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It’s officially Derby season, I know some of you reading this believe that derby season starts back in September when the first points are awarded to 2 year olds in the Iroquois at Churchill, but let’s be real. Next weekend the third phase of the ‘new’ Kentucky Derby qualifying races begin. In this set of races 100 points will be awarded to the winners, with 50 points to second, 20 points for third and 10 points for fourth. Meaning that both the winner and the second place finisher from these races alone will have enough points to qualify for the roses in May. And reality is that a horse with a couple of points already can likely finish third and grab enough points to find the starting gate as well.
These fields have yet to become official, but there are some things we can take logical guesses at. With that in mind let’s take a quick look at the potential fields and horses coming through each of the big prep races.
The Florida Derby has produced a number of quality entrants the last few years, Nyquist, Materiality, Constitution and Kentucky Derby Winner Orb. This year the field is looking quite interesting. The top horse to keep an eye on is they current domestic Kentucky Derby points leader GUNNEVERA who is coming off an impressive win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, a quality 2nd place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes and another win back in November in the Delta Downs Jackpot. Of those three races, his 2nd place finish in the Holy Bull into a soft pace and having to check pretty hard around the turn was the most impressive. I would like to see him try to stay a bit closer to the leaders in the Florida Derby, I don’t’ want to see him try to come from too far back again. A new comer to the Derby trail is well bread THIRD DAY who is 2-2 for Todd Pletcher including well ridden win last time out in the Just One More Stakes. This wasn’t an impressive win on paper, but his move coming around the turn to decelerate, move outside and reengage was quite impressive. I am looking forward to seeing this horse around two turns and stretching out again in only three starts. I still haven’t given up hope on THREE RULES who undefeated as he entered the Breeders Cup Juvenile back in November, but hasn’t found the winners circle again. Coming third off the layoff he will need to improve to be a factor here. He found himself on the lead in the Fountain of Youth and looked to pull away for a minute after putting together an impressive 23.4/47.0 splits. He fought on well against Practical Joke who got a perfect stalking trip and the winner Gunnevera who finally got a hot pace to run into and showed his class.
The past four Louisiana Derby winners were all on or near the top of my Derby selections. Revolutionary would go on to round out a nice trifecta behind Orb, International Star wouldn’t run in the Derby due to injury but is still out there running well in graded races and last year’s winner Gun Runner well he just finished second to some horse named Arrogate in Dubai last weekend. But this year’s field just doesn’t seem to have anyone with similar class waiting in the wings. GIRVIN the Risen Star winner was a cashed ticket for me and at a decent price of 6-1, but was unimpressive in his win over what doesn’t look like a quality field. He will likely be the favorite in this one and could be the best horse in this race, but is far from the best horses at this age group in the country. With such a weak field I am interested in the lightly raced PATCH, who is 1-1 winning impressively in a large 14 horse field pulling away from the field of well bred first time starts last time out. This Pletcher trained, Velazquez ridden horse is going to be a decent price in this one and could be the best of the bunch even after only 1 race. He will have to add another turn and stretch out. But we will wait and see.
Forget the derby prep points, this is setting up to be quite a race. I thought ONE LINER’s Southwest win was one of the better of the late 10 point races. He sat just off a solid pace and made a nice move coming out of the turn to run down what look to be quality horses. He is undefeated in three starts and will take another step up in class here against what looks to be shaping up as a nice field in New York. With all of that said there is something strange with the workout pattern here that doesn’t fit and may be a red flag. There are a ton of other horses in here that seem to be on the brink of being a contender as well. CLOUD COMPUTING was a solid runner up against a huge performance by J BOYS ECHO last time out in the Gotham. EL AREEB seemed like the most likely horse to come out of the New York circuit before putting up an absolute dud on a perfect trip in the Gotham. IRISH WAR CRY seemed to bounce hard after what looked like a huge Holy Bull Stakes win to finishing out of the money in the Fountain of Youth. And finally MO TOWN will be coming 2nd off a long layoff, and may have needed the Risen Star to get back on par and has already won around two turns at Aqueduct back in the Remsen.
As you look down the list of past winners it’s hard to get excited about the possibility of the Blue Grass producing a Kentucky Derby contender, but this is shaping up to be a nice little race between a couple of horses coming off impressive performances last time out. TAPWRIT’s performance in the Tampa Bay Derby threw him near the top of my Derby list. I love a horse that can make a strong move through traffic on the turn, in the Derby you have 19 other horses to contend with and already showing the ability to pass and move through traffic while on the turn is huge. J BOYS ECHO looked great in the Gotham but he has to prove what he can do against the next step and he will have the opportunity. McCRAKEN is undefeated including two graded stakes and has already won three times on the Churchill Downs dirt. A solid performance here and he could be the favorite in the Derby. Now you add to this field the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner CLASSIC EMPIRE who made his return and finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes, if he returns to form you could see something here. Another horse that could come out of nowhere is ITS YOUR NICKEL who blew open the field and was very impressive in his Turfway Park stakes race in early March. He is coming off three wins in a row and could be a nice price that most people don’t see coming.
This is an interesting race, we know the names that have come out of this prep in the last few years, but this year may be a bit different. We may know more by the time April 8th comes around in a few weeks, but this isn’t setting up to be the monster field that we have seen in years past. I am excited to see what BATTALION RUNNER can do with the step up for Todd Pletcher. GORMLEY and ILIAD are the only two in the field thus far that have won graded stakes race. ILIAD may be the best in this field now that Mastery has left the road to the roses. While Gormely was simply a no show in the same race without excuse.
Undefeated MALAGACY will likely headline this field and should be the favorite here. Coming off an impressive Rebel Stakes win against what looks to be setting up as a similar field. This field will likely take shape over the next few weeks.