The wait is almost over. After a couple of dark weekends, the Road to the Kentucky Derby series returns with a trio of qualifiers on Saturday, February 3. All are worth a total of 17 points (10-4-2-1 scale) as the “Prep Season” portion of the schedule winds down.
The February 17 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds represents the first event in the “Championship Series,” 16 races offering increased point values toward a berth in the first leg in the American Triple Crown.
I’ll offer a brief preview of the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park, Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita and Withers (G3) at Aqueduct below.
Let’s first review some notable 3-year-old performers from last week:
Life’s a Parlay graduated on Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup (G1) undercard at Gulfstream Park, leading wire to wire in a one-mile maiden special weight. When the other speed weakened in upper stretch, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt began to widen his lead and it momentarily looked like he would win for fun before circumstances changed in the final sixteenth of a mile. Personal Time, a full-brother to 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, came flying from far back to make it interesting after the even-money favorite began to shorten stride, but Life’s a Parlay had enough cushion to secure a 1 ½-length decision as the wire came in time for his supporters. Life’s a Parlay missed the break in his debut, a third to Cove Blue on January 6, and received a respectable 98 BRIS Speed rating after establishing fast early splits in his second start. He’s by Uncle Mo, sire of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, but also counts Grade 1-winning sprinter Declassify as a half-brother. Tough to be enthused by how he was tiring late at a one-turn distance, but the lightly-raced sophomore remains eligible to move forward off the hard-fought win.
Personal Time is still a maiden for Shug McGaughey but after a pair of unplaced efforts as a juvenile, the Malibu Moon colt woke up significantly with the addition of first-time Lasix in his sophomore bow.
Carlsbad recorded a nice first-out maiden tally at Fair Grounds on January 25. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the chestnut colt dueled on the lead before edging away to a 1 ¼-length decision in the 6-furlong test and Carlsbad is bred to relish longer distances. By Distorted Humor, the Gary & Mary West homebred is out of the Dixie Union mare Muy Muy, a half-sister to turf champion Possibly Perfect.
Still Having Fun notched his first stakes win in the 7-furlong Frank Whiteley Jr. at Laurel Park January 27, rallying past even-money favorite Wentz to score going away by 4 ½ lengths. The Maryland-bred showed his versatility switching to rating tactics and is now 2-for-3 for conditioner Tim Keefe. A neck second in the December 9 Maryland Juvenile Futurity, the Old Fashioned colt registered a 96 BRIS Speed in the open Whiteley and could be aiming for Laurel’s 3-year-old series of stakes that culminates with the April 21 Federico Tesio, a “Win & You’re In” for the May 19 Preakness Stakes (G1). His breeding appears a bit suspect for longer distances (he’s related to a winner of the 6-furlong Miss Preakness) but Still Having Fun will bring improving form to his next engagement.
Interesting to see Runaway Ghost continue to flatter the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), recording a 7 ¾-length victory in the Riley Allison at Sunland Park on January 28. The top three in the Los Alamitos Futurity (before DQ) – Solomini, McKinzie and Instilled Regard – were in another area code at the finish, about 30 lengths in front of a pair of also-rans, and McKinzie and Instilled Regard have returned this year to post convincing wins in the Sham (G3) and Lecomte (G3). Runaway Ghost checked in fifth in his juvenile finale and still has much to prove class-wise, but he’s now sandwiched a pair of romping stakes wins around the Los Alamitos Futurity, crushing the competition in November’s Golden Nugget at Golden Gate Fields. Trainer Todd Fincher could wheel the Ghostzapper colt back for the February 17 El Camino Real Derby (G3), which serves as a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier on Golden Gate’s Tapeta.
Enticed is the biggest draw and Dale Romans has four of the 11 entrants in the Holy Bull including Tiz Mischief, who just missed in a head-bobbing finish against Enticed in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs last fall. Romans said either Free Drop Billy or Hollywood Star would scratch in favor of the February 10 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa due to common ownership and that decision figures to have a big impact upon the wagering with Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy, who was the 7-1 second betting choice in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, being a top contender in either spot.
I’m intrigued by Mississippi in his second attempt against winners. A maiden victor last November, the Pioneerof the Nile colt exits a close second to Noble Indy in his first two-turn attempt and is eligible to keep progressing for Mark Casse.
Firenze Fire will stretch back out to a route in the Withers at Aqueduct. I don’t know whether last-out maiden winner Marconi will be good enough on Saturday but $2 million Tapit colt appears to have plenty of long-term potential. His stablemate, Mucho Macho Man runner-up Bal Harbour, can flatter Mask with a strong showing.
The nine-horse Robert Lewis lacks a stakes winner and a trio of last-out maiden scorers – Lombo, Peace and Pepe Tono – are top contenders in my estimation. Among those with stakes experience, Shivermetimbers will make McKinzie look good if he runs well after a fourth in the Sham (G3).
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- GOOD MAGIC: 2yo champ shows pair of bullet works, 3/3 Fountain of Youth is next
- SOLOMINI: Dueled in BC Juv, rated in Los Alamitos Futurity; huge upside but missed training time due to virus
- BOLT D’ORO: Returned to worktab last weekend, Javier Castellano picks up mount for 3/10 San Felipe
- INSITILLED REGARD: Cal invader rolled in Lecomte, may return for 2/17 Risen Star
- COPPER BULLET: Risen Star an option for exciting Asmussen prospect
- CATHOLIC BOY: Classy juvenile performer appears to be targeting 2/10 Sam F. Davis
- MCKINZIE: Either San Felipe or Oaklawn route for brilliant Sham winner
- MASK: Talented colt to miss a couple of weeks of training
- COMBATANT: Smarty Jones runner-up developing nicely for Asmussen
- ENTICED: Ky Jockey Club winner the one to beat in Holy Bull
- FREE DROP BILLY: G1 victor back for Romans in Holy Bull
- SPORTING CHANCE: G1 winner gearing up for return in 2/19 Southwest
- IMPACT PLAYER: Allowance scorer making fine progress for Pletcher
- TIZ MISCHIEF: Confirmed closer looks to mow down foes in Holy Bull
- PRINCIPE GUILHERME: Asmussen pupil eligible to move forward off Lecomte second
- UNTAMED DOMAIN: Animal Kingdom colt expected to try dirt for Motion
- MARCONI: Tapit colt makes stakes bow in Withers for Pletcher
- DAK ATTACK: Ghostzapper colt eligible to show more off Mucho Macho Man comebacker
- SUPREME AURA: Risen Star appears next for unbeaten colt
- MENDELSSOHN: Irish-based colt targeting Ky Derby for O’Brien