May 19, 2024

Kentucky Derby Report April 28: Always Dreaming records impressive work at Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby contenders were out in full force at Churchill Downs Friday morning, with nine horses posting their final workout for the 1 ¼-mile American classic.

Pletcher sent out a quintet including Master Plan, who needs five defections to make the field, and Rebel (G2) winner Malagacy was conspicuous by his absence from the worktab. Fifth in the Arkansas Derby (G1), Malagacy could still work Saturday morning but the unraced 2-year-old appears likely to skip the Kentucky Derby in favor of the middle leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness at Pimlico on May 20.

Battalion Runner, who is also safely within the top 20 for Pletcher after a runner-up in the Wood Memorial (G2), did not impress in a half-mile move, coming under a ride to keep up while being outworked by turf stablemate Made You Look. He looks like a pace factor but given the seemingly effortless 5-furlong bullet drill from stablemate Always Dreaming (:59.60), Battalion Runner’s poor workout makes him a candidate to bypass the Derby for a more suitable race.

The early stages may be contested but I will be surprised to see a hot pace in the Kentucky Derby. There certainly aren’t any confirmed speedballs in the line-up and even if the opening quarter-mile is solid as the front-runners sort themselves out, the following splits should be moderate.

The defection of Arkansas Derby pacesetter Conquest Mo Money, who is waiting for the Preakness, eliminated a certified pace presence. Malagacy has the speed to flash forward at the break and his absence would be another blow to the late-running contingent, which includes the likes of Gunnevera, McCraken, Hence, Lookin at Lee and J Boys Echo. Their connections are hoping Battalion Runner stays in the field along with the few remaining front-runners.

Lookin at Lee and Sonneteer, third and fourth in the Arkansas Derby, are currently 21st and 22nd on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard but still have a legitimate chance to make the starting gate. I’ve included them in my Top 20 analysis.

Kentucky Derby Top 20 (Check out free Kentucky Derby Ultimate PPs from with contenders ranked in points order)

  1. ALWAYS DREAMING: Went fast and easy (with a remarkable gallop-out) logging a sharp work over the track Friday and his Florida Derby victory was the top performance of the year. Those playing against Always Dreaming must hope he doesn’t have his head on straight because he appears set for a huge performance. His trainer is 1-for-45 in the Kentucky Derby but Always Dreaming has been prepared differently than predecessors who peaked too early. He stepped up when making his stakes debut in the Florida Derby, registering a strong BRIS Speed Rating (102) and scoring with plenty in the tank, and we haven’t seen the best of the Bodemeister colt yet.
  2. PRACTICAL JOKE: He’s displayed a fine turn of foot in all six starts and thought Practical Joke had a good chance to move forward off runner-up finishes in the Blue Grass and Fountain of Youth. But his propensity for slow and troubled starts (Champagne, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Fountain of Youth) were disconcerting and the bay colt dropped back suddenly on the backstretch of the Blue Grass before launching his bid. The masses will criticize equipment changes in the Kentucky Derby (think Palice Malice) but I like the addition of blinkers with Practical Joke. The headgear can help him keep his focus during the early stages and Chad Brown trainee will look to advance into a prominent position by the head of the stretch. The 1 ¼-mile trip is the only question for the Into Mischief colt, but I expect Practical Joke to outrun his odds and any perceived distance limitations.
  3. MCCRAKEN: After drawing even with Practical Joke in upper stretch of Blue Grass, McCraken went backwards in the final furlong and I was looking to beat him off that performance. But winning the Blue Grass wasn’t important and Ghostzapper colt figured to be short after a two-month hiatus. Trainer Ian Wilkes knows how to tighten the screws, serving as the head assistant for the Carl Nafzger-trained Unbridled and Street Sense, who both rebounded from setbacks to win the Kentucky Derby, and McCraken loves Churchill Downs (3-for-3 under the Twin Spires) and appears to be flourishing in his morning preparations. Have some concerns about lower BRIS Speed numbers and his off-the-pace run style, but McCraken is eligible to offer a big performance on May 6.
  4. CLASSIC EMPIRE: Talent isn’t a question but it’s asking a lot to be ready for the Kentucky Derby off essentially one prep. A foot abscess nearly derailed his sophomore season, with Classic Empire barely making it back just in time for the Arkansas Derby, and it’s a quick three-week turnaround from the courageous win. Pioneerof the Nile colt remains a ferocious competitor, so a top three placing is within his grasp even if he comes up a little short, but likely favorite appears vulnerable.
  5. TAPWRIT: Don’t know what happened in Blue Grass (disappointing fifth) but maybe he needed that race after a dynamic performance in the Tampa Bay Derby, stepping forward with a career-best 101 BRIS Speed for the 4 ½-length decision. Tapwrit worked well at Churchill Downs Friday and bounce-back candidate rates as an intriguing exotics contender at double-digit odds.
  6. GUNNEVERA: His BRIS Speed and Late Pace numbers are among the best in the field and I’ll use him underneath despite over-the-top concerns. After opening year with a good second in the Holy Bull, Gunnevera blew away the competition in a runaway Fountain of Youth tally. His well-beaten third as the Florida Derby favorite raised red flags and chestnut is such a dead closer he may be too far back in the early going. But with his stout late kick, Dialed In colt can’t be dismissed from a minor award.
  7. IRISH WAR CRY: Never like to see a clunker in the next-to-last prep but Irish War Cry rebounded nicely from disappointing Fountain of Youth effort. However, Curlin colt faced little adversity and relished wide trips in convincing Holy Bull and Wood Memorial wins and I’m not confident he’ll handle different set-up in a 20-horse Derby field. An inside post would be a concern given his propensity for racing to the outside of rivals, but Irish War Cry could put his speed to good use and outperform any negative predictions.
  8. HENCE: Emerged from nowhere with romping Sunland Derby upset and will be looking to make a late impact in the Kentucky Derby. Possesses the top last-out BRIS Speed Rating (103) and has been flattered by Sunland Derby also-rans Irap and Conquest Mo Money, but Hence is also a candidate for a regression off such a big effort. He does appear to be training well for Steve Asmussen and I respect his chances for a share.
  9. LOOKIN AT LEE: He’s never flashy but late runner has steadily progressed for Asmussen this season, closing strongly in traffic to miss by only 1 ½ lengths in a third-place Arkansas Derby effort. Lookin at Lee has kept top company throughout his career and will try to keep moving forward at expected long odds. I’ll be using him underneath on tickets.
  10. STATE OF HONOR: Runner-up in Florida Derby and Tampa Bay Derby, hard-trying colt could receive a favorable trip with his tactical speed if the pace isn’t too hot. Added distance doesn’t appear favorable but State of Honor has made a habit of exceeding expectations.
  11. BATTLE OF MIDWAY: Field crawled home but he held gamely for second after dueling on a hot pace in Santa Anita Derby. And while Jerry Hollendorfer may not want to see his charge dueling up front again, Battle of Midway’s early speed remains interesting and Smart Strike colt could keep improving in the second stakes attempt. Despite lower BRIS Speed numbers, front-runner has some appeal for trifecta and superfecta at long odds.
  12. J BOYS ECHO: Earned a big number (104 BRIS Speed) parlaying an ideal trip into a Gotham win but didn’t beat much in that spot and has sandwiched a couple of duds around it. Dale Romans trainee did receive a less-than-favorable trip in the Blue Grass and J Boys Echo should appreciate the return to his home base at Churchill. He’ll look to make one run from off the pace with new jockey Luis Saez after losing Robby Alabarado to injury.
  13. SONNETEER: Not a fan of maidens in the Kentucky Derby but can appreciate the improved form Sonneteer has displayed in the last two starts, closing for second in the Rebel and fourth in the Arkansas Derby. Confirmed closer will try to clunk up for another piece in the stretch drive.
  14. THUNDER SNOW: Turf is probably his best surface but Group 1 winner showed fine versatility capturing a pair of dirt stakes at Meydan, including a narrow tally in the UAE Derby. And while Dubai shippers have performed terribly in the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Snow isn’t facing the most imposing competition and has the class to make his presence felt if he takes to the main track at Churchill.
  15. IRAP: Surprised breaking his maiden in the Blue Grass and trainer Doug O’Neill has won two of the last five editions of the Kentucky Derby. But Irap doesn’t figure to receive the same favorable trip on the front end and is a half-brother to a champion sprinter. He didn’t change leads in the stretch of the Blue Grass and don’t like his chances on the stretch out.
  16. PATCH: Jumped straight from a February 18 maiden win to a runner-up finish in the Louisiana Derby and could be a good one down the road for Pletcher. But no unraced juvenile has won the Kentucky Derby in 135 years and Patch lacks the proper foundation to offer a serious challenge.
  17. GIRVIN: Still under consideration but injured foot has put his participation in jeopardy. Girvin is lightly-raced and unbeaten from three dirt starts, but I can’t see him being ready for his best given less-than-ideal preparations.
  18. GORMLEY: Switched run styles and captured Santa Anita Derby from just off the pace, but it was the slowest running in 60 years. Tough to envision Gormley wanting any part of the added ground in the Kentucky Derby and he shut things down quickly when things didn’t go his way in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and San Felipe.
  19. UNTRAPPED: He’s experienced wide trips in the last two starts but ground loss wasn’t the reason he came up short. Untrapped’s only win has come sprinting and son of Trappe Shot may be redirected to one-turn distances after the Kentucky Derby.
  20. FAST AND ACCURATE: Ran poorly in lone dirt attempt, qualifying via a 24-1 upset in the Spiral on Polytrack, and Fast and Accurate’s future is probably on turf.

Remember to visit the TwinSpires page for work videos 

5 Comments on Kentucky Derby Report April 28: Always Dreaming records impressive work at Churchill Downs

    • May not be good enough to win but could challenge for a minor award like 2nd, 3rd or 4th, the underneath positions in exactas, trifectas & superfectas

  1. There still could be plenty of speed up front as riders jockey for position. Speedy runners include Battle of Midway, Irish War Cry, Gormley, Itap, State of Honor, Thunder Snow, Fast and Accurate and with one more withdrawal, Royal Mo. They will give Always Dreaming something he hasn’t seen since his three losses last year – a view of numerous competitors up front. This could unsettle the flighty colt given the runaway proclivities he inherits from his sire Bodemeister. He inherits more speed from his damside and his damsire has a very short distance AWD of 6.1. Look for this flash in the pan to be an also ran.

Comments are closed.