A Secret to Victory in the Texas Derby

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

Throughout the winter and spring, we've been handicapping major races for three-year-olds. The Kentucky Derby (G1)... the Preakness S. (G1)... the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Arkansas Derby (G1), Florida Derby (G1), and Blue Grass S. (G1)....

We'll keep the trend going by focusing our attention this week on the $300,000 Texas Derby at Lone Star Park. The 1 1/16-mile event is taking place on Memorial Day, and although it doesn't carry graded status, the Texas Derby has nevertheless drawn a capable field of eight horses.

A couple of the entrants have previously competed in the Grade 1 races we mentioned earlier. #2 Win the Day (7-2), for example, exits a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. The Doug O'Neill trainee had previously produced a big rally from last place to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Santa Anita by 5 1/2 lengths.

But the form of the Santa Anita Derby hasn't been flattered in recent weeks. Taiba and Messier, the top two finishers by a wide margin, came back to run 12th and 15th in the Kentucky Derby. Distant third-place finisher Happy Jack came home 14th in the Derby and eighth in the Preakness. Fourth-place finisher Armagnac did win a one-mile allowance optional claimer in his next start, but subsequently finished seventh in the Preakness.

#1 Strike Hard (4-1) also has Grade 1 experience. Runner-up in the Mucho Macho Man S. during the winter at Gulfstream Park, Strike Hard finished seventh in the Florida Derby before bouncing back to win a one-mile allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream.

But Strike Hard also has chinks in his armor. The Florida Derby form took a hit when the top two finishers, White Abarrio and Charge It, finished 16th and 17th in the Kentucky Derby. And Strike Hard's recent allowance score came courtesy of a fast early/slow late race shape beneficial to Strike Hard's stretch-running style.

In contrast, #8 A. P.'s Secret (5-2) has never competed in a Grade 1, but his overall form looks more promising. In his first three starts at Gulfstream Park, he sandwiched maiden and allowance optional claiming wins around a runner-up effort behind Strike Hard in a Dec. 5 allowance optional claimer. Then A. P.'s Secret ran deceptively well in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream, finishing seventh by 8 1/2 lengths after clipping heels approaching the top of the stretch.

A. P.'s Secret was subsequently overlooked at odds of 49-1 when he started against a deep field in the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, where he outran expectations to finish fourth behind troubled Kentucky Derby fifth-place finish Mo Donegal. A. P.'s Secret was only beaten 5 1/4 lengths after tracking the early pace (which was set by next-out Preakness winner Early Voting), and A. P.'s Secret finished just 1 1/2 lengths behind Skippylongstocking, who returned to finish fifth as a longshot in the Preakness.

In the Wood Memorial, A. P.'s Secret earned a career-best 105 Brisnet Speed rating, the highest figure in the Texas Derby field. The Triple Crown nominee looks tough to beat for the hot jockey/trainer duo of Edwin Gonzalez and Saffie Joseph Jr., who have gone 5-for-20 (25%) teaming up together over the last two months. Throw in the fact that A. P.'s Secret worked a fast five furlongs in :59 4/5 last Sunday, and the gray colt looms as a logical favorite.

If you want to use a longshot for the minor awards, #6 Got Thunder (12-1) is worth a long look. The son of late-maturing champion Arrogate has the pedigree to improve with age, especially since half-brother Heart to Heart didn't score his signature Grade 1 wins until the age of seven.

Got Thunder needed five starts to break his maiden, but he was favored in all five of those runs (twice starting as an odds-on choice), so he's always been viewed as a promising sort. He's knocked heads with some decent colts along the way, including Armagnac and multiple graded stakes winner Newgrange, and he posted a career-best 90 Brisnet Speed rating when nabbing a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Santa Anita last month.

Sold for $750,000 as a juvenile, Got Thunder is slowly but surely progressing in the right direction and arrives at Lone Star off a couple of quick five-furlong workouts. If Got Thunder takes another step forward, he can challenge for a top-three finish at double-digit odds.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Texas Derby?


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