By Mike Farrell
The trio of Triple Crown prep races last Saturday produced three intriguing winners, spawning hope in each camp that they have a horse for the Kentucky Derby (G1) in less than nine weeks from now.
Each winner earned 50 Derby qualifying points, enough to secure a spot in the race. And each will likely face one more important challenge that will enhance or discourage that trip to Kentucky.
Let’s unpack the results, starting with the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) where Simplification lived up to his billing as the 5-2 favorite with a 3 ½ length victory over In Due Time.
The six-wide sweep was another quality effort by the Florida-bred Simplification. He was the pacesetting winner of the Mucho Macho Man on New Year’s Day and rallied for second after a hesitant start in the Holy Bull (G3).
His ability to navigate an 11-horse field with a powerful rally should serve him well in the tests ahead. His next stop will likely be the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 2, according to trainer Antonio Sano.
“I am proud of my horse,” Sano said. “I am happy for all the support the people gave me. I am happy for another chance to win the Kentucky Derby.”
It was the second Fountain of Youth win for Sano, who scored with Gunnevera in 2017.
Gunnevera ran third in the Florida Derby and seventh in the Kentucky Derby.
It was chaos behind Simplification as High Oak clipped heels and fell just past the quarter pole, tossing Junior Alvarado. Galt hurdled the fallen horse, unseating Joel Rosario, and completing the total wipeout of both Bill Mott-trained runners. The two horses ran off after the incident and were corralled without apparent injury. The two jockeys were shaken up but not seriously injured.
The stewards conducted an inquiry and let the result stand as posted.
That decision set of a firestorm of criticism on social media, as the on-line lynch mob wanted Paco Lopez drawn and quartered. Lopez, aboard In Due Time, split horses while brushing with A.P.’s Secret who in turn made contact with High Oak.
From this perspective, there were a number of horses in that danger zone of very tight quarters. We ask horses and riders to find seams that are the difference between defeat and victory. It was a scary scene, but the upside is: everyone will return to fight another day.
Mandella looks to have a top Derby contender in Forbidden Kingdom
Out west, Forbidden Kingdom handled his first two-turn assignment in high style, romping to a 5 ¾-length win in the $400,000 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita.
The even-money favorite blasted right to the front and never faced a challenge.
“I was anxious to see this race and see if he would get two turns,” said trainer Richard Mandella. “He looked even better. I was a little nervous when I saw the :45 on the board for the first half. He just did what he likes to do. The next step is the Santa Anita Derby (G1) next month.”
Gotham: Morello remains unbeaten
It’s been a long time since the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct was relevant. Just how long, you might ask?
The last horse to win the Gotham on the way to a Kentucky Derby victory was Secretariat in 1973. It’s been that long.
Perhaps the undefeated Morello can end that drought. He was a dominant winner over Dean’s List at even money to improve his record to 3-for-3.
Morello is unbeaten, and largely untested in his three races. The competition will likely stiffen next time out if he remains on the New York road to the Triple Crown for the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) on April 9.
On tap: Tampa Bay Derby
Tampa Bay Downs has the 3-year-old spotlight all to itself on Saturday with the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
The race could be a showcase for Classic Causeway, winner of the local prep, the Sam F. Davis (G3), in impressive fashion last month.
After dueling for the lead through a brisk pace, Classic Causeway pulled away to a decisive 3 ¾-length victory in the Davis that affirmed and confirmed his standing as a solid Triple Crown contender.
Classic Causeway captured his debut at Saratoga in September, an authoritative 13-1 upset for trainer Brian Lynch that got everyone’s attention.
He was the 9-5 favorite next time out in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland where he set the pace and finished third.
Handicappers were in a forgiving mood, as they sent him off as the 7-5 choice in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs where he ran second.
The Davis was his season debut, and at 8-5, his third straight race as the betting favorite. Classic Causeway finally rewarded the chalk players with a victory and firmed up his credentials. If he builds on the Davis, Classic Causeway will be very tough to catch. Likely rivals include Belgrade, Major General and Shipsational, the Davis runner-up.
The Tampa Bay Derby also offers the winner 50 Derby qualifying points.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.