West's weekly Kentucky Derby top 20 rankings; No preps this weekend, but plenty of works to analyze!
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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: It would be a mistake to make too much of a workout, but also a mistake to ignore its insinuation. And so, for the moment, let’s just agree that the recent workout by Dennis’ Moment is intriguing. Saturday at Gulfstream Park, he breezed five-eighths of a mile in 58.78 seconds. Fast as it was, this wasn’t the bullet, or the day’s fastest workout at the distance. That distinction went to his workmate, Admire (:58.48). This might say more about the speedway nature of the surface or about the talent of the workmate than about Dennis’ Moment. Still, it was rather surprising he couldn’t catch his target. On the other hand, would you really have wanted him to work any faster? He left the pole about about a length behind, and that quickly became two lengths; he dropped further behind in the turn and then made up some ground late, finishing less than two lengths back. Dennis’ Moment caught and eventually passed Admire on the gallop-out, no insignificant consolation, but the image of his dropping back in the turn remains vivid. Admire, by the way, is a talented if relatively unaccomplished sort who tried but failed to join the Derby procession a year ago. So what does it all mean? Well, for one thing, it means there will be even more anxious anticipation going into the Fountain of Youth, on Feb. 29, at Gulfstream, where Dennis’ Moment will make his seasonal debut.
2. Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg) 4-3-0-1 $498,900 Constitution
Comment: When he drew clear to win the Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths, he gave the best performance of his generation. Still, he hasn’t reached the level of performance that’s typically needed to win a Kentucky Derby, but of all these, he’s closest. He’s to skip the Fountain of Youth and make his next start March 28 in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream.
3. Thousand Words (Bob Baffert) 3-3-0-0 $211,000 Pioneerof The Nile
Comment: He worked an easy five-eighths of a mile Monday at Santa Anita in company with a maiden named Mastering, who was urged to keep up. Running several paths off the rail, they finished together in 1:00.60. A two-time stakes winner who isn’t as flashy or brilliant as some of his stablemates, Thousand Words nevertheless is very professional, and he has shown an ability to do whatever’s necessary. His Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, calls him a “grinder.” Thousand Words will make his next start March 7 in the San Felipe Stakes.
4. Nadal (Bob Baffert) 2-2-0-0 $153,000 Blame
Comment: In winning the San Vicente Stakes, Nadal ran the opening half-mile in 44.09 seconds and defeated last season’s juvenile champ, Storm the Court; so expectations are justifiably soaring. “Only the good ones can do stuff like that,” said his trainer, Bob Baffert, about the sizzling half-mile and the victorious outcome. “He’s tough.” A brawny sort, Nadal indeed looks tough, and his pedigree suggests he should have no problem stretching out. But he’ll have to learn to control his speed. In other words, despite all his talent, his success on the road to Kentucky will depend on his intelligence. Baffert said Nadal will travel to Oaklawn Park for his next start, on March 14, in the Rebel Stakes.
5. Sole Volante (Patrick Biancone) 4-3-0-1 $196,310 Karakontie
Comment: He looked like a popped champagne cork when he rallied to win the Sam F. Davis. The move was quick, sustained and effective. Although he was largely unknown and unheralded going into that Tampa Bay race, he has the connections, the pedigree and the talent to be a major player on the road to Kentucky and in the shade of the Twin Spires.
He’ll probably make his next start March 7 in the Tampa Bay Derby, although the Louisiana Derby on March 21 is another option.
6. Honor A.P. (John Shirreffs) 2-1-1-0 $42,200 Honor Code
Comment: Honor A.P. worked seven-eighths of a mile Saturday at Santa Anita in 1:27, an excellent clocking for a day when the surface wasn’t very glib. He went alone, running in the four path. A too-big-for-a-jockey exercise rider nudged him along, but otherwise offered little encouragement, and Honor A.P. galloped out willingly and strongly. His trainer, John Shirreffs, appears to be tightening the screws in preparation for the San Felipe. Next week’s move could be telling.
7. Silver Prospector (Steve Asmussen) 8-3-0-2 $713,051 Declaration of War
Comment: Silver Prospector looked like a winner every step of the journey, which is one way of saying jockey Ricardo Santana navigated a perfect trip for the gray colt in Monday’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. And Silver Prospector was prepared to take advantage of it. Unlike his performance in the Smarty Jones Stakes, where he fell far behind on a speed-favoring wet surface, his Southwest impressed from start to finish: He got into the race early, saving ground, a few lengths off the leader; and then, after waiting behind horses, he angled to the outside and finished powerfully, running the fourth quarter-mile in 24.73 seconds and drawing clear to win by a length. Just to emphasize the quality of the effort, his winning time, 1:43 for the 1 1/16 miles, was virtually the same as that for the older Warrior’s Charge in the Razorback Stakes. Silver Prospector will remain at Oaklawn Park for the next two lucrative stakes in the series, the Rebel on March 14 and the Arkansas Derby on April 11.
8. Independence Hall (Michael Trombetta) 4-3-1-0 $250,000 Constitution
Comment: His runner-up finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, although disappointing to those that made him the 3-5 favorite, was actually solid. A little too eager early, he chased a lively pace, but he still ran the fourth quarter-mile with some determination in 24.80 seconds. Moreover, he didn’t exhibit the recalcitrant behavior that had been his calling card as a juvenile. The options are many, according to his trainer, Michael Trombetta. His next race will be telling. With a step forward, he could be a major player in Kentucky.
9. Authentic (Bob Baffert) 2-2-0-0 $91,200 Into Mischief
Comment: He worked a half-mile Wednesday in 47.60 seconds at Santa Anita, where he’ll make his next start in the San Felipe Stakes. His trainer, Bob Baffert, calls him a “raw talent,” with the words equally weighted. Both the rawness and the talent were on display when Authentic dominated the Sham Stakes, winning easily despite ducking towards the inside rail in mid-stretch. The Sham runner-up, Azul Coast, returned to win the El Camino Real Derby. A late foal who’ll need to mature rather quickly, Authentic will wear earplugs in the San Felipe.
10. Storm the Court (Peter Eurton) 4-2-0-1 $1,172,951 Court Vision
Comment: With his fourth-place finish behind Nadal in the San Vicente, the champion probably dashed many of the high expectations that had accompanied him into the season. But from here, Storm the Court’s San Vicente looks like the perfect start to the campaign. His effort there was much better than some might be willing to acknowledge, and, in fact, he might have won the race had he drawn an inside post position. A wide trip cost him more than the 2.25 lengths that were the margin of his defeat. He should be poised to take a significant step forward when he returns, in either the Rebel or the San Felipe.
11. Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher) 3-2-1-0 $161,500 Constitution
Comment: Making his first start in more than five months, he returned Friday at Tampa Bay and won an allowance affair in impressive fashion. He bobbled at the break and stalked a nice horse, Untitled, before edging clear late. On a day when the surface was conducive to quick times, Gouverneur Morris just missed a track record for the mile and 40 yards, stopping the clock at 1:38.88. Most impressive, though, especially for a horse returning from a layoff, was his ability to sustain his move. John Velazquez called on Gouverneur Morris in the second turn, and although the big colt needed a moment to respond, when he answered, he took his reply all the way to the wire. The Florida Derby could be in his future, or perhaps the Blue Grass Stakes on April 4.
12. Enforceable (Mark Casse) 8-2-2-2 $347,150 Tapit
Comment: Moving forward, Enforceable might have more Derby potential than the colt that defeated him in the Risen Star, Mr. Monomoy. A stretch-runner who won the Lecomte Stakes, Enforceable didn’t leave the gate sharply in the Risen Star and so burdened himself with the task of having to rally from last in a paceless race. He advanced on the backstretch only to have his momentum stopped in traffic; he waited and then advanced again in the turn; and then he swung to the outside and finished strongly to be second. Although more than two lengths back at the wire, he galloped out with the winner. With more pace and a modicum of racing luck, he could be a major factor down the road.
13. Mr. Monomoy (Brad Cox) 5-2-1-1 $367,162 Palace Malice
Comment: He won the faster division of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds to leap atop the leaderboard on the road to the Derby. He has 52 qualifying points, and that’ll get him into the new 20-stall starting gate at Churchill Downs, or at least earn him a reservation. The minimum number of points needed to qualify for the Derby since Churchill began its designated-races point system has ranged from 10 to 40, with 27 as an average. So he’s in, but will he be a contender? Maybe. He is, after all, an improving young horse and a half-brother to a champion (Monomoy Girl). But the Risen Star was as much a tribute to the skill of jockey Florent Geroux as to Mr. Monomoy’s talent. They shot to the lead from an outside post position and then slowed the pace down to a sluggish slither — 48.57 seconds, which was slower than the same split in a couple of two-turn maiden races earlier in the day. When challenged, Mr. Monomoy had enough in the tank to run the fourth quarter-mile in 24.80 seconds and cruise home. They probably won’t be allowed such leisure in the Louisiana Derby, but, then again, they might not need it.
14. Basin (Steve Asmussen) 3-2-1-0 $261,000 Liam’s Map
Comment: “He’s coming around,” said his Hall of Fame trainer, Steve Asmussen, about last year’s Hopeful Winner. Basin has had six workouts since the first of the year, the most recent being Friday’s five-eighths of a mile in 1:01.60 at Fair Grounds. He should be ready for a return to competition in early March, perhaps in the Rebel or, a week earlier, in the Gotham at Aqueduct.
15. Max Player (Linda Rice) 3-2-1-0 $173,500 Honor Code
Comment: Max Player is an intriguing member of the cavalcade largely because of his potential to improve with more distance. On a slow Aqueduct surface, without much pace in front of him (49.16 seconds for the opening half-mile), he rallied to win the recent Withers Stakes despite a wide trip. Yes, it was a relatively slow race, but Max Player could make some noise on the New York road to Kentucky. He worked an easy half-mile Wednesday in 50.24 seconds.
16. As Seen on Tv (Kelly Breen) 4-2-2-0 $108,205 Lookin At Lucky
Comment: Flattered by Sole Volante, As Seen On Tv moved into the top 20 last week. Last Thursday, he worked an easy five-eighths in 1:03.85 as his trainer, Kelly Breen, contemplates the next move for the runner-up in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. His pedigree 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 is the sort who could fill a basket with low-hanging fruit, or he just might be talented enough to compete with the best of his class.
17. Three Technique (Jeremiah Englehart) 5-2-3 $154,750 Mr. Speaker
Comment: Flattered by Silver Prospector, who finished behind him in the Smarty Jones, Three Technique moves into the top 20. His trainer, Jeremiah Englehart, explained that he decided to give Three Technique a break after the Smarty Jones Stakes and point for the Rebel and then, “if he’s good enough,” the Arkansas Derby. Owned by Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells, Three Technique has worked in company with the older Wendell Fong, a stakes winner in New York last year.
18. Anneau d’Or (Blaine Wright) 4-1-2-0 $403,000 Medaglia d’Oro
Comment: What was that? “I haven’t a clue,” said Blaine Wright about Anneau d’Or’s dismal performance as the favorite in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. He made a little move outside around the second turn and then retreated. He had nothing down the lane, and this from the colt who narrowly lost the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Wright said he would put the race in the rearview mirror and move forward, back to California to aim for the Santa Anita Derby on April 4.
19. Chance It (Saffie Joseph) 6-4-2-0 $444,910 Currency Swap
Comment: This guy is so sharp and admirable, and such a beautiful mover, that he demands inclusion. He jumps into the top 20 after a head-turning workout Monday at Gulfstream Park. He left the pole about 10 lengths behind his workmates, an unraced 3-year-old named Coach Temple and an older winner of $187,000 named Flora Fantasy. Racing three-to-four wide, Chance It caught them at the top of the stretch and without much encouragement drew clear, competing five-eighths of a mile in 58.33 seconds. He’s by Currency Swap, a precocious winner of the Hopeful who was best sprinting; so seeing Chance It go on to contest the first event in the Triple Crown requires considerable imagination. But he loves Gulfstream, and he loves to win; so it’s not much of a stretch to see him making a splash in the Fountain of Youth.
20. Modernist (Bill Mott) 4-2-0-1 $288,800 Uncle Mo
Comment: Modernist won the second division of Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans with a clocking that was about four lengths slower than the first. Otherwise, though, they were similarly run races. The winners raced inside — on the lead in the first division, just off the early lead in the second, in soporific fractions. A pattern here? Modernist isn’t among the 20 best 3-year-olds in the country, but he has 50 qualifying points for the Derby, which means he has a reserved stall in Churchill Downs’ starting gate. Another reason for his inclusion here is that he’s trained by Bill Mott, one of the best horsemen ever to tighten a girth, which means Modernist could be among the 20 best by May.
21. Charlatan (Bob Baffert) 1-1-0-0 $33,000 Speightstown
Comment: Amazing — that’s what his debut was Sunday at Santa Anita. He had to amaze everybody who saw it: Under restraint, he dragged jockey Drayden Van Dyke to the lead, streaked through an opening half-mile in 44.72 seconds, drew clear by nearly six lengths, stopped the teletimer at 1:08.84 after three-quarters of a mile and then galloped out so strongly that he was in front by about 20 lengths when he pulled up. That said, if Charlatan was in any other barn, he wouldn’t be included here because, well, it’s February, and that was his first race. But it’s worth recalling that Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown champion, won his debut for Baffert on Feb. 18. Unlike Justify, however, Charlatan is the son of a champion sprinter. At the very least, it’s going to be fun to watch Baffert try to keep his talented 3-year-olds apart as they travel the road to Kentucky.
22. Silver State (Steve Asmussen) 4-1-2-1 $136,106 Hard Spun
Comment: Once again Silver State disappointed as the favorite, this time in the first division of the Risen Star. And once again he had more trouble than success; racing wide and getting compromised by the slow pace. Still, he had a better trip Saturday than he had in the Lecomte Stakes, where he also disappointed as the favorite. Enforceable ran right by him in both races. Silver State has talent and potential, and the big colt will put it all together at some point.
23. Answer In (Brad Cox) 3-1-2-0 $153,412 Dialed In
Comment: He actually ran fairly well in the Southwest Stakes, all things considered. Forced out in the first turn, he raced five-to-six wide; he advanced into a lively pace approaching the second turn, where he raced three-wide; and then he faltered down the stretch, where he ducked in and out and back in before switching strides. He finished more than six lengths behind Silver Prospector, as it turned out, but with a bucket of excuses. Answer In could improve significantly in his second start of the year.
24. Maxfield (Brendan Walsh) 2-2-0-0 $354,412 Street Sense
Comment: Returning from a convalescent layoff, he put in his first published workout of the year Monday, going a very casual three-eighths of a mile in 38.20 seconds at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida. He’s far behind in terms of conditioning and experience, but he’s included here because somewhere down the road, from this perspective, he could indeed prove himself to be one of the best horses of his generation. His victory in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland was one of the outstanding juvenile performances of 2019.
Gary West is a nationally acclaimed turf columnist, racing analyst, author and handicapper who helped pioneer pace figures.
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Gary thinks his No. 5 horse, the Daniel Centeno-ridden Sam Davis winner Sole Volante, can be a major player in the Kentucky Derby. Tampa Bay Downs photo
Gary's top-ranked Derby Prospect: Dennis' Moment, training at Gulfstream Park under Tammy Fox. He'll make his first start in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Gwen Davis photo