Kentucky Derby Trail: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not

We’re two months out from the Kentucky Derby, Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth (G2) is in the books, and we’re now heading up to the biggest weekend of the season so far with three major Kentucky Derby prep races scheduled to be run on Saturday, March 9. The results of those three races — the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct (which saw a lot of California contenders entered given the temporary closure of Santa Anita), the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway and the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) — will go a long way toward clarifying the list of contenders pointing to the Kentucky Derby, to be run on Saturday, May 4 at Churchill Downs.

The long list of potential major Kentucky Derby threats getting ready to take to the track March 9 will soon have their say in shaping the field for the Run for the Roses, including the likes of Instagrand (Gotham), Mind Control (Gotham), Dream Maker (Tampa Derby), Well Defined (Tampa Derby) and many more.  Before we get to that group, however, let’s get caught up on where we currently stand after the most recent round of Derby preps (through March 2).

Who’s hot and who’s not?

HOT

CODE OF HONOR: Defeated a loaded field in the Fountain of Youth after slipping under the radar somewhat at 9-1 odds. He looked very good as a 2-year-old after a runner-up finish in Belmont’s Champagne Stakes (G1), but was all but forgotten by some after a fourth-place finish in a strangely-run Mucho Macho Man Stakes where he broke bad, rushed up into a four-way duel, and then faded as a result of those early efforts. He certainly made up for that debacle with a strong Fountain of Youth victory for trainer Shug McGaughey, which puts him back on track for Derby contention. He’s going to either Florida Derby or Wood Memorial next.

SPINOFF: Todd Pletcher 3-year-old returned from a layoff with an 11-length route allowance win in first start back since Saratoga last year. He seems poised to win a graded stakes in next out after looking better than ever in return from the six-month layoff.  The son of Hard Spun leads a group of potential Pletcher emerging contenders, along with Intrepid Heart at Oaklawn and Soldado and Outshine at Gulfstream, all looking for upcoming graded stakes spots to launch them into the Derby picture.

MUCHO: Trainer Bill Mott suffered a setback at Gulfstream on Saturday with the flop of Hidden Scroll, but this real Derby contender might have run in an allowance at Gulfstream on Friday, as Mucho returned from a six-month layoff to easily win a 6-furlong allowance race. Mucho was also second in the Hopeful (G1) as a juvenile. He’ll need to hurry to make the Derby, but the sky is the limit because this horse has talent.

WarofWill-2

War of Will (photo by Jordan Thomson)

WAR OF WILL: Currently on a roll for Mark Casse via the Louisiana route to the Derby with three straight victories, including back-to-back stakes scores in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2).  Perhaps the most experienced of the main group of Derby contenders with three wins and seven starts already on his resume. He’s undefeated since switching to the dirt.

GALILEAN: Keeps beating up on Cal-breds for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, most recently in the California Cup Derby on Feb. 18 (a prep used by California Chrome). Hard to knock his winning record (4-3-1-0) and he’ll be tough to ignore once he steps out against graded stakes competition.

COLD

HIDDEN SCROLL: Earned a giant speed figure in his career debut — a one-mile win at Gulfstream in January, but it was in the slop. He could not repeat that effort on a fast track when setting the pace and fizzling to a fourth-place finish in a disappointing Fountain of Youth loss.

KNICKS GO and SIGNALMAN: The second- and third-place finishers from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (and also the top two finishers in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland) both suffered really bad defeats in their sophomore debuts, with Knicks Go flopping in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa and Signalman running a brutally bad seventh in the Fountain of Youth.

NOLO CONTESTO: Maybe it’s not a total killer for this horse, but the odds-on allowance optional claiming loss at Santa Anita on March 1 certainly doesn’t bode well for his Derby chances despite all the hype for this John Sadler January maiden winner.

GLOBAL CAMPAIGN: Another hype horse that fizzled, this horse was high on a lot of Derby lists for trainer Stanley Hough, but could not deliver in the big leagues when off-the-board and badly beaten in the Fountain of Youth. He’s not lived up to expectations (slow speed figs) now in two tries at 1 1/16 miles.

Southwest Stakes Losers: A lot of horses had a chance to take steps forward in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn on Feb. 18, but none of them did, losing to 62-1 shot Super Steed. The long list of disappointments, apparently going nowhere in terms of the Kentucky Derby, includes Gray Attempt, Sueno, Long Range Toddy, Bankit, Jersey Agenda and Cutting Humor.

Noel Michaels
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.

He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.

In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.

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