Derby Prep Alert
Derby Prep Alert

May 6, 2016Sponsored by BRIS, our Preferred Past Performance Provider

Sponsored by BRIS, our Preferred Past Performance Provider

Happy Kentucky Oaks day! The fields are drawn and the contenders are prepped, so let’s get right to it. Have a great time and cash plenty of tickets!

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News About the Contenders

Blood-Horse: Nyquist to Visit Pimlico Track Wednesday

Blood-Horse: Derby Winner Nyquist Arrives at Pimlico
Blood-Horse: Dazzling Gem, Fellowship Eye Preakness
DRF: Connections have tried to keep Nyquist fresh
Twinspires: Nyquist adds to Baltimore flavor, speed-laden Preakness being assembled

Blood-Horse: Exaggerator Well After Derby, on to Preakness
Blood-Horse: Kentucky Derby Race Sequence
Blood-Horse: Kentucky Derby Slideshow
Blood-Horse: Nyquist Greets Public After Win
Blood-Horse: Other Trainers Impressed with Nyquist
Blood-Horse: Preakness Field Beginning to Take Form
Churchill Downs: Cathryn Sophia Doing Well After Oaks Triumph
Churchill Downs: Sunday Morning Barn Notes – What’s Next for Derby Contenders
DRF: For Desormeaux, no shame in being second to the champ again
DRF: Gutierrez perfect again when it matters most
DRF: Few foes beaten by Nyquist in Kentucky Derby willing to try again in Preakness
Lexington Herald-Leader: What happened to the other 19 horses
TDN: Bryan Eager to Face Nyquist Again

Kentucky Derby Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs, Saturday May 7, post time: 6:34 pm ET
1 1/4 miles (10 furlongs)

2016 Kentucky Derby Replay

Download the 2016 Kentucky Derby Chart courtesy of our partners

2016 Kentucky Derby News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Nyquist Unrelenting in Kentucky Derby Victory
Churchill Downs: Kentucky Derby Jockey Quotes (pdf)
Churchill Downs: Kentucky Derby Trainer Quotes (pdf)
DRF: Nyquist silences critics, wins Kentucky Derby to stay unbeaten
DRF: Privman Recap: Nyquist stays perfect with Kentucky Derby victory

2016 Kentucky Derby Preview
It’s difficult to explain why this year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Derby feels like such a wide open betting affair compared to recent editions. Perhaps it’s simply that none of the post time favorites won any of the final set of preps.  Perhaps it’s that by any of the popular speed figure measures of the entrants, there is not much separating the very top and the very bottom of this 20-horse field.  Perhaps it’s because the final preps in California, New York and Florida were conducted on wet, off tracks, which often produce results that are difficult to assess.

Perhaps it’s simply that the morning line favorite and champion 2-year-old, Nyquist, doesn’t have the same buzz of inevitability following him that attached itself to recent popular Derby victors American Pharaoh, California Chrome and OrbNyquist is a deserving, if lukewarm, favorite who has been underestimated on the tote before.  He was not the favorite when sealing up champion 2-year-old honors with a win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  He was not the favorite when emphatically dispatching previously unbeaten Mohaymen in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.  It is difficult for an unbeaten horse to do more before the Kentucky Derby.  The lingering question is if this son of Uncle Mo, the 2-year-old champion in 2010 who was scratched the day before the 2011 Kentucky Derby, can get the distance, and this is the same question that was asked before the Juvenile and the Florida Derby.  As the distances have increased, he has handled them with class.  This is a tractable runner that has a high cruising speed.  He overcame a troubled trip in the Juvenile and was frankly just flat-out better than his rivals in the Florida Derby.  While a field of 20 often assures an honest pace, this field is mostly composed of off-the-pace closers and plodders, so working a decent trip is within his capabilities.  

Second choice on the morning line, Exaggerator has chased Nyquist home to no avail in three previous races.  In those efforts, Exaggerator attended the pace.  He has since changed his tactics.  In the Grade 2 San Felipe, he was taken off the pace back to last and closed to finish third.  In the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, he was again taken well back and closed strongly into a collapsing pace to win.  He’s won on dry and wet tracks, and he’s won at Saratoga, Santa Anita and Del Mar.  He’s even won at Delta Downs (on a muddy track).  He’s obviously very talented and he’s got enough gears to work out any kind of trip.  Can he turn the tables on Nyquist?

A trio shares the third choice on the morning line.  It took Creator six tries to break his maiden, but that can be excused by the nature of his all-or-nothing closing style.  Despite so many efforts to get to the winner’s circle for the first time, Creator has always been well-bet in the pools, having been the beaten favorite three times before breaking his maiden.  He started putting it all together this spring in Oaklawn, culminating with a win in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby that was tailor-made for his closing style with a hotly contested pace developing in front of him.  He has the feel of a runner who is putting it together at the right time, and his ability to close through traffic in both the Grade 2 Rebel and Arkansas Derby is a plus.

Gun Runner ruled the preps at the Fair Grounds with convincing wins in both the Grade 2 Risen Star and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.  He’s always been forwardly placed, and expect the same here.  However, he’s never met the kind of quality early pace and stalkers he will meet here, and do question whether his form is a little too pretty after some dream set-ups in his last two.  Mohaymen put together five straight wins including four straight graded stakes before running into Nyquist in the Florida Derby.  On his best, he’s more than capable of competing and winning this race.  However, he appears to have gone off form, and his winning effort in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth has since proved to yield no other runners of any consequence on the Derby trail.

Mor Spirit has a Grade 1 win to his credit, winning the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity at the tail end of his 2-year-old campaign and has never been worse than second from seven starts.  It’s not often that one can say that a horse with seven career starts still possesses some upside, but Mor Spirit certainly does as it’s hard to say we’ve seen his best effort yet.  He tends to dawdle and have trouble focusing when obtaining the lead in his races.  There are some races he’s run, particularly in the Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe, where it’s a wonder how he even finished second.  With 19 other horses in here, he has plenty to run at and focus on.  He has some tactical speed in a race where half the field has none, and that can only be to his advantage.

Brody’s Cause has won two Grade 1 races, both at Keeneland, closing mightily in the Breeders’ Futurity and the Blue Grass.  In both those wins, he had a track profile in his favor and an honest pace to run at.  He’s one of many all-or-nothing closing plodders in this field that has to have everything go his way up front for him to factor late.  He was not disgraced when third to Nyquist in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he’s hard to dismiss as one of only two multiple Grade 1 winners in the field.

Destin has not raced in 56 days, a rarity of a layoff even in this era of spaced-out Derby preps, having last been seen winning the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, a race in which he beat two subsequent Grade 1 winners in Brody’s Cause and stablemate Outwork.  He put it all together when winning the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis before that race, also at Tampa.  The addition of blinkers has surely helped, and his tractable running style is a plus, but the layoff is certainly a rather large question.  He’s difficult to back at his morning line price of 15-1.  Stablemate Outwork has shown early zip in all his races and expect him to attend the pace here.  He displayed real talent when staying on to win the Grade 1 Wood Memorial last out after setting a very fast pace.  While he’s still open to improvement, making just his fifth start here, we have to wonder if he will be a pace casualty to both Danzing Candy in front of him and Nyquist behind him.

Danzing Candy, winner of the San Felipe two back, has attained the lead by the first call in each of his last four starts, and it’s hard to envision that not happening here again, as he’s drawn all the way outside in post 20.  It takes a horse of exceptional quality to wire the Derby field.  Ultra-talented horses like Hard Spun, Bodemeister, Dortmund and Shackleford are just a few of the recent efforts to wire the field, only to fail.  Danzing Candy is talented, but do question if he’s any better than those aforementioned talents.

Suddenbreakingnews is another stone closer who has improved with each start from eight tries.  It’s very difficult for closers to put together three wins and four placings from eight tries, and despite his affinity for choosing the widest route for his closing kick, he’s one of the longer shots that you don’t want to be on the wrong side of should his morning line hold at 20-1.  Mo Tom won the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds in January and then scored some minor placings in the following two Louisiana preps.  He’s another one of the many closers in here who has an affinity for finding trouble in deep stretch, which is not a good habit to have in a race with 19 other horses.  My Man Sam is open to improvement, having only four starts to his form, but he’s another all-or-nothing closer in a race where there appear to be better closing options.  

Whitmore has two wins and both of those were at 6 furlongs.  His form is a little sneaky in that when he isn’t missing the break, he does have some tactical speed.  It would not surprise to see him more forwardly placed here.  Shagaf is another lightly raced wild card that is open to improvement.  While his victory in the Grade 3 Gotham was impressive, that race has not proven to be a key prep.  His subsequent effort in the Wood was flat, considering he was taken back off a hotly contested pace.  

Lani could be any kind and is certainly the mystery horse of this year’s field.  He won the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby in Dubai with an odd backstretch middle move that proved decisive, but the group he beat in Dubai was not particularly strong.  Expect him to be placed mid-pack, and whether he goes on is anyone’s guess, as there is not much form to go on.  Tom’s Ready’s lone win came in a maiden special weight at 7 furlongs last fall over this track.  He’s had his share of trouble lines and wide trips that hide the fact that he does have some comparatively early speed for this group, but that’s about all he should have for this group.  Majesto had been inconsistent in the maiden ranks before making the best of a good trip to finish second in the Florida DerbyMaiden Trojan Nation almost shocked in the Wood Memorial when his closing kick put him a head from the win.  Another deep closer, he has consistently taken small steps forward in each start despite never crossing the wire first.  Oscar Nominated will be making his first start on turf, having won the Grade 3 Spiral on a synthetic surface in his last.  His previous races do not make him competitive here.

Chris Rossi

Kentucky Oaks Kentucky Oaks

Churchill Downs, Friday May 6, post time: 5:49 pm ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)

2016 Kentucky Oaks Replay

Download the 2016 Kentucky Oaks Chart courtesy of our partners

2016 Kentucky Oaks News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Cathryn Sophia Gets Distance, Takes KY Oaks
Churchill Downs: Kentucky Oaks Jockey Quotes (pdf)
Churchill Downs: Kentucky Oaks Trainer Quotes (pdf)
DRF Live: Rapid Reaction – Kentucky Oaks

2016 Kentucky Oaks Preview
After the Santa Anita Oaks, undefeated four-time Grade 1 winner and Eclipse champion 2-year-old filly Songbird developed a low-grade fever requiring a course of antibiotics that unfortunately led to her defection from the 142nd Kentucky Oaks. Without her presence, a full field of 14 (and one also-eligible) will go to post in what promises to be a much more competitive and perhaps wide-open race than if she were running

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Rachel’s Valentina finished behind Songbird in that race last fall and is the pre-race favorite based as much on sentimentality as her actual accomplishments. As the second-born foal and only filly of champion mare Rachel Alexandra, many would like to see her repeat her dam’s breathtaking performance in winning the Kentucky Oaks. While she hasn’t posted her dam’s devastating margins of victory, Rachel’s Valentina has demonstrated promise, capturing the 7-furlong Grade 1 Spinaway last September and beginning her belated 2016 campaign with a narrow runner-up performance behind the late-closing 30-1 longshot Weep No More in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 1 Ashland. Like her dam before her Kentucky Oaks victory, Rachel’s Valentina has yet to be tested at the 9-furlong (1 1/8-miles) distance, but as a daughter of two-time 10-furlong Grade 1 winner Bernardini, she shouldn’t have a problem with the additional half furlong. More concerning is the relative lack of actual racing she’s done this season, although a series of sharp pre-race workouts indicates she may be ready for a big effort.

Another daughter of Bernardini, Lewis Bay has already twice won at 9 furlongs, capturing both the Grade 2 Demoiselle last November and, most recently, the muddy Grade 2 Gazelle. In between those races she finished a distant second to Cathryn Sophia in the one-mile Grade 2 Davona Dale; that effort can be excused for not only being her first start off a three-month break, but also at a distance just too short for her liking. Her dam Summer Raven was an accomplished Grade 3-winning juvenile whose other progeny include a pair of Grade 3-winning full-brothers (both by Unbridled’s Song), 7-furlong Grade 3 General George winner Misconnect and one-mile Grade 3 Holy Bull victor Winslow Homer, the latter who also won the 9-furlong listed Curlin Stakes. Everything suggests Lewis Bay has both the speed and stamina to become an Oaks winner.

A $1.15 million Keeneland juvenile purchase, Royal Obsession appears to be a filly on the rise, steadily posting increasingly higher speed figures since breaking her maiden at Churchill Downs last November. Her most recent effort, a runner-up finish to Lewis Bay in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Gazelle, indicates she possesses the sufficient stamina to become an Oaks winner. Her dam’s half-sister (by Unbridled’s Song) is 9-furlong Grade 1 Garden City turf victress Magnificent Song. Young Florent Geroux takes the reins for trainer Steve Asmussen.

The two other Asmussen trainees are just as talented and promising. Terra Promessa and Taxable finished one-two in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 3 Fantasy with a scant neck between them; here they will start from the extreme inside and outside post positions respectively. Two-time Grade 3 winner Terra Promessa drew the rail post. Since breaking her maiden going 1 1/16 miles over the Churchill Downs main track last November, she’s been unbeaten, albeit at times virtually unchallenged such as when she won the sloppy track 1 1/16-miles Grade 3 Honeybee by 6 1/2 lengths. Lightly raced stablemate Taxable gave her a run for her money in the Fantasy, as the two of them finished nearly 6 lengths ahead of the third-place filly Ready to Confess. In terms of pedigree, both Terra Promessa and Taxable possess proven stamina via their sires (Curlin and Tapit, respectively), but Taxable may hold an edge over her stablemate: her stamina-rich Giant’s Causeway dam is a half-sister to Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly. While the far outside post position 14 is unfortunate, it may not make that much of a difference with Songbird’s regular jockey, the wily veteran Mike Smith, taking the mount.

Weep No More’s victory in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 1 Ashland was a visual tour-de-force, as she romped from last to first in defeating more seasoned runners Rachel’s Valentina and the previously unbeaten two-time Grade 2 winner Cathryn Sophia. Honestly, it should not have been a surprise given her progressively improving form and speed as trainer Rusty Arnold stretched her out in distance. A daughter of two-time 10-furlong Grade 1 winner Mineshaft, Weep No More possesses stamina in spades. Her second dam, Kentucky Oaks winner Flute, also won the 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama in wire-to-wire fashion by nearly 5 lengths.

After initially stating they would bypass the Oaks, the connections of Cathryn Sophia reconsidered that decision after the defection of Songbird. The Maryland-bred daughter of two-time Grade 1 sprint victor Street Boss has already demonstrated plenty of speed in a stunning 12-length maiden win at Parx last October, in a devastating 16-length stakes victory at Laurel in December, and in winning both the 7-furlong Grade 2 Forward Gal and the one-mile Grade 2 Davona Dale earlier this year. She finished a mere half-length behind Weep No More and Rachel’s Valentina in the Grade 1 Ashland in her first route attempt, but it’s evident that her connections have concerns about her ability to get the Oaks distance. Her second dam Belterra won the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Golden Rod as a juvenile and finished a distant third, nearly 7 lengths back, of subsequent Kentucky Oaks winner Take Charge Lady in the Grade 1 Ashland. Still, even a razor-sharp 5-furlong workout probably isn’t enough to get Cathryn Sophia past some of the more stamina-rich fillies in the field.

Since last September, California-based Land Over Sea has finished behind Songbird five times in graded stakes. Trying to get out from under the champion’s shadow, her connections sent her east where she easily captured the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. From a pedigree standpoint, there are plenty of positive indicators, beginning with her sire Bellamy Road, who won the 9-furlong Grade 1 Wood Memorial and ran second to Flower Alley in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers. Land Over Sea’s half-brother War Story was twice Grade 2-placed going 9 furlongs, including a third-place finish in last year’s Louisiana Derby. Another half-brother, Draw Two, won at a 12-furlong turf allowance race at Keeneland. Her third dam Honest and True also captured the Fair Grounds Oaks before her third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. With the right mix of stamina and speed, Land Over Sea would be an apropos winner given her rival Songbird’s defection.

The other California invader is Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Mokat, an Uncle Mo filly who finished third in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 3 Santa Ysabel, 7 1/4 lengths behind winner Songbird and 3 1/2 lengths behind runner-up Land Over Sea. Her only win in seven career starts has come on turf, a surface that her connections should seriously consider for her future races. There’s also a real lack of stamina in her pedigree. Her half-sister Frolic’s Dream won the 7-furlong Grade 2 Forward Gal while another half-sister Frolicing finished second but was disqualified to third in the 6-furlong Grade 3 Azalea in her career finale.

Mo d’Amour has been twice tested at the 9-furlong distance and in both instances lacked the stamina to make an impact. Her last-place finish in the Grade 2 Demoiselle, 11 lengths behind Lewis Bay, could be excused by her lack of experience and bad racing luck, but after running well near the front in the Grade 2 Gazelle. she folded, hanging on to finish third but 8 1/2 lengths behind Lewis Bay and Royal Obsession. Based on the strength of her damside’s turf achievements, the grass may be in her future. Joel Rosario takes over the riding assignment from John Velazquez.

At 74-1, deep closer Venus Valentine shockingly captured the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra when a blistering speed duel caused the race to fall apart late, allowing her to cruise from last to first past a number of tired foes. With a more sensible pace set in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, she was no threat, finishing a distant 10 lengths back in fifth place. Trainer Tom Amoss is adding blinkers in an obvious attempt to get her involved earlier, but a lack of stamina in her pedigree indicates that they may not make much of a difference.

Go Maggie Go and Paola Queen finished one-two in the 1 1/6-miles Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, but only one of them has a real shot at hitting the board in Kentucky. An early speed horse, Paola Queen lacks the stamina to carry her one advantage for 9 furlongs. Go Maggie Go will be making only her third career start in the Oaks, which is clearly a concern. However, this daughter of 10-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic victor Ghostzapper has posted strong speed figures. A wet track significantly moves her chances forward.

On the opposite spectrum, Dream Dance is the most tested filly in the field with nine previous starts. Three times she’s been graded stakes-placed, but never closer than 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner. She barely won a 1 1/16-miles Keeneland allowance race last out, so even a sharp 5-furlong workout in preparation for this start suggests that this granddaughter of Grade 2 sprinter Katz Me If You Can is lacking the necessary stamina to hit the board.

If she draws in from the also-eligible list, Dothraki Queen also doesn’t appear to be a serious threat on form. Winner of last year’s 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Pocahontas, she finished a distant third, 7 lengths back, of Songbird in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Her juvenile finale was a disappointing effort in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 2 Golden Rod where she finished fourth, 10 lengths back of the winner, although she was moved up to third through Dream Dance’s disqualification. Off a nearly five-month break, she could only manage to beat two fillies in a 10-horse field going one mile on turf in the Grade 3 Appalachian. That said, her dam’s half-sister Blushing K.D. won the Kentucky Oaks while another half-sister Ambitious Cat won the 9-furlong Grade 2 Dance Smartly on turf.

Honestly, with such a competitive (and well-bred) field it’s hard to pick a winner here, but if you box these selections (after closely examining the contenders during the post parade and bearing in mind the track condition come post time), you’re likely to cash a winning ticket. Good luck!

Win: Lewis Bay

Place: Rachel’s Valentina

Show: Weep No More

Others for the exotics: Terra Promessa, Go Maggie Go, Royal Obsession, Taxable

Valerie Grash