Known Agenda didn’t meet expectations early in the season, but the Curlin colt returned to stakes competition with a convincing 2 3/4-length victory in Saturday’s Florida Derby (G1).
He punched his Kentucky Derby ticket by earning a 100-point prize in the major qualifying race.
His three-year-old season took a detour after a fifth as the favorite in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in early February. The chestnut added blinkers and dropped down into an entry-level allowance three weeks later, recording a confidence-building, 11-length romp at Gulfstream Park, and Known Agenda will head to Churchill Downs on the upswing for two-time Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher.
“He’s made a lot of progress in his last two starts,” Pletcher told the Gulfstream press office. “I think the addition of blinkers has been part of it, and part of it is he’s getting more experienced and more comfortable in those scenarios when he’s behind horses and inside of horses and taking some dirt.”
Along with regaining some lost luster, Known Agenda added to Pletcher’s Florida Derby mark (six wins), and he provided jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. with a record-setting 138th win of the Gulfstream Championship meet.
The Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park has been added as a major qualifier, and Like the King stepped forward with his first stakes win. Sainthood also notched a Kentucky Derby berth on the Tapeta track, and he’s one to follow after a troubled runner-up effort in his stakes debut.
Rebel’s Romance sprung a minor upset for Godolphin in Saturday’s UAE Derby (G2), which offered a combined 170 points to the top four finishers, but the Kentucky Derby may not be in his plans. Godolphin already has a strong stateside contingent, led by unbeaten champion juvenile Essential Quality.
Top contenders will square off this weekend in the Blue Grass S. (G2), Santa Anita Derby (G1), and Wood Memorial S. (G2).
Known Agenda broke his maiden the second-time out at nine furlongs, and the Florida Derby marked his third win at the 1 1/8-mile distance. After failing to make a serious impact in his first two stakes appearances, the St. Elias Stable homebred has been able to race closer to the pace with blinkers, settling in midpack during the early stages.
Known Agenda launched his bid leaving the far turn, rolling into a clear lead by upper stretch, and continued to draw off while drifting in the latter stages. He netted a career-best 101 Brisnet Speed rating.
Soup and Sandwich was no match for Known Agenda, but he easily saved second in his stakes debut. By Into Mischief, the gray colt forged his way to front entering the backside while under a snug hold from John Velazquez, and never quit trying despite racing on the wrong lead through the stretch.
The Mark Casse runner was making only his third start, graduating at first asking in late January and winning a two-turn, entry-level allowance at Tampa Bay Downs a month later. Soup and Sandwich appears to be early in the developmental process, and he’s eligible to add to the early pace in the Kentucky Derby.
Greatest Honour offered a mild bid on the far turn before flattening out in the lane, winding up 5 3/4 lengths back of Known Agenda in third. Winner of the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) and Holy Bull S. (G3), the Tapit colt didn’t experience the best trip, saving ground most of the way, and Shug McGaughey said he may add blinkers for the Kentucky Derby. Jose Ortiz probably will try to keep Greatest Honour outside next time.
Like the King overcame a less-than-favorable trip to post his first stakes victory, rallying to score by a length in the 1 1/8-mile race on Tapeta. A maiden turf winner last September, the Wesley Ward-trained colt has come on since moving to Turfway this winter, recording a pair of comfortable wins and a runner-up in the John Battaglia Memorial S.
His improving form also coincided with a change in run style. Like the King raced more forward earlier in his career, but the son of Creative Cause has learned to make one run, rating in eighth after the opening half-mile of the Jeff Ruby.
An imposing task awaits him in the Kentucky Derby. His 94 Speed rating will be one of the lower last-out numbers in the field, and Like the King didn’t run fast in a pair of dirt starts last year. We’ll be watching to see how the M Racing Group colorbearer trains at Churchill Downs in preparation.
Sainthood is proven on dirt, breaking his maiden two starts back at Fair Grounds. Unraced at age two, the inexperienced colt was poised to make a serious impact before being stopped in the stretch of the Jeff Ruby, closing powerfully for second after regaining his momentum too late.
By Mshawish, Sainthood appears well-suited for longer distances. His Speed numbers must keep improving, and the Kentucky Derby may be too much too soon for the lightly-raced colt, but he remains a promising three-year-old for Pletcher.
Bet down as the 4-1 choice in the fifth and final pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Essential Quality will make his final prep in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. The Brad Cox-trained Tapit colt tops a field of nine that includes Highly Motivated, Keepmeinmind, and Rombauer.
The Santa Anita Derby could also have serious ramifications, and Grade 3 victor Medina Spirit has stepped into the favorite’s role for six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert. He exits a runner-up finish to sidelined Life Is Good in the March 6 San Felipe S. (G2). Dream Shake could not sustain his run in the San Felipe, winding up third, but he’s eligible to keep advancing after making only his second start last time. Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) runner-up Roman Centurian will try to get involved late.
Risk Taking and Weyburn, the respective winners of the Withers S. (G3) and Gotham S. (G3) at Aqueduct, rate as legitimate win contenders in the Wood Memorial, and unbeaten Prevalence will receive plenty of support in his initial stakes appearance.