Hanson: Thoughts on the Kentucky Derby Top 25
The 2019 Road to the Kentucky Derby series is now complete and the field is somewhat set. Now comes the wait for final works and possible defections, among other things. Here are general thoughts on each of the Top 25 point qualifiers.
Has lived up to his regal pedigree with back-to-back wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2), the latter a roughly-run affair which may serve him well in a congested field of 20 at Churchill. Juddmonte Farm and Bill Mott overdue for Kentucky Derby success for as much as they've put into the game.
Although subject to change, currently #1 on my personal Top 10 list following his win in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Far from a standout in this spot, but appreciate ability to make his own luck by finding favorable position early in a race and talent at turning back stretch challenges. Like Tacitus, owner-trainer (Rick Porter and Richard Mandella) well deserving of a chance to be in the Derby winner's circle.
A proven winner though not really battle-tested enough in the Blue Grass (G2) on a day when being on or near the lead was highly favorable. Blue Grass also emphasized his strange way of running. Looks a cut below the top players.
Plus Que Parfait
Success in the UAE Derby (G2), a race no Kentucky Derby winner has ever prepped in, hardly erases disappointing runs in the Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3). One of those I'm willing to let beat me.
Earned belated revenge on stablemate Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) after being dealt a loss by that one when favored in last fall's Del Mar Futurity (G1). Patience being rewarded after giving this colt time to recoup from throat surgery. Still plenty of room for improvement.
By My Standards
Certainly blossoming at the right time for trainer Bret Calhoun, whose optimism was rewarded with a 22-1 upset in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Fair Grounds' signature event historically hasn't been the most productive Kentucky Derby prep, but price will be right for those thinking recent trends in that regard can be bucked.
Underestimated by his own connections given career started in a $16,000 maiden claimer followed by two starter allowance appearances. After dominating those three, was left alone on the lead in the Florida Derby (G1). Clearly one of the fastest individuals in the field, but would be surprised if he got that same trip at Churchill.
Reigning juvenile champion has narrowly lost his two prep runs this year while getting less favorable trips than Omaha Beach and Roadster, respectively. Would still like to have seen evidence of a real step forward off his two-year-old form. At this point, inclined to try and beat him if he's first or second choice in the wagering.
Code of Honor
Had plenty of pace to run at to succeed in the Fountain of Youth (G2), far less when a well-beaten third in the Florida Derby. Will Farish winning a Derby 47 years after his only classic win in the Preakness (G1) would be very popular in local circles and beyond, but trip-dependent colt will need help.
Did not experience the trouble others did in the Wood Memorial, yet still finished four lengths third after dropping back 14 lengths off the pace. Has talent, but has the look of being more effective around one turn than two.
Unruly prior to the start of the Arkansas Derby and broke from a less favorable part of the track before getting out into the open down the backside. Seemingly did not care for the sloppy track either, but might very well have been rebuffed by Omaha Beach on a fast track as well. I like him, but below Omaha Beach at present.
War of Will
Talented colt with impressive cruising speed had little real opposition in the Lecomte and Risen Star, then unluckily injured himself leaving the gate in the Louisiana Derby in which he was heavily favored. Any hiccup of that sort, even six weeks before the Derby, is something you don't like to see. Would need a career effort to bounce back.
Long Range Toddy
Perhaps didn't fancy wet conditions in the Arkansas Derby when a well-beaten sixth. Didn't need a huge effort as he had already cemented a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate when edging Improbable in a Rebel (G2) division, but still would have preferred something more aesthetically appealing. Suspicions remain about his relative class.
Easily one of the best claims of recent years with a victory in the Withers (G3) and placings in the Wood Memorial and Remsen (G2) after being haltered for $50,000 last fall. Enjoyed a decent trip in the Wood after some early trouble and was simply second best to Tacitus. Hard-trier looks like a longshot to use in the lower rungs of the exotics.
Just lasted in a swiftly-run Sunland Park Derby (G3), but previously showed not to be first team among Pletcher-trained three-year-olds. Doubt a 10th furlong is what he really wants.
Win Win Win
Placed in both the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass but no significant win threat either time, even when considering some of the trouble in running at Keeneland. Not fast enough at present.
Show some immaturity when second in the Risen Star, closers like him were not all that effective in the Louisiana Derby, and never threatened Omaha Beach and Improbable in the Arkansas Derby while getting himself qualified. Mott's best chance in this race is obviously with Tacitus.
Like Plus Que Parfait, qualified in the UAE Derby after displaying inferior form in prior U.S. preps. Would be a big surprise.
Lightly-raced son of 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun was a solid second in the Louisiana Derby in his two-turn stakes debut for Todd Pletcher, but as mentioned earlier the infrequency at which the Fair Grounds feature has a bearing on the Kentucky Derby result is a slight concern. Eligible to improve, though, and he'll be a price.
The Japanese entry in this year's Derby would be a monster surprise given he can't be considered the leading dirt-based three-year-old in his own country.
Chased Maximum Security all the way around the track in the Florida Derby, which was run at a slow tempo early. Perhaps better than your average maiden contender in this race if he gets to run, and Dad ran second here in 2012. However, no one of his ilk has worn the roses since Broker's Tip in 1933.
Likes Churchill Downs well enough with a third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) to his credit, but has yet to produce a breakout performance. Looks too slow to be considered a win contender, though a possible Superfecta kicker if he gets to run.
Needed a victory in the Lexington (G3) to assure his participation in the Kentucky Derby, but fell short of that goal. Waters will be much deeper if he lucks into running with the help of several defections.
Consistent check-getter placed in all four Derby preps he tried this year, albeit most were weaker tune-ups. Not classy enough.
Was expected to secure enough qualifying points in the Florida Derby when well-backed, but hindered by the slow pace set by Maximum Security. Connections reportedly philosophical that he didn't come to hand early enough to make noise on the first Saturday in May. A potentially competitive colt for the summer, though.
Tacitus photo (c) SV Photography