Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Stoutly bred colts Slip Mahoney, First Defender post victories

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 23rd, 2023

Sometimes, you look at the pedigree of a young maiden winner and think, “Wow, this horse is bred to run long.” That happened twice last Saturday with a pair of possible 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders.

The first we’ll highlight is Slip Mahoney, a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate out of Spinster (G1) heroine Got Lucky. Got Lucky is a daughter of Belmont (G1) winner and renowned stamina influence A.P. Indy, so Slip Mahoney is bred top and bottom to improve with maturity and shine over classic distances.

Certainly Slip Mahoney has made steady progress for hot trainer Brad Cox. After finishing fourth and second in his first two starts at Aqueduct, Slip Mahoney broke through in a one-mile maiden special weight over the same track, vying for command through splits of :23.60 and :47.65 before turning back a bid from deep closer Crupi to prevail by a head in 1:38.96. Crupi pulled 15 lengths clear of the rest, a testament to how well the top two finishers performed.

The other stoutly bred maiden winner over the weekend was First Defender, a son of four-time Grade 1 winner Quality Road out of the A.P. Indy mare Love and Pride, who won the Personal Ensign H. (G1) and Zenyatta (G1) during her productive career.

Despite the fact First Defender is bred to improve with maturity and distance, the bay colt was sharp enough to dominate his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds, dueling through fast splits of :21.48 and :45.19 before powering away to win by 5 1/4 lengths in 1:10.88. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen conditions First Defender, a Three Chimneys Farm homebred with a seemingly bright future.

Several other notable maiden races took place at Fair Grounds last week. On Saturday, Single Ruler broke through in his fifth start, rallying off splits of :23.76, :48.12, and 1:13.42 to trounce a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight by 2 3/4 lengths. The Keith Desormeaux-trained son of Empire Maker stopped the clock in 1:45.91, 1.02 quicker than the time of 1:46.93 posted by Cagliostro in an identical race earlier on the card.

Unraced since finishing sixth in his Sept. 3 debut at Saratoga, Cagliostro showed no signs of rust off the layoff, racing off the pace through slow fractions of :24.91, :49.59, and 1:15.21 before sweeping past rivals to dominate by 3 1/2 lengths. The son of Upstart warrants watching this winter for trainer Cherie DeVaux.

Whereas Single Ruler and Cagliostro brought experience to their maiden wins, Work Order prevailed on debut in a Friday maiden special weight sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds. The son of Outwork tracked an opening quarter in :22.59, took command through half a mile in :46.81, and then finished up nicely (final two furlongs in :12.31 and :12.54) to score by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:11.66. Trained by Dallas Stewart, Work Order has the appearance of a promising colt.

At Oaklawn Park, the star of the week was Ben’s Legacy. Third in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Oaklawn on the final day of 2022, Ben’s Legacy improved when racing for the second time last Saturday, rallying from a couple lengths off splits of :22.23 and :45.90 to win an identical maiden special weight by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:10.41. James DiVito conditions the son of More Than Ready, whose pedigree is slanted toward speed.

Down in Florida, Run Cory Run broke through in his second start, bouncing back from a fifth-place debut at Gulfstream Park to tenaciously prevail in a one-mile and 40-yard maiden special weight on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. The Saffie Joseph trainee charged home from four lengths off early fractions of :23.71, :47.71, and 1:12.17 to beat fellow midpack closer Summer Cause by a neck in 1:40.47. As a son of late-maturing Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate, who didn’t peak until age five, Run Cory Run has long-term upside for improvement.

We’ll wrap up with a quick mention of Harlocap, a son of Triple Crown winner Justify. Runner-up in his first two starts, the Bob Baffert trainee broke through impressively in his third try, wiring a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Sunday at Santa Anita by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:43.81. It was a flashy run, but since Baffert is suspended from starting horses in the 2023 Kentucky Derby, Harlocap is currently ineligible to earn Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points.