Derby Prep Alert
Derby Prep Alert

March 24, 2017Sponsored by BRIS, our Preferred Past Performance Provider

Sponsored by BRIS, our Preferred Past Performance Provider

Another week, another new contender! If you missed any of the action, check out last week’s installment for replays, Brisnet charts and links to recaps.

This week features international action as well as two races that have produced surprise Derby winners in the recent past.

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News About the Contenders

Blood-Horse: Irish War Cry Works With Wood Memorial Bid Likely
Brisnet: Gunnevera leads Florida Derby worktab
DRF: Practical Joke “probable” Impressive Edge “definite” for Florida Derby

Blood-Horse: El Areeb Works at Laurel Toward Wood Memorial
Blood-Horse: Steve Haskin’s Derby Dozen – March 21
Blood-Horse: Classic Empire Back to Work in Ocala
Blood-Horse: Six Late Nominations to Triple Crown
Blood-Horse: Mastery to Claiborne Farm Upon Retirement
Blood-Horse: After Not Working, Classic Empire Gallops at Ocala
Blood-Horse: McCraken Back on Track, Settled in at Keeneland
Brisnet: Kentucky Derby Report March 22: Malagacy adds to Pletcher’s roster with Rebel win
DRF: Kentucky Derby: Who’s hot, who’s not for March 22
DRF: Road to the Derby: Rebel Stakes analysis
DRF: Fair Grounds: Local Hero in major Louisiana Derby work
DRF: Classic Empire again refuses to work
DRF: Watchmaker: Would a Kentucky Derby contender please impress me?

U.A.E Derby Kentucky Derby prep race

Meydan, Saturday March 25, post time: 9:25 pm AM
1 3/16 miles (9.5 furlongs)

2017 UAE Derby Replay

2017 UAE Derby News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Thunder Snow Gets Up in UAE Derby
Blood-Horse: UAE Derby Press Conference (video)
DRF: Thunder Snow narrowly beats Epicharis in fast UAE Derby
DRF: Thunder Snow may be Kentucky-bound after UAE Derby win
TDN: UAE Derby Goes To Helmet’s Thunder Snow
Racing UK: Saeed Bin Suroor hails brave Thunder Snow “a champion”

2017 UAE Derby Preview
Saturday’s Group 2, $2 million UAE Derby is the first prep of the year to offer the maximum 170 Kentucky Derby points, awarded on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the respective top four finishers. It’s fitting that a maximum field of 16 is set to enter the Meydan starting gate.

Japan’s Epicharis doesn’t have to worry about chasing points. The unbeaten colt already has reserved his spot at Churchill Downs by taking the inaugural “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby,” a separate, two-race scoring series which offers the leading point-getter a Derby berth. Although Epicharis didn’t compete in the first Japanese scoring race, his victory in the second one, the February 19 Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo, propelled him to the top of the leaderboard.

Epicharis is following the same path as last year’s UAE Derby winner, Lani – only Epicharis is better. Unlike Lani, who was fifth in the Hyacinth before his breakthrough in Dubai, Epicharis is a perfect four-for-four. He trounced the competition in his three races as a juvenile, racking up a combined margin of victory of 25 lengths. The Hyacinth margin was much closer, just three-quarters of a length over Adirato, but Epicharis was firmly in command at the end. Using that comeback as a prep race to build fitness, he is entitled to be stronger for this first international venture.

At this writing, Epicharis is keeping his American options open. The original plan was to take in the UAE Derby on the way to the Belmont Stakes, and his connections – U. Carrot Farm and trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara – haven’t confirmed his Kentucky Derby status yet. We’ll know more after Saturday.

Trainer Saeed bin Suroor has won a record seven runnings of the UAE Derby for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin operation, and likely favorite Thunder Snow gives him a major chance of making it eight. One of the notable European 2-year-olds of 2016, Thunder Snow finished second in the Group 2 Vintage at Glorious Goodwood and the Group 2 Champagne at Doncaster, placed fourth to champion Churchill in the Group 1 Dewhurst at Newmarket, and ended the season on a high note when romping in the Group 1 Criterium International at France’s Saint-Cloud.

Thunder Snow’s dirt aptitude was a question mark going into the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas at Meydan February 11, but he answered with a resounding 5 3/4-length victory. Now he faces a question regarding distance. Yet to race beyond a mile, he’ll stretch out to about 1 3/16 miles here. His sire, Helmet, flopped in the 2012 UAE Derby, but in very different circumstances when jetting in straight from Australia. While post 13 isn’t ideal for Thunder Snow, his tactical speed should help him to angle over.

Three of his Guineas rivals are back to try him again. UAE champion trainer Doug Watson saddles two of them – runner-up Bee Jersey and sixth-placer Cosmo Charlie. Bee Jersey, better than his maiden status implies, has been kept fresh for the UAE Derby. Cosmo Charlie rebounded to capture the March 4 Al Bastakiya at this distance in front-running fashion over Qatar Man (previously fourth in the Guineas).

Arguably the most interesting horse in the Al Bastakiya, however, was Fawree. Trained by six-time UAE Derby winner Mike de Kock, and owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, he shares the same connections as 2015 UAE Derby victor Mubtaahij. Fawree was favored in the Al Bastakiya off a big maiden score over Bee Jersey. Unfortunately, the colt has starting gate issues. When the blindfold was removed after he loaded, he jumped a fraction early and bashed himself into the gate, unseating jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe. Had Fawree actually remained in the race, the Al Bastakiya result may have looked quite different.

Since that mishap, Fawree has been counseled by South Africa’s “horse whisperer,” Malan du Toit. Renowned for his work with nervous and skittish horses, du Toit has helped soothe a number of South African standouts, including Variety Club and Jay Peg, who both went on to success on Dubai World Cup night.

Fawree could become his latest advertisement – and provide another one for sire Candy Ride, whose leading Kentucky Derby contender, Mastery, has been sidelined by injury. Bred in Kentucky, Fawree is out of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Keeper Hill, who garnered the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks in 1998.

Four other UAE Derby runners have competed at the Dubai Carnival. Aside from Thunder Snow, Godolphin also calls upon Top Score (trained by bin Suroor) and Fly at Dawn (trained by Charlie Appleby), the one-two from the Meydan Classic on turf. In their prior clash on dirt, Fly at Dawn won the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, with Top Score third. Also renewing rivalry are the fillies Nomorerichblondes and Midnight Chica, the respective winner and runner-up in the Group 3 UAE Oaks over this trip. Only one filly has ever won the UAE Derby, Khawlah in 2011, and neither appears up to her level.

No American-trained horse has won the UAE Derby, but Todd Pletcher hopes to erase that stat with Master Plan. Purchased for $850,000 as a 2-year-old in training at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company (OBS) sale last March, Master Plan was a fast-finishing second to stablemate Tapwrit in the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park. That result took on greater significance after Tapwrit rolled to a stakes record-setting win in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and shot up the Kentucky Derby rankings. Master Plan won handily next time out in a stakes restricted to OBS sales graduates, but takes a stiffer test here.

Ireland’s master trainer Aidan O’Brien has two UAE Derby wins to his credit (2012-13), both coming over Meydan’s former synthetic surface. He tries for a dirt score here with Lancaster Bomber and Spirit of Valor, both testing the main track for the first time. Lancaster Bomber was runner-up as Churchill’s pacemaker in the aforementioned Dewhurst (in which Thunder Snow was fourth) and again in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita. Spirit of Valor, second in the Group 3 Killavullan at Leopardstown, has the better pedigree of the two for dirt. Although both are by War Front, whose progeny tend to skew toward turf, Spirit of Valor’s dam, Stone Hope, is by 1996 Kentucky Derby victor Grindstone. Stone Hope has also produced Street Life, a multiple stakes winner and Grade 2-placed on dirt.

Two runners are ineligible for Derby points under any circumstances, the South American-breds He Runs Away and Vettori Kin, who count as 4-year-olds according to Northern Hemisphere time. With the Southern Hemisphere breeding season falling in the second half of the year, they’re still physically three years old, but roughly six months older than the Northern Hemisphere-bred sophomores. Vettori Kin and He Runs Away will give their younger rivals a weight concession, spotting 10 pounds to the boys and 14 pounds to the fillies.

He Runs Away is an Argentinean classic winner on both dirt (Group 1 Gran Premio Nacional) and turf (Group 1 Gran Premio Jockey Club). In his latest, he was fourth as the favorite in the Group 1 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini, the South American equivalent of Europe’s championship event, the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The Brazilian Vettori Kin, whose signature win came in the Group 1 Grande Premio Derby Paulista on turf, previously landed a Group 3 on dirt. Ninth in the Pellegrini, Vettori Kin has been transferred to trainer Ken McPeek in Florida, where he has been gearing up at Payson Park.

Kellie Reilly

Bourbonette Oaks Kentucky Oaks prep race

Turfway Park, Saturday March 2, post time: 5:09 pm ET
1 mile (8 furlongs), synthetic surface

2017 Bourbonette Oaks Replay

Download the 2017 Bourbonette Oaks Chart courtesy of our sponsors

2017 Bourbonette Oaks News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Purely a Dream Leads Bourbonette Exacta for McPeek
DRF: Purely a Dream picks up another Boubonette Oaks win for McPeek

2017 Bourbonette Oaks Preview
A full field of 12 fillies will vie for Kentucky Oaks points in Saturday’s one-mile, Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks on the all-wweather surface at Turfway Park.

Among them is Wesley Ward-trained Delphinia, an impressive winner of the Cincinnati Trophy Stakes over this surface on Feb. 4. The grey Stonestreet Stables charge has flashed talent in her three starts – each one on a different surface.

Delphinia has the look of a rising star and should sit a perfect stalking spot in her first test beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.

Three fillies are light on experience but boast unblemished records.

Locally-based Gilded Lily for trainer Mike Maker has won her two races at Turfway by a combined eight lengths, including her most recent victory, a wire-to-wire win at a mile. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione takes the reins for the first time.

Front-running Jenna J has won two sprints at Turfway for trainer Jason Cook. As of Wednesday, Cook has posted three wins and two seconds with five runners at Turfway. The question for Jenna J will be her placement in the race. Will she try to win on the lead or attempt to rate in the stretch-out?

An intriguing prospect is California invader Darkwingsoverdubai. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee has shown some late-rallying ability over the Golden Gate Fields synthetic surface, including flying home from last to win going 5 1/2 furlongs in her debut. She won despite being fractious and difficult to load pre-race.

She appeared more settled in her second start and, despite a slow beginning, rushed four-wide to win with ease. Jockey Frank Alvarado makes the trip from California to ride.

The veteran of the field, stakes-placed China Grove, is making her 10th start, but will try synthetic for the first time. She faced some of the toughest young fillies as a 2-year-old, including finishing sixth behind Farrell, a top Kentucky Oaks prospect, in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. Jockey Julien Leparoux will be aboard.

The surface shouldn’t be an issue as she’s by City Zip, whose progeny have often fared well on synthetic.

Another experienced runner to watch is the Ian Wilkes-trained Fun. She was graded-stakes placed twice as a 2-year-old on dirt and could be rounding back into form in her third race off a layoff.

The consistent On Her Honor has fared quite well on synthetic, including a solid second in the OBS Championship Series in January.

Miss O’Hara breaks from the outside post and I’mluckysgirl and Purely a Dream are coming off long layoffs. Awesome Boss and Northwest Bourbon round out the field.

J.J. Hysell

Spiral Stakes Kentucky Derby prep race

Turfway Park, Saturday March 25, post time: 5:55 pm ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs), synthetic surface

2017 Spiral Replay

Download the 2017 Spiral Chart courtesy of our sponsors

2017 Spiral News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Fast and Accurate Scores Spiral Upset

2017 Spiral Preview
Hansen, the light-grey colt who captured fans’ attention during the 2012 Kentucky Derby trail, began his memorable career with two wins at Turfway Park.

So it’s only fitting that Hansen, now a sire standing in South Korea, has two sons hoping to grab the spotlight in Turfway’s marquee race Saturday, the $500,000 Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at 1 1/8-miles on the all-weather surface.

Both contenders – Pennsylvania-bred Fast and Accurate and En Hanse – are grey like their sire, are longshots at 15-1 and boast the same connections as Hansen, trainer Mike Maker and owner Dr. Kendall Hansen. En Hanse is also co-owned by Olympic gold medal skier Bode Miller.

Both Fast and Accurate and En Hanse also do best on the lead: all their wins have been wire-to-wire.

En Hanse is proven at Turfway with a win in the WEBN Stakes and a runner-up effort in the John Battaglia Memorial. Maker conceded the added distance is the looming challenge for the grey colt.

“He ran a credible race last time,” he said. “(The Spiral distance) will be a stretch for him, but there’s only one way to find out.” 

Fast and Accurate successfully jumped from a $30,000 maiden claiming win at Turfway to victory in the Sage of Monticello Stakes on turf at Gulfstream Park. While the distance could also be a challenge for this colt, it’s interesting to note how much better he is on turf and synthetic as compared to dirt. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione will be aboard for the first time.

Maker’s third Spiral contender is Shiraz SCRATCHED. A contrast in style from the Hansen sons, Shiraz is a mid-pack runner stymied by several troubled trips, including his third-place finish in the Grade 3 Dania Beach on turf at Gulfstream Park. The appeal of Shiraz is that he appears to be perfectly suited for the longer distance. The downside? His only start on a synthetic surface was abysmal, as he lost by more than 11 lengths.

Spiral favorite Kitten’s Cat finished fourth behind Shiraz in the Dania Beach, but that effort was the Joe Sharp trainee’s only “poor” race. He’s notched two stakes wins, including one named for his prolific turf sire Kitten’s Joy. The bay colt, owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, was a solid third behind Oscar Performance in the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes. Oscar Performance won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf next out.

Kitten’s Cat has raced solely on turf, and the Kitten’s Joy progeny have excelled on synthetic surfaces, including previous Spiral winner Oscar Nominated (2016) and Lane’s End winner Dean’s Kitten (2010), also owned by the Ramseys. Luis Saez will be aboard for the fifth straight race.

Florida invader Parlor is the one to watch despite his lack of experience. The Eddie Kenneally trainee would be undefeated in three turf starts if not for a troubled trip in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile, in which he rallied from ninth going into the stretch to lose by just a neck.

The colt started off his 3-year-old season with a sharp win in an optional claiming race at Tampa Bay and appears well-prepared for his second start off the layoff. Also of note is the fact Parlor defeated Kitten’s Cat in his debut at Ellis Park in July.

The questions surrounding Parlor are his ability to overcome a slow start – the added distance should help that – and the transition to synthetic. He looks like the one to beat.

Well-bred Bronson, out of Cambiocorsa a multiple graded stakes winner on turf in California, boasts class. A $350,000 purchase at the 2015 Keeneland September sale, the Todd Pletcher trainee was fourth in the Grade 3 Sanford. He’s raced twice at Gulfstream since then with a second-place effort on turf and a win over the slop. Talent, pedigree, stakes experience – he’s got it all, so there’s no reason to think this grey contender won’t be in the mix Saturday.
Well-traveled Soglio fits here for trainer Graham Motion, who has won three Spiral Stakes including the 2011 renewal with Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.

Soglio, a closer who should like the added distance, has fared well on the California circuit, including a runner-up showing in the Eddie Logan. The turf runner will make his synthetic debut with Trevor McCarthy aboard. Soglio is out of graded stakes winner Sea of Showers, a daughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

Toss that ninth-place effort in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis by King and His Court, his lone start on dirt. The Ontario-bred gelding returns to his preferred surface and softer company in a race where his versatile running style will prove handy. Jockey Gary Boulanger can place this two-time stakes winner in pretty much any spot and he’ll be competitive. Exotics players note King and His Court finished in the money at 13-1, 29-1 and 14-1 previously in his career.

After a couple of runner-up efforts, Blueridge Traveler welcomed jockey Channing Hill aboard and landed in the winner’s circle in his fourth career start. Along with the jump from maidens to stakes company, this late-running closer is trying synthetic for the first time and will break from the rail in a full field of 12.

Giant Payday is another late-rallying closer trying synthetic for the first time. It should be no obstacle for the Ian Wilkes trainee, as his sire Giant’s Causeway ranks second all-time in progeny earnings on synthetic tracks

Convict Pike fared well in his first synthetic try, a second-place finish in the OBS Championship Stakes. Gold Rush winner Colonel Samson is trying his sixth track and sheds his blinkers.

J.J. Hysell

Sunland Park Oaks Kentucky Oaks prep race

Sunland Downs, Sunday March 26, post time: 6:18 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)

2017 Sunland Park Oaks Replay

Download the 2017 Sunland Park Oaks Chart courtesy of our sponsors

2017 Sunland Park Oaks News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Undefeated Ghalia Takes Sunland Park Oaks
TDN: Medaglia d’Oro Filly Stays Perfect in Sunland Oaks

2017 Sunland Park Oaks Preview

In terms of class, Grade 1 Chandelier winner Noted and Quoted is a standout in this field, but the Bob Baffert trainee hasn’t raced since last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies where she held the clear lead until they entered the stretch, weakening late to finish seventh, 10 lengths behind winner Champagne Room. Her 90 Brisnet speed figure at this 1-1/16 miles distance is the highest in the field, but there are plenty of fillies with early speed entered, so the real question she’ll need to answer is: Can she fire big first-up off a long break? Baffert has won the last five editions of the Sunland Park Oaks and seven of its total 15 runnings.

Trying to capture his first Sunland Park Oaks, trainer Todd Pletcher ships in the speedy but lightly-raced Ghalia. She’s a well-bred daughter of Grade 3 Selene winner Verdana Bold by sensational filly-producing stallion Medaglia d’Oro, sire of Hall of Fame filly Rachel Alexandra, Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty and seven-time Grade 1 victress Songbird. With only two races under her belt (both victories), this will be a true test of her potential as it marks the first time she’ll race beyond a sprint distance and against this class of competitors.

For all of her juvenile season, What What What toiled in the claiming ranks, not breaking her maiden until her sixth attempt, and even then her connections kept running her for a tag. After beginning her 2017 campaign with a victory in a one-mile off-the-turf race at Fair Grounds, she next ran without a tag and only yielded late to run second to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Valadorna. That impressive effort led to her sale to new connections and a move to the barn of California-based trainer Doug O’Neill. Tested next against the likes of Unique Bella, What What What flattened out late, finishing 18 lengths back of the winner in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel. This appears to be a much softer spot, and, with O’Neill’s go-to jockey Mario Gutierrez taking the reins, this gutsy daughter of 9-furlong Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch may surprise folks.

From Oaklawn Park, trainer Ken McPeek ships in first-up maiden winner Soft Cheese. Her March 2 victory came at the 1 1/16-miles distance, so stamina isn’t an issue for this daughter of 9-furlong Grade 1 Donn Handicap victor Quality Road. Not only was her dam Cerce Cay’s sole win running 9 furlongs on turf, but Cerce Cay’s half-brother Song of Navarone captured both the WinStar Derby and Sunland Park Handicap at 9 furlongs over this track.

Only two fillies return from Sunland’s Island Fashion, the local prep race for this event. After her jockey lost his whip, Kell Paso was just caught late, finishing less than a length behind Grade 1-placed Mopotism whose previous start was a distant runner-up finish behind Unique Bella in the Grade 2 Las Virgenes. That form, as well as a bullet 5-furlong workout in advance of this start, makes Kell Paso the best hope for a placing among the local entries. Conquest Slayer offered no speed and no challenge in the Island Fashion, finishing 16 lengths back in sixth place.

While McKenzie Honey has won five of her nine starts, all of those starts were at minor league tracks in the Southwest and most were sprinting. She simply hasn’t demonstrated the speed to compete against most of these fillies.

Valerie Grash

Sunland Derby Kentucky Derby prep race

Sunland Park, Sunday March 26, post time: 7:28 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)

2017 Sunland Derby Replay

Download the 2017 Sunland Derby Chart courtesy of our sponsors

2017 Sunland Derby News & Recaps
Bood-Horse: Hence Springs Upset in Sunland Derby
TDN: Street Boss’s Hence, Accordingly, Takes Sunland Derby

2017 Sunland Derby Preview
Both winner Conquest Mo Money and runner-up Irap return from the local prep race, the 1-1/16 miles Mine That Bird Derby, as does distant fourth-place finisher Wine N Divine. With only one win in ten starts, Wine N Divine is in over his head here, but the other two possess some upside. A mere $8,500 Keeneland juvenile purchase, Conquest Mo Money is undefeated in three starts at Sunland. His stamina breeding is also sneakily good, as his unraced dam is a half-sister to 10-furlong winner Serenading; other immediate family members include 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont winner Touch Gold, Canadian Triple Crown winner With Approval, and Brilliant Speed, who was Grade 1-placed three times going 12 furlongs, once on dirt and twice on grass.

Still a maiden after six lifetime starts, the impeccably bred Irap is already a two-time graded stakes runner-up, finishing a distant second behind the undefeated Mastery in the 1 1/16 miles Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity last December and then runner-up to Royal Mo at the same distance in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis in early February. A $300,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales purchase last March, Irap is by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow out of Grade 1 Mazarine victress Silken Cat, which makes him a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and top sire Speightstown. Perhaps to shake things up a bit, trainer Doug O’Neill is adding blinkers for this start.

Trainer Tom Amoss ships in Shareholder Value, a first-level allowance winner whose last two races were failed attempts in graded stakes company: a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Lecomte and then a distant sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star. Like Conquest Mo Money, he’s a son of Uncle Mo, but his damside stamina breeding doesn’t suggest he can easily handle the 9-furlong distance: his unraced dam is a half-sister to 7-furlong Grade 1 King’s Bishop victor Capt. Candyman Can.

Owner Calumet Farm has two starters, Dilettante and Hence. Both enter off disappointing longshot efforts in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn, where D. Wayne Lukas-trained Dilettante finished fifth, 12 lengths back of the winner One Liner, and Steve Asmussen trainee Hence finished just one length behind Dilettante, in seventh place. Prior to the Southwest, both were maiden winners, although it had taken Dilettante eight attempts before he gained that first victory. Even with veteran jockey Gary Stevens aboard for the first time, it seems unlikely that Dilettante can move forward while stretching out in distance based on his current form. However, his dam is a full sister to 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama runner-up Awesome Humor. Calumet homebred Hence has a pedigree seemingly better suited for turf, as evidenced by his dam’s half-sister Pico Teneriffe, third-place finisher in the grassy 10-furlong Grade 1 Flower Bowl and dam of Marchfield, a turf stalwart who captured the 11-furlong Grade 2 Sky Classic and the 12-furlong Canadian-bred restricted Breeders’ Stakes.

Trainer Steve Asmussen’s other starter is Total Tap, a son of 10-furlong Grade 1 Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride, out of a Tapit mare whose dam is a half-sister to 10-furlong Grade 1 Alabama runner-up Til Forbid. His only previous graded stakes start was an 11h-place finish in last year’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. Total Tap does look to improve third-up, but has yet to demonstrate the kind of speed necessary to win.

The beautifully-bred Balandeen has yet to run to his full potential. At nearly 20-1, he finished second to subsequent two-times graded stakes winner McCraken in the black-type Street Sense at Churchill Downs last October. Next out he was a non-factor versus recent Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot. Given the bullring-like nature of Delta Downs’ track and the tight traffic problems he encountered, Balandeen can be forgiven for that effort. After a nearly four-month break, he tuned up for this race with a decent third-place finish in the 6-furlong Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn. Second-up and stretching out to 1 1/8 miles should suit this son of two-time 10-furlong Grade 1 winner Bernardini. Out of Grade 2 Fantasy victress Mamma Kimbo, Balandeen also has a lot of promise in terms of damline stamina and quality, as his third dam is 9-furlong Grade 1 Woodbine Oaks winner Deputy Jane West and his second dam Bag Lady Jane led before lugging out late to finish third in the Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks against superstar filly Silverbulletday.

The truly interesting runners are the maiden winners being shipped in by the bigger-named trainers, like Todd Pletcher’s Hedge Fund. A son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Hedge Fund is a half-brother to 9-furlong Grade 2 Charles Town Classic winner Stanford, narrow runner-up in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. His immediate family includes such luminaries as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Johannesburg and 9-furlong Grade 1 Whitney runner-up Tale of the Cat, so there’s a lot riding on him in terms of stud potential. Hedge Fund has displayed good speed thus far, so he could certainly run big.

Bob Baffert ships in Santa Anita maiden winner Bronze Age, an $800,000 Fasig-Tipton juvenile sale purchase for Juddmonte Farms. A son of two-time 10-furlong Grade 1 winner Mineshaft, Bronze Age broke his maiden last-out going one mile, and with the co-best BRIS speed figure in the field (95) and a string of strong workouts, he could help alleviate Baffert’s disappointment at losing Mastery as a Kentucky Derby contender.

Oxford Lane broke his maiden last-out at Oaklawn for trainer Ken McPeek. By the speedy sprinter Into Mischief out of a Louis Quatorze mare, he doesn’t have a ton of stamina evidence in his breeding, but he’s already proven himself fleet over a distance of ground.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the last-out maiden winners is Kimbear SCRATCHED. His career began on turf where he just narrowly missed against the likes of subsequent Gold Rush Stakes winner Colonel Samsen. When switched to dirt, he finished a rallying second to subsequent Grade 2 San Vicente winner Iliad. His sophomore campaign began on turf with another strong late-closing effort, finishing a narrow third, and then he finally broke his maiden in his sixth lifetime race, a 7-furlong dirt contest. The 1 1/8-miles distance should be of no concern for Kimbear. His sire Temple City won the 12-furlong Grade 3 Cougar II over Del Mar’s all-weather track and ran second in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup. His dam Sky Dreamer ran on strongly late in finishing second, less than a length behind La Tia, in the 9-furlong Grade 3 Arlington Oaks. Also among his damline standouts is his third dam, two-time 10-furlong Grade 1 Personal Ensign winner Beautiful Pleasure. Kimbear has posted two smoking-fast 5-furlong workouts in advance of this start. That and the fact that he shares the highest awarded Brisnet speed figure (95) with Bronze Age indicates he’s a major contender.

Valerie Grash