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Kentucky Derby 2019 update (4-19-19)

All of the Kentucky Derby 2019 points races have been run and now were are counting down to the first Saturday in May. Omaha Beach won the final prep at Oaklawn Park in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and is your likely favorite on the first Saturday in May.


Kentucky Derby 2019 Points Race Recaps


Lexington Stakes (G3) Recap (4-13-19) - Winner: Owendale ($27.40)


Owendale made a wide, sweeping move from off the pace and took down top honors by a bit less than two lengths. He was an early season Derby buzz horse after a fast allowance route win at Fair Grounds in January. He failed his first points test in the Risen Star (G2), and bounced back with a nice victory in this event. He picked up 20 Derby points but that is not nearly enough to make the field. He figures to target the Preakness Stakes (G1) and clearly has some talent. The Lexington Stakes (G3) was basically a win and you’re in for Anothertwsitafate, and he fell a length and three-quarters short in a solid place finish. In his start prior to the Lexington, he switched to dirt, stalked the pace, and surged in the lane to miss by a neck in the Sunland Derby (G3). In those two races, he was a bit uncomfortable chasing the pace in and amongst horses, but he fought hard throughout both times despite less than ideal circumstances. I think he is best setting the pace or stalking outside and in the clear, and he is currently on the outside looking in at #23 on the Derby points list. Earlier this winter, he was excellent in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on all-weather footing, and that victory earned him an automatic berth in the Preakness Stakes (G1). The $360k son of Scat Daddy needs a few defections to get into the Derby, and the best thing for him might be missing that race and waiting for the Preakness. The Derby would be his third start in six weeks. If he waits for the Preakness, he would have five weeks between races, and he is talented enough to make some noise in Baltimore. Sueno was also on the points bubble and needed a win here, but all he could manage was a clear place finish. The Keith Desormeaux trainee is consistent but a cut or two below the top 3-year-olds. Knicks Go attended the pace and finished 4th, and was followed by Shang, Roiland, Harvey Wallbanger, Zenden, Hawaiian Noises, and Chase the Ghost.


 


Arkansas Derby (G1) Recap (4-13-19) - Winner: Omaha Beach ($5.40)


As soon as the track came up wet, Omaha Beach figured to have a clear advantage, and the bettors made him the favorite because of the sloppy conditions. He romped in his maiden win on a wet track at Santa Anita before shipping to Oaklawn and edging Game Winner in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (G2). The wet track was speed favoring on Saturday, and Mike Smith gave him a smart ride as expected. He was up on the pace as usual, and in a carbon copy of the Rebel, he got the jump on a Baffert runner, only this time it was Improbable. The latter was fractious in the gate and ended up working his way out from the dead rail under Jose Ortiz. He sat a wide, stalking trip and went after Omaha Beach with about two furlongs to go. The winner maintained a length lead and held that safe margin all the way to the wire. The top two ran quality races and will move on to Churchill, along with show finisher Country House. The latter was never going to catch the top two on this surface and did okay to land the show. Laughing Fox completed the superfecta, and was followed by Galilean, Long Range Toddy, Jersey Agenda, Tikhvin Flew, Gray Attempt, Six Shooter, and One Flew South.  


 


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


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


Trainer (Bob Baffert) - Owner (Gary and Mary West) - Derby Jockey (Joel Rosario)


Comments: Juvenile champ finished 2nd in both starts this year but his his schedule has been out of whack. Wet winter weather at Santa Anita Park altered his training regimen, and he was supposed to kick off his sophomore campaign in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9, but that race 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) a week later, and the strong favorite rallied to miss by a nose. Fellow California shipper Omaha Beach got the jump on him and won that battle. He wheeled back three weeks later in the SA Derby (G1) and stalked wide and was run down by his stablemate Roadster. He has been a bit unlucky this year but is still a solid Derby contender. He is finally back on schedule and will head to Kentucky with four weeks between starts, a strong juvenile foundation, and two solid preps this year. It is possible that he is not as good the year, but he could peak on the first Saturday in May in his third start of the year as well.


Derby Points (85)


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


Trainer (Bob Baffert) - Owner (WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing) - Derby Jockey (Irad Ortiz Jr.)


Comments: Ran well without winning in both of his Derby preps this year, but he did something concerning in the Arkansas Derby (G1). He was fractious in the gate and had to be backed out, and regained his composure while breaking from the inside post. The inside portion of the sloppy main track was not the place to be on Saturday, and Jose Ortiz did a fine job steering him to the outer paths on the backstretch. He ran a winning race but Omaha Beach got the jump on him and gamely prevailed by a length. The top two were well clear of show finisher Country House. This was his first try on a wet track and first time wearing blinkers, and he ran well all things considered. He cannot afford to lose his cool like he did at Oaklawn on the first Saturday in May. He has the talent to win a race like the Derby.


Derby Points (65)


 


(3) ROADSTER (Quality Road - Ghost Dancing, by Silver Ghost)


Trainer (Bob Baffert) - Owner (Speedway Stable LLC) - Derby Jockey (Florent Geroux)


Comments: Now that all the Derby preps are in the books, I cannot argue with anyone thinking that his Santa Anita Derby (G1) win was the most impressive points race effort. He flashed brilliance right out of the box with a debut victory at Del Mar last summer. He overcame the intimidating inside post and should the professionalism of a seasoned veteran that day, and was 3rd as the strong favorite in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) second time out (Game Winner won that race). He had surgery in the off season to correct a breathing issue, and his return victory at Santa Anita 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 Nolo Contesto. He got his one and only points race test in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, and he sure was impressive in that contest. He bided his time near the back of the pack under Mike Smith, came after his stablemate Game Winner in the lane, and got past that one in deep stretch to win by a 1/2 length. That was a very strong effort and he is peaking at the right time. I love his running style versatility, and he finished his mile and an eighth test with something left in the tank. Mike Smith had a tough decision and opted to ride Omaha Beach in the Kentucky Derby. Florent Geroux will be his new rider.


Derby Points (100)


(4) OMAHA BEACH (War Front - Charming, by Seeking the Soul)


Trainer (Richard Mandella) - Owner (Fox Hill Farms, Inc.) - Derby Jockey (Mike Smith)


Comments: He won both of his points race attempts and heads to Churchill Downs as a strong win threat. He has all of the tools to win the Derby and appears to be peaking at the right time. He owns early-pressing versatility and is bred to run a mile and a quarter. Two of his last three wins were on a wet track, and victory in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) was on a fast track. The shipping back and forth from Arkansas and California, and the possibility that he is better on a wet track are valid concerns, but there is no knocking his speed and talent, and he enters the Derby on a 3-race win streak. Mike Smith sticks with him, and that has to be viewed as a positive sign.


Derby Points (137.5)


(5) TACITUS (Tapit - Close Hatches, by First Defence)


Trainer (William Mott) - Owner (Juddmonte Farms, Inc.) - Derby Jockey (Jose Ortiz)


Comments: Returned to action with a strong winning performance from off the pace in his sophomore debut in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and it was more of the same in the Wood Memorial (G2). In the latter event, he sat behind strong fractions and out finished Tax to win by a length and a quarter. He owns a strong pedigree and has definitely improved from age two to three. He should continue to develop for Bill Mott and sure seems like a mile and a quarter type. He seems to possess the tools to win the Derby and must be considered a solid threat on the first Saturday in May.


Derby Points (50)


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


Trainer (Shug McGaughey) - Owner (William S. Farish) - Derby Jockey (John Velazquez)


Latest Workout: 4f in 49.00 (9/27) at Keeneland on April 12.


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 in the Florida Derby, and there are more questions than answers, which is a recurring theme with a number of Derby hopefuls. He has shipped to Keeneland to prepare for the Derby and he had his first pre-Derby work April 12. He is an interesting price player in the Derby.


Derby Points (74)


(7) SPINOFF (Hard Spun - Zaftig, by Gone West)


Trainer (Todd Pletcher) - Owner (Werthheimer and Frere) - Derby Jockey (Manny Franco)


Latest Workout: 5f in 59.99 (3/4) at Palm Beach Downs on April 19.


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 in 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. He has worked three times since the LA Derby including a bullet on April 3. John Velazquez jumps off and Manny Franco climbs aboard for the Derby.   


Derby Points (40)


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


Trainer (Michael Trombetta) - Owner (Live Oak Plantation) - Derby Jockey (Julian Pimentel)


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 deserved a final shot in a Kentucky Derby qualifying event, and he got it in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on April 6. In his final Derby prep, he was never going to catch Vekoma over a speed favoring surface, but he finished well and just nabbed the place. He was the only one making up any ground late and that was a nice sustained run he made from 11th place. I am not sure if he wants to go ten furlongs, but he earned his place in the Derby field. He will reconnect with his winning rider Julian Pimentel at Churchill Downs.


Derby Points (50)


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


Trainer (George Weaver) - Owner (R.A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables) - Derby Jockey (Javier Castellano)


Latest Workout: 4f in 50.17 (5/7) at Palm Beach Downs on April 18.


Comments: I have liked this one for quite some time and it was nice to see him break through with a points race victory in the Blue Grass (G2). He showed excellent tactical speed and cruised home in both juvenile starts including a win in the Nashua (G3). He made his sophomore debut in the Fountain of Youth and he was in the hunt throughout and ended up a decent 3rd. In the Blue Grass, he tracked the pace from the second position, took over in the lane, and pulled clear to win by a comfortable 3-1/2 lengths. The speed favoring oval may have carried him to victory at Keeneland. The talent is there, and I like his tactical speed and winning spirit, but I am really not sure about the ten furlong distance in the Derby.


Derby Points (110 points)


(10) COUNTRY HOUSE (Lookin At Lucky - Quake Lake, by War Chant)


Trainer (William Mott) - Owner (Shields and McFadden) - Derby Jockey (undecided)


Comments: He has been one of my favorite runners on the Derby trail this year. The late runner had a slow start and was weaving in the stretch in his Risen Star (G2) runner-up finish in February. I was expecting more in the Louisiana Derby (G2), and 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 (4th place finish). He caught a speed favoring wet track in his final Derby prep and was a solid 3rd behind Omaha Beach and Improbable. I still think there is something here, but looking at the stretch runs of his three points race attempts, he appears to be running out of juice late. I am not sure about him at a mile and a quarter, but I think he can finish 3rd or 4th in the Derby if the track is fast, fair, and he gets pace help, a relatively clean trip, and a well-timed ride. He sure needs many things to go right on the first Saturday in May, but stranger things have happened.


Derby Points (50)


 


(11) HAIKAL (Daahar - Sablah, by Distorted Humor)


Trainer (Kiaran McLaughlin) - Owner (Shadwell Stable) - Derby Jockey (Rajiv Maragh)


Latest Workout: 4f bullet in 47.59 (1/48) at Belmont Park on April 19.


Comments: Finished in the top three in all five starts. His first four races were around one turn, and he qualified for the Derby with an off the pace score in the Gotham (G3). He got a ton of pace help in that race, and was along for 3rd in his first two turn attempt in the Wood Memorial (G2). He will be passing tired horses in the Derby and can sneak into the bottom of the gimmicks. McLaughlin knows how to prepare a horse for the Derby.


Derby Points (70)


THE NEXT NINE: (12) By My Standards (Gabriel Saez), (13) Maximum Security (Luis Saez), (14) War of Will (Tyler Gaffalione), (15) Long Range Toddy (Jon Court), (16) Cutting Humor (rider TBA), (17) Plus Que Parfait (Ricardo Santana Jr), (18) Gray Magician (rider TBA), (19) Tax (Junior Alvarado), (20) Master Fencer (Julien Leparoux). Need Defections: (21) Bodexpress, (22) Signalman, (23) Anothertwistafate, (24) Sueno, (25) Bourbon War
 

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