The Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby took some twists over the last few days, and for some well-regarded contenders, the road has gotten bumpy.
The prep races over the weekend were the Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park
and the UAE Derby (UAE-II)
at Meydan, in which Audible
stamped their Derby credentials with impressive victories. But some of their beaten rivals weren’t so lucky, including the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) winner Catholic Boy
, who bled while finishing a distant fourth in the Florida Derby. He’s off the Derby trail, and so too might be McKinzie
, who will miss the upcoming Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) due to a minor, as-of-yet unidentified injury that could jeopardize his chances of competing in the Run for the Roses.
With all of this in mind, here’s how I rank the top contenders with less than five weeks to go….
With McKinzie out of the Santa Anita Derby, trainer Bob Baffert has shuffled the prep schedules for several of his best three-year-olds. After Justify worked an impressive six furlongs in 1:13.20 earlier this morning, Baffert confirmed that the unbeaten, unchallenged colt will make his stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby rather than the April 14th Arkansas Derby (gr. I), setting up an enticing showdown with Bolt d’Oro in Santa Anita’s signature Kentucky Derby prep race.
Not to be overshadowed by Justify, Bolt d’Oro also turned in a nice workout this week, going five furlongs in 1:01.20 on April 1st. Now, what kind of run will we see from him in the Santa Anita Derby? Justify has a tactical advantage thanks to his superior early speed, and since Bolt d’Oro has already qualified for the Kentucky Derby, it might not be necessary for him to take the race to Justify and engage in an all-out battle for supremacy. After all, the ultimate goal is the Kentucky Derby, and another hard race four weeks after Justify’s tough showdown with McKinzie in the San Felipe might not be ideal.
Wrapped up his preparations for Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland by breezing a half-mile in a bullet :48 flat at Palm Meadows Training Center. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the Good Magic is running in just two prep races before the Derby and doesn’t need to peak until the first Saturday in May; Chad Brown has done some excellent working getting talented two-year-olds to the Derby ready for big runs (Normandy Invasion and Practical Joke come to mind), and as long as Good Magic takes a step forward in the Blue Grass compared to his Fountain of Youth form, I think he’ll be set up very well for a peak effort in the Derby.
You have to admire Audible’s versatility, as he won the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) with a pace-tracking trip but performed just as well with late-running tactics in the Florida Derby (gr. I), closing strongly from eighth place to win going away. In a race like the Kentucky Derby, he’ll probably be no closer than mid-pack early on, so proving that he can be effective from off the pace is a plus in his favor.
With the uncertainty surrounding his injury scare and withdrawal from Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, I’ve dropped McKinzie several spots this week, but will keep him in my Top 5 until his status is clearer.
I’m not usually one to embrace the chances of foreign-based Kentucky Derby contenders, but it’s impossible not to respect what Mendelssohn accomplished in the UAE Derby (UAE-II), winning in track-record time by a staggering 18 ½ lengths while earning a 106 Beyer speed figure. He'll be facing a much tougher task in the Kentucky Derby, but he also might be the most talented international Derby competitor we've seen in many years.
Two weeks after his Rebel victory, Magnum Moon returned to the work tab by breezing four furlongs in a bullet :48.07 at Palm Beach Downs, getting the better of stablemate Vino Rosso by a couple of lengths while going easily.
He was scheduled to face Solomini in the Wood Memorial (gr. II) on Saturday at Aqueduct, but with Solomini being rerouted to the Arkansas Derby (see below), Enticed’s task has gotten a bit easier. He already has enough points to run in the Derby, so the Wood Memorial can serve as a prep race in the truest sense, affording Enticed the option of running a strong race without necessarily winning to set him up for a peak effort in the Derby.
With stablemate Justify heading for the Santa Anita Derby, Baffert has rerouted Solomini from the Wood Memorial to the Arkansas Derby, where he’ll face a rematch with Rebel Stakes winner Magnum Moon. A quicker start and a better trip could potentially help Solomini turn the tables as he seeks his first official graded stakes win.
With the average pace of the Kentucky Derby slowing down a bit since the adoption of the points-based qualifying system, the front-running Noble Indy could be among the beneficiaries since the majority of his expected Derby rivals prefer to track the pace or rally from behind.