In the wake of an 89 BRIS Speed rating, Collected caught flak for his victory in Saturday’s Sham Stakes (G3). I won’t sugarcoat the figure – 89 is dismal for a Kentucky Derby prospect – but it’s important to keep the proper perspective given the Sham was held 17 weeks prior to the first Saturday in May.
Anybody who thinks a horse can’t win the Kentucky Derby because he’s too slow in January only needs to refer back to 2012. Orb opened his 3-year-old campaign on January 26 with an allowance victory at Gulfstream Park that netted an 89 Speed rating, a career-best number in his fifth career start but one that was easy to pan. However, the figure became immaterial as Orb ran faster in the Fountain of Youth (102) and Florida Derby (97) en route to capturing the Kentucky Derby.
After finishing slowly in the one-mile Sham, Collected will also need to improve rapidly in the coming months to be a serious factor and turf will always be an option with his first four dams being by Johannesburg, Danehill, Lyphard and Alleged. He did score comfortably by a 1 ¾-length margin in the Sham after traveling wide on both turns in his dirt debut (first two starts came on turf) and Collected is in good hands with four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert; I won’t completely dismiss his Derby chances at this early stage.
Let’s Meet in Rio caught the eye with his belated Sham rally. He settled at the tail of the eight-horse field with Kent Desormeaux and turned for home in last before commencing his run, making up a lot of ground in the final furlong to be a clear second while never a threat to the winner. By Flatter, the Baffert-trained colt hails from a classy female family with plenty of turf influences, with English champions Kingman and Oasis Dream prominent in his immediate bloodlines, and Let’s Meet in Rio was exiting a maiden score at Los Alamitos on December 9.
Tough to get too excited given the slow final time of the Sham – the horses in front of him were backing up as well – and Let’s Meet in Rio has yet to run fast in any of his four starts. But he strikes me as a late-blooming type with the potential to keep showing more for a high-powered barn and we’ll find out whether Let’s Meet in Rio can continue to build upon a decent effort in his first start versus winners.
The Sham was the lone Kentucky Derby qualifying race of the weekend and a couple of points’ races are on tap this coming weekend: Saturday’s TwinSpires.com Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds and Monday’s Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park.
Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) third-placer Mo Tom is the 7-2 favorite on the Lecomte morning line for Tom Amoss and other runners likely to attract action include stakes runner-up Tom’s Ready; Uncle Walter, an Uncle Mo colt for Mike Maker who finished a head second in a Churchill allowance race last out; and Destin, a well-bred debut winner for Todd Pletcher who exits a runner-up finish at odds-on in a Gulfstream allowance.
I’m keen to see how Z Royal fares. By Eskendreya and out of a mare by Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, Z Royal showed little first-time out for D. Wayne Lukas but graduated in good fashion when stretching out to a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs on November 14. He’s eligible to carry his momentum forward at age 3 and Victor Espinoza will be in for the mount.
A 12-horse field is expected for the one-mile Smarty Jones, which kicks off the 3-year-old stakes at Oaklawn and will be followed by the $500,000 Southwest (G3) on February 15, $900,000 Rebel (G2) on March 19 and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 16.
Any Kentucky Derby top 10 list in mid-January is certain to be in flux over the coming months and I’ve included few promising maiden winners that must still prove themselves at the stakes level. One notable exclusion is presumptive 2-year-old champion Nyquist, who would face a daunting task at 1 ¼ miles this spring given the speed influences on both sides of his pedigree and isn’t scheduled to race at two turns until April.
1) Mohaymen – Unbeaten in three starts, Tapit colt is targeting the January 30 Holy Bull (G2)
2) Mor Spirit – Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) winner looms a serious prospect for Baffert; February 6 Robert Lewis (G2) possible
3) Brody’s Cause – Winner of the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), late-running Giant’s Causeway colt exits a good third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1); waiting for his return to worktab
4) Conquest Big E – Eligible to make a major impact in Gulfstream preps for Mark Casse
5) Greenpointcrusader – Champagne (G1) winner faltered as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favorite but is gearing up for his return in South Florida
6) Shagaf – Recorded an impressive debut win in late November & readying for his first attempt against stakes foes for Chad Brown
7) Drefong – Turned heads with a sharp 9 ½-length maiden win at Del Mar in mid-November; Baffert is weighing options for promising Gio Ponti colt
8) Exaggerator – Delta Jackpot (G3) winner concluded juvenile campaign on a high note; trainer Keith Desormeaux has touted Curlin colt over accomplished stablemate Swipe
9) Flexibility – Runner-up to Mohaymen in Remsen (G2) and Nashua (G2), Brown trainee recorded a good-looking win in Jerome (G3) and will step up to face tougher company next time
10) Hand of Power – Loved his finishing kick in Churchill maiden win last out; recently recorded 5-furlong bullet work at Palm Meadows