It was a busy weekend on the Kentucky Derby trail, with speed ruling split divisions of the Risen Star (G2), a juvenile stakes winner bouncing back in the Southwest (G3), and Bob Baffert shipping an unsung member of his deep contingent north to capture the El Camino Real Derby.
With no prep races scheduled this coming weekend, it is the only one without a qualifier until the Road to the Kentucky Derby series concludes on April 11. The action will resume with the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 29.
The races did not occur in chronological order, but last weekend marked the conclusion of the Prep Season and the opening of the Championship Series in the points-based system. Azul Coast received 10 points for winning Saturday’s El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, and Silver Prospector added 10 to his ledger for taking Monday’s Southwest at Oaklawn Park, as the 17-point qualifying races (10-4-2-1) wrapped up.
The Championship Series kicked off with Saturday’s Risen Star at Fair Grounds, with each division awarding points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers toward a Kentucky Derby berth.
Mr. Monomoy and Modernist posted front-running wins in the Risen Star, and we’ll start with the faster first division.
A half-brother to 2018 champion 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl, Mr. Monomoy broke on top from post 9 and showed the way on a short lead before catching pressure on the far turn from Blackberry Wine. He turned back the challenge smartly, accelerating clear in upper stretch, and cruised to a 2 1/2-length decision beneath Florent Geroux. The Brad Cox-trained son of Palace Malice registered a 96 Brisnet Speed rating after completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.43, netting a fine 97 Late Pace number as well, and his Speed figures have increased in every start.
He did have everything his own way for the opening three-quarters on a track that produced six front-running winners Saturday. A wire-to-wire maiden scorer at Churchill Downs in his second start, Mr. Monomoy switched to rating tactics in the Jan. 18 Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds two starts later and enjoyed a ground-saving trip in the flight behind early leaders. The bay colt was in position to pounce turning for home, but raced evenly to the wire while finishing a non-threatening third.
I thought the extra sixteenth of a mile in the Risen Star might be an issue, but Mr. Monomoy easily handled the added ground while taking advantage of favorable circumstances. He’s virtually guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate, topping the Leaderboard presently with 52 points, and it will be interesting to see his tactics in the final prep race. There are a number of speedy types aiming for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Enforceable came up short in second, but the late runner recorded another encouraging performance for Mark Casse. Well-beaten in a pair of juvenile stakes appearances, the gray colt improved significantly when opening 2018 with a convincing win in the Lecomte, and he essentially cost himself any chance Saturday when dropping back to last of 11 through the opening quarter-mile.
Instead of biding his time along the backstretch, Enforceable offered an eye-catching move to midpack by start of the far turn. It was a new dimension from the well-bred son of Tapit, and he offered another move in the stretch while rallying well for second, registering a 102 Brisnet Late Pace rating. Enforceable has plenty going for him in my opinion.
Silver State, who went off a slight 3-1 favorite over Enforceable, experienced an improved trip after missing the break in the Lecomte, but came up empty in the final furlongs while saving third. I was expecting better from the Steve Asmussen trainee. Farmington Road rallied belatedly to be fourth in his stakes bow, and it wasn’t a bad effort considering how much work he left himself to do from the back of the pack. He’s eligible to keep moving forward for Todd Pletcher.
Modernist didn’t allow the outside speed to cross over at the start of the second division, hustling forward from his rail post to hold inside positioning while Ny Traffic took a short lead into the first turn, and the front-runners proceeded to duel head-and-head until upper stretch. Modernist finally shook free of his rival, opening up by about two lengths, and held by a length over Major Fed, who got up by a neck for second.
The top two finishers in the second division were exiting convincing maiden wins in their first two-turn start, with Modernist posting a four-length score at Aqueduct on Jan. 25 in his third outing and Major Fed rolling by 4 1/4 lengths at Fair Grounds on Feb. 15.
By Uncle Mo, sire of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Modernist looks like the type who will continue to improve with racing experience. He’s displayed better tactical foot in the last two starts, and the well-bred colt appears in the early stages of his development for Bill Mott. However, Modernist did not finish fast in the Risen Star, notching only an 86 Late Pace figure after completing the final three-eighths more than a second slower than Mr. Monomoy (early fractions nearly identical for both divisions), and his 92 Brisnet Speed rating came back light.
Major Fed, a dark son of Ghostzapper, also needs more from a Speed figure perspective, but it’s easy to appreciate the progress the stalker is making for Greg Foley.
Silver Prospector regained some lost luster winning the Southwest on President’s Day, rebounding from a disappointing fourth in the Jan. 24 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park. Asmussen noted how the gray colt dropped too far back last time, and Silver Prospector settled just behind the front-runners as the field made its way down the backstretch of the 1 1/16-mile Southwest.
Ricardo Santana Jr. angled his mount off the rail entering the stretch, and Silver Prospector wore down pacesetter Wells Bayou to win by a length. There have been some doubts surrounding his propensity for longer distances, but Silver Prospector has shown no limitations so far and is bred for the Derby distance, being by Declaration of War and out of a Tapit mare. He defeated Tiz the Law when taking the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a sloppy track at Churchill in late November.
The competition will get deeper, with Silver Prospector being the lone graded winner in the nine-horse Southwest field, and I would like to see his Speed numbers continue to rise after generating a career-best 96 figure. The Southwest marked his eighth career start, and with possible preps remaining in the March 14 Rebel (G2) and April 11 Arkansas Derby (G1), Silver Prospector will have an experience edge if he makes the Kentucky Derby field. In 2019, a quintet of horses were making only their fifth career start in the Kentucky Derby.
Wells Bayou showed speed from his innermost post and dug in determinedly when challenged in midstretch, grudgingly giving way while finishing 5 1/2 lengths clear of Answer In in third. From the same female family of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, the son of Lookin at Lucky delivered a commendable performance in his stakes debut, and he’s come on for Cox since stretching out to two turns this year. Wells Bayou will look to keep improving when settling just off the early speed in upcoming starts.
The El Camino Real Derby appeared wide-open turning for home, with horses spread out in a threatening position, and Azul Coast proved best in the latter stages, edging away to a 1 1/4-length decision over the Tapeta synthetic track. A four-length winner at Los Alamitos when making his first start in early December, the son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner followed with a non-threatening second to stablemate Authentic in Jan. 4 Sham (G3) at Santa Anita.
Now 2-for-3, Azul Coast handled the stretch out to nine furlongs and picked up seasoning, but the El Camino Real Derby tells us little about his Kentucky Derby potential. We’ll get a better gauge when he returns to dirt for the next prep.
Five-time Kentucky Derby winner Baffert is loaded this year. His other Derby contenders include Nadal, the favorite in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager; unbeaten Robert B. Lewis (G3) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Thousand Words; 2-for-2 Authentic; impressive maiden winner Charlatan; and Lewis third-placer High Velocity.
Based on Brisnet Speed ratings, two of the three fastest maiden races for 3-year-olds in 2020 took place last weekend, with Charlatan and Attachment Rate each receiving a 101 Brisnet Speed rating for convincing wins at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, respectively.
Charlatan crushed foes under a hand ride on Feb. 16, striding away to a 5 3/4-length decision in the 6 1/2-furlong maiden while making his first career appearance for Baffert. He wasn’t pulling in the early stages beneath Drayden Van Dyke, and Charlatan ran seven points faster than Nadal’s debut win on Jan. 19. Justify received a 100 Brisnet Speed rating when making his first start for Baffert on Feb. 18, 2018.
Sire Speightstown isn’t known for producing Kentucky Derby contenders, but Charlatan is eligible to receive stamina from his female family. His dam, the Quiet American mare Authencity, was a classy performer at two turns, and Charlatan is half-brother to turf stakes-winning router Hanalei Moon. The exciting chestnut could head straight to a qualifier.
Attachment Rate won going away by 6 1/4 lengths over a sloppy track in his third career start on Feb. 15, but he took advantage of a blazing early pace established by a 99-1 longshot who retreated to last before the end of the far turn in the one-turn mile maiden race. A Dale Romans-trained son of Hard Spun, sire of Hidden Scroll, who romped over a sloppy Gulfstream track last year before faltering in a couple of Derby qualifiers, Attachment Rate switched to wrong lead in deep stretch while drawing off. He flattered Market Analysis, who edged Attachment Rate by less than a length when making his career debut for Todd Pletcher on Jan. 25.
Spa City owns the top Speed figure from a 3-year-old maiden race this year, with the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense posting a 103 for a one-length triumph in a 1 1/8-mile test at Gulfstream on Feb. 8.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
1 Tiz the Law: His 108 Speed fig for the Holy Bull stands out
2 Thousand Words: Remained unbeaten winning the Lewis
3 Maxfield: Returned to the worktab with a 3f breeze over the weekend
4 Enforceable: Liked his runner-up effort in Risen Star first division
5 Dennis’ Moment: Opens 3yo campaign in Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth
6 Nadal: Well-regarded Baffert pupil to try two turns in March 14 Rebel
7 Sole Volante: Unbeaten on turf, he joined Derby picture with Sam Davis upset
8 Wells Bayou: He’s run two big races for Cox since stretching out to two turns
9 Mr. Monomoy: Comfortable winner of the tougher Risen Star first division
10 Ete Indien: Holy Bull runner-up has relished the switch from turf to dirt
I will preview the Fountain of Youth next week.