 3/5 and :11 4/5, while covering the mile and eighth in 1:47 4/5, the fastest Wood since Bellamy Road’s freakish performance in 2005. How legit those are I have no idea. His Beyer figure of 96 obviously was an improvement, but he still needs to move forward off that. Breaking from post 1, he was able to hug the rail most of the way, found room on the inside turning for home, eased outside Early Voting late and ran him down by a neck, so we’ll have to wait to see how much his Thoro-Graph numbers improved. He doesn’t have that quick acceleration and it takes him a while to build momentum He was also helped by the favorite Morello breaking terribly, dropping back to last, and never firing. He still hasn’t shown a big turn of foot, but just keeps coming at you, and credit Pletcher for having him razor-sharp off the layoff.

 

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

Although it looks as if the sloth-like closing fractions of the Florida Derby will remain as is, despite top-class horses rarely ever running that slow, there is the other side of the coin, and that is White Abarrio’s Thoro-Graph number of “1.” So we have dueling speed statistics and you will have to decide which one to go by. Can a horse run that fast a number while closing like it was at the end of a three-mile marathon? In this case do you like the tortoise or the hare? That Thoro-Graph number equals Messier’s Robert B. Lewis figure as the fastest run by a 3-year-old this year. Prior to this race, White Abarrio had been on a steady, but unspectacular, pattern, going from “10 ½” to an “8 ¼,” to a “7” to a “5.” Then when he crawls home and can’t break 1:50 for a mile and an eighth he leaps to a “1.” I surely can’t figure it out, but it does put the colt in a good position to win the Derby. His Brisnet numbers also are conflicting. His 96 speed figure in the Florida Derby was down a point from the Holy Bull, but still good enough to make him dangerous at Churchill, and his middle pace figure was a strong 110. But his late pace figure was a sluggish 77, which is reflective of the slow closing fractions. One thing about him, he does know how to put himself in perfect striking position every race and that certainly will help him at Churchill Downs. I am not enamored with him, but I definitely respect him.

 

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

As I’m sure you have noticed I often use the Brisnet speed figures because they give you a number of variables, such as early, middle, and late pace figures and not just straight speed figures. They also have a main figure called Prime Power, which measures the quality of each horse’s recent starts by combining dozens of handicapping factors into one rating — speed, class, pace, form, weight, distance, and many other factors – to form a sophisticated computer generated algorithm. The reason I mention this is, despite finishing third in the Florida Derby and getting just an OK 93 speed rating, Simplification’s Prime Power number of 146.7 is the highest of all the 23 horses listed in the final Future Wager before Saturday, which indicates there is lot more going on with this colt than one might think. As I mentioned last week, I look at the Florida Derby in a positive light, considering Sano’s strategy to put him back on the pace blew up in his face. In his previous two starts when he rallied from off the pace his two middle pace figures were a solid 93 and 92. In the Florida Derby when he was caught in the middle of a three-horse speed duel his middle pace figure was 113, which is way too fast to expect a horse to close off that. So I am forgiving his ridiculously slow final factions and late pace figure, which I am not convinced are correct, considering Gulfstream’s poor record timing racing. When Simplification won the Mucho Macho Man on the lead he was able to show off his high cruising speed with an early pace figure of 95, middle pace figure of 101, and late pace figure of 95, resulting in a strong 99 speed figure. His maiden victory speed figure of 103 has since been topped by only Messier’s 104. This horse’s best race can win the Kentucky Derby.

 

9– Cyberknife (Brad Cox, Gun Runner – Awesome Flower, by Flower Alley)

He’s a good horse who obviously is improving and you can’t dismiss him, but he just doesn’t excite me. With Secret Oath coming out of the Arkansas Derby very tired after making a move that was by far the most exciting part of the race, I’m not really sure what he beat. The most hyped prospect in the race, We the People, didn’t run a lick and the Rebel winner cut himself open on the starting gate and was never a factor. His Thoro-Graph numbers are progressing nicely with a career best “2 ¼ in the Arkansas Derby,” but he had run a “5” twice early in his career, so he hasn’t moved that far forward since last year. As for his Brisnet figures he has run a 94 in last two starts, both career highs, and that is nowhere near the fastest horses, so he would have to make a pretty huge jump in the Derby. The same goes for his 92 Beyer figure. On the Brisnet Prime Power we mentioned earlier he ranks 11th. I don’t want to sound like he is a no hoper who has little chance to win the Derby. I’m just going by the stats and what I’ve seen and figuring he will be bet somewhat in the Derby off his victory at Oaklawn. He also has been tough to handle at times, as we saw when he dumped his rider in the post parade of the Arkansas Derby, and that is the last thing you want to see on Kentucky Derby day. He should get the distance with no problem and we’ll see if can dazzle us with his works at Churchill Downs.

 

10– Charge It (Todd Pletcher, Tapit – I’ll Take Charge, by Indian Charlie)

After pairing solid “5s” in his first two career starts on Thoro-Graph he made an impressive jump to a “2 ¼” in the Florida Derby, going from a maiden race to a Grade 1. So we know he is a talented colt with a very bright future. What we don’t know is whether he can improve once again in the Kentucky Derby, which he likely will have to do, and in only his fourth career start. As I have said, I am not a fan of horses with only three career starts going in the Derby. I realize that times are changing and we can drop the “race” from racehorses, with today’s equine stars making fewer and fewer appearances and are virtual strangers when they get to Churchill Downs. But I still need to see horses with three starts be successful in the Derby on a fairly regular basis rather than a freak occurrence that has happened only two times, with both winners being freaks themselves who came along in a weak crop. So while I acknowledge that Charge It is capable of running a strong race in the Derby, even with running greenly in the Florida Derby, and nothing shocks me anymore, I am still not ready to place my win bets on him. But if he is as good as he has looked and can take another step forward then he could pick up a piece of it and be used in the exotics.

 

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

I’m still not sure what the plans are for him, if they’re thinking Derby or Preakness. If they commit to the Derby he could move up a few spots. I thought he ran an excellent race coming off the nine-week layoff, as did Mo Donegal, but there should be a lot of pace pressure in the Derby and the question is how he will stand up to it with only three career starts and one start in 13 weeks. Considering he did get pressure in the Wood from A.P.’s Secret through fractions in :47 3/5 and 1:11 2/5 and came home in :24 and :12 1/5 that was a huge effort. By comparison, the fractions in the Gazelle two races later were :49 1/5 and 1:13 4/5. There is no doubt he will get the mile and a quarter without any problem, so it’s a tough decision. Unlike most of the Gun Runners, he’s a bigger, more muscular type, so he should be able to handle whatever is thrown at him. At this point it looks like he would be the speed of the Derby unless Slow Down Andy can’t be slowed down and would provide a good strong pace to run at. But don’t expect him to stop.

 

12– Tiz the Bomb (Kenny McPeek, Hit It a Bomb – Tiz the Key, by Tiznow)

I have to admit this horse is really starting to intrigue me. I normally don’t put a lot of stock in races run on a synthetic track, but Turfway is now Tapeta and I feel that may translate better to dirt than Polytrack. I’m not sure how that track was playing, but no matter how it was, the final time of 1:48 3/5 is racehorse time and I loved how quickly he shifted into another gear and accelerated on the far turn. It wasn’t a long explosive move, like Secret Oath in the Arkansas Derby, but it was the instant acceleration when Brian Hernandez stepped on the gas. Dare I say like a European grass horse? I went back and watched his 14-length maiden victory on the dirt at Ellis Park and that was pretty spectacular, with his action extremely smooth, but powerful. And for sheer closing power, watch his stretch run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf after he finally found racing room, and how he was flying at the end to snatch second after appearing a sure thing to be out of the money. So we know he handles the dirt and can decimate his opponents, we know he has an explosive closing kick, and we know he has a sudden turn of foot. We just have to figure out what happened in the Holy Bull. Was it his first kickback and over a pretty sandy course? His Thoro-Graph numbers of “4 ¾” in his last two starts aren’t going to blow you away, but synthetic tracks seem to bring slower numbers. If for some reason he takes to the Churchill surface and can handle the kickback, you never know. It’s a total guess, but it could prove a lucrative one in the exotics.

 

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

Now at Churchill Downs, he returned to the work tab with a solid half-mile drill in :48 flat, getting his last quarter in :23 and galloping out a strong five-eighths in 1:00 4/5. As I have said a number of times I don’t like having only three lifetime starts going into the Derby, and he is a speed horse by a speed sire, which will make it even more difficult for him, especially with what appears to be a good deal of speed in this year’s race. But he does have some things in his favor as well. He has run a “3 ½ “ and then a “3” on Thoro-Graph in his last two starts, so he is in position to improve several points off that. His Brisnet speed figures have jumped from a 78 to 94 to a 98, and in his stretch-out to 1 3/16 miles in the Louisiana Derby, a tall task for a horse in this third career start, his early, middle, and late pace figures of 90, 93, and 98 not only were pretty solid, he got stronger as the race went on and did it on the front end. In his previous start he was able to get away with easy early and middle pace figures of 75 and 75 and then flew home with a terrific 111 late pace figure. So he is a speed horse who can close fast off moderate fractions and also get stronger off faster fractions, and he should only improve in the Derby. Whether or not the three starts catch up to him, he’s not going to be easy to put away.

 

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

He returned to the work tab with an easy half in :49 3/5 at Palm Beach Downs. He is another who will be in the first flight, just off the pace. He definitely is improving and remember, he was only a half-length and a head behind Smile Happy in the Risen Star. But until he can find a closing punch I don’t see him as potential Derby winner. He’ll be running hard, however, and should be in the mix down the stretch. As I said last week I like his steady progression moving up the class ladder, and after leaping from a “10 ½” Thoro-Graph number to a “3” in his fourth-place finish in the loaded Risen Star he paired up that “3” in the Louisiana Derby with a solid third-place finish. That puts him in position to take another big step forward, which he will have to do if he is to have any shot in the Kentucky Derby. The pedigree is there and he’s already been 1 1/8 miles and 1 3/16 miles against the No. 1, 2, and 3 ranked horses, so he certainly is no slouch. He just has to take another step forward and find a weapon he can use to win.

 

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

When you lose five races in a row, with four seconds it’s not a coincidence. Simply put, he has to learn how to win. Yes, he’s won two races, but those were in a maiden claiming race and a starter allowance race. He keeps moving up in class and facing better horses and keeps running the same race. He can surely be one of those Derby longshots that closes for second, but he will have to show a lot more if he is to be thought of as a horse who can win it all. His Thoro-Graph numbers don’t tell you much more, fluctuating between “4s” and “7s.” All he can hope for is a fast pace, which he could very well get, and a bit of racing luck and see what he can do with it. He’s a great horse to have in the barn and always gives you 100 percent and a thrill in the stretch. But for the Derby he’ll have to step it up a notch or two if he’s going to pick up a piece of it.

 

16– Crown Pride (Reach the Crown – Emmy’s Pride, by King Kamehameha)

He’s at Churchill Downs and has been galloping. He’ll be in the quarantine barn until the race. There obviously is no way to know if he is a serious contender, but with the Japanese horses on a tear all over the world you certainly have to pay attention to him. He did put in a long sustained run in the UAE Derby to wear down a good horse in Summer is Tomorrow, who was stretching out from a seven-furlong romp at Meydan a month before. He is inbred to Sunday Silence to bring some familiarity to fans who are considering betting on him. He’s made three starts over a mile in his career and has won all of them, with his only defeat coming in the mud. I wouldn’t dare talk anyone out of betting him, because the respect for the Japanese keeps growing and we just don’t know good their horses are on an individual basis. All you can do is see how he handles Churchill and what kind of appearance he makes.

 

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

As of Sunday he hasn’t returned to the work tab. If he gets to the Derby it looks like he could be the speed unless the Sunland Derby speedfest was a fluke with the addition of blinkers and O’Neill can get him to settle off the pace this time. He’s not pretty to watch and he still has his quirks, but he is a fighter, as he showed in the Sunland Derby and in last year’s Los Alamitos Futurity against Messier. If he does blast out of there again in the Derby he probably can outrun Early Voting, but what comes after that is a totally different story because no one has any idea. He is another you want to see train at Churchill and how he relaxes with all the activity. O’Neill is far from a conformist when it comes to training and no one has a clue how he’s going to train this horse. Be prepared for anything. But one thing is for sure of, he knows how to win the Derby, even though this colt is not in the class with I’ll Have Another and Nyquist, and likely not Hot Rod Charlie.

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Although the form held up well over the weekend we did lose MORELLOFORBIDDEN KINGDOM and EMMANUEL, who is headed to Winstar Farm for some light training with the possibility of pointing for grass races such as the Pennine Ridge and Belmont Derby. The toughest break, of course, was Morello’s terrible start in the Wood Memorial, in which he found himself in last coming out of the gate, and being a stalker he was taken way out of his comfort zone and never made an impact on the race. There has been no official word yet on Morello, but it is assumed he will not be pointed for the Derby. Forbidden Kingdom will have his epiglottis checked for any breathing issues.

Horses who have shown potential, such as IN DUE TIME, have only the Lexington Stakes left to sneak into the Derby, and with In Due Time it would mean going a mile and a quarter never having been farther than 1 1/16 miles.

Others pointing for the Lexington are MAJOR GENERAL (Todd Pletcher), MIDNIGHT CHROME (John Servis),  STRAVA (Dallas Stewart), CALL ME MIDNIGHT (Keith Desormeaux), DASH ATTACK (Kenny McPeek), and THE SKIPPER TOO (John Ortiz) with  BYE BYE BOBBY (Todd Fincher) and TAWNEY PORT (Brad Cox) possible.


Newsletter

Signup for the Secretariat.com newsletter For new announcements, merchandise updates and other excitement here at Secretariat.com, please enter your email address in the popup window. Our mailing list is never sold or viewed by anyone other than Secretariat.com

Leave a Reply

304 Responses to “Derby Rankings: Week 13”

  1. TommyMc says:

    It’s great to see so many fans at Keenland. This sport is alive and well. At least on the biggest days and at tracks like Keenland, Saratoga, and Del Mar.

    • TommyMc says:

      Keenland is my favorite track for Breeders Cups. There’s just a great “vibe” there. Both Keenland tracks seem to play fair. BTW, and I’ve been saying this for years, I wish Belmont would get back into The Breeders Cup rotation.

      • Laura L Lanham says:

        They don’t like the winter type weather at Belmont but they could had south to Florida if hey wanted to. At least that would be on the east coast.

  2. Matthew W says:

    Messier made the early move and had not run for over 9 weeks…also his barn was certainly under much stress, and now he has had a race in his new barn, had Taiba not run…..Messier’s preps would read 15 lengths Robert Lewis and 10 lengths SA Derby—-he would be FAVORED…now he will be close to 10-1, and he won’t need to make an early move..

    • Mike Relva says:

      I’m looking for Zandon running big.

      • Matthew W says:

        Me as well, I like Zandon and have played him n two different Futures pools…..Messier has some things to like, as well, I have not played him ever—but plan to include him in my tri box and pick four wagers, I think he is coming not the race a bit under the radar, with the barn change, and the loss….

      • EddieF says:

        I call him No Knocks Z. Everything points to a big effort on the first Saturday in May. No issue with Epicenter either. I don’t expect the 6 weeks off to be a problem.

    • EddieF says:

      Matthew, I have a bias against a horse that gets passed in the stretch of the final prep, regardless of perceived excuse. So that’s a bias against Messier, and also Simplification, Early Voting, and my first love Smile Happy. Only Mine That Bird in this century overcame the stretch loss, and he was a massive longshot. And Taiba DID run in the SA Derby, and will probably run in the KD. 🙂

    • Davids says:

      Devil’s Advocate – take Taiba out, along with an obviously injured Forbidden Kingdom, and you have Messier winning the worst Santa Anita Derby in the history of the race. Why didn’t he win by 20 lengths?

  3. Lynda King says:

    “Run for the Roses” is a song written and recorded by the late singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg in 1980.

    Born in the valley
    And raised in the trees
    Of Western Kentucky
    On wobbly knees
    With Mama beside you
    To help you along
    You’ll soon be a growing up strong

    All long lazy mornings
    In pastures of green
    The sun on your withers
    The wind in your mane
    Could never prepare you
    For what lied ahead
    The run for the roses so red

    And it’s run for the roses
    As fast as you can
    Your fate is delivered
    Your moment’s at hand
    It’s the chance of a lifetime
    In a lifetime of chance
    And it’s high time you joined in the dance
    It’s high time you joined in the dance

    From sire to sire
    It’s born in the blood
    The fire of a mare
    And the strength of a stud
    It’s breeding and it’s training
    And it’s something unknown
    That drives you and carries you home

    And it’s run for the roses
    As fast as you can
    Your fate is delivered
    Your moment’s at hand
    It’s the chance of a lifetime
    In a lifetime of chance
    And it’s high time you joined in the dance
    It’s high time you joined in the dance

  4. Lynda King says:

    Only five horses have run in the Derby off one or two starts. In addition to Leonatus the other horses were:
    1946 Perfect Bahram-9th – field of 17, Race record after the Derby, 79 Starts: 15 – 21 – 13, $57,265
    1949 Senecas Coin-14th – pulled up after a mile – field of 14, No record that he ever raced again.
    1992 Disposal-18th in field of 18 and broke from gate 18. Career stats – 25 Starts: 2 – 2 – 2, $112,394
    2000 China Visit – 6th- field of 19- broke from gate 11 -owner Godolphin – jockey- Frankie Dettori – Career stats – 14 Starts: 4 – 4 – 1, $742,960. Sold to India where he stood at stud until his death in 2017. Limited info on progeny other than a successful filly and colt.
    Bert G – 1945 Kentucky Derby off one start- field of 16 – broke from gate 15 – finished 14th. Career stats 34 Starts: 1 – 8 – 1, $4,000 Died in 1947

    Since 1944 a total of 64 horses have been entered in the Kentucky Derby that did not race at age two and of the 64, Perfect Bahram was entered off only two previous starts, both at age 3 and Bert G off only one start, also at age 3.
    “Before Justify’s victory in 2018, the only other horses to finish in the Derby Top 3 without racing at 2 since 1937 were runner-ups Coaltown (1948), Strodes Creek (1994) and Bodemeister (2012) and third-place finishers Hampden (1946), Agitate (1974), Reinvested (1982), Curlin (2007) and Battle of Midway (2017).

    Five were sent to post as the favorite (although two raced as a coupled entry): Justify (2.90-1 in 2018); Bodemeister (4.20-1 in 2012); Air Forbes Won (2.70-1 in 1982); Coaltown (0.40-1 as an entry with winner Citation in 1948); and Perfect Bahram (1.10-1 as an entry with Lord Boswell and Knockdown in 1946.”

    I think this makes it even more incredible that Justify was able to pull off not only the Derby but the Triple Crown not having raced at two and coming into the Derby with only 3 lifetime start.

    As all this relates to Taiba of course is that the history and the stats are not in his favor to win the Derby. We are, however, in a new age of horse racing in the United States with a trend that started a decade ago at least of colts being lightly raced at age 2 and 3. So is it possible for Taiba to dispel the ghost of Leonatus?

    • EddieF says:

      Lynda, nice rundown of the lightly raced and late starting Derby runners. If Taiba can win the Derby off just two career starts, both this year, then he will win the Triple Crown. My money will be against it!

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Wow, Lynda, that’s some deep digging! Where did you find all those stats? I don’t think I have that book in my collection.

  5. TommyMc says:

    The McPeek and Romans horses finished 6th and 8th in The Lexington. I had expected much better for both of those horses. Not just today, but, this season. Tawny Port went off at double his morning line odds. Victor Espinoza was able to get Ethereal Road up for 4th today. The preps are over. All that’s left is waiting to see who else drops out and assign some post positions. Slow Down Andy dropped out. Steve Haskin had pointed out that he hadn’t been working.

  6. greg marsh says:

    Hi

    Those were two huge points picked up by Ethereal Road in today’s Lexington Stakes leaving him with 22. Despite that seemingly low number and the fact that he ends the Road to the Kentucky Derby in 26th place, I feel he has a great chance of making the KD field.

    I would love to see him blanketed in roses three weeks from today.

    greg (Fan of Damascus)

  7. Ross says:

    Nice to hear Chad get reflective today inside the Keeneland winners area and mention Bobby Frankel his teacher.

    • John Goggin says:

      Still remember Bobby Frankel….after he moved his operation to California….the wisdom was that if you didn’t want Frankel claiming any horses you owned then pull your horse out of a claiming race…..the guy had a knack of claiming a horse at races in southern California tracks for example $16,500 after an also ran performance and then enter the same claimed horse in a 27,500 and win.
      Absolutley brilliant.

    • Discopartner says:

      To Ross: Sounds like you don’t think Brown deserves his own wins.

    • Jeff says:

      Frankel, Whittingham, and the Goat Baffert would be my trainers of all stars.

  8. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    Tawny baby! $100 win/place collects $930. I think the thought that he might be more of a synthetic/turf horse caused the overlay.

  9. Laura L Lanham says:

    So Lexington done and Tawny Port got it done. Can’t wait for Steve’s thoughts next week.

  10. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    Is it just me or are closers having a field day at Keeneland so far? Move up Call Me Midnight?

  11. John Goggin says:

    Looks like Slow Down Andy is out of the Derby due to a fever according to trainer O’Neill.

    • EddieF says:

      We’ll be hearing of more than a few defections from here on out. At the end, the last horse in the gate could have fewer than 20 Derby points.

    • Matthew W says:

      More pace out of the race….

      • Davids says:

        You have to feel for Major General as well. Stumbles at the start of the Tampa Bay Derby, 0 points and loses his unbeaten record. Would have normally won the Lexington Stakes but the track had flipped so that closers were winning everything. Not enough points to get in the Kentucky Derby but arguably better than at least half that will get in. Luck is supreme in racing. Major General looked in peak condition prior to the Lexington. Guess the Preakness is an option

  12. TommyMc says:

    I mentioned the other day that Corey Lanerie is 47 years old. Bill Shoemaker at 54 years old is the oldest jockey to ever win The Kentucky Derby with his great ride on Ferdinand in 1986. I remember that Ferdinand paid $50 with his win that day from the #1 post. Just 3 years ago, in 2019, 58 year old Jon Court became the oldest jockey to ever ride in The Kentucky Derby when he rode Long Range Toddy. Bobby Baird was 57 when he rode in the 1978 Derby. I’m sure that we all remember 77 year old Art Sherman as the oldest trainer to win The Derby with California Chrome’s win in 2014.

    • TommyMc says:

      Ferdinand’s win in 1986 was pretty historic. Not only was Bill Shoemaker(54) the oldest jockey to win The Derby, but, trainer Charlie Whittingham(76) was also the oldest trainer to win at the time before Art Sherman(77) came along in 2014. Ferdinand won from the rail that year. In my personal opinion, the owners of California Chrome distracted fans and the media from Art Sherman’s accomplishment. No offense to those fellas.

    • TommyMc says:

      Long Range Toddy is an interesting horse. He’s still active today at 6 years old. He just ran 2nd to Prevalence in last Saturday’s Commonwealth at Keenland. Long Range Toddy really burst onto the scene with his upset win in the 2019 Rebel at Oaklawn which put him into The Derby spotlight before he finished 6th in The Arkansas Derby and 16th in The Kentucky Derby. Long Range Toddy has never won again since his upset win in The Rebel. In fact, he’s 0 for 18 since then. He does have some 2nds and 3rds in there though. He keeps on truckin’ and bringing in checks. Long Range Toddy is a pretty good example of what The Triple Crown Trail can do to a horse. Special at two and three, kind of average at four, five, and six. Hopefully, he’s doing what he loves to do. Come back safe, buddy.

    • Matthew W says:

      Shoe saw that hole open and he made a left turn and got it— beat Pat Day to the hole, if Day had hot yhere first—Rampage would have won by several lengths.

  13. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    Looked at the Lexington one more time. If I can get 5-2 on Tawny Port I’ll put 100win 100place on him.

    Think he ran the best last out, probably moved a little too early in that one, now cutting back.

    And I think he can run just as good on dirt. He had no where to go on the far turn in the Risen Star, and ran on fine when he finally got space.

    • Matthew W says:

      Wow 5 MN out he is 9/2, 1) I can’t believe his price…2) was surprised he did not scratch, after hearing Slow Down Andy scratched, making him Derby eligible

  14. El Kabong says:

    I have tried to stay objective. I have tried to keep an open opinion about the talent on display this year and I am here to admit that I have failed. In this quagmire of talent, I have fallen to my emotional ties to one horse, even though I swore that this was the enemy of good judgement. But the key in wagering is not to be so arrogant as to think he will win. I do strongly believe he is going to hit the board and that is enough for me. If he wins, so much the better. I will try to compile a supporting cast to support the efforts of Mo Donegal. I have no choice but to believe that he is ready and now mature enough to recognize the events, and the stage he is now being asked to perform on and I think he will rise to the occasion. He has flashed talent, he has displayed very unprofessional behavior and still managed to hit the board, but in the Wood, he pieced it together and perhaps he liked what followed. I hope he decides to give it all on the next stage and deliver a worthy performance that will thrill everyone, especially those at camp Donegal. Mo and his supporters deserve a big day and I am on board. Nothing would be finer than the Wood Memorial and this horse getting the respect they deserve.

    • Since Lil E. Tee says:

      Good pick. If he gets a clean trip, I expect him to finish first or second.

    • Davids says:

      I think you speak for most when it comes to the Classic races. Everyone becomes emotionally charged and attached to this or that colt while being quite willing to sweep aside any flaws that ruffle the endearing image of red rose in May. Best of luck with Mo Donegal.

      Unfortunately, it is Zandon who is going to win the Kentucky Derby. I knew that the first time I saw him run. Ha ha

      • Lynda King says:

        Davids, I think that is a very true statement about people becoming “emotionally charged and attracted to tis or that colt” (and would add filly or gelding). I for one would be the first one to raise their hand and say “guilty”.
        That is one reason I so enjoy Steve’s articles and columns, he gets it, he understands and he feels the emotional side of horse racing.
        Invariably I have three and sometimes four selections of horses I think could win. This year for example, I think either Taiba or Messier will win. Hard to mess with Baffert’s speed demons even if one has had only two races. Zandon or Epicenter are the two that I think have the best shots to prevail over the Baffert duo. White Abarrio is a heart horse. The back story on him and his trainer just tugs at my heartstrings. And then there is Tiz THe Bomb, somewhat of a mystery horse and could pull off an upset.
        I am partial to closers, always have been. Most every year I go back and watch each of Secretariat’s Classic races and it still takes my breath away to watch him come from the back and win the Derby and the Preakness.
        Horse racing has changed so much in the past 20 or so years. The focus on breeding for speed at the sacrifice of stamina and the making of high dollar stud deals before the dirt is even picked out of their hooves just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
        But, alas, it is what it is now and we can all either go along with the oldest sport in America now being a multi-billion dollar industry or we can walk away.
        Awhile back I made such a decision based on everything that has been going on in recent years but as it has happened before when I have walked away, I am lured back by Derby fever.
        Learning yesterday about what happened to Laoban has given me pause once again as to whether or not I can truly ever enjoy this “sport” with the same passion I had as a child.

        • Davids says:

          Lynda, ever since I saw the movie “Kentucky” I’ve been hooked at the emotional level to the Kentucky Derby and, as you wrote, Steve Haskin’s narrative writing has consistently enhanced the mystique of the Kentucky Derby. Not having Steve’s commentary on the Derby Trail will diminish that experience substantially. It’s been like going to the races with Steve.

          For me, the bloodlines/sales has always been just as exciting/enthralling as the racing itself so becoming disillusioned with racing has been tempered by visiting the farms/sales. Moreover, European racing, and to a lesser degree Australian racing, offers a softer aspect than US racing.

      • EL Kabong says:

        Zandon looked very good in the Bluegrass and yes he will be a favorite, if not the favorite. He is a very smart and determined runner and I do expect him to be in the mix. Weather, post draw, the pace and “the trip” will play into the winning run and there is no telling who will get the best of that until the gates open. I do like that both Zandon and Mo Donegal seem to be capable of overcoming crowds and good paces. This is shaping up to be a fine betting race. I would be derelict if I did not mention my respect for Epicenter.

        • Davids says:

          Wouldn’t it be ironic that, after so many years hoping the Remsen Stakes would impact in Kentucky, then, over the past decade or so just dismissing the Remsen Stakes as irrelevant in Kentucky, that Zandon and Mo Donegal were to fight out the finish of the Kentucky Derby. Funnier things have happened…

  15. Bill Dawson says:

    Steve

    Do believe Jose Ortiz will remain aboard Simplification in the KD, or opt for Early Voting to appease Chad Brown?

    • Tom’s Kid says:

      Hi Bill, Chad and Jose will have no problem. Jose will choose the horse he wants to ride, if there is a choice, and Chad will be fine with it. They’re both professional.

      • Bill Dawson says:

        Hi Tom’s Kid
        I agree, both are professional, but the fact that Jose Ortiz rides a lot for Chad Brown, more so than he rides for Antonio Sano, could influence his decision. I’m all in on Simplification, so I’m hopeful he opts for the Sano colt.
        I was very impressed with Early Voting’s performance in the Wood, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ortiz opts for him in the Derby.
        Jose Ortiz is facing a major decision which could have far reaching effects. Hopefully, Ortiz will announce his choice in the near future.

        • Bill Dawson says:

          Rumor has it Early Voting will opt for the Preakness, and not run in the KD. Suffice to say Jose Ortiz will ride Simplification in the Kentucky Derby.

          • Tom’s Kid says:

            That’s what I heard as well. After Epicenter, Zandon and Mo Donegal I’m not sure which others I will use – most likely some tickets with Messier and Taiba. I’m inclined to call this edition Wide Open!

            • Bill Dawson says:

              You might consider taking a long look at Zozos. He’s my longshot that I’ll be using some of my superfecta tickets.
              He did all the dirty work in the Louisiana Derby, only to be passed late by Epicenter. Zozos’ pedigree reflects speed on top and stamina on the bottom, and he’s a homebred which I consider a plus, (based on past KD winners that were homebred). BTW, Zozos could carry the X-Factor large heart gene, tracking back to Pleasant Colony on the dam side.

              • Tom’s Kid says:

                I’ll put a little on Zozos for fun. The owners are mainstays at Canterbury, super people, gave a huge donation to build a chapel for the backside. When I worked at Canterbury as a teller Barry always treated everyone very well and tipped! He knew how to build karma.

  16. EddieF says:

    In my view at three weeks out from the Derby, the top win contenders are Zandon, Epicenter, and Smile Happy. No surprises there. But this could be the deepest field in recent memory, and perhaps another half dozen colts are under consideration at the right price. Here’s hoping they all stay healthy and that connections make the best possible decisions for their horses.

    • EddieF says:

      It’s just a coincidence that my top 3 are the same as Steve’s top 3. 😉

    • Matthew W says:

      I thought 2012 was deep, and I had the right one! But I was on I’ll Have Another after watching him work n February, his ears told the story, he was waiting on his rider, “WELL? I’m WAITING”……when rider dropped his hands horse dropped his head! 4-1 SA Derby….15-1 KY Derby….7/2 Preakness he was my equine ATM. machine!

  17. TommyMc says:

    I was thinking about last year’s Derby and the 4 horses spread across the track in the stretch. Four interesting trainers there. Churchill seemed to really make a statement by coming down so hard on BB & Medina Spirit after that race. I hope we have a controversy free Derby this year with no DQs.

  18. TommyMc says:

    Today’s Maker’s Mark Mile at Keenland should be a Saturday race. It’s that good. With the Oaks/Derby Bet-A-Palooza coming up in just 3 weeks, I’ll try to show some restraint.

    • Matthew W says:

      Racing Form pps shows 10 races for Smooth Like Strait—5gr1 5 gr2….9 exacta finishes, one (neck) 3rd saddle slipped biggest losing margin 1/2 length..

  19. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    So the Blue Grass was run slow early and slow late. I would argue that Zandon should have came home faster than 24.1 and 12.1 after running so slow early. So while the win was visually striking, I don’t think it was a particularly strong performance.

    Not trying to hate on Zandon, I posted last week that he was the most likely winner of all the major preps last weekend. I just think the Blue Grass was weaker than it looked, so he’s going to have to take a substantial jump forward in the derby to win.

  20. greg marsh says:

    Hi

    I like Ethereal Road in the Lexington and, if he qualifies, I like him along with Smile Happy in the Derby. A three week break between the Lexington and the Derby feels like the right amount of time between starts for a colt heading to Louisville.

    No horse yet scares me or excites me, mainly a factor of some nice colts having had too few starts. For example, I could see Taiba winning the KD by three, I could also see him finishing mid-pack.

    As I recently told Nelson Maan, the race that I am really looking forward to is the Oaks. The Kathleen O / Secret Oath matchup has me more excited than any two starters scheduled for the Derby.

    greg (fan of Damascus)

  21. Matthew W says:

    Just looked at the DRF Derby Watch 3 of the top ten are Gun Runners!

  22. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    Looking at Steve’s list, I think he has the top 9 right, even though I would change the order a bit. I think Tiz the Bomb belongs in the 10 spot, and after that is the cliff/drop off/no thank you.

    Charge It is way too green to handle the derby. And there’s too many quality horses for Early Voting to fend off imo.

  23. TommyMc says:

    I’ve been thinking about Smile Happy. Steve Haskin still has him ranked at #3 on his list and I think that is correct. I believe the winner will be Epicenter, Smile Happy, Zandon, or Mo Donegal. I won’t lock in on one horse until post positions are drawn. Smile Happy could end up as the 4th or even the 5th favorite. 8-1 or more sounds like a juicy price to me. He hasn’t run bad at all in his 2 starts this year while facing both Epicenter and Zandon(twice). He ran 2nd to Epicenter in The Risen Star with a ride from Corey Lanerie that even Steve Haskin questioned at the time. No matter, no one was beating Epicenter that day IMO. He drew an outside post in The Bluegrass and was caught wide while finishing 2nd to Zandon. I hope that Kenny McPeek sticks with Corey Lanerie for The Derby. Lanerie is 47 years old now and only winning at 6% this year. But, Corey Lanerie knows Churchill like the back of his hand and I think a veteran patient jockey is just the right jockey for Smile Happy. Without knowing the post positions, I think that Epicenter and Smile Happy are the 2 horses most likely to hit the board on Derby Day. Lanerie and Smile Happy are due for just the right trip which could put them in the winner’s circle on May 7th.

    • TommyMc says:

      If I remember correctly, didn’t Corey Lanerie finish 2nd or 3rd in The Derby for Steve Asmussen from the #1 post on Looking at Lee? I better double check that.

      • TommyMc says:

        Lookin’ at Lee ran 2nd in The Derby in 2017 with Lanerie. Lookin’ at Lee then ran 4th in The Preakness and 7th in The Belmont. He was a better horse than I remembered. Lookin at Lee only won 1 of 13 races after that 2017 Derby and retired after his 5-year old season in 2019. Like so many horses, he was precocious at 2 and 3. At 4 and 5 other late developing horses surpassed him. But, they can’t take that 2nd in the 2017 Derby away from him.

      • Nicholas E Klar says:

        Yes, he did!!! Always Dreaming won it and Looking at Lee came in second for Asmussen.

    • Since Lil E. Tee says:

      Tommy, I’m with you on two of the horses you mentioned. Also, I jumped off Country House after he drew #20. Never again. 🙂

    • Liam says:

      TommyMc- one thing I’ve noticed is that Corey will definitely try to save as much ground possible. I also see he won the 6th yesterday at Kee on a horse who was named as the same as a poster I used to see comment here, El Kabong.

    • Jeff says:

      Not saying your wrong, but u might be putting in too much stock with horses who ran against each other. If you overvalue a particular race then the horses you like may not win.

  24. Matthew W says:

    TWO from the Dubai Derby, I don’t think that race deserves two Derby slots.

    • Davids says:

      I agree with you and the same with the Jeff Ruby Steaks.

    • Lynda King says:

      Curious as to why you feel this way. Do you feel the same about Japan having two qualifying races?
      Alsp, the Jeff Ruby Stakes, your reasoning behind that?

      • EddieF says:

        My 2 cents: There can be only one invitee from Japan and one from Europe. I’m OK with that. Assigning 170 Derby points to the Ruby Stakes that has G3 status and is run on synthetic is unwarranted. Likewise, the UAE Derby has had no impact on the Ky Derby in its relatively short history and does not deserve its status.

        • Brudder_A says:

          Jeff Ruby Steaks point allocation was increased because Turfway Park was very accommodating to CD Inc for change their racing calendar during the pandemic so that the Kentucky Derby could be run in the fall of that year. Hence Jeff Ruby Steaks has been upgraded as a Second Leg feature.

          UAE Derby was inserted into the foray is an entrance valve for European and Japanese horses which CD Inc is wanting to have in the field for international exposure and the possibility of increasing the betting pools from Asia.

      • Davids says:

        Lynda, for most US owner/breeders/trainers winning or even competing in the Kentucky Derby is the high point of their investment with horse racing. The foreign invitations are more about a betting pool, which is important as well, than the history of the Kentucky Derby. The local guy/lady misses out on a chance of a life time.

        The UAE Derby and the Jeff Ruby Steaks are fine with 1 automatic allocation into the Derby but 2 is over generous.

      • Matthew W says:

        Steaks

  25. TommyMc says:

    The Oaks and Derby post position draws will be on the same day: Monday, May 2nd at 2pm EST. The earlier that we can get the PPs for those 27 races the better.

    • Bruce says:

      Tommy, Thanks for the wagering info for the Oaks and Derby! Did you happen to notice the posted time for the race before the derby and the derby…..unless it’s a typo….5:27 for race 11 and 6:57 for the Derby!! An hour and a half!!! I don’t remember it being 90 minutes before, thought it was closer to an hour? They’re really stretching it out!

      • Matthew W says:

        Not only that—the race before The Derby is on turf….long whole between dirt races. A hot day would make it difficult to keep the track from getting deep….

      • TommyMc says:

        Yes, I noticed that myself. An hour and a half seems crazy. But, that’s what the Churchill website says. I also seem to remember that it used to be an hour between the The Woodford Reserve and The Derby. It’s going to be a longgggggg day.