Always Dreaming launched his 3-year-old campaign at Tampa Bay Downs in a late January maiden special weight and won’t be the last Kentucky Derby winner to compete in the maiden or allowance ranks at this time of year.
With the next events in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series scheduled for February 3, this is an opportune time to review some stakes-bound performers early in the season. And I’ll continue to keep an eye out for any potentially up-and-coming sophomores in the weeks to come.
In the spirit of the 2017 Kentucky Derby hero, let’s start at Tampa.
Tampa Bay Downs
World of Trouble blistered the competition in the January 20 Pasco, sprinting to the fore at the break and increasing his advantage at every point of call en route to 13 ¾-length decision. A son of Kantharos, the bay colt was returning from a 4 ½-month layoff for new trainer Jason Servis and just missed the track record when completing 7-furlongs in 1:21.52. World of Trouble registered a 101 BRIS Speed rating and is expected to make his two-turn debut in the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). He may handle the stretch out to 1 1/16 miles, but neither side of the pedigree offers any encouragement for longer distances. World of Trouble is out of a mare by Valid Expectations and hails from a female family geared toward sprint/middle distances.
The Pasco undercard featured a maiden special weight of interest and Gleason did not disappoint making his career debut for Todd Pletcher. Favored at even-money over 10 foes, the Algorithms colt displayed good speed from the start of the 7-furlong test and posted an 85 BRIS Speed rating drawing away by a 5 ½-length margin. The chestnut hails from a classy female family loaded with graded stakes winners and I’m looking forward to seeing him stretch out in distance next time. Gleason is out of the Lord at War mare Trip, a half-sister to the dam of leading Kentucky Derby contender Bolt d’Oro, but he was unraced at 2.
Pletcher had another runner to watch on January 14, Road to Damascus, who shipped cross-state to break his maiden at a mile and 40 yards. The son of Pioneerof the Nile finished fourth to Impact Player (who is mentioned below) when debuting in a 6-furlong sprint at Gulfstream in mid-December and overcame a bobbling start at Tampa to gamely score by a neck, earning an 87 BRIS Speed figure. A half-brother to 2014 Preakness (G1) third-placer Social Inclusion, Road to Damascus looks like the type who will keep improving with experience.
Magnum Moon was ready for his unveiling on January 13, displaying good speed from the gate and rolling to a 4 ½-length decision at 6-furlongs, and the Pletcher pupil garnered an excellent 99 BRIS Speed rating. By Malibu Moon, the bay colt has stamina influences in his female family and if he handles additional ground, Magnum Moon could develop into a player in prep races this spring. But being an unraced juvenile is certainly undesirable when it comes to the Kentucky Derby.
Impact Player appears to be hitting his groove following a smashing 7 ¼-length victory over entry-level allowance foes on January 17. Another member of a deep Pletcher arsenal, Impact Player ran well when debuting at Saratoga last summer but appeared to go off form in his next two appearances at Belmont Park. The bay colt has turned things around at Gulfstream, breaking his maiden at 6-furlongs in mid-December before stretching out to 7-panels here, and earned a pair of respectable 96 BRIS Speed ratings and a 104 Late Pace number most recently. His sire, City Zip, isn’t known for producing Kentucky Derby contenders, but Impact Player hails from a half-sister to Candy Ride and is eligible to receive plenty of endurance from the bottom half of his pedigree.
After winning at first asking by 8 ¾ lengths, Noble Indy was forced to work harder but remained unbeaten with a narrow victory on January 11. The Pletcher charge stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the entry-level allowance/optional claimer and netted a 95 BRIS Speed rating. That number dipped a couple of points from his initial outing at 7-furlongs and his pedigree appears suspect for longer distances. The Take Charge Indy colt hails from a Storm Boot mare who was a confirmed sprinter and this is the extended female family of Grade 1 sprinter/miler types Banker’s Lady and Banker’s Gold.
Unplaced in three starts last fall, Cove Blue stepped forward to break his maiden at 7-furlongs on January 6. The son of Ghostzapper held on by nearly a length leading wire to wire and displayed significant improvement registering a 96 BRIS Speed rating. He’s likely heading straight to stakes company for Dale Romans and Cove Blue counts Trip, the dam of aforementioned Gleason, as his second maternal dam.
A half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Curalina, Master Manipulator graduated by a 1 ¼-length margin over a sloppy track on January 3. Trainer Eric Guillot thought enough of the Tale of a Cat colt to try the Champagne (G1) while still a maiden, but the chestnut still has much to prove after receiving only an 88 BRIS Speed rating in his fifth career start (horses just getting started deserve more leeway).
Ax Man proved to be an eye-catching debut winner on New Year’s Day, drawing off to a 9 ½-length decision in a 6-furlong maiden restricted to homebreds or horses selling for less than $100,000. The son of Misremembered was flattered by a 101 BRIS Speed rating and given he’s trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, Ax Man has the right connections. However, the Kentucky Derby may not prove to be a realistic goal for the promising half-brother to champion sprinter Indian Blessing.
Nero also hails from the Baffert barn and could have plenty of upside following a game maiden tally on January 13. By Pioneerof the Nile, the $950,000 colt appeared on his way to a daylight win at Del Mar last summer before throwing his head up and losing interest in the latter stages, and it looked like he would win his second start easily in midstretch before being forced to gut out a narrow win. Victor Espinoza never went to the whip aboard the immature sophomore and the 90 BRIS Speed rating could prove meaningless if Nero continues to develop both mentally and physically. But one does have to worry if he can reach his potential by the first Saturday in May. Arrogate and West Coast were both in training over the winter as 3-year-olds but Baffert was in no rush to push along young horses who clearly needed more time. Nero has lacked focus but still rates as an intriguing darkhorse.
Pepe Tono rallied last-to-first to beak his maiden while stretching out to two turns on January 19. He’s by Bodemeister (sire of Always Dreaming) and the Victor Garcia-trained colt figured to relish the additional ground based on his stamina-laced female family. Overlooked at 11-1, Pepe Tono caught the eye, flying past more than half the field to record a 1 ½-length decision but will need to improve upon an 87 BRIS Speed rating next time.
After finishing third in his second start, Lombo flattered Ax Man when graduating by a 3 ½-length margin at 6 ½ furlongs on January 20. A son of Graydar, Michael Pender-trained colt looked the part visually, but longer distances may be a liability given his speed-based female family.
Supreme Aura is now 2-for-2 and ready to stretch out for his stakes bow. The Candy Ride colt won at first asking at Delaware Park in August, scoring by nearly five lengths, and returned from a five-month hiatus to crush entry-level allowance rivals going the same distance on January 5. Conditioned by Michael Stidham, Supreme Aura received a solid 96 BRIS Speed rating for the 3 ½-length decision and is bred to handle longer distances on both sides of his pedigree. I’m excited to see him try stakes company.
Fascilitator posted a nice win on the January 13 Lecomte undercard, getting up to win a 6-furlong maiden by a neck, and registered a 94 BRIS Speed rating. Steve Asmussen may give The Factor colt a shot against stakes company, but Fascilitator is bred more for sprint/middle distances.
Asmussen is readying a large contingent of Kentucky Derby hopefuls and Retirement Fund wants a route of ground for the Hall of Fame conditioner. After striding away to a 7 ¼-length decision in his first outing, a mile and 70-yard test at Fair Grounds on December 22, the Eskendereya colt came back to thrash allowance/optional claiming rivals by a two-length margin at the same distance on January 20. His BRIS Speed numbers are eligible to keep rising (94 and 86) and I like the speed he’s displayed leading wire to wire both times. Retirement Fund is a half-brother to Grade 3-winning sprinter Barbados, but stamina influences abound with his first three dams being by Street Cry, Quiet American and Red Ransom.
Alternative Route overcame a rough start to break his maiden in an off-the-turf maiden on January 13, gamely prevailing by a head after battling through the final furlong, and Al Stall Jr. trains the son of Tiznow. The bay colt received an 86 BRIS Speed rating and the Queen’s Plate is a possible target for the Ontario-bred.
With four Kentucky Derby wins, D. Wayne Lukas is tied for second all-time with Baffert and the legendary horseman leads all trainers with 14 Triple Crown race wins. Transgress won at second asking on January 13, taking a 6-furlong maiden by a half-length in front-running fashion, and the Into Mischief colt received a nice 94 BRIS Speed rating. Look for Transgress to jump straight to stakes company for the Hall of Fame conditioner.
Lukas sent out Bravazo to win a two-turn entry-level allowance/optional claimer on January 13, snapping a three-race losing streak as the son of Awesome Again rebounded from a 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Runner-up in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last fall, the dark bay colt has the pedigree if he can continue to evolve and Bravazo netted an encouraging 96 BRIS Speed rating for the neck decision.
From a classy female family, Higher Power won his second straight for Donnie Von Hemel when rallying to take a one-mile allowance/optional claiming event on January 13. A maiden winner at Remington Park in his juvenile finale, the Medaglia d’Oro colt has captured both starts at two turns but I would like to see better BRIS Speed numbers (82 and 85).
Shane Zain did not impress from a Speed rating-perspective, generating only an 81 while breaking his maiden the fourth time out on January 21, and turf will always be an option for the Doug O’Neill trainee. The son of Medaglia d’Oro hails from graded turf stakes winner My Gi Gi and his second and third maternal dams are by Sadler’s Wells and Kris S.
Mark Casse unveiled an interesting prospect at Aqueduct on January 15, Morning Hunt, who earned a 95 BRIS Speed rating striding away to a 5 ¾-length victory. From the first crop of Morning Line, the dark bay colt raced up close from the start before seizing control and it will be interesting to see where Morning Hunt makes his first attempt against winners.
Roaming Union needed seven starts to break his maiden and did so over a “good” main track at Aqueduct. But the Union Rags colt deserves mention after winning by a 12 ¼-length margin. Trained by Kelly Breen, Roaming Union cost only $12,000 as a yearling but does hail from a decent female family. His unraced dam, a Bernardini mare, is out of a stakes-winning Seeking the Gold mare and is a half-sister to a Grade 3 winner. His third maternal dam is Grade 1 winner Golden Treat. Roaming Union received a commendable 99 BRIS Speed rating in the 1 1/8-mile race.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
1) SOLOMINI: Three-time G1 runner-up expected back on worktab soon
2) GOOD MAGIC: BC Juvenile winner logged first work back on Jan. 21
3) BOLT D’ORO: Multiple G1 winner close to working after dealing with pulled muscle
4) INSTILLED REGARD: California shipper flattered Solomini and McKinzie romping Lecomte
5) COPPER BULLET: Talented juvenile nearing return from lengthy layoff
6) CATHOLIC BOY: Accomplished turf performer made seamless transition to dirt in Remsen
7) MCKINZIE: Easy to be impressed by Sham win
8) MASK: May have him too low following eye-catching Mucho Macho Man score
9) COMBATANT: Like his potential following Smarty Jones runner-up
10) ENTICED: Ky Jockey Club eligible to keep progressing for McLaughlin
11) FREE DROP BILLY: G1-winning juvenile a fine prospect for Romans
12) SPORTING CHANCE: Hopeful winner gearing up for return in Southwest
13) PRINCIPE GUILHERME: Tapit colt looks to move forward off Lecomte runner-up
14) TIZ MISCHIEF: One-run closer just missed in Ky Jockey Club
15) UNTAMED DOMAIN: Classy turf performer readying for dirt debut
16) IMPACT PLAYER: Exits resounding allowance triumph at Gulfstream
17) ZAK ATTACK: Displayed nice turn of foot last year, needed Mucho Macho Man comebacker
18) NERO: Promising Baffert-trained maiden winner
19) SUPREME AURA: Unbeaten colt exits commendable allowance triumph at Fair Grounds
20) MENDELSSOHN: Overseas shippers up against it at CD, would love to see U.S. prep first