All eyes will be on Gulfstream Park on Saturday as last year’s champion 2-year-old Good Magic makes his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth. Electing to give the colt only two preps prior to the Kentucky Derby, his connections will send out their stable star to take on nine rivals in his 3-year-old debut. His 2-year-old resume makes him a heavy favorite, but there are some worthy rivals among this group of challengers.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, as likely speeds Strike Power (#4), Machismo (#9), and Promises Fulfilled (#10) are all likely to head out toward the front. Of that trio, two are drawn in the far outside post positions, so their riders will have to aggressively send them into the first turn if they are to challenge Strike Power for the early lead. Good Magic should drop into a stalking trip just in behind them, while Free Drop Billy could take up a position a bit further back. Any closers that hope to work their way into the mix will have to launch their late runs early due to Gulfstream Park’s abbreviated stretch run going this 1 1/16-mile distance.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, HE TAKES CHARGE (20-1): One runner that could seriously benefit from a very fast pace is this son of Tapit. Unlike other late runners in this field, he doesn’t need to lose contact with the field early. Rather, he is a grinding sort that clearly possesses plenty of stamina, so he could be one of the few still running on strongly at the end when other rivals are tiring.
He obviously is going to need to run faster, since many of his shorter-priced rivals have earned higher speed figures and done so against tougher competition. Yet I do appreciate the way this colt has been progressing since his connections switched him to dirt. He responded with enthusiasm when asked to go after the leader in his most recent start, inhaling the eventual runner-up quickly while creating separation from the rest of the field. He probably could have won that race by a greater margin, but he pricked his ears and seemed to pull himself up once he made the lead. It’s all still a learning experience for this well-bred colt, but the potential is certainly there. He’s out of a half-sister to Will Take Charge, and he could end up following that colt’s trajectory through the second half of the season. He’ll need a few things to go right to work his way into the trifecta on this occasion, but he’s talented enough to do so.
#2, FREE DROP BILLY (9-2): The main question swirling around this flashy chestnut when he made his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull was: Can he finally run a faster race? He had done plenty of nice things as a 2-year-old, winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and picking up a couple of prestigious stakes placings at Saratoga. However, he was soundly defeated when stepped up in class to face the best of his generation in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Some speculated that his dull effort at Del Mar was due to him spending the majority of his trip racing on a dead rail, and his subsequent performance in the Holy Bull seems to validate that theory. Not only did he run a much faster race, earning a career-best 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure, he showed the capacity to sit closer to the early pace and still produce a strong stretch kick. He was still no match for a freakish performance by Audible, but he finished more than seven lengths clear of the top two finishers out of last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club. In other words, he put in a legitimately strong effort. This time, with more pace signed on, Free Drop Billy can revert to the closing style that worked so well for him as a 2-year-old. He still doesn’t quite measure up to the likes of Good Magic if that one’s ready to build upon his 2-year-old form, but he’s knocking on the door.
#3, PEPPERED (30-1): We didn’t get the chance to learn much about him in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He had already been doomed at the start when he drew post position 14, but then things got even worse as he was carried out into the first turn by a loose horse inside of him. He showed some promise as a 2-year-old, but he wasn’t even facing the best runners based at Woodbine when losing the Grey Stakes as the odds-on choice. He’s a big price if you like him, but there are too many remaining questions for me to strongly endorse him here.
#4, STRIKE POWER (4-1): This colt is the enigma in this field. He obviously possesses plenty of talent, having won each of his two career starts by open lengths after leading throughout. The TimeformUS Speed Figures that he was assigned for those performances (116 and 115) suggest that he’s among the fastest horses in this race and merely needs to transfer his sprint form to two turns in order to compete with the top contenders.
On the other hand, he’s gotten very favorable setups in each of his two prior starts. In his debut, he was allowed to set a very slow pace for the distance (indicated by blue color-coded pace figures) over a track that is coded as speed-favoring (note the red color-coded race-rating box). While he did validate that performance to some extent in the Swale, he was again afforded a fairly easy early lead as his primary pace rival was rated. That’s unlikely to be the case this time with speeds like Machismo and Promises Fulfilled in the field. Furthermore, I’m skeptical about this colt’s propensity to handle the stretch-out. Mark Hennig gets just a 37 Trainer Rating with horses trying routes for the first time, and this colt has the look of a Speightstown. As the second-choice in the wagering, I’m against him.
#5, STORM RUNNER (15-1): He’s been quite the pleasant surprise for his connections. Ostensibly purchased to be a turf horse by Team Valor following an extremely wide trip in his debut at Ellis Park, he’s actually achieved his best results on dirt since being transferred into the new barn. He broke his maiden going two turns on the main track at Churchill Downs with the utmost ease and then surprised many by defeating Kentucky Derby prospect Mississippi in an allowance race last month. While he’s unlikely to be on the lead here, this colt does race very eagerly and has a tendency to drag his riders into the lead midway down the backstretch. I suppose there’s the possibility that he gets the jump on the closers in that scenario, but he’s yet to prove that he possesses the quality to perform such a feat. A more likely scenario is that his premature move breaks the race open by compromising the front-runners and setting things up for the closers.
#6, GOOD MAGIC (7-5): It’s hard to find much to fault about this likable colt. He surprised quite a few onlookers by breaking his maiden in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with such a dominating performance. Some even still assert that Bolt d’Oro was best that day, but the fact remains that he finished more than five lengths behind the eventual winner, who was only widening that advantage through the lane.
It would be a mistake to disregard his effort at Del Mar as some sort of fluke, as he had hinted at possessing serious ability in his prior start. He was clearly best in the Champagne two back after making the first move into a fast pace. As a son of Curlin, he only figures to improve with added distance and there’s plenty of stamina on the female side of his pedigree as well. All accounts are that he’s been working well for his return and his versatile running style makes him especially formidable. This is not a favorite that I’m trying to beat.
#7, GOTTA GO (10-1): He’s another who was cost any serious chance in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall due to an incident around the clubhouse turn. He was actually right in the midst of that problem and didn’t appear to be himself thereafter. Given plenty of time to recover from that experience, he returned with his best performance to date when finishing send to Strike Power in the Swale last time out. The pace of that race was quite moderate, so he deserves credit for making up ground and running into second late. The horse has clearly progressed from 2 to 3, but it’s as of yet unclear whether he really wants to go two turns. He’s going to get a favorable pace setup ahead of him, but I’m a bit skeptical of his staying power. I’d throw him in underneath in trifectas.
#8, MARCONI (8-1): Remarkably, this will be the shortest distance this son of Tapit has ever contested after making three straight starts going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct to start his career. The good news is that he handles two turns and he shouldn’t be that negatively affected by his propensity to break slowly, since this race could indeed set up for a closer. On the other hand, he’s yet to run a particularly fast race, and I wasn’t enamored with his effort in the Withers last time out. He was supposed to unleash a more potent late kick that day given that eventual winner Avery Island had been softened up after an early duel. My take on Marconi is this: If you want a late-running son of Tapit in this race, why wouldn’t you instead support He Takes Charge at a more attractive price?
#9, MACHISMO (15-1): This speedy colt seemingly has his work cut out for him. He’s never raced farther than 6 1/2 furlongs, and will attempt to do so while breaking from post position 9 in a race that starts just ahead of the clubhouse turn. This seems like too tall a task.
#10, PROMISES FULFILLED (20-1): He’s received the most unlucky post position draw of all. This colt has been able to secure the early lead in each of his three career starts up until this point, but he is unlikely to do so from this slot with Strike Power and Machismo both drawn inside of him. Irad Ortiz’s best hope is to send him and attempt to tuck in just behind the leaders. However, we have no evidence to suggest this colt will be as effective rating. Furthermore, the Kentucky Jockey Club has not proven to be a strong race. We saw the top two finishers out of there return to finish well behind Free Drop Billy in the Holy Bull. It’s hard to envision a successful outcome for him.
I am generally loath to take favorites in seemingly competitive races such as this one, but I have trouble getting past Good Magic (#6) and Free Drop Billy (#2) as the two most likely winners, in that order, with some distance between them. I think the strategy here is to play trifectas and other exotic wagers, in an attempt to work a longshot like He Takes Charge (#1) into the mix underneath.
Exacta Box: 1,2,6
Trifecta: 6 with 1,2 with 1,2,4,5,7,8
Trifecta: 6 with 7,8 with 1,2
Trifecta: 2 with 6 with 1,7,8