With great pleasure I post the first of Brian Nadeau’s analyses of this year’s Kentucky Derby preps. We started this way back in 2009, and I am thrilled that Brian is back for another year.
Brian handicaps at Horseplayer Now, is a regular on Capital OTB TV in upstate New York, and writes a weekly Breeders’ Cup newsletter in the run-up to that event. He’ll offer analysis of all of the major points races on the road to Churchill Downs. A hearty welcome back, and here we go!
Fair Grounds: The GIII, $200,000 Lecomte at 1-mile and 70 yards (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-4-2-1)
#1 Riding in the Wind (30-1): Giant longshot will look to do the Buckeye State proud as he ventures down from Mahoning Valley and steps back out into open company after easily handling Ohio-breds in his last two. There’s plenty of speed in this corner, so with this rail draw, expect this son of Tiz Wonderful to be sent early, and if nothing else, it’s a confident sign that Lopez decides to ship in for a shot at a big prize. But with plenty of speed to his outside and this seismic rise in class, not to mention that he tries two turns for the first time, this just seems way too much of an ask; pop and stop time.
#2 Fish Trappe Road (6-1): Talented New York-bred did little wrong as a 2yo and if you toss the one start with blinkers, then you’ll see that he didn’t miss the exacta in his last three, which includes a game second in a state-bred stakes when last seen in October. Of course, the other side of the coin is that the only time he ventured into open waters he was a modest fourth in his debut, so he no doubt has some questions to answer for Calhoun. Precocious son of Trappe Shot has been working lights out for his 3yo debut, and his speed will have him involved throughout, but this is a tough spot to try two turns for the first time, all while trying to prove that you’re a lot more than a good Empire-bred; can’t see it.
#3 Uncle Walter (6-1): Major player goes for the potent Maker/Ramsey duo and you don’t have to think too hard to remember that they swept the local 3yo series last year with International Star. Lightly raced son of Uncle Mo has proven plenty versatile in his first two starts, and he’s bred top and bottom for two turns, so that should only help the cause today. If there’s a rub, then you could say that he hasn’t started in two months and that this is by far the toughest test of his brief career, but they all have to get going somewhere and you’re going to get fair value to see just where he stacks up in the local 3yo ranks; won’t fault anyone landing here.
#4 Z Royal (15-1): It’s always good to see Lukas show up with a talented 3yo, and it’s no surprise that this son of Eskendereya improved mightily when he stretched to a mile last time and broke his maiden in his second career start at Churchill Downs. The blinkers go on today and this colt was already plenty tactical, as he was stalking a sharp pace last time, so expect him to be forwardly placed and just off the speed, especially since he’ll try two turns today. It’s also quite intriguing that Espinoza is aboard, and we all know he had quite a bit of success on another Zayat homebred last year, so with a Hall of Famer calling the shots and a top jockey traveling halfway across the country to ride, you have to think it’s all systems go today; very playable.
#5 Dolphus (10-1): The first of a quartet entered that exit a very highly rated—and fast—AOC over the track and distance has four lengths to make up on the winner that day, Pinnacle Peak, but with just two lifetime starts, there’s plenty of reason to think he can do it. Son of Lookin At Lucky gets some bonus points for already going two turns, as that’s a question a lot of these have yet to answer, plus a race over the track can’t hurt either, and with Sharp having another banner meet, there’s no reason to think this colt won’t improve. The problem is that he’s already looking up at the two who beat him last time, while facing several new shooters who won’t be all that impressed with that run, so, point being, even if he does improve, there’s no guarantee it makes much of a difference in the final score; tricky read.
#6 Noble Thought (10-1): Track and distance winner is one of two in here for Stidham and will get the acid test as he steps up off a MSW win last time, in what was his first start on the dirt and first start for this barn. Homebred son of Harlan’s Holiday dueled for much of the way before pulling clear late, which is the good news, but the bad news is that his win wasn’t all that fast on the stopwatch and his running style means that he might find himself part of another pace battle, and this group won’t be as easy to pull away from. You have to think he’ll be higher than this 10-1 ML price, which helps ease some of the concerns, but at the end of the day he still looks a decided cut below the best; making him prove it.
#7 Mo Tom (7-2): The expected favorite is undoubtedly the name horse and the class of the field after a solid 2yo campaign that saw him win the Street Sense at CD, then finish his season with a sharp third in their GII Kentucky Jockey Club behind Airoforce and Mor Spirit, who are two top prospects on the Derby Trail this year. That was also this son of Uncle Mo’s two-turn debut, so the fact that he handled it so well speaks volumes of his talent. Amoss is as good as they come in these here parts, and he appears to have really tightened the screw in those last three drills, so even though this is just a stepping-off spot to what he hopes is a serious campaign, the thinking here is that this colt is just too good for these at this point in time; call to return running.
#8 Battle Tap (10-1): Winchell homebred is one of a very few in here with a win at two turns and it was visually impressive too, as he stalked early and drew off late two-back at CD. The bloom came off the rose a bit last time, when he was just fifth in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park, but that was run over a sloppy track, so maybe you can be a bit forgiving. Asmussen charge starts for connections that have had a lot of success with their 3yos in the Midwest over the past several years, and this son of Smart Strike is out of War Echo, who won the GIII Silverbulletday over this track and is a half-sister to Pyro, who was a major player on the Triple Crown trail for these connections a few years back and won both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby over this track. And sure, at this point, he’s well behind mom and her siblings’ pace, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t start making waves of his own at some point; foolish to ignore his chances.
#9 Indygo Breeze (50-1): Son of Indygo Shiner beat three horses in the mud in slow time when he won his debut at Hawthorne in November for Haran and was beaten the length of the stretch when seventh in the aforementioned hot AOC here, so there’s little doubt he’s in for a long day at the office, should he start; get home safely.
#10 Pinnacle Peak (8-1): Heavy hitter is the more fancied of the two Stidham runners and was a very game winner of the local AOC, so with hotshot Geroux riding, you have to think that he’s not going to be anywhere near this 8-1 ML price. Son of Yes It’s True gets a bit of stamina on the bottom of his pedigree, as his damsire is by Indian Charlie, but dad was as pure a 6F horse as there ever was, so you have to wonder if he’s is already stretching his rubber band a little thin. Plus, as we’ve already mentioned, the pace looks pretty hot here and this colt is 2-0 when making the lead and 0-4 when he doesn’t, so that doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error, since he either needs to go on a send mission early and run the risk of tiring late, or try and rate and potentially be very wide into the first turn, while trying to do something he’s never done before, either. And when you stack all that up, taking an underlaid price on a horse that has a lot going against him doesn’t seem all that appealing; playing against.
#11 Tiznoble (10-1): The second from Sharp was a game winner of a local two-turn, off the turf AOC last month and certainly has the look of a contender, as that was his dirt debut and there’s plenty of upside here. Son of Tiznow is out of the Tapit mare Tamboz, who was just 1-for-21 lifetime but is a full sister to BC Dirt Mile winner Tapizar, so there’s a lot of pedigree appeal here as well. The post isn’t ideal, since there’s a short run to the first turn, but he showed a nice rating gear last time, and with all the speed signed on, there’s no reason he can’t tuck in and sit a midpack stalking trip and hope to use the long stretch to his advantage. There are no doubt some hurdles to clear, but the gut says there’s also some untapped potential and that this colt is only just scratching the surface of his talents; expecting a big run.
#12 Mending Fences (20-1): One of the rare longshots is the type we see every year at this time of year, in that he’s a talented 3yo who has run well on turf but needs to be tried on dirt just in case he can handle it. Well, dad Colonel John sure did, and damsire Lemon Drop Kid sure could, too, so you can’t really blame Pish for taking a shot with a lightly raced runner who improved open lengths off the layoff last time when he broke his maiden over the local lawn. Deep closer figures to trail these early, as he didn’t show a speck of speed in his paceless turf races, so passing the entire field looks like it’s on the menu, though with a pace that could fall apart, it’s not impossible that he outruns his odds and passes more than a few; worth a look underneath in the exotics at a big price.
#13 Destin (6-1): Son of Giant’s Causeway checks off the box that says “Todd Pletcher must have a 3yo in every Kentucky Derby prep,” but he better improve in a hurry if he wants to make a dent here. What you get today is anyone’s guess, as that debut MSW win at Belmont Park in October made you think he was a real runner, but then he couldn’t get by a 28-1 wire-to-wire winner (who was subsequently seventh in a minor stakes) when second in his return in an AOC at Gulfstream Park last time. It’s also a little disconcerting that after just one disappointing effort (he was 1-5 last time), the blinkers are now added, which is odd because he sure looked good winning without them at Belmont. It’s a good sign that Leparoux comes in to ride and obviously you ignore anyone from this barn at your own peril, but with a terrible draw, an underlaid price, and a tricky pace scenario, thereare not a lot of reasons for optimism here; tossing completely.
#14 Tarpon Bay Road (20-1): Lightly raced runner is another maiden who picks a mighty tough spot to secure his initial win, but if nothing else he was a solid second in a fast race when stretched to a mile while making his first start for Baker when last seen in November. Son of Tapit is bred to be a serious horse, too, as dad is as good a sire as there is and mom Pretty Prolific was a GIII winner who was twice GI-placed, though she did her best running around one-turn. But the positives end there, as he’s drawn terribly and meets several who are more advanced and more talented at this point in their careers; remembering his name for use down the road.
(AE) #15 Tom’s Ready (5-1): Here’s hoping the two maidens (especially Indygo Breeze) scratch out so this Stewart-trained son of More Than Ready gets to run, because he’s a legitimate win candidate and it would be a shame if he has to stay in the barn. The most experienced member of the field, along with Pinnacle Peak, ran too good to lose when just missing by a neck to that rival in the local AOC, and his running style makes him an instant win contender when you factor in the expected positive race flow he gets today. That closing style also negates this terrible draw, as he’ll simply break, tuck in, and then look to make his run off the far turn. Toss the sloppy run in the Jockey Club two back and his form is top notch, and he was beaten only a length by Mo Tom in the Street Sense, so his quality is unquestioned, too, which means he’s clearly the one to fear in the lane; needs only to meet the starter to make his presence felt.
#7 Mo Tom
#15 Tom’s Ready