Rating the 2019 Kentucky Derby Prep Races

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 17th, 2019

As we head into the final round of Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, now seems like a good time to look back at the 17 North American prep races already run this year and assign a rating to each one.

My ratings—based on a scale of 1 to 5—attempt to blend the apparent strength of each race on paper with its potential for having a major impact on future Kentucky Derby prep races and the Derby itself.

In chronological order, here’s how I rate the races:

Jerome Stakes

Mind Control didn’t beat much and didn’t run particularly fast while doing so (88 Beyer), but he did come back to finish a good second in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) while runner-up Our Braintrust just missed when third in the Withers Stakes (gr. III).

Rating: 2

Sham Stakes (gr. III)

Gunmetal Gray capitalized on a blazing pace to win with a late rally, but his subsequent efforts with less favorable setups have been uninspiring. Runner-up Sueno did give the Sham form a bit of a boost when second in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III), but the overall strength of that race was questionable too.

Rating: 1

Lecomte Stakes (gr. III)

War of Will proved an easy winner here and came back to score with similar authority in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II), and his winning Beyer (94) was quite respectable.

Rating: 3

Smarty Jones Stakes

The victorious Gray Attempt (and several other runners) subsequently disappointed in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III), but runner-up Long Range Toddy has represented the Smarty Jones form admirably with a third-place finish in the Southwest and a win in the first division of the Rebel Stakes (gr. II).

Rating: 2

Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III)

Mucho Gusto, runner-up in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I), won this race with ease over Gunmetal Gray and Easy Shot, but those two came back to run a bit below form in separate divisions of the Rebel Stakes (gr. II), making this race difficult to rate.

Rating: 2

Withers Stakes (gr. III)

In a three-way battle to the wire, Tax won narrowly over Not That Brady and Our Braintrust with a 96 Beyer, tied for the highest figure earned in any Derby prep race so far this year. However, the figure seemed questionable at the time, and several Withers starters (Not That Brady and Our Braintrust included) have regressed in their next outings.

Rating: 2

Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II)

A fast pace and a slow finish helped Harvey Wallbanger rally to victory over 112-1 shot Everfast with a modest 85 Beyer. The latter came back to finish a distant eighth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), one slot ahead of the Holy Bull fourth-place finisher Epic Dreamer.

Rating: 2

Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III)

Well Defined prevailed in gate-to-wire fashion over a strung-out field, but then struggled home eighth in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II). Likewise, a few of the also-rans have failed to seriously factor in subsequent Derby prep races.

Rating: 1

El Camino Real Derby (gr. III)

This race is tough to rate because it was held over the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields, but Anothertwistafate easily defeated the Bob Baffert-trained Kingly while posting an 84 Beyer, so I’m inclined to believe this race could wind up being a productive prep.

Rating: 3

Risen Star Stakes (gr. II)

War of Will was a clear-cut winner over the well-regarded Country House, who blew the start and raced greenly to a second-place finish. Both of those colts appear to have bright futures, making this one of the stronger preps we’ve seen so far.

Rating: 3

Southwest Stakes (gr. III)

After finishing seventh in the Smarty Jones, Super Steed sprung a 62-1 upset in the Southwest, holding off Sueno and Long Range Toddy to win with an 87 Beyer. Unfortunately, Super Steed is now off the Derby trail due to bone bruising.

Rating: 2

Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II)

Last year’s Champagne Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Code of Honor rebounded in a big way to win the Fountain of Youth over the late-running Bourbon War, while the Nashua Stakes (gr. III) winner Vekoma checked in third and the highly-regarded debut winner Hidden Scroll held for fourth after setting a very fast pace. All told, the Fountain of Youth looked like a deep race.

Rating: 4

Gotham Stakes (gr. III)

A complete pace meltdown contributed to Haikal’s late-running victory, but he still deserves some credit for gamely running down the Jerome Stakes winner Mind Control and the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) winner Instagrand, a task easier said than done.

Rating: 2

Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II)

Tacitus returned from a layoff and produced a big finish to win the Tampa Bay Derby going away, with the Pasco Stakes winner Win Win Win and the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) victor Well Defined among his beaten rivals. Tacitus broke the stakes record over a fast track, but also benefited from a quick early pace.

Rating: 3

Jeff Ruby Steaks (gr. III)

Somelikeithotbrown won as the heavy favorite, but remains unproven on dirt, and the rivals he beat were of unclear quality. His winning Beyer (83) was also on the slow side.

Rating: 1

Rebel Stakes Division 1 (gr. II)

Long Range Toddy produced his strongest finish of the year to nail the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) winner Improbable in the shadow of the wire, earning a 95 Beyer. The two-time stakes winner Galilean added further depth to the race with his third-place effort.

Rating: 4

Rebel Stakes Division 2 (gr. II)

Omaha Beach stepped up in class and distance to courageously defeat champion Game Winner in a thrilling finish. Those two pulled 8 ¼ lengths clear of the rest while posting a 96 Beyer. This could be the strongest prep we’ve seen so far in 2019.

Rating: 5