In what could be considered the calm before the storm, very little happened last weekend on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but with three major prep races scheduled for February 3rd, there’s no doubt that the action is about to heat up quickly.
The upcoming races are the $250,000 Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, and the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita. Surprisingly, only one of the horses ranked in my Kentucky Derby Top 10—Enticed—is expected to run this weekend, but that means there will be plenty of opportunities for up-and-comers to jump on to my list if they run well.
In the meantime, the biggest news from last weekend was Bolt d’Oro’s return to the work tab. The Mick Ruis-trained colt went three furlongs in :36.80 under regular rider Corey Nakatani, but the following day it was announced that the four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano will be aboard Bolt d’Oro when the colt returns to racing in the March 10th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita. Castellano is already the rider of a few other promising Derby contenders, such as Instilled Regard and Mask, which means he’ll likely have some tough decisions to make as the Derby draws closer.
On the racing front, one horse that did catch my eye last weekend was Life’s a Parlay, who broke his maiden going a mile at Gulfstream for trainer Todd Pletcher. The son of Uncle Mo turned in a very sharp performance, dueling hard for the lead with Travelling Midas through fractions of :23.33, :45.92, and 1:09.73, which gave the two leaders a 7 1/2-length lead over their closest pursuers. In the end, Life’s a Parley shook clear of Travelling Midas and managed to hold off the late-running Personal Time to win by 1 ½ lengths in the time of 1:36.68. Granted, Life’s a Parlay came home slowly (running the final quarter in :26.95), but that was understandable given the fast pace that he set. I’ll be curious to see where Life’s a Parlay runs next.
Also, Runaway Ghost—fifth in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (gr. I) behind McKinzie, Instilled Regard, and Solomini—returned to score an eye-catching 7 ¾-length victory in the one-mile Riley Allison Stakes at Sunland Park on January 28th. After dueling for the lead through fractions of :23.96, :47.93, and 1:12.08, Runaway Ghost ran the final two furlongs in :12.06 and :11.88 to draw off and win with ease. With that performance under his belt, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Runaway Ghost target the Sunland Derby (gr. III).
Shortly before this article was published, it was reported by the Daily Racing Form that Mask has suffered a setback that will cause him to miss a couple weeks of training. As a result, I have removed him from my Top 10 for the time being. Here’s how my list stands heading into the big weekend….
- Good Magic
It’s not every day that you see a horse coming off a layoff return to training with bullet workouts, but Good Magic is an exception. His first work back was a bullet three furlongs in :36.95 on January 21st, and on January 28th he went a half-mile in :48.45, the fastest of thirty-seven morning workouts at that distance.
Since he’s not expected to run again until March 10th at the earliest, he’s got time to take things easy, and perhaps as a result he hasn’t breezed since January 21st.
- Bolt d’Oro
His first work of the year ranked as the second-fastest of eight morning workouts at the distance, a solid piece of exercise as he gears up for the San Felipe.
- Instilled Regard
Returned to the work tab with a half-mile breeze in a quick :47.80 on January 24th at Santa Anita.
Remarkably, three of the five starters from the Los Alamitos Futurity (McKinzie, Instilled Regard, and Runaway Ghost) have come back to win stakes races, which bodes well for Solomini since he beat all three of those horses to the Futurity finish line.
- Catholic Boy
He recently shipped from Bridlewood Farm to Tampa Bay Downs, where he went five furlongs in 1:01 flat on January 27th. He remains on target to run in the February 10th Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs.
- Noble Indy
Returned to the work tab with an easy half-mile in :50.03 on January 27th.
Worked four furlongs in :49.75 on January 26th, after which it was confirmed that he will make his three-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
- Magnum Moon
I really liked his maiden win on January 13th at Gulfstream, in which he tracked a quick pace before taking command and pulling away to win by 4 ½ lengths in a fast time. He’s bred to go longer and could be a lightly-raced wildcard on the Derby trail this winter.
I’m keeping him in my Top 10 for the time being since I believe he’s got the raw talent to be a star, though he’ll need to take a big step forward from a professionalism standpoint if he’s going to retain a spot in my Top 10.