Kentucky Derby Report (3/9); Shagaf grinds out Gotham
Shagaf rallied to a 1 ¼-length decision in Saturday’s Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct, remaining unbeaten in his third career start, and is now headed to the $1 million Wood Memorial (G1) on April 9.
The final time proved disappointing, nearly a second slower than the Heavenly Prize for fillies and mares two races earlier on the program, and Shagaf was facing questionable competition. But I’m not dismissing him from the equation: Shagaf is still lightly-raced, with the potential to improve significantly in the coming months, and this season’s 3-year-old crop is not distinguishing itself from a BRIS Speed figure perspective in two-turn Kentucky Derby prep races.
A well-bred son of Bernardini, Shagaf is out of the stakes-winning Unbridled’s Song mare Muhaawara, a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Marathon scorer Eldaafer. Both hail from the multiple Grade 1-winning Habibti, a daughter of Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tabasco Cat, and the third maternal dam is by another Belmont Stakes victor, Temperence Hill.
Shagaf possesses the right pedigree and grinding run style to relish the 1 ½-mile trip of the Belmont Stakes. He shares common ownership with leading Kentucky Derby contender Mohaymen (Shadwell Stables) but a different trainer in Chad Brown.
The first three route races at Aqueduct Saturday were won in wire-to-wire fashion, with front-runners taking advantage of a pronounced inside-speed bias, including a 52-1 winner who was easily the longest shot on the board. That provided an advantage to the maiden Laoban, who sped forward from his rail post to show the way into the first turn of the Gotham. Up by two lengths after an opening quarter-mile in :23.33, Laoban remained clear through splits of :47.16 and 1:11.69, and the Uncle Mo colt threatened to steal the race at 15-1 odds in upper stretch.
Shagaf broke from post 2 and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. wisely kept his mount close to the rail during the early stages, stalking the pace in third down the backstretch. The bay colt was shuffled back a little approaching the far turn, momentarily appearing to be in trouble, but Shagaf came again nicely rounding the far turn and swung outside for the stretch drive.
Rallying on the worst part of the track (outside), Shagaf determinedly wore down Laoban in deep stretch to win going away under the wire. It wasn’t pretty time-wise, with Shagaf needing about seven seconds to complete the final sixteenth of a mile, and he registered a 94 BRIS Speed rating. It was at least an improvement over the 90 earned in his 2016 bow, a two-length score over allowance foes in a one-turn mile allowance at Gulfstream January 29, but Shagaf posted a 99 when recording a sharp six-length debut win on Aqueduct’s main track last November.
It’s difficult to get excited about 3-year-olds who don’t run back to the figures earned at age 2, but Shagaf remains eligible to post a better number in the Wood. He still has to prove it but I think Shagaf has the talent to keep developing off his stakes debut, with the Gotham serving as a valuable learning experience, and he’ll greatly enhance his Kentucky Derby credentials with a strong showing next time.
Laoban was probably a little short on conditioning, being entered and scratched from multiple stakes races before finally reemerging from a 56-day layoff in the Gotham, and may not be the most sound 3-year-old. And he’s out of a mare by champion sprinter Speightstown, which isn’t encouraging for a Kentucky Derby prospect. Winless from four starts, Laoban received 20 points finishing second in the Gotham (increasing his total to 22 after a third in the Sham [G3] previously) and that’s likely enough to make the Kentucky Derby field regardless of how he fares in the final prep race.
Adventist offered a solid move to loom a threat in upper stretch before flattening out a little in the latter stages, finishing about a length back of Laoban in third. The Leah Gyarmati trainee has made all three of his starts over the inner track at Aqueduct and is probably a cut below the better sophomores presently.
A big weekend is ahead with a pair of qualifying races Saturday, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and San Felipe (G2), offering points on a 50-20-10-5 basis. Both races will feature top contenders for the Kentucky Derby, with Grade 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-placer Brody’s Cause returning to the races in the Tampa Bay Derby for Dale Romans and Mor Spirit seeking his third consecutive stakes win in the San Felipe for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
And Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will be offered on Friday-Sunday.
Late-running Brody’s Cause should receive the right set-up in the 10-horse Tampa Bay Derby with a couple of front-running speedsters, Morning Fire and Awesome Banner, entered, and Destin will attempt to carry his momentum forward following a sharp score in the local prep, the February 13 Sam F. Davis (G3). Destin is one of two entrants from Todd Pletcher along with Outwork, who brings a 2-for-2 record into his stakes bow.
Other Tampa Bay Derby runners of interest include Economic Model, who will stretch out to a route for Brown after a rallying second in the Swale (G2); Sam F. Davis runner-up Rafting; and Tale of S’avall, a promising Saratoga maiden winner for Barclay Tagg who had his juvenile campaign shortened by foot issues.
The San Felipe promises to shake-up Kentucky Derby rankings with a nice field of seven entered. Mor Spirit is the horse to beat off wins in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and Robert B. Lewis (G3), but the Eskendereya ridgling will be facing the most talented field he’s encountered by a wide margin.
Exaggerator adds serious depth to the equation, recording a pair of graded stakes wins last season and opening 2016 with an excellent runner-up to Nyquist in the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2). With his tactical speed, Exaggerator figures to be up close tracking the early action with three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux.
Unbeaten California-bred Smokey Image will make his first start against open rivals for Carla Gaines, utilizing the same path of California-bred California Chrome, who captured the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby (G1) en route to Kentucky Derby glory in 2014. Uncle Lino exits an encouraging runner-up to Mor Spirit in the Robert Lewis, his first start at two turns.
Danzing Candy and Cupid are a pair of exciting colts making their stakes debut in the San Felipe.
1) Mohaymen – Continued to make it look easy in Fountain of Youth (G2); showdown looms against Nyquist in 4/2 Florida Derby (G1) and a hard race before the Kentucky Derby may benefit him
2) Mor Spirit – He’s done everything right in last two starts for Baffert & will attempt to maintain his winning ways against a deeper San Felipe cast
3) Brody’s Cause – Looking forward to seeing Giant’s Causeway colt return in Tampa Bay Derby
4) Gun Runner – Opened season with a fine win in Risen Star (G2) & will try to add 3/26 Louisiana Derby (G2) to his ledger
5) Exaggerator – Curlin colt rates as top contender in San Felipe for Keith Desormeaux
6) Greenpointcrusader – Holy Bull (G2) runner-up could make final prep in Louisiana Derby
7) Danzing Candy – Impressive maiden and allowance winner will receive litmus test in San Felipe
8) Zulu –Gained valuable seasoning finishing second in Fountain of Youth; no surprise to see him offer more in Florida Derby for Pletcher
9) Nyquist – Appears to be training forwardly for lone two-turn prep in Florida Derby; a hard-trying & talented colt but not keen on his chances at the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance
10) Shagaf – Gotham winner finished slowly but raced against bias in stretch; eligible to keep moving forward in 4/9 Wood Memorial
Here are my previous Kentucky Derby Reports:
February 24: Bullish on Gun Runner
February 17: Nyquist returns a stylish winner
February 10: Baffert remains in the spotlight with Mor Spirit
February 3: Mohaymen justifies star billing
January 20: Stakes-experience proves valuable
January 7: January brings a sense of anticipation
TwinSpires.com will offer a 1 Million Points Tampa Bay Betting Contest on Saturday’s signature race at the Florida oval