Trainers getting into Derby mode
February 23, 2019 6:03 AM
by Jon Lindo
Ever since Churchill Downs initiated the current qualifying point system to the Kentucky Derby preps in 2013, the formerly chaotic results of the Derby have become a chalk-fest, with Orb (2013), California Chrome (2014), American Pharoah (2015), Nyquist (2016), Always Dreaming (2017), and Justify (2018) all winning as post-time favorites.
The major three-year-old prep races yielding the most qualifying points are set to begin in March and will bring 2018 Eclipse Award Two-Year-Old champion Game Winner and his Grade I winning stablemate Improbable off the bench for trainer Bob Baffert. Rated as two of the top Kentucky Derby contenders at this point, Baffert figures to start one of his top guns in the Grade II $500,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 9, with the other likely to return in the Grade II $1 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park March 16. Both races are run at the same 1-1/16 mile distance.
Before conceding the 2019 Kentucky Derby to another favorite, it may pay to keep a close eye on several potential improving three-year-olds from some top barns as alternatives. Here are some barns to watch in the upcoming preps:
Bill Mott – This top notch trainer is not known for pressing his young horses to get to the Triple Crown races, but he has several very good three-year-olds who may take him there. Hidden Scroll earned the highest Beyer Speed Figure of any three-year-old this year (104) beating Maidens in his one mile debut at Gulfstream Park on Pegasus World Cup Day in January. Is it possible that he can repeat Justify’s feat of winning the Kentucky Derby without having started as a two-year-old? He may be that good.
Country House proved his impressive Maiden win in Florida was no fluke when he came back last Saturday to rally for second in the Gr. II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. He is bred to run all day and is improving at the right time. Mucho is nearing a comeback and should relish a distance of ground. All three must be watched closely .
Jerry Hollendorfer – This barn’s two-year-olds hit the ground running last summer, then went through a quiet period and are just now warming back up, headed by Cal-bred Galilean. The son of Uncle Mo toyed with state-bred foes in the Cal Cup Derby on Monday and appears to be on the same path that California Chrome used to win the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
Undefeated Instagrand was brilliant as a juvenile and is close to his return. The longer distances may be a question mark with him. Gunmetal Gray has been no match for Game Winner so far but is eligible to improve as the distances increase. Grade I-placed Rowayton is working well for his return and has looked like a distance sort.
Bob Baffert – Remember it was one year ago this week that Justify made his debut winning a Maiden race at Santa Anita, emerging as the stable’s top Derby prospect after an injury sidelined McKinzie. With Game Winner and Improbable already Grade I winners, the comebacking Roadster may have fallen off the radar. He was extremely well regarded last summer before hitting the sidelines and is working like a beast for his return.
Dessman is a late bloomer who was unlucky to lose the seven furlong San Vicente Stakes by a nose February 10. He is by Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags and his huge frame and long stride suggests he will only get better around two turns. Mucho Gusto is already a Graded Stakes winner but he may have distance limitations.
Mark Casse – War of Will has taken his game to a new level since switching to dirt. The son of War Front was an impressive winner of the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January, and came right back last weekend to win the Risen Star despite an extreme outside post. Dream Maker has been overshadowed by his stablemate so far, but has had some tough trips as a juvenile. He has come back looking much improved and is ready to take his game to the next level.
Richard Mandella – This Hall of Fame trainer wants to win the Kentucky Derby, and his Omaha Beach has plenty of ability and seasoning after several frustrating runner-up efforts vs. a series of good Maidens. He has improved since moving to dirt, and won for fun when showing more tactical speed in his last start. He may have found his proper running style and Mandella will get the most from him.
John Sadler – Replacing a horse like Breeders Cup Classic winner Accelerate is not easy, but Nolo Contesto has shown tons of ability in both starts to date, including when out-gaming Omaha Beach to earn his Maiden win. Sadler skipped a prep race this month at Santa Anita due to the rain, but this one has plenty of upside and should run all day.
The next six weeks could be full of surprises and disappointments, but theese barns will have a lot to say about how the final field for the Derby will be determined.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Friday Race 8 – Super Duper Cooper (No. 4). This gelding was parked wide every step of the way but never quit trying vs. tougher Feb 1. He now drops into a restricted (non-winners of three races) claimer and gets a rider switch to the red hot Joel Rosario.
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