The last major race in Kentucky until April for prospective Derby candidates was the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, run this past Saturday at Churchill Downs. A field of nine came together, with each entrant looking to gain ground on Forte, who will start the year as the Future Book favorite Kentucky Derby 149.
Instant Coffee was sent off as the 3-2 favorite while coming in off a 4th place finish in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last month. Curly Jack, who won the Iroquois Stakes on this course back in September, was the 5-2 second choice. As predicted, longshots Gigante and Cyclone Mischief set a dawdling pace on the front end. The field stayed bunched up behind them, with Curly Jack holding rail position in third, and Instant Coffee staying wide while racing near the back of the pack. When they turned for him, several horses were in contention, but Instant Coffee was moving the best late to win. Curly Jack had to wait for room before commencing his rally. He was able to hold on for second with a rallying Hayes Strike, who overcame a bad start to get into third.
Instant Coffee is sired by Bolt d’Oro out of the Uncle Mo mare, Follow No One. The final time for the 1 mile and 1/16 was 1:45:25, which was more than a second slower than the final clocking for Hoosier Philly in the Golden Rod Stakes for two year old fillies in the race prior to this one. The initial Beyer Speed Figure for Instant Coffee was a modest 82. His win gives him ten more Derby Points to add to the two points that he earned last out at Keeneland.
Going into the three year old season, this race validated the notion that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runners are currently at the top of the class and no one in this contest ran a race that would lead me to believe they are ready to beat a horse like Forte yet. The first eight finishers in this nine horse race finished within three and a half lengths of each other, suggesting that there isn’t a ton that separates these horses at this time.
On the positive side, Instant Coffee handled a field where the pace scenario was less than advantageous for the race he wants to run. That was only his third career start, so there is room for him to build off this winning effort. Cox typically keeps a string of horses at Oaklawn and a string of horses at the Fair Grounds over the winter months. I’d expect to see him end up in one of the Derby Points races at either of those tracks.
Curly Jack had some traffic trouble but he was able to get some running room along the rail at the top of the stretch. Perhaps he didn’t love being down inside, however, I think it’s more likely that Instant Coffee is just a little better than he is at this point. Coming out of this race, there’s no one that I’m rushing to lay a future bet on.
We’ll turn our attention to Aqueduct this upcoming weekend where they’ll run the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. Another 20 Derby Points will be up for grabs there. We’ll have that race preview posted Friday night or Saturday morning.