As the saying goes, a Kentucky Derby winner can come from anyone, so as we head into winter with roughly six months remaining until the first Saturday in May, it could pay to keep an eye on every stakes race of significance open to the three-year-olds of 2019—even stakes races on turf.
One example is Saturday’s $100,000 Atlantic Beach Stakes at Aqueduct, a six-furlong sprint scheduled to be run over the outer turf course. Chances are, it won’t have much of an impact on the Derby trail, but then again, a few of the runners are bred for dirt and have run well over that surface, so an impressive victory this week could launch one of them into a future Derby prep race.
A prime candidate might be Good Good, who hails from the barn of the two-time Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. A son of Quality Road out of an A.P. Indy mare, Good Good won his debut sprinting five furlongs at Gulfstream Park this summer, then switched to turf and finished third in Saratoga’s Skidmore Stakes and ninth in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Stakes. A deep closer without much early speed, Good Good has the pedigree and form lines to suggest that a return to dirt is in his future, but in the meantime he’ll add blinkers for the Atlantic Beach and pick up the services of top jockey Javier Castellano, two changes that will hopefully yield an improved performance.
Certainly Good Good will have to step up his game if he is to defeat Backtohisroots, a son of Mark Valeski who showed some early promise on dirt (even competing in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes) before switching to turf and finishing second in the six-furlong Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park. Notably, the winner of that race—Uncle Benny—came right back to finish a strong second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I), so we already know that Backtohisroots can hold his own against high-class competition.
The former European runner Neverland Rock finished third in the Superlative Stakes (Eng-II) this summer, but after being brought to the U.S. and transferred to the care of trainer Steve Asmussen, he failed to show his best while coming home eighth in the Futurity. However, if the son of No Nay Never rebounds while making his second stateside start, he could certainly contend with hot jockey Joel Rosario in the saddle.
Wallace, winner of the six-furlong Soaring Free Stakes at Woodbine, ships in from Canada off a last-place finish in the one-mile Summer Stakes (gr. I), where he set a fast pace and tired in the homestretch. The cutback in distance should help his chances, though he could face pace pressure from Wesley Ward’s Gins and Tins, a speedy son of Scat Daddy who finished fourth in the Skidmore Stakes after carving out fast fractions.
Completing the field are Honorable Hero, who finished sixth in the Awad Stakes at Aqueduct last week, and Absentee, who makes his turf debut for trainer Alan Goldberg following a runner-up effort in an allowance race at Parx.
The Atlantic Beach Stakes is the sixth race of the day, with a post time of 2:47 p.m. Eastern.