Last week three new potential Kentucky Derby contenders made the scene. If you missed any of the action, check out last week’s installment for replays, Brisnet charts and links to recaps.
This week kicks off three weekends that will see most of the high-profile contenders try to solidify their positions. With the injury and sideline of favorite Unique Bella, the Kentucky Oaks picture has changed completely.
The final pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager opens today at noon and closes on Sunday at 6pm ET. Be sure to check out our post for entries, odds, free Brisnet PPs in addition to considerations for play and historical payouts.
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: Always Dreaming Exits Florida Derby in Good Order
Blood-Horse: McCraken Makes It Look Easy in Four-Furlong Move
Blood-Horse: Valadorna Undergoes Successful Surgery
Blood-Horse: Valadorna Injured, Will Miss Kentucky Oaks
DRF: Girvin, with Louisiana Derby won, now focuses on Kentucky
Paulick Report: One Liner To Arkansas Derby, Battalion Runner To Wood Memorial
Brisnet: Petrov, Silver Dust breeze for Arkansas Derby
Keeneland: Undefeated McCraken Slated to Work Sunday Morning for Blue Grass
Blood-Horse: Iliad Records Final Santa Anita Derby Workout
Blood-Horse: Tapwrit Tunes Up for Blue Grass Stakes
Blood-Horse: Baffert Could Send Three to Santa Anita Derby
Blood-Horse: Knee Chip Knocks El Areeb Off Derby Trail
Blood-Horse: Unique Bella Sidelined Due to Shin Issue
Blood-Horse: Classic Empire to Arkansas Derby After Impressive Work
Blood-Horse: Haskin’s Derby Dozen – March 28, 2017
Brisnet: McCraken Stretches Out in Keeneland Work
Brisnet: El Areeb posts penultimate work for Wood Memorial
DRF: Santa Anita Derby: going home again
DRF: Derby contender El Areeb injured, will miss six months
DRF: Santa Anita Derby: Baffert plans three starters
DRF: Derby Watch: Asmussen shifts focus back to 3-year-olds
DRF: Kentucky Derby: Who’s hot, who’s not for March 29
DRF: Japanese runner in Kentucky Derby unlikely
DRF: Road to the Derby: Sunland Derby analysis
DRF: Road to the Derby: Spiral Stakes analysis
TDN: Sore Shin Sidelines Unique Bella
TRC: Pletcher’s Master Plan worth keeping in mind for the Belmont after UAE run
Gulfstream Park Oaks
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
2017 Gulfstream Park Oaks Replay
2017 Gulfstream Park Oaks News & Recaps
DRF: Salty secures spot in Kentucky Oaks by dominating Gulfstream Park Oaks
TDN: Quality Road Filly Much the Best in Gulfstream Park Oaks
2017 Gulfstream Oaks Preview
Returning from the one-turn, one-mile Grade 2 Davona Dale are runner-up Jordan’s Henny, third-place finisher Summer Luck, and fourth-place finisher Modacious. Of the three fillies, Modacious was losing the most ground late, but third-up off a break could see her move forward here. There’s also positive back class for Modacious given that Ghalia, the filly that she was gaining on late in her seasonal opener, recently won the listed Sunland Park Oaks. Always on or near the lead in the Davona Dale, Jordan’s Henny gamely prevailed to finish just a half-length behind the winner Miss Sky Warrior. A sharp workout indicates she may also continue to improve in this second-up contest. Summer Luck closed best of all in the Davona Dale, and stretching out in distance around two turns should only benefit this daughter of Grade 1 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky. Her unraced dam is a daughter of 12-furlong Grade 3 Bewitch victress Cymbala, so whether or not she possesses the stamina necessary to hit the board again here should not be an issue.
Making her first start off a two-month break, 7-furlong Grade 2 Forward Gal winner Tequilita could be a little rusty, although a super-sharp 4-furlong bullet workout suggests otherwise. As a juvenile, she narrowly missed breaking her maiden at Laurel going one mile; the filly that beat her that day, Dancing Rags, went on to win the Grade 1 Alcibiades. In the Forward Gal, she defeated Grade 1 Spinaway victress Pretty City Dancer, so there’s excellent back class in this daughter of 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont winner Union Rags. Tequilita also possesses a solid damline stamina pedigree. Her Grade 2-winning dam Sangrita is a half-sister to 10-furlong Grade 1 Suburban victor Offlee Wild, while her second dam is a half-sister to acclaimed stamina sire Dynaformer.
Both Todd Pletcher-trained Nonna Bella and Mark Casse trainee Salty take a big step up in class, but pre-race buzz could make either one of the post-time favorite. Both began their careers in the same maiden race, with Nonna Bella holding off the late-closing Salty to win by a neck. For that effort, both were awarded a Brisnet speed figure (96) that far exceeds the numbers posted by all the other entrants in this race. While neither has yet to race beyond 7 furlongs, the stamina indicators in their pedigrees are excellent. Daughter of 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers winner and 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont runner-up Stay Thirsty, Nonna Bella is a half-sister to 9-furlong Grade 1 Wood Memorial victor Outwork. Salty, the daughter of three-time 9-furlong Grade 1 winner and 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up Quality Road, should particularly be closing well under jockey Joel Rosario.
Still a maiden after seven starts, Conquest Sorceror has not demonstrated the kind of speed on dirt or turf that suggests she can yet compete at this level. However, one key race on her resume makes her worth at least a second look. Under the tutelage of trainer Mark Casse last August, she finished fourth in a one-mile turf race at Ellis Park behind subsequent listed Happy Ticket winner Majestic Gale, listed Silverbulletday runner-up Wicked Lick, and Queen Bernardina, who’s ended up in Saturday’s Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. Sold for $65,000 in November at the Conquest Stables dispersal sale, she hasn’t yet broken through for her new connections, but even posting a sharp 5-furlong workout and taking her blinkers off hardly suggests she can step up here.
A wire-to-wire maiden winner at Tampa Bay last out, Spring Mist posted a 92 Brisnet speed figure in that race, a number seemingly out of character for her. It was an odd contest, with only four entries and the heavy favorite, Todd Pletcher-trained first-time starter Moana, finishing second, a clear two lengths back of the winner. Spring Mist will get no such clear path with eight other runners here, including fillies who have already demonstrated a good deal more speed.
Claimed for $25,000 out of her juvenile debut on dirt last November, Shezaprado has since only been tested on grass by trainer Michael Maker. Given that she’s the daughter of 10-furlong turf Grade 1 Secretariat winner Paddy O’Prado that’s not a surprising move, but remember that her sire was twice Grade 1-placed on dirt, including a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Her immediate damline also features solid dirt performers, including 9-furlong Grade 2 Peter Pan winner Charitable Man and Grade 2 Risen Star runner-up Code West. If she wins or even hits the board, it will be a major upset.
Fair Grounds Oaks
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
2017 Fair Grounds Oaks Replays
2017 Fair Grounds Oaks News & Recaps
DRF: Farrell is fabulous fun in 4th straight victory, headed to Ky Oaks
TDN: Malibu Moon’s Farrell Simply Too Good in FG Oaks
2017 Fair Grounds Oaks Preview
The top two finishers from the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, wire-to-wire winner Farrell and runner-up Majestic Quality, as well as fourth-place finisher Wicked Lick, return to face five new competitors. Undefeated in her last three starts dating back to last November’s Grade 2 Golden Rod, Farrell shows no signs of regression and should rightly be the post-time favorite. In her two most recent starts, Wicked Lick has finished well behind Farrell; nothing indicates she will fare any better this time around.
At nearly 24-1, maiden Majestic Quality was a big surprise running on well late, but she was still unable to catch a geared-down Farrell in the Rachel Alexandra. Her most recent workout was solid, so it’s odd that jockey Kent Desormeaux jumps off his brother Keith’s horse in favor of another mount in this race, Neil Drysdale-trained Vexatious. Desormeaux has been Vexatious’ regular rider, which perhaps indicates that the veteran jock knows exactly which filly may be best suited to get the job done here. Vexatious broke her maiden last November, defeating Majestic Quality by a head. Her sophomore debut was a solid yet distant third-place finish against males in a 1 1/16-miles allowance optional claiming race at Santa Anita, so shipping her east for her second-up start was likely a strategic move by owner Calumet Farm to avoid superstar Unique Bella (who, unfortunately, has been taken out of training and will miss the Kentucky Oaks due to a shin injury). By known stamina sire Giant’s Causeway out of Grade 1 winner Dream of Summer, Vexatious is a full sister to Grade 1 winner Creative Cause and Grade 1 Belmont runner-up Destin, so she is beautifully bred for route races.
For Corporate Queen, this will be not only a step up in class, but also her first race beyond 7 furlongs. A daughter of 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers victor Colonel John out of a mare by 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont runner-up Vision and Verse, Corporate Queen has a strong stamina pedigree on paper.
Trainer Bret Calhoun sends out two early speed horses, Queen Bernardina and Daria’s Angel. Queen Bernardina is the more experienced filly, but she has had only one win in six lifetime starts. This will be her first start for Calhoun. Daria’s Angel was a speedy and impressive maiden winner last out at this distance, winning in wire-to-wire fashion by eight lengths after being eased up by jockey Florent Geroux. This is definitely a class jump for the daughter of 9-furlong Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Gemologist, but she has consistently demonstrated improvement in each of her three lifetime starts. Veteran jockey Robby Albarado takes over the mount from Geroux.
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
2017 Louisiana Derby Replay
2017 Louisiana Derby News & Recaps
DRF: Fair Grounds: Girvin does it again in Louisiana Derby
TDN: Tale of Ekati’s Girvin Doubles Up in FG Derby
2017 Louisiana Derby Preview
So far, most of the Kentucky Derby chatter has centered on undefeated McCraken, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire, and Fountain of Youth victor Gunnevera.
Absent from the top echelon of many Derby lists is Risen Star winner Girvin, who faces eight foes in Saturday’s Grade 2, $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
Is it because Girvin has raced just three times, all at Fair Grounds? Or is it his lesser-known pedigree? He’s a son of Take of Ekati, winner of such high-profile races as the Wood Memorial and Cigar Mile in 2008.
Girvin – who is named for Girvin, Texas, the hometown of owner Brad Grady – will be the talk of the trail if he dominates the 1 1/8-miles test with regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard. Still, there’s no pressure, as Girvin secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby field with 50 points from the Risen Star win.
Stuck on the rail in a field of 11 in the Risen Star, Girvin will break from a more appealing slot in post 8. The stalker should get a perfect pace set-up with speedy stablemate Hotfoot to his outside in post 9, although he’s indicated he can adjust to just about any scenario.
“He’s shown three levels of versatility, which to me, obviously with all the situations that are thrown at you on the first Saturday in May, that’s huge for us,” trainer Joe Sharp said in a national teleconference. “Having said that, we did put another horse in the Louisiana Derby to kind of ensure a good pace to run at. We were trying to develop a little pace because it seemed like it could be a one-horse-on-the-lead type of deal.”
Former jockey Rosie Napravnik, wife of Girvin’s trainer, Joe Sharp, exercises Girvin regularly and gave the colt noticeable accolades on Twitter.
“He’s as talented as any 3yo [three-year-old] I’ve ever sat on,” Napravnik tweeted on March 19.
Although this field is smaller than that of the Risen Star, it’s not one to take lightly. A few newcomers and a consistent locally-based runner are top challengers.
Trainer Todd Pletcher brings two recent maiden-breakers to try stakes competition. Monaco, a $1,300,000 purchase at the 2016 OBS March Sale, arrives fresh off a 12-length romp at Tampa Bay Downs. The son of Uncle Mo, sire of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, should be forwardly placed with the addition of blinkers. If that’s the plan, can he hold his speed for the added distance and stave off a tailgating Girvin ready to pounce? Jockey Rajiv Maragh is aboard for the first time.
Also for Pletcher is Patch, a winner at Gulfstream Park making just his third start since he began his racing career January 15. He’s in a tough spot on the rail, but that debut race was eye-catching; the colt lagged in ninth in the stretch of the 6-furlong sprint, then flew home to lose by a neck to Impressive Edge. In addition, this Calumet-owned and -bred colt gets jockey Tyler Gaffalione aboard for the first time. Gaffalione guided longshot Fast and Accurate to a win in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park last Saturday. Watch out.
One would be remiss to count out trainer Dallas Stewart in this Derby prep at Fair Grounds. Golden Soul rallied for fourth at 30-1 in the 2013 edition and went on to rock the tote board in the Kentucky Derby with a runner-up finish at 34-1. In 2014, Stewart’s Commanding Curve parlayed a third at 13-1 in the Louisiana Derby into a second-place finish at 37-1 behind California Chrome in the Run for the Roses.
This year, Stewart brings Hollywood Handsome, a prospect eerily reminiscent of his predecessors with his late-running style, his penchant for finishing in the money at long odds, and his affinity for off tracks. This is a steadily improving colt who could benefit from a hot pace up front.
Senior Investment appears ready for the move up in class off an impressive win in an optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park. The Kenneth McPeek trainee boasts a win over this surface, and his mid-pack/closer style could be a benefit in this pace scenario. Jockey Channing Hill seeks the back-to-back stakes double, as he’ll be aboard Farrell as usual in the Fair Grounds Oaks, run one race before the Derby.
Lecomte winner Guest Suite backtracked with a fourth-place finish in the Risen Star, but don’t check out on this talented gelding just yet. He endured some traffic trouble, rallied from far back and made up quite a bit of ground late under Robby Albarado. Keep in mind that this Neil Howard trainee was a solid third behind undefeated McCraken in the Street Sense and has yet to run a poor race.
“He’s an off-the-pace kind of horse, but he doesn’t get out too far back,” Howard said in the teleconference. “I think he was maybe a little further back in the Risen Star, but that just happened; that was circumstantial.”
Hotfoot could have some company on the early pace if Local Hero sticks to his front-running style. His third-place showing in the Risen Star was quite commendable, considering that he was making the jump from a maiden win. Trying to wire this field at the extended distance could be a challenge, however; where will jockey Florent Geroux spot the Steve Asmussen runner?
Sorry Erik, seventh in the Risen Star after two straight wins at Santa Anita, rounds out the field.
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
2017 Florida Derby Replay
2017 Florida Derby News & Recaps
DRF: Always Dreaming dominates Florida Derby to punch ticket to Kentucky; Gunnevera 3rd
TDN: Bodemeister Colt Gives Pletcher Fourth Florida Derby
2017 Florida Derby Preview
In a year without a standout performer on the trail to the Kentucky Derby, Gunnevera has found himself near the top of many Derby lists as we enter the final wave of prep races. Between his 2-year-old season and his performances in 2017, he is among the most experienced and accomplished of his class. He has four wins from eight career starts, including three graded stakes victories. His sire, Dialed In, won the 2011 Florida Derby and went on to finish eighth as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.
In his last race, Gunnevera won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in a come-from-behind performance by five lengths. Gunnevera faces a field of 11 and is the only runner in the Florida Derby field with a graded stakes win. Only three other entries have graded stakes experience, and two of those runners have performed poorly against graded company. The only thing not in Gunnevera’s favor is his post position. He drew the 11 hole, the outermost post position, a significant disadvantage at Gulfstream Park at the 1 1/8-miles distance, but his late running style might make the post less of problem. After he breaks from the gate, jockey Javier Castellano will likely let the horses to his inside pass while he guides Gunnevera towards the rail to avoid getting caught wide into the first turn. Considering the questionable competition, he doesn’t need a perfect trip to find the winner’s circle Saturday. If he wins, he’ll establish himself as one of the favorites to win the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has two entered, but Always Dreaming is expected to run and his second entry, Battalion Runner, is likely to scratch. Always Dreaming won his last start, a 1 1/8-miles allowance race at Gulfstream Park, where he set a dawdling pace and stopped the clock in an unimpressive final time. He is the only entry with a win at the distance and the second choice on the morning line among the expected starters. Pletcher won the Florida Derby in 2014 and 2015 with colts making their graded stakes debuts in only their third career starts. Always Dreaming will be making his graded debut in his fourth career start on Saturday. The trainer seems to have a formula, but Constitution and Materiality – his 2014 and 2015 winners — had better resumes going into the Florida Derby than his starter on Saturday.
Three Rules has five wins from eight career starts, three of those wins coming in Florida state-bred stakes last year. He narrowly missed a score in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes at 7 furlongs at Gulfstream Park in February. He ran a respectable third in the Fountain of Youth last out, where he set a solid pace and battled hard with second-place finisher Practical Joke deep into the stretch. The added distance in the Florida Derby will not be to his advantage. He is expected to be on or near the lead again, but the entries on Saturday include State of Honor, who set a fast early pace in his last two races. Three Rules has finished out of the top three just once in eight career starts, so he is a game runner. A win seems unlikely, but he should be in the mix early.
In his last two starts, State of Honor has a second- and third-place finish in graded stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. In his dirt debut earlier this year at Gulfstream Park, he ran off the pace and battled into the stretch to finish second in the one-mile Mucho Man Stakes. In his most recent races at Tampa, he led the field into the final turn but gave way in the stretch. He drew the number one post position, so he’ll need a quick jump out the gate if he wants to be on the lead into the first turn. It seems a tall order, but, considering the field outside of the favorite, he stands a chance at an upset should Gunnevera run into trouble or have an off day.
Talk Logistics finished third, a length and a quarter behind State of Honor, in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. Since then, he has run in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth where he finished 12 and 14 lengths from the winner. Those performances make him a deserving longshot. Where State of Honor has improved since they last met in January, Talk Logistics has regressed.
Impressive Edge jumped from a maiden win at Gulfstream in January to the Grade 2 Swale Stakes in February, where he finished a distant fourth. In his five career races, none beyond 7 furlongs, he has run close to swift early paces. He could be a pace factor along with State of Honor and Three Rules, but the leap from 7 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 1 Florida Derby appears an impossible task for this runner.
Charlie the Greek and Unbridled Holiday finished second and third behind Always Dreaming in a 1 1/8-miles allowance race at Gulfstream Park. The only remarkable thing about that race was the previously mentioned alarmingly slow pace and pedestrian final time. While the winner of that race will be among the favorites by default, these two will be longshots.
Coleman Rocky has been unimpressive in five career lifetime starts. Nothing in his past performances offers any inkling that he can compete even in a relatively weak edition of the Florida Derby. His lone win came in a maiden race over the turf at Aqueduct.
Quinientos finished 14 lengths behind Gunnevera in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. He is a deserving 50 to 1 on the morning line.
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