2022 Kentucky Derby Contender Profile – Ethereal Road

HOW HE GOT HERE

The old-school aggression of D. Wayne Lukas will allow him to have his 50th Kentucky Derby runner. Ethereal Road’s resume is comprised of plenty of factors that have ultimately found him as the last horse in this year’s race. He was well beaten in his first three career starts, breaking slowly and having to make up ground in each of those races. However, in that third race of his career, in his first effort around two turns, Ethereal Road showed some signs of potential after finishing up very nicely in the stretch to be third. Once more in start number four, he absolutely walked out of the gate and saw himself 16 lengths off the lead at the first call. Nevertheless, he steadily progressed throughout and ended up winning by a widening four lengths, a huge jump up from his other efforts.

As D. Wayne Lukas does, Ethereal Road got thrown into the deep end for the Rebel S. (G2) following that maiden win. Sent off at odds of 15-1, Ethereal Road showed a new level of professionalism by sitting well within the race, making the lead at the top of the stretch, before being run down by Un Ojo in the dying stages. Instead of pressing on to the Arkansas Derby (G1), this colt was rerouted to the Blue Grass S. (G1) so he wouldn’t have to face stablemate, Secret Oath. Not very respected at the windows once more, Ethereal Road was put into the race and sat around mid-pack, looked like he was threatening heading around the turn, but flattened out down the lane to finish an extremely dull seventh. However, Derby fever was still strong, and surprisingly Ethereal Road was dropped back in to the final points race of the prep season – the Lexington S. (G3). With new rider Victor Espinoza aboard, he ran a very similar race to that of the Blue Grass and couldn’t find much down the lane, finishing 4th beaten over 3 lengths by Tawny Port.

 

HOW HE FITS HERE

It’s very tough to find a scenario where Ethereal Road runs well in the Kentucky Derby. His only victory came against non-winners, his best graded stakes performance came in a rather weak race, his last two races he’s been a cut below, and he’ll be making his third start in less than a month. In addition, his best figures are far below that of the second worst numbers in this year’s race.

One way I think he could improve is returning to the one-run style he displayed in his only victory. As previously mentioned, Ethereal Road has been ridden to stalk or sit mid-pack in his last three races, and in each of those he failed to find that next gear down the stretch despite seeming like a threat on the turn. If he taken back and makes the sweeping move that proved so fruitful back in January, he might run a lot better than one would think.

CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE

It’s hard to be upset when D. Wayne Lukas is in the Kentucky Derby, and Ethereal Road will mark his first appearance since 2018 with Bravazo. As many likely know, D. Wayne Lukas dominated the Triple Crown races of the 1990’s, including a streak of five straight Triple Crown Races wins. In total, he has tallied 14 wins in the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, four of which have come in the Run for the Roses (the last being in 1999). Although his stock has dropped off in the past decade or so, when he’s had a Kentucky Derby starter as of late they often run above expectations.

Luis Contreras will be put back aboard Ethereal Road in the Kentucky Derby after being taken off for the Lexington. D. Wayne Lukas was not quiet about his disdain for the rides Contreras put on both Ethereal Road in the Blue Grass and Secret Oath in the Arkansas Derby, so naturally he switched things up for the final prep. However, he’ll return to Contreras for this spot after the Lexington loss. He is a very capable rider, having been a champion in Canada on multiple occasions and swept the Canadian Triple Crown in 2011. Contreras rode Lukas’s last Derby runner, Bravazo, in 2018 to a sixth place finish.

Ethereal Road is the second Derby starter for perennial stallion, Quality Road, who was also represented by Roadster in 2019. Quality Road himself was a Kentucky Derby favorite in 2009 before suffering a setback in the lead-up and having to withdraw. He has gone on to produce plenty of two-turn and route distance Grade 1 winners, including this year’s Saudi Cup (G1) winner, Emblem Road. Ethereal Road’s female family is extremely turfy. He is out of Sustained, a daughter of War Front, who only ever won on the grass and placed in the Miss Grillo (G3) as a juvenile on the turf. Ethereal Road’s older half-brother, Turned Aside, has made his mark and is a stakes winner turf sprinting. However, it is clear that distance is beneficial to Ethereal Road from his rangy physical build and we already know he can handle a dirt surface, so there’s no reason to use pedigree as a knock on this colt.

 

OVERALL CHANCE

I love the fact that D. Wayne Lukas will have his 50th Kentucky Derby starter, but I don’t think he has much of a shot to make you money. As previously mentioned, I think reverting back to what was successful as it relates to running style could move him forward, but probably not enough to win or fill out any exotics.

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