Powell sizes up eight major prep races for 2018 Kentucky Derby
by DICK POWELL
The prep races for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) are finally in the books and now it’s time to draw back and take a wide view before drilling down on the details of each race and horse.
Working backwards, MAGNUM MOON was very impressive winning Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park. He broke well, was able to clear the field, shook off a lone challenger before drawing off through an erratic run through the stretch.
MAGNUM MOON won by four lengths but only earned a BRIS speed rating of 99. It was his fourth start of the year, and of his career, and his Arkansas Derby win was not necessarily a step forward. I did not think the field was that strong and he will have to improve in three weeks to be a factor.
The Lexington (G3) took on added significance since MY BOY JACK needed a good effort to earn enough Derby eligibility points. Mission accomplished. Kent Desormeaux rode his brother Keith’s colt to perfection and won by a head and secure his spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. He only earned a BRIS speed rating of 94 but he looks like one of those deep closers that sneaks into the money on Derby Day.
The previous weekend saw JUSTIFY win the Santa Anita Derby (G1) over BOLT D’ORO and they both earned huge BRIS speed ratings of 114 and 110. It might not have been the deepest Derby prep but it had the best matchup.
The Blue Grass Stakes (G2) had a full field of 14 starters but its quantity did not make up for a lack of quality. Once you got past GOOD MAGIC, who won it by 1 1/2 lengths, there wasn’t much in there. But the full field gave Jose Ortiz a good idea of racing in traffic and GOOD MAGIC passed his test with flying colors. It should be another step on the progression to a big day on the first Saturday of May. He will need to since his BRIS speed rating was only 98.
The Wood Memorial (G2) might not be the race that it used to be but this year’s renewal might have been sneaky good. VINO ROSSO came into the race off a loss in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) but he dropped far back down the backside before picking up horses with alarming ease.
Yes, he had a fast pace to close into and yes, he bumped into ENTICED in the stretch, but VINO ROSSO was dominant; winning by three lengths and earning a BRIS speed rating of 102. He showed he can get the distance and play bumper cars as well.
The Florida Derby (G1) has been the definitive Kentucky Derby prep recently and this year’s winner was very fast. AUDIBLE has won four straight races now and his last two BRIS speed ratings were 105 in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and 107 in the Florida Derby. Instead of stalking the pace, he dropped way off it and then rallied to win by three lengths over an improving HOFBURG.
The $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) is now run six weeks before the Kentucky Derby. It has a history of its starters going to Churchill and running in the money at outrageous odds. The main track there is very safe and horses often come out of race there in better shape than they went in. This year’s winner was NOBLE INDY, who stalked a fast pace and came on again in the stretch to win by a quarter length. He earned a BRIS speed rating of 100 and with six weeks’ rest, he could be eligible to improve some more for Todd Pletcher.
Finally, the UAE Derby (G2) was run at Meydan on the undercard of the Dubai World Cup (G1) and the winner, MENDELSSOHN, was awesome. He won by 18 lengths in blazing-fast time and he has American dirt breeding and American gate speed. He has to overcome all the logistics of shipping over but he did it last year when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar and Aidan O’Brien’s team is noted for successfully shipping all over the world in search of Group 1 bounty.