Huge Week For The Kentucky Derby 2019

This is a huge week on the Road to Kentucky Derby 2019. Two-year-old champ Game Winner is the strong favorite in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Tacitus tops the Wood Memorial (G2), and Vekoma and Win Win Win square off in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).

Kentucky Derby 2019 Points Race Analysis for Saturday (4-6-19)

AQU 10 (G2 Wood Memorial, 9f) #10 OUTSHINE (6-1) might be in for a decent outside stalking trip. He is moving forward for Pletcher and exits a good 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). #2 Tacitus (5-2) earned his best career number in his first start vs. winners, first start after a layoff, and first stakes try in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) March 9. He is bred to get better as distances increase and could easily move forward again. He graduated at Aqueduct last fall and needs pace help. #4 Haikal (7-2) got plenty of pace help as my top choice in the Gotham (G3). He has to prove that he is more than a late running sprinter. #3 Hoffa’s Union (6-1) is the mystery horse. He won by the length of the stretch in his Laurel debut and was purchased privately by Mark Casse. The promising son of Union Rags is thrown to the wolves in an attempt to make the Kentucky Derby. #1 Tax (9-2) has been consistent but that Withers number should be taken with a grain of salt. Four horses from that race have run in points races since and none hit the board. #5 Final Jeopardy (8-1) earned a better number in a flat mile optional claiming win at GP March 3. This is his first two turn try and he figures to stalk the pace. The Plays: #10 to win, Exacta Box 2-10, Trifecta 2-10/1-2-3-5/2-10, Trifecta Key 10/1-2-3-4-5

SA 8 (G1 SA Derby, 9f) #1 ROADSTER (5-2) might sit the right tactical trip behind Instagrand and figures to get the jump on his chalky stablemate Game Winner. He was highly regarded last year and returned with a strong flat mile optional claiming victory March 1. #6 Game Winner (4-5) is the class of the field and could easily beat these. He does not have to win his final Derby prep but could easily get the job done for Rosario/Baffert. #5 Instagrand (3-1) is probably the one to catch but I am not sure how far he wants to go. He was sensational in a pair of sprint wins last summer including the Best Pal (G2) and returned with an okay 3rd in the Gotham (G3). #3 Nolo Contesto (6-1) is slowly improving for Sadler and projects a decent stalking trip under Talamo. He beat Omaha Beach in a local flat mile maiden race Jan 4, and that one has won twice since including the Rebel (G2). Roadster beat him last time but he might be fitter in his second start after a layoff. #2 More Ice (30-1) exits a wide, distant 3rd from post 10 in the El Camino Real Derby, and occupied that same spot in the Eddie Logan on turf in his final start as a 2-year-old. He has some ability but is not fast enough to threaten these. #4 Synthesis (30-1) moves to the George Papaprodromou barn after a distant 4th place finish in the San Vicente (G2). He graduated in a dirt route at Keeneland last fall and will probably try to get involved early but is not nearly as quick as Instagrand. The Plays: #1 to win, Exacta 1-5-6/3, Trifecta Key 1/3-6

KEE 10 (G2 Blue Grass, 9f) #8 WIN WIN WIN (7-2) is still an unknown commodity in routes after a wide, rallying show finish in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). All four of his sprint tries were solid and he could improve in his second try around two turns. He was right up on the pace in his first two wins but found gate trouble in his last three. His Pasco number at seven panels buries these and he has been on my Derby list for quite some time, so he’s my top pick. #2 Vekoma (9-5) won both of his starts around one turn last year and came back with a solid 3rd in the Fountain of Youth (G2). He should be fitter but there is no guarantee that he will excel at longer distances. #1 Somelikeithotbrown (10-1) won his last two on all-weather ground including the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) in front running fashion. I love his versatility and he is bred to handle dirt. He is the only entrant with a win at this distance and is a threat if he handles the surface switch. #3 Signalman (5-1) ran well in all three points races around two turns last year including a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2). He returned with a subpar effort in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and will try to get involved late. #6 Dream Maker (12-1) is very inconsistent. The all or nothing type was sharp in his Churchill debut last June before flopping in a pair of stakes tries to end his juvenile campaign. He was sharp around two turns vs. optional claimers Feb 9 before throwing in another clunker in Tampa Bay Derby (G2). I have no idea what we will get from him in this event and all three of his stakes tries were poor. The Plays: #8 to win, Exacta 8/1-2-6, Exacta 1-2-6/8, Trifecta 1-2-6-8/1-2-6-8/3

Kentucky Derby 2019 Points Race Recaps for Saturday (3-30-19)

UAE Derby from Meydan (3-30-19) – Winner: Plus Que Parfait ($19.60)

The Americans made short work of this race, and two horses in desperate need of Derby points finished 1-2. Plus Que Parfait finished an okay 2nd in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill as a juvenile, but was nowhere in the Lecomte (G3) or Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds this winter. Gray Magician made one previous points race appearance and ended up a flat 4th in the Sham Stakes (G3). In the stretch run of the UAE Derby, Plus Que Parfait dove inside and split horses under Jose Ortiz, while Gray Magician was battling on along the outside, and the heads up ride by Ortiz made all of the difference. They both have enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby, but their form in US points races was not great, and I do not want to take a Dubai shipper on the first Saturday in May.

Florida Derby (G1) from Gulfstream Park (3-30-19) – Winner: Maximum Security ($11.60)

Pace makes the race, especially when the track is favoring speed. Forwardly placed runners won all of the main track races at Gulfstream on Saturday (3 front running winners), and this should have been a slam dunk for Hidden Scroll. The Florida Derby chalk was clearly the main speed from the rail, but for some inexplicable reason, his new rider Javier Castellano wrangled him back early and took away his main weapon. Maximum Security, a former maiden claimer, and Bodexpress, a maiden after four career starts, controlled the pace through extremely soft fractions and made it a parade. Neither had run two turns before, and they dominated from start to finish in their first stakes attempts. Maximum Security was 3+ lengths in front at the wire for Luis Saez and Jason Servis, and Bodexpress was clear of the show by another 3+ lengths. Code of Honor emerged from the pack and held off Bourbon War for the show by a bit less than a length, and they were well clear of late running turf specialist Current. Hidden Scroll was next, and his connections thought about the tactics of this race way too much. He went way too fast early in the Fountain of Youth, and they overcompensated to say the least. All they had to do was put the inside speed on the lead through moderate fractions. That was his best and only chance to succeed, and when you have speed and the rail at Gulfstream, you take that advantage and let the chips fall where they may. Union’s Destiny was next, followed by Harvey Wallbanger, Everfast, Garter and Tie, and Hard Belle.

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven" Kentucky Derby 2019 Contenders (4-5-19)

(1) GAME WINNER (Candy Ride – Indyan Giving, by A. P. Indy)

Trainer (Bob Baffert) – Owner (Gary and Mary West)

Latest Workout: 6f bullet in 1:13.40 (1/11) at Santa Anita on April 1.

Comments: We finally got to see Bob Baffert’s two-year-old champion in the Rebel Stakes (G2), and he did not disappoint despite losing by a nose. He was supposed to kick off his sophomore campaign in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9, but that was was scrapped after the Santa Anita main track was closed due to safely concerns. He shipped to Oaklawn Park for his sophomore debut in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (G2), and the strong favorite rallied to miss by a nose. Fellow California shipper Omaha Beach got the jump on him and won the battle, but Game Winner brushed off the rust and appears poised to move forward in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 6. I am sure that Bob Baffert is not worried about losing a mile and a sixteenth prep. He just needed to get a race into his talented runner and the Rebel Stakes was a means to an end. The goal is to peak on the first Saturday in May, and that may very well happen. Actually, he does not need to win the SA Derby either. A solid underneath finish from off the pace will suffice.

Derby Points (45)

(2) IMPROBABLE (City Zip – Rare Event, by A. P. Indy)

Trainer (Bob Baffert) – Owner (WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing)

Latest Workout: 6f bullet in 1:12.80 (1/24) at Santa Anita on March 30.

Comments: Bob Baffert’s other unbeaten juvenile was also supposed to start his campaign in the San Felipe, and ended up in the first division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park last Saturday due to the well documented surface issues at Santa Anita Park. He ran a quality race from the outside post and missed by a neck while racing wide throughout under Drayden van Dyke. I fully expect him to be much fitter in his final Kentucky Derby prep in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 13, and Jose Ortiz will be his new rider. I would not be surprised to see both Baffert runners win their final Derby points races and head to Churchill Downs as the two favorites.

Derby Points (25)

(3) ANOTHERTWISTAFATE (Scat Daddy – Imprecation, by First Defence)

Trainer (Blaine Wright) – Owner (Peter Redekop B. C. Ltd.)

Latest Workout: 4f bullet in 46.80 (1/7) at Sunland Park on April 4.

Comments: He was excellent in the El Camino Real Derby and that victory earned him an automatic berth in the Preakness Stakes (G1). The $360k son of Scat Daddy put his three-race all-weather route win streak on the line in the Sunland Derby (G3) on March 24, and he finished strongly to miss by a neck in a fine effort. The Sunland Derby may have been his best effort yet because he proved that he could sit behind horses and handle regular dirt. He owns dangerous early-pressing versatility and should be able to handle a mile and a quarter. He remains at Sunland Park and could end up running in one more race prior to Derby if he needs more points. The Lexington Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on April 13 is the likely target if he runs again before the Kentucky Derby.

Derby Points (30)

(4) TACITUS (Tapit – Close Hatches, by First Defence)

Trainer (William Mott) – Owner (Juddmonte Farms, Inc.)

Latest Workout: 4f in 49.80 (11/31) at Payson Park on March 31.

Comments: Returned to the list for the second time after winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in his sophomore debut. He owns a strong pedigree and has definitely improved from age two to three. He should continue to develop for Bill Mott and has secured enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby. I am looking forward to his final Derby prep at nine furlongs, and he sure seems like a mile and a quarter type. He will have his final Derby prep in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6, and he is the morning line favorite.

Derby Points (50)

(5) SPINOFF (Hard Spun – Zaftig, by Gone West)

Trainer (Todd Pletcher) – Owner (Werthheimer and Frere)

Latest Workout: 4f bullet in 48.85 (1/6) at Palm Beach Downs on April 3.

Comments: I have liked this one since he ran 3rd in the Saratoga Special (G2) in his second career start last summer. It was great to see him stretch out and improve in his romping Tampa Bay Downs return Feb. 22, and he continued his upward trajectory with an excellent runner-up finish from an outer post in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds on March 23. His tactical speed in a big asset and he appears to be getting good at the right time.

Derby Points (40)

(6) OMAHA BEACH (War Front – Charming, by Seeking the Soul)

Trainer (Richard Mandella) – Owner (Fox Hill Farms, Inc.)

Latest Workout: 4f bullet in 47.80 (1/25) at Santa Anita Park on March 29.

Comments: The light bulb came on in his romping wet track maiden win in an extended sprint at Santa Anita Feb. 2, and he followed that up with a nose victory over 2-year-old champion Game Winner in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park March 16. In the latter race, he sat a great tactical trip and got the jump on the returning champ, and the top two were well clear of the rest. His numbers continue to climb and he might be peaking at the right time. He will return to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 13, and Baffert trainee Improbable will be waiting.

Derby Points (37.5)

(7) CODE OF HONOR (Noble Mission, Reunited, by Dixie Union)

Trainer (Shug McGaughey) – Owner (William S. Farish)

Comments: Original “exceptional eleven” member returned to the list after bouncing back in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on March 2. He was as high as #2 on my list in the past, and in the FOY, he save ground chasing fast fractions and was always in a good tactical spot under John Velazquez. He safely held off late runner Bourbon War to win by a bit less than a length. Fast forward to his final Kentucky Derby prep in the Florida Derby (G1), and he got no pace help and ended up 3rd (beaten 6+ lengths). I like the versatility he has shown in five career starts, but he has suddenly become more pace dependent than ever. I was never completely sold on his stamina beyond a mile and a sixteenth, and I still do not know how far he really wants to go. He qualified for the Kentucky Derby in the Fountain of Youth, so the Florida Derby was not important from a points perspective. I wish he would have been closer to the pace on Saturday, and there are more questions than answers, which is a recurring theme with this crop.

Derby Points (74)

(8) WIN WIN WIN (Hat Trick – Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones)

Trainer (Michael Trombetta) – Owner (Live Oak Plantation)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:01.60 (6/15) at Fair Hill (all-weather training) on March 30.

Comments: Stretched out and finished a wide 3rd as the beaten favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and he did just enough in that event to remain on my list. He deserves a final shot in a Kentucky Derby qualifying event, but he will have to run faster next time. We know he is a very talented sprinter, but I am just not sure how far he really wants to go. He could easily improve in his second try around two turns, especially if he is able to save more ground and get into a forward position early. His final Derby prep will come in the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland on April 6, and he is the second choice on the morning line.

Derby Points (10)

(9) VEKOMA (Candy Ride – Mona de Momma, by Speightstown)

Trainer (George Weaver) – Owner (R.A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.56 (3/10) at Palm Beach Downs on March 30.

Comments: Showed excellent tactical speed and cruised home in both juvenile starts including a win in the Nashua (G3) at one mile Nov. 4. He made his sophomore debut in the Fountain of Youth and he was in the hunt throughout and ended up a decent 3rd. I am not sure how far he really wants to go but he should improve in his final Derby prep, which will be at Keeneland in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on April 6. He is the Blue Grass favorite and he figures to stalk the pace from an inner post.

Derby Points (10 points)

(10) ROADSTER (Quality Road – Ghost Dancing, by Silver Ghost)

Trainer (Bob Baffert) – Owner (Speedway Stable LLC)

Latest Workout: 6f bullet in 1:12.60 (1/19) at Santa Anita Park on March 31.

Comments: I have been patiently waiting to get one of my original “exceptional eleven” members back on my list ever since his sharp optional claiming win at Santa Anita on March 1. That was his first start since a show finish in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) last summer, and he sure was impressive. We saw what he was capable of in his winning debut at Del Mar last July. He overcame the intimidating inside post in his professional debut at Del Mar, and his return victory was a big step in the right direction. He stalked the pace in his first route try on March 1 and pulled clear to easily best highly regarded John Sadler runner Nolo Contesto. He will get his first and only points race test in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, and he has four solid works in preparation for that event. He will qualify for Kentucky Derby 2019 with a 1st or 2nd place finish.

(11) COUNTRY HOUSE (Lookin At Lucky – Quake Lake, by War Chant)

Trainer (William Mott) – Owner (Shields and McFadden)

Latest Workout: 4f in 50.20 (2/5) at Payson Park on April 5.

Comments: I liked the progress he made in his first four starts, but I was expecting more in the Louisiana Derby (G2). He showed a bit more maturity in that event, but did not get a ton of pace help and flattened out late after making nice progress (raced wide) to get into contention turning for home. I still think there is a bit more talent than he has shown, and if he can break a bit better and work out a decent trip, he could jump up and win a graded event. He is frequently at the mercy of the pace and needs racing luck. He maintains his position at the bottom of the list, and it looks like he will run in one final points race in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 13.

Derby Points (30)

THE NEXT NINE: (12) Long Range Toddy, (13) Bourbon War, (14) By My Standards, (15) Maximum Security, (16) Haikal, (17) War of Will, (18) Cutting Humor, (19) Plus Que Parfait, (20) Gray Magician, (21) Bodexpress