The Road to the Kentucky Derby series resumes Saturday with the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, and Dennis’ Moment will be the center of attention in his 2020 opener. A jaw-dropping maiden scorer, the Dale Romans-trained colt followed with a comfortable win in the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, earning favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), but Dennis’ Moment must rebound after losing all chance at Santa Anita due to a stumbling start.
Fifteen qualifiers for the May 2 Kentucky Derby will take place over the next seven weekends. Here are three storylines entering crunch time:
1 – Tiz the Law separated himself in the Feb. 1 Holy Bull (G3), registering a towering 108 Brisnet Speed rating for the three-length triumph.
It can be difficult to trust 1 1/16-mile races at Gulfstream Park due to the short stretch configuration (finish line at the traditional sixteenth pole), and Tiz the Law was the lone graded stakes winner in the seven-horse Holy Bull field. He will look to solidify his status as the early Kentucky Derby favorite when stretching out to 1 1/8 miles against deeper competition in the March 28 Florida Derby (G1).
His propensity to lug in during the stretch drive, and the reluctance to settle while experiencing an inside trip down the backstretch of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in his juvenile finale, are potential concerns, but Tiz the Law remains very imposing for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Barclay Tagg.
2 – Bob Baffert seeking milestone win with a deep contingent. Synonymous with America’s most famous race, the Hall of Famer trainer is pursuing a record-equaling sixth Kentucky Derby victory with a collection of talented 3-year-olds. Authentic, Charlatan, Nadal, and Thousand Words are all unbeaten for the Baffert barn.
Authentic, a smashing 7 3/4-length hero of the Jan. 4 Sham (G3), could meet Robert B. Lewis (G3) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Thousand Words in the March 7 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita. Nadal, who improved to 2-for-2 in the Feb. 9 San Vicente (G2) and was favored among individual interests in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, will stretch to two turns for the March 14 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park. Baffert is considering options for Charlatan, who netted a 101 Brisnet Speed rating recording an impressive debut tally on Feb. 16, and he also has El Camino Real Derby winner Azul Coast and Grade 3 scorer High Velocity readying for upcoming prep races.
It will be fascinating to see the Baffert brigade sort itself out over the coming weeks.
3 – Breakout performances to come.
This is the time of year for emerging contenders. In 2019, first-time stakes winners captured four of the seven major final prep races, and the majority of Kentucky Derby victors this century recorded their initial stakes win in the previous two starts.
Big Brown came out of nowhere in 2008. A debut winner on Saratoga’s turf, he didn’t make his second career start, and first on dirt, until taking a Gulfstream allowance on March 5. Two appearances later, Big Brown captured the Kentucky Derby by 4 3/4 lengths as the favorite.
Nyquist (2016), American Pharoah (2015), and Super Saver (2010) are the only unrestricted juvenile stakes winners to wear the roses in the last decade.
Americanus appears headed to a qualifier for Mark Hennig following an entry-level allowance win at Gulfstream on Feb. 22, rallying to win the 7-furlong event going by a length. Out of a Mineshaft mare, the son of War Front received a career-best 91 Brisnet Speed rating in his fourth start.
Kiss Today Goodbye got the better of a pair of well-regarded rivals in a Feb. 22 maiden at Santa Anita. By Cairo Prince, the Eric Kruljac-trained colt edged Divine Armor by a neck. Exaulted, the 4-5 favorite after finishing second to Nadal in a Jan. 19 maiden, weakened to be another 4 3/4 lengths back in third.
The second of the three Kentucky Derby qualifiers at Gulfstream Park, Saturday’s Fountain of Youth will award a total of 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5). Here is a quick look at each contestant:
#1 Candy Tycoon: Held in high regard earlier in his career (odds-on in first three dirt starts), he improved significantly when trying two turns last out, breaking his maiden by a widening four lengths. Faces class check jumping straight to stakes company, but intriguing for Pletcher at long odds.
#2 Makabim: Cheap claiming performer has no business cluttering up the field.
#3 Masterday: Gulfstream Park West maiden winner looks too slow to factor.
#4 The Falcon: Winless from two starts, including a setback against maiden claiming foes.
#5 Dennis’ Moment: No questioning his skills from a talent perspective last year, but his mental fortitude must continue to develop. Excited to see the major Kentucky Derby contender open his 3-year-old campaign.
#6 As Seen On Tv: Game finishing a head second in Mucho Macho Man, and his improving Speed numbers are easy to appreciate. However, two-turn distances represent a possible hurdle for the Florida-bred sprint stakes winner.
#7 Country Grammer: Switched from turf to dirt and posted a convincing maiden win going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct last out in mid-November, receiving a solid 94 Brisnet Speed rating. Stalker shows a half-mile bullet work at Payson Park in preparation for Chad Brown, and son of Tonalist adds Javier Castellano for stakes debut.
#8 Gear Jockey: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) third-placer took a step back when switching to dirt at Gulfstream last time, finishing a well-beaten fifth in a maiden special weight. Turf makes sense, not this placement.
#9 Liam’s Lucky Charm: Wheels back two weeks later after well-beaten setback in weaker second division of the Risen Star (G2). His only bad races have come at two turns.
#10 Shotski: Remsen (G2) upsetter invades South Florida off a runner-up effort in Feb. 1 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct. May appreciate the cutback to 1 1/16 miles, but should have company on the front end from an outside post.
#11 Ete Indien: Holy Bull runner-up has turned in two big races since switching from turf for Biancone, and he can’t be dismissed with new rider Florent Geroux. Registered field-best 104 Brisnet Speed rating last time, but outside post does the front-runner no favors.
#12 Chance It: Mucho Macho Man winner merits serious respect based upon recent form, easily capturing his lone two-turn start two starts back, but early-presser must overcome extreme outside post.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
1 Tiz the Law: Earned 108 Brisnet Speed romping in Holy Bull; Florida Derby next
2 Thousand Words: Unbeaten colt targeting March 7 San Felipe
3 Maxfield: Breezed half-mile Monday, second work back for unbeaten G1 winner
4 Enforceable: Solid runner-up effort in Risen Star first division
5 Dennis’ Moment: Returns as the favorite in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth
6 Nadal: His first two-turn test comes in March 14 Rebel
7 Sole Volante: Joined Kentucky Derby picture with late-running upset in Sam F. Davis
8 Wells Bayou: Good second making stakes debut in Southwest
9 Mr. Monomoy: Wire-to-wire winner of tougher Risen Star first division
10 Ete Indien: A clear second to Tiz the Law, he drew outside for the Fountain of Youth
I will recap the Fountain of Youth, and preview a trio of March 7 qualifiers: the San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Gotham (G3).