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Racing Roundtable: Kentucky Derby wrap-up

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May 10th, 2022

After a memorable weekend at Churchill Downs, highlighted by a stunning upset in the Kentucky Derby (G1), the TwinSpires.com jury of James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson are back to recap all that went on.

Do you think Rich Strike will validate his Kentucky Derby performance in the Preakness (G1) or sometime later in the season?

James Scully: Following massive upsets in the Kentucky Derby, Giacomo (third) and Mine That Bird (second) came back to place in the Preakness two weeks later, and Rich Strike is capable of the same, in my estimation. He's in such good form presently. Whether he can be a top-class performer down the road remains to be seen. Mine That Bird never won again after the Kentucky Derby (0-for-9), and Giacomo went 1-for-8, capturing a Grade 2 at age four.

Kellie Reilly: While Rich Strike won't get that many opportunities at a pace collapse in a 1 1/4-mile event, he doesn't look like a crazy fluke. In hindsight, he brought a profile reminiscent of his sire, Keen Ice. Only Keen Ice never got close in the Derby and didn't peak until the summer, which is a promising sign for Rich Strike. As a clunk-up type on the Turfway Park Tapeta, with a 107 Brisnet Late Pace rating from his third in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), Rich Strike was capable of gaining late, though other deep closers appeared classier. The red herring that distracted me was his distant fifth in the Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds — a result that made me think he wouldn't have more to offer reverting to dirt. What I totally missed was his blowout maiden claiming win at Churchill last September. Perhaps he's a classic horse-for-the-course. Yet given his progression, he might have flown onto the radar if he'd competed in a major dirt prep.

Vance Hanson: Anything is possible. If this is another way of asking "Do you think Rich Strike will ultimately be champion three-year-old," at this moment I'd say that's a longshot, too, though not as long as his price was on Saturday. The pace scenario and the brilliant ride given Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby propelled him into the biggest upset in the modern history of the race, but he'll need to prove capable of winning more this season under circumstances far less favorable. I can see him enjoying a Mine That Bird-type run through the classics, perhaps better if indeed he's blossomed into a top-level runner, but Mine That Bird ultimately proved no champion of his crop.

Besides the winner, did anything else surprise you in the Kentucky Derby?

JS: Crown Pride pushing the pace so hard in the opening stages. Summer Is Tomorrow brought sprint speed to the equation, and showed the way after breaking sharply from the gate, and other projected pace players included Classic Causeway, Epicenter, Messier, Taiba, and Zozos. But Japanese invader Crown Pride surprisingly did the dirty work, prompting Summer Is Tomorrow through wicked opening splits in :21.78 and :45.36. That set the table for late-running Rich Strike, the fastest half-mile split since the 2013 edition (:45.33), which was also won by a deep closer (Orb).

KR: Crown Pride sprinting ahead of Messier, Zozos, and Epicenter early was a real plot twist, one that torched whatever chance he might have had. After all, Crown Pride had raced several lengths off Summer Is Tomorrow in the UAE Derby (G2). Who could have foreseen that he would be pressing the same rival at Churchill Downs? Maybe if the pace had been unexpectedly slow, but he didn't figure to be embroiled in an unsustainable tempo. Crown Pride's best argument was that he was superior to the last Japanese shipper, Master Fencer (2019), who flew late and nearly made the superfecta. His Derby tactics undermined that idea in the opening quarter-mile. It's too bad that he didn't get the right trip.

VH: The fact that no closer that looked more logical on paper than Rich Strike was able to take advantage of such a favorable pace scenario was an obvious shock. Some, like Zandon, moved too soon. Others, like Mo Donegal, unsuccessfully took the overland route. The ground-saving ride Sonny Leon gave the winner proved an outstanding in-race decision and was crucial in the outcome. Other than that, the Derby result was pretty formful and predictable, given the race dynamics.

Should Secret Oath take a crack against the boys in the Preakness?

JS: She's earned the chance. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly registered a 103 Brisnet Speed rating for her two-length win in the Kentucky Oaks, one point better than Rich Strike, and Secret Oath already has experience against males, finishing a respectable third in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Fillies have won the Preakness twice in the last 13 years, Swiss Skydiver being the most recent in 2020, and Secret Oath fits as a contender.

KR: Secret Oath would be a fascinating Preakness contender. The shorthand way to express this is to cite her 103 Brisnet Speed rating for the Kentucky Oaks versus Rich Strike's 102 in the Derby. That was close to the 105 recorded by streaking older male Olympiad in the Alysheba (G2). But the collateral form is also worth a look. Secret Oath's third in the Arkansas Derby isn't a true reflection of her ability, considering her difficult passage through the race. Still, I'd use the rock-solid runner-up, Barber Road, as a yardstick. Secret Oath was just three-quarters of a length off him at Oaklawn, when she did not have a chance to bring her A-game. Barber Road came back to finish a decent sixth (while going 11-wide) in the Derby, suggesting that Secret Oath, at her best, would be very competitive. Going into the Oaks, I thought Nest could graduate to the Belmont (G1), so why not transfer the idea to Secret Oath in the Preakness?

VH: It's worth considering, given the strange result of the Derby, but I would peg her chances of success at being closer to those of Swiss Skydiver, who won the 2020 renewal at 11-1, than that of Rachel Alexandra, who won as the favorite in 2009. Lukas has started one filly in the Preakness, his 1988 Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors, and she finished a retreating third after Forty Niner dueled her into submission in a basically sacrificial and petty tactical move by a rival trainer. Considering there are no significant races in her division around two turns until Saratoga, a shot at the Preakness might be worth taking. However, her chances of winning might be overstated and she looms a potential underlay.

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