All it takes is a look at the list of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners to know that the Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby are worlds apart. Not only does winning the biggest race for 2-year-olds have no bearing on what a horse does on the first Saturday in May, history tells us you’re better off eliminating the Juvenile winner from Derby consideration.
So, why even mention it and devote an entire column to trying to find a potential Derby winner from this year’s field? Because the belief here is that this is equivalent to heads and tails. Just because it comes up heads 10 times in a row doesn’t mean it is due to come up tails the next time. No matter how many times it comes up heads, it is still 50-50 on the next flip. So, unless someone can come up with a concrete reason why a victory in the Juvenile means you cannot win the Derby, I am going to assume that there is a possibility we will see next year’s Derby winner at Churchill Downs on November 2.
The first question to ask is why does the Juvenile have such a bad record producing a Derby winner? Well, considering that many of the race’s classy winners, such as Texas Red, New Year’s Day, Uncle Mo, Midshipman, War Pass, Stevie Wonderboy, and Vindication never made it to Churchill Downs for one physical reason or another, you can’t take a lot of stock in that. Also, of the three Juvenile winners in the past three years who did make the Derby, Nyquist won, Good Magic was second, and Classic Empire ran a big race following a victory in the Arkansas Derby, despite having several interruptions in his training at 3. And Street Sense did become the first Juvenile winner ever to win the Derby in 2007. So, in the past 11 years, no Juvenile winner actually made it to the Derby and ran a poor race with the exception of Hansen, who simply was not a mile and a quarter horse.
With all that said, here is a rundown of horses pre-entered in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile who could join Street Sense, Nyquist, Good Magic, and Classic Empire as major factors in the Kentucky Derby, based on pedigree and performance, mostly visually, as statistics do not always reveal what a brilliant 2-year-old will do going a mile and a quarter at 3.
1—CODE OF HONOR – Perfect blend of dirt, grass, speed, and stamina. I was impressed that a Shug McGauhey-trained colt won first time out at Saratoga going six furlongs. He won in workmanlike fashion, but visually did it the right way. The usually conservative McGaughey threw him right into the grade 1 Champagne Stakes and he appeared to lose all chance when he stumbled twice coming out of the gate. After winning his debut wire to wire he was now forced to come from dead last in the 10-horse field. He swung out nearing the top of the stretch and closed well to finish second to the pacesetting Complexity, on whom Chad Brown is extremely high. Although the brilliant filly Jaywalk ran a tick faster the following day in the Frizette Stakes, the Champagne time of 1:34 3/5 was one of the fastest ever, and Code of Honor’s Beyer speed figure in defeat was five points higher than Jaywalk. To demonstrate how you can turn him on and off, he breezed a slow five furlongs in 1:03 for the Champagne a week after breezing a half in a bullet :46 flat, fastest of 60 works at the distance, and, again, you normally don’t see a McGaughey 2-year-old work that fast. He goes from Eric Cancel back to John Velazquez, and the latter is not a bad jockey to latch onto early. His sire, the English-bred Noble Mission, is a son of the great Galileo and a full-brother to Frankel, and his two paternal grandsires, Sadler’s Wells and Danehill are greatly responsible for the Coolmore dynasty. Sadler’s Wells, his son Galileo, and Danehill have sired an amazing 1,000 stakes winners among them, including over 230 group/grade 1 winners. Code of Honor’s broodmare sire, Dixie Union was a grade 1 winner who sired Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags. Code of Honor gets his speed from his dam’s female family through Mt. Livermore, Bold Forbes, Irish Castle, and Bolinas Boy. In summation, this looks like a classic-type horse in all departments, and all he has to do is be closing fast in the stretch in the Juvenile to stamp him as a legitimate Derby prospect.
2—GAME WINNER – You cannot fault him in any way, as he is undefeated with two grade 1 victories, his speed figures are climbing with every start, he is trained by Triple Crown guru Bob Baffert, and he is by Candy Ride, out of an A.P. Indy mare. He consistently works fast, even for a Baffert horse, and has won pressing the pace, stalking the pace, and coming from five lengths back. And he’s pulled away from his opponents in the final furlong in all three of his starts. Candy Ride, a track record holder at 1 1/4 miles, is from the highly successful Fappiano sire line. Game Winner’s female family has a number of very fast horses who could carry their speed long distances, such as Seattle Slew, Indian Charlie, In Excess, and Afleet. His second dam, Fleet Indian, won the grade 1 Personal Ensign and Beldame Stakes and the grade 2 Delaware Handicap at 1 1/4 miles, and was the champion older mare of 2006. He is the latest revved up sports car to come off the Bob Baffert assembly line, all of whom have been able to go a long way on a single tank of gas. How do you follow the likes of American Pharoah, Arrogate, Justify, West Coast, Mastery, McKinzie, and Dortmund? We keep asking that question every year, and every year they keep zooming off the conveyor belt. But sometimes it is the ones at the back of that conveyor belt that turn out to have the best engine, so also keep an eye on names such as Roadster, Much Better, Magic On Tap, and Tale of the Union. But for now it is all about Game Winner.
3—DUELING – He may not be ready to take on some of top choices in here, but watch out for this impressive-looking colt later on. In his first two starts he was second to Rowayton going five furlongs and then second to Game Winner going six furlongs. Both those colts went on to finish one-two in the grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and one-three in the grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes. Stretching out to a mile, he settled about four to five lengths off the pace and then displayed a powerful turn of foot on the far turn to sweep to the lead on the far outside. He switched leads on cue and easily drew off on his own to score by almost three lengths. Although his time was a modest 1:38 2/5, his final quarter of :25 2/5 was decent enough, and it is important to note that the following day Accelerate won the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again Stakes in an equally modest 1:50 1/5, 15 Beyer points lower than his previous start. So the track obviously was on the deep side that weekend. Jerry Hollendorfer is not the type to put a horse in a spot like this if he didn’t think highly of him. He resembles his sire, Violence, one of the hottest young stallions in the country. Violence is a son of Medaglia d’Oro, so we have the Sadler’s Wells sire line once again. Dueling’s female family is extremely strong, with powerful European influences. He is a half-brother to Know More, winner of the Best Pal Stakes an second in the grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes. His dam is a half-sister Que Belle, winner of the German Oaks and German 2,000 Guineas. His second dam is a half-sister to European 2-year-old champion Bakharoff, winner of the group 1 William Hill Futurity and Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and third in the French Derby and Irish Derby, and also a half-sister to Emperor Jones, winner of the Lockinge and Craven Stakes in England and placed in the Queen Anne Stakes and Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. And his third dam is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Qui Native. His maternal grandsire and great-grandsire are Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid. This is a good-looking colt with a smooth efficient stride who looks to have a bright future.
4—STANDARD DEVIATION – Although he has one of those uncomfortable sounding Seth Klarman names that only a stock broker can appreciate or understand, this colt appears to have a bright future at classic distances. Want a definition of Standard Deviation? “A quantity calculated to indicate the extent of deviation for a group as a whole.” Now all we need is a definition of the definition. That aside, this colt took advantage of an off-the-turf maiden race by winning impressively by 2 3/4 lengths going seven furlongs. As is the custom nowadays, he went right into the Breeders’ Futurity at 1 1/16 miles. Breaking from the disadvantageous 13 post, he found himself far back in 11th, some 10 lengths off the leisurely pace set by the victorious Knicks Go. Forced to circle his field seven-wide, he closed well to finish third, beaten a half-length for second. A $450,000 yearling purchase, he is by Curlin, out of an A.P. Indy mare, so we know there should be no problems going farther. His second dam, Classic Elegance, was a brilliant 2-year-old, winning the Schuylerville and Debutante Stakes before her career was cut short. Classic Elegance’s dam is by the classy Halo, who is a son of Hail to Reason and a half-brother to champion Tosmah. If he can overcome his non Kentucky Derby name, Brown could have a good one for next spring. He does have to improve his speed figures, but with only two starts and his pedigree, he has a lot of upside.
5—MIND CONTROL – Although he has impeccable breeding and should enjoy longer distances, I still need to see how he rates behind horses stretching out to two turns. He has battled for the lead in two of his three races and stalked the pace in his other start, all in races with fast fractions. But he has shown good steady improvement in his speed figures, and he has to be a top-quality horse to defeat a very talented colt in Mucho in the Hopeful Stakes. And Mucho is right up at the top of my list of Derby hopefuls. Mind Control has won three races at three different distances at three different racetracks in three different states, and his time of 1:22 4/5 in the Hopeful was strong. You wouldn’t think the son of Travers winner and Belmont runner-up Stay Thirsty would be this precocious, so that is saying a lot, considering he should be much better at longer distances. He no doubt gets his speed from his dam, Feel That Fire, who was a pretty good sprinter. His broodmare sire, Lightnin n Thunder, was stakes-placed at 2, but had his career cut short, so we know little about him, other than he has a strong distance pedigree. Mind Control’s second dam is by French Deputy, so you have good mile speed and plenty of toughness, while his third dam is by Private Account, out of a Danzig mare, so there is a good stamina base in his tail-female family, even going back to champion 3-year-old Key to the Mint. He was forced to miss his prep for the Juvenile, so if he comes up a little short, but runs a big race, that will be good enough to stamp him as a potential Derby horse.
6— KNICKS GO – Many will look at his 5 1/2-length wire-to-wire romp in the Breeders’ Futurity as a 70-1 fluke, but visually he looked very strong in the stretch and you never know how much a young horse is going to improve stretching out to two turns for the first time. In the Breeders’ Futurity, his Beyer speed figure jumped 30 points from his previous start, the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Polytrack, and he was getting Lasix for the first time. What I loved about his career debut at Ellis Park was not so much that he wired his field by 3 1/2 lengths in :57 4/5, but that he was sent off at 8-5 and was not the favorite, so you know he beat a good horse. He raced greenly down the stretch in that race, but has shown maturity since and was very professional coming home in the Breeders’ Futurity. We all know the amazing story behind his sire Paynter, but remember he was narrowly beaten right on the wire in the Belmont Stakes and is by one of the top classic stallions in the country, Awesome Again. And Paynter’s dam, Tizso, is a full-sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. Knicks Go’s broodmare sire, Outflanker, is a son of Danzig, out of a mare who is by Alydar, out of Lassie Dear, the granddam of classic winners A.P. Indy, Summer Squall, and Lemon Drop Kid. He just has to prove he can win coming from off the pace, as both of his victories have been on the front end and both of his losses have been from off the pace.
7—COMPLEXITY – Talent-wise, he looks to be right up there near or at the top, along with Game Winner, and his two career starts have been nothing short of brilliant, winning his debut wire-to-wire by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:09 3/5 for the six furlongs and then wiring his field in the Champagne to win by three lengths after setting fractions of :22 2/5, :45 1/5, and 1:09 2/5. So we know he’s fast and can carry his speed. And from a visual standpoint, he has a smooth, effortless way of moving that makes him appear to be going slower than he actually is. He will take a lot of beating in the Juvenile. He is not the kind of horse you want to take on early in a race if you have any hope of being there at the finish. He compliments his stablemate Standard Deviation very well and gives Chad Brown a powerful presence on the front end and off the pace. The big question with him is how far he wants to go. We know how fast his sire Maclean’s Music was, winning his only start in a spectacular 1:07 2/5, earning an outrageous 114 Beyer speed figure. But Maclean’s Music has sired a Preakness winner in Cloud Computing. Complexity’s dam is by the speed-oriented Yes It’s True, a son of speed-oriented Yes It’s True, out of a mare by the little-known Digression, who had distance limitations and wound up standing for $1,500 in Utah. Complexity’s second dam was strictly a sprinter and his third dam is by Torsion, who also was a pure sprinter. So, there is a ton of sprinting speed all through his pedigree, and we will just have to wait and see how far he can carry his speed. With his pedigree, if he remains a horse committed to the lead he will have a long way to go in proving he is Derby material. He needs to show he can rate and come home.
8—SIGNALMAN – Trainer Kenny McPeek has been very high on him from day one, and he looked as if he might have been in a bit over his head in the Breeders’ Futurity after breaking his maiden by a nose in a gutsy effort at Saratoga. Breaking from the rail in the 13-horse field, he was in tight quarters down on the inside most of the way, and then was bumped trying to get through at the top of the stretch and momentarily lost his action. But he recovered beautifully and managed to finish second, holding off the late-closing Standard Deviation. He is by Blue Grass Stakes winner General Quarters, and we know little about his sire, who wound up standing in Turkey. But General Quarters has more than enough stamina and is inbred to one of the great stamina influences Round Table. Signalman’s broodmare sire Trippi was a top-class sprinter, who did manage to win the Flamingo Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, but has been mostly a speed influence. Signalman’s maternal great-grandsire Honor Grades is a half-brother to A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. His third dam is by the Damascus stallion Cutlass, who was mostly a speed influence, but did sire Cutlass Reality who dusted Alysheba by 6 1/2 lengths in the Hollywood Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles. So we have a good blend of speed and stamina and there is no reason why Signalman will not stretch out successfully.
9—TIGHT TEN – This son of Tapit was beaten at even-money in the Iroquois Stakes stretching out to two turns, but going head and head on the lead for a good portion of the race didn’t help. He was very impressive winning his career debut at Churchill Downs by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:10 4/5 and then ran well to finish second in the Saratoga Special after bobbling at the start and racing greenly down the stretch. He got bumped around at the start of the Iroquois, which obviously didn’t help, and just got nailed near the wire. He does have two good performances at Churchill and breezed a bullet five furlongs in the slop there recently, so he has that in his favor. By Tapit, out of a Distorted Humor mare, his second dam Fleet Renee win the grade 1 Mother Goose and Ashland Stakes. I love that his dam is inbred to Mr. Leader, who carries on the stamina and toughness of his sire Hail to Reason. Tight Ten also is inbred 3x4 to Seattle Slew. This is a horse who should win his share of stakes.
10—WELL DEFINED – First off, we have to find out if he is as good as he looked beating lesser competition in the In Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Series, in which he coasted home by 7 1/2 lengths, earning a solid 91 Beyer speed figure, in his first start around two turns. He is trained by the talented Katherine O’Connell, and, like some of the others, will have to show he can rate off the pace and close. His sire With Distinction is by Storm Cat, out of a mare by Alydar, out of the Phipps mare Squander. His dam is by Medaglia d’Oro. Although his second dam is by sprinter Phone Trick, his third dam is by Private Account, out of a Prince John mare, and his dam is inbred to Damascus. So there is a good blend of speed and stamina.
You can also make a case for MR. MONEY, who has an impressive victory at Churchill Downs in his two-turn debut. He has speed on top through Goldencents and Into Mischief and stamina on the bottom through Tiznow and Distorted Humor. And he is inbred to Travers and Haskell winner Forty Niner. He has the right running style and obviously likes Churchill, so we’ll see how he fares in this field moving way up in class. GUNMETAL GRAY is improving and ran well down the stretch to be second to Game Winner in the American Pharoah, but being by Exchange Rate, I’m not sure how far he wants to go. There is stamina in his female family, so the jury is still out on him until we see if he can repeat his performance in the American Pharoah. He looks like a stalker and should be fairly close to the pace. TROPHY CHASER and TOPPER T need to show more, with the former looking to rebound off a poor effort in the Champagne after a monster maiden score.