There were seven Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races run this year that gave 100 points to the winner and with remarkably few defections so far this year, their winners all look like they will make it to the starting gate. Let’s try to rate them in order of influence on this year’s “Run for the Roses.”
In seventh place will be the UAE Derby (G2). It was won by Plus Que Parfait who showed an ability of finishing strong going a longer distance than any of these. He hadn’t done much before that so the trip to Dubai was well worth it with a check for over $1.5 million and a berth in the starting gate. Second-place finisher Gray Magician has enough points and is under serious consideration.
In sixth place, the Louisiana Derby (G2) might send three starters to the Derby but none look like they will be in the top four in the betting. By My Standards will be a longshot, Spinoff will take some money based on the combination of Todd Pletcher with a high BRIS speed rating, and War of Will, who looks like he is bouncing back from his ninth-place finish but does not figure to be bet that much with all the questions surrounding him.
In fifth place, the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) had a big field of 14 and the winner, Vekoma, won it by 3 1/2 lengths. Win Win Win flew home after encountering traffic and barely got second which gives him enough points to run.
In fourth place, the Wood Memorial (G2) was a nice race and its winner, Tacitus, could figure strongly in this year’s Derby. Tax and Haikal will both be longshots but at least Tax has the distinction of running three straight triple-digit BRIS speed ratings.
In third place, the Florida Derby (G1) might not have been the vintage of past ones where the winner went to Churchill Downs to win the Derby but it is a hard race to ignore. Maximum Security is undefeated in four starts on the speed-favoring main track at Gulfstream Park and will have to show he can take his game on the road. Third-place finisher Code Of Honor has been highly rated all year after winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) over Vekoma. He raced erratically in the Florida Derby and was third on a track where speed was not coming back.
In second place, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) had the brilliant Roadster get up in the stretch over last year’s juvenile champion Game Winner. Both horses will be high regarded in the Derby and both will easily be in the top five betting choices.
And, finally, in first place as the strongest Kentucky Derby prep race will be the Arkansas Derby (G1). Even run only three weeks before the Derby, it attracted a strong field where the winner Omaha Beach could be the betting favorite, Improbable will be in the top five, and Country House was the only horse making up ground at the end. Long Range Toddy finished sixth but beat Improbable in the first division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) in his previous start so he will attract attention. The Arkansas Derby might have yielded the betting favorite and the most horses, four, to come out of it. Hard to beat that combination.
Omaha Beach winning the Arkansas Derby (G1) (c) Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park