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
#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
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
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
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
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Texas 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.