Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 -- 1/22/18

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January 22nd, 2018

On a quiet weekend without any official Kentucky Derby prep races, the biggest news came from Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, where the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Good Magic made his much-anticipated return to the work tab.

The son of Curlin went three furlongs in a bullet :36.95 as he prepares for an undetermined seasonal debut expected to come in early March. It was a solid first work for the year, but it’s the underlying ideas behind the workout that have me particularly excited.

You have to love the way trainer Chad Brown is preparing Good Magic for the Kentucky Derby. He doesn’t need to find out if Good Magic can compete at this level, because the colt’s decisive victory in the Breeders’ Cup has already shown he has the talent to be a factor against the best horses of his generation. Therefore, Brown is taking a patient approach, saving Good Magic for later in the winter while planning to run the colt in just two prep races before the first Saturday in May.

Although Brown has not yet won a Kentucky Derby, this isn’t the first time that he has taken a conservative approach with a promising Derby horses, and his previous results have been impressive. Think back to Normandy Invasion, runner-up in the 2012 Remsen Stakes (gr. II), and Practical Joke, winner of the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) and Champagne Stakes (gr. I) in 2016. Brown trained both of these colts and gave them time off over the winter before gearing them up to run in two prep races apiece before their respective Kentucky Derbies. Normandy Invasion ran fifth in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and second in the Wood Memorial (gr. I); Practical Joke was second in both the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II).

But these defeats were of secondary importance since the Derby was the goal and Brown was using the winter prep races as, well, prep races in the truest sense of the word. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Normandy Invasion and Practical Joke were both milers at heart and stood little chance of seeing out the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby, but Brown had them ready to run the races of their lives at Churchill Downs. Case in point: Normandy Invasion led past the eighth pole and finished a strong fourth, while Practical Joke significantly outran his odds and finished fifth.

It’s also worth noting that eight of the last eleven Derby winners (Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird, Super Saver, Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah, and Nyquist) ran in just two prep races before their respective Derby victories, so the “third off the layoff” angle that Brown will be employing with Good Magic has proven highly successful in recent years.

For these reasons, Good Magic remains on top of my Kentucky Derby Top 10 rankings. Here’s how my list looks at the moment….
No definite comeback race has been announced, but the March 3rd Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park is a logical spot, giving him time for six weekly workouts beforehand.
Returned to the work tab with an easy half-mile in :49 flat on January 21st at Santa Anita. He has plenty of options for his next start, including the March 10th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita and the March 17th Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park.
He’s been galloping at Santa Anita and is expected to return to the work tab this weekend.
He’s among the most expensive horses on the Derby trail, having sold for $1.05 million as a two-year-old in training. His pedigree is an interesting blend of dirt, turf, speed, and stamina, with a bit of late-maturing blood thrown in as well.
Coming down with a fever has set him back a little and he hasn’t posted a timed workout yet this year; hopefully we’ll see him back on the work tab soon.
Breezed a half-mile in :49.75 on January 20th at Palm Meadows. As with Good Magic, plans for this Chad Brown-trained colt are still up in the air, though it seems unlikely that Mask and Good Magic will square off in the Fountain of Youth Stakes with so many Derby qualification points on the line.
Breezed a bullet half-mile in :48.20 on January 20th at Bridlewood Farm.
Stakes options abound for this unbeaten son of Take Charge Indy, with the March 3rd Fountain of Youth Stakes perhaps the most likely target.
Stepped up to five furlongs in his most recent workout, going the distance in 1:01 at Palm Meadows.
Can a horse with just two 5 ½-furlong sprints under his belt as of mid-January progress to be a factor in the Kentucky Derby? It’s hard to say, but don’t forget that Bob Baffert’s 2012 Kentucky Derby runner-up Bodemeister had run just once at this point six years ago, finishing second in a 5 ½-furlong maiden race on January 16th. Compared to Bodemeister, Nero is actually ahead of schedule.