Kentucky Derby Report (1/20): stakes-experience proves valuable

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 20th, 2016

Thoroughbred racing fans are keeping an eye out for promising maiden and allowance runners making the transition to early-season 3-year-old stakes, but those types were not a serious factor in last weekend’s Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying races.

Saturday’s Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds went to the most accomplished member of the field, juvenile stakes winner Mo Tom, who was exiting a fast-closing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs behind a pair of well-regarded rivals, Airoforce and Mor Spirit. Runner-up Tom’s Ready, who shares common ownership but has a different trainer from Mo Tom, finished second to Mo Tom in the Street Sense last fall and eighth in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

The top two finishers are namesakes of owner Gayle Benson’s husband, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Who-Dat!

Monday’s Smarty Jones at Oaklawn went to Discreetness, who was exiting a victory in the Springboard Mile and finished fourth as the favorite in the Street Sense. Lecomte

No Lecomte winner has captured the Kentucky Derby, but War Emblem finished a well-beaten fifth before suddenly turning things around in the spring of 2002. The one-mile and 70-yard race has also produced 2012 Preakness (G1) winner Oxbow and 1988 Preakness and Belmont Stakes (G1) hero Risen Star.

Mo Tom raced within striking range in a couple juvenile outings but performed like a dead one-run closer in the Lecomte. Granted, the dark bay colt got off to a rough start, hitting the gate and being shut off slightly entering the first turn, but he didn’t make up much ground rounding the far turn, employing late-running theatrics upon entering the long Fair Grounds’ stretch.

The winner registered a decent 94 BRIS Speed rating, the same figure he earned in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and a big 103 Late Pace number.

Favored at 2-1, Mo Tom did not accelerate through the far turn like Tom’s Ready, who parlayed a nice move into a one-length advantage by midstretch, but it was easy to appreciate the finishing kick displayed by Mo Tom, who angled out for clear sailing in upper stretch and closed furiously to win going away by 2 ¼ lengths.

A $150,000 yearling purchase, Mo Tom is from the first crop of leading freshman sire Uncle Mo and hails from a Rubiano mare. There’s plenty of speed in the female family, but half-sister Beautician was efficient at two turns, finishing a close second in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and fourth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) the following spring. And Tom Amoss is high on Mo Tom’s potential at longer distances:

“Today’s race was a mile and 70 (yards), I’m sure Corey (Lanerie) would agree, when the distance gets further, the better our horse is going to get so we’re really excited about that,” the leading Fair Grounds trainer said.

We’ll see whether it plays out as Amoss projects – Uncle Mo has a number of Kentucky Derby hopefuls who will be trying longer distances in the months to come, most notably 2-year-old champion Nyquist.

A son of renowned speed sire Indian Charlie, Uncle Mo is out of a mare by stamina influence Arch, the broodmare sire of 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another, and Uncle Mo could pass those traits along to offspring, proving more versatile at stud than Indian Charlie.

I would like to see Mo Tom employ a little more tactical speed as the competition gets tougher in upcoming preps, but he rates as a dangerous closer at this early stage.

Tom’s Ready was weakening late, almost surrendering second to Uncle Walter, a lightly-raced colt making his first two-turn start and stakes debut. Trained by Dallas Stewart, Tom’s Ready didn’t run fast as a juvenile and the More Than Ready colt still has much to prove going forward.

Uncle Walter captured his first start at Keeneland in mid-October and entered the Lecomte off a neck second to Smarty Jones third-placer Synchrony in a November 14 allowance at Churchill Downs. The Mike Maker-trained colt was squeezed at the start of the Lecomte but settled into a good stalking position behind the early runners, holding his positioning through the far turn and as he straightened for home. Uncle Walter finished up determinedly to be a clear third, gaining valuable seasoning against more experienced foes, and we’ll find out next time how much he improves off a solid effort.

Didn’t understand the trip for Z Royal, who was rushed forward at the break to set the pace on a clear lead before weakening in the stretch. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee displayed a fine finishing kick breaking his maiden in his previous outing and while he still has much to prove from a quality standpoint, a change of tactics appears certain next time.

Smarty Jones

The Smarty Jones was inaugurated in 2008 and serves as the first of four qualifying preps at Oaklawn, but the one-mile race doesn’t have the track record of the February 15 Southwest (G3), March 19 Rebel (G2) or April 16 Arkansas Derby (G2), which have all produced Kentucky Derby winners since 2004. Previous Smarty Jones victors include Will Take Charge, the champion 3-year-old of 2012; multiple Grade 1 winner Flat Out (2009); and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) conqueror Caleb’s Posse.

Discreetness, who won 3 of 5 starts last season, received an ideal stalking trip in third behind the speed through the opening three-quarters of a mile before coming under a serious drive from jockey Jon Court in the latter part of the far turn. The bay colt advanced to collar Gordy Florida shortly after entering the short stretch run and gamely proved best by a neck as the 9-1 third choice among 11 rivals.

Overlooked as well at 9-1 in the aforementioned Springboard Mile, Discreetness posted a nose win in the December 13 race at Remington Park and is following the same path as Will Take Charge, who finished second in the Springboard Mile before a 12-1 upset in the Smarty Jones.

The Jinks Fires-trained Discreetness registered a career-best 92 BRIS Speed rating in the Smarty Jones. He’ll need to run faster in upcoming starts and I’m not confident the Discreet Cat colt will prove effective at longer distances this winter/spring. A $105,000 2-year-old in training purchase, Discreetness does hail from a nice female family with his dam, the unraced Elusive Quality mare Fondness, being a half-sister to English Group 1 winner Bahamian Pirate and multiple Grade 2 winner Strong Hope.

Gordy Florida is bred for speed on both sides of his pedigree, winning his first two starts over maiden and allowance foes in Remington sprints, but he ran a big race trying two turns in the Smarty Jones, doing all the dirty work as he pressed Grade 3 winner and Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) runner-up Toews on Ice from the start, eventually putting away the 3-5 favorite before battling the perfect-trip winner to the wire. I give him credit for an excellent effort, but Gordy Florida probably doesn’t want much more ground.

Synchrony was bet down to 3-1 in his stakes bow and ate plenty of dirt behind horses before beginning to advance along the rail on the far turn, and the chestnut Tapit colt finished up solidly to be a clear third. His effort was similar to Uncle Walter; both colts had to settle for minor awards but are eligible to improve significantly in the coming months. We’ll learn more about the lightly-raced sophomores next time.


A one-week hiatus awaits in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, with this being the only weekend until late April without a points’ race.

Top 10

No changes from last week. Mo Tom is knocking on the door following his strong late run in the Lecomte along with Zulu, a sharp allowance scorer at Gulfstream Park last week for Todd Pletcher. I’m stubbornly omitting a pair of prominent 3-year-olds – Airoforce and Nyquist -- due to 1 ¼-mile concerns, but the talented colts remain eligible to outperform my expectations.

1) Mohaymen – Liked his finishing kick in the Remsen (G2) & we’ll find out whether unbeaten colt can take another step forward in January 30 Holy Bull (G2)

2) Mor Spirit – Bob Baffert has a serious chance at a fifth Derby if colt develops as expected; January 30 Bob Lewis (G2) likely next

3) Brody’s Cause – Ended last year on strong note, winning Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and finishing third in BC Juvenile (G1), and late-running Giant’s Causeway colt could have much more to offer at 3 for Dale Romans; returned to worktab this week and targeting Fountain of Youth (G2) on February 27

4) Conquest Big E – Liked what I saw from Tapit colt from a limited sampling & expect him to come on this year for Mark Casse; Holy Bull is on his calendar

5) Greenpointscrusader – Champagne (G1) winner appears to have plenty of upside for Dominick Schettino; late runner doesn’t need to win Holy Bull but want to see a good effort from him on a fast track

6) Shagaf – Impressive maiden winner gearing up for stakes debut for Chad Brown

7) Drefong – Exits a superb maiden tally & Baffert weighing options for colt’s first stakes appearance

8) Exaggerator – Experienced a less-than-favorable trip finishing fourth in BC Juvenile but rebounded nicely in Delta Jackpot (G3); it will be no surprise to see Curlin colt flourish at 3

9) Flexibility – Runner-up to Mahaymen in Remsen & Nashua (G2), Brown trainee exits a fine win in Jerome (G3) at Aqueduct

10) Hand of Power – Wildcard addition caught the eye with a sensational finish in Churchill maiden win; he makes stakes debut in Saturday's Pasco at Tampa