Derby Trail Update – 3/29/22 – By Eric Solomon

It’s getting to be crunch time in terms of preparing for the Kentucky Derby. Most horses are making their final races leading up to the Derby, which is just 38 short days away. There were three preps last weekend and three more big ones coming up this weekend. Epicenter threw his hat in the ring to be installed as the Derby favorite after his Louisiana Derby score. Meanwhile, in Dubai, Japanese based Crown Pride earned a chance to come to America to compete in our country’s most prestigious race. The owner/trainer/jockey team that brought you Derby winners I’ll Have Another and Nyquist look to be headed back to Louisville to try to complete the team trifecta with Slow Down Andy after his score this weekend in New Mexico.

 

 

Epicenter Rolls Again

When previewing the Louisiana Derby, I pondered if Steve Asmussen would try to get Epicenter to change tactics and rate instead of doing the heavy lifting on the front end. After all, by winning the Risen Star in February, his Derby berth was already secure. I still wondered if they would mess with a winning formula in a $1 million dollar race. When the gate opened, Epicenter broke very sharp, but Rosario sat chilly, not asking him to take the lead. Meanwhile, Florent Geroux and Zozos took the initiative and set the early tempo. I’m not sure if Rosario wanted to down on the inside, or if he was relegated to that position when Pioneer of Medina shifted in a bit as they were approaching the finish line for the first time. However, Epicenter was in uncharted territory when taking dirt in the face for the first time, sitting in third down around the turn and down the backstretch. 

Epicenter looked to be running very comfortably down the backstretch. On the turn, Rosario tipped him out off the rail and on the attack. He easily passed Zozos and drew off, winning by 2 and ½ lengths on the wire, covering the 1 mile and 3/16 in 1:54:38. The final time was a track record over a very glib course, and while that sounds great, it’s not a very common distance to be run at the Fair Grounds. However, the winning Beyer speed figure was 102, which is the second best figure thus far in a Derby prep race, bested only by Messier earning a 103 in the Robert Lewis. 

Zozos ran a big race in only his third career start to be second. He has been very good at two turns, despite having a pedigree that would suggest he’d be best suited to go one turn. He has emerged as the best hope for Brad Cox to win the Derby on Derby Day this year. His 40 points earned from this race should be enough to get him there if that is the will of his connections. Pioneer of Medina also put forth a solid effort in defeat. He ran off prior to the race, but still ran well, finishing 4 and ½ lengths behind Epicenter. His 25 points points him squarely on the fence at this point to make the Derby.

Japan Continues to Roll

On the international scene, Japan continues to send out horses that are winning premier races on the biggest days of racing across the globe. Crown Pride continued that trend at Meydan when winning the UAE Derby as a part of the Dubai Racing Carnival. He won by 2 and ¾ lengths over a large, 16 horse field. He sat a decent trip, a bit wide, but in the clear most of the way. He ranged up on the outside, and eventually grinded past Summer Is Tomorrow without changing leads. He now has three wins at nine furlongs or longer in four career starts, so the distance doesn’t seem to be a question mark going into the Derby. However, whether or not he’s good enough is another question. I didn’t see this as a deep race despite the large field, and the race came back on the slow side, even on a course that was not playing fast. He’ll be one I’ll be closely watching to gather more clues as he ships here and begins his final preparations at Churchill Downs.

 

Andy Battles Back

The Grade 3 Sunland Derby returned in 2022 after a two year hiatus, attracting a modest field of eight, headlined by Los Alamitos Futurity winner, Slow Down Andy. I was surprised to see both Slow Down Andy and Straight Up G engaged in a hot and heavy speed duel, ripping off the opening half mile in 45:35 and six furlongs in 1:09:54. The final ⅜ of a mile slowed down considerably though as Mine That Bird Derby winner, Straight Up G stopped badly and Slow Down Andy assumed command. Bye Bye Bobby appeared to be poised to blow by, but he drifted out badly off the turn. The two slugged it out with Slow Down Andy battling back and securing the ½ length score. The 1 Mile and ⅛ race was completed in 1:50:16

Reddam Racing, Doug O’Neill, and Mario Gutierrez teamed up to win the Derby with I’ll Have Another and Nyquist, and now they get to return to Louisville with a son of Nyquist. Slow Down Andy earned an 86 Beyer Speed Figure for his effort, which puts him markedly below the top contenders. However, you can’t win the Derby if you don’t qualify to get into the starting gate, and he’s one of a few that can say they’re in right now. 

Bye Bye Bobby ran a career best effort to narrowly lose a race that by all accounts, he should have won. Maybe he’s still a little green, but nine furlongs might be at the outer edge of his capabilities. Todd Fincher is planning on sending him to Kentucky to compete in the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland in three weeks. A win there should put him over the top to qualify for the Derby.

 

Baffert Horses to Yakteen and Brisset

Off the track, one of the big Derby related stories this past week was the announcement that some of Bob Baffert’s better runners will change barns in order to try to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Messier, Doppleganger, and McLaren Vale will go to Tim Yakteen, while Blackadder will join the Rodolphe Brisset barn. Doppleganger is en route to Oaklawn to run in the Arkansas Derby this weekend. Messier appears to be headed for a showdown with Forbidden Kingdom in the Santa Anita Derby next weekend. Meanwhile, the winner of the El Camino Real Derby, Blackadder, will add intrigue to the Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Tapeta at Turfway this weekend. 

 

Coming Attractions

Three more 100 point Derby Points Races will be run this Saturday. The Grade 1 Florida Derby puts a bow on the Championship Meet at Gulfstream. Derby Prep race winners, Classic Causeway, Simplification, and White Abarrio appear to be a collision course there. The Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park will feature a showdown between the exciting filly, Secret Oath and the up and coming colt, We The People. The Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks is the signature race of the winter meet at Turfway Park. Tiz the Bomb and Stolen Base look to renew their new rivalry after a bang bang finish in the Battaglia Memorial last month. They’ll be joined by El Camino Real Derby winner, Blackadder. We’ll have a complete horse by horse run down off all three races this weekend here on the Kentucky Derby Blog at In The Money. 

 

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.

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