Because there are so many question marks surrounding the quality of the UAE Derby, including how a round trip there and back can affect a horse trying to come back in five weeks in the Kentucky Derby, let us look at Plus Que Parfait and Gray Magician as unknowns, and therefore potential megabomb exotics horses despite their mediocre form in the U.S. before heading to the desert.
We do know that the UAE Derby proved that a mile and a quarter will not pose a problem for either colt. We do know that Plus Que Parfait improved many lengths with blinkers added. We do know that Gray Magician had a wide trip and was running very strongly at the wire. And we do know, based on what we’ve seen and heard that both colts came out of their hard races in the UAE Derby in great shape and seem to be flourishing, maintaining a high energy level. And both colts have looked good in their works since that race.
PLUS QUE PARFAIT’s victory in the UAE Derby might have a more profound effect on the Kentucky Derby than one might think. He’s the only horse who has already won at 1 3/16 miles, and did it carrying the Derby weight of 126 pounds, something no one else has done. He also did it by slicing between horses and altering course, wearing blinkers for the first time, and in my opinion he has one of the top two or three mile and a quarter pedigrees in the field if not the best. I originally tossed him because I don’t like a horse flying to Dubai and back, but I love that trainer Brendan Walsh kept him in Dubai for 12 days to unwind and rehydrate before shipping back home. Watching him at Churchill Downs I like what I see. He seems to be carrying his weight well and his work went virtually unnoticed. But he went very smoothly and he did it easily in company, with Walsh not looking for anything too quick. This was more of a maintenance move.
And remember, he has run well in both his starts at Churchill Downs, finishing a fast-closing second, beaten a neck, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. If you’re looking for a horse with the classic look of a stayer who is doing well, loves the track, and has improved with blinkers, he is your quintessential distance horse. The big question with him is whether he’s fast enough. That’s why you’re going to get a big price on him. If he can improve a couple of points on his UAE Derby Thoro-Graph figure of “3” he could sneak into the exotics…or more.
As for GRAY MAGICIAN, he is a bit more of a stretch, but all you have to do is watch the UAE Derby and see the trip he had and how strongly he was running at the end, also carrying the Derby weight of 126 pounds. I was sure he would get a better Thoro-Graph number than the winner, and although he was surprisingly a quarter of a point slower, he was two points faster on Ragozin. He demonstrated that he is much more effective coming from farther back off the pace than he had been in his previous starts. The farthest he’d been off the pace was five lengths in a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar, which he won by 9 1/2 lengths.
Before leaving for Dubai he had run a solid second to Maryland monster Alwaysmining in the one-mile Miracle Wood Stakes, run in a snappy 1:35 1/5, increasing his Brisnet number nine points, Beyer number seven points, Thoro-Graph number 5 1/4 points and Ragozin number four points, so he was already on an upward trend, which continued in the UAE Derby. Like Plus Que Parfait, he also has improved with the addition of blinkers. If you like old school training, Peter Miller worked him back-to-back miles before the UAE Derby in 1:41 and then 1:37 4/5, so he definitely was fit. Since that race he has turned in two sharp works at San Luis Rey Downs, including a five-furlong drill in 1:00 2/5 with a final quarter in :23 1/5 and a 1:12 2/5 gallop-out, so it can be assumed he also has bounced out of the UAE Derby in good shape.
All this is merely food for thought, especially if you’re looking for a different kind of angle, either for a monster upset or a horse to come flying late to get in the exotics. And remember, both colts likely will be back on Lasix for the Derby.
Even if you feel they are inferior to the leading contenders and too slow, also remember that less talented horses have finished in the money in the Derby. And you know fitness, distance, and experience are not in question.