Sharing 3 Non-Favored Derby Prep Picks

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

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues this Saturday with a trio of prominent prep races: the $250,000 Sam F. Davis S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, the $250,000 Withers S. (G3) at Aqueduct, and the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

We'll take a look at all three races in this week's edition of Unlocking Winners:

Sam F. Davis S. (G3)

A competitive 12-horse field has turned out to contest the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis, and you can make a case for almost anyone to visit the winner's circle. That's why I hesitate to pick obvious favorite #7 Dubyuhnell, even though he brings strong credentials to the table. The son of Good Magic rallied to victory in a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct and followed up with a determined tally in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen S. (G2) at Aqueduct, in which he defeated Arctic Arrogance (see below) with a 100 Brisnet Speed rating that tops the Sam F. Davis field by a wide margin.

But Dubyuhnell hasn't run in two months and is racing outside of New York for the first time, so rather than support him at a short price, I'll think outside the box with the capable turf campaigner #1 Worthington.

Trained by Mike Maker (who wins at a solid 18% rate with horses switching from turf to dirt per Brisnet statistics), Worthington exists a respectable third-place finish in the Dania Beach S. at Gulfstream Park. The quality of competition that day was deep; 1-2 finishers Candidate and Major Dude returned to run second and first in the Kitten's Joy S. (G3) last week. Major Dude has won two graded stakes and also competed in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).

As a son of Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) hero Classic Empire, Worthington has the pedigree to handle dirt, so there's a distinct possibility this Triple Crown nominee will improve while switching surfaces for the Sam F. Davis. Throw in accomplished Tampa Bay Downs jockey Pablo Morales (a 20% winner here since 2018), and I'm confident Worthington will outrun his 20-1 morning line odds.

Withers S. (G3)

The obvious choice to win this 1 1/8-mile contest is #1 Arctic Arrogance, whose four efforts to date at Aqueduct include game runner-up finishes in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen S. (G2) and the one-mile Jerome S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. In both of those races, Arctic Arrogance was prominent from the outset (he even set the pace in the Remsen) before coming out on the losing end of prolonged homestretch battles.

Arctic Arrogance is adding blinkers for the Remsen, which has the potential to sharpen his focus and propel him to the winner's circle. But after two straight defeats in races he had every chance to win, Arctic Arrogance is a little tough to trust at a short price, so I'll try to beat him with #4 Hit Show.

Hit Show trounced his debut sprinting seven furlongs at Keeneland, then ran fourth in a $100,000 allowance optional claimer racing 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs. That turned out to be a deep race, as the winner (Confidence Game) returned to finish third in the Lecomte S. (G3) while the runner-up (Rocket Can) won the Holy Bull S. (G3) last week.

Hit Show likewise returned to run well, crushing a $100,000 allowance optional claimer racing one mile at Oaklawn Park by 3 1/2 lengths. Hot trainer Brad Cox has compiled a 12-6-3-0 (50%) record at Aqueduct since Nov. 1, and jockey Manny Franco has won at a 21% rate during the same timeframe, so all signs suggest Hit Show is sitting on a fine run.

El Camino Real Derby

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won two of the last three editions of the El Camino Real Derby, and he's poised to pick up another courtesy of #1 Gilmore, one of only two Triple Crown nominees in this 1 1/8-mile Tapeta test.

Gilmore ran respectably in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Del Mar, gaining 3 1/4 lengths through the final furlong to finish third by three-quarters of a length. Subsequently stretching out in distance for a one-mile maiden special weight at Los Alamitos worked wonders for the son of Twirling Candy, who trounced next-out winner Roll On Big Joe by four lengths.

Twirling Candy has already sired 2021 El Camino Real Derby winner Rombauer, so there's no reason to think Gilmore won't handle the switch to Tapeta. I'm optimistic this gray colt will take home top honors in his stakes debut.

For the minor awards, #4 Passarando and #2 Chase the Chaos are obvious choices after running 1-2 in the one-mile Gold Rush S. at Golden Gate Fields. But don't overlook the speedy #5 Harcyn, who boasts a perfect 2-for-2 record sprinting over the Golden Gate Tapeta. Harcyn trounced a $50,000 allowance optional claimer by 3 3/4 lengths last month and looms as a dangerous pace player while stretching out in distance for the El Camino Real Derby.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in this week's Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers?


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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.

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