The indefinite suspension of racing and training at Santa Anita has thrown a monkey wrench into the plans for Game Winner and Improbable, delaying their scheduled returns to action by one week.
Nevertheless, they remain at the top of my Kentucky Derby
Top 10 despite a busy weekend that saw Tacitus upset the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II)
, Haikal rally to victory in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III)
, and Somelikeithotbrown dominate the Jeff Ruby Steaks (gr. III)
Overall, how did these races affect my rankings? Let’s take a look….
Game Winner (#1 last week)
The suspension of racing at Santa Anita caused Game Winner to miss a scheduled run in the March 9 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II). As a result, he shipped to Los Alamitos for the weekend and worked five furlongs in :59.80 on Sunday morning. He’s now targeting the March 16 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park, which will be split into two divisions if the race draws 20 or more entrants.
Like Game Winner, Improbable spent the weekend at Los Alamitos, traveling five furlongs in :59.20 on Sunday morning. He’s expected to join Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes, so you have to think that Baffert is hoping for the race to split. Under Oaklawn Park’s rules for splitting races, Game Winner and Improbable would be allowed to compete in separate divisions, rather than against each other.
Disappointing efforts from Instagrand and Win Win Win have allowed Roadster to move all the way up to the third spot on my list, though it’s decidedly unclear where Roadster might run next. Assuming that the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) is held on April 6 as originally scheduled, that would be a logical option from a timing perspective, though presumably Game Winner and/or Improbable will be targeting that race as well.
War of Will (#6)
As one of just two horses so far to have won multiple 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races (Game Winner being the other), War of Will’s consistency is appealing. For the most part, Derby contenders have taken turns beating each other this year, but War of Will was clearly best in both the Lecomte (gr. III) and the Risen Star (gr. II), a major stakes double that is not to be underestimated.
Code of Honor (#7)
If you draw a line through his fourth-place finish in the Mucho Macho Man—which is fair, I think, since he missed two runs before that due to poor training—Code of Honor's record looks rock-solid, with his only other defeat being a runner-up effort in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) after he stumbled at the start. Code of Honor has been a closer as of late, but I find it interesting to note that he broke his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga last summer, so it’s not like he’s completely lacking in tactical speed.
Yes, he received a great pace setup and a generally ground-saving trip in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), but for Tacitus to win that race off a four-month layoff—and while stepping up sharply in class—is no small achievement. As a son of Tapit out of the champion mare Close Hatches, Tacitus should only continue improving with maturity, and he showed in the Tampa Bay Derby that he can successfully run through traffic and inside of horses.
With the suspension of racing at Santa Anita, Anothertwistafate could face a tougher task than expected in the March 24 Sunland Derby (gr. III), since a few California-based colts scrambling to rearrange their schedules figure to turn up now in Sunland Park’s signature race. At least that should give us a better idea of how Anothertwistafate stacks up against good colts on dirt.
Mucho Gusto (#10)
He joined Game Winner and Improbable at Los Alamitos, blazing five furlongs in :57.80 on Sunday morning, but he will not join them at Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes as originally planned. With Baffert changing targets for several of his top colts, Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form
has reported that Mucho Gusto will now be rerouted to the Sunland Derby, where he’ll face off with Anothertwistafate.
The form of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile continues to look less and less inspiring, but I’m not ready to give up on Signalman just yet. He was such a professional last year, repeatedly showing the ability to race inside and between horses, as well as the ability to make multiple moves during a race. Those are traits of a very good horse.
Hidden Scroll (Unranked)
I think it’s safe to say that Hidden Scroll earned more respect for his fourth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) than for his 14-length debut victory. The fact that Hidden Scroll was only beaten three lengths in the Fountain of Youth after carving out a blazing pace says a lot about his ability, so with that run under his belt (assuming it doesn’t drain him), we could see him take another step forward next time out, especially if he sets a more reasonable pace.
Honorable mentions go to Tax
, the rail-skimming winner of the Withers Stakes (gr. III), and Instagrand
, who didn’t run all that badly off a long layoff while finishing third in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III).