By James Millar
HOW HE GOT HERE
Classic Causeway was a late add to the prospective Derby field over the last week. His connections initially said he was off the Derby Trail after a poor last-place finish in the Florida Derby, even though he had already earned enough qualifying points (66). The news to drop off the trail given his poor showing at Gulfstream was not surprising; the connections’ decision to bring him back for the Derby was.
The homebred chestnut son of Giant’s Causeway had a sensational debut at Saratoga, winning a maiden special weight at 13-1. As is becoming a trend for Classic Causeway, he broke sharp, went straight to the front, and never looked back. This effort earned him his still career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure (BSF). Next out, trainer Brian Lynch felt strong enough to run him in the Grade 1 Breeder’s Futurity at Keeneland. He drew the far outside 13 post, darted to the front, and held on to run a good third in a race that favored horses coming from off the pace. He then ran a good second to early Derby Future favorite, Smile Happy (beating Florida Derby winner White Abarrio), in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club to wrap up his two-year old season. These solid, but not eye-opening efforts allowed Classic Causeway’s odds to drift up and close at 44-1 and 51-1 in Kentucky Derby Future Pools 1 and 2, respectively.
Classic Causeway impressed in his three-year old debut, opening up in the stretch as the odds-on favorite to win the G3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs after setting a sharp pace. That effort earned him 10 Kentucky Derby points and an 88 BSF Figure, which many figured he would improve off of. Coming back 4 weeks later in the Tampa Bay Derby, Classic Causeway won from the lead again, gathering 50 Kentucky Derby points, but did so much less impressively and much slower, getting only an 86 BSF. Rather than wait another 8 weeks until the Kentucky Derby, his connections brought him back off three-weeks rest to run in the Florida Derby where he set a sharp pace as normal but then had nothing left and fell to the back after about a half-mile. Prior to his Florida Derby flop, Classic Causeway was as low as 10-1 in Kentucky Derby Future Pools.
HOW HE FITS HERE
Classic Causeway showed tremendous promise and talent as a two-year old and early three-year old. However, this promise seems to have been lost given such a poor effort last time out. Classic Causeway’s gift of natural speed and the ability to break extremely sharp from the gate though, must be considered. He will be forwardly placed and could very likely be setting the pace. However, even his fastest races don’t stack up to the BSF leaders amongst his peers. This colt will have to handle 18 or 19 horses trying to run him down while also improving an unlikely significant amount on the clock. It is hard to see him wearing the roses after the race is over.
— Kevin Kerstein (@HorseRacingKK) April 30, 2022
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
Classic Causeway is the first Derby starter for his owners and his trainer, Brian Lynch. The native Australian was an assistant to Bobby Frankel before setting out on his own and tends to run his horses across tracks on the east coast. While it’s hard to not be excited for the connections, one must wonder how much of his entry in Kentucky is due to the owners picking the spot. While Lynch has stated that he isn’t sure what went wrong in South Florida, the initial hesitation to run in Kentucky was very telling. Although, all reports have been very positive and he has looked good in training the last couple of weeks. The Tampa Bay Derby has an interesting timeline to the Kentucky Derby, leaving 8 weeks to the race. Given the lack of success of horses going straight to Kentucky from Tampa, Lynch’s decision to run in the Florida Derby can be appreciated. However, running back on only three weeks rest (shorter than he had done before) seemed to take its toll.
As one of the last sons of Giant’s Causeway, out of a Thunder Gulch mare, Private World, one would think that this horse would be primed for two turns and the 10 furlongs of the Derby. The question must be asked though, given his two-turn race performance (all of his races since his debut), if he is better suited for 1 turn races and driving that sharp early speed to the 7 furlong or 1 mile distance. It would be very interesting to see this horse cut back in a race like the Woody Stephens at Belmont or the H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga this summer.
There is no doubt that Classic Causeway figures to be involved from the gate. He breaks quickly and has loads of natural speed. Many believe that he will be the pacesetter because he needs to go to the front to have his best shot. While I don’t fully disagree, I think it’s important to note Classic Causeway rated well in his second place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club as a two-year old. Additionally, his front running efforts at 3 could be attributed to being the fastest of the field and having no other option but to take the lead because he broke so sharply. This isn’t to say he won’t lead the field, just to say it may not be his only running style. If he does decide to rate, he still must be sitting 2nd or 3rd, in the clear, for him to be able to give his best performance.
While Classic Causeway will be involved early and has the ability to control things a bit, he needs to dramatically improve from a figures perspective to have a shot in this race. Additionally, last years awarded champion Mandaloun aside, horses with poor performances in their final prep, usually struggle on the first Saturday in May. Given the presence of strong closers in the field as well, it is difficult to see this horse hanging around for a piece of the exotics. One thing is for sure, his odds on Saturday will be higher than the 10-1 he closed at in Kentucky Derby Future Pool 4.