October 26, 2020

Ten not too early Kentucky Derby contenders — Part 1

Green Light Go winning the Saratoga Special (G2) (c) Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography

by JOE KRISTUFEK

When Dennis’ Moment crossed the finish line first in the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs on September 14, the Road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby series was officially underway. A total of 35 qualifiers will be offered in the American schedule leading up to Run for the Roses on Saturday, May 2.

Some young horses are precocious and others need time to develop both physically and mentally. The next six months will separate the contenders from the pretenders, and Top 10 lists will be turned upside down and inside out along the way.

With the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) looming on Future Stars Friday, November 1 at Santa Anita, let’s take a closer look at some exciting Kentucky Derby prospects to keep an eye on in the months ahead.

Here is Part 1 of my Top 10 list, Part 2 will be published Friday:

#6 — SCABBARD

Trainer: Eddie Kenneally
Sales/History: Joseph W. Sutton homebred

Credentials: The artist formerly known as Noose was one of the most visually impressive maiden winners during the Spring Meet at Churchill and followed up with a legit second in the Saratoga Special (G2). Stretched out to two turns in the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, Scabbard arguably ran his best race to date. He was caught up in traffic on the turn for home and closed with authority once free, finishing a better-than-it-looks second behind Dennis’ Moment. Scabbard’s 96 BRIS Speed figure and 97 Late Pace number were career highs and point him in the right direction for future routes. Trainer Eddie Kenneally has yet to start a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

Pedigree: By More Than Ready, fourth foal out of the Gone West mare Cowgirl Mally. The best of his siblings is the sprinter Chaps ($148K), also by More Than Ready. The dam raced only four times but was graded stakes placed as a 2-year-old. The pedigree isn’t overflowing with quality and it does tilt towards sprinting.

Crystal Ball: Mixed signals here. He’s done nothing wrong in three starts and his run in the two-turn Iroquois last time out was inspiring. That being said, the pedigree isn’t great and it isn’t overloaded with stamina influences. Time will tell.

#7 – THREE TECHNIQUE

Trainer: Jeremiah Englehart
Sales/History: $50,000 2017 Keeneland November weanling; $180,000 2018 Fasig-Tipton July yearling

Credentials: He only has a maiden win on the resume from three career starts, but it was the way he won that got my attention. Slow early in his most recent start at Saratoga, he flew home late and earned a 101 BRIS Late Pace rating in the process. Three Technique has yet to compete past seven furlongs, so the first two-turn test will tell us a lot, and trainer Jeremiah Englehart has yet to start a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

Pedigree: By the first crop sire Mr Speaker, Three Technique is the seventh foal out of the Harlan’s Holiday mare Nite in Rome. Mr Speaker was a four-time graded stakes winner on turf and ran on dirt on twice in an 18-race career, finishing seventh in the Holy Bull (G2) and fifth in the Travers (G1). By Pulpit, Three Technique’s second dam is the legendary Personal Ensign, so there are plenty of dirt and stamina influences in the pedigree. This colt’s most talented sibling to date is the graded stakes-placed router Stan the Man ($331K). His lightly raced dam was graded stakes-placed on turf, and she is a half to Dance Engagement ($231K), who was very effective over a route of ground (AWD 8.6).

Crystal Ball: This is a total upside play. While Three Technique has yet to race around two turns and his first crop sire made his career on turf, I liked his maiden win visually and am very intrigued moving forward.

#8 – GREEN LIGHT GO

Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens
Sales/History: Stronach/Adena homebred

Credentials: After battling and then drawing off in career debut, Green Light Go followed up with an authoritative stalk-and-pounce victory in the Saratoga Special (G2). He came back two months later in the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park over a one-turn mile, battling the early pace before proving no match for Tiz the Law late. To his credit, Green Light Go did hang on for second. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens finished fourth with his only previous Kentucky Derby starter, Wicked Strong in 2014.

Pedigree: By Hard Spun, Green Light Go is the sixth foal and only second to race out of the Pleasantly Perfect mare Light Green. His dam was a minor stakes-winning dirt sprinter ($167K) who would run only seven times. Half-brother Run The Light (by Tobasco Cat) was stakes-placed and a nine-furlong turf specialist. There is additional stamina one generation back in the bloodlines.

Crystal Ball: Tough to argue with his resume, but what will be Green Light Go’s best game moving forward? Dirt, turf, route, sprint or all of the above?

#9 – GOUVERNEUR MORRIS

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Sales/History: $200,000 2018 Keeneland September yearling; $600,000 2019 Fasig-Tipton Florida March two-year-old

Credentials: After splashing home for fun over Saratoga slop at first asking, Gouverneur Morris followed with a respectable second to Maxfield in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. Todd Pletcher has run more horses in the Kentucky Derby than any other trainer (54-2-2-4), winning twice, most recently with Always Dreaming (2017).

Pedigree: By dynamic first crop sire Constitution, Gouverneur Morris is the second foal out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Addison Run. His half-brother, Final Jeopardy ($198K), was second in the Dwyer (G3) at age three. The dam won twice from just six starts ($78K) and the immediate family is just average, but go back another generation and you’ll find Grade 2 winner Fast Cookie ($557K), dam of Frosted and champion Midshipman ($1.5 million in just six starts) among others.

Crystal Ball: Based on just two races, connections and pedigree, reasons exist to like Gouverneur Morris, but he still has a lot more to prove. No match for Maxfield in the Breeders’ Futurity, he still has a long time between now and the first Saturday in May and the potential for further development.

#10 – AJAAWEED

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Sales/History: Shadwell homebred

Credentials: An even fifth in debut sprinting, Ajaaweed overcame traffic trouble to break his maiden going away over a one-turn mile. He only managed to pass tired horses in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), but the short stretch didn’t do him any favors. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is winless from eight Kentucky Derby starters (8-0-1-0).

Pedigree: By Curlin and the third foal out of the Daaher mare Asiya. The dam was stakes-placed and earned $136K from just seven starts. There is a little more quality another generation back.

Crystal Ball: I like the way Ajaaweed finished in the maiden breaker. Expected a little more in the Breeders’ Futurity, but he’s lightly raced by Curlin and has some upside.