Never too early to start Kentucky Derby prep

Never too early to start Kentucky Derby prep

December 12, 2017 3:05 AM
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Last Saturday, the final Grade-1 stakes for 2-year-old colts in 2017 – the Los Alamitos Futurity – was run at that Southern California track that has gained prominence in recent seasons.

The Futurity was run at 1-1/16 miles, with a $300,000 purse. Yet, of equal if not greater importance, it also featured the longest stretch run in American racing (1,380 feet) and that is a key reason why it tends to provide useful clues about the suitability of its contenders to handle longer distances going forward.

The purse, the distance and the elongated stretch certainly offered Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert good reasons to put two of his best 2-year-olds in the field. Fact is, even though the Los Al stewards had to help determine the eventual winner, Baffert came out of the race with both of his colts advancing their credentials as potential contenders for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

The first colt to cross the wire was Baffert’s Solomini. But, he was placed third by the stewards for interfering with third place finisher Instilled Regard. While this disqualification seemed based on a marginal foul, it did not keep Baffert out of the winner’s circle, as his McKinzie was moved up to first from that colt’s original second place finish.

Officially placed third, Solomini did earn a solid 92 Beyer Speed Figure, given that dq’s do not affect Figure calculations. His stablemate McKinzie earned a 90 Beyer after crossing the wire ¾-lengths behind Solomini. For his part, the Jerry Hollendorfer trained Instilled Regard also earned a 90 Figure as the top three finished within a length of each other.

With that highly competitive race and the fact that virtually every high quality 2-year-old has completed its 2017 campaign – I did what I always do at this time of year – I went back over this year’s results to select several young horses I hope to watch as we proceed through the first few months of 2018 trying to identify serious Derby threats. I came up with eight such horses.

First, I included the pair of Baffert trainees who ran so well at Los Al on Saturday. The rest on my list of eight can be seen in the chart below. In addition, I strongly recommend you should save the other chart posted on this page that lists the complete schedule of 25 Graded stakes for 3-year-olds that will feed into the World’s most famous race at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018.

Early Derby Prospects to Watch

1. Catholic Boy: Transferred good turf form to stronger form on dirt in the Remsen at Aqueduct.

2. Good Magic: Won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over Solomini.

3. McKinzie: Looked good winning his debut with a 99 Figure and ran strongly in the Los Al Futurity.

4. Solomini: Finished 2nd to Good Magic as cited above and ran well again in the Los Al Futurity.

5. Bolt d’Oro: Earned a 103 Beyer in September at Santa Anita and was 3rd in the BCup Juvenile.

6. Avery Island: Was OK 2nd to Catholic Boy in the Remsen; bred to go longer.

7. Instilled Regard: Also ran well in the Los Al Futurity and seems likely to prefer longer distances.

8. Mendelssohn: Strongly won a turf race in July; but his dirt workouts say the Derby could be a realistic target.

Prep Race Schedule for the 2018 Kentucky Derby
Date Derby Prep Track Distance
Jan. 6 Sham Santa Anita 1 Mile
Jan. 13 Lecomte Fair Grounds 1 Mile 70 Yds
Jan. 15 Smarty Jones Oaklawn Park 1 Mile
Feb. 3 Robert B. Lewis Santa Anita 1 1/16 Miles
Feb. 3 Withers Aqueduct 1 1/16 Miles
Feb. 3 Holy Bull Gulfstream Park 1 1/16 Miles
Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis Tampa Bay Downs 1 1/16 Miles
Feb. 17 El Camino Real Derby Golden Gate 1 1/8 Miles
Feb. 19 Southwest Oaklawn Park 1 1/16 Miles
Feb. 24 Risen Star Fair Grounds 1 1/16 Miles
Mar. 3 Gotham Aqueduct 1 1/16 Miles
Mar. 3 Fountain of Youth Gulfstream Park 1 1/16 Miles
Mar. 10 San Felipe Santa Anita 1 1/16 Miles
Mar. 10 Tampa Bay Derby Tampa Bay Downs 1 1/16 Miles
Mar. 17 Rebel Oaklawn Park 1 1/16 Miles
Mar. 17 Spiral Turfway Park 1 1/8 Miles
Mar. 24 UAE Derby Meydan Racecourse 1 3/16 Miles
Mar. 24 Louisiana Derby Fair Grounds 1 1/8 Miles
Mar. 25 Sunland Derby Sunland Park 1 1/8 Miles
Mar. 31 Florida Derby Gulfstream Park 1 1/8 Miles
Apr. 7 Wood Memorial Aqueduct 1 1/8 Miles
Apr. 7 Blue Grass Keeneland 1 1/8 Miles
Apr. 7 Santa Anita Derby Santa Anita 1 1/8 Miles
Apr. 14 Arkansas Derby Oaklawn Park 1 1/8 Miles
Apr. 14 Lexington Keeneland 1 1/16 Miles

Regarding the prep race chart above, Baffert and other top trainers definitely will use two or three of these 2018 stakes to advance the prospects of true Kentucky Derby contenders.

Serious horseplayers also should use these races to evaluate the horses that made the most positive impressions this year. 

Personally, I will give special credit to the horses – on or off my list – who hint at gaining strength as the quality of competition improves and the distances lengthen.