May 18, 2024

Derby spot on line for Hades in Lexington; Grade 1 talent runs deep in Jenny Wiley

Hades wins the Holy Bull (Photo by Coglianes Photography / Credit to Lauren King)

The 2024 Road to the Kentucky Derby series comes to an end Saturday when Keeneland hosts the $400,000 Lexington (G3). However, among the field of 10, only Hades would benefit from the 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the Lexington winner.

Upset winner of the Holy Bull (G3) over likely Derby favorite Fierceness in early February, Hades was lackluster when facing that rival again in the March 30 Florida Derby (G1). While Fierceness was winning by a record margin of 13 1/4 lengths, Hades was losing for the first time in his career, crossing the wire fifth nearly 20 lengths behind.

After failing to show the early foot displayed in his two starts before the Florida Derby, Hades will be equipped for the 1 1/16-mile Lexington, which will offer a total Derby point distribution of 20-10-6-4-2 to the respective top five finishers.

Even with a victory in the Lexington, Liberal Arts would just miss making the Derby cut as the leaderboard now stands. However, it would put him close to enough to get in, provided there were some defections in the coming weeks. The son of Arrogate has run his better races on off tracks, though, and proved difficult to handle at times when finishing in midpack in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

The Lexington has proven more of a Preakness (G1) prep in recent years, which might prove a viable target for some of the others were they to win on Saturday. Among this group is multiple stakes winner The Wine Steward, a half-length second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) when last seen in October.

Other notables include Lucky Jeremy, third in the Sunland Derby (G3) to subsequent Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Stronghold in mid-February; John Battaglia Memorial hero Encino, who will be testing dirt for the first time in the Lexington; and Dilger, who jumped up to win a one-mile maiden at Gulfstream last month in his fourth career start.

An outstanding field of older fillies and mares competes in the $600,000 Jenny Wiley (G1) earlier in the card. The 1 1/16-mile grass fixture drew 10 entries, including Matriarch (G1) heroine Surge Capacity; Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G2) winner Didia; Gina Romantica, a multiple Grade 1 winner over the Keeneland turf in recent seasons; and the promising Godolphin homebred English Rose, who scored her third win in four starts in the Balanchine (G2) at Meydan last out.

Leading contenders in the $300,000 Giant’s Causeway S., a 5 1/2-furlong turf dash for fillies and mares, include Love Reigns, Roses for Debra, Elm Drive, Secret Music, Play the Music, and Oeuvre.