Two horses will earn their way into the Kentucky Derby (G1) this weekend, as the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Risen Star (G2) stakes both offer 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner.
As convoluted as the new points system is, it appears safe to say that 50 points will make the field.
Unfortunately, I think the public will choose the right horse as the favorite in both preps. Undefeated Cashcall Futurity (G2) winner Violence is listed at 9-to-5 on the morning line in the Fountain of Youth. Remsen Stakes runner-up Normandy Invasion is 5-to-2 in the Risen Star. I expect both will go off a click or two below those numbers.
I was not terribly impressed with Violence's first two career wins, but there is no knocking how he shipped East to West to win the Cashcall. By Medaglia d'Oro, Violence is a long striding colt with a fast cruising speed. If Violence comes out running in his first start at age three, someone will have to take a big step forward to beat him.
I see at least three possible candidates to do so, or at least to fill out the vertical exotics. Orb has finally circled back to the promise he showed when finishing third behind Violence in both horses' debuts. Orb's NW1 win on January 26 was fine. He checked back early behind a slow pace, then came home his final three furlongs in :37-2, a good closing fraction for Gulfstream. Another reason to like Orb to get a piece is that there is a lot of speed in here.
Cerro (Ire) won the split division of Orb's allowance race and did so in considerably faster fashion. Showing good energy from start to finish, Cerro set solid fractions and still had something in reserve. I like him on the slight turnback here from just off the pace if he can build on that demanding effort.
Speak Logistics was taken up at a key point in his 3yo debut in the Sam Davis (G3). He was moving nicely at the time, although he faded to 4th late. He can improve here 2nd off the layoff, and that makes him competitive to hit the board. He gets a positive jock switch to Joel Rosario.
I find the Risen Star to be a slightly deeper race, although again I think the public is going to land on the most likely winner. Normandy Invasion finished second in what was arguably the best/fastest two-year-old race of 2012 -- the Remsen Stakes. Normandy Invasion finishes his races with a rush -- he came home in :36-1 (!) in the Remsen. He should be moving best of all in the long FG stretch on Saturday.
Both Palace Malice and Oxbow figure to be forwardly placed, and the pace could be reasonable. I thought Palace Malice ran well in his 3yo debut when he chased lone speed Majestic Hussar home in the slop at GP. I think Palace Malice has the mind and breeding to stretch out.
Oxbow is unlikely to get the soft pace he got when winning the Lecomte (G3), but that was a solid run nonetheless, and he has a good pedigree for added distance.
Proud Strike has taken a nice step forward in all of his races. He is coming off of a 7 1/2-length maiden win at FG that saw the 2nd and 3rd-place horses come back to win. I think he is a threat to hit the board in his first start vs. winners.
Code West is one of the tougher reads in this race. He is coming off of a fast second behind Super Ninety Nine, who shipped to Oak Lawn and blitzed the Southwest Stakes on Monday. Code West didn't look terribly smooth in any of his performances, but he does go blinkers off, one of my favorite angles on Bob Baffert trainees.