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Kentucky Derby 2020 Report (9-30-19)

It’s that time again! September means Derby fever. Well, not quite, but it is time to roll out my annual Kentucky Derby contenders list.

Before meeting the first “exceptional eleven” of 2020, let’s look at some recent historical facts.

Having experience as a 2-year-old is a major plus. Justify ended the Apollo jinx in 2018. Apollo won the Kentucky Derby in 1882. He was an unraced 2-year-old, and it took 136 years for another late blooming sophomore to break the streak. This remains a very strong angle.

The last three Derby winners did not graduate until their 3-year-old seasons (Country House, Justify, Always Dreaming). All of the Derby winners from 2002-2016 graduated during their juvenile campaigns. During that 15 year run, starting with War Emblem and ending with Nyquist, 13 of those runners graduated by October 4. Orb and Smarty Jones were the exceptions. They graduated in November.

From 2000-2003, 3 of the 4 Derby winners had their final prep in the Wood Memorial (Funny Ride, Monarchos, Fusaichi Pegasus). It has been crickets for the Wood ever since.

From 2004-2019, most of the Derby winners exited the Arkansas Derby (4), Florida Derby (5), or SA Derby (4). You can make the Florida Derby a six pack if you count Maximum Security. The other Derby winners with different final preps were Animal Kingdom (Spiral Stakes), Mind That Bird (Sunland Derby), and Street Sense (Blue Grass).

Looking back, some of my initial September Derby blog juvenile contenders panned out, like my early 2010-2011 Number 1’s Stay Thirsty and Alpha. Both won the G1 Travers during their 3-year-old seasons. Others turn out to be disappointments like Fortify, and others got hurt along the way like Mastery.

International Star was my initial number one Kentucky Derby 2015 contender, and he was scratched the morning of the Derby. Three of my original eleven Derby contenders made it to the starting gate that year including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. The other two were Frosted and Carpe Diem.

Mohaymen was my initial number one Kentucky Derby 2016 contender, and the 4-time grade 2 winner (Nashua, Remsen, Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth) finished 4th on the first Saturday in May.

Endorsed was my first number one Derby 2019 contender, and he was shelved after the Champagne. He did not make the Derby, but has shown promise in New York this summer with an allowance sprint win, a 2nd in the Curlin Stakes, and a solid 4th in the Travers. He is one to watch heading into 2020. Three of my original September “exceptional eleven” contenders made it to the starting gate in Derby 2019 (Code of Honor, Game Winner, Roadster).

An ideal Kentucky Derby contender would have a solid juvenile foundation, a blended speed-stamina pedigree, sharp graded stakes form, tactical speed, quality late pace ratings, and winning connections. Strong pre-Derby works are the icing on the cake.

The 2020 Derby points race series kicked off with the G3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs Sept. 14. Dennis’ Moment looks like a good one for Dale Romans, and he figures to vie for favoritism in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with recent G1 American Pharoah Stakes hero Eight Rings.

Iroquois Stakes (G3) Recap (9-14-19) - Winner: Dennis’ Moment ($2.80)

This was a better than average renewal of the Iroquois, at least in regards to the top two finishers. The pace was honest and strong favorite Dennis’ Moment stalked from fourth, got the jump on Scabbard, and scored comfortably by a length and three-quarters. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the winner under wraps. Scabbard did not have the smoothest trip and was well clear of the rest. Lebda chased the pace and held 3rd, and was followed by Letmeno, Rowdy Yates, January Won, Flute Maker, Automate, Juggernaut, and Zyramid.

American Pharoah Stakes (G1) Recap (9-27-19) - Winner: Eight Rings ($4.40)

It looks like we have a solid BC Juvenile (G1) favorite. Eight Rings was so impressive in his debut, but I was not quite sure what we would get from him in this spot after he behaved badly and dumped his rider as the strong favorite in the Del Mar Futurity (G1). His new rider John Velazquez was not playing around in this race. As soon as the gates opened, he shot straight to the front through fractions of 23.34, 47.06, and 1:11.71. He was clear throughout and the result was never in doubt. He increased his lead throughout and won by 6-lengths over inside stalker American Theorem. Storm the Court was a neck better than Express Train in the battle for 3rd, and they were followed by Shoplifted, Defense Wins, Fore Left, Nucky, and Collusion Illusion (pulled up, walked off). The winner was much the best, and the runner-up was clearly second best in a quality effort. The others never really got involved.

Eight Rings American Pharoah Stakes past performance 

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven" Kentucky Derby 2020 Contenders (9-29-19)

(1) GOUVERNEUR MORRIS (Constitution - Addison Run, by Unbridled’s Song)

Trainer (Todd Pletcher) - Owner (Team Valor International & WinStar Farm LLC)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.80 (2/11) at Belmont Park on Sept. 27.

Comments: This was a very strong debut in the SAR slop at 5.5f on Sept. 2. He was bumped at the break and chased the pace, cruised up outside in the stretch, and finished with plenty in reserve to win by a very easy nine lengths. He has worked three times since his bow, including a Sept. 20 bullet. Todd Pletcher seems to have some talented youngsters, and this one is targeting the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland Oct. 5.


(2) EIGHT RINGS (Empire Maker - Purely Hot, by Pure Prize)

Trainer (Bob Baffert) - Owner (SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables)

Comments: He looked like the real deal dusting sharp next-out winner Express Train in his 5.5f debut at DMR Aug. 4. The G1 Del Mar Futurity should have been a stroll in the park, but he ducked in sharply while bumping into Storm the Court, and both tossed their riders. He worked three times at SA after that fiasco, and returned with a vengeance in the G1 American Pharoah Stakes Sept. 28. In the latter race, he went straight to the front and was never seriously threatened in an easy two turn victory. He is the early favorite for the G1 BC Juvenile Nov. 1.

Derby Points (10)


(3) DENNIS’ MOMENT (Tiznow - Transplendid, by Elusive Quality)

Trainer (Dale Romans) - Owner (Albaugh Family Racing LLC)

Comments: Clipped heels and dumped Robby Albarado in his June 23 bow at CD, and it has been all smiles since. He graduated by 19+ lengths in a 7f affair at Ellis Park July 27, and followed that up with a sharp win in the first points race in Churchill’s G3 Iroquois Sept. 14. Miguel Mena was aboard for both wins. He has all the tools to be a player on the Derby trail.

Derby Points (10)


(4) ALPHA SIXTY SIX (Liam’s Map, Giant Sensation, by Giant’s Causeway)

Trainer (Todd Pletcher) - Owner (Paul P. Pompa, Jr.)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.80 (2/11) at Belmont Park (dirt training) on Sept. 27.

Comments: His Belmont debut at 6.5f was solid. He stalked from the outside post, chased Hemlock in the stretch, and gradually wore that one down to win by a neck. He galloped out with energy and seems to want more ground. I like the two solid works since his bow, and he might go in the G1 Champagne next.    


(5) GREEN LIGHT GO (Hard Spun - Light Green, by Pleasantly Perfect)

Trainer (James Jerkens) - Owner (Stronach Stables)

Latest Workout: 7f in 1:27.20 (1/1) at Belmont Park (dirt training) on Sept. 25.  

Comments: Started out fast win a 5.5f debut win at BEL July 4, and a solid score over subsequent G3 Iroquois runner-up Scabbard in the G2 Saratoga Special at 6.5f Aug. 10. He was the G1 Hopeful Stakes favorite, but scratched when the track came up wet. He goes next in the G1 Champagne Stakes Oct. 5.


(6) MAXFIELD (Street Sense - Velvety, by Bernardini)

Trainer (Brendan P. Walsh) - Owner (Godolphin, LLC)

Latest Workout: 4f in 48.60 (23/54) at Keeneland on Sept. 28.

Comments: I liked his one mile debut at CD Sept. 14. He broke slow from post 2 and rallied from 10th of 11 to prevail by a bit less than a length. A race like the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes makes sense for his next start. Walsh saddled Plus Que Parfait to a place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last year. He did a decent job with that one on the Derby trail. He ended up winning the G2 UAE Derby, and he was 8th in the Kentucky Derby.


(7) AJAAWEED (Curlin - Assiya, by Daaher)

Trainer (Kiaran McLaughlin) - Owner (Shadwell Stable)

Latest Workout: 4f in 49.50 (27/70) at Saratoga (dirt training) on Sept. 28.

Comments: Did not have a great start in his SAR dirt sprint bow Aug. 10, and he ended up 5th of 9 that day. I like the professionalism he showed second time out. He was stuck inside and waiting for room at one mile at BEL Sept. 11, and he swung out in the stretch and pulled clear to win by 4+ lengths under Joel Rosario. He seems to want more ground and should continue to improve. The G1 Champagne is the next logical target.  


(8) TIESTO (Tiznow - Marquee Delivery, by Marquetry)

Trainer (Bill Mott) - Owner (LNJ Foxwoods and NK Racing)

Comments: Solid debut win at BEL on Sept. 21. In that 8.5f turf route, he stalked wide from the outside post, got to the front in the stretch, and won by 3+ lengths. It is never easy to win over a route of ground first time out, and he certainly has some stamina. You have to think they will try him on dirt at some point. Country House was on turf in his debut for this barn as well.

(9) TAP IT TO WIN (Tapit - Onepointthreekarats, by Medaglia d’Oro)

Trainer (Mark Casse) - Owner (Live Oak Plantation)

Latest Workout: 5f bullet in 59.34 (1/18) at Belmont Park on Sept. 22.

Comments: Set the pace and was clearly second best in his 6T debut at WO July 21. He ran faster in his second career start at SAR Aug. 24. He tracked the pace, cut the corner, and pulled away to win by 3-1/2 lengths. He should handle longer distances. He could make his next start in the G1 Breeders' Futurity Oct. 5.


(10) HEMLOCK (Into Mischief - Sweet Sonnet, by Seeking the Gold)

Trainer (Bill Mott) - Owner (Godolphin, LLC)

Latest Workout: 4f in 49.05 (24/62) at Belmont Park on Sept. 28.  

Comments: I like the progression he showed second time out. He chased and weakened late to finish 4th as the favorite in his 5.5f debut at SAR July 24 (off the turf). He gave Alpha Sixty Six a tussle at BEL Sept. 7, and he was clearly second best that day. I would like to see him stretch out to a mile or longer next time.


(11) ENFORCEABLE (Tapit - Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)

Trainer (Mark Casse) - Owner (John Oxley)

Latest Workout: 4f in 51.00 (102/106) at Churchill Downs on Sept. 28.

Comments: We already know he can go at least a mile and an eighth, because he graduated at that distance at SAR Aug. 22. He also has the pedigree. Dam Justwhistledixie has produced stakes winners Kingly, Mohaymen, and New Year’s Day. His aforementioned maiden win was in his fourth start, and he makes his stakes debut in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity Oct. 5. Trainer Mark Casse saddled Preakness 2019 hero War of Will.  


THE NEXT NINE: (12) Scabbard, (13) American Theorem, (14) Basin, (15) Three Technique, (16) Mo Hawk, (17) Ragtime Blues, (18) Express Train, (19) Great Power, (20) Democratic Values


Kentucky Derby Winners (2000-2019)

2019 - Country House (Lookin At Lucky - Quake Lake, by War Chant) - Trained by Bill Mott
2019 - Maximum Security (New Year’s Day - Lil Indy, by Anasheed) - Trained by Jason Servis (honorable mention)

The most recent Derby was the strangest I have ever seen. Most of the horses were struggling with the wet track, and Maximum Security bothered a couple of rivals and was disqualified. Country House was placed 1st, and as I look at key trends, I will consider them both Derby winners. Country House finished up the track in his 8.5T debut at BEL on 10-6-18. He broke his maiden at GP in his third career start at 8.5f on dirt on 1-17-19, and it was off to the stakes ranks at FG and OP after that. He was 3rd in his final Derby prep in the Arkansas Derby. Maximum Security graduated in his 6.5f maiden claiming debut at GP on 12-20-18. He went from former claimer to graded winner in his fourth career start in the Florida Derby (G1). As we will see from the Derby winners below, many had a strong final prep in the Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby, or SA Derby.

2018 - Justify (Scat Daddy - Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper) - Trained by Bob Baffert

The first of his six straight wins came in a 7f dirt sprint at SA on 2-18-18. After just two starts, he blitzed through the SA Derby and the Triple Crown series.

2017 - Always Dreaming (Bodemeister - Above Perfection, by In Excess) - Trained by Todd Pletcher

Finished 3rd in his 5.5f bow at BEL on 7-1-16, and graduated in his third start on 1-25-17 at TAM (1 mile 40 yds). His only points race appearance was the Florida Derby, and he won that race convincingly.

2016 - Nyquist (Uncle Mo - Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry) - Trained by Doug O’Neill

Rolled through his first eight starts. His win streak started in a 5f dash at SA on 6-5-15, and he won the BC Juvenile later that year. He shipped to GP and won the Florida Derby on 4-2-16.

2015 - American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile - Littleprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman) - Trained by Bob Baffert

Only off the board finish was his 6.5f debut at DMR on 8-9-14. Broke maiden in Del Mar Futurity on 9-3-14, and he was off to the races after that. He won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby at OP to begin his 3yo season, and the rest is Triple Crown history!

2014 - California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit - Love The Chase, by Not For Love) - Trained by Art Sherman

Got a very early start at a 2yo with a 2nd place finish in a 4.5f dirt sprint at Hollywood Park on 4-26-13. He broke his maiden in his next start at that course-distance on 5-17-13. He had his 3yo coming out party in San Felipe, and he followed that up with a win in the SA Derby.

2013 - Orb (Malibu Moon - Lady Liberty, by A. P. Indy) - Trained by Shug McGaughey

Ended up 3rd in his 7f unveiling at SAR on 8-18-12. He graduated in his fourth start at AQU on 11-24-12, and that was the start of a 5-race win streak. He won the FOY and Florida Derby (both at GP) in his two stakes tries before the Kentucky Derby.

2012 - I’ll Have Another (Flower Alley - Arch’s Gal Edith, by Arch) - Trained by Doug O’Neill

Hit the ground running in his 5.5f debut at Hollywood Park on 7-3-11. He really shined as a 3yo with wins in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, SA Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness. Unfortunately, he was injured preparing for the Belmont Stakes and never raced again after the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

2011 - Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux - Dalicia, by Acatenango) - Trained by Graham Motion

Showed stamina right away with a 2nd place finish in his 8.5f synthetic bow at AP on 9-18-10, and earned his diploma in a 9f all-weather affair at KEE on 10-23-10. He got his only shot in a Derby prep in the Spiral Stakes at TP, and he passed that test with flying colors. The Derby distance was never an issue, and as it turned out, neither was the dirt surface.

2010 - Super Saver (Maria’s Mon - Supercharger, by A. P. Indy) - Trained by Todd Pletcher

Was 2nd in his 6.5f bow at SAR on 8-22-09, and it was cap and gown time as a second timer in a flat mile affair at BEL on 9-11-09. As a 3yo and prior to the Derby, he was 3rd in the TB Derby and 2nd in the Arkansas Derby.

2009 - Mine That Bird (Birdstone - Mining My Own, by Smart Strike) - Trained by Chip Wooley

Started his career at WO with a 5th place finish at 6f on 7-20-08, and a maiden claiming win at that same venue on 8-4-08. He ended his 2yo season with a 12th in the BC Juvenile, and prior to his Derby stunner, he was 2nd in the Borderland Derby and 4th in the Sunland Derby.

2008 - Big Brown (Boundary - Mien, by Nureyev) - Trained by Richard Dutrow, Jr.

His first career start was an 8.5T affair at SAR on 9-3-07, and he won it. He also won his 3yo bow at 8f on dirt at GP, and followed that up with a victory in the Florida Derby.

2007 - Street Sense (Street Cry - Bedazzle, by Dixieland Band) - Trained by Carl Nafzger

It all started with a 2nd in a 6f dirt sprint at CD on 7-9-06, and he graduated second time out at 6.5f at AP on 8-9-06. He won the BC Juvenile in his final 2yo start, and after that he was 1st in TB Derby and 3rd in Blue Grass.

2006 - Barbaro (Dynaformer - La Ville Rouge, by Carson City) - Trained by Michael Matz

Won his 8T bow at DEL on 10-4-05, and he just kept on winning. As a 3yo at GP, he was 1st in the Holy Bull and 1st in Florida Derby.

2005 - Giacomo (Holy Bull - Set Them Free, by Stop the Music) - Trained by John Shirreffs

Finished 5th in his Hollywood Park debut on 7-15-04, and broke his maiden by 10-lengths at 8.5f at SA on 10-22-04. He ended his 2yo season with a runner-up finish in the Hollywood Futurity. As a 3yo on the Derby trail, he was 3rd in the Sham, 2nd in the San Felipe, and 4th in the SA Derby.

2004 - Smarty Jones (Elusive Quality - I’ll Get Along, by Smile) - Trained by John C. Servis

Started out a winner in a 6f dirt sprint at Parx on 11-9-03, and he just kept on winning. On the Derby trail in 2004, he was 1st in Count Fleet, and 1st in Southwest, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby at OP.

2003 - Funny Cide (Distorted Humor - Belle’s Good Cide, by Slewacide) - Trained by Barclay Tagg

Began his career with three straight wins at BEL (6f maiden win on 9-8-2002, plus NY-bred stakes wins in Bongard & Sleepy Hollow). As a 3yo on the Derby trail, he was 5th in the Holy Bull, 2nd in the LA Derby, and 2nd in the Wood Memorial.

2002 - War Emblem (Our Emblem - Sweetest Lady, by Lord At War) - Trained by Bob Baffert

Showed some stamina right out of the gate with an 8f debut win at AP on 10-4-01. He had an interesting 3yo road to the Derby. He was 5th in the Lecomte, 6th in the Risen Star, 1st in an 8f allowance affair at Sportsman’s Park, and 1st in the Illinois Derby.

2001 - Monarchos (Maria’s Mon - Regal Band, by Dixieland Band) - Trained by John T. Ward, Jr.

Lost his first two sprint starts in 2000 on October 7 & November 24. He graduated in a 7f affair at GP 1-13-01, and followed that up with two more wins in an allowance route and the Florida Derby. He was 2nd in his final Derby prep in the Wood Memorial.

2000 - Fusaichi Pegasus (Mr. Prospector - Angel Fever, by Danzig) - Trained by Neil Drysdale

Landed the place in his 6.5f debut at Hollywood Park, and it was cap and gown time at SA on 1-02-00 at 6f. After an allowance route win, he won two straight graded stakes (San Felipe, Wood Memorial).

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