Derby Trail Update – 3/7/22 – By Eric Solomon

There’s a lot to unpack from this weekend after a fascinating quartet of Derby Prep races in New York, Florida, California, and Kentucky. The results this weekend were much more formful compared to last weekend when Un Ojo, was a 75-1 winner in the Rebel. Three solid runners, Morello, Simplification, and Forbidden Kingdom all punched their tickets to Louisville if their connections are so inclined. A familiar face, Tiz the Bomb, picked up some Derby Points on synthetic as well by winning the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway.



On to Two Turns for Morello

The first Derby Prep race of the day was at Aqueduct, where ten three olds traveled the one turn mile in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes. While I thought he was the most likely winner, even money on Morello was a tough price to take. When the gate opened, he broke inward a bit, and bumped with a few horses while trying to establish early position. He stalked the pace set by Todd Pletcher’s stretch out sprinter, Dean’s List. The pace was moderate on the front end, and when Jose Lezcano asked the question, Morello passed the frontrunner with ease, and was hand ridden to the wire, while easing up in the final 100 yards. He still beat this group by 4 and ½ lengths and earned a career top 96 Beyer. He appears to be headed for a showdown with Mo Donegal and possibly Zandon in the Wood Memorial next month, when we’ll see if this unbeaten son of Classic Empire can be as effective at two turns as he’s been at one turn. 

Dean’s List finished second, earning 20 points toward entry in the Kentucky Derby. I think he’s pedigree leans more toward one turn races. He really had no answer for Morello when he was headed. He was able to hold off the back markers, including stablemate Golden Code who closed into third. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him target a race like the Bay Shore on the Wood Memorial undercard, where as Golden Code might be worthy of another chance at this level in the Wood. 

The biggest disappointment from that race was the Baffert shipper, Rockefeller. He shipped to New York in November to take top honors in the Nashua Stakes at this same distance. He was bumped at the start of this race, but never looked comfortable on the course. He faded badly, finishing last of 10.


The Forbidden Flash

The smallest field of the weekend was the seven horse contest in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita. San Vicente winner, Forbidden Kingdom, was the morning line and post time favorite. Bob Baffert sent out Doppelganger and Armagnac to try to score his 9th career win in this race. 


Juan Hernandez was riding Forbidden Kingdom like a quarterhorse out of the gate, as he was able to use his brilliant speed to clear the field, despite aggressive early rides from Abel Cedillo on Happy Jack and John Velazquez on Armagnac. Frank Mirahmadi described the pace as “hot and heavy” on the front end, and a 22:66 quarter and 45:90 half mile certainly backed that up. As Armagnac began to fade, it certainly looked like this race would set up perfectly for the stablemate, Doppelganger, but Forbidden Kingdom is just the superior animal right now. He was tiring a bit, stopping the clock in 1:43:98, but almost six lengths better than Doppelganger. The final Beyer speed figure of 98 was the highest of the four Derby preps over the weekend. 


We know Forbidden Kingdom has dazzling speed, but he certainly showed that he can handle two turns with ease. No one really was close to him for the entire race. He sure looks like he could be the potential pacesetter in the Derby at this point. His performance caught the eyes of those out in Vegas, as he was bet down to the favorite in the future book over at Caesar’s/William Hill (6-1). He’ll likely need to show that he can handle the extra half furlong first in the Santa Anita Derby in four weeks. That could be the showdown between him and the winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Messier. However, who is going to be training that horse going into the Santa Anita Derby, with the looming suspension of Bob Baffert, will still need to be sorted out. 


Simplification’s Revenge


The Holy Bull looked tailor made for Simplification last month, but when he tossed his head at the start, he broke last which created a lot of trouble for him. Meanwhile, White Abarrio got the dream run that day and parlayed that trip to an easy victory. However, Simplification did prove that he could come from off the pace, when he rallied to be second that day. That newfound ability proved valuable in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. He didn’t get the perfect trip again on Saturday, as he was tucked in behind horses early, and forced to slingshot six wide. However, when he made his move, he had all of the momentum, and drew off powerfully by 3 and ½ lengths. This son of Not This Time stopped the clock in 1:44:04 and earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure in victory. 


In Due Time completed the Not This Time exacta, by coming from off the pace to finish second. He looked like he had a lot of run, but had to go in between horses. Paco Lopez, rode him aggressively to try to hit a hole that may or may not have been there. High Oak, who appeared to be backing out, clipped heels with another runner and went down, followed by his stablemate, Galt, tripping over him. Both horses were okay, and both riders were able to leave the track under their own power. No change was made in the order of finish, so In Due Time was able to keep the 20 points earned for finishing second.


87-1 longshot, O Captain came from out of the clouds to close well to be third under Javier Castellano. He was making his first start at two turns and his first start since finishing third in the Limehouse Stakes at six furlongs. After that performance, I think he would remain under consideration for the Florida Derby.


The post time favorite, Emmanuel was a little disappointing while finishing 4th, 5 and ¼ lengths behind the winner. The Trakus notes showed that with his wide trip, he traveled 229 feet farther than the favorite in this race, which equates to about 8-9 lengths. He was pretty much five wide all the way with an odd ride from Luis Saez. He earned five points toward entry into the Kentucky Derby. He’ll need a first or second place finish in his next start, which would likely be in one of the 100 point races, to be guaranteed to get into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. 


Tiz the Bomb is Back


The John Battaglia Memorial was the last of the ten point Derby Prep races this season, and it was contested at 1 Mile and 1/16 on the Tapeta surface at Turfway Park. When Animal Kingdom won the Spiral (now the Jeff Ruby Steaks) in 2011, it certainly legitimized the synthetic prep races as a serious Derby Prep.  Since then, some solid turf horses have come through Turfway, (Somelikeithotbrown, Field Pass, and Oscar Nominated to name a few), however, none of the recent winners of this race have been serious Derby threats. 


Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up, Tiz the Bomb, rebounded from a poor effort in the Holy Bull on the dirt to hold off Stolen Base in the late stages of this race. Tiz the Bomb definitely had the tougher trip, going three wide on the first turn and five wide on the second, but he kept grinding and his class helped him prevail. The final Beyer was an 82, which is far from anything to get excited about, but it was a solid effort that got Hit it a Bomb colt back on the right track. 


Back to Tampa


Next weekend will be the 8th consecutive weekend where a Derby Prep race will be run in North America, as the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby takes center stage. Classic Causeway looks to continue his winning ways after finishing first in the Sam F. Davis last month.  That field will be drawn Wednesday, and we’ll have the horse by horse analysis of that race and every other North American Derby Prep race on the ITM Blog.


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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