By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
In a normal year, we would be busily rehashing the
results of the Kentucky Derby right now while simultaneously looking ahead to
the Preakness Stakes. Instead, we're in the midst of a lull on the racing
calendar with only one North American stakes race on the agenda.
So let's take this opportunity to analyze how the
postponement on the Derby until Sept. 5 might impact the field for the 1
1/4-mile classic. Specifically, let's review five talented horses that—for various
reasons—stand to benefit from the delay of the Derby:
A stoutly-bred son of Bernardini out of the Gone West
mare Speed Succeeds, Bank is a half-brother to Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner
Brilliant Speed and Remsen Stakes (G2) runner-up Souper Speedy. There's plenty
of stamina in Bank's pedigree, so it's interesting how much promise he's shown
sprinting for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Bank showed promise in his debut at Churchill Downs last September,
finishing a game third behind future Street Sense Stakes winner South Bend and
Remington Springboard Mile runner-up Answer In. And while Bank faltered badly
when stretching out around two turns at Keeneland, he went to the sidelines
immediately afterward, suggesting he suffered a setback in his route debut.
In any case, Bank returned with a solid third-place
finish sprinting at Oaklawn on Apr. 5, and with this comeback effort under his
belt, he finally broke through with a victory going six furlongs at Oaklawn
last Saturday. Bank showed tenacity to rally and win by a head, stopping the
clock in the respectable time of 1:10.44. A Triple Crown nominee, Bank figures to
improve with maturity and longer distances, so keep an eye on this $275,000
yearling purchase when he stretches out in distance down the road.
Sold for $3.65 million as a 2-year-old-in-training, Cezanne
has long been a highly regarded prospect for five-time Kentucky Derby-winning
trainer Bob Baffert. A son of Curlin out of a Bernardini mare, Cezanne is bred
to thrive running classic distances, but an apparent setback last summer
prevented him from reaching the races, and we're actually still waiting for
Cezanne to debut.
On the bright side, Cezanne has turned in a lengthy
series of fast workouts this year, suggesting he has at least a little talent
to go along with his impressive breeding and lofty purchase price. He fired off
five furlongs in :59.80 on Apr. 30 and should be ready to run by the end of
spring, placing him on a trajectory similar to that of Baffert's 2016 Travers
Stakes (G1) winner Arrogate. As dominant as Arrogate was during late summer and
fall, he didn't break his maiden until June 5 of his sophomore year, so Baffert
already has some experience developing late-maturing colts into division standouts.
The most obvious beneficiary of the Kentucky Derby
postponement is the undefeated Maxfield, who unleashed a breathtaking rally to
win the 2019 Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland by 5 1/2 lengths. The move
Maxfield made on the far turn was extraordinary—a dramatic sweep past rivals while
racing wide to assume command at the top of the stretch. Among his beaten opponents
were Gouverneur Morris, Enforceable, and Ajaaweed, and they've all returned to
win or place in graded stakes races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Unfortunately, Maxfield missed the Breeders' Cup Juvenile
(G1) and underwent ankle surgery to remove a bone chip, a setback that left him
with only a small chance of qualifying to the Kentucky Derby. But the
postponement of the Derby has allowed Maxfield's connections to slow down and
take more time preparing the stoutly-bred son of Street Sense for his return to
action. The Godolphin homebred has been training steadily at Keeneland and is
slated to run in the May 23 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, a new
Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race offering 10 qualification points to the
winner. A strong effort off the layoff could place Maxfield on the path to a
very successful season.
A half-brother to champion Monomoy Girl, Mr. Monomoy was
on an upward trajectory during the first two months of 2020, parlaying a
third-place finish in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) into a front-running victory in
the first division of the Risen Star Stakes (G2). These efforts secured Mr.
Monomoy 52 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, likely assuring him a spot
in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
Mr. Monomoy subsequently suffered a minor ankle injury
during training, necessitating 60 days of rest. This setback would have
undoubtedly kept the son of Palace Malice from competing on the first Saturday
in May, but the postponement of the Derby has thrust Mr. Monomoy back into the
picture. He should return to light training in the near future—perhaps he has
already—and since he's pocketed plenty of qualification points, there won't be
any pressure to gear him up for a late-season Derby prep race. His connections
can take their time and utilize whatever training/racing schedule makes sense
to prepare Mr. Monomoy for a peak effort on Sept. 5.
A beautifully-bred son of Ghostzapper out of the five-time
Grade 1 winner Music Note, Mystic Guide could develop into one of the most
exciting prospects on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. A Godolphin homebred
trained by Michael Stidham, Mystic Guide debuted in a six-furlong sprint on
Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds and ran deceptively well, rallying to finish third by 1
1/4 lengths despite enduring a slow start and a wide trip.
Mystic Guide subsequently stretched out to 1 1/16 miles
on Mar. 21 and delivered a terrific performance. Reserved in fifth place early
on while racing wide behind a modest pace, Mystic Guide took command in the
stretch and powered clear with complete authority down the lane. By sprinting
the fourth quarter in about :23.80, and the final sixteenth in :06.17, Mystic
Guide drew off to win by five lengths while giving the impression he was just
getting warmed up.
A traditional Kentucky Derby would have come much too
soon for Mystic Guide to qualify, let alone prepare for a peak performance, but
the postponed edition of the race could be ripe for Mystic Guide's conquest. It's
not hard to envision this chestnut colt thriving with experience and longer
distances, and best of all, there's no need to rush his racing schedule since
the Derby is still four months away.
Which horses do you think will benefit from the
postponement of the Kentucky Derby?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.