Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 -- 2/6/18

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February 6th, 2018

It was a very busy weekend on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with three official prep races and a seemingly endless number of maiden and allowance races giving fans plenty to analyze and consider.

Most eyes were focused on the stakes races, which saw Audible score a convincing win in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II), Avery Island rebound with a winning effort in the Withers Stakes (gr. III), and Lombo burst onto the scene with a gate-to-wire win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III).

Having shared my thoughts on those races elsewhere on BetAmerica, I’d like to take this space to mention a few other noteworthy performances that occurred in smaller races last week. We saw victories from six exciting maidens, including….

Copano Kicking: One of three Japanese-based horses nominated to the Triple Crown, Copano Kicking debuted in a 1,200-meter maiden race on February 4th at Kyoto and absolutely blew the doors off his fifteen rivals, sprinting to the lead and leaving his pursuers reeling in the homestretch on his way to an eight-length victory. He's also nominated to the UAE Derby.
Curly’s Rocket: Broke his maiden by a convincing 3 ¼ lengths for trainer Bob Baffert in a six-furlong race on February 3rd at Santa Anita. His stablemate Once On Whiskey also caught my eye by rallying from out of the clouds to finish second.

Exclamation Point: This half-brother to champion Classic Empire was green in his debut on February 3rd at Oaklawn, but won by 2 ½ lengths in the good time of 1:10.56 for six furlongs.

Machismo: Absolutely crushed a promising field of first-time starters in a maiden race on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, drawing off to win by 11 ½ lengths.

Mitole: He ran even faster than Exclamation Point when breaking his maiden on Saturday at Oaklawn, clocking six furlongs in 1:09.75. That was a tenth of a second faster than talented older males ran in the King Cotton Stakes one race prior.

Restoring Hope: Well-regarded Baffert-trainee won by 3 ½ lengths going 8.5 furlongs on February 2nd at Santa Anita.

With all of this said, here’s how I rank the top contenders this week….
  1. Good Magic
Stepped up another furlong in distance for his third workout of the year, going five furlongs in 1:01.10 on February 3rd at Palm Meadows. At first glance, the time isn’t all that quick, but it actually ranked as the third-fastest time of the morning.
  1. McKinzie
Worked a half-mile in :49.40 on February 3rd at Santa Anita, going easily in company with the four-year-old maiden Downtowner.
  1. Bolt d’Oro
In his second work of the year, Bolt d’Oro went a half-mile in :48.40 on February 2nd at Santa Anita. If he and McKinzie both wind up running in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), it could be a stiff test for both colts and one of the most significant prep races on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
  1. Audible
The turn-of-foot that he displayed at the top of the short stretch in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) was breathtaking. It’s fair to question whether he can repeat it, but visually speaking no colt has impressed me more so far this year.
  1. Instilled Regard
With an expected run in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) less than two weeks away, he worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 on February 1st at Santa Anita. The competition in the Risen Star got a bit easier with the announcement that Mask will miss the race, though Instilled Regard will still face an interesting rematch with Principe Guilherme, who ran second with a tough trip behind Instilled Regard in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) last month.
  1. Solomini
Finally returned to the work tab after missing some training with a fever, working a half-mile in :48.60 on February 3rd at Santa Anita. He broke off a couple lengths behind his graded stakes-placed workmate Hot Sean and gained back most of the ground despite racing wide and having an awkward lead change at the top of the stretch.
  1. Catholic Boy
Wrapped up his preparations for Saturday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs by breezing a half-mile in :49.20. The strength of his Remsen Stakes (gr. II) victory last November was made clear when runner-up Avery Island returned to win the Withers Stakes (gr. III).
  1. Magnum Moon
The form of his maiden victory was flattered when the third-place finisher Machismo (see above) returned to win impressively at Gulfstream. Trainer Todd Pletcher has more than a few talented Derby contenders this year, so it will be interesting to see how he splits them up during the coming months.
  1. Free Drop Billy
Even though he was no match for Audible in the Holy Bull, he ran a winning race in defeat, pulling 7 ¾ lengths clear of the rest of the field while finishing second. From a speed figure perspective, it was a nice step in the right direction off his two-year-old form.
  1. Nero
It was between Nero and Noble Indy for the final spot in this week’s Top 10, and I gave Nero the nod since he’s been a member of my list from the start. He got back on the work tab last week, going five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Santa Anita. Notably, the workout did not begin at the starting gate, a change compared to the numerous gate drills that preceded Nero’s maiden win.