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Kentucky Derby 2020 Report for Feb. 23

We had our busiest week yet on the road to Kentucky Derby 2020. There were two divisions of the Risen Star Stakes (G2), and the winners both received 50 points (Mr. Monomoy, Modernist). El Camino Real hero Azul Coast picked up 10 Derby points and an automatic berth into the Preakness, and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) hero Silver Prospector bounced back in the Southwest Stakes (G3). If those races were not enough for you, Bob Baffert unveiled exciting prospect Charlaton at Santa Anita Park.

There were no points races on the docket this week, but the lull in the schedule will not last. Things really start heating up with the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park Feb. 29, followed by a busy month of March!  

Kentucky Derby 2020 Points Race Recaps

Risen Star Stakes (G2) Division I Recap (2-15-20) - Winner: Mr. Monomoy ($17.00)

Mr. Monomoy was the only LeComte (G3) pace player around at the finish of that race. Fast forward to the Risen Star, and jockey Florent Geroux did not waste any time. He went straight to the front and set a controlled pace, and that was the key to success. Blackberry Wine made a run at him in the middle, but he was swatted away, and Mr. Monomoy kept on finding in a sharp victory by 2-1/2 lengths. Enforceable rallied from last to edge Silver State for the place by a 1/2 length. My value top choice Farmington Road raced wide throughout from post 10 and seemed to be finding his best stride late. Digital saved ground stalking the pace from the inside post and worked his way up to 2nd in the stretch, but found the distance out of his reach and ended up 5th. Scabbard ended up 6th from post 11. I think we can confidently give up on him at this point. He has failed to replicate his strong Iroquois (G3) runner-up finish in three subsequent stakes starts. Blackberry Wine faded to 7th, and behind him were Moon Over Miami, Ready to Roll, Perfect Revenge, and an extremely tired Shashashakemeup. This was by far the stronger division of the Risen Star, and I will take the top four finishers over any exiting the Modernist race. That being said, the Fair Grounds road to the Derby is usually a bust.

Risen Star Stakes (G2) Division II Recap (2-15-20) - Winner: Modernist ($27.60)

What happened to Anneau d’Or? This was the weaker division of the Risen Star, and he was a standout on paper, but that is why they run the races. Ny Traffic and Modernist battled on the lead, and the latter shook clear in the stretch and won by a length and a half for Bill Mott. Major Fed stalked outside and got past Ny Traffic to secure 2nd by a neck. Mailman Money was within striking range and made a middle move before flattening out to finish 4th. Mr. Big News was up for 5th over Lynn’s Map and Finnick the Fierce, and they were followed by Excession, a highly disappointing Anneau d’Or, a very tired Liam’s Lucky Charm, and 106-1 outsider Fame To Famous. As expected, this was the slower division, and that makes it all the more strange that Anneau d’Or failed to fire. This was a blown opportunity to get into the Derby. Instead, Modernist picked up 50 points, and that should be more than enough to get into the gate on the first Saturday in May. I like his early-pressing speed, and he has already won twice at a mile and an eighth. One the negative side, he is slower than all of the top contenders in this division. There is still time to run faster, and he will need to next time. The first division was run in 1:50.43, and the second division was completed in 1:51.28 (similar pace scenarios). 

El Camino Real Derby Recap (2-15-20) - Winner: Azul Coast ($4.60)

Azul Coast showed better positional speed in this nine furlong affair on all-weather ground. Czechmight was out there by himself on the lead after a bit of a tardy start. This was his first outing in more than four months and he got tired in the lane. Sacred Honor and Mysterious Stones took up the chase in 2nd and 3rd, but neither were around at the finish. Azul Coast stalked the pace in 4th under Rafael Bejarano, and took the lead in midstretch and scored by a length and a quarter over American Farmer and Indian Peak. Wine and Whisky was 4th, followed by The Stiff, Sacred Rider, Ajourneytofreedom, Czechmight, Final Final, Mysterious Stones, and Praise Loudly. Azul Coast picked up ten qualifying points for the Derby, and received an automatic berth into the Preakness Stakes. He has plenty of stamina for trainer Bob Baffert, but will have to run faster to beat better graded foes. If anything, he flattered his stablemate Authentic. That one dusted Azul Coast in the Sham Stakes (G3) last month.

Southwest Stakes (G3) Recap (2-17-20) - Winner: Silver Prospector ($11.40)

Wells Bayou carved out strong fractions from the inside post and almost went all the way for trainer Brad Cox. Villainous and Silver Prospector chased in 2nd and 3rd, and the latter gradually wore down the early leader to prevail by a length. Wells Bayou was clearly second best over his stablemate Answer In. The latter stalked wide from the outside post and was best of the rest in 3rd. Shoplifted was an even 4th, followed by Taishan, Villainous, American Butterfly, Chase Tracker, and Gold Street. Silver Prospector is a solid sophomore and Wells Bayou has upside, but I think they are a cut below the best. I am sure the top three or four finishers in this race will move on to the Rebel Stakes, and they will almost certainly meet a highly regarded Baffert shipper (possibly Nadal).        

Hot Prospects: Charlatan

Is this the next Justify for Bob Baffert? Wait a minute. I thought Nadal fit that bill. Well, Baffert is at it again, and his $700k son of Speightstown was fast and strong throughout in his six panel debut at Santa Anita on Feb. 16. Lane Way was the heavy favorite after finishing 3rd behind Nadal in his debut, but Charlatan never gave him a chance in this spot. The latter went straight to the lead from the outside post in this 4-horse special weight dirt sprint. The opening quarter was a rapid 21.89, and the half was 44.72. He maintained a length a a half lead through those splits, and poured it on in the stretch to score by almost six lengths under Drayden Van Dyke. The final time was 1:08.85. I am not sure what is next, but don’t be surprised if they look for a local allowance route if they can find one, followed by the SA Derby. He is the fastest sophomore in the land already, and I am sure everyone wants to see if he can route.    

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven" Kentucky Derby 2020 Contenders (2-23-20)

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

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

Comments: All options are on the table after his solid comeback at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 14. He was the heavy favorite in that mile and forty yards affair, and 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 he was not fully cranked. Just like all of these Derby hopefuls, we will learn more in the coming weeks. He could run one or two more times. The Derby was still eleven weeks away on Feb. 14. If they want two more starts, the Rebel on March 14 makes the most sense from a timing standpoint. If he only starts one more time before the Derby, The LA Derby (March 21) or Florida Derby (March 28) are the best options on the calendar. They could wait for the Blue Grass Stakes (April 4), but that would be a very long seven weeks after his 2020 return.    

Derby Points (4)


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

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

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.60 (9/41) at Santa Anita Park Feb. 17. 

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)


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

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 too 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)


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

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

Latest Workout: 4f in 48.05 (13/76) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 23. 

Comments: Is the hype around this one warranted? It is too soon to tell. There is 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. The latter race has proven to be not that strong. He beat Scabbard in the latter race, and that one was very disappointing in the BC Juvenile, LeComte, and Risen Star. Iroquois show finisher Lebda captured the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel late last year, but that is about the extent of success for the 2019 Iroquois runners. Dennis 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. Flavien Prat will ride.    

Derby Points (10)


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

Trainer (Bob Baffert) - Owner (Stronach Stables)

Latest Workout: 6f bullet in 1:11.80 (1/12) at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 23. 

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. That workout on Feb. 23 was impressive, and his stock continues to rise.         


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

Trainer (Mark Casse) - Owner (John Oxley)

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 and Mr. Monomoy. He met those rivals again in the first division of the Risen Star Feb. 15, and Mr. Monomoy was able to control the pace. Enforceable put in a decent late run and was a bit better than Silver State for the runner-up spot. The solid late runner should have his final Derby prep in the LA Derby.

Derby Points (33)


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

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

Latest Workout: 4f in 50.00 (29/45) at Tampa Bay Feb. 22. 

Comments: I am really starting to have my doubts about his stamina. 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. They are still deciding what to do next.    

Derby Points (14)


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

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

Latest Workout: 3f in 38.20 (13/16) at Palm Meadows Training Center Feb. 17. 

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 started galloping again earlier this year, and returned to the worktab Feb. 17. 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 multiple times since, and he returned to score Feb. 14, so he is way ahead of Maxfield from a conditioning standpoint. There are some concerns here. How will he fare after surgery? He cannot keep breaking slow if he expects to defeat upcoming tougher competitors, but distance sure does not seem like an issue.

Derby Points (10)


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

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

Latest Workout: 7f in 1:28.20 (1/2) at Santa Anita Park Feb. 23.

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. 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.   


(10) AUTHENTIC (Into Mischief - Flawless, by Mr. Greeley) - Previous Ranking (#13)

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

Latest Workout: 4f in 47.60 (5/54) at Santa Anita Park Feb. 19.

Comments: Was up on the pace and ran off the screen in both starts as the favorite. He easily beat subsequent El Camino Real Derby hero Azul Coast in the Sham Stakes (G3) Jan. 4. The $350k purchase loves to get into the race early, and he just overwhelmed his foes with speed in his first two starts. We will learn more when he faces better foes at longer distances. His next point race test in expected to come in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

Derby Points (10)


(11) STRUCTOR (Palace Malice - Miss Always Ready, by More Than Ready) -  Previous Ranking (#15)

Trainer (Chad Brown) - Owner (Jeff Drown and Don Rachel)

Latest Workout: 4f in 48.30 (2/32) at Palm Meadows Training Center Feb. 17. 

Comments: I must admit that he is a complete mystery at this stage. He won all three of his turf routes as a juvenile including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). They paid $850k for the son of Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, and he deserves a shot on dirt. That shot might come in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), and if he does well, he will probably move on to the Florida Derby (G1). Or. they could follow the Good Magic path. He was 3rd in the FOY and 1st in the Blue Grass Stakes for this barn in 2018. If the surface switch does not work out, it is back to turf. He shows four published works from Jan. 25 to Feb. 17.   


THE NEXT NINE: (12) Charlatan, (13) Silver State, (14) Max Player, (15) Sole Volante, (16) Ete Indien, (17) Mr. Monomoy, (18) Modernist, (19) Silver Prospector, (20) Azul Coast

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