November 30, 2023

Kentucky Derby Report – Major qualifiers begin with an upset

By My Standards wins the Louisiana Derby (c) Hodges Photography /Amanda Hodges Weir

By My Standards jumped from a maiden special win to graded stakes company and sprung a 22-1 upset in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds, stamping his Kentucky Derby ticket with a 100-point prize in the first of seven major qualifiers.

The $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) was worth half the points (50 to winner) a day later and continued a common theme on this year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby series, with Cutting Humor recording his initial stakes tally.

There’s been only one repeat winner from 19 qualifiers since January 1 and nine of the last 15 have been captured by first-time stakes winners.

It’s crunch time, with the first Saturday in May only five weeks from this Saturday, and Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park will be an important test for expected post-time favorite Hidden Scroll. The spectacular maiden winner appears to have the goods in terms of talent but it takes more than raw ability to win the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby.

After needlessly dueling with a 132-1 longshot through blistering fractions and weakening to fourth in the Fountain of Youth (G2), Hidden Scroll must show more from a mental standpoint while breaking from a tricky rail post in an 11-horse field. He faces a solid Florida Derby cast that includes Code of Honor and Bourbon War.

Another major final prep, the $2.5 million UAE Derby (G2), will be offered Saturday and a filly tops the about 1 3/16-mile test. Divine Image, who exits a romping win over males in the March 9 Al Bastakiya at Meydan, heads a group of 14 that includes American invaders Plus Que Parfait and Stubbins.

Louisiana Derby

By My Standards made his career debut in late November and placed in his first three starts before graduating by a 4 ¼-length margin on the February 16 Risen Star undercard at Fair Grounds. Owned by Allied Racing Stable LLC and trained by Bret Calhoun, the Goldencents colt broke from post 5 with regular rider Gabe Saez and established a good stalking position behind the first flight of Lemniscate and Sueno.

Spinoff showed speed to establish positioning from post 10 and settled to the outside of By My Standards through the first turn.

Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3) winner War of Will, the 4-5 favorite, appeared to lose his footing when taking a couple of awkward strides after the start. He never was a factor afterward and wound up ninth of 11. Trainer Mark Casse said the colt appeared to sustain a muscle strain but should recover quickly, and the Kentucky Derby remains in play.

He’s got the points (60) to make the field and War of Will looks like a pace player if he does enter. The Louisiana Derby marked the second time he wasn’t prominent from the start and he’s experienced troubled trips in both.

By My Standards and Spinoff moved in tandem along the backstretch and into the far turn. Spinoff traveled wider into the lane and got first jump on his rival, surging to a one-length lead in upper stretch. By My Standards held his position while advancing a couple of paths off the rail but ran into traffic after straightening for home, altering course to the inside for clear sailing.

The top two separated themselves from the rest and By My Standards overhauled Spinoff in the final sixteenth of a mile, edging away under the wire to win by nearly a length. The winner received a 102 BRIS Speed rating, 12 points better than his previous best, and posted a commendable 102 BRIS Late Pace number. The last eight Kentucky Derby winners showed at least one triple-digit BRIS Late Pace rating from their three-year-old prep races.

By My Standards is from the first crop of two-time Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Goldencents and hails from the Gone West mare Muqtarib, a multiple turf stakes winner. Stamina influences can be found in the extended female family.

Calhoun said they’ve always thought highly of By My Standards but the bay colt needed time to develop.

“The maiden (win) came later than we expected,” Calhoun said. “The light really came on after that race. The mornings he’d been phenomenal from that race moving forward and he really gave us a lot of confidence coming in here.”

Spinoff recorded a fine second, five lengths better than third-placer Sueno, and should be safely in the Kentucky Derby field with 40 points. Third in the Saratoga Special (G2) in mid-August, Spinoff returned from a five-month layoff with an 11 ¾-length allowance score at Tampa Bay Downs in his previous outing.

The son of Hard Spun is trained by two-time winner Todd Pletcher, who leads all trainers with 52 starts in the first leg of the American Triple Crown. Pletcher is poised to saddle a Kentucky Derby starter for the 16th consecutive year.

Sunland Derby

Cutting Humor enjoyed a favorable trip just off a contested pace and pounced leaving the far turn, slingshotting to a clear lead in midstretch. He dug in gamely to withstand the late charge of Anothertwistafate by a neck and established a new track record, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.94.

Pletcher conditions the son of First Samurai for Starlight Racing and John Velazquez, who was up a day earlier on Spinoff, traveled to New Mexico for the mount. A maiden winner the third time out in his juvenile finale, Cutting Humor opened 2019 with a second-place finish to subsequent Fountain of Youth runner-up Bourbon War in a Gulfstream allowance and was exiting a troubled seventh as the favorite in the February 18 Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park.

The well-traveled sophomore (raced at Belmont, Gulfstream Park West and Keeneland last year) earned a career-best 99 BRIS Speed rating and a 101 Late Pace figure. Out of an unraced Pulpit mare, Cutting Humor comes from a classy female family but his dam counts multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Zensational as a half-brother. They’re both out of the Phone Trick mare Joke, Cutting Humor’s second maternal dam, and that’s a lot of speed on the female side.

Cutting Humor rates as an improving type with upside but must outrun his pedigree while stretching out an extra furlong next time. And considering he appeared to be tiring late, it’s easy to question whether he’ll be effective at 1 ¼ miles at this stage of his career.

Anothertwistafate proved his effectiveness on dirt and confirmed himself as a viable Kentucky Derby contender. Unplaced the first time out at Santa Anita, the Blaine Wright-trained colt dominated his next outings over the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields and had already earned 10 qualifying points for a seven-length triumph in the February 16 El Camino Real Derby. He’s by the late Scat Daddy, sire of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, and his female family features numerous turf stakes winners.

After dueling briefly with pacesetter Mucho Gusto, Anothertwistafate eased back to sit a comfortable trip behind a pair of early runners but found himself stuck in upper stretch as Cutting Humor rolled by him on the outside. Once jockey Juan Hernandez guided him out, Anothertwistafate finished fast to just miss and netted his second consecutive triple-digit Late Pace rating (101).

Mucho Gusto, who bet down as the 4-5 favorite off a convincing win in the February 2 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita, weakened in the final furlong to be six lengths back of the winner.

Scully’s Kentucky Derby Top 10

  1. OMAHA BEACH: Held off Game Winner to win stakes debut
  2. GAME WINNER: Came up a little short but solid return in Rebel
  3. LONG RANGE TODDY: Making big strides for Asmussen
  4. HIDDEN SCROLL: Florida Derby will prove whether he belongs on list
  5. IMPROBABLE: Juvenile G1 winner couldn’t hold lead in his return
  6. TACITUS: Tampa Bay Derby winner has upside for Mott
  7. CODE OF HONOR: Fountain of Youth winner could be third choice in Florida Derby
  8. BOURBON WAR: Fan base swelled following a fast-closing second
  9. BY MY STANDARDS: Late-developing colt surprised in Louisiana Derby
  10. ANOTHERTWISTAFATE: Carried synthetic form to dirt in Sunland Derby