We’re in the homestretch now.
Last week was a bit of a milestone on the Road to the Kentucky Derby
, with the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park
and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (gr. III) at Turfway Park
essentially representing the last races in the penultimate round of Kentucky Derby prep races. Next week, we’ll enter the final round with the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds and the Sunland Derby (gr. III) at Sunland Park.
At this significant juncture on the Derby trail, here’s how I rank the top contenders….
Trainer Bob Baffert has confirmed that Justify will prep for the Kentucky Derby in the April 14th Arkansas Derby (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park, a race Baffert has won twice before with American Pharoah (the 2015 Triple Crown winner) and Bodemeister (runner-up in the 2012 Kentucky Derby).
With Justify heading to Arkansas, McKinzie is scheduled to stay home for the April 7th Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), in which he’ll face an exciting rematch with Bolt d’Oro. Some have questioned whether McKinzie will be suited to the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby, though considering his pedigree—his sire, Street Sense, won the 2007 Kentucky Derby and his dam, Runway Model, was a multiple graded stakes winner around two turns—I believe the Derby distance is well within McKinzie’s reach.
Along with Justify, he’s the only horse on the Derby trail to have posted multiple triple-digit Beyer speed figures, and his BRIS speed figures have been similarly impressive. Perhaps my favorite thing about his San Felipe effort was the way he broke better from the starting gate, an improvement from a few of his runs last year and also his workout from the starting gate prior to the San Felipe.
On March 17th, he returned to the work tab for the first time since finishing third in the Fountain of Youth, breezing a half-mile in :48.90 at Palm Meadows. While it’s true that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile marks his only victory so far, if you exclude that race from his record I think we would still be looking at Good Magic as a promising graded stakes-placed colt with the pedigree to improve with maturity. I think he can move forward in his next start.
Continued his preparations for the March 31st Florida Derby (gr. I) by breezing five furlongs on March 17th in company with the stakes winner Prince Lucky, getting the distance in 1:01.50. Both colts worked well, though Prince Lucky in particular caught my eye, leading me to wonder if he could be a longshot player in the upcoming Sunland Derby (gr. III), which is expected to mark his debut for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Kept his unbeaten record intact with a decisive win against a quality field in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) last Saturday, earning an eye-catching 100 BRIS speed figure. The only reason I haven’t moved Magnum Moon up a slot or two this week is because he did drift around quite a bit in the homestretch and he appeared to put everything he had into that performance, which was just his third start and his stakes debut. I’m a little concerned that the race might take too much out of him.
The Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) winner has drawn the rail in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby (gr. II), in which he’ll attempt to extend his win streak to three straight races. Since jockey Miguel Mena is out with an injury, the Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens is set to regain the mount, having guided Bravazo to an allowance win back in January before Mena took over for the Risen Star. I’m curious to see whether Bravazo reverts to his off-the-pace running style in the Louisiana Derby, as there’s plenty of early speed in the race and Bravazo seems unlikely to work out the same pace-pressing trip that he enjoyed in the Risen Star.
Didn’t have the best of trips in the Rebel Stakes and never changed leads in the homestretch, but he showed some determination to fight on and out-finish the capable Combatant for second place, a solid start to his 2018 season. He’ll be on the road again for his final pre-Derby start, which will come in the April 7th Wood Memorial (gr. II) at Aqueduct.
He’s scheduled for an intriguing battle with Solomini in the Wood Memorial (gr. II) at Aqueduct, a cross-country showdown that will give us a feel for how the best horses in New York stack up against the deep group of contenders from California.
He wasn’t beaten much by Flameaway in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) despite a wide trip chasing a slow pace, and the fact that Flameaway came back to finish a good second in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) gives Catholic Boy’s form a boost. I like that trainer Jonathan Thomas is taking a confident approach and giving Catholic Boy just two prep races prior to the Kentucky Derby; coupled with his solid foundation as a two-year-old, this should set up Catholic Boy for a peak effort on the first Saturday in May.