The Road to the Kentucky Derby series hasn’t featured much star power since the beginning of the New Year but it’s still early in the process. Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds marks the beginning of the Championship Series, with 16 races offering increased point values toward a berth in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, and the 1 1/16-mile event attracted an overflow field of 15.
Last weekend’s Sam F. Davis (G3) featured a runaway wire-to-wire win from Well Defined, who was overlooked at 7-1 odds following a pair of unplaced finishes in the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs. The Kathleen O’Connell-trained gelding has run two big races on the lead, posting a 7 1/2-length triumph in the In Reality division of the Florida Sire series, but disappointed mightily when failing to reach the fore early.
Well Defined was bet down as the 9-1 fourth choice in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after registering a 103 BRIS Speed rating in his two-turn debut, the aforementioned In Reality in late September, but retreated to 12th after failing to break alertly. The Florida-bred finished a dozen lengths back in the Mucho Macho Man at a one-turn mile but rebounded stylishly in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis, accelerating into the stretch with a widening advantage.
Pablo Morales sent the Stonehedge LLC colorbearer from post 8 and Well Defined had cleared the field by the first turn, showing the way on an unopposed lead throughout. The dark bay registered a solid 99 BRIS Speed rating as well as 103 Late Pace number.
By With Distinction, Well Defined is out of an unraced Medaglia d’Oro mare but his second dam, the stakes-winning Phone Trick mare Lolabell, offers no encouragement for classic distances. He’s proven to be a hard-hitting gelding when he makes the front but will continued to be tested by class and distance.
Runner-up Kentucky Wildcat was unfortunately vanned off with a leg injury that forces him off the Triple Crown trail. It was a long way back (8 3/4 lengths) to third-placer So Alive, who was exiting a two-turn entry-level allowance at Tampa in early January but never got involved after dropping back to last in the early stages.
Other three-year-olds of interest
We’ll continue to keep tabs on the three-year-old maiden and allowance ranks this winter. Here are some three-year-old performers from last week who appear headed to a Kentucky Derby qualifier:
Sparky Ville rallied to beat Dessman in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2), getting up by a nose at Santa Anita on February 10. Trainer Jeff Bonde conceded the winner was probably better at distances from seven furlongs to a mile but Dessman will head to a qualifier for five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert.
Dessman rushed forward after breaking poorly and established a stalking position on the outside. The bay colt launched his move midway on the far turn and surged into the stretch with a clear lead, but he could not withstand a more experienced rival. Dessman dug in when confronted in deep stretch and finished gamely to just miss. After registering an 87 BRIS Speed figure for an easy debut maiden win in mid-February, Dessman netted a career-best 98 Speed. The $750,000 son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags is campaigned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum and Dessman hails from the Trippi mare Frolic’s Appeal, a half-sister to Smok’n Frolic, a multiple Grade 2 winner at distances up to nine furlongs.
Global Campaign won under wraps as Luis Saez geared down his mount in the latter stages of an entry-level allowance victory on February 9. But difficult to be enthused after watching an sizable advantage in deep stretch quickly diminish to 2 1/2 lengths on the wire. The short stretch at the 1 1/16-mile distance proved fortuitous as the 3-5 favorite suddenly appeared out of gas, completing the final five-sixteenths in :32.06, and Global Campaign’s BRIS Speed ratings dropped four points to a 92 from a superb front-running debut win at seven furlongs. Stanley Hough conditions for Sagamore Farm and WinStar Farm and the Curlin colt figured to relish two-turn distances with his pedigree, but it didn’t come easy here.
Standard Deviation appeared well-beaten leaving the far turn but gobbled up ground to finish a respectable second. Third in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, the Chad Brown-trained colt was making his first appearance since a last-place effort as the 8-1 third choice in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I liked how he showed improved tactical speed after performing like a one-run closer last year and Standard Deviation earned a career-best 95 Late Pace rating. The son of Curlin has some appeal going forward.
Growth Engine broke his maiden when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in his second start on February 10, stalking a moderate pace beneath Javier Castellano and offering a four-wide move on far turn to take short lead. After repelling a bid from runner-up Thetrashmanscoming, Growth Engine won comfortably by 2 1/2 lengths. Thetrashmanscoming has now finished second in two straight maiden special weights for Charles Dickey after recording four consecutive thirds. Chad Brown trains Growth Engine, a $300,000 yearling purchase for Klaravich Stables, and the son of Tapit had been gelded by his January 5 career opener, rallying to be a good second to Global Campaign at seven furlongs. Growth Engine paired up the 88 BRIS Speed rating from the first start and has upside in my estimation. He’s a half-brother to Grade 1 victor Pyro and a full-brother to the Grade 3-winnng filly War Echo.
Unraced since a fifth in the Tremont on Belmont Stakes week, Outshine came back in a seven-furlong entry-level allowance on February 10 and got shuffled back early. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt advanced while wide to challenge on the far turn and reeled in 39-1 outsider Admiral Lynch after straightening into the stretch. That rival drifted out, forcing The Right Path to check between horses in midstretch, and wound up being disqualified from second to third. Outgained posted a 94 BRIS Speed rating for the two-length decision and the $625,000 son of Malibu Moon will likely stretch out next time for owners Let’s Go Stable and Richard Shibell. He’s bred for added ground but will have to prove it.
The Right Path was rank in traffic prior to the stretch incident and raced in spots for Castellano before finishing with good energy. The Jorge Duarte-trained colt was exiting a six-furlong debut win at Aqueduct in early November and still has plenty to gain from a mental standpoint, but I came away intrigued by the son of Quality Road. Out a Bernardini mare, The Right Path is from the female family of Johannesburg and Tale of the Cat.
Solid rebound performance from Dream Maker, who recorded a sharp debut win at Churchill Downs last June but lacked the same turn of foot when following with unplaced efforts in the Hopeful (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1). He benefited from the time off, returning with an 8 1/2-length score over entry-level allowance foes at Fair Grounds on February 9, and was visually impressive in the comebacker. Florent Geroux always appeared to have plenty of horse while traveling well off the rail through most of the 1 1/16-mile race, advancing to even terms by the completion of the far turn and drawing away willingly into the stretch, and Dream Maker continued to extend his advantage while being urged in the final furlong. He earned a 91 BRIS Speed rating and let’s see if the Tapit colt can show up with mental fortitude against stakes rivals next time; he certainly stamped himself as a candidate for further improvement. Mark Casse trains the John Oxley homebred and Dream Maker counts 1999 champion older mare Beautiful Pleasure as his second maternal dam.
Market King showed little when opening the year in a six-furlong sprint at Oaklawn Park but came back 14 days later to graduate on February 9, stretching out to two turns (1 1/16 miles) in his fifth career start. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee broke on top but had settled just off the lead by the backstretch and Market King stayed inside under Jon Court, advancing to challenge along the far turn and driving clear into the stretch. Didn’t finish fast netting an 84 Speed rating (79 Late Pace) but at least turned his form around for a 14-time Triple Crown race-winning conditioner. Robert Baker and William Mack paid $550,000 for the son of Into Mischief and the bay colt hails from a classy turf family: Market King’s dam, an A.P. Indy mare, is out of European champion Divine Proportions, and Kingmambo and Sadler’s Wells figure prominently in the female line.
The Risen Star will be an important prep for War of Will, who stamped himself as an exciting prospect winning the January 19 Lecomte (G3) with authority in his first fast track attempt. A Grade 1 runner-up on turf, the War Front colt has won two straight since switching to the main track in his juvenile finale.
Last year, Instilled Regard shipped in to record his first stakes victory in the Lecomte but failed to keep moving forward in the Risen Star with a fourth-place effort as the 7-5 favorite. I’m expecting better from War of Will, who appeared to win with plenty in reserve last time and has Mark Casse bullish on his talent.
Country House is listed at 20-1 on the morning line but the Gulfstream Park maiden winner may wind up being the second choice in the wagering. The Bill Mott-trained colt overcame a disastrous start to win powerfully from off the pace by a 3 1/2-length margin and Luis Saez will be in to ride the chestnut son of Lookin at Lucky.
Owendale took a step forward for Brad Cox last time, registering a 96 BRIS Speed for a commendable score over allowance foes at Fair Grounds, and the Into Mischief colt merits respect in his initial stakes attempt. Frolic More, who finished second to Owendale for Dallas Stewart, is another possible up-and-comer trying the stakes ranks.
A pair of additional scoring races will be offered during the Holiday Weekend: $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday and $500,000 Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park on Monday’s Presidents Day program.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
1. GAME WINNER: Unbeaten 2yo champ targeting March 9 San Felipe for Baffert
2. IMPROBABLE: Baffert is loaded & unbeaten G1 winner likely headed to Oaklawn for Rebel
3. WAR OF WILL: Brings lofty expectations into Saturday’s Risen Star
4. HIDDEN SCROLL: Fountain of Youth next for smashing first-out winner
5. VEKOMA: Unbeaten juvenile stakes winner scheduled to return in Fountain of Youth
6. COUNTRY HOUSE: Gulfstream maiden winner tries stakes foes in Risen Star
7. OWENDALE: Cox sending sharp allowance scorer to Risen Star
8. BOURBON WAR: Tapit colt exits convincing allowance tally at Gulfstream
9. SOLDADO: Rallied to win debut going away for Pletcher
10. GUNMETAL GRAY: G3 winner packs a late punch