Vino Rosso Todd Pletcher
Curlin—Mythical Bride, by Street Cry
He had a good competitive work with stakes-winning 4-year-old Outplay, winner of a recent seven-furlong allowance race in 1:22 3/5. Vino Rosso broke off on top and the pair kept exchanging leads before coming down the stretch together and finishing on even terms in :49 3/5, with neither colt being asked. It is difficult figuring out his various speed ratings. His late pace figure from Brisnet could be faster considering that should be his strength, but his overall speed ratings are good enough, and his excellent Thoro-Graph number in the Wood Memorial should be good enough to win or be right there in the Derby if he can repeat that effort. But for me, it’s the overall impression I’ve gotten since I watched his early races and the Wood. He just has the intelligence and temperament to handle whatever the Derby has to offer, he won’t be intimidated physically, and I see no red flags, as he looks to be your quintessential classic-type horse. Many feel he is simply not good enough to beat all these brilliant future superstars, but the Derby, with so many elements involved, is constantly won by horses who “weren’t good enough.” After they win, they suddenly become good enough. He certainly was good enough for John Velazquez to give up Audible and Noble Indy. He is bred to run all day and you know Velazquez will have him in the right spot and give him the kind of ride to put himself in position to win. For a 12-1 to 15-1 shot, you can’t ask for much better credentials.
Good Magic Chad Brown
Curlin—Glinda the Good, by Hard Spun
If he isn’t sitting on a huge race he’s doing a great impression of a horse who is. His half-mile breeze in :48 was the kind of eye-pleasing work you hope to see from a Derby horse. He was in an open gallop to the pole with his ears up and couldn’t be going any smoother in his work, reaching out powerfully with head and neck extended and the rider well up in the saddle. He showed excellent muscle tone, and I love the way he hugged the rail on the gallop-out and kept going at a strong clip, still reaching out with good extension. Perhaps what I liked the most is that he worked alone and was perfect every step of the way. Granted it was only a half-mile maintenance breeze, but, visually, it looked like a powerhouse move and was enough to convince me to leave him at No. 2 for now. He will have to improve off the Blue Grass, especially in his come-home time, but having seen the way he is capable of closing and knowing Chad Brown, I have to believe he has left plenty of room for improvement. Remember, the saying, “To be the champ, you have to beat the champ.” Well, here he is. All you have to do is beat him.
Justify Bob Baffert
Scat Daddy—Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper
There isn’t much to say about his most recent 1:13 1/5 six-furlong work in company other than it was pretty much like his previous works. He is one of the most consistent workers you’ll see, with one looking very much like the other. As usual, he broke off a couple of lengths behind his workmate, collared him just before the wire and left him far behind on the gallop-out. Every part of him exudes power and he is so machine-like in every stride he takes. He not only has tremendous extension in his right leg after switching leads, but also in his left leg. It is that enormous stride that allows him to do things so effortlessly. He is also very athletic for a big muscular horse, and that will be tested when he turns for home in the Derby and has to quickly level off with no wasted action. His Thoro-Graph number in the Santa Anita Derby was very strong, as was his Beyer figure, and his 117 late pace figure on Brisnet after running a 106 middle pace figure was spectacular. If he closes like that in the Kentucky Derby I doubt anyone can match it. But this time he won’t be doing it in a five- or seven-horse field, most of them being vastly inferior. The Derby does throw a number of stiff obstacles at you that he has yet to face. If he gets over them on May 5, then it is safe to say we have launched a new rocket into orbit. All three of his Brisnet pace figures in the Santa Anita Derby and his final speed rating were in triple digits, with each pace figure faster than the previous one, which is sensational and may indicate we really are dealing with something very special.
Audible Todd Pletcher
Into Mischief—Blue Devil Bel, by Gilded Time
His most recent five-furlong breeze in 1:01 2/5 was either the best I’ve seen him work or his workmate, Patch, turned in a terrible work. Audible, not known as a big worker by any means, having turned many people off for the Florida Derby, broke off on the inside and was doing everything easily, while Patch, on his wrong lead, was being urged on and had the whip shaken at him and still could barely keep up. Let’s call it a big work for Audible and spare poor ‘ol Patch any indignities. I am tired of bringing up stamina concerns almost every week, because, even though his pedigree says mile to 1 1/8 miles tops, he runs like a horse who will not be fazed by the 1 1/4 miles. But then, you never know about that final eighth. Personally, I would love to see the extremely fragile Damascus line shine, with his son Timeless Moment and Timeless Moment’s son Gilded Time (both sprinters) producing Audible’s dam. Many a brilliant horse at nine furlongs has failed to successfully negotiate that last furlong, so we’ll see if Audible can tap into all that class and stamina from Damascus. I do like how he adjusted all by himself to the rapid early pace of the Florida Derby, dropping the bit and taking himself to the back of the pack and the making a long sustained run. But his competition here will be much stiffer. He’s been very consistent with his big late pace figures, the last two coming off fast middle pace figures, so statistically he’s been flawless. Javier Castellano has been trying to get the Derby money off his back for a long time after a number of unproductive mounts. He gave up Bolt d’Oro to stay loyal to Pletcher, so let’s see if that loyalty will be rewarded.
Magnum Moon Todd Pletcher
Malibu Moon—Dazzling Song, by Unbridled's Song
This colt is a pure athlete. He has beautiful action, intelligence, does everything asked of him, and has a “puppy dog” disposition, according to Jacob West, who picked him out as a yearling. No wonder Pletcher’s father, J.J., who broke him and gave him his early training, told his son this was one of the best horses he’s ever had at the farm. Unlike Justify, who will be joining him on their assault against Apollo, he’s been able to cram four races in this year. But he is a late foal and the best case scenario for his drifting out in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby is still a bit of greenness. If that is the case, can he take a big step forward in the Derby, maturity-wise? It sounds obvious, but you do want to see a horse run straight coming down the stretch, especially in a 20-horse field. He did dominate that Arkansas Derby field, even with his drifting, and looked great in the final 70 yards after he straightened course. And it would be helpful if he didn’t switch leads so early next time. That just throws you out of sync. There is just so much upside to this colt once he grows up and fully matures. The Lows have strong connections to the Arkansas Derby, having finished second in 2006 with Steppenwolfer, who went on to finish third to Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby. So his emotions caught up to him after winning the Arkansas Derby. “I almost broke down,” he told KATV in Little Rock. “I was tearing up. This is a dream come true for my wife and me. It’s so gratifying and emotional I can’t express it.” Imagine if he wins the Kentucky Derby.
Bolt d’Oro Mick Ruis
Medaglia d'Oro—Globe Trot, by A.P. Indy
I must be a fool for lowering him, but I’m looking for guidance with him and this year’s Derby can make anyone look like a fool. He could be anywhere next week, So much for his two hard races this year possibly taking too much out of him. He certainly quashed that theory with his rapid-fire seven-furlong work in 1:24 1/5, with fractions of :35, :46 3/5, :58 4/5, and 1:11 2/5. I’m just not sure I want to see that much early speed from him, with each eighth slower than the one before (:11 3/5, :12 1/5, :12 3/5, and :12 4/5). I prefer to see that reversed, especially in a race expected to have a very contentious pace. If he can turn in a more Derby-oriented work next time he could easily move back up the list. I’m just torn right now as to where he is heading. He does have big overlay written all over him if he comes into the Derby the right way. I’m looking at him more as a mid-pack horse in this field, so it’s difficult to tell just where he is at this point after those early fractions. He is either a colt who has not improved much from 2 to 3 or he has used his two preps very wisely, getting a good stiff tightener in his San Felipe slugfest and then maintaining that form in the Santa Anita Derby, while avoiding another head-to-head gut-wrencher, although he was extremely hard ridden chasing Justify. I have ranked him all over the place, including a few weeks at No. 1, but I need to see another work and his gallops and try to evaluate just where he’s going to be running. He is the Derby wild card and could go in any direction. One thing is for sure, if you projected what his Derby odds would be at the end of last year or even after the San Felipe, you can be sure they will be a lot higher than that on race day, and that makes him very attractive as the aforementioned potential overlay of the field.
Mendelssohn Aidan O'Brien
Scat Daddy—Leslie's Lady, by Tricky Creek
As the baby of the bunch, born on May 17, he was still very immature early on and didn’t really find himself until O’Brien added blinkers. Now he is a “very cool character and takes everything in stride,” according to O’Brien. He has excelled on grass, synthetic, and dirt, and his UAE Derby was the jaw dropper of the year. Who knows what we’re dealing with? It does say something that Ryan Moore has decided to ride him in the Kentucky Derby rather than stay home to ride for O’Brien in the Two Thousand Guineas. He is going to be in for some new experiences, especially the clutter of horses going into the first turn all trying to get position and the kickback should he not make the lead and get shuffled farther back in the pack. But Moore is one of the coolest jockeys around and you can be sure he will not panic no matter what happens. I still wish he hadn’t ridden Mendelssohn so aggressively to the wire in Dubai, whether it was his choice or by instruction. We just don’t know how that race will affect him. Europeans haven’t a clue about “bouncing” and couldn’t care less. It is the nature of racing in Europe that horses don’t regress off big efforts, because their idea of a big effort and what Mendelssohn did in Dubai are in different universes. That was a freak performance wherever it was. That brings the question, is Mendelssohn a freak? Just more intrigue to make this year’s Derby all the more perplexing.
Free Drop Billy Dale Romans
Union Rags—Trensa, by Giant's Causeway
He is a perfect example of how perceptions and rankings can change once horses have their final works. If you want to know what you should be looking for in a Derby work, especially at Churchill Downs, just watch his five-furlong drill in :59. Watch the way he levels off and stretches his head and neck out and the way he moves so effortlessly over the ground, while never being asked. Most important, watch how smoothly he cuts the corner on the gallop-out and how strong he still is as he just keeps going well into the backstretch. Then look at your watch and see his final two eighths in :11 4/5 and :12 1/5, followed by gallop-out eighths in :13 and :13 2/5, pulling up after seven furlongs in a sprightly 1:25 2/5. He is no stranger to the Top 12, having been ranked as high as No. 5. Consider in the Blue Grass Stakes he ran 67 feet farther than runner-up Flameaway and was bothered badly by Sporting Chance. That 67 feet equates to over eight lengths and he was beaten four lengths by Good Magic. He also ran a career best Thoro-Graph number in the Blue Grass, and after his “bounce” race in the Gotham, he is now on an excellent pattern that makes him at least competitive with the leading contenders. Like his sire Union Rags, he is a steady closer who builds momentum the farther he goes, and, the way he was coming in the Blue Grass he likely was going to be right there for second if Sporting Chance hadn’t bolted right in his path in the final sixteenth, causing him to dramatically alter course to avoid him. I liked his aggressive second to Audible in the Holy Bull for his big rebound effort after the BC Juvenile. Dropping back to a flat mile over a dead track in the Gotham didn’t suit his style, but it was a good prep for the Blue Grass, which in turn looked to be a good prep for the Derby. If you’re looking for a big price to play in the exotics, even if only to back end the leading contenders that you like, he might be worth a second look, considering the way he seems to be coming into the race.
My Boy Jack Keith Desormeaux
Creative Cause—Gold N Shaft, by Mineshaft
After his third-place finish in the Sham Stakes, his Thoro-Graph number jumped a whopping six points in his Southwest Stakes score. He has now run the exact same number three races in a row, which means he never regressed off the Southwest effort. While that number might not be quite good enough to win the Derby, he likely will not regress now and could easily improve going 1 1/4 miles. But until he stretches out that far, we just don’t know if he hit his max or not. As I’ve been saying about him, unlike your typical late closers, he has that explosive turn of foot that can put him in contention in a hurry, and he doesn’t mind taking the precarious rail route or the extreme overland route. He had a bigger kick flying through on the rail in the slop at Oaklawn, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. But losing so much ground in the Louisiana Derby and Lexington Stakes compromised him in the stretch and he had to work hard the rest of the way. He will get played in the exotics because of his big kick. West Point Thoroughbreds, looking to duplicate their late buy-in on Always Dreaming last year, has purchased a share in this colt at the 11th hour. This practice of buying in on major classic horses at the last minute seems to be a new popular trend and no doubt will increase sales of wide-angle lenses to accommodate the massive throngs that now gather in the winner’s circle. Anyway, he is a fun horse to own or bet on, because he is never out of it, as you wait with great hope for that explosive move to put him in the race.
Flameaway Mark Casse
Scat Daddy—Vulcan Rose, by Fusaichi Pegasus
He turned in a sharp five-furlong work in 1:00 2/5 at Churchill Downs. This was an important work for him considering his only truly bad effort came at Churchill. But we do know he runs well on fast, sloppy, and muddy dirt tracks and grass, so we’ll put a line through his Iroquois performance, as he has turned into one of the most consistent and versatile horses we’ve seen this year. The big question with him is where he will be placed. He’s the kind of horse you want to see on the right off the lead turning for home, but that is not going to be an easy task this year. The one ray of hope is the way he found his best stride late in the Tampa Bay Derby and was coming on fast in the final yards. He is going to need fairly substantial moves forward in his Beyer and Thoro-Graph figures to be competitive for win, but he is at least going in the right direction in both to offer some hope that he will be able to make his presence felt. If he runs wells enough in the Derby, he could be a force two weeks later in the Preakness.
Noble Indy Todd Pletcher
Take Charge Indy—Noble Maz, by Storm Boot
Pletcher normally doesn’t work horses six furlongs, but his three-quarter breeze in 1:15 no doubt is the result of the six-week layoff since the Louisiana Derby. While he did it easy enough, his workmate was totally overmatched and couldn’t keep up with him despite feeling the whip at the head of the stretch. He is not getting the love the other lightly raced horses, like Justify, Magnum Moon, and Hofburg, are getting, perhaps because his Louisiana Derby victory wasn’t as sexy as the other major races, with him having to battle back to eke out a victory. Then he loses John Velazquez, so people naturally began looking elsewhere. But let’s remember, he did beat My Boy Jack, who came back to win the Lexington Stakes and could take a good deal of money at the windows. He’s really a difficult horse to get a real handle on because we really don’t know much about him and he hasn’t had that one standout moment. But we at least know he has no quit in him.
Enticed Kiaran McLaughlin
Medaglia d'Oro—It's Tricky, by Mineshaft
He turned in a solid five-furlong work in 1:01 1/5, working in company with stakes-winning Take Charge Paula. Breaking off outside the filly, they were on equal terms until Enticed’s rider asked him to go nearing the wire and he shot to a length advantage and galloped out well, although he does carry his head high and has high knee action. I have to admit I have run out of things to say about him. He’s just a steady presence that doesn’t go up or down. If you really like him, you’re going to have to try to figure out just how he would win this race with his style of running. As I keep saying, he’s not quick, he runs hard and is not exactly light on his feet. But he is tough, durable, and honest and has earned his way into the Derby. Winning it, however, against this many brilliant horses in another matter. He would have to have an absolute perfect scenario unfold and just hope the others aren’t as good as advertised. But expect to see him in a number of winner’s circle photos over the course of the year, whether one-turn or two-turn races.
KNOCKING AT THE DOOR
Despite his foibles, SOLOMINI does have things to warrant his return to the Top 12, but I want to see him train first just to get some kind of positive sign that he can get his act together in a short period of time. I did love the fact that Baffert didn’t wait long to give him a short blowout, and he did respond with a bullet three-furlong work in :35 1/5, fastest of 26 works at the distance. But as of this writing, I haven’t seen the work. There are several good points to latch onto with him. In both his starts this year, he was passed by a good closer in Combatant, but battled back to beat him both times. And he was so wide throughout the Arkansas Derby his Thoro-Graph number was only a half-point slower than Magnum Moon’s and a good move forward off the Rebel, suggesting he should have another move forward in the Kentucky Derby, especially stretching out to 1 1/4 miles. But unlike Free Drop Billy, who just beat him out to get back in the Top 12 because of his exceptional work, his Thoro-Graph number still needs to improve several points to make an impact on the Derby. I really do admire his courage under fire and his consistency. He runs hard all the way and will stand up to anyone. All of which makes him more frustrating because he often beats himself. Ride him the right way, don’t give him too much to do or think about other than running hard. Basically keep it simple, and he will outrun an outfight most of these horses.
I never realized how classy looking HOFBURG is and what a regal air he has about him. He trots with his head up, moving like a seasoned show horse, and from that he can quickly grab the bit, drop his head and start his work without missing a beat. In action, he has a nice smooth stride with good extension. In his latest work, five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Payson Park, he sat about a length or two behind a workmate, then on cue at the head of the stretch, the workmate was taken wide and Hofburg cut to the inside. They came down the stretch on even terms, with Hofburg now down on the rail. Neither horse was being asked, and it was the workmate who actually crossed the wire a long neck in front, with Hofburg then cutting the corner and galloping out several lengths ahead. All in all, I was very impressed with this colt’s overall appearance and the way he holds himself. The big question now is, how much damage can he do in the Derby with only three career starts and a five-month layoff between his first and second start?
Welcome COMBATANT and INSTILLED REGARD to the Derby field following the defections of QUIP and GRONKOWSKI, the latter to an infection. Instilled Regard might need some time to regroup following his non-threatening fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, but no one can blame them for going in the Derby. He turned in a solid five-furlong work in 1:01, so he hasn’t missed a beat in the morning, and we know he has back class. And he should love the mile and a quarter. Those now waiting to get in are SNAPPER SINCLAIR and BLENDED CITIZEN.
The first major morning shot fired came from Louisiana Derby runner-up LONE SAILOR, who blasted through his five-furlong work in a blazing :57 3/5. And this is a come-from-behind horse, who obviously is extremely sharp right now. I’m sure trainer Tom Amoss is happy this work was this past week and not his final Derby work. This son of Majestic Warrior seemingly had the Louisiana Derby all wrapped up, but drifted wide at an inopportune time and let Noble Indy come back at him after appearing beaten at the top of the stretch. His Thoro-Grph numbers are moving, but he still needs to get several points faster.
Wayne Lukas had Risen Star winner BRAVAZO out on the Churchill Downs track for a six-furlong breeze in 1:15 2/5. He could be a pace factor chasing PROMISES FULFILLED, who worked five furlongs in :59 1/5 at Churchill Downs. Although Romans is not going to sacrifice him to help Free Drop Billy, with both colts having different owners, he sure wouldn’t mind it if he does keep things honest for him. However, don’t expect the same kamikaze tactics they used in the Florida Derby after the colt ran so well winning the Fountain of Youth in his first start of the year. And no way Romans is going to make a sacrificial lamb out of a son of his beloved Shackleford. He will give him every chance to take them as far as he can. He owes him that after those Florida Derby tactics.
Remember when FIRENZE FIRE was one of the more highly regarded 2-year-olds and early 3-year-olds? Although he seems to have tailed off, he is still in the Derby field and blew out an easy three furlongs in :39 3/5 at Belmont Park.