It’s only December, but the 2019-2020 Road to the Kentucky Derby has already taken a few unexpected turns.
A key contender has been temporarily sidelined with an injury, another promising colt suffered a shocking defeat at Churchill Downs and trainer Bob Baffert is keeping everyone guessing where his top 2-year-olds will run next.
Want to catch up on all the latest Kentucky Derby (G1) news? Let’s check in with 10 of the top contenders and review their current status and future plans.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up has already posted three workouts since his big effort at Santa Anita. He most recently clocked a half-mile in :49 3/5 on November 30 at Golden Gate Fields. He is expected to run once more before the end of the year, with the December 7 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) looming as the likely target. A victory at Los Alamitos would give Anneau d’Or another 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points, plus a little more experience before the action heats up on the Derby trail this winter.
Honor A. P.
He worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 1/5 at Del Mar on November 11 and came back with another sharp move November 23, when he covered the same distance in 1:00 3/5. He was an early nominee to the Los Alamitos Futurity, and given the way this son of Honor Code is training, he could be ready for a big effort in California’s last major juvenile race of the season. It’s just a question of whether trainer John Shirreffs will strike now or take a more patient approach and save Honor A. P. for next year.
Maxfield underwent ankle surgery to remove a bone chip and will be out for 60 days before he returns to training in mid-January. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room to prepare for Derby prep season—he’ll likely have time for just two prep runs—but so long as he doesn’t encounter any other setbacks, this schedule should work out fine. It could even be a blessing in disguise, because the Kentucky Derby would then mark Maxfield’s third start of 2020, which could set him up for a peak effort on the first Saturday in May.
The early Derby favorite is taking things easy, with an eye on competing in two prep races next year. You can argue the form of his Iroquois Stakes (G3) victory has taken a hit over the last month, considering runner-up Scabbard was a distant fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and third-place finisher Lebda was badly beaten in the Nashua Stakes (G3). On the bright side, fifth-place finisher Rowdy Yates has returned to win a couple of stakes races sprinting at Remington Park.
The promising maiden winner conditioned by Baffert was entered in the November 16 Bob Hope Stakes (G3) at Del Mar, but withdrew and will instead target the Los Alamitos Futurity. The son of Pioneerof the Nile has classic stamina in the top half of his pedigree, but the bottom half is geared toward sprinting, with dam Pomeroys Pistol proving best over shorter distances. The Futurity should give us a better idea as to whether Thousand Words takes after his sire or his dam.
The impressive Nashua winner is technically done for the year, but he won’t waste any time getting started in 2020. Trainer Michael Trombetta has indicated Independence Hall will contest the January 1 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, where he’ll attempt to secure his first 10 qualifications points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. A bullet five-furlong workout in 1:00 3/5 over the synthetic track at Fair Hill on December 1 suggests Independence Hall is still doing well.
Storm the Court
Unlike Anneau d’Or, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court has taken some time off since his stunning score at Santa Anita. While definite plans have yet to be determined, he isn’t scheduled to run again for a couple of months, which gives him a chance to grow up and mature during the offseason.
He worked five furlongs in 1:00 flat on December 1 at Santa Anita, which could set up a potential start against stablemate Thousand Words in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Thinking ahead to the Kentucky Derby, the hope would be to see Eight Rings rebound from his no-show in the Breeders’ Cup and deliver a more mentally mature performance than we’ve seen from him in the past.
Tiz the Law
He came up short as the 3-5 favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), but it’s hard to feel too down about this colt, because he was buried behind horses for much of the race and had to wait in traffic at a key moment on the far turn. He showed some tenacity to bull his way through an almost non-existent opening at the top of the stretch, and while he switched leads late (and lost momentum in the process), Tiz the Law gained a lot of experience. That’s a benefit on the Derby trail.
Dieu du Vin
This Japanese colt brought his record to a perfect 2-for-2 with a comfortable victory under acclaimed jockey Frankie Dettori in the 1,600-meter Cattleya Sho at Tokyo Racecourse. Over a fast-playing sloppy track, Dieu du Vin rallied from fifth to defeat 15 rivals and equal the juvenile track record of 1:36.20. This stoutly bred son of Declaration of War has the pedigree to relish 1 1/4 miles and has emerged as a clear-cut early leader on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.