Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Happy Saver, Yaupon debut with winning efforts

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

June 22nd, 2020

A weekly series analyzing recent maiden winners poised to join the Road to the Kentucky Derby:

Happy Saver

A son of 2010 Kentucky Derby champion Super Saver, Happy Saver may have gotten a late start to his career, but he’s poised to make up for lost time after dominating his debut on Saturday at Belmont Park. With Irad Ortiz in the irons for two-time Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, the Wertheimer and Frere homebred pressed fractions of :22.60 and :45.52 before powering clear to dominate the 7-furlong sprint by 5 1/2 lengths.

Happy Saver sprinted the final 3 furlongs in about :35.90 to stop the clock in 1:21.51, just 0.10 slower than the time No Parole posted in the Woody Stephens (G1) three races prior. Produced by the stakes-placed Distorted Humor mare Happy Week, Happy Saver isn’t nominated to the Triple Crown, but appears destined for a bright future nonetheless. With the extension of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, earning a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate isn’t out of the question for Happy Saver, though the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1) could also be a target if he needs more time.


Unwavering determination was a key factor in carrying Yaupon to victory in his debut sprinting 6 furlongs on Saturday at Churchill Downs. After making a move on the turn into hot fractions of :21.49 and :44.74, the Steve Asmussen-trained youngster was confronted on the outside by older rival Mountain Air. A bumping match ensued down the homestretch, and the outcome could have gone either way, but Yaupon dug deep under urging from jockey Corey Lanerie to prevail by a nose in 1:09.58.

Owned by William and Corinne Heiligbrodt, Yaupon is a son of Uncle Mo out of the Vindication mare Modification, who placed third in the 2009 Humana Distaff (G1) dashing 7 furlongs at Churchill Downs. Modification previously produced a capable runner in Sawyer’s Hill, runner-up in the 2014 Del Mar Derby (G2) and Twilight Derby (G2) racing two turns on turf. Considering Uncle Mo tends to sire high-level route runners, there’s no reason to think Yaupon can’t be effective running long. In fact, he might thrive while stretching out in distance, making his gutsy sprint victory all the more impressive.