Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Will McGaughey's colt become the Talk of the Nation?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

November 14th, 2022

On Nov. 24, 2012, an unheralded two-year-old named Orb broke his maiden at Aqueduct. The Shug McGaughey trainee had lost his first three starts, but his maiden victory sparked a five-race win streak culminating with the 2013 Kentucky Derby (G1).

These memories came to mind when McGaughey unveiled Talk of the Nation at Aqueduct last Friday. The two-year-old son of Quality Road debuted in a six-furlong maiden special weight and promptly strolled to victory, a notable achievement since recent McGaughey standouts like Honor Code and Code of Honor likewise won on debut.

Two vet scratches and a stewards scratch left a three-horse field for Friday’s heat, and Talk of the Nation trailed the compact group through an opening quarter in :23.60 before rolling to the front through half a mile in :47.47. Talk of the Nation needed :26.00 to run the final quarter over a good track, but that was enough to pull clear and win by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:13.47.

Talk of the Nation is bred top and bottom to run long; sire Quality Road won four Grade 1 prizes racing one mile or farther and is the sire of Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Abel Tasman, while dam She’s Not Here twice won the 1 1/16-mile Yellow Ribbon H. (G2) and is a daughter of Dubai World Cup (G1) hero Street Cry.

Keeping this stout pedigree in mind, we won’t get too hung up on Talk of the Nation’s slow winning time. Instead, we’ll expect the McGaughey trainee to improve with distance and maturity. A decade after Orb, might Talk of the Nation emulate his Derby-winning stablemate?

Speaking of the Derby, Laver showed an affinity for the Derby’s host track when triumphing in a one-mile maiden special weight on Sunday at Churchill Downs. A couple of defeats on turf and a near-miss dirt try on Oct. 20 at Keeneland preceded Laver’s breakthrough performance, in which the stoutly bred son of Preakness (G1) winner Bernardini tracked splits of :23.01 and :46.07 before opening up a daylight lead and digging deep late to preserve a neck victory in 1:38.32.

Much like Talk of the Nation, Laver is bred to run long and improve with maturity, so it’s possible we haven’t yet seen the best from this Rusty Arnold trainee.

The Saturday card at Gulfstream Park yielded an impressive performance from Il Miracolo. Runner-up in his first three starts at Gulfstream, Il Miracolo made the most of his fourth attempt, leading all the way to dominate a one-mile maiden special weight by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:37.72. Antonio Sano trains the classically bred son of Gun Runner out of a Tapit mare.

Leading North American sire Into Mischief has already sired two Kentucky Derby winners (Authentic and Mandaloun), and he picked up a potential 2023 Derby candidate when Eldest Son broke through on Wednesday at Horseshoe Indianapolis. The third time was the charm for the Godolphin homebred, who employed pace-tracking tactics to nab a one-mile maiden special weight by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:39.76. Into Mischief is known for passing on speed, but Eldest Son’s dam sire is Tapit, introducing a dose of stamina into the pedigree of this Brendan Walsh trainee.

We also have to give a shout-out to Neural Network, who looked good trouncing a field of New York-bred juveniles in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday at Aqueduct. A son of Preakness winner Cloud Computing, Neural Network was racing in midfield at the halfway point before unleashing a sharp outside rally to romp by five lengths. The fractions and final time went unrecorded due to a timing malfunction, but Neural Network was much the best for trainer Chad Brown and warrants watching this winter.