3 Derby Prep Picks on a Superb Saturday

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

In case you missed the memo, a staggering 29 stakes (16 of them graded) will take place across the U.S. this Saturday. The action-packed schedule includes a quartet of Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, three of them graded.

Let's take a quick look at the biggest Derby preps and plan our picks:

Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park

With morning line favorite #12 Mo Donegal expected to scratch with an illness, the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth looks fairly wide-open on paper. You can make a case for plenty of horses to finish in the top four, and the field is deep enough that a horse as accomplished as Breeders' Futurity (G1) winner #6 Rattle N Roll is listed at 8-1 on the morning line.

One of the key contenders is #2 Simplification, who has shown flashes of brilliance at Gulfstream Park. Two starts back, he led all the way through fast fractions to smash the one-mile Mucho Macho Man S. by four lengths. And his effort in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull S. (G3) last month was gallant—after tossing his head at the break and getting off to a slow start, Simplification steadily made up lost ground to finish second in a complete departure from his usual running style.

But although I have a lot of respect for Simplification, #8 Emmanuel is the horse I'm playing in the Fountain of Youth. The Todd Pletcher trainee has obliterated all challengers in his first two starts, leading all the way to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park by 6 3/4 lengths before employing identical tactics to crush a one-mile and 40-yard allowance at Tampa Bay Downs by 4 1/2 lengths.

Emmanuel's allowance win was even more impressive than it appears at first glance. After carving out a slow pace, Emmanuel wasn't asked to accelerate until the final furlong or so, when he kicked away easily to win with something left in the tank.

I believe we've only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Emmanuel's talent and potential. He strikes me as a potential Kentucky Derby winner, and I'm excited to see what he can accomplish in the Fountain of Youth.

Gotham S. (G3) at Aqueduct

A competitive field has assembled for the Gotham, which will take place over a one-turn mile. This configuration is significant, since it gives sprinting types a chance to shine over tried-and-true route runners. Since the Gotham adopted its current configuration in 2018, we've seen Haikal (2019) and Mischevious Alex (2020) claim top honors while stretching out off seven-furlong stakes wins.

Haikal came to the Gotham via Aqueduct's Jimmy Winkfield S., and that's the same path being utilized by #9 Morello in this year's Gotham. The Steve Asmussen trainee is unbeaten and unchallenged in two starts, dominating his debut by 4 1/4 lengths before winning the Jimmy Winkfield by five lengths under a hand ride.

Morello's obvious affinity for Aqueduct is enticing, considering six of the last 10 Gotham winners prepped with a run over the local surface. Equally important is the fact Morello isn't a need-the-lead type; his two victories have come with pace-tracking tactics, a benefit since the Gotham is packed with speed on paper. Nashua S. (G3) winner #10 Rockefeller, for instance, risks getting caught up in a speed duel while breaking from the outside post.

In short, Morello looks like a solid play in the Gotham. I'm optimistic he'll sit a perfect trip off the speed before pouncing down the homestretch.

San Felipe S. (G2) at Santa Anita

I'll be the first to concede #6 Forbidden Kingdom doesn't really look like a route runner at first glance. His four starts to date have come in sprints, and he's never run an opening quarter-mile slower than :21.92 seconds. Surely stretching out over 1 1/16 miles is a question mark for Forbidden Kingdom, whose pedigree is geared toward speed?

Yes, but I believe Forbidden Kingdom is up to the task. I loved his victory in the seven-furlong San Vicente S. (G2) at Santa Anita, where he carved out a fast pace before pulling away late to beat next-out Saudi Derby (G3) winner Pinehurst by 2 1/4 lengths.

Furthermore, Forbidden Kingdom looms as the "speed of the speed" in the San Felipe field. None of his rivals appear quick enough to keep up early on, so an uncontested lead should be in the offing. If Forbidden Kingdom shakes loose up front, I believe he can keep his momentum rolling and cruise to victory over #5 Doppelganger and #7 Cabo Spirit.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend Kentucky Derby preps?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)

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.

Recent Posts

More Blogs