Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes – By Eric Solomon

Since the advent of the Derby Points System, this race has become the last chance for prospective Derby horses to get the needed points to gain entry into the Kentucky Derby. Right now, only one of the eleven starters has a legitimate chance to make it into the body of the field for the Kentucky Derby in three short weeks. Disarm (#6) was the runner up in the Louisiana Derby and is currently sitting in 26th in the points standings. A first, second, or third place effort in this race would surpass the points total for Reincarnate and Jace’s Road, both of which are sitting at 45 points in 18th and 19th place, respectively. Outside of him, no one in this field will be able to earn enough points to ensure entry into the Run for the Roses. 

While this a race that Charismatic put on the map as a Derby Prep back in 1999, some other notable runners have used this race to springboard themselves into a victory in a Triple Crown race. Touch Gold was the winner here in 1997 before finishing a tough luck 4th in the Preakness, but he would go on to score in the Belmont Stakes that year. Both Risen Star and Hansel won this race. They both failed to get the job done in the Derby, but would both go on to win both the Preakness and the Belmont.

There are a few lightly raced runners here that could use this race to catapult them to bigger races. Brad Cox sends out both Demolition Duke (#3) and First Mission (#5), both coming off a pair of strong efforts. Bill Mott will send out Empirestrikesfast (#8), who ran huge in his debut at Gulfstream. Post time for this race is scheduled for 5:16 (ET).

Keeneland, Saturday 4/15/23, Race 9: The Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes

40 Total Derby Points (20/8/6/4/2)

1 – Baseline Beater (20-1 ML): Like Disarm, he’s coming out of the Louisiana Derby, three weeks ago. He drew a tough post and didn’t have a great beginning that day. He was never involved in the outcome that day. He has gradually been improving, but he seems overmatched at this level. I’d prefer to see him in a N1X spot at this point.


2 – Reinvest (30-1 ML): Unlike Baseline Beater, this longshot has cleared the N1X condition, winning both of his career starts at Tampa. There aren’t a ton of N2X options for three year olds at the moment, so many horses like this are forced to enter stakes company to get a race in. This will be a significant class test for a horse that hasn’t really been tested yet. I do think this is a spot where he can move forward, but I think others are better at the moment.


3 -Demolition Duke (6-1 ML): He’s one of four horses making their stakes debut in this spot and one two horses sent out by Brad Cox. He came from off the pace to win on debut at the Fair Grounds back in February. Cox stretched him out to two turns where he met a very good horse in Bishops Bay. He was floated wide into the first time and conceded ground loss on both turns to the heavy 2-5 favorite. He was still finishing strongly and almost was able to get by his stablemate that afternoon. I think he ran the better race that day and I see him as a horse that could move forward once again in his third career start. Flavien Prat getting the assignment is a plus. Watch for him to get going late, which could be the right kind of trip with there being a lot of speed slotted to the outside part of the starting gate. 


4 – Transect (30-1 ML): This beautifully bred son of Curlin came into the Gotham undefeated, winning both career starts at Turfway. That was the first time on the main track, and it wasn’t particularly a strong effort. He should get dry footing today, and I do expect that he’ll be better at two turns. He’s another one that has cleared the N1X condition, so his options are limited at the moment. Much like Reinvest, I believe he’s going to improve off his last effort, but I don’t think he’ll able to improve enough to beat this group. 


5 – First Mission (3-1 ML): The other Brad Cox runner also made a positive impression in his first two starts in New Orleans. He was narrowly defeated by his stablemate, Bishops Bay when he debuted in a six furlong sprint. He was very game and both Brad Cox runners were well in front of their rivals that day. He stretched out to two turns for his second try to break the maiden and he was very professional while getting the job done there. He’ll make his first start against winners in a graded stakes race where there’s some other frontrunners signed on. While he was very good last time out, I have trouble with him as the favorite in this race. 


6 – Disarm (7-2 ML): No one has more riding on this race than this son of Gun Runner. He’s coming off a runner up finish in the Louisiana Derby. Clearly, there is a desire to have this one race in the Derby in three weeks, and in years past, a runner-up finish in a 100 point race would have all but guaranteed that spot. I can’t imagine that this was necessarily the plan for him  to race here in the interim, however, running in the Louisiana Derby instead of the Arkansas Derby likely afforded him that option. He was covered up for most of the way last time out, when he faced Kingsbarns, who was able to lope along on an uncontested lead. When he was able to run, he passed some tiring rivals, getting into second, but never making any serious headway on the leader. 

Disarm breaking his maiden this summer at Saratoga, Credit Coglianese Photos/Saratoga

7 – Denington (20-1 ML): He’s the third of three runners that ran in the Louisiana Derby last month, a race that had to be extremely disappointing for his connections. He’s one of three horses in the field sired by Gun Runner, so I’m sure the connections are hopeful that he’ll improve throughout his three year old season. However, nothing I’ve seen from him in graded stakes races to this point suggests he’s going to have a breakthrough here.  


8 – Empirestrikesfast (4-1 ML): He has one career start and one stong win over the talented colt, Dreamlike, when he broke his maiden at Gulfstream last month. Dreamlike would go on to be third, losing in a three horse photo in the Wood Memorial last week. I thought that was a tremendous effort in his debut, when he was dismissed at 23-1. He broke inside of Dreamlike, who was the 1-5 favorite, so he did cover less ground than the favorite. Both runners sat just off the pacesetter before they made their push to the front. Dreamlike took a half length lead on the turn, but Empirestrikesfast had a big time answer, drawing back ahead and never relinquishing the lead. That race looks even more impressive now after watching Dreamlike coming within a neck of winning a Grade 2 stakes race as a maiden. Frankie Dettori is going to ride for Bill Mott today. I see him as a very live runner in this race. 


9 – Prairie Hawk (15-1 ML): Of the horses with double digit odds on the morning line, this would be the one that I think is the most interesting. He cleared the N1X condition three starts back at Tampa, running well enough to earn a spot in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. He was dismal that day, but he rebounded nicely to be a game 4th behind Tapit Trice in the Tampa Bay Derby. He was wide every step of that way that afternoon, but he was still fighting to the very end. My concern with him is that I fear he’s going to get lost in the shuffle with some quicker horses to his inside and outside. I prefer others, but if his odds float up over his 15-1 morning line price, I could be tempted to include him on some of my tickets. 


10 – Curly Larry and Mo (50-1 ML): The longest shot on the board on the morning line has done his best work on the turf course. He broke his maiden in October on the turf course here and was able to draw into the body of the field in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Race the following month. He was last of 14 that day after making the lead and faltering badly. He employed similar tactics at Gulfstream, when making his 2023 debut last month. He wilted late to finish 5th after leading most of the way. His dirt races at the beginning of his career don’t inspire enough confidence for me to use him. 


11 – Arabian Lion (7-2 ML): Bob Baffert is sending out this $600K son of Justify in the hope of possibly having him ready for the Preakness next month. He was very good in one turn races last season, winning on debut and narrowly losing to Giant Mischief in allowance company here on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. He was bad at Los Alamitos when he failed as the heavy favorite in the Los Al Futurity in December. He came back to run ok in the Robert B. Lewis, but he still finished last when facing three of his stablemates. There’s a lot of other speed signed on, and he’s hung out in Post 11, with a host of other horses who could challenge for the lead. I’d prefer to see him go one turn instead of two. 



The Verdict: 3-8-6
I think the shorter prices are evenly matched on paper in this race, so I think there’s value in going back and watching the replays of their races. I thought both Demolition Duke (#3) and Empirestrikesfast (#8) were standouts in their two races and they’re the two runners that I’ll be putting on the A line in this race. I’ll give the slight edge to Demolition Duke because I think the pace could be very strong here. He closed well last time out, despite giving up a lot of ground. I think he’ll be flying late. 


Empirestrikesfast refused to give in when he finished in front of a very good horse in his first career start. It’s always a big ask for a horse to go from a maiden race to a graded stakes race in their next start, but for Bill Mott to enter him here, that tells me that he is very high on this son of Empire Maker. 


Disarm (#6) is worth playing from a motivation standpoint. He needed to finish in the money to make it into the body of the Kentucky Derby without having to rely on several defections or being stuck as an also-eligible. He was covered up for a good bit in the Louisiana Derby, so perhaps his late run was muted from being down on the rail. His two starts as a three year old have not come close to being as impressive on debut at Saratoga though. He’s in his third race off the layoff, so we might be seeing his best effort to date.


First Mission (#5) feels a little tough to swallow as the morning line favorite in this race. He’s one that I’ll use as a saver because I do think his two races were very good. I could upgrade him if his odds float up. Arabian Lion is one that won’t be on my tickets though. I think the Baffert factor will keep his price in the vicinity of his 7-2 morning line. I don’t love his draw and I think he’s going to wind up being more effective at one turn. 


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa,  Caesars-William Hill, or Westgate will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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