We all know about the early Kentucky Derby favorites and those that are on the top of the graded earnings list. But here are three under-the-radar colts to watch for as the Derby trail inches closer.
Casper's Touch (Touch Gold-Lizzy Cool, by Saint Ballado)--He's one I'm really watching, mainly due to his Feb. 5 allowance race at Gulfstream when he was runner-up to Shackleford while going two turns for the first time. On paper, there wasn't anything to get excited about, but if you watch the race you will see why he has so much potential. The term "bad trip" is thrown around quite often these days, sometimes without much merit, however in the case of Casper's Touch, he had one of the worst trips you will ever see for a young horse--yet still not only finished with interest, but was gaining ground.
He broke from the rail, was stuck on the inside, was rank and head strong in the early part of the race, was bottled up thanks to Shadow Warrior racing alongside him for the entire backstretch, then as he entered the lane Shadow Warrior throws him a cross check that would have easily sent Alex Ovechkin to the ground. Despite all of this Casper's Touch re-rallied, split horses inside the sixteenth-pole, and got up for second while finishing just two lengths back of Shackleford, who had the perfect trip. Very impressive to say the least.
Casper's Touch is an interesting colt. He was a January foal and matured very quickly. Trainer Ken McPeek sent him to the races at Keeneland last spring for his debut where he finished an uninspired fourth. But he thought enough of him to send him to Ascot in June where he ran much better, finishing third on the turf just three lengths from the winner. After getting some time off to mature, the dark bay colt went to Churchill where he broke his maiden on the main track convincingly going one mile. Then it was off to Florida.
McPeek told me on Tuesday that Casper's Touch will get two chances to make the Kentucky Derby. He'll run against the big boys in the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth and then the Florida Derby. McPeek thinks the sky is the limit with this colt.
"He came out of (the allowance race) really good," McPeek said. "He needed some schooling and he got a good lesson in that race. He was rank and a little fresh, I think he'll really benefit from it. He had every reason to lay down and finish fourth after what happened but he refused. He fought back and ran a good second in spite of everything.
"He'll go to the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby. He has two races to prove himself against the best. We'll see if he fits. I wouldn't want to run him in the Derby unless I knew he fit anyway. I think he's really special, but he has to prove it."
McPeek said he has decided on a rider change for Casper's Touch, as Alex Solis will have the mount in the Fountain of Youth and going forward. He replaces Julien Leparoux, who has committed to Dialed In. As good as Leparoux is, it's not a bad move. Solis has rejuvenated his career this winter and is riding exceptionally well.
Toby's Corner (Bellamy Road-Brandon's Ride, by Mister Frisky)--He's not the kind of colt I would normally get excited about, being that he's based in Maryland and won on the inner track at Aqueduct in the Whirlaway. But I must admit that I am intrigued. Maybe part of the reason is because of his pedigree--by the freaky Bellamy Road and out of a Mister Frisky mare. You don't see that every day. But his last three races all impressed me. He broke his maiden by 10 going one mile at Laurel in November and began his season over the same ground by winning a first-level allowance race impressively.
Toby's Corner has won basically the same way in all three of his wins--settling well from off the pace, making a big move around the turn, and finishing strongly. He has a very nice way of moving and looks like he wants distance. In the Whirlaway, which was in the fog and on a muddy track, he was last of five for most of the way before making his big move and out-finishing two solid favorites.
Toby's Corner is in the Fair Hill barn of one of the best trainers around, Graham Motion. On Wednesday, Motion told me that his charge will be heading to the Gotham on March 5, where he will face Stay Thirsty, among others. Motion said he will have just one work before the Gotham.
"I brought him back a little quicker than I wanted (for the Whirlaway), so he'll just have the one work," Motion said. "But he's been galloping a mile and a quarter every day and is doing fine. He showed in his last Maryland race that he was a little green when he made the lead, but this time he straightened out and ran on well.
"At the end of the day, he's still an immature horse and that's why I kept him here instead of Florida where he would have to face more seasoned horses.
"Mrs. Cotter (the owner) and I are on the same page (as far as the Kentucky Derby). The horse will have to take us there. He's done everything we've asked so far but now it gets tougher."
When asked about the prospects of possibly facing Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial, assuming Toby's Corner runs well in the Gotham, Motion was refreshingly honest.
"Yes, it's crossed my mind," he said. "But if Uncle Mo (comes to the Wood), would that bother me? No. We've taken a bit of a conservative route with him so far, but we're not looking to duck anyone. At some point he is going to have to face some good horses to see if we belong."
Awesome Patriot (Awesome Again-Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy)--I wrote about him on my first blog post of the year in early December. Since that time he won an allowance race on Dec. 29 at Santa Anita. Though he beat only two horses in the race, one of them was Riveting Reason, who was beaten just a nose in last weekend's Robert Lewis. It was a good indicator of where Awesome Patriot stacks up.
I was actually expecting to see Awesome Patriot in the Lewis, but Bob Baffert obviously thought he needed a bit more time. He has had a strong series of works over the past four weeks, so he's just about ready for his season debut. Where that will be I don't know. He has a good 2-year-old foundation, which means getting him a race early on wasn't all that important. The March 12 San Felipe is the most logical spot, but maybe Baffert will decide to run him in the Gotham. We'll see.
Either way, I think this colt has a lot of potential. He has good tactical speed and Baffert has thought all along that he is a two-turn horse. I've never been a huge Jaycito fan and I don't think The Factor is a Derby horse. When all is said and done, this may be Baffert's best shot on May 7. You know he's going to be in the mix with at least a couple. He always is.