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Kentucky Derby 2020 Report: February 14

Sole Volante is the latest Kentucky Derby 2020 points race series winner, but a highly regarded sophomore not running in a points race stole the show last weekend at Santa Anita Park. Nadal became a graded winner in just his second career start for Bob Baffert, and he defeated 2-year-old champion and BC Juvenile hero Storm the Court in the San Vicente Stakes (G2) at seven furlongs.

The El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields is the only 10 points race this week, and the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds has been split into two divisions. The first place finisher in both divisions on the Risen Star will each receive 50 points, so they are essentially win and you’re in races.

The first division of the Risen Star (race 12) includes the top three finishers from the LeComte Stakes (Enforceable, Silver State, Mr. Monomoy). Anneau d’Or is the strong favorite in the second division (races 13). The BC Juvenile & Los Al Futurity runner-up adds blinkers and gets the services of Joel Rosario.

Kentucky Derby 2020 Points Race Recaps

Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) Recap (2-8-20) - Winner: Sole Volante ($13.60)

We were supposed to learn more about Independence Hall in this race, but Sole Volante stole the spotlight with a late running victory. Chapalu and Premier Star set sail for the early lead and Independence Hall sat the right behind them. Those three separated themselves from the pack after an opening half-mile in 46.52. Independence Hall got past the tired top pair but Sole Volante was hot on his heels and went right on by in the stretch to score by 2-1/2 lengths. Independence Hall was 11+ clear of show finisher Ajaaweed. The latter was just too far back and just outfinished Tiz Rye Time by a neck. No Getting Over Me was next, and Premier Star and Chapalu were far behind the others. Sole Volante seemed best as a turf router before this race, but he won’t be returning to turf any time soon. As for Independence Hall, this is the second straight somewhat disappointing performance. His Nashua (G3) romp was outstanding, but he made mental mistakes vs. nothing in his Jerome victory, and he seemed a bit too eager to go after the two early runners in this spot. I am really starting to think that he does not want to go nine or ten furlongs. Ajaaweed has stamina but lacks gears. He might keep picking up minor awards vs. graded company.

Hot Prospects: Spa City

This Street Sense colt might end up being a good one for Kiaran McLaughlin. He improved in each of his three Gulfstream starts. He clearly is not a sprinter and ran out of ground in his 6f debut. He got up for 2nd behind a romper at one mile second time out. Again, stamina is not the path to success in one turn mile races. He tipped his hand at a mile and an eighth Feb. 8. In that race, he tracked the pace and gamely graduated by a length, and top pair finished 14+ lengths in front of the rest. Look for him to join the points race chase in the near future.

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven" Kentucky Derby 2020 Contenders (2-14-20)

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

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

Comments: He has been my top Derby dog since I started my blog last September. In a pair of 2019 starts, he ran off the screen in his dirt sprint debut in the slop at Saratoga, and finished a determined 2nd from the outside post in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) second time out. After spending a few weeks at WinStar Farm following his second career start at Keeneland, he returned to Todd Pletcher’s barn in Florida in December 2019, and worked once a week like clockwork beginning on Dec. 22. He made his sophomore debut in an optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 14. He was the heavy favorite in that mile and forty yards affair, and he was solid throughout. He tracked front runner Untitled and gradually wore that one down to score by a length and a quarter. Jockey John Velazquez had to work on him a bit, and he seemed to have decent energy in the late going. This was a nice first step for him, and there is little to no doubt that he was not fully cranked for this. Just like all of these Derby hopefuls, we will learn more in the coming weeks.

Derby Points (4)

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(2) THOUSAND WORDS (Pioneerof the Nile - Pomeroys Pistol, by Pomeroy) - Previous Ranking (#2)

Trainer (Bob Baffert) - Owner (Albaugh Family Stable & Spendthrift Farm)

Comments: $1 million purchase is now 3-for-3 after capturing his second points race in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) Feb. 1, and you know he was not fully cranked. There is much to like here. It just about goes without saying that Baffert knows how to prepare a horse for the Derby. This one is very classy individual and I like the fight he showed in the Los Al Futurity (G2). He turned away BC Juvenile (G1) runner-up Anneau d’Oro that day, and in the Lewis, he took dirt to the face while racing inside and behind horses. He does not blow the competition away. Rather, he just keeps coming after you with those long, grinding strides, and he sure seems to have a will to win. All of his wins were accomplished using different tactics. He stalked wide in his bow, dueled second time out, and closed from the inside last time. Those traits should come in handy as we continue down the Derby trail, and it sure seems like he is just getting warmed up at a mile and a sixteenth. On another positive note, he handled a wet track just fine at Los Alamitos late last year.

Derby Points (20)

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(3) TIZ THE LAW (Constitution - Tizfiz, by Tiznow) - Previous Ranking (#4)

Trainer (Barclay Tagg) - Owner (Sackatoga Stable)

Latest Workout: 4f in 50.00 (10/15) at Palm Meadows Training Center Feb. 10.

Comments: The talented NY-bred is 3-for-4 with a 2nd, and his lone loss was a troubled, close-up 3rd in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) on a wet track at Churchill Downs Nov. 30. That is a bit of a concern because we have seen the Derby run over a wet track numerous times recently. His Holy Bull (G2) return was excellent, and it is always a good sign when a good juvenile runs fast in his sophomore debut. I really like his tactical speed, and he finishes his races in fine order. I am not thrilled with the lugging in last time, and there was probably nothing behind him at Gulfstream that day. He remains a very promising Derby hopeful, but I never get carried away with these Jan/Feb points race winners. They just never seem to win the Derby anymore. He is targeting the Florida Derby.

Derby Points (22)

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(4) DENNIS’ MOMENT (Tiznow - Transplendid, by Elusive Quality) - Previous Ranking (#6)

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

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.22 (4/35) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 8.

Comments: He was a true all or nothing type last year. Let there be no doubt that the raw talent is there, but he seems to have a problem with the start. He clipped heels and dumped Robby Albarado in his June 23 bow at Churchill Downs, and stumbled at the start and lost all chance as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) favorite. In between, he broke his maiden by 19+ lengths at Ellis Park, and easily captured the Iroquois (G3) Sept. 14 at Churchill. He beat Scabbard in the latter race, and that one was very disappointing in the BC Juvenile and LeComte. He returned to the worktab Jan 11 and is expected to make first start as a 3-year-old in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park February 29.
Derby Points (10)

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(5) ANNEAU D’OR (Medaglia d’Oro - Walk Close, by Tapit) - Previous Ranking (#7)

Trainer (Blaine D. Wright) - Owner (Peter Redekop)

Latest Workout: 6f bullet in 1:12.80 (1/8) at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 8.

Comments: The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) runner-up seems to have caught a huge break at Fair Grounds. The Risen Star Stakes (G2) was split into two divisions, and the top three LeComte (G3) finishers all ended up in the first division. The Blaine Wright trainee looks like a complete standout in the second division of the Risen Star. He adds blinkers and Joel Rosario rides, and he should make short work of his seemingly overmatched Risen Star foes if he is a true Derby contender.

Derby Points (12)

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(6) NADAL (Blame - Ascending Angel, by Pulpit) - Previous Ranking (#11)

Trainer (Bob Baffert) - Owner (Stronach Stables)

Comments: This rapidly developing Derby prospect is now 2-for-2 after starting his career on Jan. 19. His sprint debut was fast and impressive. He worked once after that, and was back in three weeks for the San Vicente Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Feb. 9. He met 2-year-old champ Storm the Court, but fast Baltas returnee Ginobili ended up being his main foe. He was in the hunt throughout and showed his class in the stretch to smartly score. He might be very good, and we will learn more in his points race debut over a route of ground next time. The March 14 Rebel Stakes is most likely next target. Baffert likes to ship to Oaklawn Park, and the timing of that race makes the most sense.

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(7) ENFORCEABLE (Tapit - Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union) - Previous Ranking (#8)

Trainer (Mark Casse) - Owner (John Oxley)

Latest Workout: 4f in 49.60 (73/148) at Fair Grounds Feb. 8.

Comments: The big thing to like about this one is his stamina (broke maiden at 9f). His late run fell short in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), and he seemed like a real grinder last year. He was much better in his 3-year-old bow in the LeComte (G3) at Fair Grounds last month. He showed a better turn of foot and smartly defeated promising Asmussen runner Silver State. He meets that rival again in the first division of the Risen Star Feb. 15. The mile and an eighth distance will only help him, and he might make it two straight points race victories at Fair Grounds if he gets enough pace help.

Derby Points (13)

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(8) INDEPENDENCE HALL (Constitution - Kalahari Cat, by Cape Town) - Previous Ranking (#5)

Trainer (Michael Trombetta) - Owner (Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners & Twin Creek Racing Stables)

Comments: Last time, I said am really not sure how good he really is, and I am really starting to have my doubts about his stamina now. Granted, he did win his first three starts and was miles best of the rest in a runner-up finish in the Sam F. Davis (G3). His last two starts were not nearly as good as his Nashua (G3) romp. He was fractious in the paddock and broke last in the Jerome Jan. 1. He was steered outside and was quickly in front, but he only won because his competition was vastly inferior. He shipped to Tampa Bay Downs after the Jerome, and tracked two overmatched front runners in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Feb. 8. He was not able to take advantage of his first run journey and Sole Volante blew right on by him in the stretch.

Derby Points (14)

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(9) AJAAWEED (Curlin - Assiya, by Daaher) - Previous Ranking (#4)

Trainer (Kiaran McLaughlin) - Owner (Shadwell Stable)

Comments: I was really expecting much more in the Sam F. Davis after he almost overcame a speed bias and a loose early leader in the Remsen (G2). That stellar runner-up effort should have propelled him to bigger things. In the Davis at Tampa Bay Feb. 8, he got pace help but was miles behind in last, and he passed a few rivals to finish a distant 3rd. He just does not have the turn of foot to match the top runners in this division. The late running grinder has plenty of stamina and can keep picking up checks in upcoming points races. He will have to show more if he expects to win any of these races.

Derby Points (7)

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(10) MAXFIELD (Street Sense - Velvety, by Bernardini) - Previous Ranking (#9)

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

Comments: He broke slow and rallied strongly to capture both of his starts from off the pace including the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. He was supposed to run in the BC Juvenile (G1), but an untimely leg injury forced him to scratch. He had surgery to remove an ankle chip on Nov. 18 and has started galloping again. He is definitely on a tight schedule and cannot afford any hiccups. For comparison purposes, Gouverneur Morris raced twice last year and the Breeders’ Futurity was also his final juvenile outing. Todd Pletcher’s colt has already worked eight times since, and he just ran and scored at Tampa Bay Feb. 14. He is way ahead of Maxfield from a conditioning standpoint. There are big concerns here. How will he fare after surgery? He cannot keep breaking slow as the competition only gets tougher. Distance sure does not seem like an issue.

Derby Points (10)

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(11) HONOR A. P. (Honor Code - Hollywood Story, by Wild Rush) - Previous Ranking (#10)

Trainer (John Shirreffs) - Owner (C R K Stable LLC)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.80 (11/88) at Santa Anita Feb. 8.

Comments: Sharp two turn maiden winner had a minor setback, which forced him to miss the Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park Jan. 4. He got back on the worktab at the Great Race Place Jan. 20. The pedigree and talent is there. John Shirreffs is a very patient trainer and will not push him to make the Derby. Everything has to go right for him, and he absolutely cannot miss any more time or races. He might make his stakes debut in the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 7.

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THE NEXT NINE: (12) Silver State, (13) Authentic, (14) Max Player, (15) Structor, (16) Sole Volante, (17) Ete Indien, (18) Farmington Road, (19) Azul Coast, (20) Spa City

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