by DICK POWELL

MAGNUM MOON might be playing catch-up to the field but with three starts now under his belt, but who is to say he can't win the Kentucky Derby (G1) after making a belated career debut on January 13 at Gulfstream Park?
 
The theory has been that in order to be ready for the first Saturday in May, a horse not only needs physical conditioning but psychological conditioning. The Derby, with its 20-horse field and huge crowd noise, is a distraction rarely encountered so the horse that has been doing this for a while has the advantage.
 
But, think LeBron James coming out of high school to the NBA; it doesn't matter if the talent is there!
 
Magnum Moon caught our attention when he broke his maiden first time out and won by 4 1/2 lengths in fast time. He earned a BRIS speed rating of 99 that day and when the third-place horse came back to win his next start in fast time by over 11 lengths, you knew something was brewing.
 
Looking for that elusive seasoning, trainer Todd Pletcher shipped him up to Tampa Bay Downs for an allowance race going two turns and he passed the test with flying colors. He won by two lengths and showed an ability to sit off the pace and accelerate when Luis Saez asked him; something he will need in bigger races.
 
With owners from Arkansas, it made perfect sense that he showed up last Saturday in the $900,000 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park where faced nine other runners. The favorite was Bob Baffert's SOLOMINI and Magnum Moon was sent off as the second choice.
 
The lesson he learned at Tampa Bay Downs was applied here as he sat just off the pace while racing in between horses. The pace was about average and Luis Saez had him off the rail every step of the way. Despite losing ground, he asserted himself on the far turn and turned for home with the lead. Solomini had some traffic at the top of the stretch and Combatant was making a big rally but nobody was catching Magnum Moon.
 
He won by 3 1/2 lengths and earned a solid BRIS speed rating of 100. Magnum Moon is by Malibu Moon, who has already sired a Kentucky Derby winner in Orb, so the pedigree is there.
 
The biggest issue for Magnum Moon to overcome is that he was born on May 9, 2015 which means that he will still be a two-year-old when the Derby is run. This is not insurmountable but coupled with his late career debut, it's a lot to overcome.
 
Next up for Magnum Moon should be the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 14 when there is a good chance that Baffert monster JUSTIFY might be there to face him. Right now, MAGNUM MOON is not even close to JUSTIFY, but what has impressed me in each of his three starts is that he gives the impression that there is more to come. We will soon find out.

(Holly Smith photo)