Independence Hall entered 2020 as a top contender, but his Kentucky Derby stock took a precipitous hit when trying two turns in the Feb. 8 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. Sole Volante ran past the odds-on favorite to post a 2 1/2-length decision, and the former turf performer picked up 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth in his first qualifying race.
The pace was hot in the 1 1/16-mile event, and Independence Hall refused to settle. He tried to chase dueling front-runners from the break, forcing Jose Ortiz to take a heavy hold as they raced just behind the speed. Sole Volante saved ground from his inside post while fifth, 15 1/2 lengths back after the opening half-mile, and he began to make headway from off the pace rounding the far the turn.
Independence Hall advanced to take a short lead into the stretch, but Sole Volante was coming. The Patrick Biancone-trained winner kicked clear late, completing the final sixteenth of a mile in six seconds, and Sole Volante received a 108 Brisnet Late Pace rating after finishing fast. Luca Panici was up.
A half-brother to a Grade 3 winner and from a classy turf female family, Sole Volante brought only $6,000 when passing through the sales ring as a yearling, and Biancone picked him out of the OBS April 2-year-old sale for $20,000. The gelded son of 2014 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Karakontie is campaigned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Limelight Stables and Andie Biancone.
Sole Volante opened his racing career with a three-length score over turf maiden special weight rivals at Gulfstream Park West, and followed with a 13-1 upset in the grassy Pulpit S. at Gulfstream in late November, closing last-to-first to win by two lengths. Switching to the main track for the Jan. 4 Mucho Macho Man at a one-turn mile, Sole Volante came up 2 1/2 lengths short, but earned a commendable 100 Brisnet Speed rating for the rallying third-place finish.
He moved forward in the Davis, registering a 102 Speed rating, and Sole Volante will bring his late kick to either the March 7 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) or March 21 Louisiana Derby (G2) according to Biancone, who finished second in the 2004 Kentucky Derby with Lion Heart.
Independence Hall looked suited to shorter distances while weakening late at 7-10 odds. It’s not what you want to see from a Derby contender, but also premature to make any definitive judgments given he didn’t switch off in the early stages. Michael Trombetta will continue to work with the headstrong colt, and it will be interesting to see the tactics next time.
Nadal was bet to 8.50-1 favoritism among individual interests in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW), which closed about 30 minutes prior to the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita on Feb. 9, and the highly-regarded sophomore remained unbeaten after scoring as the 3-10 choice. He gunned it from the start, dueling through :21.81 and :44.09 splits with longshot Ginobili, and fought back in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length.
A $700,000 2-year-old purchase by Blame, Nadal caused a stir when opening his career with a sparkling debut performance on Jan. 19, scoring by a widening 3 3/4-length margin over 6 1/2 furlongs. He’s trained by five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert and given his imposing physical stature, Nadal’s exciting debut sparked memories of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, who rolled through three starts before becoming the first unraced 2-year-old to capture the Kentucky Derby in 136 years.
Nadal came back three weeks later in the San Vicente, with Baffert conceding he did little between starts, and an inside post forced Joel Rosario’s hand as he let his mount run. The bay colt has been all speed in both starts, and he required 13.54 seconds to complete the final furlong in the San Vicente, but Nadal remains eligible to keep improving.
Front-running Justify showed his tractability when stretching out to two turns, settling just off the early pace before exploding to win going away, and we’ll see whether Nadal can relax during the early stages when he stretches out to two turns in the March 14 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.
Champion 2-year-old Storm the Court was never a factor finishing fourth in the San Vicente, his first start since upsetting the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, and he will point to the Rebel.
Spa City stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in his third start and broke his maiden in front-running fashion at Gulfstream on Feb. 8. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the Godolphin homebred son of Street Sense could be headed straight to stakes company after registering a whopping 103 Briset Speed rating for the one-length decision.
The second of three qualifiers at Fair Grounds, the Feb. 15 Risen Star (G2) also marks the first of 15 races in the Championship portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. It has been split into divisions, with each retaining the original $400,000 value, and point values will increase to 50-20-10-5 for the first four finishers. The distance was lengthened to 1 1/8 miles this year, and the first division came up tougher than the second.
Golden Gate Fields will offer its lone qualifier on the same afternoon, the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby, and Sham (G3) runner-up Azul Coast, who ships north for Baffert, tops an 11-horse field in the 1 1/8-mile race on the Tapeta track. It is worth 17 combined points (10-4-2-1).
On President’s Day, the $750,000 Southwest (G3) takes place at Oaklawn Park. It’s the second of four qualifiers at the Hot Springs, Arkansas venue, and the final 17-point qualifier for the May 2 Kentucky Derby. The field for the 1 1/16-mile Southwest will be drawn on Valentine’s Day.
Here are my thoughts on the Risen Star contestants:
#1 Digital: Nice maiden win two back, came up little short to Blackberry Wine when trying two turns last time. Still some upside if he handles 1 1/8-mile distance.
#2 Silver State: Got going too late, but rallied well for second in Lecomte. Serious win contender if he keeps improving for Steve Asmussen.
#3 Ready to Roll: Received a dream trip on lead and crushed maiden foes over a muddy Oaklawn Park track last time. May add to pace but appears unlikely.
#4 Perfect Revenge: Recent claimer looks too slow based upon Speed ratings.
#5 Moon Over Miami: Sharp maiden win at Aqueduct two back, flat when opening 2020 with fifth as a favorite in Gulfstream allowance.
#6 Shashashakemeup: Showed speed from outside post before weakening to sixth in Lecomte. Churchill maiden winner eligible to show more from a better starting position.
#7 Blackberry Wine: Entered for turf in his first five starts (breaking his maiden in off-the-turf maiden), he exits an encouraging one-length tally over Digital in an entry-level allowance at Fair Grounds. Posted the top last-out Brisnet Speed rating (95), and forward factor merits respect with Adam Beschizza.
#8 Enforceable: After a couple of non-threatening stakes efforts to conclude his juvenile season, he broke through with 1 ½-length win in Lecomte. Look to keep enhancing credentials for Mark Casse.
#9 Mr. Monomoy: Lacked necessary finishing kick checking in third after perfect trip in Lecomte. Well-bred colt must find more while stretching out here.
#10 Farmington Road: Invades for Todd Pletcher after a comfortable maiden tally at Tampa Bay Downs. His Brisnet Speed ratings are a little low, though.
#11 Scabbard: Seeks to rebound after faltering as the favorite in Risen Star, but tough outside draw for colt with a propensity for troubled trips.
#1 Modernist: Had everything his own way in convincing maiden win at Aqueduct, but improving colt remains intriguing for Bill Mott.
#2 Truculent: Steps up after rolling to a maiden win at Fair Grounds in late November.
#3 Mr. Big News: Last-out maiden winner has improved in the last two for Calhoun, but don’t know if he’s fast enough to challenge here.
#4 Fame to Famous: Turf maiden winner makes dirt debut as huge longshot.
#5 Liam’s Lucky Charm: Dynamite in one-turn races, nine furlongs the big question considering he finished a well-beaten third in lone two-turn start.
#6 Excession: Never fired at long odds in Lecomte. Broke maiden in slop so a wet track could aid his chances.
#7 Major Fed: Third to Gold Street in Churchill debut, he rolled to convincing maiden tally when stretching to two turns at Fair Grounds on New Year’s Day. Julien Leparoux takes mount on interesting longshot for Grey Foley.
#8 Anneau d’Or: After breaking maiden on turf, he followed with close seconds in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2). Adds blinkers for return and rates as the one to beat with Joel Rosario.
#9 Lynn’s Map: Recorded a solid allowance win at Fair Grounds two back, but must rebound after disappointing fifth in the Smarty Jones.
#10 Finnick the Fierce: Rallied belatedly for fourth in Lecomte after dropping far back from rail post. A fast-closing second in Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) two back, one-eyed late runner should appreciate outside draw here.
#11 Mailman Money: He’s 2-for-2 for Calhoun, recording a 5 3/4-length allowance triumph most recently over the track, and will try to challenge from just off the pace with the right trip.
#12 Ny Traffic: Javier Castellano takes the call after wire-to-wire allowance win at Gulfstream, but gray colt still has much to prove given previous form.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
1 Tiz the Law: March 28 Florida Derby next for sharp Holy Bull winner
2 Thousand Words: Unbeaten Robert B. Lewis winner targeting March 7 San Felipe
3 Maxfield: Optimistic he’ll return to worktab soon
4 Anneau d’Oro: BC Juvenile runner-up heads second division of Risen Star
5 Dennis’ Moment: Will be back in Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth
6 Nadal: KDFW Pool 2 favorite to try two turns in Rebel
7 Sole Volante: Late runner earned first dirt win with Sam F. Davis upset
8 Enforceable: Lecomte winner the one to beat in first division of Risen Star
9 Silver State: Looks to keep building on Lecomte runner-up in Risen Star
10 Ete Indien: Holy Bull runner-up has netted triple-digit Speed figs in both dirt starts