April 18, 2019

Kentucky Derby Report – Wide open with four major preps remaining

Maximum Security scores in the Florida Derby (c) Coglianese Photography/ Leslie Martin

Favorites aren’t winning Kentucky Derby prep races and a former $16,000 claimer, Maximum Security, continued to muddle the picture with a convincing wire-to-wire win in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

Maximum Security brought solid BRIS Speed ratings into his stakes debut and the unbeaten colt wasn’t a big surprise as the 9-2 fourth choice in the wagering. But the same can’t be said for Bodexpress, who finished a clear second at 71-1 odds despite being winless from four previous outings.

Plus Que Parfait, a well-beaten 13th in the February 16 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, added to the mayhem when rebounding in Saturday’s $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2) at Meydan. U.S. shippers had been 0-for-17 in the major qualifier (points on a 100-40-20-10 scale) and Plus Que Parfait outfinished Gray Magician, who was unplaced in a Santa Anita Park allowance two starts back. The top two shipped overseas to gain Kentucky Derby berths.

Up-and-coming types have thrived in the build-up to the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Horses with back class can’t be dismissed, with juvenile Grade 1 winners Game Winner and Improbable remaining prominent, but the first three major qualifiers (Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby and UAE Derby), and 10 of the last 16 races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, have been captured by first-time stakes victors. Four of the last eight winners were making their initial stakes appearance. Favorites have dropped 10 straight, with War of Will being the last short-priced winner in mid-February, and it’s shaping up to be an extremely competitive Run for the Roses on May 4.

The final four major qualifiers will be offered over the two weekends and Game Winner can make a case for Kentucky Derby favoritism by winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1), one of three Saturday along with the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland and Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.

The fourth and final Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) begins this Friday at noon (EDT) and concludes Sunday at 6 p.m. Bettors will take the results of Blue Grass, Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial into account but if you fancy a horse in the April 13 Arkansas Derby (G1), the potential exists for a decent price in the KDFW. Improbable is among those scheduled to compete at Oaklawn Park and I will give serious consideration to Rebel (G2) division winners Long Range Toddy and Omaha Beach in pool 4.

Florida Derby

Three of the last six Kentucky Derby winners captured the Florida Derby and Maximum Security will bring commendable BRIS Speed ratings to Churchill Downs, netting a 102 for a facile 3 1/2-length decision last Saturday. That’s tied for the highest number in this year’s qualifiers. The Gary & Mary West homebred has proven tractable for trainer Jason Servis, rating kindly in a previous start before romping by 6 1/2 lengths, and his other three wins came wire to wire.

Luis Saez hustled his mount from post 7 and Maximum Security easily made a short lead, dictating a slow fractions in :24.42, :48.98 and 1:12.90 while unopposed. He drew off sharply into the stretch and finished fast to complete 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.86, generating an enormous 123 BRIS Late Pace rating after recording the final three-eighths of a mile in 35:96 seconds.

From the second crop of New Year’s Day, who is by Street Cry and never raced again after winning the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Maximum Security made his first appearance in a $16,000 maiden claimer at Gulfstream on December 20 and connections were fortunate not to lose the 9 3/4-length debut winner. He captured his next two starts over starter claiming foes by a combined 24 3/4 lengths and brought the top last-out BRIS Speed rating (100) into the Florida Derby, which represented not only a gigantic class test but the first two-turn attempt for the bay colt.

Maximum Security dismissed any class concerns but the manner of victory does give pause because he’s unlikely to have everything his own way on slow fractions in the Kentucky Derby. I’m less concerned when a front-runner controls a slow pace and finishes fast, with Always Dreaming being a prime example. The 2017 Kentucky Derby winner could have run quicker early when posting a five-length score in his penultimate prep but took advantage of fortuitous circumstances, registering 58 E1 and 54 E2 Pace ratings as he crawled through the opening stages. His 112 Late Pace rating that afternoon came as no surprise.

Horses with an off-the-pace run style are at the mercy of front-runners, making huge Late Pace numbers much more dubious if the tempo is on the slow side. The 129 and 110 Late Pace ratings garnered by Pyro for wins in the 2008 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby behind slow paces didn’t hold up weeks later.

Maximum Security’s pedigree appears well-suited to the 1 1/4-mile trip, with his dam being a half-sister to two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Flat Out, but the three-year-old was born on May 14, 2016. A late foaling date has not proven advantageous, with upset winners Mine That Bird (50-1) and Thunder Gulch (24-1) being the only May foals to win the Kentucky Derby in the last 30+ years. Exterminator, who was born on May 30, 2015, is the latest known foal to win the Kentucky Derby.

Bodexpress did have the second-best last-out Speed rating entering the Florida Derby, earning a 97 for a neck second in a February 16 maiden special weight at seven furlongs, but had never been two turns and acted terribly in the post parade, dumping jockey Nik Juarez as he became agitated by the crowd noise. The Gustavo Delgado-trained colt tracked in second from the start and came under a heavy ride while losing ground on the far turn, but Bodexpress was always safe in second and finished 3 1/4 lengths clear of third on the wire.

He’ll need to be better composed to handle the walk-over, paddock scene and post parade on Kentucky Derby Day and Bodexpress’ female line isn’t encouraging for 1 1/4 miles, with his first dam being by City Zip and the second by Meadowlake.

Fountain of Youth (G2) upsetter Code of Honor wound up a non-threatening third after weaving in and out through the stretch and his BRIS Speed ratings this year (95-95-91) are on the low side. Bourbon War disappointed mightily as the 5-2 second choice, finishing about another length back in fourth. From three starts this year, the Fountain of Youth runner-up has failed to improve upon the 96 BRIS Speed rating registered in his juvenile finale last December.

The bubble burst for Hidden Scroll, who dropped from Kentucky Derby consideration after weakening to sixth as the 9-5 favorite. After recording a spectacular 14-length debut win in late January, the late-starting colt took a step back in a pair of qualifiers.

UAE Derby

Plus Que Parfait was based at Churchill Downs last year and his best showing prior to the UAE Derby came in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) under the Twin Spires, a neck second to Signalman in late November. He opened his sophomore season as the second betting choice in the January 19 Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds and rallied for fifth after a disastrous start, but regressed when beating only one rival without incidence in the aforementioned Risen Star.

Adding blinkers for the about 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby, Plus Que Parfait saved ground until the stretch and rallied late up the inside to deny Gray Magician by three-quarters of a length.

He didn’t appear to beat much but Plus Que Parfait’s improving form and affinity for Churchill offers some appeal. Imperial Racing campaigns the Point of Entry colt and Brendan Walsh trains.

It was a tough beat for supporters of Gray Magician, who appeared to launching a winning move when charging to the fore in the stretch. The son of Greydar recorded his second consecutive runner-up finish for Peter Miller and Gray Magician flattered Preakness-bound Alwaysmining, who defeated him by 4 1/4 lengths in the February 16 Miracle Wood at Laurel Park.

Scully’s Kentucky Derby Top 10

1 OMAHA BEACH: Arkansas Derby next for winner of Rebel 2nd division
2 GAME WINNER: Santa Anita Derby favorite exits nose second to Omaha Beach
3 LONG RANGE TODDY: Arkansas Derby next for winner of Rebel 1st division
4 MAXIMUM SECURITY:  Had everything his own way but still impressed in Florida Derby
5 IMPROBABLE: Seeks to rebound from first loss in Arkansas Derby
6 TACITUS: Will try to back up Tampa Bay Derby upset in Wood Memorial
7 BY MY STANDARDS: Late-developing colt sprung Louisiana Derby upset
8 ANOTHERTWISTAFATE: May need points after just missing in Sunland Derby
9 SPINOFF: Louisiana Derby runner-up could be Pletcher’s best hope
10 CODE OF HONOR: Fountain of Youth winner came up short in Florida Derby