January 27, 2023

Kentucky Derby Report – Magnum Moon establishes himself as major player

Magnum Moon enhanced his Kentucky Derby profile recording a convincing win in his stakes debut, the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park (c) Coady Photo

Magnum Moon easily proved up to the task making his stakes debut in the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park, drawing away through the stretch to a 3 ½-length decision, and his 100 BRIS Speed rating ranks among the upper echelon of Kentucky Derby contenders.

By Malibu Moon, sire of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Magnum Moon was unveiled by Todd Pletcher in mid-January and has overwhelmed the competition in three consecutive starts. And along with Justify, who remained unbeaten with a powerful allowance victory on March 11, Magnum Moon looks capable of being a serious factor this spring despite being unraced at age 2.

The Rebel epitomized the 2018 Kentucky Derby picture as even-money favorite Solomini returned with a non-threatening second, becoming the latest 2-year-old star to come up short in his sophomore opener. Champion Good Magic, multiple Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro, Remsen (G2) romper Catholic Boy, Hopeful (G1) scorer Sporting Chance and Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Enticed also failed to finish first in the first start back this year (Bolt d’Oro was placed first by stewards but wasn’t beating McKinzie without the bumping or if they went around again).

Justify and Magnum Moon filled a void with captivating performances and bettors have been willing to ignore the 136-year gap since the last unraced juvenile won the Kentucky Derby, hammering Justify down to 6-1 favoritism among individual interests in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager and lowering Magnum Moon’s odds to 10-1 at the Wynn Las Vegas Sportbook.

Look for movement over the next four weeks as the first of seven major prep races, the $1 million TwinSpires Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds, will be offered Saturday. It’s worth a total of 170 points (100-40-20-10 scale) as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

Rebel

Purchased for $380,000 as a yearling by Robert and Lawana Low, Magnum Moon crushed rivals on the front end when making his debut in a 6-furlong maiden at Gulfstream. He shipped to Tampa Bay Downs for his first two-turn start and proved versatile rating off a slow early tempo, netting a 101 BRIS Late Pace figure rallying to a two-length decision on February 15.

The bay colt left the Rebel starting gate as the 3-1 second choice among 10 rivals with regular rider Luis Saez. He established a forward position into the first turn and tracked about a length back in third as the field traveled down the backstretch of the 1 1/16-mile race.

Magnum Moon made his move nearing the completion of the far turn. After dismissing pacesetter Title Ready, he accelerated clear into the stretch and proceeded to defeat a solid group of rivals with complete authority.

Pletcher, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming, will be seeking his third overall victory in the first leg of the Triple Crown. Magnum Moon became his second major contender to emerge in recent months, joining Holy Bull (G2) winner Audible, who is scheduled to make his next appearance in the Florida Derby (G1) on March 31.

Magnum Moon has the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 14 circled for his final tune-up. And with Justify expected to make his stakes debut in the same spot, the Arkansas Derby promises to be a thrilling affair between up-and-coming talents.

Solomini didn’t break smoothly and was blocked along the inside while advancing into the stretch. He wasn’t going to match strides with Magnum Moon but the Bob Baffert-trained colt showed good determination overcoming trouble, getting up in the final strides to edge Combatant by a head for runner-up honors. His BRIS Speed ratings declined from a 100 his juvenile finale to a 96 and that’s more of a concern than the defeat.

I want to see Solomini earn a triple-digit Speed rating in the final prep, the April 7 Wood Memorial (G2).

Combatant never threatens for the win but always gets part, recording his fourth straight placing in a qualifier. I don’t know if the late-running son of Scat Daddy can elevate his game for Steve Asmussen, but Combatant looks like the type you’ll want for exotic tickets on Derby Day at expected long odds.

Jeff Ruby Steaks

Blended Citizen rallied to edge Pony Up by a neck in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) (formerly the Spiral) and earned 20 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth in the 1 1/8-mile event on Turfway Park’s Polytrack. Owners Greg Hall of Sayjay Racing made the son of Proud Citizen a late nominee to the Triple Crown and plan to point toward the Kentucky Derby, but Blended Citizen (who also earned 2 points finishing third in the El Camino Real Derby on a synthetic track) will probably need more than 22 points to qualify.

He’s making fine progress for Doug O’Neill but it’s difficult to have much faith in the Blended Citizen, whose fortunes turned around when being switched from the main track to turf. He opened his career with three dismal dirt performances.

Multiple turf stakes runner-up Pony Up, who ran poorly in the Holy Bull on dirt, is expected to stick with turf racing for Pletcher.

Up Next

Fast conditions appear probable and the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby drew a field of 10 including My Boy Jack, the 5-2 morning line favorite following a minor upset win in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park. The late runner could receive the right set-up in a speed-laden field, but I won’t take short odds as the turf stakes winner caught favorable muddy track he relished and raced on the right part of the track last time.

Noble Indy was banged around a little and stuck in tight quarters behind horses on the inside finishing a close third in his stakes debut, the February 17 Risen Star (G2), and the well-built Take Charge Indy colt rates as a legitimate rebound candidate for Todd Pletcher. But an inside draw (post 2) doesn’t appear favorable and we’ll see what tactics are utilized with the addition of blinkers: Noble Indy must improve his BRIS E1 Pace numbers (87-89-89) to match strides early with speedy rivals Bravazo, Marmello and Snapper Sinclair.

I’m tabbing an upset with Lone Sailor. Fifth when concluding last year in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), his previous stakes form isn’t good enough but I was encouraged by the improvement displayed in a February 19 allowance at Fair Grounds as Lone Sailor overcame a slow pace and being last on the far turn to just miss, registering a 103 BRIS Late Pace number for the neck second. This race looks ripe for an improving colt and Lone Sailor could be finishing fastest of all. I’ll also include the winner of Lone Sailor’s allowance, Dark Templar, in any multi-race bets.

Kentucky Derby Top 20

  1. BOLT D’ORO: Sharp return effort in San Felipe; Santa Anita Derby next
  2. GOOD MAGIC: 2yo champ must show more in Blue Grass
  3. SOLOMINI: Second-best in Rebel return; Wood Memorial next
  4. MCKINZIE: Readying for Round 2 vs Bolt d’Oro in Santa Anita Derby
  5. MAGNUM MOON: Impressive Rebel winner to return for Arkansas Derby
  6. JUSTIFY: Powerful colt to make stakes bow in Arkansas Derby
  7. AUDIBLE: Runaway Holy Bull winner heading to Florida Derby
  8. CATHOLIC BOY: Brings late kick to final prep; Florida Derby?
  9. ENTICED: Relished outside trip in Gotham cutback
  10. COMBATANT: Late runner eligible to keep progressing
  11. INSTILLED REGARD: Rebound candidate in final prep for Hollendorfer
  12. PROMISES FULFILLED: Had things own way in Fountain of Youth upset
  13. MY BOY JACK: Will be running late in Louisiana Derby
  14. NOBLE INDY: Pletcher adds blinkers for Louisiana Derby
  15. STRIKE POWER: Brings speed to Florida Derby
  16. BRAVAZO: Looks to back up Risen Star upset in Louisiana Derby
  17. MENDELSSOHN: Recent Polytrack winner headed to U.A.E. Derby
  18. FLAMEAWAY: Overcame bad start finishing second in Tampa Bay Derby
  19. QUIP: Front-running upsetter in Tampa Bay Derby
  20. GRONKOWSKI: Wood Memorial an option for English-based colt