June 24, 2024

Encino needs single defection for Kentucky Derby berth after Lexington victory

Encino wins the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland (Photo by Coady Photography)

Encino sprinted to the fore at the break and turned back a challenge from favored The Wine Steward in upper stretch, scoring by three-quarters of a length in Saturday’s $365,000 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland to put himself one spot outside of the top 20 for the Kentucky Derby (G1). Brad Cox trains the Godolphin homebred and Florent Geroux was up on the dark bay colt.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier offered points on a 20-10-6-4-2 basis to the top five finishers, and Encino moved to 21st on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40-point total, needing only one defection to guarantee himself a spot in the 150th edition of the Run for the Roses on May 4.

“I want to start by thanking Sheikh Mohammed (Al Maktoum of Godolphin) for the opportunity with the horse and congratulate him,” Cox said. “Ultimately (whether he starts in the Kentucky Derby) will be up to the Godolphin team – Dan Pride, Michael Banahan, Sheikh Mohammed – and if it’s something they want to do, we’ll prepare him. We’ll ship him over to Churchill in a few days regardless. I’ll tell you it will either be the Derby or the Preakness (G1). He’s sitting at 21st on the list right now and some things would have to happen (to make the Kentucky Derby field). But we’ll watch him. Hopefully, he comes out of (the Lexington) in good shape and we’ll march forward.”

Off as the 3.31-1 second choice, Encino led by a length through fractions in :23.55 and :47.28, eventually completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.93.

“He broke like a shot,” Geroux said. “I was expecting more speed. His biggest issue was how he would do having the blinkers (wearing them in a race for the first time). With Hades having blinkers on and Lucky Jeremy to the outside, he outbroke them. It was pretty much all him to the first turn; he pretty much controlled the race from there. He was cruising around there, and when he felt The Wine Steward outside of him, it gave him a little extra push. I think that’s what he needed because he was getting a little lost out there on his own. But he had plenty left in the tank, the dirt felt great, and it looks like added distance shouldn’t be a problem for him.”

Encino has now won three straight, graduating the second time out at Turfway Park at 1 1/16 miles in late January. After leading all the way in his maiden triumph, Encino showed his versatility winning the March 2 John Battaglia Memorial by a length from off the pace. He was scratched from last week’s Blue Grass (G1) in favor of the Lexington.

The Wine Steward ran well in his first appearance since a runner-up in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last October, finishing 8 1/4 lengths clear at 1.49-1 odds. Dilger rallied for third at 36-1, a half-length better than Secret Chat. Footprint, Liberal Arts, Hades, Lucky Jeremy, and How’s Ur Attitude followed.

By 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Encino is the first stakes winner from the Bernardini mare Glittering Jewel, a half-sister to 2007 Kentucky Derby winner and sire Street Sense.