Another week, another meaningful shake-up in my weekly .
Following a somewhat disappointing series of Saturday prep races
, I have chosen to drop Maximus Mischief
and Gunmetal Gray
from my list, while weekend winners Tax
and Extra Hope
are joining the fray for the first time.
Here’s how they stack up with less than 90 days util the Kentucky Derby
The champ turned in another easy-as-can-be workout on January 30 at Santa Anita, rolling through five furlongs in a modest 1:03.40 seconds. He raced well off the rail around the turn and was never really asked for run, but he changed leads smoothly at the top of the stretch and continues to look well, even if he hasn’t been training particularly fast.
In what could be considered his first really serious workout of the year, Improbable threw down five furlongs in a bullet :58.40 on February 1. The form of Improbable’s victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) was seriously flattered last week when runner-up Mucho Gusto returned to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) and third-place finisher Extra Hope (see below) romped in a high-quality allowance race at Santa Anita.
Instagrand also posted a sharp five-furlong workout on February 1, going the distance in :59 flat. But where will he turn up next? It’s worth noting that he’s been nominated to the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, which carries with it a free nomination to the February 16 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) over the same track. Could we see Instagrand travel for his three-year-old debut?
He’s wasted no time getting serious in his morning workouts. One week after breezing three furlongs in an easy :39.80 at Payson Park, Signalman traveled to Gulfstream Park and blazed a half-mile in :46.63 over a fast track. He’s still on target for the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream, where he could potentially face off against stablemate Harvey Wallbanger, winner of the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) on Saturday.
Win Win Win
Breezed a casual half-mile in :51.80 on February 2 at Tampa Bay Downs, his first move since obliterating four rivals in the Pasco Stakes. He’s not expected to wheel back on short rest for the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) on February 9; instead, the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) is the target for his two-turn debut.
From a Kentucky Derby perspective, it’s hard to knock anything about Hidden Scroll’s pedigree. His sire, Hard Spun, finished second in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and has sired several Grade 1 winners who excelled running 1 ¼ miles, including Questing, Hard Aces, Hardest Core, and Wicked Strong. Furthermore, Hidden Scroll’s dam sire—Empire Maker—won the 2003 Belmont Stakes and sired 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile (in turn the sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah), while other prominent names in Hidden Scroll’s pedigree include 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, 1964 Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer, and Eclipse Award-winning Turkoman, a two-time Grade 1 winner going 1 ¼ miles.
War of Will
Cruised through an easy half-mile in :51 flat on February 2 at Fair Grounds, his first breeze since winning the Lecomte in easy fashion. Can he repeat that effort in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) two weeks from now? In what could be considered something of a “Lecomte Curse,” only one Lecomte winner in the last nine years has returned to win the Risen Star, with seven others finishing out of exacta at odds ranging from 1.40-1 to 4.40-1.
He showed a new dimension rating off the pace before rallying to a dominant victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III), though the race was contested over a sloppy, sealed track and only three of his rivals finished the race, so it’s difficult to gauge the overall quality of his performance. The ability to relax off the lead is a nice step in the right direction though.
For the most part, Tax enjoyed a pretty clean trip in the Withers Stakes (gr. III)
, saving ground all the way and waiting only briefly for racing room at the top of the stretch. Under the circumstances, it could be considered disappointing that he won by just a head in a three-way photo finish, though jockey Junior Alvarado felt that Tax was waiting on horses once he struck the front, so maybe he could have won by more if he’d stayed focused. In any case, the race came back fast with a 96 Beyer and Tax improved off his third-place finish in Remsen Stakes (gr. II) two months ago, so at least he’s heading in the right direction.
There were at least a half-dozen horses that I pondered for this final spot, but ultimately I settled on the above-mentioned Extra Hope, who returned to the races with an allowance optional claiming victory on January 31 at Santa Anita. He did benefit from racing very close to the pace over a sloppy, sealed track that was favoring front-runners, but I liked the move he made to take command through a :23.83 third quarter (which produced a six-furlong fraction of 1:08.97), and from there he pulled away nicely to defeat the Bob Baffert-trained Kingly by 3 ¼ lengths. Extra Hope couldn’t challenge Improbable and Mucho Gusto in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) two months ago, but if he improves at all during the winter/spring, this Richard Mandella-trained son of Shanghai Bobby could wind up being a very nice horse.