March plays a pivotal role for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Point values rise for prep races and the overall picture begins to sort itself out. Five qualifiers offering a combined 85 points (50-20-10-5) will be offered over the next three weeks and the sense of anticipation surrounding the return of leading contenders only adds to the excitement.
Good Magic, the champion 2-year-old male, will be back Saturday in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. The son of Curlin exits a 4 ¾-length romp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), which has been rated as the strongest race of the Prep Season in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Bolt d’Oro recorded impressive wins in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and FrontRunner (G1) before making a mess of the break in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and winding up a troubled third as the 3-5 favorite. He’s gearing up for his sophomore return in the March 10 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Solomini, who was last seen finishing first in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) in mid-December (DQ’ed and placed third), is scheduled to launch his 3-year-old campaign in either the San Felipe or March 17 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.
No point races were offered but we witnessed some horses with possible Triple Crown aspirations last week.
Reride stepped forth in the February 25 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park, easily surpassing previous efforts with a front-running 2 ½-length victory that registered a 103 BRIS Speed rating. By Candy Ride, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt finished sixth when making his stakes bow in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in late November and hung on by a nose to win his sophomore bow, the 7-furlong Big Drama at Delta Downs on January 13. He hadn’t run fast before and the massive jump looks suspicious, but Reride remains eligible to back up it next time. Last year, the Sunland Derby (G3) came under scrutiny when the winner improved significantly with a 103 Speed rating at Sunland, but the number didn’t look too bad when fourth-placer Irap came back to win the Blue Grass (G2) and runner-up Conquest Mo Money followed with a half-length second to Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Mine That Bird Derby runner-up Runaway Ghost, who was beaten 36 lengths when fifth behind Solomini in the Los Alamitos Futurity, received a 100 Speed rating finishing 15 ¼ lengths clear of third.
Westerdale did not disappoint as the 3-5 favorite in his third career outing, seizing command at the break and drawing away to a 14 ¾-length decision over a sloppy track at Aqueduct on February 25. He earned a career-best 91 BRIS Speed rating in the one-turn mile event and Tom Morley trains the Flat Out colt, who crushed five overmatched maiden foes and counts 2011 Travers (G1) runner-up Rattlesnake Bridge as a half-brother. The dark bay was making his first appearance since a close third in late November and Westerdale recorded a non-threatening third in his debut to Mask, who followed with an impressive win in the January 6 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park but hasn’t logged an official work for Chad Brown since January 20.
Penalty rallied to win his unveiling by nearly a length, taking a 7-furlong maiden at Gulfstream on February 24, and Bill Mott trains the late-starting son of Blame. Out of a stakes-placed daughter of Empire Maker, Penalty hails from a classy female family but was overlooked at 13-1 in his initial outing. He garnered a respectable 90 BRIS Speed rating.
Magicalmeister offered a wide bid to the front in upper stretch and determinedly held by a half-length in the February 23 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, lightning up the tote board with a 39-1 upset. Conditioned by James Chapman, the Bodemeister colt captured his first career start by nearly 10 lengths at Mahoning Valley on January 9 and was exiting a well-beaten third in a February 10 entry-level allowance/optional claimer on Turfway’s Polytrack. Magicalmeister had been earning BRIS Speed numbers in the 70s but received a 91 stretching out to 8 ½ furlongs. He will try to back it up in the March 17 Jeff Ruby Steaks (formerly the Spiral), which offers points on a 20-80-4-2 scale toward a Kentucky Derby berth.
Bourne in Nixa relished sloppy conditions upsetting the 6-furlong Gazebo at Oaklawn Park on February 24, closing fast to defeat 10-length maiden scorer and 2-5 favorite Mitole by a 1 ¾-length margin. The winner, a More Than Ready colt, netted a career-best 96 BRIS Speed rating and appears to be making fine progress for Stephen Margolis. However, the top two are likely best-suited for one-turn distances.
Good Magic has been installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite among 10 rivals in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth.
Juvenile Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy can flatter Audible following a runner-up finish in the February 3 Holy Bull (G2), unbeaten Strike Power stretches out to two turns off a convincing win in the Swale (G3) and Marconi will try to improve upon a third in the Withers (G3) in his second stakes attempt for Todd Pletcher.
He Takes Charge and Machismo are a couple sharp maiden winners jumping straight to stakes company and I give both a chance to hit the board at long odds.
March 10 features a trio of qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series: San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct.
Bolt d’Oro enters 2018 as the top-ranked horse on the West Coast but is expected to face a stiff challenge in the San Felipe from the Bob Baffert stable. The four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer will choose between heavyweights Solomini and McKinzie (with the other heading to the Rebel) and has several promising types under consideration including Restoring Hope, who exits a convincing maiden tally in early February.
The Gotham will be held at a one-turn mile and Kanthaka looms as a top contender following a convincing win in the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita.
Flameaway and Vino Rosso, first and third in the February 10 Sam F. Davis (G3), are expected back for the Tampa Bay Derby and I’m looking forward to the dirt debut from Grade 2 winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) runner-up Untamed Domain, a son of versatile 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom who shares the same conditioner in Graham Motion.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- GOOD MAGIC: Romped making 2-turn bow in BC Juv; plenty to like, just has to prove it
- SOLOMINI: Expecting more this spring from classy juvenile performer
- BOLT D’ORO: Talented colt broke poorly in multiple starts last year
- AUDIBLE: Florida Derby next for impressive Holy Bull winner
- MCKINZIE: Made it look easy winning Sham; headed to either San Felipe or Rebel
- CATHOLIC BOY: No shame coming back little short in Davis; Florida Derby next
- FREE DROP BILLY: Holy Bull runner-up faces Good Magic in Fountain of Youth
- IMPACT PLAYER: Improved when adding blinkers two back; Tampa Bay Derby?
- VINO ROSSO: Promising type exits fast-closing third in stakes bow
- MY BOY JACK: Rolled home over muddy track in Southwest, could return for Rebel
- TITLE READY: Allowance romper could try stakes company in Rebel
- INSTILLED REGARD: Disappointed by flat performance in penultimate prep
- COMBATANT: Three-time stakes runner-up for Asmussen
- SPORTING CHANCE: Needed Southwest, Rebel holds high importance
- MAGNUM MOON: Unraced juvenile appears to be coming on for Pletcher
- UNTAMED DOMAIN: Switching to main track for Tampa Bay Derby
- JUSTIFY: Exciting debut winner getting started too late for Derby
- STRIKE POWER: Unbeaten colt brings blazing speed to Fountain of Youth stretch out
- BRAVAZO: Risen Star upsetter has enough points to qualify
- MENDELSSOHN: Irish-based colt targeting Churchill Downs