We’re finally getting down to the wire, as three major races in this last round of Derby preps will be decided from coast to coast over the course of a couple of hours. Just 80 miles east of Louisville, talented three-year-olds have made the journey to Keeneland racetrack in the heart of horse country—Lexington, Kentucky—to contest the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
While this field has drawn one of the most competitive and diverse casts of characters that we’ve yet seen in a major Derby prep race, there is only a single stakes winner in the field: Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity winner Brody’s Cause. The others all have no more than two wins to their credit, most have merely broken their maidens, and some have yet to even accomplish that. That said, the race is not lacking in potential for star power, as a few of these could launch themselves into the spotlight with an eye-catching performance.
There appears to be an abundance of speed signed on for this race, and the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, with #4 Zulu in front after the opening 1/2 mile.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Lookin for a Kiss (50/1): He’s yet to attempt a route of ground and is not exactly bred to run long. He figures to be a pace factor and little else.
#2, Donegal Moon (5/1): While many were surprised by this colt’s breakout 113 speed figure performance at Parx last time, it’s not as if that effort came out of nowhere. Donegal Moon was not disgraced in the Remsen last fall after setting the pace, earning a very good 107 speed figure. Subsequently, he lost his rider at the start of the Jerome, and then did not respond well to rating tactics in the Withers. He wants to be part of the early pace, but that could prove difficult here with so much other speed signed on. He’s far from out of it, but we prefer others.
#3, Cherry Wine (12/1): We feel that this published running line makes his Rebel performance look better than it actually was. He got a solid pace to close into and never really threatened while working out a pretty good trip despite having to weave through traffic. We believe there are more talented closers in this race.
#4, Zulu (5/2):
The deserving morning line favorite has only lost once, to the former Derby favorite Mohaymen. While that one fell from grace in the Florida Derby, take nothing away from what Zulu has accomplished in his short career. While we acknowledge that he’s one of the most talented horses in this race, a projected fast pace does not figure to work in his favor, and we wonder if the stretch-out to nine furlongs may be too much for him to handle. He’ll certainly be somewhere on our tickets, but we believe that others will offer better value on the win end.
#5, Crescent Drive (20/1): His connections picked an awfully tough spot in which to try dirt for the first time. Pass.
#6, Brody’s Cause (4/1):
It never ceases to amaze us how quickly highly regarded horses can become old news during this intense push towards the Kentucky Derby. This colt was once near the top of many racing fans’ lists of contenders, but a poor showing in his seasonal debut at Tampa has him playing catch-up. Say what you will about his effort last time, but the fact remains that he is the only stakes winner—let alone Grade 1 winner—in this field. After all, this colt was a fast-closing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and has run the two best races of his career over this very track. It’s not as if this is an unusual pattern for Dale Romans, who is just not very good off lengthy layoffs. We give him a 55 rating with horses making their first starts back from a layoff and a much more encouraging 81 rating second time back.
Furthermore, while the Tampa Bay Derby was projected to feature a fast pace, a few key speed types were rated, resulting in a moderate pace that favored the two Todd Pletcher horses that were up on the pace. Corey Lanerie did not adapt to the altered pace scenario and instead tried to get Brody’s Cause to make his move into the fastest part of the race. In short, we believe the effort was not as discouraging as it may seem. This horse is very likely to get more pace this time, and he figures to go off at a square price.
#7, Laoban (12/1): While he comes into this race having earned one of the fastest last-out TimeformUS speed figures, that performance was accomplished while riding a gold rail. We still have questions about how far he wants to go, and he does not figure to enjoy a clear early lead this time.
#8, Twizz (30/1): You can’t blame his connections for taking a shot in a wide-open Grade 1 race, but he’s never gone farther than six furlongs and appears to be nothing more than a potential speed.
#9, Goats Town (20/1): He’s yet to win a race and has not run fast enough to contend with the top prospects.
#10, American Dubai (20/1): This son of E Dubai may not have liked being rated in the Rebel, but he may have to adopt the same tactics here. This one does have some ability, as he showed in the Southwest, but we think this is a tall order.
#11, Cards of Stone (20/1): This New York-bred earned an excellent 111 speed figure when winning a one-mile allowance race last time. That day he was allowed to waltz through slow early fractions (color-coded in blue) before spurting away in the stretch. He does not figure to work out that kind of perfect trip this time, and he’s shown resistance to rating in the past. An aggressive rider like Paco Lopez may try to send him to the front, but that could just help set things up for the closers.
#12, Zapperini (30/1): He has the right running style, but he seems to be just a touch too slow.
#13, Star Hill (10/1): He put in a solid effort in the Tampa Bay Derby, but we would have liked to have seen a stronger finish. This is a difficult post position for a horse with his running style.
#14, My Man Sam (10/1):
We believe that he may ultimately turn out to be the best horse in this race. This son of Trappe Shot put in a pretty special performance when breaking his maiden two back, sustaining a long run from the back of the pack to draw off to an easy victory. He earned a 112 speed figure for that effort, which suggests that he’s certainly good enough to have competed in the vast majority of Derby preps that have been contested so far this season. Last time, he couldn’t quite catch Matt King Coal, who starts as one of the favorites in the Wood Memorial, but he nevertheless put in a determined run, cutting the final margin to a length after seeming hopelessly beaten at the top of the stretch. The far outside post position complicates matters a bit, since Julien Leparoux may be forced to take him all the way back to last to save ground. While it’s no simple task working out a trip from so far behind in such a large field, we have faith in this colt and will be using him.
#15 AE, Pinson (30/1): He upset a large field to break his maiden at 39/1 last time, but he did not run a particularly fast race in doing so. He’d be up against it if he were to draw into the field.
#16 AE, Hint of Roses (30/1): He’s run his best races on turf and has never won. Pass.
The two horses that we’re most interested in are Brody’s Cause and My Man Sam. Even though the former is a much shorter price on the morning line, we suspect that these prices may come together, or even flip-flop, by post time. We acknowledge that BRODY’S CAUSE (#6) has yet to run a particularly fast race, but Dale Romans is going to have him fitter this time, and he is supposed to get a favorable setup. Given odds of 5/1 or higher, we believe he’d offer value.
Win: #6, Brody’s Cause
Exacta Box: 6,14
6,14 with 6,14 with 2,3,4,13
6,14 with 2,3,4,13 with 6,14