With just two prep races remaining to be run, the field is pretty much set for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, leaving handicappers to debate the merits of the many impressive performances we’ve seen over the last several months.
For me, the results of Saturday’s three major prep races—the Santa Anita Derby
, the Blue Grass Stakes
, and the Wood Memorial
—did little to change my opinions of the main players, as the results were pretty much what I had anticipated beforehand. As a result, there aren’t many changes to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, though I’m feeling more confident in the rankings.
Here’s how I view the contenders with less than four weeks until the Derby….
The Santa Anita Derby was supposed to be a battle between Justify and Bolt d’Oro, but Justify essentially turned it into a one-horse race while winning by three lengths in gate-to-wire fashion. The race came back fast on the speed figure scales; he received a 107 Beyer and a 114 BRIS, with the latter marking the highest BRIS speed figure awarded to any Derby prep race since the new points-based qualification system was implemented for the 2013 Derby. Justify still has the “Apollo Curse” to reckon with, but could it be possible that Justify is simply so talented that history is irrelevant?
If not for the presence of Justify, Bolt d’Oro would likely be an overwhelming favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. His Santa Anita Derby effort was excellent considering that he suffered a slight hoof injury during the race and was facing the difficult task of reeling in a lone front-runner, and although he finished three lengths back in second, he still recorded a 102 Beyer and a 110 BRIS, numbers that his rivals (aside from Justify) have had trouble reaching.
While he didn’t exactly crush his thirteen rivals in the Blue Grass Stakes, it was nice to see Good Magic rebound with a winning performance, especially since he raced wide throughout and conceded a substantial amount of ground (more than six lengths per Trakus) to runner-up Flameaway. The Derby will be his third start of the season, an approach that has proven successful for eight of the last eleven Derby winners.
It was confirmed on Monday that Javier Castellano will ride Audible in the Derby, a noteworthy development since Castellano had passed on riding Audible in the Florida Derby in order to accept mounts in Dubai on the same day.
His performance in the UAE Derby was stunning, but he did get a great setup securing a clear lead over a track that played favorably to speed horses on the rail. Can he replicate that performance while shipping halfway across the world and racing over a (presumably) fair track?
His final workout prior to the Arkansas Derby was sharp, as he clocked four furlongs in a bullet :48.65 at Palm Beach Downs. Should he prevail on Saturday, he would give trainer Todd Pletcher an astonishing four winners in the final round of Derby prep races.
He seemed to relish the return to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial, accelerating smoothly around the far turn to reach contention before taking command in the homestretch and pulling away to win decisively with a 98 Beyer and a 102 BRIS. Vino Rosso did get a favorable setup, but he seems to be maturing at the right time and the Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will retain the mount for the Derby.
Wrapped up his preparations for the Arkansas Derby by breezing six furlongs in a bullet 1:13.60 on Sunday at Santa Anita. Much like Good Magic in the Blue Grass, Solomini could be ready to take a step forward in his second start of the season, though the key to his performance could be whether or not he changes leads in the homestretch—he did not change leads when second in the Rebel Stakes last month.
Turned in his first pre-Derby workout on April 6th at Palm Beach Downs, going four furlongs in an easy :50.20. With John Velazquez committed to ride Vino Rosso in the Derby, the mount on Noble Indy is available.
His pace-tracking runner-up effort in the Wood Memorial wasn’t bad considering that the early pace was fast and Enticed got bumped by Vino Rosso a couple of times in the homestretch. I’m not sure if Enticed really wants to run ten furlongs at this point in his career, but he does have a graded stakes win at Churchill Downs on his record and deserves a shot at the Derby.