Bobby Zen

The rankings below are independent from the “Road to the GI Kentucky Derby” leaderboard that Churchill Downs uses to determine starting berths. In addition, several horses listed here could be aiming for other Triple Crown races.

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.

Right now there’s a court showdown in Kentucky initiated by Muth’s owner, Amr Zedan, to try and get this son of Good Magic ($190,000 KEESEP, $2 million OBSMAR) eligible to start in the Derby despite a corporate ban by Churchill Downs against Bob Baffert’s trainees.

This ‘TDN Rising Star’ and winner of the GI Arkansas Derby would be among the favorites if he were granted access to the gate in Louisville. Otherwise, Baffert has indicated Muth is on target for the GI Preakness S.

Muth reacted professionally to two disruptive attempts in the early stages of the Arkansas Derby. Off as the 2.3-1 second choice, he showed good speed early, then Juan Hernandez conceded the lead when a 26-1 shot slipped through at the rail. When 11-10 favorite Timberlake (Into Mischief) unexpectedly accelerated between rivals at the 6 ½-furlong pole to seize the lead, Muth shadowed him about a length back while not expending much energy in doing so.

Muth began to gather serious momentum 3 ½ furlongs out, and opened up under a hand ride past his spent rival. Muth was then kept to task by Hernandez in the stretch to win by two lengths over Just Steel (Justify), and at no point did he appear to be scraping the bottom of his stamina reserves.

Muth has four wins and a pair of seconds from six lifetime races since breaking his maiden way back on June 18. He was second in the GIII Best Pal S., first in the GI American Pharoah S., second in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, then a winner in the GII San Vicente S. prior to his tally at Oaklawn.


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: GISW, 4-3-1-0, $918,000. Last start: WON Apr. 6 GI Blue Grass S.

When speed figures get adjusted several races after those numbers were initially assigned, it squares away potential inaccuracies moving forward. But this process of revising numerical ratings also can give horseplayers fits, because the changes can significantly alter one’s perception of the overall pecking order.

A case in point was last week’s Beyer Speed Figure change for Sierra Leone. After this $2.3 million FTSAUG sale-topper earned a 98 in winning the Apr. 6 GI Blue Grass S., Andrew Beyer told Daily Racing Form’s David Grening that the colt’s winning figure for the GII Risen Star S. would be upgraded from 90 to 95, and that all the horses who finished behind Sierra Leone would also be get a five-point boost.

“The Fair Grounds track was sloppy on Feb. 17, and may have been getting slower when the Risen Star was run,” Beyer told DRF. “Moreover, the pace of the Risen Star was slow enough to hinder horses from running a fast final time.

“The subsequent performances of horses in the field demonstrated that our initial figure was too low,” Beyer explained. “Three of the top five finishers all came back to win important stakes, and all five of these horses earned speed figures five or more points higher than their published numbers for the Risen Star.”

So Sierra Leone’s career Beyer arc now reads 71-91-95-98 instead of 71-91-90-98.

The betting public’s assessment of Gun Runner-sired ‘TDN Rising Star’ probably won’t change all that much because of how the numbers paint him. He’s capable of making one sustained run from five furlongs out, and as the Derby’s best-credentialed closer, Sierra Leone will vie for favoritism with 2-year-old champ and fellow ‘Rising Star’ Fierceness, who projects to be a pacemaker.

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 (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) arrived at Churchill Downs on Saturday, then jogged in the one-mile chute for about 20 minutes before taking a 1 1/8-mile gallop Sunday.

This Yoshito Yahagi trainee, who sold for the equivalent of $720,603 at the JRHA Select Yearling and Foal sale, has earned the distinction of being the most credible foreign threat in the Derby since the advent of the points qualifying system.

Forever Young’s victory in the G2 UAE Derby over 1900 meters stamped him as an A-lister based on his ground-conceding outside trip that featured deft shifting into consecutively higher gears and a confident drawing-away in the stretch.

Although there were only four dirt races on the G1 Dubai World Cup card at Meydan that day, two of them were blowout wins by speed horses who rode the rail, suggesting that the wide-all-the-way run by Forever Young could have been against the grain of the way the track was playing.

This colt’s chances in the Derby will be augmented if jockey Ryusei Sakai can carve out a stalking trip that utilizes Forever Young’s tactical speed to put him somewhere in the first flight or just behind it. Although he has come from farther back in several of his victories, rating from way off the tailgate in a 20-horse Derby doesn’t seem like the most effective use of his cruising ability.

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.

Now that all the speed-figure cards for the Derby are face-up on the table, the 110 Beyer awarded to ‘TDN Rising Star’ and 2-year-old champ Fierceness for his GI Florida Derby win stands atop the crop.

The chief question for handicappers though, is whether you think this Repole Stable homebred by City of Light can replicate or better that gaudy number in the Derby. It was earned under ideal circumstances in a 13 1/4 -length blowout against no other horses currently ranked among TDN’s Top 20 sophomores.

A few weeks back the Derby was shaping up as a race lacking strong early speed horses. Now that vacuum has been theoretically filled, with Fierceness, Track Phantom (Quality Road), Dornoch (Good Magic), T O Password (JPN) (Copano Rickey (JPN)), and possibly Encino (Nyquist) all likely to want a say in the early fray.

When Fierceness is on his game, he is one of the most dangerous colts in the division. But excelling under adversity has not been his strong suit, with two baffling, odds-on losses in the GI Champagne S. and GIII Holy Bull S. offsetting resounding scores in his Saratoga unveiling, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and the Florida Derby.

5) 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.

I always try to rate “how he did it” over “how fast” when handicapping. But in Track Phantom’s case, even though I’ve consistently liked the way he’s gone about his business when challenges have been thrown in his path, I still have nagging doubts about whether this colt is truly fast enough to be able to pull off a Derby win.

This $500,000 KEESEP son of Quality Road has handled different types of pace pressure despite being routinely drawn in or near the outside stall. He has engaged in several hard-fought stretch battles, and has run well over two different types of wet tracks at Fair Grounds and Churchill.

Even his beaten-fave fourth-place try after setting a moderate pace in the GII Louisiana Derby wasn’t as bad as it might seem. Closers stacked up five across the lane behind Track Phantom at the top of the stretch, yet he didn’t capitulate until the sixteenth pole.

Track Phantom isn’t a flashy sort, but you have to give him points for consistency. Getting out of the gate is crucial in the Derby. This colt has been on the lead at the first call in five of his seven lifetime races, and in the two others he was second, just a head behind.

Trainer Steve Asmussen will try blinkers on Track Phantom for the Derby. After pairing 94 Beyers in his last two efforts, he’ll need about a 10-point improvement to win.

Dornoch is the full-brother to Derby winner Mage | Ryan Thompson

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, 6-3-2-0, $552,275. Last start: 4th in the GI Blue Grass S. Apr. 6.

Dornoch has lost some steam in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools, going from 9-1 in February to 12-1 in March to 15-1 in April.

Although this son of Good Magic has cachet because he is a full brother to 2023 Derby winner Mage, his no-impact fourth in the Blue Grass S. wasn’t an emphatic enough of a final prep to stamp him as a major contender.

Although I wouldn’t recommend singling Dornoch, it wouldn’t be prudent to eliminate him off your Derby tickets entirely. Trainer Danny Gargan was asking this $325,000 KEESEP colt to change tactics by rating from behind horses in the Blue Grass, and after conceding that bit of schooling didn’t work out, he said Luis Saez will be instructed just to let Dornoch roll from the gate in the Derby.

Gargan has spent the winter at Palm Meadows trying to get the brawny-framed Dornoch to maintain a keen sense of focus. If the figurative lightbulb clicks on in the Derby, look out.

7) JUST A TOUCH (c, Justify-Touching Beauty, by Tapit) O-Qatar Racing LLC, Resolute Racing & Marc Detampel; B-Don Alberto Corp. (KY); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $170,000 RNA ’22 KEESEP; $125,000 yrl ’22 FTKOCT; $300,000 2yo ’23 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: 3-1-2-0, $281,700. Last start: 2nd in GI Blue Grass S. Apr. 6.

Just a Touch deserves praise for what he has accomplished in only three starts. But since his second-place effort in the Blue Grass S., his bandwagon has become crowded enough to warrant a reality check. Are Derby prognosticators “reaching” for a horse who has yet to truly peak?

In the Blue Grass, this Brad Cox-trained colt ($170,000 RNA KEESEP, $125,000 FTKOCT, $300,000 OBSAPR) pressed a rapid pace, then gained control of the lead from the three-sixteenths marker until just before the sixteenth pole. He was no match for the locomotive-like close of Sierra Leone, but he didn’t pack it in, and after being beaten only 1 ½ lengths, galloped out well.

Prior to that, Just a Touch broke his maiden by 4 ½ lengths sprinting at Fair Grounds Jan. 27, then was a wide but willing second in the Mar. 2 GIII Gotham S. at Aqueduct, both in the slop.

The post-Blue Grass reasoning has focused on how if Just a Touch could deliver such a good showing in only his first race around two turns and in his first race on a dry track, he just might be capable of turning in the over-the-top effort he will need to win the Derby, which will be run one day prior to his third birthdate.

From 1900 to the present, 26 horses have attempted to win the Kentucky Derby with exactly three lifetime starts. Only four have won: Mage in 2023, Justify in 2018, Big Brown in 2008 and Regret in 1915. Beyond those four, only one of the remaining 22 managed to hit the board (Curlin, third in 2007).

Just a Touch’s sire, Justify, in 2018 became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having raced at age two. Mage then triumphed over the “Apollo curse” in 2023. But the record of horses in the Derby without a race at age two since 1937 is 2-3-5 from 73 starts.

8) ENCINO (c, Nyquist–Glittering Jewel, by Bernardini) O-Godolphin LLC; B-Godolphin (KY); T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: 4-3-1-0, $378,315. Last Start: WON GIII Stonestreet Lexington S. Apr. 13.

Encino (Nyquist) is a legit wild card if he goes in the Derby. He’s in sharp form with three straight wins and a Beyer pattern that keeps improving. Yet he’s taken an unconventional path to the Triple Crown level, pairing stakes victories in the John Battaglia Memorial S. over Tapeta at Turfway and wiring the GIII Lexington S. over Keeneland’s short-stretch configuration for 1 1/16 miles.

Speed and the rail have produced favorable results this spring at Keeneland, and this Godolphin homebred had little trouble establishing himself at the head of affairs in his first dirt try, rattling off unopposed opening quarter-mile splits of :23.53 and :23.73.

Encino responded when roused to swat back the race’s only true challenger. But it’s not entirely clear if the three-quarter length win (94 Beyer) was more attributable to Encino’s fighting spirit or the inability of The Wine Steward (Vino Rosso) to seal the deal off a six-month layoff. The rest of the field was 8 ¼ lengths back.

Encino could end up being an intriguing wiseguy play in a year where the success of the two obvious Derby favorites (Fierceness and Sierra Leone) hinges upon whether they get the right pace and/or trips, and the next two logical horses in the betting (Just a Touch and Forever Young) still haven’t won American dirt stakes.

9) 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, $406,800. Last start: 2nd in the GI Santa Anita Derby Apr. 6.

No next start has been publicly disclosed for Imagination (Into Mischief), a Bob Baffert trainee who was most recently second in the GI Santa Anita Derby.

This $1.05-million KEESEP colt has been battle-tested by hooking up in prolonged late-race fights in three straight races. Even though he didn’t come out on the winning end of all of those stretch tussles, it’s the type of experience that will stand him in good stead at the Triple Crown level.

Imagination is now 2-4-0 from six lifetime starts, which include five two-turn races.

10) RESILIENCE (c, Into Mischief-Meadowsweet, by Smart Strike) O-Emily Bushnell & Ric Waldman; B-Pam & Martin Wygod (KY); T-Bill Mott. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-2-1-1, $494,630. Last start: WON Apr. 6 GI Wood Memorial S.

The GII Wood Memorial S. win didn’t appear to be an overlay demanding race for Resilience, and he does exit the most obvious key race among the points-awarding winter preps. Prior to his blinkers-on score in the Wood, he ran fourth in the Risen Star S., from which the first- and third-place finishers, Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom (Constitution) also won graded stakes in their next starts.

It took Resilience four starts to break his maiden. But the horses who won those first three at Saratoga and Churchill all eventually became stakes winners, so this colt gets points for taking a path to Louisville that has been laden with legit competition.

The question is whether this Bill Mott trainee is going take another leap forward (a small step won’t do it) in Louisville.

11) 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.

This medium-framed $575,000 KEESEP colt by Constitution from Brad Cox’s barn waited patiently at the back behind a moderate tempo in the Louisiana Derby, then unwound 2 1/2 furlongs out and fanned 12 wide into the lane. He ran straight and reeled in his targets, but for the most part was passing horses who had already made their major moves in upper stretch.

The win returned a 97 Beyer, building on a previous upward trend of 72-77-87-92.

Only two horses have won the Louisiana Derby and then the Kentucky Derby: Grindstone in 1996 and Black Gold in 1924.

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.

It’s at this juncture within the Top 20 that we have to realistically start considering every Derby aspirant from Just Steel on down to be “chaos contenders.” In other words, a lot of things would have to go wrong, tactics-wise, with almost all of the projected favorites, and a lot of things would have to go right for these longer shots to envision one of them wearing a blanket of roses.

Yet it happens. Just ask Rich Strike (Keen Ice), the 80-1 Derby winner from two years ago.

This $500,000 KEESEP colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas already has 11 races of experience, and on three occasions at age three he’s finished second around two turns in points-awarding Derby prep stakes. The one time he didn’t, Just Steel was five wide round both turns in the GII Rebel S.

In the Arkansas Derby, Just Steel raced close to the pace throughout and finished only two workmanlike lengths behind No. 1-ranked Muth.

Potentially rounding out the Derby starting gate…

13) Domestic Product (Practical Joke)
Last week on the TDN Writers’ Room podcast, trainer Chad Brown made a cogent case for this Klaravich Stables homebred to be “an under-the-radar real contender for the Derby” with a switch to jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. because Tyler Gaffalione is committed to No.2-ranked Sierra Leone.

Brown said he expected big things out of this son of Practical Joke in his Saratoga sprint debut, but attributed the subpar fifth to the colt getting pelted with dirt kickback. Domestic Product then missed some training, and although Brown doesn’t usually like to run a 2-year-old at nine furlongs off just one six-furlong start, he did so on Oct. 27 and the result was a 4 1/2-length win at Aqueduct.

Brown said the muddy track was the primary reason for Domestic Product’s poor seventh-place showing in the GII Remsen S., adding that a similarly wet track could be a problem if the rains come on Derby Day.

But, Brown added, Domestic Product’s second in the GII Holy Bull S. and win in the GIII Tampa Bay Derby both were promising considering the colt closed into very slow paces in both races.

After the Tampa Derby, Brown said Gaffalione told him that Domestic Product is “not that far behind” Sierra Leone. “Going a mile and a quarter, they’re not as much separating these two horses as you think,” the jockey told him.

“So I trust [Gaffalione],” Brown said. “I think taking the blinkers off of this horse was a positive move for him in his last two starts.”

14) Mystik Dan (Goldencents)
In the Arkansas Derby, this homebred son of Goldencents for owners Lance Gasaway, Daniel Hamby and 4G Racing didn’t live up to his 101-Beyer winning, wet-track form from the GIII Southwest S. He was carried wide and encountered a bit of trip trouble, and ended up third, beaten 6 ½ lengths in his nine-furlong debut.

Throughout this colt’s campaign, trainer Kenny McPeek has emphasized that Mystik Dan has a good mind and an easygoing attitude, both of which can be more valuable than what’s on paper in his past performances.

McPeek said after a Saturday workout that Mystik Dan “got a lot” out of the Arkansas Derby “and has shown he handled it well in his training after.”

Co-owner Eric Waller, left, leads Stronghold and jockey Antonio Fresu into the winner’s circle after their victory in the GI Santa Anita Derby | Benoit

15) Stronghold (Ghostzapper)
Stronghold is one of the more mature Derby aspirants, showing an ability to relax out of the gate, be responsive to his rider’s cues to engage, and win stretch battles even after getting in front and then briefly losing the lead.

This Ghostzapper-sired homebred for Rick and Sharon Waller necked Imagination in the Santa Anita Derby. He earned an 89 Beyer, the same figure as his score in the GIII Sunland Derby Feb. 18. Those have been his only two starts at age three.

Although currently based in Southern California with trainer Phil D’Amato, Stronghold has already won over the Churchill surface. His one-turn-mile maiden victory back on Oct. 1 is notable because the second- and third-place finishers, Resilience and Track Phantom, are both currently ranked ahead of him on this list.

16) Endlessly (Oscar Performance)
Endlessly, whose six races thus far been all on either turf or Tapeta, is aiming for a May 4 start at Churchill. But trainer Michael McCarthy still hasn’t zeroed in on whether that will be in the Kentucky Derby or the GII American Turf S.

This son of Oscar Performance won the Mar. 23 GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S. by four lengths with a complete-control outside move that outclassed the field.

Endlessly has won five races total, and his only loss is much better than it looks. This homebred for Amerman Racing was eighth, but beaten only 3 1/2 lengths, in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

17) Honor Marie (Honor Code)
This $40,000 KEESEP colt by Honor Code turns three on Derby Day. Although a touch behind his peers age-wise, Honor Marie does have the benefit of having won a two-turn stakes at Churchill at age two, the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S.

Trainer Whit Beckman is on record as saying that the 10-fulrong distance, “if not farther” might end up being Honor Marie’s sweet spot.

He was most recently third in the Louisiana Derby with a seven wide bid from the back of the pack.

18) Society Man (Good Magic)
This $85,000 KEESEP son of Good Magic chased without making an impact in his July 22 Saratoga sprint debut, then resurfaced seven months later at Aqueduct tasked with nine furlongs.

Society Man was bumped at the break and wide on the turns when third in that try, then had a nearly identical trouble line when attempting stakes company as a maiden in the muddy GIII Withers S.

He was difficult to load but delivered in a one-turn maiden mile Mar 9 in New York (also in the mud), then was a best-of-the-rest second at 106-1 odds behind Resilience in the Wood Memorial.

A plus is three races of experience at nine furlongs.

19) West Saratoga (Exaggerator)
As an $11,000 KEESEP bargain who has already bankrolled more than 40 times his purchase price in purses, this Larry Demeritte trainee deserves kudos for overachievement.

But despite running decently in several lower-profile stakes this season, West Saratoga (Exaggerator) hasn’t hit the winner’s circle since he registered a mild 12-1 upset in the Sept. 16  GIII Iroquois  S., a one-turn mile at Churchill.

This gray is also behind numbers-wise, with an 85 Beyer earned over Tapeta in his runner-up Jeff Ruby Steaks S. effort his career best.

West Saratoga’s consistent tactical speed, which he’s utilized to be within striking distance of the mid-race leaders in every single one of his 10 starts, could be an asset in the Derby.

20) T O Password (Jpn) (Copano Rickey {Jpn})
The “T O” in T O Password (Jpn) is a naming convention for horses owned by Tomoya Ozasa. This is a forward-running colt by Japanese champion dirt horse Copano Rickey (Jpn).

T O Password is a May 20 foal who did not make his debut until Jan. 6 at Kyoto in an 1,800-meter (about nine furlongs) maiden race. As the second favorite in the betting, he pressed a moderate pace and shook free over the final three furlongs to draw away by two lengths.

In the Mar. 23 1,800-meter Fukuryu S., this 13-1 Daisuke Takayanagi trainee went straight to the lead but tired late. He would have been nailed in the final jump by an onrushing closer had he not been saved by the wire.

T O Password figures to be a long-shot proposition north of 50-1 in the Derby. However, his tactics under Kazushi Kimura (Woodbine’s leading rider last year) could play a major role in how the pace unfolds.

The post TDN Sophomore Top 20: Pace Scenario For Derby Coming Into Clearer Focus appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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