This marks the first edition of the 2018 Kentucky Derby Report and I’m fired up for the New Year. There’s more depth to the 3-year-old ranks at this stage than last year when Classic Empire and Mastery appeared to tower over rivals following the retirement of Not This Time.
After Classic Empire’s Kentucky Derby preparations were compromised by a hoof injury and Mastery sustained a career-ending injury recording a tour-de-force victory in the San Felipe (G2), the division was left in a disarrayed state that resulted in nine different horses placing in the Triple Crown races (1st, 2nd and 3rd) for the first time since 1926.
Look for more consistency in 2018.
Winter months are key for the development of young horses and I strive to maintain an open mind when following the Kentucky Derby Trail because the landscape is evolving.
No matter how accomplished at age 2, horses must continue to improve and it’s all about moving forward in prep races. Horses don’t need to win – Hall of Famer Silver Charm is one of numerous Kentucky Derby winners to lose multiple prep races – and the last six years have been more the exception than the norm in my book with Always Dreaming, Nyquist, American Pharoah, California Chrome, Orb and I’ll Have Another capturing every race at age 3 before arriving at Churchill Downs.
A complete clunker in the next-to-last or final prep race can be a serious concern (see Irish War Cry) as we seek to identify horses building toward a peak performance on the first Saturday in May.
Pedigree analysis is a flawed science and it’s often the increased level of competition or a rough trip that compromises participants. But the fact remains some horses are incapable of delivering an optimal performance over 10 furlongs early in their sophomore season due to the extended distance. Foundation is also important and beware of falling in love with unraced juveniles: the 135-year gap since Apollo makes it one of the most imposing tasks in all of sports.
In the weekly Kentucky Derby Report, I will analyze the action over the next four months. The focus is on Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifiers determining eligibility for the 20-horse starting gate and I will provide an updated top 20 list and a preview of upcoming preps.
Below is a review of the nine qualifiers held during the fall/early winter:
Springboard Mile, December 17, Remington Park
A new addition to the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Springboard Mile was held at two turns and Greyvitos overcame a wide trip from post 12 to easily prove best by a 2 ¼-length margin. After dropping his first two starts, the Malibu Moon colt was exiting a wire-to-wire, maiden-breaking upset in the 7-furlong Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar and showed good versatility backing up that performance, rating just off the pace before seizing command leaving the far turn. His 93 BRIS Speed rating wasn’t too bad considering the ground loss and moderate pace, and Greyvitos appears to be making excellent progress for Adam Kitchingman.
Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), December 9, Los Alamitos
Solomini was headed to a comfortable win if he could stay straight in the stretch but that didn’t happen as he lugged in during the stretch drive of the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity, bumping Instilled Regard. And when that rival missed second by a head to McKinzie, stewards felt they had no choice but to disqualify Solomini, who netted a career-best 101 BRIS Speed after finishing first by nearly a length. Solomini dueled on the lead by necessity in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile from post 2, but the Bob Baffert pupil displayed the push-button style here that is eligible to be highly-effective at age 3, dropping back to last of five during the run down the backside. McKinzie, a flashy debut scorer for Baffert, saved the day for his Hall of Fame trainer and is eligible to improve upon his first two-turn attempt after getting a little weary in deep stretch. Instilled Regard has run big in back-to-back route starts for Jerry Hollendorfer and netted his first triple-digit Speed rating.
Remsen (G2), December 2, Aqueduct
Catholic Boy made a seamless transition from turf to dirt, rallying to win by a widening 4 ¾-length margin in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen. He displayed fine class on turf, winning a salty edition of the With Anticipation (G3) and closing fast to miss by only 1 ½ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), and the Jonathan Thomas trainee packs a serious late punch, registering a 109 BRIS Late Pace number in the Remsen. By the More Than Ready, Catholic Boy has numerous stamina influences on the female side of his pedigree and I look forward to seeing whether he can carry his Remsen performance forward against better competition next time.
Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), November 25, Churchill Downs
The 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club featured a compelling stretch duel and Enticed prevailed in the head-bobbing finish, edging Tiz Mischief on the wire. By Medaglia d’Oro, the Godolphin homebred is out of the multiple Grade 1-winning Mineshaft mare It’s Tricky and Enticed figures to keep improving with age and experience similar to his parents. A respectable third in the Champagne, the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt could be any kind but will need to increase his BRIS Speed ratings next year after registering 92 and 93 in his first two stakes attempts. Tiz Mischief is another promising sort who figures to benefit from a commendable effort in his stakes debut. Out of a Tiznow mare, the Into Mischief colt broke his maiden when stretching out to two turns at Keeneland and will bring a one-run closing style to future engagements for Dale Romans.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), November 4, Del Mar
Runner-up in his first two appearances, Good Magic emerged as a major Kentucky Derby contender winning the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Curlin colt stalked in a perfect spot behind dueling leaders and offered a dynamic turn of foot slingshotting to the lead off the far turn, quickly accelerating clear and rolling home in his two-turn debut. He received an excellent 106 BRIS Speed rating and chestnut appears well-suited for longer distances. The top-ranked sophomore on the East Coast, Good Magic is trained Chad Brown, who recorded his first Triple Crown race victory in last year’s Preakness. Solomini recorded a huge performance from a less-than-favorable post 2 (every Breeders’ Cup dirt race was won from post 5 and out), with jockey Flavien Prat forced to send his mount to avoid being caught inside. After dueling every step of the way and being put to a drive on the far turn, Solomini could not go on with Good Magic but dug in gamely to repel Bolt d’Oro, who had advanced to a menacing position by upper stretch but could not get past the runner-up in the latter stages. Granted, Bolt d’Oro was severely compromised by a terrible trip, dropping too far back after bobbling at the start and traveling extremely wide on both turns, and he rallied admirably to be nearly 10 lengths clear of fourth.
The top three are very exciting prospects. Good Magic was phenomenal and I’m expecting to see more from Solomini and Bolt d’Oro at age 3.
Champagne (G1), October 7, Belmont Park
Firenze Fire outfinished Good Magic to post a half-length decision in the one-mile Champagne and netted his second graded stakes victory at one-turn. From the first crop of Grade 1 sprinter Poseidon’s Warrior, Firenze Fire’s disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile raised red flags about his potential for longer distances next year. Good Magic raced wide the entire way and offered a nice move to seize the lead in the stretch before being nailed late. He was still a maiden and the Champagne served a useful steppingstone toward his next start at two turns.
Breeders’ Futurity (G1), October 7, Keeneland
Free Drop Billy delivered as the 3-2 favorite, striding away to a four-length decision in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity. He registered only a 91 BRIS Speed rating and didn’t back up the performance when ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but I like the turn of foot offered by the well-bred Union Rags colt in his first four starts and give him a chance to develop into a nice 3-year-old for Dale Romans. The Breeders’ Futurity was marred the fatal injury to Ten City, who broke down on the lead nearing the conclusion of the far turn.
FrontRunner (G1), September 30, Santa Anita
After taking a maiden special weight and the Del Mar Futurity (G1) in his first two starts, Bolt d’Oro turned in a scintillating 7 ¾-length romp making his two-turn bow in the 1 1/16-mile FrontRunner. The powerfully-built son of Medaglia d’Oro quickly put the race away entering the stretch, striking the front and accelerating clear, and registered an eye-catching 105 BRIS Speed rating finishing full of run. This performance has supporters excited about the Kentucky Derby and Bolt d’Oro was flattered when runner-up Solomni came back to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Iroquois (G3), September 16, Churchill Downs
The Road to the Kentucky Derby series kicked off with the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois and The Tabulator recorded a front-running decision, holding late-running favorite Hollywood Star safe by three-quarters of a length. It wasn’t a fast race and the top two returned to finish midpack at long odds in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Both have much to prove in 2018.
Here are some promising individuals who haven’t raced in a qualifier yet:
Copper Bullet showed glimpses of enormous talent but immature behavior was the biggest takeaway from his first three starts. Steve Asmussen appeared to be finally getting inside his runner’s head in the August 13 Saratoga Special (G2), with Copper Bullet romping in a seemingly effortless manner, but the More Than Ready colt unfortunately headed to the sidelines afterward. He’s expected back on the worktab soon and I like the mix of speed on top and stamina on the bottom of his pedigree.
Montauk is on virtually every top 10 list following an 11-length debut thrashing at Belmont Park October 7 and brings lofty expectations into the New Year. The Medaglia d’Oro colt may be special enough to overcome any concerns, but he hasn’t logged an official workout since winning and probably has only a couple of preps mapped out given Todd Pletcher preference for a lightly-raced approach, which means Monatuk would arrive at Churchill Downs with just three races under him (a 3-year-old better be special to win under those circumstances). His 88 BRIS Speed rating came back light and none of his 10 rivals have returned to win on the main track, with third-placer Kurosawa and next-out turf winner Power of Attorney (who finished eighth) being the only ones without a dirt start.
Mendelssohn and Untamed Domain are expected to target the Kentucky Derby following a 1-2 finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Owned by Coolmore and trained by Aidan O’Brien, Mendelssohn finished second at 50-1 in a Group 1 stakes at Newmarket before shipping to Del Mar and posting a one-length decision. A half-brother to Grade 1 winners Beholder and Into Mischief, the Scat Daddy colt is bred for dirt and O’Brien indicated a they’ll use the European Road to the Kentucky Derby. From the first crop of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Untamed Domain’s pedigree isn’t slanted to main track like Mendelssohn’s but his third dam is by Caro, sire of 1988 Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. And Graham Motion (who trained Animal Kingdom) knows how to prepare a versatile turf horse for the first Saturday in May.
Principe Guilherme is ready to test stakes waters after opening his career with a pair of flashy wins for Asmussen. He rolled to an impressive maiden tally in his 7-furlong debut Churchill Downs, dueling from the start before drawing away to a 6 ¼-length decision, and dominated throughout recording an 11 ¾-length decision going two turns at Fair Ground in a December 16 allowance. By Tapit, who has sired three of the last four winners of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, Principe Guilherme is out of a mare by 2007 Kentucky Derby hero Street Sense.
Dak Attack displayed a nice kick winning his first two starts, including a three-length tally in the 7-furlong Ellis Park Juvenile, but was sidelined by sore shins and didn’t return to the worktab until mid-November. The Dale Romans charge can enhance his reputation by coming back with a victory in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream, but the race will be held at a one-turn mile. Dak Attack is a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper, but the presence of damsire Indian Charlie raises some concern for classic distances next spring.
New York Central drew some buzz breaking his maiden by a 7 ¼-length margin the second time out at Churchill Downs on November 26. The Tapit colt hasn’t raced past 6 1/2-furlongs yet and hails from a speedy female family, but he remains eligible to come on for an Asmussen stable riding a wave of momentum following the Horse of the Year campaign of Gun Runner and focused upon getting that first elusive Kentucky Derby victory.
Mask has a similar profile to New York Central – by Tapit and from a sprint-oriented female family – but it was easy to appreciate his good-looking debut performance and the Brown trainee was flattered when runner-up Navistar came back to crush maiden special weight foes in his next start at Gulfstream Park. Mask will launch his 3-year-old campaign in the Mucho Macho Man.
Analyze It may stick to turf racing for Brown, but the Point of Entry colt merits a mention following a smashing wire-to-wire win in the November 26 Cecil B. DeMille (G3) at Del Mar.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- GOOD MAGIC: Blew the competition away winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his two-turn debut
- SOLOMINI: Displayed commendable skills but looked like the type who was still sorting things out for 4-time Kentucky Derby winner Baffert; confident we haven’t seen his best races yet
- BOLT D’ORO: Connections now aiming for a three-race campaign that only figures to benefit him given gate woes; could easily be ranked #1 if he hadn’t started slowly in 3-of-4 starts
- CATHOLIC BOY: Accomplished turf performer showed his versatility posting a convincing Remsen win
- COPPER BULLET: Still excited about his potential but Grade 3 winner needs to return to worktab soon
- INSTILLED REGARD: Los Alamitos Futurity runner-up began to find his groove when stretching out to two turns for Hollendorfer
- ENTICED: Kentucky Jockey Club victor could have plenty of upside for McLaughlin
- MONTAUK: Stamped himself as one to watch recording an electric debut score in early October; waiting for return to the worktab
- FREE DROP BILLY: Grade 1-winning juvenile eligible to blossom as a 3-year-old with his breeding
- PRINCIPE GUILHERME: Tapit colt unbeaten from two starts and will bring speed to initial stakes appearance
- MCKINZIE: Some doubts about his threshold for classic distances but talented colt could prove me wrong
- GREYVITOS: Bred for turf on the dam side, Malibu Moon colt has left a fine impression pocketing a pair of stakes wins on the main track
- TIZ MISCHIEF: One-run closer just missed when jumping straight to stakes company in Kentucky Jockey Club
- DAK ATTACK: Displayed a sharp turn of foot winning a pair of sprint starts; Romans charge returns in Jan. 6 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream
- SPORTING CHANCE: D. Wayne Lukas pupil hasn’t logged an official workout since winning the Hopeful (G1) but Tiznow colt still has time for at least three preps if he returns soon
- NEW YORK CENTRAL: Looked like a future stakes winner breaking his maiden; will have a better gauge when he stretches out to two turns
- MASK: Impressive maiden scorer will make his second career start in the Mucho Macho Man at a one-turn mile
- NAVISTAR: Don’t know if he beat much but Pletcher runner made it look easy breaking his maiden the second time out recently
- MENDELSSOHN: Bred to relish the main track, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner will aim for the Kentucky Derby according to O’Brien
- LE VENT SE LEVE: Well-regarded in his homeland, unbeaten colt is targeting the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby
I am taking a one-week hiatus and the Kentucky Derby Report will return January 17 with a review of Saturday’s Sham (G3) at Santa Anita, the January 13 Risen Star (G3) at Fair Grounds and the January 15 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park. And we’ll also cover the Jerome, which was postponed from January 1 due to adverse conditions, if Aqueduct can reschedule within the next two weeks.