West's weekly Kentucky Derby top 20 rankings; Analyzing Tampa's Sam Davis, Santa Anita's San Vicente
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Editor's note: Gary's Derby-centric column this week -- on Bob Baffert and how much tougher it is in this era to top Ben Jones -- will be sent out in the morning.
On the road to Kentucky
By Gary West
The Kentucky Derby will be run May 2 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., over the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. Based on points accumulated in designated stakes (including races in Japan and Europe), the field will be limited to 20 starters, with four also-eligibles.
No. Horse (Trainer) Starts-Wins-Seconds-Thirds Earnings Sire
1. Dennis’ Moment (Dale Romans) 4-2-0-0 $167,800 Tiznow
Comment: Saturday, after he worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.22 at Gulfstream Park, his trainer, somewhat predictably, said the move was exactly what they “were looking for.” A week earlier, Dennis’ Moment had scorched the earth with a 58.47 move, and so Saturday’s more relaxed workout was indeed ideal since he’ll have to relax when he makes his seasonal debut on Feb. 29 at 1 1/16 miles in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. For that race, Flavien Prat will be in the saddle, substituting for Irad Ortiz, Jr., who’ll be riding that day in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
2. Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg) 4-3-0-1 $498,900 Constitution
Comment: Monday at Palm Meadows, he went an easy half-mile in 50 seconds. It was his first workout since his exceptional showing in the Holy Bull Stakes, where he ran the fourth quarter-mile in about 24.40 and drew clear to win by three lengths. No horse of his generation has given a better performance, at least not in this country. Jack Knowlton, the most prominent member of the colt’s ownership group, Sackatoga Stable, has announced that Tiz the Law will make his next start March 28 in the Florida Derby.
3. Thousand Words (Bob Baffert) 3-3-0-0 $211,000 Pioneerof The Nile
Comment: He has won his three races by a total of 1 1/2 lengths, never drawing clear from his rivals. So what does that mean, if anything? Does he do just what’s necessary? Maybe. Does it mean — just to anthropomorphize for a moment — that he’s intelligent, gregarious, merciful, conservative, understated or lucky? (Alysheba, as a point of reference, won nine races by less than a length, four of them in a photo.) Or is that all Thousand Words has? Again, maybe. From here, he looks like a colt that has the potential for considerably more progress. How much more is hard to say, but the San Felipe on March 7 could begin to provide some answers.
4. Nadal (Bob Baffert) 2-2-0-0 $153,000 Blame
Comment: Nadal fuels speculation every time he goes to the racetrack, and his performance in Sunday’s San Vicente Stakes further supports the idea that he could become Baffert’s next superstar. Between horses early, he made the lead on the backstretch, narrowly lost his advantage in the turn, outfought his rival through the lane and won by nearly a length. The performance is difficult to assess because there was only one other one-turn race (a maiden-claiming affair) on the main track that day at Santa Anita, and his final time of 1:22.59, although solid, didn’t dazzle. He and the speedster Ginobili sped through the opening half-mile in a sensational 44.09 seconds, and so Nadal ran the final three-eighths in a relatively quiet 38.50, downshifting noticeably — and predictably, given the white-hot pace — in the final furlong. In terms of numbers, Nadal’s race had the sort of backwards profile characteristic of a speedster: His speed figures for the half-mile and three-quarter-mile splits were 13 points higher than his final number. Still, he persevered and fought gamely, and he had to run every step of the seven-eighths of a mile. And so now it becomes interesting; now he has to learn to control all that natural speed. Nadal’s pedigree actually yells for more distance, even if his final furlong of the San Vicente didn’t. He’ll probably stretch out around two turns on March 14 at Oaklawn Park in the Rebel Stakes, according to his trainer.
5. Anneau d’Or (Blaine Wright) 3-1-2-0 $399,000 Medaglia d’Oro
Comment: He has strung together three bullet workouts over the synthetic surface at Golden Gate, the most recent being three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.80 on Saturday. And so his trainer expressed confidence that although Anneau d’Or hasn’t raced in more than two months the colt will be ready for the nine furlongs of Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He has drawn into the second and weaker division of the race. A neck and a head away from an unblemished record and a championship, Anneau d’Or will race in blinkers for the first time Saturday, and Joel Rosario will replace Flavien Prat in the saddle.
6. Sole Volante (Patrick Biancone) 4-3-0-1 $196,310 Karakontie
Comment: On the one hand, he had a near-perfect trip when he won the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. On the other, he was athletic, tractable and nimble enough to ensure a good trip for himself. Like water around a drain, he swirled around the second turn, and that’s precisely where the Kentucky Derby is usually won. Although not very big, he put in a sustained and powerful move Saturday, running the second half-mile in 47.56 seconds, and he has a strong, classic pedigree that suggests he’ll get better with more distance (a dosage profile of 6-0-13-5-2, and a 0.93 dosage index). By a Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and out of a full-sister to an Epsom Oaks winner, Sole Volante is also a half-brother to Explode, who won the Canadian Derby at 1 1/4 miles. Yes, Sole Volante won his first two races on turf and his pedigree is rather green, but he doesn’t move like a turf horse; he moves like a horse that could make considerable noise on the road to the Triple Crown. The Tampa Bay Derby would seem like the logical next step, but the Louisiana Derby is also possible.
7. Honor A. P. (John Shirreffs) 2-1-1-0 $42,200 Honor Code
Comment: Going solo, the good-looking colt worked five-eighths of a mile Saturday in 1:00.80 at Santa Anita. The exercise rider gave mild encouragement down the lane, and Honor A. P. galloped out strongly. John Shirreffs, his trainer, said he would “try” to make the San Felipe with the big colt, which suggests they’re progressing very carefully and patiently. Last year, nine days before his outstanding maiden victory, he worked a bullet three-quarters of a mile. So in about two weeks, if that pattern is duplicated, Honor A. P. should signal his readiness with a head-turning move.
8. Independence Hall (Michael Trombetta) 4-3-1-0 $250,000 Constitution
Comment: Although he disappointed as the 3-5 favorite in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, he ran well — fairly well anyway. Of most importance, the bad boy took a step forward in terms of deportment and suggested overall improvement awaits him just down the road. He saved ground in the first turn, angled out on the backstretch and advanced in the four-path to grab the lead in the second turn, looking every inch a winner. Momentarily. But he was too eager in the early running, and his eagerness put him too close to a hot pace — 46.52 for the opening half-mile. While the pacesetters faded into the ruck, to last and next-to-last, Independence Hall, much to his credit, finished with some determination, running the fourth quarter-mile in 24.80 seconds. He just couldn’t stay with Sole Volante in the final sixteenth. But it was more than 11 lengths back to the third horse, Ajaaweed.
9. Authentic (Bob Baffert) 2-2-0-0 $91,200 Into Mischief
Comment: A late foal (May 5), he’ll still be, by his biological calendar, a 2-year-old on Derby Day. So he’s understandably a little behind some others in this class in terms of experience and maturity, all of which makes his performance in the Sham Stakes even more impressive. He dominated, controlling the pace and winning easily despite ducking towards the inside rail in mid-stretch. He’s an athlete. And he can only improve, possibly with an equipment adjustment. On Wednesday at Santa Anita, he worked a bullet three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.20 (eight lengths faster than the second fastest move). The San Felipe would seem a likely place for his return.
10. Storm the Court (Peter Eurton) 4-2-0-1 $1,172,951 Court Vision
Comment: If he had drawn the rail, he might have won the San Vicente; he certainly would have been right there at the wire with Nadal. In other words, the champ ran better in the San Vicente than his fourth-place finish might suggest. After breaking sharply, he didn’t keep pace with the explosion (Ginobili) to his outside, nor was he asked to. He entered the turn in the three-path but exited, after being forced wider, near the middle of the track. As it turned out, he ran more than two lengths farther than Nadal and finished 2 1/4 lengths behind him. And then Storm the Court galloped out strongly. Yes, with the rail, and if Flavien Prat had sent him, Storm the Court might have won; then again, the San Vicente wasn’t the goal, but it was, as it turned out, a decent start to the champ’s campaign.
11. Basin (Steve Asmussen) 3-2-1-0 $261,000 Liam’s Map
Comment: One of the best juveniles of 2019, the Hopeful winner has had five workouts since mid-January, and each seems better than the last; so he’s progressing steadily and shouldn’t be far from returning to competition. Last Friday, he worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:01 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
12. Silver State (Steve Asmussen) 3-1-2-0 $96,106 Hard Spun
Comment: He worked an easy half-mile Monday (50.20 seconds), the sort of move Asmussen typically employs approaching a race. Silver State is entered in Saturday’s Risen Star at Fair Grounds, drawing into the first division of the split stakes, and this represents an important step for the handsome Hard Spun colt. So far in his brief career, he has had more struggles than accomplishments. He had a troubled trip from start to finish, for example, when he ran second in the Lecomte Stakes. But he should appreciate the Risen Star’s nine furlongs.
13. Enforceable (Mark Casse) 7-2-1-2 $267,150 Tapit
Comment: In preparation for the Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans, he worked a half-mile in 49.60 seconds Saturday. He won the Lecomte Stakes despite a wide trip, and as one of the more experienced competitors in this cavalcade, he looks like another who’ll appreciate the nine furlongs of the Risen Star. He’s in the first division, along with the two horses that finished immediately behind him in the Lecomte, Silver State and Mr. Monomoy.
14. Silver Prospector (Steve Asmussen) 7-2-0-2 $263,051 Declaration of War
Comment: In the context of the Derby, he has an advantage over many of these in that he has won over the Churchill surface, taking last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. In his seasonal debut, on a speed-favoring, muddy surface, he rallied from last to finish fourth in the Smarty Jones Stakes, an excusable outcome given the conditions. He followed up with a bullet, and on Wednesday at Oaklawn Park, he worked an easy half-mile in 50.20 seconds in preparation for Monday’s Southwest Stakes, where he can be expected to improve.
15. Answer In (Brad Cox) 3-1-2-0 $153,412 Dialed In
Comment: He lost his debut by a nose and the Springboard Mile by a head after encountering trouble in both races. But he remains under the radar, a stealth threat on the road to Kentucky. That could change Monday, though, and he could loom boldly into view. He has had six workouts since the first of the year, the most recent being Sunday’s five-eighths in 1:01.40, in preparation for the Southwest Stakes.
16. Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher) 2-1-1-0 $149,500 Constitution
Comment: He worked a bullet five-eighths (1:01.23) at Palm Beach Downs in preparation for his return to competition Friday at Tampa Bay. He hasn’t raced since October at Keeneland, where he finished second as the favorite in the Breeders’ Futurity. Although Friday’s non-stakes race might seem a modest place to start to his campaign, Pletcher used a similar approach with Always Dreaming in 2017. And this won’t be an easy task for Gouverneur Morris, for the field includes Untitled, who finished a troubled fourth in the Swale Stakes.
17. Blackberry Wine (Joe Sharp) 6-2-0-3 $112,622 Oxbow
Comment: Except for his debut at Saratoga, where he lunged at the break, he’s undefeated on the main track. And in mid-January in New Orleans, he gave an outstanding performance, winning in a fast clocking (about two lengths faster than the Lecomte Stakes the same day) with a powerful gallop-out. So the speedster is another intriguing under-the-radar type. He’ll try to make himself more visible in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes.
18. Max Player (Linda Rice) 3-2-1-0 $173,500 Honor Code
Comment: He rallied from last and finished second in his debut, a half-length back. Since then, he has put up consecutive victories, including a score in the Withers Stakes, where he drew clear with a powerful finish despite a wide trip. Ok, it was a relatively slow race, but Max Player has plenty of upside, and he looks as if he’s going to appreciate the longer distances.
19. As Seen on Tv (Kelly Breen) 4-2-2-0 $108,205 Lookin At Lucky
Comment: Flattered by Sole Volante, As Seen On Tv moves into the top 20. His performances encourage his inclusion here, as does his pedigree, which suggests he’ll continue to improve with added distance. His sire, Lookin At Lucky, won the Preakness and Haskell, of course, and on the bottom of the pedigree there’s Pulpit, A.P. Indy and Alydar. As Seen On Tv has had four workouts since his runner-up finish in the Mucho Macho Man, and his trainer, Kelly Breen, is reportedly looking around for a stakes. He shouldn’t have to look far: The Fountain of Youth is Feb. 29.
20. Maxfield (Brendan Walsh) 2-2-0-0 $354,412 Street Sense
Comment: At 13-1, Maxfield was the third individual choice (behind Nadal and Tiz the Law) in Churchill Downs’ recent Derby Futures pool. At this point, though, his odds of just making it to the Derby would seem to be at least that. He’s included here out of respect for his talent and connections, but he’s far behind. He delivered one of the most scintillating juvenile performances of 2019 when he won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland by more than five lengths. Coming back from an injury, he has developed and progressed, according to his trainer. But will he be able to catch up on the road to Kentucky? Maybe. But it’s not Walsh’s style to push a young horse, and Maxfield will have to drag him there if they’re going to make the Derby. The thought here is that down the road Maxfield could indeed prove himself to be one of the best his generation, but the road to his future may not pass through Louisville.
21. Chance It (Saffie Joseph) 6-4-2-0 $444,910 Currency Swap
Comment: If this were based on current form and a 1 1/16-mile race, then Chance It would probably be rated in the top 10. Like As Seen On Tv, Chance It is flattered by Sole Volante’s Tampa victory, but unlike As Seen On Tv, Chance It is a son of Currency Swap, a precocious winner of the Hopeful who was best sprinting. The diminutive Florida flash is an admirable racehorse, and he loves speed-favoring Gulfstream, which has been his stage for all six starts. He worked five-eighths of a mile in 59.74 seconds on Sunday in preparation for the Fountain of Youth.
22. Mailman Money (Bret Calhoun) 2-2-0-0 $79,012 Goldencents
Comment: He won his debut at 24-1 and then scored a mild upset in winning an allowance affair by nearly six lengths despite a wide trip. Is there another surprise in the offing? The bald-faced colt drew the No. 11 post position for Saturday’s second division of the Risen Star.
23. War Stopper (Rudy Rodriguez) 4-1-0-0 $41,070 Declaration of War
Comment: With the addition of blinkers, he leaped forward to win by four lengths last month. Since then he has worked a bullet at Belmont Park and, more recently, a moderate five-eighths. Another who’s beneath the radar, he’s an intriguing colt, with good speed and a pedigree that screams distance. He’s aimed at the Gotham in early March.
24. Untitled (Mark Casse) 2-1-0-0 $31,275 Khozan
Comment: After a sparkling debut, he tried stakes company, only to receive a rude welcome. Bumped and pummeled and blocked, he finished fourth as the favorite in the Swale Stakes. He’s better than that, and he’ll have an opportunity to show it Friday when he faces Gouverneur Morris at Tampa Bay.
Gary West is a nationally acclaimed turf columnist, racing analyst, author and handicapper who helped pioneer pace figures.
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Gary's top-ranked Derby Prospect: Dennis' Moment, impressive winner of Churchill Downs' G3 Iroquois (shown here with Irad Ortiz up) before stumbling badly at the start of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. His first start at 3 will be the Gulfstream's Fountain of Youth. Coady Photography
The Bob Baffert-trained Nadal won Santa Anita's seven-furlong San Vicente under Joel Rosario in his second start. Benoit Photo