The Road to the Kentucky Derby took a few major twists last weekend with upsets in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and Southwest Stakes (gr. III), plus a brilliant debut from an exciting colt at Santa Anita.
Suffice to say, my Kentucky Derby Top 10 has been shaken up a bit this week. Here’s how I rank the contenders with less than ten weeks until the Run for the Roses….
With his seasonal debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) less than two weeks away, he picked up the pace in his fifth workout of the year, going five furlongs in 1:00.45 on February 17th at the Palm Meadows Training Center.
The form of his Sham Stakes (gr. III) victory was flattered when third-place finisher My Boy Jack returned to score a decisive victory in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park. McKinzie worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:12.60 on February 17th at Santa Anita.
He’s really picked up his training at Santa Anita over the last week, rolling through five furlongs in a bullet :59.40 on February 14th before going the same distance in an easier 1:01.20 on February 20th.
He hasn’t posted a timed workout since his decisive victory in the Holy Bull (gr. II) on February 3rd, though that’s not surprising since he’s not expected to run again until the March 31st Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park.
Magnum Moon brought his record to a perfect 2-for-2 with a win in an allowance optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs last week, and I loved the way he achieved it. Jockey Luis Saez allowed Magnum Moon to settle off the pace in a small field, racing in behind rivals and getting plenty of experience compared to his perfect-trip maiden win. Despite this major shift in running style, when Saez guided Magnum Moon to the outside the colt rolled past the leaders with complete authority, drawing away under a hand ride to win by two lengths in the solid time of 1:39.18 for a mile and forty yards, missing the track record by just 0.11 seconds. I think this was another major step in the right direction for Magnum Moon, and I’m excited to see what his future holds.
It seems unlikely that a horse could win the Kentucky Derby just 2 ½ months after his debut… but wow, I could not have been more impressed by Justify’s sensational maiden win on February 18th at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Scat Daddy was favored off an impressive series of workouts and lived up to expectations, sprinting to the lead through blazing fractions of :21.80 and :44.37 before drawing off easily and professionally to win by 9 ½ lengths in the time of 1:21.86 for seven furlongs, good enough for a 100 BRIS speed figure. In contrast to some first-time starters, Justify looked like a seasoned pro coming down the homestretch and might be something special. If anyone can get a horse to win the Kentucky Derby off a February debut, it’s probably Bob Baffert.
He continues to be a little rough with his lead changes during morning training, but he certainly was fast when working five furlongs in company with the filly Cognitive on February 17th at Santa Anita, getting the distance in a bullet :59.40 despite drifting in sharply for a few strides when switching leads at the top of the stretch.
He worked out a pretty perfect trip in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, pressing a slow pace before moving up to pass the leader in the final strides
, but I loved the way he accelerated the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.10 while adapting to a change in running style—he usually comes from off the pace. Bravazo is now 2-for-2 this year and seems to have taken a nice step forward; the question is, can he repeat his Risen Star effort in the Louisiana Derby next month?
Nero certainly has the pedigree to be a factor on the Triple Crown trail. His sire, Pioneerof the Nile, ran second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and is renowned as the sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Nero’s dam, Ocean Goddess, was a winner going 8.5-furlongs, and his half-brother—Ocean Knight—won the 2015 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) going 8.5 furlongs. Furthermore, Nero’s broodmare sire—Stormy Atlantic—has sired a long list of major winners going a mile or farther.
Free Drop Billy
His win in the 2017 Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) looks even better now that runner-up Bravazo has come back to win the Risen Star Stakes. However, Free Drop Billy will be facing his stiffest test yet when he squares off against Good Magic in the Fountain of Youth Stakes less than two weeks from now.
Just missing the cut this week are My Boy Jack and Combatant, 1-2 in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn
; Instilled Regard
, fourth with a wide trip and poor pace setup in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II); and Gold Town
, a 10 ½-length winner of the UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III) last week at Meydan in Dubai.