Last week was relatively quiet on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, so there hasn’t been much change to my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
I guess that’s to be expected since half the horses on my list haven’t even run yet this year. That includes Network Effect, who’s back on the work tab and back on my list following a brief hiatus.
Just missing the cut this week was Well Defined, a clear-cut winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), while last week’s #10 Extra Hope was bumped off through no fault of his own and remains a candidate to rejoin my list in the near future. The Santa Anita maiden winners Nolo Contesto and Omaha Beach are also on the bubble.
He picked up the pace in a five-furlong workout on February 8, breaking off about two lengths behind the unraced maiden Speed Freak before reeling in that rival easily enough to clock the distance in 1:00.20. He’s got a workmanlike style that isn’t really comparable to American Pharoah or Justify, but with three Grade 1 wins and an Eclipse Award under his belt, it certainly hasn’t affected his results so far.
You can argue that last year’s Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) featured one of the strongest fields of any juvenile race in 2018, so the fact that Improbable obliterated his rivals by five lengths in a fast time is eye-catching. He’s certainly been flashier than Game Winner so far, even if his overall record doesn’t yet stack up against that of his champion stablemate.
His workouts continue to grow more serious as he gears up for his first run of 2019, which could potentially come in the March 2 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita. That would be a stiff test for his two-turn debut—he’d likely be facing Game Winner while running for the first time since August. But in terms of raw talent, Instagrand has shown as much as anyone else, and the form of his Best Pal (gr. II) victory last summer received a boost over the weekend when runner-up Sparky Ville won the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
One week after blazing a half-mile in :46.63 at Gulfstream Park, Signalman took things easier in his third breeze of the year, going the distance in :49.58. I continue to be amazed that such a huge, imposing horse can be so nimble and athletic in traffic, which he showed repeatedly during his two-year-old campaign.
Win Win Win
He’s still flying under the radar are bit and closed at 35-1 in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2, but in all honesty I don’t think I’ve seen a 2019 Derby contender demonstrate a more brilliant turn-of-foot than Win Win Win. Fast track or not, look at what he did in the Pasco Stakes—he blazed the second quarter-mile in something like :21 2/5 seconds, a freakish fraction, and then roared through the final three furlongs in about :36 flat to win powerfully and break the track record. If he can carry his speed around two turns, we could be looking at a monster.
The date of his much-anticipated stakes debut is all but set—he’s targeting a start in the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, where he’ll face significantly tougher competition than in his impressive maiden victory. It remains to be seen whether Hidden Scroll is a track bias-aided mud-lover or a genuine star in the making, but the 104 Beyer he posted on debut was legitimate and it’s hard to not be excited about his future.
I removed Network Effect from my Top 10 after he disappeared from the work tab in mid-January, but Chad Brown’s top Derby hopeful got back in action with a couple half-mile workouts on February 4 and February 10, so whatever led to his brief absence from training doesn’t seem to have been anything major. I remain a fan of Network Effect’s late-running effort in the Remsen and I’m curious to see how he progresses as a three-year-old.
War of Will
He drew post fourteen for Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, and while he’ll drop in a slot or two thanks to scratches, it could be easier said than done for War of Will to work out a winning trip from such a wide draw. Then again, at least he should get a clean run racing outside of horses where he won’t have to deal with kickback.
From a pedigree perspective, there’s no reason why Mucho Gusto shouldn’t be able to stretch his speed across 1 ¼ miles. His sire, Mucho Macho Man, won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) and finished third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, while his dam—It’sagiantscauseway—was a winner going 1 1/16 miles and his dam sire, Giant’s Causeway, was beaten a nose in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
When it’s all said and done, Tax should have at least three and possibly four runs going 1 1/8 miles under his belt prior to the Kentucky Derby. The exact number will depend on whether he takes a shot in the March 9 Jeff Ruby Steaks (gr. III) or trains up to the April 6 Wood Memorial (gr. II), but in this day and age—when most horses tackle 1 1/8 miles just once before the Derby—three or four runs over that distance would be a rather striking record to bring to Churchill Downs.