Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: Maximus Mischief On the Rise

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December 3rd, 2018

Although no new names have joined my Kentucky Derby Top 10 following the weekend of December 1-2, that doesn’t mean my rankings have gone completely unchanged.

To the contrary, Maximus Mischief has moved up following an eye-catching victory in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), while Code of Honor has dropped a slot after unexpectedly missing the Remsen.

My top four, however, remain unchanged, and continuing to lead the way is….
  1. Game Winner
Game Winner’s sire Candy Ride is known for imparting stamina to his progeny, a well-deserved reputation since his best foals include the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Gun Runner, the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Pacific Classic (gr. I) winner Shared Belief, and the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Misremembered, all of them Grade 1 winners going 1 ¼ miles on dirt or synthetic.
  1. Instagrand
Although Instagrand’s sire, Into Mischief, generally has a reputation as a sire of sprinters and milers, a closer examination of his stud record reveals that several of his foals have enjoyed success running nine furlongs or farther on dirt, including Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Audible, Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Goldencents, Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Vicar’s in Trouble, Remsen Stakes (gr. II) winner Maximus Mischief (see below), and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Practical Joke. Granted, running 1 ¼ miles in the Kentucky Derby is a different question entirely, but there’s no reason to think that Instagrand won't be effective running at least up to nine furlongs on the Kentucky Derby trail.
  1. Improbable
Improbable gave notice that he’ll be tough to beat in Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) by breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59.80 on December 3rd. The Los Alamitos Futurity will mark his first start around two turns, but that shouldn’t be an obstacle—he handled a one-turn mile just fine in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, and trainer Bob Baffert won the Los Alamitos Futurity several times already with horses tackling two turns for the first time.
  1. Signalman
Kenny McPeek has sent out six Derby starters since 1995, when he finished second in his first try with Tejano Run, and notably, four of the six completed their preparations for the Derby with a run in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland. Since Signalman has already run well at Keeneland, finishing second in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I), I suspect he will be pointed toward the Blue Grass as well, perhaps with a prep or two in Florida beforehand.
  1. Roadster
In a positive development that I’ve been patiently waiting for, Roadster returned to the work tab on November 28th at Santa Anita, breezing three furlongs in :36 flat, which was actually the third-fastest of 27 morning workouts at that distance. It was a solid move that leaves me wondering if the January 5th Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita might be a possible comeback spot for Roadster.
  1. Code of Honor
The expected Remsen Stakes favorite wound up skipping the race after trainer Shug McGaughey told the Daily Racing Form he was dissatisfied with how Code of Honor had been training since missing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with an illness. Skipping two races in a row is a little concerning, though if you’re going to have some setbacks on the Derby trail it’s better to get them out of the way now rather than in February or March, when every race and every workout counts.
  1. Maximus Mischief
Granted, the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (gr. II) has not been a very productive Kentucky Derby prep race in recent years—its winners seem to struggle with hitting peak form on the first Saturday in May—but it’s hard to knock anything about Maximus Mischief’s decisive victory in the Remsen last Saturday. He relaxed nicely early on through slow fractions, sped up significantly while running the second half-mile in :47.81, and saw out the extended nine-furlong distance just fine to defeat he promising Network Effect by 2 ¼ lengths. Suffice to say, Maximus Mischief passed his first class and distance check with flying colors.
  1. Preamble
Rodolphe Brisset has only been training for two years, but he’s already trained the graded stakes winners Quip, Talk Veuve to Me, and Positive Spirit. What’s interesting about these three is that they all started off their careers in fairly quiet fashion before showing significant improvement once they had a couple of races under their belts, which bodes well for Preamble considering how much talent he’s already shown while winning his first two starts.
  1. Coliseum
He wasted no time getting back to work after his impressive maiden win, returning just 11 days later to breeze a half-mile in :48 flat on November 28th at Santa Anita. He was among the early nominees to the Los Alamitos Futurity, though it sounds like Baffert is leaning against running the colt back at Los Al just three weeks after his debut win.
  1. Vekoma
Vekoma’s form got a boost over the weekend as Network Effect—runner-up behind Vekoma in the Nashua Stakes (gr. III) last month—came back to finish a strong second in the Remsen, while the Nashua third-place finisher Call Paul came back and romped by five lengths in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Parx Racing.