March 2, 2024

Kentucky Derby Report: Greatest Honour, Medina Spirit make their mark

Greatest Honour
Greatest Honour takes the Holy Bull Stakes (Coglianese Photos/Ryan Thompson)

A pair of up-and-upcoming Kentucky Derby contenders, Greatest Honour and Medina Spirit, recorded their first stakes victory on Jan. 30.

Greatest Honour stepped up with a decisive win in the Holy Bull S. (G3) at Gulfstream Park, rallying to score going away by 5 3/4 lengths. Medina Spirit proved to be all heart in the Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) at Santa Anita, turning back a pair of well-meant challengers to prevail by a neck.

I came away impressed by both.

Holy Bull Stakes

Sixth leaving the backstretch, Greatest Honour made his move nearing the completion of the far turn, dynamically accelerating to a clear lead by the top of the stretch.

The Tapit colt drew off spectacularly over the final sixteenth of a mile, stamping himself as a serious Derby contender for Shug McGaughey, trainer of 2013 Kentucky Derby victor Orb.

Greatest Honour was exiting a 1 1/2-length maiden special weight win on Dec. 26, and the Courtlandt Farm homebred improved his record to 5-2-1-2.

“He took the lead and went on,” jockey Jose Ortiz said. “I still had plenty of horse underneath me. He was playing. From the three-sixteenths (pole) to the wire, he didn’t give me his 100 percent. He was just playing around. In the beginning of his career, we had a very tough time with him. Shug deserves a lot of credit, and his exercise rider… They made him a really, really nice horse. He always showed a lot of ability, but he’s starting to put it all together.”

Greatest Honour registered a career-best 103 Brisnet Speed rating in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, and his pedigree suggests longer distances will benefit him.

The bay is out of the Street Cry mare Tiffany’s Honour, a half-sister to Belmont Stakes winners Rags to Riches and Jazil. Greatest Honour’s sire (Tapit) has produced three winners of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.

“I think the farther we go, the better,” McGaughey said.

Greatest Honour will continue to prep for the Kentucky Derby in Florida. McGaughey said the Feb. 27 Fountain of Youth S. (G2) will be an option, but added they may wait for the March 27 Florida Derby (G1).

The winner looks very promising, but the rest of the Holy Bull field still has plenty to prove.

Robert B. Lewis Stakes

Labeled “good,” Saturday’s drying-out track at Santa Anita didn’t appear conducive to speed – Medina Spirit was the only horse to lead wire-to-wire from eight races.

Over a track producing slow times, Medina Spirit established a taxing pace in the Lewis, covering the opening half-mile in 46.61 seconds. Based on raw times, that’s at least nine lengths faster than the three other two-turn races on the program (:48.45, :48.74, and :50.26).

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up Hot Rod Charlie was the first to challenge, hooking up with Medina Spirit while straightening for home, and last-out runaway maiden winner Roman Centurian joined the fray three-wide for the stretch drive.

The challengers appeared to have him, but Medina Spirit wound not be denied posting a neck victory.

“He’s a very game horse,” jockey Abel Cedillo succinctly said. “At the quarter pole, I didn’t know, but he looked around and when he saw those horses, he kept going. He didn’t get tired at all. On the gallop out, he was by himself.”

He couldn’t have been more determined in his third lifetime start. Medina Spirit was exiting a rallying second in the Jan. 2 Sham S. (G3), netting a 97 Speed rating after missing by only three-quarters of a length to stablemate and early Kentucky Derby favorite Life Is Good.

His Speed ratings dropped three points in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis, but I’m not buying the number over a funky racetrack.

The Florida-bred Protonico colt kept improving against a deep group of challengers. There was an 11-length gap between third and fourth, with Grade 2 winner Spielberg and well-regarded maiden winner Wipe the Slate being no factor.

Campaigned by Zedan Racing Stables, Medina Spirit combines tactical speed with a distance-oriented pedigree. In fact, it’s surprising to see him show so much speed considering the stamina influences in his bloodlines.

His six-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer summed it up best.

“He’s going to get a lot out of this race, (and) I think you have to take him pretty seriously now,” Bob Baffert said. “Those are two good horses that he beat, so I’m really fortunate.”

Roman Centurian, an Empire Colt exiting a 3 3/4-length maiden romp in his second start, is eligible to keep advancing for Simon Callaghan.

Hot Rod Charlie, who followed an October maiden tally with a clear second to champion Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, returned from a three-month layoff with a commendable third for two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill.

Up next

The Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs and Wither S. (G3) at Aqueduct will be offered on Feb. 6, each awarding points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers.

The 1 1/16-mile Davis is expected to include Remsen S. (G2) third Known Agenda, who edged Greatest Honour by a head when breaking his maiden last October; Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) runner-up Smiley Sobotka; and Florida-bred stakes winner Boca Boy.

Jerome S. winner Capo Kane is among the top draws expected for the 1 1/8-mile Withers.

Point values will start to increase this month, with the Feb. 13 Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds the first qualifier to award 85 combined points (50-20-10-5).