Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Mar. 17, 2022

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March 17th, 2022

Welcome everyone to my State of the Road to the Kentucky Derby column.

First order of business is to come up with a catchier name for the column. But beyond that, with no Derby or Oaks points races this weekend, it seemed like a good time to take a step back and assess where we are as we build up to two of the biggest days of the year with the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby now just over seven weeks away. 

I’ve seen a lot of people, me included, say that this year’s Derby feels kind of wide open right now. I think what we haven’t seen much of is horses dominating and asserting themselves to the top of the class. To be honest, that’s making me like this year’s Derby more and more just cause right now it truly feels like any one of a dozen or more horses have legit shots this year.

Now with the Oaks it feels a little more clear cut at this point doesn’t it? I mean obviously we’ll know much more after Echo Zulu returns next week in the Fair Grounds Oaks, but I think as of now many people would already narrow it down to Echo Zulu and Secret Oath in terms of horses eligible for the Oaks. But with Secret Oath planning an Arkansas Derby try, maybe we’ll see her in the Derby instead.  

One thing that does seem to happen in the 100 point races that are upcoming, is you get a little more convergence of horses coming in for these races. Races like the Blue Grass Stakes or the Wood Memorial tend to draw horses coming in from various locales as opposed to the prep races before them in Kentucky and New York.

Our two points races here in Tampa, the Sam F. Davis and the Tampa Bay Derby, consisted of many of the same top horses with Classic Causeway winning both. His trainer Brian Lynch has indicated he’ll go in the Blue Grass before the Kentucky Derby, and that should prove a much more stern test for him as he’s likely to run into some top competitors who have been running in tough preps in Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, and elsewhere.  

The Florida Derby picture is maybe the one I’m most intrigued by as we’re still just a few weeks out from that race. Clearly it’s been a very productive prep for the Kentucky Derby over the years and with two different winners of the local preps in White Abarrio and Simplification, it doesn’t look to me like there will be a super strong favorite in the Florida Derby. Add into the fact that I think Emmanuel still has some major upside, I think the results of that prep race will go a long way in giving some clarity for the Florida runners going forward to Kentucky. 

Kenny McPeek has proven a key figure in this year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby. Coming into 2022 his stable appeared loaded with horses who had monster 2-year-old seasons and ready to take a big run at the Derby.

Rattle N Roll was coming back off an injury, Tiz the Bomb had been great on grass, Smile Happy ran huge in Kentucky, and Dash Attack won the Smarty Jones on New Years Day. But Rattle N Roll didn’t really fire in the Fountain of Youth and Smile Happy was beaten at Fair Grounds. Both ran fine in their seasonal debuts and could obviously move forward. Plus the goal is to be great on the First Saturday in May, not necessarily in February or March. I still think Kenny is going to have more than one horse in the big race, not sure which one it will be. 

Obviously California has been where several Kentucky Derby winners have come from over time and in recent years. Of the horses currently eligible for the Kentucky Derby, Forbidden Kingdom seemed to take a huge leap to the head of the West Coast class last time out when he crushed his rivals in the San Felipe.

Speed is obviously a weapon in horse racing and he’s got plenty of it. I struggle to think he’ll go out in the Kentucky Derby and just try to run them off their feet early on and be successful doing it, but who knows? Very curious to see him in the Santa Anita Derby if his connections choose to go there before coming to Louisville. 

We could talk about so many other contenders like Morello or Epicenter or 10 others. I think that’s what’s making me more intrigued about this Derby than other years: the fact that right now you truly feel like you could make a case for fifteen horses as opposed to maybe five or six. It’s going to be a fun next seven weeks.