Thanksgiving at the Kentucky Derby

It is November and that means T-Time – Thanksgiving, Turkey….Twin Spires?

Those two inverted drumsticks atop Churchill Downs will be playing a major part in the holiday season this year with the expansion of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Now, those who can’t get an early enough start on Derby fever can make their first Future Wager bets from Nov. 27-30.

The timing could result in instant gratification or instant misery, as the pool closes BEFORE the running of the Nov. 30 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, and, of course, well before the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in December. But it does close a week after the Nov. 23 Delta Downs Jackpot.

So, this is a chance for everyone to test their powers of prognostication and lay their money on the line and predict not only next year’s Derby winner, but the Remsen and Kentucky Jockey Club winner, as well as the winners of the plethora of 2-year-old races at Churchill that same day. If you’re wrong, be prepared to stuff your tickets into your turkey.

With the Derby thermometer starting to rise early, here are some of the top 2-year-olds and Derby prospects in alphabetical order.

ALL IN BLUE -- Looked like a good one when he broke his maiden first out by 6 1/4 lengths, then had a rough trip when fourth in the Sanford Stakes. He was put on the shelf after a poor effort in the Hopeful Stakes, and we'll have to wait and see if the son of More Than Ready makes it to Derby trail. His broodmare sire Buddha was on his way to stardom when he get hurt before the Kentucky Derby. All in Blue was purchased by Starlight Racing for $155,000 at the Saratoga yearling sale.

ALMOST FAMOUS – Trained by Pat Byrne, this son of Unbridled’s Song was impressive breaking his maiden going six furlongs at Churchill Downs Sept. 13, but finished a well-beaten fourth in the listed Street Sense Stakes at a flat mile. However, he bounced back in style going two turns for the first time, romping by six lengths in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claimer Nov. 9. His strong point from a pedigree perspective is being inbred to Fappiano, and of course Dr. Fager. His dam, Wild Gams, won seven stakes, all at six furlongs, so his stamina can go either way. Wild Gams sold as a broodmare prospect for $1 million. Almost Famous was a huge pinhooking success, selling for only $75,000 as a yearling, but going for $500,000 as a 2-year-old, indicating tremendous physical progress in only a six-month period.

BOND HOLDER
– Winning the grade I Frontrunner Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths while still a maiden, the son of Mineshaft needed to validate that victory with a big effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he did so with a strong-closing fourth, beaten only 3 1/4 lengths. Trained by Doug O’Neill, owned by Paul Reddam, and ridden by Mario Guitierrez, this is the same team that won the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another. Purchased for $125,000 as a 2-year-old, his speed figures, while not fast, are on the upswing and his pedigree suggests he’ll have no problem stretching out to classic distances.

CAIRO PRINCE – Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the son of Pioneerof the Nile is undefeated in both his starts, breaking his maiden at six furlongs by 2 3/4 lengths at Belmont before stretching out to a mile and winning the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:37 2/5, laying just off the pace in fourth and then unleashing a powerful turn of foot turning for home. He did see a five-length length lead dwindle down to 2 1/2 at the wire. He sold for $200,000 at the 2012 Keeneland January mixed sale, then was sold again for $250,000 later that year at Keeneland September. While he has stamina on top, there is a ton of speed in his female family through Holy Bull and Accipiter, and his dam, granddam, and great-granddam were all sprinters.

CLEBURNE – Scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the son of Dixie Union, trained by Dale Romans for Donegal Racing, still has a lot to prove, despite being undefeated in his two starts. He broke his maiden at a mile on the grass at Ellis Park before upsetting the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs at 34-1. Both his victories have come by narrow margins and his times and speed figures have been slow, but for now, he is undefeated on grass and dirt and has shown the will to win. He just needs to show it against better competition. He is inbred top and bottom to Seattle Slew and his third dam, Gay Matelda, was a Meadow Stable-bred who was one of the best 3-year-old fillies of her generation, winning the Alabama and placing in the CCA Oaks, Acorn and numerous other big stakes.

COASTLINE – Trained by Mark Casse for John Oxley, one of racing’s most potent teams the past several years, he has won his last two starts in impressive fashion, including a three-length victory in the one-mile Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs. Prior to that, he broke his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths at Keeneland. Although he was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Almost Famous in his career debut at Churchill, he did hand that colt a 10 3/4-length beating in the Street Sense. He is by Speightstown, a brilliant sprinter who has sired several classy two-turn horses, and his female family is made up of horses bred in Argentina, France, Brazil, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. His dam, Culinary, won the Arlington-Washington Lassie and several other stakes, and his broodmare sire, El Amante, captured the Flamingo Stakes and placed in the Illinois Derby and Tampa Bay Derby.

FINANCIAL MOGUL – It’s obvious from this colt’s name he’s owned by Klaravich Stables. Trained, of course, by Rick Violette, he’s been in and out in his four starts, alternating big efforts with well-beaten fourth-place finishes. The son of Street Boss broke his maiden by 5 1/2-lengths in the slop at Saratoga before turning in a dull effort in the Futurity Stakes. But he bounced back to run a solid second in the Nashua Stakes, closing from as far back at 11th at odds of 13-1. Ten furlongs is a bit of a question mark, with a pedigree consisting mainly of 1 1/8-mile horses, but he does trace to major stamina influence Tom Rolfe, and broodmare sire Snow Chief won the Preakness impressively. He sold for $185,000 as a weanling and then was a $170,000 RNA at Keeneland September.

HAVANA – There is no doubting this handsome colt’s speed and brilliance, and his sire, Dunkirk, could have been any kind had he stayed sound, but so far, he has not shown any indication he wants to stretch out to 1 1/4 miles. A $575,000 2-year-old purchase by Coolmore, he started his career with a monster score, blazing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02 3/5, earning a 102 Beyer speed figure, and then stretched out beautifully to win the one-mile Champagne Stakes before finishing a strong second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But by showing such speed and precociousness in his debut and then nearly blowing a 4 1/2-lead at the eighth pole in the Champagne and blowing a two-length lead in the BC Juvenile, one has to wonder how far he wants to go. He can rate off a fast pace, and perhaps if trainer Todd Pletcher can harness some of that speed, he may be able to keep stretching out. His broodmare sire, Kyle’s Our Man, is from a strong Darby Dan Farm family. Kyle’s Our Man’s dam, Lady Donna, is by Graustark, out of a full-sister to Roberto.

HONOR CODE – This could be the one everybody has been waiting for. He’s sure the one everyone’s been talking about, He still has some tests to pass and needs to put himself in better position to win, but he has all the tools – the looks, the pedigree, and a closing kick we haven’t seen from a 2-year-old in quite a while. The son of A.P. Indy, trained by Shug McGaughey, had Saratoga abuzz with his spectacular stretch run from 22 lengths back to win drawing off by 4 1/2 lengths, going seven furlongs in the slop. He returned in the Champagne Stakes, and while not as far back, he still was back in ninth, almost a dozen lengths off the pace. While Havana had a perfect trip, opening up turning for home, he was forced eight-wide at the quarter pole and came steamrolling down the stretch with those long, fluid strides to miss by a neck. He is a strikingly handsome individual and there’s just no telling how good he really is. The potential is limitless. But he does need to stay in closer touch with the leaders, and he should be able to once he goes two turns.

IN TROUBLE – The undefeated winner of the Futurity Stakes at Belmont hasn’t been farther than six furlongs, but is bred to run all day. Trained by Tony Dutrow, he is by Tiznow’s son Tiz Wonderful and his tail-female family is loaded with stamina through Bicker, Round Table, Unconscious, and his inbreeding to Tom Rolfe.  Twice he has successfully raided New York track from his base at Fair Hill, winning a maiden race at Saratoga in a snappy 1:03 4/5 and then the Futurity by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:09 3/5. Put through the sales ring three times, he was a $14,000 RNA as a weanling, sold for $15,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky, and then sold again for $120,000 at the OBS April 2-year-old sale.

KOBE’S BACK – The son of Flatter was the 4-5 favorite in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes after breaking his maiden by 3 1/4 lengths with a powerful stretch run in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial at Hollywood Park last spring in his career debut. But he ran into a monster named Shared Belief and had to settle for second, beaten 7 3/4 lengths. Although his broodmare sire is the speed-oriented Well Decorated, his tail-female family has plenty of stamina through Runaway Groom and Temperence Hill. Trained by John Sadler, he was a profitable pinhook, selling as a yearling for $60,000 and coming back in the OBS March 2-year-old sale and going for $480,000.

MEXIKOMA – The sixth-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile could be a real sleeper. After flopping on the grass in his career debut, he demolished a field of maidens by nearly 15 lengths, going a mile at Delaware Park. After that race he was purchased by Team Valor and turned over to Rick Mettee. The son of Birdstone made an excellent impression in the mornings at Santa Anita, but was way too far back in the Juvenile, racing in 13th, some 15 lengths off the pace. He closed determinedly, making up 11 lengths from the five-sixteenths pole to the wire to be beaten only 3 3/4 lengths for the win and a half-length for fourth. He has plenty of stamina top and bottom, and traces to the top-class mare Sabin, a grade I winner on grass and earner of almost $1.1 million.

NEW YEAR’S DAY – All the talk was about Tap It Rich, but Bob Baffert had another colt in his barn that he also loved and felt could be a major Kentucky Derby contender. Despite having only two starts and never running on dirt, this rugged son of Street Cry won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with a strong inside stretch run after weaving his way through horses like a seasoned pro. In his maiden victory at Del Mar, he defeated Bond Holder, who would go on to win the grade I FrontRunner Stakes. Although he hadn’t run in two months, New Year’s Day was finely tuned for a huge effort at Santa Anita and delivered at odds of 10-1. He has a good blend of speed and stamina and has the coveted RF (Rasmussen Factor), being inbred to Natalma through Northern Dancer and Raise the Standard. He also is inbred to the classy Hail to Reason through Mr. Leader and Halo. Gary West purchased him for $425,000 at Keeneland September.

NOBLE MOON – This stoutly bred son of Malibu Moon, trained by Leah Gyarmati, began his career by winning a six-furlong maiden race at Belmont wire-to-wire by three-quarters of a length in 1:10 1/5. Stretching out to a mile in the Nashua Stakes, he was bumped at the start and dropped back to last in the 12-horse field. He trailed the field until the three-eighths pole when he exploded, unleashing a dramatic move around horses that carried him from 12th to 3rd in about three-sixteenths of a mile. He was forced to circle horses six wide, and while he wasn’t able to sustain such a powerhouse move, he still ran on well to finish third at odds of 16-1. He has sold twice for $200,000, as a weanling and yearling. His female family is inundated with stamina, especially his tail-female line with names such as Stop the Music, Stage Door Johnny, Hail to Reason, and Tom Fool. Watch out for this one.

SHARED BELIEF – This son of Candy Ride could be any kind, and judging from his first two career starts, that could mean something very special. In his career debut for Jerry Hollendorfer, he blew his opponents away with a seven-length romp in 1:09 2/5 at Golden Gate. Then, in the seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue, he burst clear of his field so fast turning for home no one knew what hit them. He continued to draw off, winning under a hand ride by 7 3/4 lengths in 1:22 flat. It is interesting to note that one of his owners is sports host Jim Rome, who had just sold his pride and joy Mizdirection at Keeneland. That’s what you call passing on the torch. His breeding is fascinating in that he is a complete outcross and his maternal great-grandsire, Grenfall, is a half-brother (by Graustark-Primonetta) to Florida Derby winner Prince Thou Art. Grenfall came from the same Darby Dan crop as His Majesty and both were considered the two most special colts on the farm that year. Grenfall went on to win the 10-furlong Gallinule Stakes in Ireland and sired the blazingly fast Grenzen, who ran what was believed to be the fastest seven-furlongs ever by a filly at the time.

SMART COVER – The son of Any Given Saturday completed a Dale Romans-Donegal Racing exacta when finishing second to stablemate Cleburne in the Iroquois Stakes. Like Cleburne, he had broken his maiden on the grass at Ellis Park. Plenty of stamina here, with his broodmare sire Smart Strike and tracing to Crème dela Crème. The question, like with Cleburne, is how fast is he? His times have been on the slow side and he was 26-1 in the Iroquois, but he can motor late, charging down the stretch from ninth, a dozen lengths back, and still 7 1/2 lengths back at the eighth pole, to be beaten a neck. There certainly is plenty of room for improvement. So far, he looks like quite a bargain, having sold for only $35,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton July.

STRONG MANDATE
– Who can figure this son of Tiznow out? He was brilliant breaking his maiden by 4 1/2 lengths at Saratoga, was even more brilliant romping by almost 10 lengths in the slop in the Hopeful Stakes, but then was dragged back off the pace in the Champagne and never ran a lick, finishing a well-beaten 10th. Sent off at 7-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he had to break from the disadvantageous 13-post, was forced five-wide into the first turn and then charged to the lead down the backstretch through sizzling fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:09 3/5. When Havana ran right by him at the head of the stretch, he looked like he was going to retreat to the back of the pack. But he battled back gamely and came on again. He never quit and was running strongly at the wire, finishing third, beaten only two lengths. That effort, along with his strong pedigree, defined him as a serious Derby horse for Wayne Lukas, who bought him at Keeneland September for $200,000.

TAP IT RICH – Following his scintillating maiden score at Santa Anita, in which he came from 10 lengths back to win by 4 1/4 lengths, he became the hype horse for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, going off as the 3-1 second choice. But you could tell watching him train he still had a lot of learning to do and was one of those young, raw athletes who was doing everything on talent alone. He ran well enough to finish fifth, beaten only 3 1/4 lengths, but didn’t show that devastating kick he showed against maidens. The son of Tapit was purchased by Fog City Stable for $510,000 at Keeneland September. It will be interesting to see what the finished, or near-finished, product looks like next year.

WIRED BRYAN -- This New York-bred son of Stormy Atlantic broke his maiden by 7 1/4 lengths in open company in his career debut, zipping five furlongs in :56 3/5. He then romped by 5 1/4 lengths in the Sanford Stakes before getting beat a nose in the Saratoga Special. He didn't appear to handle the slop when fifth in the Hopeful, but came back in a pair of state-bred stakes and won them easily. He has a ton of early speed that he has to harness if he's going to be a Derby horse. He has sufficient stamina to go two turns, but he has yet to run beyond seven furlongs.

Two others who have had their moments, but need to improve off their last starts are Ride on Curlin, third in the Champagne, but a non-threatening third in the Street Sense at even-money, and Hopeful runner-up Casiguapo, who was a well-beaten fourth in the Champagne.

So, now you can have your turkey, watch some football, and bet the Kentucky Derby. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

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