The Kentucky Derby trail gets serious at this time of year. Two-year-old form can excite us, but the landscape is eligible to change drastically over the winter months as young horses continue to develop.
Kentucky Derby winners follow different patterns. American Pharoah and Nyquist won back-to-back runnings (2015-16) after being named 2-year-old champion. The last three winners — Country House, Justify and Always Dreaming — were all maidens on Jan. 1, with Justify being the first unraced 2-year-old in 136 years.
Maximum Security, disqualified after finishing first in the 2019 Derby, owned only a maiden claiming win entering his 3-year-old season. Charismatic raced for a claiming tag in mid-February before upsetting the 1999 edition. Many Kentucky Derby winners hail from regal bloodlines, but 2014 hero California Chrome was an inexpensive California-bred son of unheralded sire Lucky Pulpit.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby series will determine the 20 participants at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2020. Twenty-four American qualifying races will be offered over the next three months, and we will review all the action in the Kentucky Derby Report.
Road to the Kentucky Derby series
The points-based system rewards the top four finishers on a sliding scale. Point values increase along the way.
We are in the “Prep Season,” with qualifiers offering a total of 17 points (10-4-2-1). The 16-race “Championship Series,” which begins in mid-February, will bring the Kentucky Derby picture into sharper focus, with the initial races worth a total of 85 points (50-20-10-5). The final seven major preps – Louisiana Derby (G2), UAE Derby (G2), Florida Derby (G1), Wood Memorial (G2), Blue Grass (G2), Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Arkansas Derby (G1) – are the most meaningful with 170 points (100-40-20-10) up for grabs.
Here is a brief recap of the first 11 qualifiers:
Sham (G3), January 4: Authentic dominated the one-mile event at Santa Anita on the front end, winning by 7 ¾ lengths. His inexperience showed in the second career start, with the Bob Baffert-trained colt losing focus as he swerved through the stretch while widening his advantage, and he registered a 97 BRIS Speed rating. A $350,000 son of Into Mischief, Authentic became the first of three winning foals from the Mr. Greeley mare Flawless to capture a two-turn race.
Jerome, January 1: Independence Hall didn’t face much competition at Aqueduct, leaving the starting gate as the 1-9 choice among six rivals, and scored by four lengths in the one-turn mile race. Trained by Michael Trombetta, the dark bay son of Constitution was bet down as the 13-1 third choice among individual interests in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) following a 12 ¼-length romp in the Nov. 3 Nashua (G3) that netted him a 101 BRIS Speed rating. The unbeaten Michael Trombetta pupil wasn’t as visually impressive in the Jerome, but Independence Hall still managed a respectable 94 Speed figure while shying from the whip in the stretch of his third career start. His pedigree features a lovely mix of speed and stamina.
Springboard Mile, December 15: Shoplifted surged in the final strides to edge Answer In by a head in the one-mile test at Remington Park, rebounding from a pair of unplaced efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and American Pharoah at Santa Anita. Ricardo Santana Jr. kept the Steve Asmussen trainee in the clear throughout, rallying from midpack in the early stages, and the winner earned a 93 BRIS Speed rating. By Into Mischief, Shoplifted is out of a Yes It’s True mare. Answer In, the 3-5 favorite off a 5 1/4-length maiden win at Churchill Downs, was forced to alter course repeatedly after being stuck behind a rival entering the stretch.
Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), December 7: Thousand Words determinedly prevailed by a neck for five-time Kentucky Derby winner Baffert, improving to 2-for-2 after breaking his maiden in a Santa Anita sprint in late October. With Flavien Prat aboard, Thousand Words put away stakes-winning stablemate High Velocity in midstretch of the 1 1/16-mile race and dug in late to repel a serious bid by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or. The win was good for a 95 BRIS Speed rating. He’s by Pioneerof the Nile, sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and Thousand Words appears built for longer distances.
Remsen (G2), December 7: Shotski dictated a modest pace, accelerated clear into the stretch, and held late to post a half-length decision in the 1 1/8-mile event at Aqueduct. The Blame colt was exiting a fourth in the Oct. 27 Street Sense at Churchill Downs. Overlooked at 8-1, Shotski registered a 98 BRIS Speed rating after receiving an ideal set-up. Jeremiah O’Dwyer trains.
Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), November 30: Silver Prospector stalked in midpack down the backstretch, made a wide move into contention nearing the end of the far turn, and outfinished a pair of rivals to win by three-quarters of a length over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. A gray son of Declaration of War, Silver Prospector improved off a third in the Street Sense to post a 7-1 upset for Steve Asmussen. He received a 90 BRIS Speed rating in the 1 1/16-mile race. Finnick the Fierce wound up second at 87-1, with 3-5 favorite Tiz the Law checking in a neck back in third.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), November 1: Storm the Court led a longshot finish at 45-1, edging 28-1 Anneau d’Or by a head. Wrecking Crew wound up a non-threatening third at 39-1. A debut winner at Del Mar, Storm the Court was exiting a well-beaten third in the American Pharoah in which he was never in contention. Prat sent the son of Court Vision to the lead at the start of the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile at Santa Anita, and Storm the Court gamely turned back the runner-up in the final sixteenth of a mile. The Peter Eurton-trained winner registered a 102 BRIS Speed rating. Anneau d’Or, a son of Medaglia d’Oro and out of a Tapit mare, gave an excellent account of himself after breaking his maiden in a one-mile turf affair of Golden Gate Fields. Dennis’ Moment, the 4-5 favorite, lost all chance when stumbling badly out of the gate.
Breeders’ Futurity (G1), October 5: Maxfield displayed a powerful kick on the far turn, rallying from the tail of the field to overhaul 3-2 favorite Governeur Morris by the top of stretch, and drew off magnificently to win the 1 1/16-mile race at Keeneland by 5 ½ lengths. Overlooked at 6-1 after overcoming a slow start to win his debut at Churchill Downs, the Godolphin homebred son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense garnered a 99 BRIS Speed rating. Maxfield was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile due to an ankle chip, but he is expected to return to Brendan Walsh’s South Florida barn in the coming weeks to begin Kentucky Derby preparations.
Champagne (G1), October 5: Tiz the Law proved much the best over a one-turn mile at Belmont Park, overcoming a stumbling start and negotiating his way out of traffic in upper stretch to win going away by four lengths. From the same connections as 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide (Sackatoga Stable and Barclay Tagg), Tiz the Law is a New York-bred son of sensational first-year sire Constitution and netted a 93 BRIS Speed rating. Despite sustaining his first setback with a third in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Tiz the Law closed as the 11-1 favorite among individual interests in Pool 1 of the KDFW.
American Pharoah (G1), September 27: Eight Rings sprinted clear at the start and was never threatened leading wire-to-wire at Santa Anita, winning by six lengths as 6-5 favorite. He faltered when facing early pressure in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, weakening to be a well-beaten sixth, and the Triple Crown may not be on his agenda at age 3.
Iroquois (G3), September 14: Following a smashing 19 1/4-length maiden win at Ellis Park, Dennis’ Moment found two turns and stakes company no obstacle in the 1 1/16-mile Iroquois at Churchill Downs. The Tiznow colt offered a smart move on the far turn to seize control by upper stretch, cruising home to win by about two lengths, and earned a 98 BRIS Speed figure. Dale Romans trains the $400,000 yearling purchase, and Dennis’ Moment hails from a mare by Elusive Quality, sire of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones. Dennis’ Moment closed as the 12-1 second choice among individual interests in Pool 1 of the KDFW.
Saturday is “Road to the Derby Kickoff Day” at Fair Grounds, with the $200,0000 Lecomte (G3) serving as the first of three qualifiers at the New Orleans track. Fair Grounds has extended the distance of all three prep races this year. The Lecomte, which eventual Preakness winner War of Will captured at a mile and 70 yards last year, is now 1 1/16 miles. The $400,000 Risen Star (G2) on Feb. 15 will be contested over 1 1/8 miles, and the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 21 at 1 3/16 miles.
Here is a preview of the 14-horse Lecomte field:
#1 Finnick the Fierce (15-1): Tough post for Indiana Grand maiden winner, who jumped forward with a fine second at 87-1 odds in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.
#2 Mr. Monomoy (9-2): A sharp 5 1/2-length maiden scorer the second time out at Churchill Downs, Brad Cox trainee exits head second to Lynn’s Map in a Dec. 21 allowance over a sloppy track at Fair Grounds. Half-brother to 2018 champion 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl figures to show speed from the start with Florent Geroux.
#3 Perfect Star (30-1): Two-time turf winner faces a tough task switching back to dirt in this spot.
#4 Scabbard (7-2): Morning line favorite following a fourth in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Second to Dennis’ Moment in the Iroquois (G3) two starts back.
#5 Excession (12-1): A Churchill Downs maiden winner two back, late-running colt posted a rallying third to Lynn’s Map and Mr. Monomoy in Dec. 21 allowance. One of three for Steve Asmussen.
#6 New Eagle (20-1): Indiana Grand turf maiden winner weakened to fifth at 84-1 after setting pace in Kentucky Jockey Club.
#7 Halo Again (15-1): Unbeaten in two starts, Asmussen runner is pegged too high at 15-1 on the morning line. Ontario-bred son of Speightstown crushed maiden rivals the first time out on Churchill Downs’ main track and showed his versatility when gamely taking the Nov. 23 Coronation at a route on Woodbine’s Tapeta. Intriguing contender adds Joe Talamo.
#8 Jack the Umpire (20-1): Netted only a 74 BRIS Speed rating winning a Delta Downs stakes last out.
#9 Silver State (5-1): A 9 ¾-length debut winner at Churchill in late October, $450,000 son of Hard Spun exits a fine nose second to a well-regarded rival in a Nov. 30 allowance under the Twin Spires. Ricardo Santana Jr. opts for this Asmussen pupil.
#10 Enforceable (15-1): Breeders’ Futurity (G1) third-placer rallied belatedly for fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club last time. Julien Leparoux picks up mount for Mark Casse.
#11 Bango (20-1): Tries a route for the first time after finishing a non-threatening second in a 6-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs.
#12 Shashashakemeup (20-1): Stretches out in distance after a disappointing fourth in the 6-furlong Sugar Bowl on Dec. 21.
#13 Sycamore (6-1): Class check after dominating maiden special weight rivals in wire-to-wire fashion at Fair Grounds on Dec. 21. Joe Sharp-trained son of Street Sense registered the top last-out BRIS Speed rating (96) posting a 3 ½-length decision in the 6-furlong test over a sloppy track, and he’ll show speed from the outside post with Adam Beschizza.
#14 Lynn’s Map (6-1): He’s registered triple-digit BRIS Late Pace numbers in the last two starts, breaking his maiden over a one-turn mile and taking an entry-level allowance at a mile and 70 yards, but Casse may redirect the promising sophomore to the Jan. 24 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn after drawing the far outside.
- Independence Hall: Unbeaten colt targeting Feb. 8 Sam F. Davis or Risen Star a week later
- Thousand Words: March 7 San Felipe could be next for unbeaten Baffert trainee
- Maxfield: Still plenty of time but hope he returns to Walsh’s barn soon
- Anneau d’Or: Top-class efforts in BC Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity
- Dennis’ Moment: Talented colt gearing up for return after BC Juvenile fiasco
- Tiz the Law: Champagne winner has worked thrice in South Florida
- Storm the Court: 7f San Vicente on Feb. 9 next for Juvenile upsetter
- Lynn’s Map: Ready for stakes after a couple of nice wins over maiden and allowance foes
- Necker Island: Hard Spun colt exits a pair of tallies at Churchill Downs
- Green Light Go: Juvenile G2 winner remains a promising prospect for Jerkens
Next week will feature a recap of the Lecomte at Fair Grounds, and a preview of the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park. I will also spotlight some promising runners who are preparing for their first attempt at a qualifier.