Looking forward to Hand of Power’s stakes debut in Pasco

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 23rd, 2016

Saturday’s 7-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs marks the stakes debut for Hand of Power, a smart maiden winner at Churchill Downs in mid-November. The Candy Ride colt needs a strong showing to join the Kentucky Derby trail.

Hand of Power is one of three maiden winners in my Kentucky Derby top 10 list and while it’s often difficult to project maiden or allowance winners at age 2, the fact remains four of the last five Kentucky Derby winners failed to win an open stakes race before turning 3. Classy juvenile form can prove irrelevant the following spring.

The other maiden winners I’ve included are well-regarded – the Chad Brown-trained Shagaf, a 6-length debut scorer at Aqueduct; and the Bob Baffert-trained Drefong, a 9 ½-length romper at Del Mar – and therefore easier to identify than Hand of Power, but I’m still keen on his potential.

A $210,000 yearling purchase, the well-bred colt hails from the Mineshaft mare Hand Crafted, a half-sister to the dam of multiple Grade 1 winner Student Council, and there’s plenty of stamina as well as prominent turf performers to be found in the bloodlines. Trainer Ian Wilkes tried Hand of Power on turf the first two times, resulting in a pair of unplaced finishes.

He appears much better on the main track. Hand of Power caught my eye when making his dirt bow at a one-turn mile, stalking the front-runners before launching his bid near the completion of the far turn and accelerating through the stretch in impressive fashion. He registered a 96 BRIS Late Pace rating while completing the final quarter-mile in :24 2/5 and the final win margin was 4 ½ lengths.

The Pasco competition isn’t imposing. Epic Journey looks like the main adversary, recording a 96 Speed rating for a good-looking maiden score over the track. Morning Fire and Formal Summation don’t worry me – the former has lost ground in the stretch in four of his last five starts, including a poor try at Saturday’s distance; and the latter doesn’t appear fast enough.

Hand of Power is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line and Julien Leparoux will be in for the ride. He could still be more of a long-term prospect, but a Pasco victory will boost Hand of Power’s outlook for the Kentucky Derby.