This year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby prep season has been filled with memorable upsets, so it’s only fitting that the two big races last week saw two more odds-on favorites fall to defeat.
War of Will
, previously ranked fifth in my Kentucky Derby
Top 10, finished ninth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) but came out of the race with a muscle strain. He’s already on the mend, but with his Kentucky Derby status now in doubt, I’ve dropped him from my list.
Also disappearing this week is Mucho Gusto
, who faded to third as the heavy favorite in the Sunland Derby (gr. III). But my top four remain unchanged from last week, and continuing to lead the way is….
Game Winner (#1 last week)
With just three weeks between the Rebel Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Game Winner shouldn’t have to do much in the way of significant training. It’s just a question of how much he’ll improve off his season debut in the Rebel Stakes.
Omaha Beach (#2)
He’s scheduled to return to Oaklawn to contest the April 13 Arkansas Derby (gr. I), so he’ll miss a rematch with Game Winner but meet up with Improbable instead. By knocking heads with Baffert’s stars in two big prep races, no one can say Omaha Beach is ducking tough competition. With six starts under his belt already, including three so far in 2019, Omaha Beach will surely be battle-hardened for the Kentucky Derby.
He’ll return to the graded stakes scene in the April 6 Santa Anita Derby, and with that target in mind, he worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 on March 19. He’ll be going up against Game Winner, a tough task no doubt, but keep in mind that Roadster finished just two lengths behind Game Winner in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) last summer while dealing with a breathing issue. It’s not hard to conclude that Roadster could give Game Winner a fight in the Santa Anita Derby if he’s improved at all with maturity (and can now breathe properly!)
I’m a little concerned by the fact that Improbable is slow to get going in his races, and by that, I don’t mean that he’s slow out of the starting gate. He just a little slow to reach top speed, a tendency that led to tricky trips in both the Street Sense Stakes and the Rebel Stakes. It might have cost him in the Los Alamitos Futurity too, except that longshot Savagery blew the first turn that day and left Improbable with a perfect opportunity to secure a better position. I’d love to see Improbable get going a little quicker in the Arkansas Derby next month.
Long Range Toddy (#6)
The form of his third-place finish in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) two starts back received a big boost over the weekend—runner-up Sueno came back to finish a close third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), seventh-place finisher Cutting Humor won the Sunland Derby (gr. III), and the last-place runner Gray Attempt cut back in distance to win the six-furlong Gazebo Stakes. Long Range Toddy’s form lines are looking better all the time.
Code of Honor (#7)
After training like a beast for the Fountain of Youth, Code of Honor has kept the pedal to the medal in two recent workouts over the slow track at Payson Park, clocking five furlongs in 1:01 flat and a half-mile in :48.40. Those times might seem slow, but they were actually both bullet moves.
Although he was beaten a neck in the Sunland Derby (gr. III)
, I was very impressed by Anothertwistafate’s performance. Showing a new dimension by rating off the lead, Anothertwistafate wound up racing in between horses and had to wait in traffic at a key moment on the far turn, which allowed eventual winner Cutting Humor to seize a clear lead. Despite this disadvantage, Anothertwistafate rallied boldly once in the clear and just missed in a quick race that produced a 95 Beyer. By all accounts, this was another eye-catching step forward for Anothertwistafate.
By My Standards (Unranked)
Few handicappers had By My Standards on their Kentucky Derby radar prior to the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), but this son of Goldencents showed remarkable professionalism to save ground behind horses and rally up the inside to win going away
. His final time of 1:49.53 was solid and translated to a 97 Beyer, the highest awarded in any Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race so far this year.
You can argue that Spinoff was the best horse in the Louisiana Derby, considering that he raced wide every step of the way and lost by less than a length to By My Standards, but at least he was in the clear and didn’t have to take kickback or wait in traffic the way By My Standards did. Ultimately, I think Spinoff just came up short in a solid, but ultimately losing performance.
Hidden Scroll (#10)
If any more evidence was needed to showcase how destructive the early pace was in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Gladiator King—a front-runner dueled into submission by Hidden Scroll—came right back to dominate the six-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) at 12-1. If the pace of the Florida Derby is more reasonable, I think we’ll see a big rebound from Hidden Scroll.
Honorable mentions go to Cutting Humor
, the Sunland Derby winner, and Tacitus
, the Tampa Bay Derby winner who was ranked eighth on my list last week before dropping off to make way for new names.