Bobby Zen

The plot thickens as the cadence quickens. Entries will be drawn Tuesday for this Saturday’s GI Toyota Blue Grass S., and on Wednesday for the GI Santa Anita Derby and GII Wood Memorial S.

1) MUTH (c, Good Magic–Hoppa, by Uncle Mo) ‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Zedan Racing Stables Inc; B-Don Alberto Corporation (KY); T-Bob Baffert. Sales history: $190,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP; $2,000,000 2yo ’23 OBSMAR. Lifetime Record: MGISW, 6-4-2-0, $1,504,100. Last start: WON Mar. 30 GI Arkansas Derby.

Muth’s two-length score in the GI Arkansas Derby cemented his status as the divisional kingpin. Yes, there are colts who are faster based on speed figures. And yes, there are contenders who are more visually arresting in their stretch runs. But in terms of consistency, reliability, and the potential for even more improvement, there are no better bets at this stage of the season.

The gaming corporation that runs Churchill Downs has disinvited trainer Bob Baffert from the track’s 150th GI Kentucky Derby bash, so it’s unclear where this ‘TDN Rising Star’ might start next. A commitment to the GI Preakness S. would still be weeks away, but the connections of whoever ends up winning the May 4 Derby probably won’t be going wild with visions of sweeping the Triple Crown knowing that a fresh, fit and dangerous Muth is waiting in the wings.

Muth adapted to two disruptive attempts in the early stages of the Arkansas Derby. Off as the 2.3-1 second choice, he was initially forwardly placed under Juan Hernandez, then got edged back off the action when a keyed-up 26-1 shot slipped through at the rail. Taking up a sweet stalking spot cornering onto the backstretch, Hernandez then had to decide what to do when 11-10 favorite Timberlake (Into Mischief) unexpectedly accelerated between rivals at the 6 1/2-furlong pole to seize the lead.

Muth was asked to shadow fellow ‘Rising Star’ Timberlake before Hernandez sensed that he could let that rival keep a half-length lead for most of the back straight. Seven-sixteenths out, Hernandez coaxed Muth to unwind, and once he hit his best stride at the quarter pole, Muth began opening up under a hand ride while Timberlake was being roused and not responding.

Through the lane, Muth kept the pesky 32-1 shot Just Steel (Justify) two lengths in arrears, and under the wire it was another 4 1/2 lengths back to the remaining stragglers.

2) SIERRA LEONE (c, Gun Runner–Heavenly Love, by Malibu Moon) ‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Mrs John Magnier, Michael B Tabor, Derrick Smith Westerberg, Rocket Ship Racing LLC & Peter M Brant; B-Debby M Oxley (KY); T-Chad Brown. Sales history: $2,300,000 Ylg ’22 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GSW, 3-2-1-0, $336,750. Last start: WON Feb. 17 GII Risen Star S.

‘TDN Rising Star’ Sierra Leone, who celebrated his third birthday Mar. 31, is the horse to beat in Saturday’s Blue Grass S. at Keeneland.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he needs to drain the tank to win his final prep race before the Derby. But considering this Chad Brown trainee has been unraced since winning the Feb. 17 GII Risen Star S., it is imperative for Sierra Leone to demonstrate numerical progression off a three-race Beyer Speed Figure arc of 71-91-90.

This $2.3-million FTSAUG sale-topper takes a long while to uncoil with his off-the-pace runs. But the scary thing is we haven’t seen him come close to scraping the bottom of his stamina reserves just yet.

In the Risen Star, he accomplished quite a bit considering it was just his third career start: Sierra Leone handled shipping away from his home base, winning off an 11-week layoff, rating from midpack while equipped with blinkers for the first time, and racing under the lights on a sloppy, sealed, and eerily shadowy track.

The last six times Brown has started a horse in the Blue Grass, the results have been two wins, three close seconds, and a third.

3) FOREVER YOUNG (JPN) (c, Reel Steel {Jpn}–Forever Darling, by Congrats). O-Susumu Fujita; B-Northern Racing; T-Yoshito Yahagi. Sales History: ¥98,000,000 Ylg ’22 JRHAJUL. Lifetime Record: 5-5-0-0, $2,049,451. Last start: WON Mar. 30 G2 UAE Derby.

The 5-for-5 Forever Young is a very plausible threat for the Kentucky Derby coming off a convincing win in Saturday’s G2 UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse over 1900 meters.

This Yoshito Yahagi trainee who sold for the equivalent of $720,603 at the JRHA Select Yearling and Foal sale was prompted for speed from an outer draw. Then, after opting for a four-wide go through the first turn, jockey Ryusei Sakai deftly eased him back to fifth on the straightaway, doing the best he could to keep the colt out of kickback (Forever Young was equipped a protective mask that was supposed to soften the blow of the dirt spray).

Forever Young again took the overland route around the final bend while smoothly shifting into consecutively higher gears, then drilled past the pacemaker with an outside bid before drawing away confidently.

The four dirt races on the G1 Dubai World Cup card at Meydan provided only a limited sample, but two of them were blowout wins by speed horses who rode the rail, suggesting that the ground-conceding run by Forever Young could have been against the grain of an inside-favoring track.

4) FIERCENESS (c, City of Light–Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty) ‘TDN Rising Star’. O/B-Repole Stable (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo, MGISW, 5-3-0-1, $1,703,850. Last start: WON Mar. 30 GI Curlin Florida Derby.

Fierceness needed a sharp effort in the GI Florida Derby to give him forward momentum heading to Louisville, and a gaudy, 13 1/4-length blowout that earned a 110 Beyer supplied the latest exclamation point in a five-race, Jekyll-and-Hyde career that has alternated scintillating wins with inexplicably flat performances.

We still don’t have a good measuring stick for how Fierceness might respond when faced with the multiple in-race challenges that a race like the 20-horse Derby will present. This Repole Stable homebred by City of Light had everything his own way Saturday when establishing a measured tempo without having to fight hard for the lead or repulse any serious bids.

It’s not Fierceness’s fault the Florida Derby came up soft on paper. But it does mean that the Kentucky Derby will be this colt’s first immersion into the deeper end of the divisional pool since he pasted the field in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 6 1/4 lengths.

At age two, Fierceness aired in his sloppy-track Saratoga debut by 11 1/4 lengths. He then looked lost when seventh as the odds-on fave in the similarly sloppy GI Champagne S. His Breeders’ Cup victory was delivered with authority, yet his coming-out party at age three was an underwhelming third at 1-5 odds in the slow-paced GIII Holy Bull S.

If anything, Fierceness’s cakewalk in the Florida Derby should erase any doubts about whether he had too taxing a final prep five weeks before the Run for the Roses. On Sunday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher reported the colt came out of the race “super.”

5) DETERMINISTIC (c, Liam’s Map–Giulio’s Jewel, by Speightstown) ‘TDN Rising Star’. O-St. Elias Stable, Langone, Ken, Duncker, C. Steven and Vicarage Stable; B-Hinkle Farms (KY); T-Christophe Clement. Sales history: $625,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 2-2-0-0, $222,750. Last start: WON Mar. 2 GIII Gotham S.

The athletic but lightly seasoned Deterministic remains on target for Saturday’s GII Wood Memorial S. This 2-for-2 Christophe Clement trainee bulleted five-eighths Friday in 1:01.60 (1/5) at Payson Park while reeling in a workmate after starting two lengths back with his usual jockey, Joel Rosario, aboard.

“I thought it was nice for him to be in behind a horse,” Clement told Daily Racing Form‘s David Grening. “If he goes two turns, a mile and an eighth, most probably he will be behind horses. I kind of like in the morning to try and reproduce what you’re going to do in the race.”

This colt scored at first asking over seven furlongs in an Aug. 12 MSW sprint at Saratoga (81 Beyer). He was subsequently sidelined with an ankle chip, but stamped himself as a Derby contender with an eye-catching, stalk-and-split win in the Mar. 2 GIII Gotham S. at Aqueduct, a one-turn mile over a sloppy and sealed track (93 Beyer).

Deterministic is drawing more than the usual share of “wiseguy” attention considering he’s only started twice and we’re into April. But a big showing in New York vaults him into the mix for favoritism in Louisville.

6) DORNOCH (c, Good Magic–Puca, by Big Brown) O-West Paces Racing LLC, R A Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding LLC, Two Eight Racing LLC & Pine Racing Stables; B-Grandview Equine (KY); T-Danny Gargan. Sales history: $325,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 5-3-2-0, $505,400. Last start: WON Mar. 2 GII Coolmore Fountain of Youth S.

Dornoch, a $325,000 KEESEP son of Good Magic who is a full-brother to 2023 Derby winner Mage, will still be in schooling mode for his final prep stakes Saturday at Keeneland.

Trainer Danny Gargan has been wanting to see if Dornoch is more effective in a race when targeting horses instead of setting the pace. But he didn’t get to execute that strategy as planned in the GII Fountain of Youth S. at Gulfstream, because all the main speed horses scratched out of that race, and Dornoch once again got sent to the front. He wired the field that day, but Gargan wants to try again from a bit farther back in the Blue Grass.

The guess here is that Dornoch won’t drop back quite as far as rival Sierra Leone. But with deadline for this column coming before entries are drawn, we don’t know for sure which and how many early speed types will be setting the table ahead of both of them.

Dornoch bested Sierra Leone by a nose in the Dec. 2 GII Remsen S. at Aqueduct. But that was five months ago over a muddy track that was heavily biased toward early speed. Dornoch forced the issue up front and Sierra Leone closed wide from well off the tailgate. Dornoch brushed the rail in upper stretch, but regained his best stride late to steal back the lead from Sierra Leone, who was also a touch unfocused through the lane.

7) TRACK PHANTOM (c, Quality Road–Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief) O-L and N Racing LLC, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom & Breeze Easy LLC; B-Breeze Easy (KY); T-Steve Asmussen. Sales history: $500,000 yrl ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 7-3-2-1, $405,000. Last start: 4th in Mar. 23 GII Louisiana Derby.

Track Phantom’s fourth in the GII Louisiana Derby was subpar considering he was allowed to establish an unpressured pace before regressing late. But when you consider that he looked certain to be swallowed up by no fewer than five rivals off the turn yet didn’t concede the lead until the sixteenth pole, that has to count for something.

This $500,000 KEESEP son of Quality Road wouldn’t be the first speed-centric horse to win the Kentucky Derby off a so-so final prep race. Keep in mind that in a year where top prospects are light on racing experience, trainer Steve Asmussen has already given Track Phantom seven starts at a mile or longer, and he’s been right up near the lead in every try.

In doing so, he’s dealt with outermost posts in three of his last four starts, plus gate 11 of 12 on one other occasion. Track Phantom has been unfazed by having hyper horses to his inside, and he’s also engaged in a couple of decent stretch fights. He’s run well in the slop (twice second, beaten half a length each time), and he’s won around two turns at Churchill, which is always encouraging to see.

Track Phantom was among the first Derby candidates to ship into Churchill last Thursday, and his stock is likely to quietly rise over the course of the next month.

8) MAYMUN (c, Frosted–Handwoven, by Indian Charlie) ‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Zedan Racing Stables, Inc.; B-Vision Racing & Sales LLC (KY); T-Bob Baffert. Sales history: $50,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP; $900,000 2yo ’23 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: 2-2-0-0, $79,200. Last start: WON Feb. 11 Santa Anita AOC.

This son of Frosted out of an Indian Charlie mare earned ‘TDN Rising Star’ honors in his Jan. 20 debut over 6 1/2 furlongs by splitting horses early, pegging straight for the lead, and setting a brisk tempo before brushing off three spent rivals at the quarter pole. His winning margin was 7 1/2 easy lengths (93 Beyer).

Six horses have now run back out of that Santa Anita MSW, and they are a collective 1-for-8 in all subsequent starts, with the lone winner running a 79 Beyer.

The better measuring stick might be Maymun’s Feb. 11 allowance try over a mile in which he brushed a rival at the break, then sideswiped stablemate and second-favorite Imagination (Into Mischief) while bearing out into the first turn.

After a slower second-quarter split, Imagination engaged Maymun from the outside and they ratcheted up the cadence from the three-eighths pole to the wire before Maymun wrested Imagination into submission through a final eighth in :12.83 (89 Beyer). The top two were 10 1/2 lengths clear of the three also-rans.

Imagination showed he was no slouch be rebounding to capture the Mar. 3 GII San Felipe S.

The two could hook up again in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, where trainer Bob Baffert is expected to enter at least two stablemates.

9) CATCHING FREEDOM (c, Constitution–Catch My Drift, by Pioneerof the Nile) O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC; B-WinStar Farm (KY); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $575,000 yrl ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-3-0-1, $877,350. Last start: WON Mar. 23 GII Louisiana Derby.

The 97-Beyer winner of the Louisiana Derby is scheduled for four workouts prior to the Kentucky Derby, trainer Brad Cox told the ‘TDN Writers’ Room’ podcast last week.

Cox mentioned that this Constitution colt brushed the gate and thus didn’t jump all that well in the Louisiana Derby. Even though Catching Freedom is an established closer, it was not the game plan for him to be so far back, Cox added.

Flavien Prat made the most of an improvised trip, waiting patiently behind a moderate pace at the rear of the field until 2 1/2 furlongs out before circling with a 12-wide bid in upper stretch that Catching Freedom sustained over the length of the long Fair Grounds home straight.

“He’s not a big horse. He’s medium-sized. He’s a good mover,” Cox said. “He puts a good bit into his gallops. His works have just been average. His first work back will be a pretty basic work. We may even take him by himself. We’re not looking to do much with him. But then the three [works] leading up [to the Derby] we’ll ask him for a little bit more.”

10) IMAGINATION (c, Into Mischief–Magical Feeling, by Empire Maker) O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Dianne Bashor, Robert Masterson, Waves Edge Capital LLC, Catherine Donovan & Tom Ryan; B-Peter Blum Thoroughbreds (KY); T-Bob Baffert. Sales history: $1,050,000 yrl ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-2-3-0, $256,800. Last start: WON Mar. 3 San Felipe S.

This $1.05-million KEESEP colt has never been worse than second from five starts. He appears to be in the mix for Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby for trainer Bob Baffert.

In the San Felipe S., Imagination got clipped from behind, then rushed to engage stablemate Wine Me Up (Vino Rosso). The two locked into a prolonged battle around the far turn and through the home straight, with Imagination gamely prevailing by a head (96 Beyer).

As mentioned above in Maymun’s write-up, Imagination was also impeded around the first turn two starts ago in a Santa Anita allowance, yet he didn’t back down in that race either. He finished second, beaten a neck, after briefly snatching the lead on three distinct occasions in the stretch.

11) TIMBERLAKE (c, Into Mischief–Pin Up (Ire), by Lookin At Lucky) ‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Siena Farm LLC and WinStar Farm LLC; B-St. Elias Stables, LLC (KY); T-Brad H. Cox. Sales history: $350,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 7-3-1-0, $1,173,100. Last start: 4th Mar. 30 GI Arkansas Derby.

Timberlake’s fourth-place try in the Arkansas Derby knocked him down a few pegs on the sophomore totem pole, but it didn’t get him voted off the Top 12 island just yet, because the effort might have been an aberration.

In last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Timberlake never settled in the early stages and it cost him the race. This $350,000 KEESEP son of Into Mischief seemed to have rectified that issue when he rated much more willingly in the Feb. 24 GII Rebel S. But on Saturday at Oaklawn, he was back to his old tricks, and Flavien Prat believed it was best to just let him go rather than waste energy fighting the colt’s headstrong ways.

“He was getting very aggressive, so I kind of let him run,” Prat told FanDuel TV. “He settled down nicely on the backside, but he didn’t have much run at the end.”

Considering he has the qualifying points and a pedigree that fuses speed with stamina, the Derby is still a realistic goal if trainer Brad Cox can figure out how to get a more efficient effort out of Timberlake. Prat also rides No. 9-ranked Catching Freedom for Cox, meaning a Derby choice looms likely in the near future.

12) JUST STEEL (c, Justify–Irish Lights {Aus}, by Fastnet Rock {Aus}). O-BC Stables, LLC; B-Summerhill Farm (KY); T-D. Wayne Lukas. Sales History: $500,000 Ylg ’22 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISP, 11-2-4-1, $724,545. Last start: 2nd Mar. 30 GI Arkansas Derby.

How’s this for a story line? At age 88, trainer D. Wayne Lukas will be saddling his 50th Derby horse overall and his first starter in the race since 2018 after Just Steel’s 32-1 second-place try in the Arkansas Derby garnered enough qualifying points to get in.

Lukas has won the Derby four times, with Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999).

Based solely on race records, the 2-for-11 Just Steel compares aptly to Charismatic, who was 2-for-12 entering his Derby 25 years ago and went off at a largely ignored 31-1 in the betting.

While Just Steel isn’t as purely fast as some of the higher-ranked Derby aspirants on this list, he’s a hard-trying type who can be envisioned as being in the thick of things late at a big price if he gets the right trip.

Just Steel’s effort at Oaklawn was commendable. He was always near the pace despite going four wide on the first turn, and he maintained his run through the lane in persistent enough fashion to prove he knows how to finish.

The post TDN Sophomore Top 12: Final Wave of 9-Furlong Preps About to Crest appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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