Bravazo proved to be a game winner and My Boy Jack romped over a muddy track, but last weekend’s Risen Star (G2) and Southwest (G3) provided little clarity to the Kentucky Derby picture as favorites finished off the board in each prep race.
The second of four qualifiers at Oaklawn Park, the February 19 Southwest marked the last race of the Prep Season in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series and turf stakes winner My Boy Jack posted a minor upset at 8-1 and earned 10 points for his first main track win.
The February 17 Risen Star at Fair Grounds kicked off the 16-race Championship Series and Bravazo jumped to the top of the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard while surprising at 21-1, picking up a 50-point prize after edging 41-1 outsider Snapper Sinclair by a nose.
The run-up to the 2018 Kentucky Derby is just starting to get serious. A little more than 10 weeks remains until the first Saturday in May and early favorites Good Magic and Bolt d’Oro are gearing up for their sophomore returns in the March 3 Fountain of Youth (G2) and March 10 San Felipe (G2), respectively.
A Calumet Farm homebred son of Awesome Again, Bravazo puts the Coach, D. Wayne Lukas, back in the spotlight for this year’s Run for the Roses. The legendary 82-year-old Hall of Famer is tied for second all-time with four Kentucky Derby wins and leads all trainers with a total of 14 Triple Crown race wins. He saddled his Kentucky Derby runner in 1981 and is tied with Todd Pletcher for the most starters (48) in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The Risen Star triumph virtually guarantees Bravazo a berth in a 20-horse field – 50 points has easily been enough to qualify since the points’ system was incorporated for the 2013 Kentucky Derby – and the dark bay colt registered a career-best 98 BRIS Speed rating for the front-running score. He chased pacesetter Snapper Sinclair through moderate opening splits and despite drifting out nearing the wire, Bravazo was going best late and narrowly prevailed in the 1 1/16-mile test.
A maiden winner in his second career outing last September, Bravazo followed with a non-threatening second at 47-1 odds in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland but didn’t carry any momentum forward when cutting back to a one-turn mile with a weakening third in the Street Sense at Churchill Downs and concluded his juvenile season with a dismal 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over the same oval.
Bravazo looks much-improved at age 3, returning with a commendable entry-level allowance tally at Oaklawn Park on January 13 and netting a 100 BRIS Late Pace rating for the Risen Star. He must keep moving forward to defeat better rivals this spring but his progress has been encouraging.
It’s fair to question whether Lukas believes Bravazo is his “A” horse for the Kentucky Derby. He’s got juvenile Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance (who finished third in the Southwest) targeting Oaklawn’s prep races and didn’t make the trip to New Orleans. Gary Stevens opted to stay at Oaklawn after being originally named to ride. Fair Grounds’ leading jockey, Miguel Mena, picked up the mount and adroitly got the most out of Bravazo late.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out as planned. Lukas has won the Kentucky Derby with a horse perceived to be amongst his second string, with 24-1 Thunder Gulch upstaging favored stablemate Timber Country in 1995.
Lukas indicated Bravazo could be back for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 24.
Snapper Sinclair has run well for Steve Asmussen since switching from turf to dirt this season, improving upon a third in the January 13 Lecomte (G3), but tough to envision him relishing more ground. By City Zip, the bay colt is out of a speedy mare by sprint sire Yes It’s True.
After recording a pair of front-running wins at Gulfstream, Noble Indy appeared poised to be on the lead after breaking from an inside post but Snapper Sinclair outsprinted him into the first turn and crossed over in front. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt basically raced evenly the rest of the way and finished two lengths back in third on the wire. His threshold for longer distances looks suspect to me but Noble Indy remains eligible to improve upon his first stakes attempt.
The biggest storyline surrounded Instilled Regard, whose Kentucky Derby profile took a precipitous hit. After posting a 3 ¾-length victory in the Lecomte, the Jerry Hollendorfer pupil appeared poised to solidify himself as a major contender but the 7-5 favorite came up empty in the latter stages and wound up a neck back of Noble Indy in fourth.
All hope isn’t lost for the Arch colt but from a pair of starts this year, Instilled Regard has failed to run back to the 100 BRIS Speed rating he received for a top-class performance in the juvenile finale, the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). I was expecting improvement off the 98 number earned in the Lecomte but the Risen Star turned out to be a radically different performance as the dark bay appeared reluctant to settle from the start.
Javier Castellano hustled his mount into the backstretch in order to maintain positioning and put Instilled Regard to a drive entering the far turn. And he was basically out of horse before the top of the stretch. Instilled Regard couldn’t have been more professional a month earlier, traveling easily before putting away his Lecomte rivals with a strong turn of foot into the stretch, and seemed to win with plenty in reserve.
He regressed in the Risen Star and Instilled Regard will try to rebound from the clunker in the final Kentucky Derby prep.
After recording a non-threatening third in the January 6 Sham (G3) at Santa Anita, My Boy Jack took to the mud and flattered McKinzie with a convincing victory in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest. He rated well off a contested pace and rallied powerfully up the rail to win going away by a 4 ¼-length margin. Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux was up for his brother, Keith Desormeaux, and this is the same trainer/jockey combo as mud lark Exaggerator, who captured the 2016 runnings of the Preakness (G1) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) under sloppy conditions and recorded a fast-finishing second in the Kentucky Derby over a wet-fast oval.
My Boy Jack broke his maiden in the grassy Zuma Beach and finished a close second in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf before concluding 2017 with a seventh in an extremely deep edition of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Keith Desormeaux opted for turf because he wanted to run the dark bay colt long early in his career when no two-turn dirt races were being offered and kept his charge his charge on the sod until the end of the year because of how well he ran. The Louisiana native said he always thought My Boy Jack would be better on dirt and connections have every reason to be excited following the Southwest.
But how much of a role the track condition and inside trip played is unclear.
Sire Creative Cause is a solid 15% mud sire and while My Boy Jack is out an unraced Mineshaft mare, his second maternal dam, the Gold Alert mare Gold n Delicious, recorded her lone stakes victory over a sloppy track in the 1997 Fleur des Lis (G3). My Boy Jack took to the mud with career-best BRIS Speed (98) and Late Pace (101) numbers.
There’s no denying the inside bias at Oaklawn on the Presidents’ Day program. Five of the 10 winners broke from the innermost post and nearly every winner traveled alongside the rail in the stretch. My Boy Jack launched an inside rally on the far turn and remained on the best part of the track the rest of the way, blowing past tiring pacesetter and 6-5 favorite Mourinho in upper stretch.
Kudos for an improved performance but can’t get excited about his Kentucky Derby chances yet. My Boy Jack (12) still needs points to qualify and barring another wet track, we’ll learn more about where he fits next time.
Runner-up Combatant rallied extremely wide off the far turn into contention but could not hang with My Boy Jack inside the final furlong and finished 2 ½ lengths clear of third. Seconditis has been his calling card since breaking his maiden in late October, with the Scat Daddy colt recording non-threatening silver medal performances in the Springboard Mile and Smarty Jones in advance of the Southwest.
And while he had little chance against loose-on-the-lead Mourinho in the Smarty Jones and raced on the slowest part of the track in the Southwest, Combatant will need to improve his BRIS numbers to hold his own against better competition this spring after registering Speed ratings of 91-95-92 in the last three outings for Asmussen.
Sporting Chance made his first start since winning the 7-furlong Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga in early September and understandably got a little tired late in a third-place effort.
“Good effort…I was very pleased,” Lukas said of the comebacker and the Tiznow colt’s next start in the March 17 Rebel (G2) figures to shine more light on his prospects.
The Southwest exposed the biggest questions surrounding Mourinho – how he would handle pressure and more distance – and while he may get another chance at a qualifier for Bob Baffert, the weakening fourth-place performance suggests he will want no part of the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby trip.
Justify generated a buzz recording an eye-catching debut win at Santa Anita on February 18, blistering foes by a 9 ½-length margin in wire-to-wire fashion, and the Scat Daddy colt is expected to jump straight from the 7-furlong maiden special weight to a Kentucky Derby qualifier for Baffert, who mentioned the March 25 Sunland Derby (G3) as an option. The chestnut registered a 100 BRIS Speed rating and appears to have the goods in terms of talent, but Justify faces one of the most imposing tasks in sports as an unraced juvenile (136 years since the last one captured the Kentucky Derby).
Magnum Moon made short work of entry-level allowance foes at Tampa on February 15, rallying to a visually impressive two-length decision, and I’m not concerned by the lower BRIS Speed rating (90) due to the slow fractions in his two-turn debut. The Malibu Moon colt holds plenty of promise for Pletcher but lacks foundation having made his first career start on January 13.
New York Central rebounded from a close second as the odds-on favorite in his 2018 bow, gamely taking a salty 1 1/16-mile allowance on the February 19 Southwest undercard at Oaklawn, but the gray Tapit colt was on the best part of the track leading wire to wire for Asmussen. He generated a 92 BRIS Speed rating edging runner-up Transgress, a Lukas-trained son of Into Mischief who rebounded nicely from a well-beaten fourth to Title Ready as the favorite in a February 1 allowance.
No qualifiers are scheduled this weekend, with the aforementioned Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 3 representing the next stop in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- GOOD MAGIC: Juvenile champ returns in 3/3 Fountain of Youth
- SOLOMINI: Classy 2yo resembled an awkward teenager, I’m buying heading into 3yo season
- BOLT D’ORO: Lofty expectations surround fast & talented 2yo, returns in 3/10 San Felipe
- AUDIBLE: Superb winner of Holy Bull, suspicious pedigree for Kentucky Derby
- MCKINZIE: Impressive scorer in one-mile Sham, not sold on classic distances
- CATHOLIC BOY: Came back a little short in Davis, expecting more in final prep
- FREE DROP BILLY: Respect his chances following Holy Bull runner-up
- IMPACT PLAYER: Significant turnaround since adding blinkers, stakes debut next
- VINO ROSSO: Ran in spots recording fast-closing Davis third, best yet to come from Curlin colt
- MY BOY JACK: Need to see more but know wet track favors Southwest winner
- INSTILLED REGARD: Disappointed mightily in Risen Star
- JUSTIFY: Exciting prospect just getting started for Baffert
- TITLE READY: Convincing allowance scorer headed to stakes company for Asmussen
- COMBATANT: Three consecutive runner-up finishes in qualifiers
- STRIKE POWER: Unbeaten speedy colt intriguing, bred to handle two turns
- MAGNUM MOON: Unraced juvenile exits a sharp allowance tally at Tampa
- SPORTING CHANCE: Juvenile Grade 1 winner eligible to improve off Southwest third
- MARCONI: Tapit colt must step up in second stakes attempt
- BRAVAZO: Risen Star upsetter won’t have to worry about qualifying
- MENDELSSOHN: Irish-based colt targeting European Road to the Kentucky Derby