Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 -- 1/22/18
On a quiet weekend without any official Kentucky Derby prep races, the biggest news came from Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, where the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Good Magic made his much-anticipated return to the work tab.The son of Curlin went three furlongs in a bullet :36.95 as he prepares for an undetermined seasonal debut expected to come in early March. It was a solid first work for the year, but it’s the underlying ideas behind the workout that have me particularly excited.
You have to love the way trainer Chad Brown is preparing Good Magic for the Kentucky Derby. He doesn’t need to find out if Good Magic can compete at this level, because the colt’s decisive victory in the Breeders’ Cup has already shown he has the talent to be a factor against the best horses of his generation. Therefore, Brown is taking a patient approach, saving Good Magic for later in the winter while planning to run the colt in just two prep races before the first Saturday in May.
Although Brown has not yet won a Kentucky Derby, this isn’t the first time that he has taken a conservative approach with a promising Derby horses, and his previous results have been impressive. Think back to Normandy Invasion, runner-up in the 2012 Remsen Stakes (gr. II), and Practical Joke, winner of the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) and Champagne Stakes (gr. I) in 2016. Brown trained both of these colts and gave them time off over the winter before gearing them up to run in two prep races apiece before their respective Kentucky Derbies. Normandy Invasion ran fifth in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and second in the Wood Memorial (gr. I); Practical Joke was second in both the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II).
But these defeats were of secondary importance since the Derby was the goal and Brown was using the winter prep races as, well, prep races in the truest sense of the word. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Normandy Invasion and Practical Joke were both milers at heart and stood little chance of seeing out the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby, but Brown had them ready to run the races of their lives at Churchill Downs. Case in point: Normandy Invasion led past the eighth pole and finished a strong fourth, while Practical Joke significantly outran his odds and finished fifth.
It’s also worth noting that eight of the last eleven Derby winners (Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird, Super Saver, Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah, and Nyquist) ran in just two prep races before their respective Derby victories, so the “third off the layoff” angle that Brown will be employing with Good Magic has proven highly successful in recent years.
For these reasons, Good Magic remains on top of my Kentucky Derby Top 10 rankings. Here’s how my list looks at the moment….