Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: A "Win-Win-Win" Situation

January 21st, 2019

In the two weeks since my last update, two new names have joined my , including an exciting stakes winner from Tampa Bay Downs who looks like a potential beast in the making.

How do they all stack up? Let’s take a look….
  1. Game Winner

He’s come back firing in his workouts, throwing down three furlongs in a bullet :35 1/5 on January 9 and following up with a half-mile in :48 3/5 on January 20. Those are quick works for a horse just getting going after a freshening, and from all appearances Game Winner remains in excellent shape with 103 days until the Kentucky Derby. Tentative plans call for him to target the March 9 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita for his 2019 debut.
  1. Improbable

Like Game Winner, Improbable returned to the work tab on January 9, working three furlongs in an easy :38 flat. Unlike Game Winner, Improbable tossed in another workout just five days later, going a half-mile in a speedier :49.20 before coming back with yet another half-mile in :48 flat on January 20. With Game Winner aiming for the San Felipe, it would come as no surprise to see Improbable target the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park a week later.
  1. Maximus Mischief

As sharp as Game Winner has been since returning to training, Maximus Mischief has been even sharper, at least from the perspective of raw times. This speedy son of Into Mischief blazed a half-mile in :46.87 on January 12—his first move since winning the Remsen—and provided an encore five furlongs in a bullet :58.02 on January 19, both at Gulfstream Park. It’s going to take a big effort to beat him in the February 2 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II).
  1. Instagrand

He stepped up to a half-mile for his workout on January 11, going the distance in an easy :49.80, and then picked up the pace significantly on January 20, clocking :47.60 in what could be considered the first really serious move since his return to the work tab.
  1. Signalman

No news on the Signalman front, other than he’s been galloping at Payson Park and ought to return to the work tab soon.
  1. Win Win Win

He hasn’t been great at breaking from the starting gate. At times, he seems to carry his head a bit high. But if Win Win Win cleans up his game a little bit, we could be looking at a freak. On Saturday, Win Win Win obliterated his rivals in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, unleashing a terrific turn-of-foot to win by 7 ¼ lengths in the track-record time of 1:20.89, good for a Beyer of 99. And that was hardly a fluke performance—three starts back, Win Win Win won a 5 ½-furlong allowance race at Laurel Park while rocketing the final three-sixteenths of a mile in :16.78 seconds. That’s almost unheard of for a dirt race, and the visual impression Win Win Win made was just as eye-catching, as he motored clear of his rivals at a breathtaking rate of speed. If not for a slow start and an awkward rail trip in the Heft Stakes last month, you can argue that Win Win Win would be unbeaten in four starts, so this Live Oak Plantation homebred son of Hat Trick has indisputably launched himself into the Kentucky Derby picture.
  1. Network Effect

Chad Brown’s top Derby candidate so far is maintaining a low profile at Palm Meadows, where he breezed five furlongs in a 1:01.95 on January 13. It remains unclear where Network Effect will turn up next; a rematch with Maximus Mischief in the Holy Bull might be a possibility, though that race is coming up fast. The February 16 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds might fit better from a timing perspective.
  1. War of Will

Although I was a bit skeptical of War of Will’s ability to handle a dry dirt track (he’s bred like a turf horse after all), this son of War Front demonstrated that he has no clear surfaces preferences by cruising to an easy victory in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds last Saturday. Maybe he got a pretty easy go of it from a pace perspective, but he was much the best despite racing wide throughout and posted a sharp 94 Beyer speed figure. War of Will is already Grade 1-placed on turf and has now emerged as a legitimate and versatile contender for the Kentucky Derby.
  1. Gunmetal Gray

It’s hard to know where Gunmetal Gray fits among the elite Derby contenders—we didn’t learn a ton from his late-running win in the Sham, a race that fell apart late—but there’s a good chance we’ll see him in the February 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II), so we won’t have to wait long to get a better line on him.
  1. Vekoma

Like several other colts in my Kentucky Derby Top 10, Vekoma has finally reemerged from winter hibernation, breezing three furlongs in :38.51 at Palm Beach Downs on January 12 and four furlongs in :49.87 on January 19. At this point, we’re probably looking at a return to the races in early March, with the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park being a logical target. If he needs another week, the March 9 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct or the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) are alternatives.