Kentucky Derby Report (4/28); A final profile of contestants entering Derby Week
With only nine days remaining until the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, handicappers are busy analyzing performance figures, run styles, pedigrees and projected pace set-ups. And morning workouts are more heavily scrutinized than for any other race.
I’ll submit my final Derby preview next Thursday, a day after Wednesday’s important post position draw, but here are some quick takes upon the 20 horses in the main body of the field (listed in alphabetical order):
Brody’s Cause: Confirmed late runner broke maiden at Churchill Downs and is a two-time Grade 1 winner for Dale Romans, who has recorded a pair of thirds and a fourth in the Kentucky Derby in the last six runnings. Brody’s Cause deserves consideration for the exotics but his lower BRIS Speed ratings (only a 94 winning the Blue Grass [G1]) are a concern.
Creator: After needing six starts to break maiden in late February, rapidly-improving colt stamped himself as a legitimate contender in the Arkansas Derby (G1), rallying to win convincingly in his second stakes attempt. Creator is one of only three Derby runners with a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating in the last start (100) and Tapit colt appears well-suited for longer distances with a stamina-heavy female family. He’ll be running late for recently-elected Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Danzing Candy: Looms as a wildcard with his speed – Danzing Candy registered a field-best 104 BRIS Speed rating posting an outstanding win in San Felipe (G2) two back – but must rebound from a well-beaten fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) where he ran off in the early stages. Tough to envision him putting it all together at 1 ¼ miles on Derby Day but things could get interesting if front-running colt receives the right trip on a moderate pace.
Destin: Could be any type for Todd Pletcher following a pair of strong wins in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2). But the Kentucky Derby isn’t just another race and training into such a difficult assignment off a near two-month layoff leads to more questions than answers for a colt who has never raced at 1 1/8 miles or displayed high-class form outside of Tampa Bay Downs.
Exaggerator: With strong numbers, Exaggerator is the likely second choice in the Derby wagering. Registered the top last-out BRIS Speed rating (102) rolling to a 6 ¼-length decision in the Santa Anita Derby and has posted four consecutive triple-digit Speed figures (no other Derby runners have done so in the last two starts). Exaggerator switched styles two starts back, employing a dynamic one-run strategy from off the pace and while he appeared to relish the sloppy track last time, expect to see him passing rivals on the far turn at Churchill Downs regardless of conditions.
Gun Runner: Faces a class check – Fair Grounds wasn’t the strongest circuit for prep races – but looms a threat to keep moving forward off an authoritative 4 ½-length decision in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Gun Runner certainly improved off a diminishing half-length score in his 2016 debut, the Risen Star (G2), and a recent 6-furlong drill at Churchill Downs could set him up nicely for another career-best. The competition isn’t that deep this year and Gun Runner can establish favorable positioning with his tactical speed. And like the far turn of foot he’s displayed leaving the far turn in both starts this year.
Lani: Tapit colt was bred in Kentucky but is based in Japan and will be making his first U.S. start after qualifying in the UAE Derby (G2). His training regimen at Churchill Downs has received mixed reviews, with the gray colt receiving a couple of cracks of the whip during a slow 3-furlong breeze on Wednesday, and Lani will be facing tougher company than he met overseas. May not be good enough to make a significant impact, but Lani remains an unknown quantity and should relish the 10-furlong distance with his breeding.
Majesto: Rates as a promising individual, posting a smart maiden tally at Gulfstream Park before a rallying second in the Florida Derby (G1), but Majesto faces an extreme challenge in only his second stakes start. His 93 BRIS Speed rating last time is on the low side as well.
Mo Tom: Late runner impressed winning the Lecomte (G3) in mid-January but Mo Tom was comprised by traffic woes in his next two outings, finishing third in the Risen Star and fourth in the Louisiana Derby after being steadied in the stretch. Remains one to consider for the exotics, but Mo’s Tom propensity for trouble is disconcerting in a 20-horse field. He may not be fast enough to challenge for the win, but won’t be surprised to see Mo Tom come charging late if he can avoid leaving himself too many horses to pass in the latter stages.
Mohaymen: A two-time stakes victor at age 2, Mohaymen established himself as the early Derby favorite with convincing wins in the Holy Bull (G3) and Fountain of Youth (G2). The bubble burst when stretching out to 1 1/8 miles in the Florida Derby, with Mohaymen weakening to be a well-beaten fourth, and the once-beaten colt is one of several trying to rebound on Derby Day. Question whether the 1 ¼-mile distance will be to his liking, but Mohaymen has been energetic in his training at Churchill Downs and figures to sit a forward trip with his natural speed.
Mor Spirit: Trainer Bob Baffert will be seeking his fifth Derby victory with the Grade 1-winning ridgling and Mor Spirit is following the same pattern as previous winners Silver Charm and Real Quiet, who both placed second in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. Those were tough preps this year and while Mor Spirit was never a serious win threat, he passed horses in the stretch each time. The dark bay has plenty of foundation, finishing second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs before recording wins in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and Robert B. Lewis (G3), and Baffert has been plotting his course for a long time, building toward a peak performance on Derby Day. Mor Spirit showed good speed in a recent drill under the Twin Spires and could be in a prime spot to outfinish rivals turning for home.
My Man Sam: Up-and-coming colt offered a fine late kick finishing second in his stakes bow, the Blue Grass, but inexperience is a logical concern for a lightly-raced type with only a maiden win to his credit. My Man Sam could be a good one down the road, but the Derby may be too much too soon for the dedicated closer.
Nyquist: Class and determination aren’t in question for the presumptive favorite. Nyquist has overcome adverse circumstances and could receive the right trip with his speed, making it difficult for the competition to run him down. But the unbeaten 2-year-old champ is taking an unorthodox approach to his first start at 1 ¼ miles with only a single two-turn prep. The same strategy worked for a lightly-raced Big Brown (who didn’t make his second career start and 3yo bow until March), but the 2008 Derby winner possessed superior BRIS Speed ratings (110 in Florida Derby) and his affinity for longer distances wasn’t an issue. Nyquist hails from a speedy female family and has failed to record a triple-digit Speed figure in three route attempts.
Oscar Nominated: Earned a Derby berth via a 23-1 upset in the Spiral (G3) on Polytrack and will be making his first start on a dirt track at Churchill Downs. Former claimer appears seriously overmatched.
Outwork: Earned his first stakes victory with a hard-fought decision in the Wood Memorial (G1) and well-built colt appears to have plenty of room for improvement with only four starts to his credit. He hails from the first crop of Uncle Mo and the female side of his pedigree is encouraging, with his dam being a daughter of Empire Maker, and Outwork will be either on the lead or very close if he breaks well from the starting gate. Would prefer to see better BRIS Speed numbers on his resume and he could face serious early pressure, but Outwork brings improving form and dangerous speed to the equation.
Shagaf: Captured his first three starts, including the Gotham (G3) over Aqueduct’s inner track, before a disappointing fifth as the Wood Memorial favorite. Could still develop into a good one but the 1 ¼-mile distance looks like a significant hurdle for him despite a favorable pedigree. Shagaf will need to find form to challenge against better competition on Derby Day.
Suddenbreakingnews: Can envision Churchill Downs playing better for his late running style than Oaklawn, where he was caught extremely wide winning the Southwest (G3) and finishing second in the Arkansas Derby. Gelding packs a formidable late punch and liked seeing his BRIS Speed ratings improve to a respectable 99 last time. Whether he can get up in time is another matter, but Suddenbreakingnews deserves serious consideration for any vertical exotics.
Tom’s Ready: Offered a nice run advancing to second in upper stretch of the Louisiana Derby but lost significant ground to Gun Runner in the final furlong, hanging on for runner-up honors. He has major quality concerns, with lower BRIS Speed numbers to his credit, and a 1-for-9 record inspires little confidence. Trainer Dallas Stewart sent out longshots Golden Soul and Commanding Curve to finish second in the 2013 and 2014 editions, but Tom’s Ready doesn’t have the improving form of those lightly-raced types.
Trojan Nation: Maiden relished a sloppy track finishing second at 81-1 odds in the Wood Memorial, but Trojan Nation lacks any tactical speed and could easily remain toward the back of the pack throughout the race.
Whitmore: Adds Victor Espinoza, who will be seeking an unprecedented third consecutive Derby win, and Whitmore possesses a nice turn of foot, rallying into contention by midstretch of his last three outings – Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby – at Oaklawn Park. But Whitmore lacked the necessary finishing kick late, losing ground from the stretch call to the finish line each time, and his only two wins have come at six furlongs. Doubt whether he can continue to improve while stretching out to 10 furlongs, but the hard-trying gelding can’t be completely eliminated from exotics consideration.