Three Derby Preps Highlight Huge Weekend

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

This coming Saturday promises to be the best day of racing thus far in 2015, with a remarkable thirteen graded stakes races scheduled to be run, including three major Kentucky Derby prep races. With such well-regarded Derby contenders as Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Ocean Knight, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Lord Nelson, Bolo, Prospect Park, and El Kabeir all scheduled to race, there’s no doubt that the Kentucky Derby picture will have changed dramatically by the end of the day. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s start handicapping!

San Felipe Stakes (gr. II)

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Lord Nelson Rafael Bejarano Bob Baffert 1st San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2 Ocho Ocho Ocho Mike Smith James Cassidy 1st Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
3 Dortmund Martin Garcia Bob Baffert 1st Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
4 The Gomper Tyler Baze Ron Ellis 4th Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
5 Kenjisstorm Agapito Delgadillo George Papaprodromou 4th Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
6 Prospect Park Kent Desormeaux Clifford Sis, Jr. 1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
7 Bolo Victor Espinoza Carla Gaines 1st Eddie Logan Stakes (VIDEO)
8 Pulmarack Drayden Van Dyke Jerry Hollendorfer 2nd California Cup Derby (VIDEO)
9 Sir Samson Joe Talamo Brian Koriner 3rd San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
10 Pain and Misery Flavien Prat Richard Mandella 2nd Baffle Stakes (VIDEO)

Without question, the unbeaten Dortmund will be favored in this race, and perhaps heavily so. The Bob Baffert-trained colt won both the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) and Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) with gritty last-minute surges in deep stretch, and he has earned impressive Beyer speed figures that suggest he is not only a major contender in this race, but a major contender for the Kentucky Derby as well. Since the Lewis, Dortmund has turned in pair of solid workouts at Santa Anita, most recently breezing seven furlongs in 1:25.60 on February 26th. Trainer Bob Baffert seems confident that Dortmund is ready for a very big effort, and keeping all of this in mind, I think Dortmund is poised for victory on Saturday.

That said, Dortmund’s last two victories have come in small fields, which has allowed him to stay free of traffic—a major advantage for a massive horse like Dortmund, who takes a while to get going and doesn’t seem to be able to accelerate on the turns very well. Having drawn post three, it’s possible that Dortmund will find himself in traffic during the race, and as a heavy favorite, I think it may be worth trying to beat him for the top spot.

So to pull off the upset, I like Prospect Park. The son of Tapit took a while to figure things out, losing his first three starts, but has since won two straight, including a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Santa Anita on January 30th. His performance that day was very impressive, as he was boxed in for much of the race before shifting outside and accelerating in the blink of an eye to win by 5 ¼ lengths under a hand ride. For his effort, he earned a Beyer speed figure of 93—a solid figure that should put him right in the mix on Saturday. If he can take another small step forward, I think he can win this race and stamp himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender.

Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II)

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Divining Rod Luis Garcia Arnaud Delacour 2nd Sam F. David Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2 Ocean Knight Irad Ortiz, Jr. Kiaran McLaughlin 1st Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
3 Carpe Diem John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 2nd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4 Ami’s Flatter Luis Contreras Josie Carrol 4th Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
5 My Johnny Be Good Antonio Gallardo Eoin Harty 3rd Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
6 Souper Colossal Joel Rosario Eddie Plesa, Jr. 1st Texas Glitter Stakes (VIDEO)
7 Great Stuff Leandro Goncalves Ian Wilkes 2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
8 Moonlight Bandit Jose Lezcano Mark Casse 3rd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
9 Danzig Moon Julien Leparoux Mark Casse 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

This race marks the return of Todd Pletcher’s talented colt Carpe Diem, who won the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) last year before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). In general, I really like this colt, who possesses excellent tactical speed and great versatility in running style. But while he has been training very sharply for this race—three of his last four works have been bullets—this will be his first start in four months, and he will be facing a very talented challenger named Ocean Knight. A son of Curlin trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Ocean Knight is unbeaten in two starts thus far, most recently rallying to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa after racing wide every step of the way. What made this effort particularly impressive was that he ran the final five-sixteenths in about :30 3/5, a stellar fraction for a dirt race, and he did so while making his debut around two turns. Having drawn post two for the Tampa Bay Derby, Ocean Knight should be able to save more ground on Saturday than he did in the Davis, and I think his proven affinity for Tampa and possible edge in fitness will give him a slight advantage over Carpe Diem this Saturday.

I would also like to briefly mention Great Stuff as a longshot to hit the board. True, the Ian Wilkes-trained colt has been beaten in all three of his races thus far, but his last two races have been very good. Last time out, he put in a strong late run to lose a one-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream by just a head, and two starts back, he ran third behind the well-regarded Khozan in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream. The switch to Tampa and the extra distance of Tampa Bay Derby should help his chances, and I won’t be surprised to see him rallying late at a very big price. It’s worth noting that the horse that beat Great Stuff last time out, Lieutenant Colonel, will run in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct a half-hour before the Tampa Bay Derby. If he should win, that’s all the more reason to like Great Stuff’s chances!

Gotham Stakes (gr. III)

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Combat Diver Sheldon Russell Gary Contessa 2nd Miracle Wood Stakes (VIDEO)
2 Dontbetwithbruno Manuel Franco Todd Pletcher 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3 Classy Class Junior Alvarado Kiaran McLaughlin 3rd Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
4 El Kabeir Charles Lopez John Terranova, II 2nd Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
5 Lieutenant Colonel Kendrick Carmouche Chad Brown 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
6 Tiz Shea D Taylor Rice Bill Mott 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
7 Toasting Master Angel Arroyo Dale Romans 4th OBS Championship Stakes
8 Uninfluenced Fernando Jara Todd Pletcher 2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
9 Tencendur Cornelio Velasquez George Weaver 4th Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
10 Blame Jim Jose Ortiz Todd Pletcher 2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)

El Kabeir has done little wrong in his last three starts, winning a pair of graded stakes races and most recently placing second in the Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct after a race-long duel with Classy Class. With Withers winner Far From Over skipping the Gotham to await the Wood Memorial, and with Ocean Knight passing the Withers in favor of the Tampa Bay Derby, El Kabeir looks like a very deserving favorite in the Gotham, and he will likely be a short price to defeat his nine rivals on Saturday.

But although El Kabeir is talented, there’s no doubt that he was leg-weary at the end of the Withers, and the presence of Classy Class and the speedy Florida shipper Lieutenant Colonel will likely make it difficult for El Kabeir to secure an easy lead. I believe that this, coupled with the fact that he will be carrying seven pounds more than all his rivals, makes him a beatable favorite at a short price. That’s right—I’m going to try and beat the favorites in every Derby prep this week! :)

This time, the horse I like to pull the upset is Blame Jim. Last July, he beat the talented Bold Conquest in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga, and after a long layoff, he returned on February 8th to finish second in a six-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream behind his stablemate Stanford. In that race, Blame Jim tracked solid early fractions of :22.76 and :45.91 and still ran his final quarter-mile in less than :25 seconds, and with that solid comeback effort under his belt, I think he can show improvement while making his debut around two turns. His pedigree suggests that he can handle the increase in distance—his sire finished second in the Florida Derby (gr. I), and his dam produced the very capable two-turn runner Buckwild—and while the outside draw is a concern, I hope to see him settle just off the early pace while saving some ground, then coming running in the homestretch to defeat El Kabeir. As an added bonus, he will run as a coupled entry with his Todd Pletcher-trained, Mike Repole-owned stablemates Dontbetwithbruno and Uninfluenced.

There are many other fantastic races being run on Saturday, including the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes (gr. I), and Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II). I will be handicapping all of these races and more in the comments section of this blog post, while also providing extra analysis and thoughts on the San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby, and Gotham. I hope you’ll join me for a terrific day of racing!


In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!

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