Derby Trail Update – 2/1/22 – By Eric Solomon

 

Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

 

 

Arkansas Action

My knock on Newgrange going into the Grade 3 Southwest on Saturday 1/29 was that he started his career with two races where everything went his way. Both races were strong efforts, winning on debut at Del Mar and then winning the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in his second try. However, he had easy leads in both races and it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen in this race. That was absolutely the case, as he was wide most of the way and was under a vigorous ride from just outside of the ⅜ pole. However, he continued to grind on, hitting the front and pulling away late from Barber Road and Ben Diesel. He earned an 89 Beyer figure for that effort, but no points toward entry in the Derby, as horses that are trained by Baffert are still ineligible to earn Derby points. It was definitely a gritty effort, the kind that you like to see from a young horse. However, I’m not sure I’d classify his race as spectacular either. Regardless, he’s an undefeated, two-time Grade 3 winner, and he’ll certainly be one to beat in his next start, wherever that may be. Barber Road continues to run hard and pick up minor awards in these races, closing from near the back of the pack to get into second. Ben Diesel ran an improved race off his last two starts, but could do no better than third when getting the run of the race. Dash Attack, the winner of the Smarty Jones earlier in the month, was a disappointing 5th in this race, never really having an impact. 

There were two maiden special weight races for three year olds on the undercard at Oaklawn, both producing some horses that look to have some potential. Favorite Outlaw won the 7th race impressively, earning a 95 Beyer for the six furlong contest. He’s sired by Maclean’s Music, so I’m not convinced he’ll be able to carry his speed over a route of ground. However, he may get the chance based on that big effort. Race 11 was a 1 Mile and 1/16 race, which was the maiden breaking score for Ethereal Road, trained by D. Wayne Lukas. This son of Quality Road blew the break and was 16 lengths behind the leader at the first call. He closed a lot of ground, swung five wide off the turn, and powered home a four length winner. The final time was a little slow for the 1 Mile and 1/16 distance, but the performance was visually striking from this improving colt.

Speaking of D. Wayne Lukas, he had another impressive winner on the Saturday program, when Secret Oath blew the field away in the Martha Washington Stakes for three year old fillies. She sat in 4th place, while Optionality set a dawdling pace while loose on the lead. Secret Oath drew even with the frontrunner on the turn and blew her away, drawing off to win by 7 and ¼ lengths, earning an 88 Beyer Speed Figure. That’s her second huge race in a row on this oval and she figures to be a very short priced favorite for the Grade 3 Honeybee here next month. I bring her up in this section because she is trained by the same trainer who saddled the last filly to win the Kentucky Derby (Winning Colors in 1988). We really haven’t seen many fillies try to tackle the boys since the Derby Points system was put into place. However, this could be the year where that changes. There’s no current standout with the males and four of the Derby Points races so far this season were won by horses that are currently ineligible to compete in the Derby. If she would go on to win the Honeybee in impressive fashion, she would be guaranteed entry into the Kentucky Oaks with their points system. Who’s to say Lukas wouldn’t be tempted to try her in a race like the Arkansas Derby after that to see if she could stack up against the boys in Louisville? If she failed, the Oaks certainly isn’t a bad race to fall back to. The same could be said for Steven Asmussen’s Echo Zulu, who is scheduled to make her 2022 debut in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the Fair Grounds on 2/19. I think that’s an under the radar storyline that could be worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks if these fantastic fillies continue to fire. 

Notable Performances from Coast to Coast:

While racing at Aqueduct was canceled this past weekend, there were some runners that could be stakes bound that ran in Florida. On Saturday, 1/29, there were two different maiden special weight races for three year olds on the Pegasus World Cup undercard. Happy Boy Rocket won the 2nd race at 1 Mile 1/16 , despite breaking from a wide post in that contest. He earned a Beyer figure of 81 for his first two turn journey for Bill Mott. $550K purchase, Swing Shift won on debut at seven furlongs in Race 4 that afternoon for Todd Pletcher. He earned a 79 Beyer figure after covering the 7/8 of a mile in 1:24:53.

Todd Pletcher also sent out Emmanuel in an optional claiming/N1X allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday 1/30. He was an easy winner, powering away late after Glider, a maiden winner on Tapeta at Gulfstream on 1/6, pulled even with him. Emmanuel earned a strong 89 Beyer figure for that effort, which should make him a viable contender for a race like the Tampa Bay Derby on March 12th.

On the West Coast, Santa Anita ran the Grade 2 San Vincente on Saturday 1/29, a race in which Bob Baffert trained 60% of the field for the same ownership group. I was surprised to see Forbidden Kingdom, trained by Richard Mandella for MyRacehorse, get to the front on an uncontested lead. I thought for sure McLaren Vale was entered in that race to avoid that very situation. The five horse contest turned into a merry-go-round race where no one changed positions throughout the race. The pace was decent, and the final time of 1:22:75 for the seven furlong trip earned Forbidden Kingdom a 94 Beyer figure. He’s pointing to the two turn San Felipe Stakes next month, to see if he belongs on the Derby Trail. He’s sired by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, but his dam did her best working sprinting. We’ll see how he fares at longer distances, but he’s certainly earned the opportunity to try off this impressive effort.

 

What To Watch For This Week

It’s a huge weekend for horses pointing toward the Derby as there are Derby Points races being run in New York, Florida, and California on Saturday. Those races will all be drawn tomorrow, and we’ll have horse by horse coverage of each one on the blog. During the week, there’s a few horses of note running that still have time to blossom into a horse that could make some noise on the Derby Trail.

On Thursday 2/3, Aqueduct brought back a one mile maiden special weight race (Race 1) for three year olds that was canceled last week due to inclement weather. Long Term was 1-5 on the morning line in that race for Todd Pletcher when he was slated to face four rivals. This son of Curlin already has a strong nine furlong effort where he just missed. He cuts back to the mile here in a race that became slightly more interesting when John Terranova entered Improper, who appears to be the main threat in his second time out. He was third beaten ten lengths in his debut three weeks ago. He was wide on a day where you wanted to be closer to the inside on the course.

Race 9 on Friday 2/4 at Gulfstream offers an optional claiming/allowance race at one mile headlined by American Icon (35-1, Circa). He was a dominating maiden special weight winner in his debut on 12/26 and he was flattered when the third place finisher, Happy Boy Rocket, came back to beat a solid maiden group last weekend. He’s a $400K son of Gun Runner out of a Sky Mesa mare, campaigned by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher has been more dominant than usual at this Gulfstream meet, winning with 38% of his starters thus far, so it’s not surprising that he also trains the main contender, Iron Works. This son of Distorted Humor was a strong debut winner at six furlongs last month. A strong performance from either could easily get them in the starting gate for the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5th. 

 

 

 

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