HOW HE GOT HERE
It has been a winding road for Cyberknife to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate. On debut last September, he crossed the wire first in a thrilling stretch duel, only to rightfully be taken down for initiating contact down the lane. Next time out, he chased an eventual stakes placed runner for Steve Asmussen named Classic Moment all the way as the heavy 2/5 favorite. After a month and a half off, a change of scenery down in Louisiana at Fair Grounds, and a stretch out to two turns, he was able to finally break his maiden by a dying half length. As was evident in his first two runs, he ran extremely greenly through the stretch and seemed to get a little lost on the lead, however it was hard to doubt his talent. In fact, in an early January interview, trainer Brad Cox called Cyberknife his only potential Derby candidate, very high praise for a colt who’d just broken his maiden in start number three. That confidence was evident when he surpassed an NX2 the next month to run in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and added blinkers once more. The experiment failed, as once again he ran greenly, in addition to being taken off the pace for the first time, and ran a very flat sixth. He then was dropped to that NX2 level in February, took the blinkers off, and rolled to a convincing three length score in a rather deep race. One last chance remained for this highly regarded colt to make the Kentucky Derby in the form of a 100-point prep. Rather than stay at Fair Grounds, he was shipped up to Oaklawn for a lighter spot in the G1 Arkansas Derby. With an excellent ride from Florent Geroux that featured a flashy middle move which ended up deciding the race, he drew clear heading into the stretch and was a clear winner on the day.
HOW HE FITS HERE
There is nothing more dangerous in the Kentucky Derby than a horse improving at the right time. Just ask Justify, Always Dreaming, Nyquist, American Pharoah, and most other Derby winners in recent years. Recency has generally told us that being on a winning streak is beneficial heading into the Derby. It is also clear that Cyberknife has overcome some of those mental barriers he faced early on in his career. Although he was drifting in and out throughout the Oaklawn stretch a few weeks ago, the responsiveness he showed when prompted by Geroux in that race should be the overriding factor when it comes to determining his professionalism. He has ran his top two career speed figures in his last two races. It’s worth noting he did technically regress on Beyer Speed Figures from that allowance win two back into the Arkansas Derby, but the talent is apparent to anyone who watched the race. However, we do have to emphasize that the waters get much deeper in the Derby. That’s the case for all of the runners of course, but the Arkansas Derby field, and the Oaklawn Road to the Derby in general, featured pretty weak horses. He did handle them very well, but one has to wonder if he can deal with the likes of Epicenter (who’s already beaten him easily once), Zandon, Taiba, or Mo Donegal. Essentially, we have to weigh his improve vs. his overall ability against the Derby level.
— Kevin Kerstein (@HorseRacingKK) April 22, 2022
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
Cyberknife has the privilege of sporting the jockey-trainer combo that won last year’s Kentucky Derby… kind of. Trainer Brad Cox is the most prominent name in American racing at the moment, with back-to-back Eclipse Awards and dominance in graded stakes races week in and wee out. In his first Derby appearance last year, Cox ran 1st and 3rd with Mandaloun and Essential Quality. Florent Geroux is confirmed to ride Cyberknife after being given the choice of the two or three expected Cox starters in this year’s Derby. In addition to Mandaloun’s victory last year, Geroux steered Gun Runner to a 3rd place finish in the Derby in 2016. Even though he won via DQ, Mandaloun’s strong second-across-the-wire effort last year came in large part due to the training efforts of Brad Cox and a decisive ride by Florent Geroux. Cyberknife’s pedigree suggests 10 furlongs through and through. He is by Gun Runner, the hottest stallion in the country, who is expected to have three Kentucky Derby starters from his first crop. A Horse of the Year in 2017, Gun Runner never missed the board going 1 ¼ miles. On the damside, Cyberknife is out of the multiple stakes winning mare Awesome Flower, who did most of her racing around two turns and across multiple surfaces. She is by Flower Alley, a Derby participant in 2005 who later went on to win the Travers.
Cyberknife has shown drastic improvement in his most two recent starts, and as previously mentioned, peaking at the right time has been the tendency of many recent Derby winners. I struggle to figure out if he can match the leading contenders, but this year’s Kentucky Derby does seem to be a bit wide-open which certainly helps Cyberknife’s cause. I’m also not certain he’s one to use underneath; he feels like a bit of a boom or bust type. If he can get the right trip and can take one more step forward from his Arkansas Derby victory, he’s a player. If not, expect to see him flailing through the Churchill Downs stretch.