February 2, 2023

Kentucky Derby Report: Final prep races underway

Athentic held off the late challenge of Ny Traffic in the Haskell (Ryan Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)

The Kentucky Derby is five weeks from Saturday and the final round of prep races have begun, with the July 18 Haskell (G1) producing three expected contestants. Major contenders will be in action over the next two weekends in the Shared Belief S. at Del Mar (Aug. 1), Travers (G1) at Saratoga (Aug. 8), and Ellis Park Derby (Aug. 9).

Haskell winner Authentic, who held on by a nose at Monmouth Park, will carry his speed as far as he can on Derby Day. Runner-up Ny Traffic is also ticketed for Churchill Downs, and Dr Post is eligible to receive a more favorable setup after a non-threatening third.

The defection of expected Haskell starter Ete Indien, who trainer Patrick Biancone still hopes to run in the Kentucky Derby after a minor setback, left Authentic as the controlling speed in the 1 1/8-mile race, and the classy Bob Baffert trainee dictated moderate fractions (:23.80, :47.52, and 1:11.50) on about a one-length lead before drawing off in upper stretch. Authentic reached the eighth pole with a 2 1/2-length advantage, appearing well on his way to comfortable victory, but circumstances changed in deep stretch.

Ny Traffic, who was prompted to stay in range of the pacesetter during the opening stages and appeared all-in turning for home, suddenly began to make serious headway in the final sixteenth of a mile as Authentic’s stride shortened. The wire came just in time for Authentic, but the outcome left doubts surrounding his ability to negotiate 1 1/4 miles effectively in the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert, a five-time Kentucky Derby winner, said Authentic lost focus and began to idle in the latter stages. And while the theory can’t be completely discounted, it’s fair to point out that Authentic showed signs of immaturity but still easily won his first three starts at shorter distances by open lengths. When the Into Mischief colt stretched out to 1 1/8 miles, Authentic lost ground to rivals in deep stretch of his last two outings.

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Honor A. P.
Honor A.P. winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1) (Benoit Photo)

Honor A. P., who exits a 2 3/4-length score over Authentic in the June 6 Santa Anita Derby (G1), headlines a short field in Saturday’s Shared Belief. Conditioned by John Shirreffs, who trained 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, Honor A. P. broke his maiden when stretching out to two turns last October. The son of Honor Code returned from a five-month layoff with a runner-up effort in the San Felipe (G2) in early March, and Honor A. P. will make his third start of the year while cutting back to 1 1/16 miles in the Shared Belief.

Six were entered, but the Baffert-trained Uncle Chuck is expected to scratch in favor of the Travers a week later. The Hall of Famer still has Cezanne, who will make his stakes debut after maiden special weight and entry-level allowance wins, and last-out Los Alamitos Derby (G3) runner-up Thousand Words in the line-up.

The Travers is shaping up to be dynamite affair with Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law the main draw. Favored among individual interests in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager way back in November, the Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz the Law has maintained his status while easily winning three starts this season.

Uncle Chuck, who improved to 2-for-2 with a four-length score in the Los Alamitos Derby, will try to give Baffert a fourth Travers victory. Country Grammer, Caracaro, and Mystic Guide, the top three finishers in the July 16 Peter Pan (G3) at Saratoga, are all expected back for the 1 1/4-mile event. Indiana Derby (G3) winner Shared Sense and Belmont Stakes third-placer Max Player may add further depth.

Extended from a mile to 1 1/8 miles this year, the Ellis Park Derby will feature Art Collector, who rolled to a 3 1/2-length decision when making his first dirt stakes appearance in the July 11 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. He’s improved significantly in recent months for Tommy Drury Jr.

The next couple of weekends promise to be interesting and educational.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. TIZ THE LAW: Divisional leader to make final prep in 1 1/4-mile Travers

2. ART COLLECTOR: Confirmed himself as top contender in Blue Grass; final prep at the Pea Patch

3. HONOR A. P.: Has raced sparingly but looks like the real deal; Shared Belief may tell us more

4. UNCLE CHUCK: Travers a big deal for brilliant, lightly-raced colt

5. DR POST: Haskell effort uninspiring, but late runner to receive different setup at Churchill

6. COUNTRY GRAMMER: Peter Pan winner on the upswing for Chad Brown

7. AUTHENTIC: Talented colt, but pace scenario & distance may work against him on Derby Day

8. SHARED SENSE: Sneaky with improving form, final prep to represent class check

9. NY TRAFFIC: Easy to dismiss earlier this year, New York-bred making positive strides

10. SWISS SKYDIVER: Not counting Blue Grass runner-up out of Derby discussion