Last-out maiden winners grabbed the spotlight on Feb. 2.
Candy Man Rocket and Risk Taking earned Kentucky Derby qualifying points for respective wins in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) and Withers S. (G3), and well-regarded Concert Tour passed his first stakes test in the San Vicente (G2).
None of the performances were inspiring, but the lightly-raced colts still have more than 11 weeks remaining until the first Saturday in May.
The seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita has had an impact upon the Kentucky Derby.
Bob Baffert prepped the first of six Kentucky Derby winners, Silver Charm, in the 1997 San Vicente. More recently, the top two from the 2016 edition — Nyquist and Exaggerator – came back to finish 1-2 in the Run for the Roses.
Concert Tour was bet down as the 16-1 individual fourth choice in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager after impressively graduated at first asking in mid-January, leading wire-to-wire for a 3 1/2-length tally over six furlongs.
Baffert brought the Street Sense colt back three weeks later in the San Vicente, and Concert Tour switched to rating tactics, closely stalking front-runners Freedom Fighter and The Chosen Vron.
The 2-5 favorite advanced to even terms with Freedom Fighter entering the stretch, but his stablemate had more to offer along the inside. Concert Tour started to gain the upperhand approaching the sixteenth pole when he suddenly drifted out. And he drifted late while edging to a half-length victory with Joel Rosario.
The Gary and Mary West homebred upped his Brisnet Speed ratings, netting a respectable 97. His Hall of Fame trainer is known for not pushing recent maiden scorers in their first start against winners, and Concert Tour came back from a short rest like the Baffert-trained Nadal, who improved significantly after posting a hard-fought win in last year’s San Vicente the second time out.
Concert Tour was a bit underwhelming, especially when drifting about, but he managed to win. It left me questioning his scope for 1 1/4 miles this spring, but he remains eligible to change the perception when stretching out to two turns next time.
Freedom Fighter, unraced since an odds-on debut win at Del Mar in early August, ran well following the 189-day layoff. The Violence colt promises to add pace to future engagements.
Sam F. Davis
Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bill Mott saddled the top two finishers in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, with Candy Man Rocket holding Nova Rags safe by a length on the wire.
Candy Man Rocket was prominent from the start, tracking in second until seizing control midway on the far turn. The dark bay accelerated into the stretch with a widening advantage beneath Junior Alvarado.
Campaigned by Frank Fletcher, Candy Man Rocket didn’t take to a sloppy track when making his first appearance at Churchill Downs in late November. The Candy Ride colt came back seven weeks later to romp by 9 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park, and he carried his form to two turns in the Davis.
The chart says Candy Man Rocket bled afterward, but connections believe it was from a cut in his mouth, not the lungs.
Candy Man Rocket appears to have plenty of upside for a Hall of Fame conditioner – he looked good visually winning the Davis — but he did not finish fast. His 87 Speed rating dropped 10 points from the maiden win, and the sophomore generated only a 76 Brisnet Late Pace figure. Those numbers are a big contrast from my initial impression.
Nova Rags, who raced in close attendance behind his stablemate during the early stages, reduced the final margin by a couple of lengths in deep stretch while never a serious threat to his stablemate. The Union Rags colt stretched out after posting a 2 3/4-length win in the seven-furlong Pasco S. at Tampa Bay, and Nova Rags may continue to appreciate longer distances if he can increase his Speed ratings.
Hidden Stash didn’t experience the cleanest trip from the rail post in his initial stakes attempt. The Constitution colt missed second by a neck after finding his best stride in the latter stages, and the Vicki Oliver trainee is a candidate for further improvement off the third-place effort.
Risk Taking has thrived over longer distances in his last two starts at Aqueduct, breaking his maiden and winning the Withers by open lengths at 1 1/8 miles.
Owned by Klaravich Stables and trained by Chad Brown, the Medaglia d’Oro colt made no impact when opening his career in a sprint and a turf route. The late runner turned things around in mid-December, adding blinkers and graduating by a 2 1/4-length margin in his third start.
Risk Taking began to advance leaving the far turn in the Withers and offered his best stride in deep stretch, rallying boldly to win going away by 3 3/4 lengths.
Authentic led wire-to-wire in the 2020 Kentucky Derby, but the potential always exist for a hot and contested pace that sets the table for a confirmed closer.
Risk Taking will bring an improving late kick to his final expected Kentucky Derby prep, the April 3 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.
His Speed rating (92) came back a little light in the Withers. And pacesetter Capo Kane coughed up a clear lead in midstretch, appearing to suddenly hit a distance wall after taking the Jerome S. over a one-turn mile.
Risk Taking certainly isn’t flashy, and must run faster against deeper competition, but he’s progressed nicely over the last two outings.
The second of three qualifiers at Fair Grounds, Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star S. (G3) has attracted a fascinating 13-horse field.
The top three from the Jan. 16 Lecomte S. (G3) are all back: Midnight Bourbon, Proxy, and Mandaloun.
Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third Keepmeinmind will open his three-year-old season in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star. Senor Buscador, unbeaten from two starts, is another prominent name in the mix after rolling to a 5 3/4-length win in the Springboard Mile S.
Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby over the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields is also part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
On Monday’s Presidents’ Day card at Oaklawn Park, unbeaten champion two-year-old male Essential Quality will return to action in the Southwest S. (G3) at 1 1/16 miles.
Additionally, Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager begins its three-day run on Friday.