Saturday’s four scoring races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby vary in depth.
The Fountain of Youth (G2) is the likeliest of the quartet to have a major impact on the trail, while the utility of the San Felipe (G2) arguably depends on how the race plays out. The Gotham (G3) has a few smart types, but more of the one-turn variety.
The John Battaglia Memorial is of interest as a stepping stone to Turfway Park’s main event, the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), if not so much for the Derby. The Tapeta feature accordingly offers fewer points (10-4-2-1) than the other three preps (50-20-10-5 apiece).
Here are my points to ponder on the big three:
1. Will a pace battle materialize in the Fountain of Youth?
With speedy Pasco S. winner Markhamian on the rail, Simplification liable to rediscover his forward style from post 2, A. P.’s Secret able to show some dash, and Emmanuel gifted with natural speed, it would be no surprise if the pace is taxing.
If so, logic points to a closer, and Rattle N Roll could be doing just that, in a reprise of the monster move he made in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). On the other hand, trainer Ken McPeek has said that the big colt will be building up to Derby Day. That smacks of a solid, not spectacular, comeback here. Conversely, In Due Time has the benefit of a good-looking allowance tally over the track, and he projects a similar swooping trip.
Howling Time likewise could work out his preferred passage from just off the pace, after uncharacteristically leading and tiring to fifth in the salty Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Note that he had a minor hiccup (coughing) that knocked him out of the Feb. 12 Sam F. Davis (G3). High Oak is another with proven class and a running style to suit the expected set-up, although he’s coming off the longest layoff of all – six months – and it’s worth wondering if last summer’s juvenile form will hold up now. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) form isn’t withstanding scrutiny, which is the biggest knock on Giant Game.
But how often do pundits forecast a pace battle, only to see the superior speed clear the field, or a more moderate tempo play into their hands? I think the world of Simplification, who might be poised for such an effort on or near the front. Emmanuel has obvious upside, yet this is an entirely different kind of test from what he’s passed so far. For some reason, I get a turfy vibe from his stride – unless it’s the power of suggestion for a More Than Ready colt.
2. Will San Felipe favorite Forbidden Kingdom take after his sire or dam?
In the absence of Messier, who awaits the Santa Anita Derby (G1), the San Felipe revolves around whether Forbidden Kingdom can harness his high speed around two turns. His pedigree sends mixed messages. Sire American Pharoah used his speed as an effective weapon through his Triple Crown-winning career, but dam Just Louise tilts the scale as a pure sprinter. By Five Star Day and out of a Mt. Livermore mare, Just Louise was a precocious two-year-old who scored her signature win in the Debutante (G3) at Churchill Downs.
If Forbidden Kingdom has more scope than his dam, and holds sway convincingly over a route, he’d boost his Derby candidacy. Yet I can’t quite get past the fact that Richard Mandella didn’t even try to stretch him out at two. And he might not get too comfortable on the front end if Beautiful Art plays the gadfly.
Doppelganger, the better of the Bob Baffert pair, turned in a much sharper maiden win than stablemate Armagnac. Moreover, Doppelganger comes off a wide-trip fourth in the San Vicente to Forbidden Kingdom; Pinehurst, the next-out Saudi Derby winner; and McLaren Vale, who hopefully won’t be under the radar for long.
Cabo Spirit was game in defeat behind Messier last out, but the counterpoint is that somebody had to be second. At least he ran his race as the other three runners flopped, and a similarly yeoman try could carry him some way here too. Happy Jack wants a pace collapse, as in his maiden. A Forbidden Kingdom flameout would give him one, while casting doubt on the value of the San Felipe as a prep.
3. Gotham points more to Triple Crown undercard than to classics.
Chances are we’ll be seeing a few Gotham alumni on Derby, Preakness, or Belmont Day, but in undercard events like the Pat Day Mile (G2), Chick Lang (G3), and Woody Stephens (G1).
Morello is related to the brilliant Social Inclusion, who managed to place in the 2014 Wood Memorial (G1) and Preakness. While Morello offers a greater tactical dimension, he still appears more of a one-turn specialist. Golden Code is by Honor Code, but his dam was primarily a sprinter, and his maiden theft on a muddy track doesn’t tell us a lot – other than that he can look very good when it’s handed to him on a silver platter.
Dean’s List strikes me as a true sprinter, although a quality one at that with his beaten allowance foe, Dean Delivers, going close in the Swale (G3). (And Dean Delivers now attempts the Fountain of Youth). Both of Rockefeller’s wins have come at one turn on the engine, hinting that he takes more after his dam, Grade 1-winning sprinter Dance to Bristol, than sire Medaglia d’Oro.
Bold Journey, a half to current Cigar Mile (G1) winner Americanrevolution, ran better in his Gander loss than the past performances imply. The New York-bred was overturned as the 0.85-1 favorite more as a product of circumstances. Off a beat slow, Bold Journey rushed up, raced erratically with a headstrong transition from the chute to the main oval, hooked up with the speed, drew off, then hit the wall. I’d suspect that without early hijinks, the Hard Spun colt sees out the one-turn mile better this time.
Although Glider gets credit for trying to challenge Emmanuel before succumbing at Tampa, it could be significant that Mark Casse was running him on synthetic (and intended for a turf race that was transferred). Indeed, Glider’s a half to Grade 2-winning turf sprinter Fast Boat; stamina’s not a problem here, but his optimal surface might not be dirt.