When Triple Crown winner won the 2018 Kentucky Derby, he broke the much-hyped “Apollo Curse” and became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two-year-old.
Now that the “curse” has been broken, will the floodgates open with more and more unraced juveniles finding success on the first Saturday in May? That remains to be seen… but a stunning young runner who debuted last Saturday is certainly knocking on the door of the exclusive Apollo/Justify club.
To make way in my for this exciting newcomer, I reluctantly dropped Network Effect
, who has not posted a timed workout in more than two weeks. He’ll have a chance to rejoin my list if he returns to the work tab by next week, but in the meantime, here’s how my Top 10 stack up….
Game Winner and Improbable both turned in their first workouts of the year on January 9, but Game Winner was so sharp that day (going three furlongs in a bullet :35 1/5) that Baffert has evidently decided there’s no reason to rush Game Winner back into serious training. As a result, Game Winner has posted just one more workout since then (four furlongs in :48.60 on January 20) compared to three workouts for Improbable.
His three-year-old debut is still five or six weeks away, so Improbable kept things simple in his latest workout, stretching out to five furlongs and negotiating the distance in 1:02 flat on January 26. The form of his victory in the Street Sense Stakes received another subtle boost when fourth-place finisher Manny Wah returned to finish a decent third in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds.
His final breeze before the February 2 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) was delayed due to wet weather at Gulfstream Park, but he finally went an easy half-mile in :50.06 on January 28, a leisurely move compared to his two previous works. We know he’s got tremendous speed, but it’s the ability to relax that is the key to success running long, so this easy move five days out from the Holy Bull is a good sign.
Like Improbable, Instagrand stepped up to five furlongs in his January 26 workout, going the distance in 1:02.20. It remains unclear when (and where) he might make his three-year-old debut; the February 10 San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) is likely coming up too quick.
He made his much-anticipated return to the work tab on January 26, breezing a very easy three furlongs in :39.80 at the Payson Park Training Center. At this rate, it seems probable that we won’t see him back in the entries until March at the earliest.
Win Win Win
Win Win Win’s pedigree is an interesting read. As a son of the Japanese-bred turf miler Hat Trick, you wouldn’t necessarily think that Win Win Win is bound for success going long on dirt. But on the other hand, plenty of Hat Trick’s runners have been successful running long, and Win Win Win’s pedigree features additional stamina (and dirt) influences through his grandsires, the Kentucky Derby/Preakness winners Sunday Silence and Smarty Jones.
Yes, he benefited from setting the pace over a sloppy, sealed track that was favoring speed. True, impressive maiden wins don’t always translate into stellar racing careers. But just how spectacular was Hidden Scroll in his debut going a mile at Gulfstream on January 26? The son of Hard Spun sprinted to the front, carved out fractions of :22.53, :44.75, and 1:09.43 while completely within himself, and powered away in the homestretch under virtually no urging at all to win by fourteen lengths
in 1:34.82, which translated to a massive 104 Beyer speed figure. Hidden Scroll’s sensational effort brought back memories of Justify’s similarly eye-catching debut in 2018, and while it’s impossible to say at this point whether Hidden Scroll can possibly follow in the Triple Crown winner's illustrious footsteps, it’s clear that trainer Bill Mott has a very exciting horse in his barn.
War of Will
Which ancestors are responsible for War of Will’s ability to negotiate a dirt track is as clear as, well, mud, but pedigree aside, War of Will’s excellent tactical speed has to be considered a big reason why he’s been successful on dirt. It’s allowed him to work out perfect trips in the clear and out of trouble, which does raise the question of how he’ll respond if he ever winds up behind horses taking kickback.
In preparation for the February 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita, Gunmetal Gray cruised six furlongs in an easy 1:15.20 on January 27. He’s coming back four weeks after the Sham and has breezed twice since then, so fitness certainly won’t be a question mark.
He’s probably one of Baffert’s second-tier Derby candidates, but there really wasn’t anything wrong with his runner-up effort behind Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I), and it doesn’t require any stretch of the imagination to conclude that this front-running son of Mucho Macho Man could beat Gunmetal Gray in the Robert B. Lewis. I’ll give Mucho Gusto a chance at the bottom of my Top 10 and see how he performs this weekend.