Over the last two weeks, there have been three Derby Points races for two year olds across the country. On December 17th, they ran the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in Southern California and the Remington Springboard Mile in Oklahoma. On December 26th, the Gun Runner Stakes launched the Derby Trail series at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Of this trio of races, I saw the biggest story as the development of Brad Cox’s Derby contenders. While Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert are holding the aces right now with a group of promising two year olds that are waiting to map out their three year old campaign, Brad Cox continues to have horses run big races, leaving him with several horses that are moving on to the next step of their Derby preparations.
Jace’s Road rebounded from a disastrous effort in bad weather at Churchill Downs in the Street Sense Stakes to take the field gate to wire in the Gun Runner Stakes. He’s a two year old son of Quality Road that fetched $510K at the Keeneland September Sale in 2021. He earned a career best 93 Beyer for his 5 and ½ length victory with Florent Geroux in the irons. That was a significant jump in speed figures from his first two races, so he looks to be developing into the horse that his connections had hoped he’d be when they shelled out over a half-million dollars for him. He certainly had things his own way in this race, setting moderate fractions on an uncontested lead. He drew off nicely in the stretch though, and will likely be under consideration for some of the other races in the Fair Grounds series, such as the Lecomte next month or the Risen Star in February. His win earned him ten Derby points, giving him a total of 13 at this time.
I was surprised to see that Mark Casse’s Determinedly was sent off as the even money choice in this race. He was coming off a dominating performance in a seven furlong maiden special weight race at Churchill. He lost the photo for second to longshot Raise Cain, both finishing over five lengths behind the winner who was wrapped up late.
While Brad Cox did not have the winner in the Remington Springboard Mile, I think he saddled the most interesting horse in that race moving forward. Wildatlanticstorm won the race, earning a 94 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory. He stalked the pace from his outside post and Leandro Goncalves made his move to the front off the final turn. He surged to the front and held off Cox’s Giant Mischief, who was sent off as the favorite. He spotted the field a few lengths and cost himself good early position after breaking poorly from the gate. He came with a nice middle move and re-broke late after appearing like he was flattening out. I thought despite the self-inflicted trouble, he ran the best race, losing by 1 ¼ lengths. Cox is often well-represented at Oaklawn and the Fair Grounds, so we’ll see where this son of Into Mischief lands next. Wildatlanticstorm appears to be headed to New Mexico for trainer Ray Ashford with his main target being the Sunland Derby on March 26th. One important note for this race moving forward is that both the winner and runner-up ran with Lasix in this race. As a result, neither was eligible to earn the 10 and 4 points they could have been entitled to. That will be worth watching for both runners as they progress in 2023, as Lasix will not be permitted in any of the graded stakes on the Derby Trail.
Over at Los Alamitos, Bob Baffert sent out 60% of the field while trying to win the Los Alamitos Futurity (formerly the Hollywood Futurity) for the 14th time. However, Tim Yakteen, the trainer who took over the training of Taiba and Messier for the 2022 Kentucky Derby, is officially on the Derby Trail with a horse that he’s trained from the start, Practical Move. He’s an improving son of Practical Joke, who crossed the finish line for the first time in this race. He broke his maiden in a two turn race at Santa Anita in October, however, that win was via disqualification. Despite having a pedigree that might suggest he’ll have some distance limitations, his two best efforts have now been at two turns. He won this race by 3 ¼ lengths, relaxing comfortably off the pacesetters. He earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure for his win, however it’s worth noting that Brisnet Speed Figures, had his effort rated at 105. Conversely, they had assigned Wildatlanticstorm a 92 for his win at Remington, suggesting they feel that the effort Practical Move was significantly better. The Sham Stakes next weekend at Santa Anita likely comes back a little too quick, so I’d expect to see him make his next start in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February.
Arabian Lion was the huge disappointment in this race as the most promising runner of the Baffert trio. He stopped badly, fading to last of five, potentially having a bleeding issue in the race.