After a weekend of three extremely telling Kentucky Derby prep races, and 50-point races coming quickly, there’s no better time to take a look at how the crop has performed figures-wise to this point. We’ll analyze the Beyer Speed Figures on the prep winners, other points earning horses, and some high-profile risers set to make future starts on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. More importantly, we’ll look beyond the figure itself and see what it means for each individual horse as they try to progress towards the First Saturday in May. Let’s dive into it.
An important note that I imagine is becoming a little too repetitive at this point: None of the lists include horses that are ineligible to run in the Kentucky Derby as of now. I mainly did this to avoid bogging down the insight on horses we can confidently say are being pointed to the Derby. Also not included were horses not actively in training or on the Derby trail.
Points Paying Prep Race Winners (Beyers)
- 97 – White Abarrio (2/5, Holy Bull S. at Gulfstream Park)
- 90 – Mo Donegal (12/4, Remsen S. at Aqueduct)
- 90 – Smile Happy (11/27, Kentucky Jockey Club S. at Churchill Downs)
- 88 – Call Me Midnight (1/22, Lecomte S. at Fair Grounds)
- 87 – Epicenter (12/26, Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds)
- 85 – Slow Down Andy (12/11, Los Alamitos Futurity at Los Alamitos)
- 84 – Make It Big (12/17, Remington Springboard Mile at Remington Park)
- 81 – Rattle N Roll (10/9, Breeders Futurity at Keeneland)
- 78 – Early Voting (2/5, Withers S. at Aqueduct)
- 76 – Major General (9/18, Iroquois S. at Churchill Downs)
The list above compiles those who have won Kentucky Derby points races this season, are eligible for the race, and are also in logical positions to press on with the Derby trail. The first weekend in February definitely offered the opportunity for clarity on where the crop stands, and we got it in the form of White Abarrio‘s dominant win and 97 Beyer in the Holy Bull S. (G3). This was a 17-point improvement from a solid third place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) last out, and also visually was a career best. The most impressive factor in victory, however, may have been beating Mo Donegal, who’s 90 Beyer in the Remsen S. (G2) was the one of the highest numbers in a two-year old restricted two-turn race in 2021. Mo Donegal equaled that number in the Holy Bull, which initially suggests he may not have improved in his first start at three, however there were many factors which played against him in race that would explain said lack of improvement. All of this rightfully suggests that White Abarrio is on his way to being a leading Derby contender, but that win and strong Beyer may have benefitted one horse more than anyone — Smile Happy.
Smile Happy, who equaled Mo Donegal’s 90 Beyer last year in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2), soundly beat White Abarrio in that spot. In addition, Call Me Midnight, who’s 87 Beyer from the Lecomte S. (G3) showed a 14-point growth from two back and was good enough for fourth on this list, was an even further beaten 7th that day. Our transitive property goes even further, as the runner up in the Lecomte was none other than Epicenter, who’s Gun Runner S. (L) victory garnered an 87 Beyer, which he improved on by one in the Lecomte. What does this all mean? That Smile Happy is the clear-cut clubhouse leader on the Road to the Kentucky Derby right now. After posting one of the strongest Beyers for two-year olds in a two-turn race last year in a race he won comfortably, two horses he beat came back to improve on Beyers by leaps and bounds in their very next starts, suggesting that Smile Happy himself could be bound for a big race in the Risen Star S. (G2) two weekends from now.
One horse he’ll likely be facing that day is Slow Down Andy, the winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last time out. In his first effort going two turns he posted an 85 Beyer, a big improvement from his previous runs, but more importantly he beat Messier, who ran a crop-high 103 Beyer this past weekend in the Robert B. Lewis S. (G3). Could this suggest a big leap is coming for Slow Down Andy? Time will tell, but I’d feel a little more confident in a Smile Happy from a figures perspective heading into the Risen Star.
The one race from the past weekend we haven’t mentioned was the Withers S. (G3), won by Chad Brown’s Early Voting. This performance was by far the most perplexing one of the Derby trail to this point, as the son of Gun Runner romped away to a 4 1/2 length score over a quirky Aqueduct surface, but didn’t seem to beat anything of Derby quality in that spot. The intricacies grow further when you look at the numbers, as he posted a 78 Beyer, just a two-point rise from his maiden score, suggesting he’s a cut below his rivals around the country. However, TimeFormUS had a much different read and gave him a 109, which was two points higher than White Abarrio‘s 107 TFUS from the Holy Bull. When looking at this discrepancy, the only conclusion I can come to is that Early Voting is a legitimate horse at this rate, however it’s fair to question him once the waters get deeper and he needs to improve when those deeper waters come.
The final three points-paying prep winners to touch on are Make It Big, Rattle N Roll, and Major General. The 84 Beyer that Make It Big ran in the Springboard Mile (L) was higher than I expected given the slow final time of the race, compounded with the fact that some of the also-rans in that race have struggled in their next few starts, I have a hard time viewing him as a Derby contender. It’s hard to criticize the lower numbers the other two both posted (Rattle N Roll‘s 81 Beyer from the Breeders’ Futurity and Major General‘s 78 Beyer from the Iroquois S.) given two-year olds going two-turns early on in their careers historically post weaker figures. In addition to the fact they’ll be coming off substantial breaks into their next starts, therefore the figures should probably be dismissed until they run next.
Risers on the Derby Trail
- 94 – Forbidden Kingdom (1/29, San Vicente S. at Santa Anita)
- 94 – Nitrous Channel (2/5, MSW at Gulfstream Park)
- 92 – In Due Time (2/4, Allowance at Gulfstream Park)
- 90 – Simplification (1/1, Mucho Macho Man S. at Gulfstream Park)
- 89 – Emmanuel (1/30, Allowance at Tampa Bay Downs)
- 86 – Dean’s List (1/8, Allowance at Gulfstream Park)
- 84 – Morello (2/6, Jimmy Winkfield S. at Aqueduct)
The following encapsulates the highest Beyer Speed Figures of winning efforts in non-Derby points races. Forbidden Kingdom made a big mark with a zippy score in the San Vicente S. (G3) a few weeks ago, which came after a few defeats at the stakes level. This victory could’ve been the result of a few factors, one being an easy lead and the other being the lack of proven competition, but nonetheless he stopped the clock in a very quick time, good enough for a 94 Beyer. It’s hard for me to get a gauge on how good Forbidden Kingdom is based off this effort, but I imagine this figure will likely make him short-priced in any upcoming races.
Two colts made some noise at Gulfstream this weekend, most notably debut winner Nitrous Channel, who’s 94 Beyer is the highest figure for a first-time starter among colts in this crop. A son of Nyquist and a $625,000 two-year old in training purchase, this son of Nyquist sat a beautiful trip before drawing off professionally to beat a nice colt of Todd Pletcher’s. The performance caught my eye in a big way, and the number backed that up even more so. He’s probably a longshot to make the Derby given he’d have to cram races in to accumulate points, but with his talent the connections could definitely take that shot. In Due Time was the other riser this weekend, posting a 92 Beyer in an allowance score where he beat two highly regarded Todd Pletcher runners. This was his second start following a long layoff from his maiden breaking win, as he stretched out to a mile and won by almost six lengths, and easily secured him a chance at a points race next time out. He improved 18 points on Beyer Speed Figures, a very impressive leap that vaulted him up in some future wager pools. Although Pletcher got beaten with the two favorites there, I would think he came out of the race with some positive thoughts as his colt, Dean’s List, beat In Due Time by 4 1/2 lengths in January. Posting an 86 Beyer that day, the horse that ran second there ultimately came back to almost win the Swale S. at Gulfstream this past weekend, so the back class is uber-strong with this son of Speightstown. There could be questions about his ability to go long, but Dean’s List has the talent to do big things if given a chance on the Derby trail.
Another Todd Pletcher runner who’s efforts have Future Wager players chomping at the bit is Emmanuel. An undefeated two-for-two in his career, the son of More Than Ready is looking to take the tried-and-true method to get to the Derby of prepping at Tampa, which both of Todd Pletcher’s Derby winners have done. Emmanuel most recently ran an 89 Beyer in an easy allowance victory late last month, where once again he was facing much weaker but the class is apparent with him. He’ll have to prove his mettle in graded stakes company, but the sky is the limit.
There is only one horse in the crop who has ran three Beyer Speed Figures of 90 or above — Simplification. His victory in the Mucho Macho Man S. (L) two back saw him post a 90 Beyer, and he backed it up with a 91 Beyer in the Holy Bull S. (G3) this past weekend. On paper this is obviously encouraging, but when you look at what he had to overcome in the Holy Bull, there’s reason to believe that with a good start and being forced into a new running style he could’ve won the race and posted an even larger figure. Go back to his maiden breaking score, a 16-length powerhouse performance, he ran a 92 Beyer. On numbers alone you have to love this horse and keep him in mind for Future Wagers and upcoming races, because he keeps putting forward big races and bigger figures.
The final horse to cover is colt who has been hanging under-the-radar but has a chance to breakthrough big time in his next start. Steve Asmussen’s Morello, a son of first-crop stallion Classic Empire, put up an 84 Beyer in the Jimmy Winkfield S. (BT) at Aqueduct last weekend. With how weird the Aqueduct surface has been this year, it’s been hard to get a full read on horses running there, but this colt has been exceeding expectations numbers-wise. In addition, the female counterpart to this stakes saw the winner turn in a 64 Beyer. The victory for Morello was a 12-point improvement from his maiden score, a very respectable gain, and put him squarely in the conversation for the Gotham S. (G3) a month from now at Aqueduct. Two-for-two over the surface, strongly improving on figures, and stepping up just a furlong more while getting to stick to one turn, he has a chance to put in a massive effort and secure 50 points and a spot in the Derby starting gate in a months time.