Racing Roundtable: Thoughts on the Sham and Jerome
The Racing Roundtable this week discusses the impact of the two most recent Kentucky Derby (G1) preps and other action that occurred during the first full weekend of 2023.
What are your takeaways from the Sham (G3)?
James Scully: After a third to Forte, National Treasure did not flatter the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) form, finishing a non-threatening third in the Sham. Juvenile runners are winless from five starts since, but Curly Jack (fifth in Juvenile) did record a respectable second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs in late November. None of the 11 contestants from the 2021 Juvenile won their next start.
Kellie Reilly: Having chosen Good Magic as my freshman sire to follow, I'm obviously thrilled that he's got another talented three-year-old to watch. Reincarnate had a lot to prove in the Sham, and he did establish an important point: He can set a serious pace, under pressure, and keep finding. Connections might have thought he was capable of this sort of performance, since they named the big gray as an allusion to Hall of Famer Holy Bull, an ancestor on his dam's side. Still, to play devil's advocate, Reincarnate was the beneficiary of two key developments: the scratch of stablemate Speed Boat Beach, who would have lit up the pace scenario even more, and the injury to highly-regarded Spun Intended, who was pressing him before having to drop out. Reincarnate stayed on strongly enough to beat two perennial bridesmaids in Newgate and National Treasure. To be fair, those Baffert stablemates are high-class bridesmaids offering collateral form with the deep Breeders' Futurity (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), respectively. But as good as Reincarnate looked on the day, the counterfactuals are worth remembering.
Vance Hanson: Dominated by runners currently ineligible to earn and accrue qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby, it remains to be seen what impact the race will eventually have. Given the form he displayed at two against the best in the crop, I'm still of the belief third-placed National Treasure will ultimately prove the more accomplished of the Baffert trio, though Reincarnate is obviously improving at a rapid rate and showed much tenacity after setting the pace. The one that I would fade going forward is Newgate, who made a big move into contention on the turn, had dead aim on Reincarnate through the stretch, but was found wanting inside the final sixteenth. It was a prime opportunity for a breakout performance, and he didn't grasp it.
Will the Jerome S. have an impact on the Kentucky Derby trail?
JS: Probably not. Lugan Knight appears geared toward one-turn distances — his second maternal dam was a champion sprinter in Canada — and the one-turn mile distance of the Jerome proved to be a good fit for the up-and-coming colt. After rallying from off the pace in his first three starts, Lugan Knight seized the initiative at the start of the Jerome and led wire-to-wire. He was exiting a good third to Victory Formation, who came back to win the Smarty Jones S. by open lengths at Oaklawn Park.
KR: The Jerome should offer its usual degree of Derby implications — i.e., not much, at least directly. Lugan Knight strikes me as a sprinter/miler in the mold of sire Goldencents, rather than a proper classic contender, and his connections are forthright about that likelihood. Arctic Arrogance should have greater range, but his level-headed team won't succumb to Derby fever if he doesn't progress on the trail. It wouldn't be a surprise if he ends up chasing New York-bred riches rather than roses. The biggest implications from the Jerome are probably indirect, as form clues for their previous starts. Lugan Knight paid a compliment to Victory Formation, who beat him in a Churchill Downs allowance before adding the Smarty Jones. Arctic Arrogance, a close second in the Remsen (G2) in his prior race, ran well enough to validate the winner Dubyuhnell, although not boosting him as much as a victory would have.
VH: Since year-round racing was introduced in New York nearly a half-century ago, Kentucky Derby preps held in the dead of winter at Aqueduct have had little impact on the Derby itself. One exception was Smarty Jones' pre-Arkansas win in the now-defunct Count Fleet S. in 2004. And the only other future champion to emerge from Aqueduct's winter program was Prairie Bayou, the beaten favorite in the 1993 Derby. Given that history, I don't envision this edition of the Jerome being different from others we've seen in the last decade. Indeed, the connections of Lugan Knight are reportedly in no rush to stretch the colt out in the immediate future. More meaningful races will be decided at Aqueduct and elsewhere in the coming weeks and months.
What else caught your eye from the weekend action?
JS: Law Professor's win in the Queens County S. at Aqueduct. Manny Franco took the overland route aboard the class of the field, traveling wide on both turns to avoid trouble, and Law Professor offered a sharp turn of foot to put the race away leaving the far turn, quickly opening a commanding advantage and cruising home to a 7 1/2-length decision. Freshened following a last-place effort in the Oaklawn Mile (G3) last April, Law Professor has elevated his game since returning last fall, concluding 2022 with a win in the grassy Tapit S. at Kentucky Downs, a close second to Life Is Good in the Woodward (G1), and a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1). He came back strong in the Queens County, netting a 102 Brisnet Speed rating, and the five-year-old gelding may have more to offer against tougher competition.
KR: Last Friday's opening night of the Dubai Carnival witnessed a jaw-dropping victory by British shipper Algiers in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2). Trained by Simon and Ed Crisford, the son of Shamardal had won on dirt at Jebel Ali last year, beating a solid field in the Jebel Ali Mile (G3). Yet few could have anticipated his absolute rout, over all the obvious characters, around Meydan's metric mile in 1:35.88. Algiers has bits and pieces of turf form in Europe, and he's useful on all-weather, but this new career high on dirt opens up all the options, from the Saudi Cup (G1) to the Dubai World Cup (G1). His Round 1 romp also whets the appetite for the horse who just edged him last time out on Lingfield's Polytrack — Missed the Cut, in a course-record Churchill S. Missed the Cut's trainer George Boughey, a rising young star in the ranks, is reportedly surveying all of the international possibilities for the Kentucky-bred son of Quality Road. With an ownership group including Lane's End and St. Elias, Missed the Cut could even be seen stateside to the Santa Anita H. (G1).
VH: Candidate maintained his undefeated record on turf (3-for-3) with a wire-to-wire victory in the Dania Beach S. for three-year-olds at Gulfstream on Saturday. While he encountered limited pressure on the front end and wasn't meeting the deepest of fields, trainer Arnaud Delacour appears to have a runner on his hands. The son of Exaggerator is also a May foal, which suggests he has the potential to become more formidable with added maturity.