Good Magic debut at Gulfstream

Good Magic debut at Gulfstream

February 27, 2018 3:00 AM
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This coming Saturday, last year’s 2-year-old champion Good Magic will make his seasonal debut in the 1-1/16 mile, $400,000 Fountain of Youth stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The occasion also will mark exactly two months before the 144th running of the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, May 5. The significance of the Fountain of Youth also is linked to an accelerated racing schedule that will decide the fate of hundreds of potential Derby contenders.

For sure, Good Magic does not have to win on Saturday to confirm the fine form he displayed to win the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But, the way he performs should indicate if he will be a key horse to watch in his next start on the Derby trail.

As of now, no one can safely predict which horses will make the Derby starting gate; much less who will win America’s most famous race. But, that will not stop racing fans, myself included, from paying close attention to the top Derby prep stakes that will take place from coast to coast, including a few off the beaten path that could identify a few Derby contenders.

So, to help horseplayers hoping to get a fix on this year’s best 3-year-olds, here are two lists to put in your private notebook to monitor carefully heading into March and April. First, here are my top 10 Derby prospects, which will be followed by a list of major Derby prep stakes on the national calendar.

My current top 10 Derby prospects:

1. GOOD MAGIC – 2017 BCup Juvenile winner; training well for Chad Brown.

2. MCKINZIE – Undefeated and posted sharp 7F workout. Bob Baffert trained.

3. KANTHAKA – Won 7F Feb. 10 with a 99 Beyer. Jerry Hollendorfer trained.

4. AUDIBLE – Won G-2 Holy Bull by 5-1/2, Feb. 3. Todd Pletcher trained.

5. JUSTIFY – Won 7F debut Feb. 18 with a 104 Beyer Figure! Also Baffert trained.

6. MACHISMO – Strong finish in Feb. 3 maiden win. Tony Quatario trained.

7. SOLOMINI – Has flashed promise and posted a strong 7F workout. Baffert trained.

8. AX MAN – Posted 97 Beyer Jan. 1 and ran well vs. Kanthaka Feb. 10. Baffert trained.

9. BOLT D’ORO – Was good at 2; we’ll find out more soon. Mick Ruis trained.

10. NOBLE MOON – Learned a lot when 3rd to Bravazo Feb. 17; Pletcher trained.

Of course, several others have shown promise in 2018 including these six: Bravazo, Snapper Sinclair, Catholic Boy, Flameaway, World of Trouble and Mourinho.

You’ll find all the Kentucky Derby prep races in the chart on page 10. It also lists the first three finishers of the races already contested. To me, the most important prep races are:

March 3: $400K, G-2 Fountain of Youth, 1-1/16 miles (March 3);

March 10: $400K, G-2 Tampa Bay Derby, 1-1/16 miles; $300K, G-3 Gotham at one mile; $400K, G-2 San Felipe, 1-1/16 miles;

March 17: $200K, G-3 Jeff Ruby Stakes, 1-1/8 miles;

March 24: $1 million, G-2 Louisiana Derby, 1-1/8 miles;

March 25: $800K, G-3 Sunland Derby,1-1/8 miles;

March 31: $1 million, G-1 Florida Derby, 1-1/8 miles;

April 7: $750K, G-2 Wood Memorial, 1-1/8 miles; $1 million, G-2 Blue Grass Stakes, 1-1/8 miles; $1 million, G-1 Santa Anita Derby, 1-1/8 miles;

April 14: $200K, G-3 Lexington Stakes, 1-1/16 miles; $1 million, G-1 Arkansas Derby, 1-1/8 miles.

Going back to my current top 10 Derby prospects, the most intriguing is Justify, who came out of nowhere to post an exceptional 104 Beyer Speed Figure in his career debut at Santa Anita last week.

Trained by the ever present and highly accomplished Bob Baffert, I posed a handful of questions to him about this son of the highly prized, but recently deceased sire Scat Daddy.

Said Baffert: “Actually, Justify came to me late from Keeneland and had no problems that I know of… He seems very sound and is a spectacular looking horse. While I’m not sure about his next start or about the Kentucky Derby, just yet, he first has to go two turns. Still, he does have a very good foundation.”

Baffert later added to his above remarks with these comments that show just how much of a surprise Justify was to him: “I read somewhere that a trainer who worked for Bill Mott had trained him early in his 2-year-old season… But I’m really not sure who that trainer was… The same (magazine) article also said that (Justify) did have to overcome a minor hind-end issue.”

Given so few details about Justify’s past, Baffert nevertheless was extremely impressed when the colt arrived at his barn a few weeks ago.

“He looked great when we got him,” Baffert said. And he made a similar strong impression on those of us paying attention to emerging 3-year-olds when he made his career debut last week. 

“Rarely have I seen a more explosive debut performance that clearly marks Justify as a horse to watch carefully during the months ahead.”

Stay Tuned!