Wire-to-wire wins have been prevalent on this year’s Kentucky Derby trail, and Authentic has established himself as a prime front-running contender. He improved to 3-for-3 with a convincing win in the March 7 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita, one of three races offered in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series last weekend.
Victor Martinez, a five-time All-Star baseball player who retired with 1,178 RBIs, is Kentucky Derby-bound following King Guillermo’s upset in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Mischevious Alex also picked up a 50-point prize, taking the Gotham (G3) over a one-turn mile, but the Kentucky Derby isn’t a certainty for the speedy colt.
Six of the 16 qualifiers this year have been won wire-to-wire, and Authentic owns a pair. A debut maiden winner at Del Mar in mid-November, the $350,000 son of Into Mischief opened his sophomore season with a 7 3/4-length romp in the Jan. 4 Sham (G3) at Santa Anita. He got away with slow fractions against questionable company in the Sham, but Authentic faced a legitimate class test in the San Felipe.
Champion 2-year-old male Storm the Court, multiple stakes victor Thousand Words, and well-regarded maiden winner Honor A. P. were the main rivals, and Authentic didn’t break running like in the Sham, bobbling slightly at the start. Up by a head a few strides out of the gate, Authentic edged clear rounding the first turn and showed the way on a two-length cushion down the backstretch.
Honor A. P. launched a bid leaving the far turn, and momentarily loomed a serious threat in upper stretch, but Authentic had more to offer. He dug in determinedly beneath Drayden Van Dyke to reassert control, and won in hand under the wire, scoring by a 2 1/4-length margin.
Bob Baffert provides an advantage. Baffert’s the modern-era king of the Kentucky Derby, one win short of tying the legendary Ben Jones with six, and he’s won a record 15 Triple Crown races. The Hall of Famer has captured 21.7% of the Triple Crown races over the last 23 years (15-of-69).
Longer distances, coupled with added pace pressure, will be the challenge going forward, but Authentic has done everything right so far. Following his sharp win in the San Felipe, he was bet down as the 6-1 favorite among individual betting interests in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager last weekend. Authentic has netted 97 Brisnet Speed rating in the last two starts, and the bay colt can enhance his profile by earning a triple-digit number in the final prep race, the April 4 Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Honor A. P. lacked the necessary finishing kick in the San Felipe, but it was easy to appreciate the effort following a near six-month layoff. Last seen posting a stylish maiden victory in his second career outing, the dark bay son of Honor Code stepped up to face a trio of graded stakes winners, along with a multiple Grade 1-placed rival, in a difficult return spot, and he finished a clear second after offering a fine rally into contention on the far turn. I liked how he stretched out to two turns last fall, and Honor A. P. looks like the type who will continue to improve with added ground and experience for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Shirreffs.
Storm the Court, a wire-to-wire upsetter of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), was hustled from the starting gate, but he was unable to keep up with Authentic during the early stages and finished even third. He’s failed to make an impact in two starts this year, but Storm the Court is well-positioned to make the Kentucky Derby field with 32 points and another prep race remaining.
Thousand Words delivered a clunker, beaten nearly a dozen lengths in fourth. The previously unbeaten colt raced up close in third through the opening half-mile before beginning his retreat on the far turn, and while one can make the argument he didn’t receive the right trip, Thousand Words has recorded marginal Speed figures (92-83) in the last two starts. He will try to turn things around for Baffert by shipping out of California for his final prep race.
Overlooked at 49-1, King Guillermo punched his Kentucky Derby ticket with a resounding upset in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby, and the front-running colt is poised to give Martinez, trainer Juan Avila, and jockey Samy Camacho their first Kentucky Derby starter. Martinez purchased the son of Uncle Mo for $150,000 at the OBS April 2-year-old sale, naming King Guillermo after his late father, and King Guillermo notched his first win on a dirt track while returning from a 98-day hiatus. He received a 102 Brisnet Speed rating for the 4 3/4-length decision.
From a female family with turf/synthetic influences, King Guillermo switched to the grass after showing little in his first start on dirt. He promptly broke his maiden by a 6 1/4-length margin, and concluded his 2-year-old season with a third as the favorite to Sole Volante in the Nov. 30 Pulpit S. on Gulfstream’s turf. Tampa Bay Derby bettors dismissed him, in large part, due to the lack of dirt form, but he is bred to handle the main track.
Uncle Mo is the sire of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and King Guillermo is out of a mare by Dixieland Band, the broodmare sire of Derby winners Monarchos (2001) and Street Sense (2007). King Guillermo took to the Tampa track with gusto, galloping out powerfully past the wire, and Avila plans to train him up to the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby instead of utilizing another prep race.
Since 2000, 17 Kentucky Derby winners raced in one of the seven major final preps (Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass, Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Santa Anita Derby, U.A.E. Derby, and Wood Memorial), all which are contested at 1 1/8 miles or longer. The exceptions — Animal Kingdom, Mine That Bird, and War Emblem – were exiting a 1 1/8-mile stakes race (Spiral, Sunland Derby, and Illinois Derby, respectively), and none came back from more than a six-week layoff. Those statistics will continue to be highlighted, and King Guillermo will try to prove skeptics wrong again at long odds on Derby Day.
Sam F. Davis (G3) winner Sole Volante, the 3-2 favorite, left himself too much to do behind the forwardly-placed King Guillermo, but he offered a fine closing kick in the final furlongs to be a clear second. His Brisnet Speed numbers are strong from three dirt starts, and the stoutly-bred son of Karakontie has registered 108 Late Pace ratings in the last two outings.
Mischevious Alex broke on top in a speed-filled Gotham field and after settling up close, the Into Mischief colt seized the advantage entering the stretch and was never seriously challenged posting a two-length win. He’s now captured three straight stakes, leaving the Gotham starting gate as the 1.75-1 favorite following a seven-length thrashing in the 7-furlong Swale (G3) at Gulfstream, but connections aren’t ready to commit the one-turn specialist to the 1 1/4-mile first leg of the Triple Crown yet.
Mischevious Alex can earn a Kentucky Derby berth with a good showing in the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct on April 4.
Nadal will make his first attempt in a Derby qualifier, and two-turn debut, in the $1 million Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park on March 14. The $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G2) will be contested the same afternoon on Turfway Park’s Polytrack.
Here are some quick thoughts on the contenders:
#1 Nadal: A spectacular first-out winner in mid-January, he stirred memories of Justify, who was also trained by Baffert and went on to become the first unraced juvenile to win the Kentucky Derby in 136 years after a brilliant debut. Both are imposing physical specimens, and Nadal hails from a classy, stamina-infused female family. He still must prove it at two turns, and Baffert removes blinkers for the third career start. The front-running son of Blame will break from a tough rail post, with speed to the outside in the starting gate, but it doesn’t matter whether he is showing the way or racing just off the pacesetter; I will be watching to see whether Nadal relaxes better during the early stages while stretching out in distance.
#2 Excession: Late runner has been no factor in a pair of Fair Grounds stakes this winter.
#3 Basin: Unraced since a smashing win in the Hopeful (G1) over a sloppy Saratoga track last September, he adds Javier Castellano for his return and shows a recent 5-furlong drill in preparation for Steve Asmussen. There’s some buzz surrounding the son of Liam’s Map, and Basin figures to be up close stalking the action off the shelf.
#4 Silver Prospector: Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner never fired when opening 2020 in the Smarty Jones S. on a muddy track, but rebounded nicely with a one-length score in the Southwest (G3). Asmussen trainee steps up in company, but he’s 2-for-2 at the 1 1/16-mile distance.
#5 No Parole: Massive class check awaits this exciting Louisiana-bred son of Violence. He’s won three career starts by a combined 33 1/2 lengths over restricted rivals, including a one-mile stakes at Delta Downs most recently, and his Brisnet Speed ratings are solid (95-95-90). Tom Amoss trains the confirmed front-runner, and Joe Talamo picks up the mount.
#6 Three Technique: Concluded last year with a pair of nice wins, romping over maiden foes at Saratoga and entry-level allowance competition at Aqueduct, and exits a respectable effort after breaking poorly in the Smarty Jones, winding up a clear second to a loose-on-the-lead winner. Bill Parcells is a co-owner, and Luis Saez will be in to ride for Jeremiah Englehart.
#7 Coach Bahe: Would be a huge surprise after graduating in an off-the-turf maiden at Fair Grounds.
#8 American Theorem: Posted a respectable second after breaking from the rail in his second start, the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita. Makes his first start in 169 days for George Papaprodromou, and drew well for an outside stalking trip with regular rider Tiago Pereira.
Jeff Ruby Steaks:
#1 Dack Janiel’s: Third in a turf maiden claimer two back, he exits an upset win in an off-the-turf maiden special weight at Gulfstream.
#2 Toma Todo: Second in the Texas Turf Mile two back, chestnut son of English Channel switches to the Asmussen barn following a belated third in the Feb. 21 John Battaglia Memorial S. at Turfway.
#3 Fancy Liquor: Florent Geroux will be in to ride game first-out turf maiden scorer at Gulfstream. A son of Lookin at Lucky, the sire of 2019 Kentucky Derby winner Country House, dark bay colt led wire-to-wire last time and is one of three in the 12-horse field for Mike Maker.
#4 Unthrottled: A turf maiden winner for Dallas Stewart two back, he was no factor switching back to the main track against entry-level allowance foes at Fair Grounds last time.
#5 Myamanoi: A convincing turf maiden winner when making his second start at Aqueduct in early December, he shipped to Gulftream and recorded a fast-finishing fourth, beaten less than a length, in the Feb. 1 Dania Beach S. on turf. Danny Gargan trainee will be running late with Kendrick Carmouche.
#6 Halo Again: After debuting with a dead-heat win at Churchill, Speightstown colt shipped to Woodbine and captured the Coronation Futurity at Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile distance on the Tapeta. He never fired in the Lecomte, but Asmussen runner looms a rebound candidate on the switch back to a synthetic oval.
#7 Victory Boulevard: Gelding steps up in class for Maker after winning three straight over claiming opponents in New York.
#8 Finnick the Fierce: Concluded last year in encouraging fashion, recording a fast-closing second in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and opened this season with a decent fourth in the Lecomte. Never fired in the second division of the Risen Star, but confirmed late runner is eligible to make at least a minor impact if he takes to the Polytrack.
#9 Austrian: Last-out maiden claiming winner looks too slow based on Speed ratings.
#10 The Stiff: An entry-level allowance winner at Golden Gate Fields two back, he ships to Kentucky off a fifth in the El Camino Real Derby (G3). His synthetic form is an advantage, but the chestnut colt’s Speed figures don’t compare favorably to his main rivals.
#11 Invader: Showed promise on turf before emerging on Turfway’s Polytrack this winter, breaking his maiden by 12 lengths and posting a 6 1/4-length decision in the Battaglia Memorial. Wesley Ward-trained son of War Front received a field-best 95 Brisnet Speed rating last time, and will likely put his tactical foot to good use from an outside starting position. Serious win contender with Albin Jimenez.
#12 Field Pass: Opened this year with a fine score in the Dania Beach, getting up determinedly late, and attracts the services of reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Gray son of Lemon Drop Kid could receive an ideal stalking trip in midpack if he can avoid being caught too wide from his post, and Maker trainee will look to pounce in the final furlongs.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
1 Tiz the Law: Registered a whopping 108 Speed fig winning Holy Bull; Florida Derby next
2 Enforceable: Casse trainee brings late punch to future engagements; Louisiana Derby next
3 Honor A. P.: Fine comeback effort for San Felipe runner-up; Santa Anita next for the stalker
4 Sole Volante: Posted 108 Brisnet Late Pace ratings in pair of Tampa qualifiers
5 Ete Indien: Fountain of Youth romper has recorded triple-digit Speed figs in three dirt starts
6 Authentic: 3-for-3 after convincing San Felipe win; Santa Anita Derby next for speedy colt
7 Nadal: Excited to see him stretch to two turns in Rebel Stakes
8 Silver Prospector: Southwest winner will be back in the Rebel
9 Wells Bayou: Southwest runner-up may target Louisiana Derby
10 Candy Tycoon: Improving colt finished second at long odds in Fountain of Youth
The Louisiana Derby, which offers 170 points toward a Derby berth (100-40-20-10 scale), is scheduled for March 21, and the Sunland Derby (G3) the following day. Along with a review of the Rebel and Jeff Ruby, I will take a look at both qualifiers next week.