Kentucky Derby Report: Instant Coffee bolsters resume in Lecomte win; Cox trio set for Southwest

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 25th, 2023

Launching a last-to-first move on the far turn, Instant Coffee overtook Two Phil’s in midstretch and drew away to a 2 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds. Regular rider Luis Saez was in to guide the dark bay colt for Brad Cox, and Instant Coffee netted a career-best 96 Brisnet Speed rating.

He’s now won two straight Kentucky Derby qualifiers at 1 1/16-mile distances, and the Lecomte represented a marked improvement from his slow win in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs in late November. By Bolt d’Oro, the leading first-crop sire of 2022, Instant Coffee displayed more professionalism off the two-month freshening, and the late runner appears built for longer distances.

Instant Coffee will continue preparations at Fair Grounds, and Cox said the Feb. 18 Risen Star (G2), which will award a combined 100 points (50-20-15-10-5 scale) toward a berth in the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1), is a possibility. But the two-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner suggested Instant Coffee could easily wait for the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 25, a major qualifier worth 100 points to the winner.

Two Phil’s enhanced his profile as well, digging in determinedly when challenged in upper stretch, and finished more than five lengths clear of third. The Larry Rivelli-trained son of Hard Spun backed up his 7-1 upset in the Street Sense (G3) over a sloppy Churchill Downs track in late October.

The Street Sense was difficult to trust. Jace’s Road never fired after coming unglued in the post parade, and runner-up Hayes Strike and third-placer Fliparino have run poorly since. Two Phil’s didn’t factor in his previous two-turn stakes attempt, a seventh at 69-1 in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, and shorter distances were always going to be an option given his runaway sprint stakes win at Canterbury Park last September.

The chestnut colt is now squarely on the Kentucky Derby trail, and Two Phil’s appears likely to stretch out to 1 1/8 miles for the Risen Star.

Lecomte undercard

Determinedly held by a neck over Tapit’s Conquest in an anticipated entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles, rebounding from a third as the odds-on choice in the Dec. 26 Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds. The top two are likely headed to a Kentucky Derby qualifier next out.

Runner-up in a Breeders’ Cup Saturday maiden to Arabian Knight, the even-money morning line choice in Saturday’s Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn, Determinedly broke his maiden by 7 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs in his following start, defeating next-out maiden romper Shopper’s Revenge. The gray Cairo Prince colt has shown improved speed in his last three outings for Mark Casse, and Determinedly earned a 93 Speed rating on Saturday.

Tapit’s Conquest, who raced erratically when breaking his maiden by open lengths in a two-turn Churchill maiden last fall, bypassed the Lecomte in favor of the allowance. The Cox-trained colt rallied well from the back of the pack to just miss off a three-month rest, and the late runner remains promising.

First Defender, a Three Chimneys Farm homebred colt by Quality Road, ran to his odds-on backing in his career debut, winning a six-furlong maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at Fair Grounds. Out of multiple Grade 1 winner Love and Pride and from the immediate female family of Preakness (G1) winner and sire Bernardini, First Defender showed speed from the start and the Steve Asmussen-trained colt won going away under the wire, registering a solid 92 Speed rating.


Bob Baffert will send out the big favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest at Oaklawn Park, Arabian Knight, who will make his first appearance since earning a whopping 104 Speed rating for his aforementioned 7 1/4-length win over Determinedly at Keeneland in his career debut. By Uncle Mo, the $2.3 million two-year-old purchase will be ridden by John Velazquez.

Cox will try to knock off the well-regarded colt with a trio of runners. Jace’s Road is the 4-1 early second choice following a convincing wire-to-wire triumph in the Gun Runner, and the Quality Road colt figures to revert to rating tactics due to the presence of his speedy stablemate, Corona Bolt, who stretches to two turns off a runaway wire-to-wire win in the six-furlong Sugar Bowl S. at Fair Grounds. Cox is confident the unbeaten son of Bolt d’Oro will effectively handle the added ground.

The third Cox entrant, Hit Show, is intriguing in his initial stakes appearance. A smart off-the-pace debut winner at Keeneland in early October, the gray Candy Ride colt exits a 3 1/2-length score over entry-level allowance foes at Oaklawn in his third start. Manny Franco picks up the mount.

Red Route One, third in the Breeders’ Futurity and fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club, last-out Oaklawn sprint stakes victor Frosted Departure, and eye-catching recent maiden winner Sun Thunder add further depth to the nine-horse Southwest field.