Just because a horse hasn’t earned enough, if any, points towards a starting post in the Kentucky Derby by now, doesn’t mean it’s too late to have a legitimate shot.
Check out Danza, who won the Arkansas Derby (GI) with zero points and went on to finish third to California Chrome in the Run for the Roses. Or Wicked Strong, who might not have gotten into the big race if he hadn’t blossomed late in the Wood Memorial (GI). Even American Pharoah risked top fitness by not starting his three-year-old season until March, eventually accruing points in the Rebel Stakes (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI) before his legend grew during the Triple Crown series. Those late, nine-furlong preps can be decisive in separating the men from the boys in terms of whose form is peaking on schedule, as well as who can go a furlong longer.
Distance and timing might both suit the schedule of the promising Linda Rice-trained colt, Matt King Coal, who is pointing to the $1 million Wood Memorial (GI) on Saturday.
A bit of a darkhorse last summer at Saratoga, Matt King Coal debuted impressively on the turf at the Spa (Saratoga), where he was bested late to finish third in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Whitney Stakes Day. I was there that day, and while the winner of the race was of the feel-good nature, the 20-1 shot that finished third had a serious “future racehorse look,” despite appearing humble on paper.
It took Matt King Coal two more tries to finally snap his maiden. In his second start, he succumbed late to the talented Gift Box. Then, three weeks later, he strummed the field at Belmont (two days before American Pharoah won his final start), leading every step of the way to score by 5 ¾ lengths at a mile on the main track.
It was the tale of a turf horse finding his wings on dirt.
The day after his actual third birthday, the Florida-bred son of Cool Coal Man added an allowance win to his name, going wire-to-wire to prevail by a length over favored My Man Sam in a 1 1/16-mile race at Aqueduct. The race came a day after the Gotham Stakes (GIII), run over the same inner track at the same distance, was won by the undefeated Shagaf — a full second slower than Matt King Coal. The allowance winner picked up a sizzling 97 Beyer speed figure — 10 points higher than Shagaf — for his first win off a layoff.
The colt could be declared king of the New York preps from multiple angles:
- He’s shown improvement as a three-year-old, issuing warning with that 97 Beyer off a four-month layoff in a gritty performance over My Man Sam, a promising colt coming off a big eight-length score in January. His second start off the layoff could conceivably be his best yet.
- Matt King Coal has shown early speed in a year where the New York circuit has experienced little among its three-year-olds. If positioned well early, he may again be unchallenged on the lead and go wire-to-wire.
- His pedigree is even better beneath the surface. While Cool Coal Man has yet to replicate his graded stakes winning ways through his progeny, the A.P. Indy sire line is among the most dominant forces in racing today. It already produced a Kentucky Derby winner once before when crossed with a mare of Mr. Prospector and Polish Numbers lineage — California Chrome.
- Stats matter: Top New York trainer Linda Rice finished second in the win rankings at Aqueduct for the 2015 winter meet, scoring with 21 percent of her runners. Owner Sheila Rosenblum has sent past stakes winners La Verdad and Hot City Girl to Rice.
Matt King Coal represents strong value to run very well in his first stakes try against proven “plodding” types like Flexibility and Shagaf.