Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Is Casse's Determinedly the next War of Will?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

November 28th, 2022

Last Saturday, Churchill Downs hosted its annual “Stars of Tomorrow II” program, a 12-race card compromised exclusively of maiden, allowance, allowance optional claiming, and stakes races for two-year-olds. If history is any guide, there's little doubt we saw a future Kentucky Derby (G1) starter (or two, or three, or four) in action.

The maiden races produced some especially noteworthy performances. The card opened with a seven-furlong maiden special weight in which Determinedly brought a 0-for-5 record to the table, but started as the 1.11-1 favorite. That’s because three of his defeats came on turf, and a recent switch to dirt produced a strong runner-up finish behind Arabian Knight in a fast seven-furlong sprint at Keeneland.

Suffice to say, Determinedly flattered Arabian Knight’s form, tracking fractions of :23.10 and :46.53 at Churchill before roaring away to win by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:22.81. The son of Cairo Prince is quickly progressing in the right direction for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, and his best might still be ahead. Don’t forget, Casse’s multiple Grade 1 winner War of Will parlayed a blowout maiden victory on 2018 Stars of Tomorrow II day into a successful sophomore campaign highlighted by a Preakness (G1) win.

Saturday’s racing action at Churchill concluded the same way it began, with a seven-furlong maiden special weight. This time it was the first-time starter Gun Pilot who claimed top honors, pressing and setting splits of :22.88 and :46.63 before kicking away to win by three lengths.

Gun Pilot stopped the clock in 1:24.02, significantly slower than Determinedly, but it’s important to note this Steve Asmussen trainee is a son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner out of a mare by Smart Strike. Gun Pilot is bred to improve with distance and maturity, so look for the Three Chimneys Farm homebred to move forward with leaps and bounds during the winter.

In between Determinedly and Gun Pilot, Point Proven impressed in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight. Coming off a pair of defeats on the New York circuit, Point Proven relished stretching out around two turns for the first time, tracking fractions of :23.82, :47.80, and 1:12.96 before blasting away to beat a large field by five lengths in 1:50.80. A son of Gun Runner out of a mare by Preakness (G1) winner Bernardini, Point Proven is an improving colt to follow for two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.

Turning our attention away from Churchill, we also have to highlight Spun Intended, who delivered a blowout success in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Del Mar. The Mark Glatt-trained son of Hard Spun pressed a quick opening quarter-mile in :21.95, secured the lead through a stiff half-mile in :44.20, and then powered away to dominate by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:15.83. Previously a close second on debut at Santa Anita, Spun Intended looks ready to make some noise on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Lastly, we’ll mention Machine Gun Man, who upset a six-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday at Fair Grounds. Rebounding from a seventh-place finish in his debut at Delta Downs, Machine Gun Man led all the way to prevail at odds of 20-1, beating favored Rally Board by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:12.40. The winning son of Metropolitan H. (G1) winner Mor Spirit is trained by Howard Alonzo.