Pedigree fun facts for 2019 Preakness

The dozen contenders expected in Saturday’s Preakness (G1) bring notable pedigrees into the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

Although none is by a Preakness winner, three are grandsons of champions who’ve figuratively hoisted the Woodlawn Vase.

Win Win Win boasts that both of his grandsires, Sunday Silence and Smarty Jones, are Kentucky Derby (G1) winners who added the Preakness. His sire, Japanese champion Hat Trick, is by Hall of Famer Sunday Silence, who prevailed in the 1989 epic over Easy Goer. (Hat Trick has two more Preakness victors close up on his dam’s side, Codex [1980] and Hall of Famer Damascus [1967].) Win Win Win’s broodmare sire, Smarty Jones, ran away from his 2004 rivals by a Preakness record margin of 11 1/2 lengths.

Bernardini, hero of the 2006 edition marred by the breakdown of Barbaro, factors in the second generation of two contenders. Local star Alwaysmining is by Bernardini’s son Stay Thirsty, and Owendale is out of a Bernardini mare.

Bernardini’s sire, Hall of Famer A.P. Indy, is in turn by 1977 Triple Crown sweeper Seattle Slew and out of a mare by 1973 Triple Crown legend Secretariat. A.P. Indy is also a direct male-line ancestor of Bourbon War (by Tapit) and Signalman (by General Quarters, a son of Sky Mesa). Coincidentally, all three contenders from this sire line are new shooters.

A.P. Indy’s influence is visible on the dam’s side as well, beyond the link to the aforementioned Owendale. A.P. Indy appears as the broodmare sire of presumptive favorite Improbable and perhaps the biggest outsider of the group, Market King.

Improbable, by City Zip, is one of three representatives of the Mr. Prospector sire line. Mr. Prospector was in turn the grandson of Preakness winners Native Dancer (1953) and Nashua (1955). Ironically, both Hall of Famers had suffered Kentucky Derby upsets.

Bodexpress is by Bodemeister, who was just caught by a neck in the 2012 Preakness, denied again by I’ll Have Another in a reprise of their Derby finish. As a son of Empire Maker, Bodemeister hails from the same branch of “Mr. P” as 2015 Triple Crown star American Pharoah. The speedy stakes firster Warrior’s Charge is a son of Munnings, a scion of the Gone West branch via Speightstown.

Five contenders descend from the sire line of Hall of Famer Northern Dancer, the 1964 Derby and Preakness victor (who was out of a Native Dancer mare).

Three come by way of Storm Cat. Anothertwistafate is from the final crop of Scat Daddy. The sire of 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify, the late Scat Daddy has the distinction of being the only sire in the line-up already responsible for a Preakness winner. The other two Storm Cat-line descendants are both by Into Mischief – Owendale and Market King, each bred along a similar pattern with their dams hailing from the A.P. Indy line as described above.

War of Will, by Danzig’s son War Front, is out of a Sadler’s Wells mare and therefore closely inbred (3×3) to Northern Dancer. Laughing Fox likewise has both parents from the Northern Dancer line, and in fact his pedigree sports four crosses of Northern Dancer within five generations. By Union Rags, himself a son of the Dixieland Band stallion Dixie Union, Laughing Fox is out of a mare by Storm Cat’s son Stormy Atlantic.

Looking purely at the matrilineal descent, Laughing Fox and Improbable trace to the same family number 16-h with Ornament (sister to unbeaten 1886 English Triple Crown winner Ormonde) as their common ancestress. Laughing Fox descends from Ornament’s all-time great daughter, Sceptre, who won four English classics.

While Improbable springs from a different daughter, this branch includes such American champions as Chateaugay, the 1963 Derby and Belmont (G1) hero who was second in the Preakness, and Little Current, who rebounded from the 1974 Derby to turn the Preakness/Belmont double. A more recent classic performer on Improbable’s page is Hard Spun, the 2007 Derby runner-up and Preakness third.

War of Will and Market King, bred by the Niarchos Family’s Flaxman Holdings from different families, are each related to outstanding European milers. War of Will’s dam is a half-sister to French and Irish highweight Spinning World, hero of the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), and Market King’s granddam is European champion and dual classic winner Divine Proportions.

Bourbon War is the first foal from star filly My Conquestadory. By the Sadler’s Wells-line sire Artie Schiller, My Conquestadory beat the boys in her career debut in the Summer (G2) at Woodbine and came right back to take the Alcibiades (G1). Her mating with Tapit gives her resulting foal, Bourbon War, inbreeding to both A.P. Indy and Mr. Prospector.

Anothertwistafate is out of a half-sister to such Juddmonte celebrities as French classic winner Nebraska Tornado, Group 2 victor Burning Sun, and Grade 3 scorer Mirabilis (herself the dam of Group 3 hero Monarchs Glen). Anothertwistafate’s pedigree offers a fascinating pattern: his granddam, Grade 2 winner Media Nox, is bred on a similar Mr. Prospector/Nijinsky II cross as his paternal granddam (Scat Daddy’s dam) Love Style so he is accordingly inbred to those patriarchs.

Owendale’s family has produced three Grade 1 winners in the past decade or so, from his “uncle” Great Hunter and Mor Spirit to champion filly Stellar Wind, victorious in six Grade 1s.

Signalman sports inbreeding to Danzig, but perhaps his most significant duplication is of Broodmare of the Year Weekend Surprise, through her sons A.P. Indy and Honor Grades. That’s the “Rasmussen Factor” of doubling up on a superior female. Weekend Surprise herself reflected the Rasmussen Factor, with a close repetition of Somethingroyal, dam of Secretariat and Sir Gaylord.

Alwaysmining also claims that pedigree angle, albeit at a further remove that reinforces the duplication of noted matron Cequillo found in his own dam, What Will Be. The details are in the following paragraph, but the short version is that three closely related mares by Dr. Fager – Killaloe (dam of Fappiano), Demure (dam of Quiet American), and Consequential – all appear in his five-cross pedigree.

Alwaysmining’s third dam, Consequential, is by Dr. Fager and out of Cequillo, making her a three-quarter sister to Killaloe, the dam of Fappiano. As a result, when Consequential’s daughter was bred to Anees, a grandson of Fappiano, the resulting foal – What Will Be – was inbred to the closely related mares Killaloe and Consequential. Alwaysmining’s sire, Stay Thirsty, added another layer to this pattern because his sire, Bernardini, is out of a mare by the intensely inbred Quiet American. Being by Fappiano and out of Demure, yet another three-quarter sister to Killaloe, Quiet American is himself inbred to Dr. Fager (3×2) and Cequillo (4×3).

Finally, as a barometer of their far-reaching influence, Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector factor in the pedigrees of all 12 Preakness contenders. Secretariat appears in all but one, and Seattle Slew is present in all but three. War of Will lacks both, while Warrior’s Charge and Win Win Win are missing “Slew.”

Photo of the Woodlawn Vase (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com

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Projected cast for 2019 Preakness: How the Middle Jewel is shaping up

For the first time since 1951, the principals from the Kentucky Derby (G1) are all absent from the Preakness (G1). But if the Middle Jewel doesn’t lend itself so much to a “rematch” story line, Saturday’s classic in Baltimore is giving a few Derby competitors a fresh playing field versus several up-and-comers.

Leading the cast is Improbable, who aims to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a record eighth Preakness. The 4-1 post time Derby favorite, he crossed the wire in a fairly even fifth (promoted to fourth via the disqualification of Maximum Security). That was the second straight sloppy track that the big chestnut encountered, following his runner-up effort to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Despite the fact that he was beaten only a length by the early Kentucky Derby favorite at Oaklawn, I didn’t get the sense that Improbable was in love with the slop. To me, he gave off the vibe of one tolerating it and plowing through on class. Then again, the blinker experiment had him all at sea from the beginning of the Arkansas Derby anyway, so I could be misreading or over-interpreting it. In any event, the blinkers-off Improbable did not really pick up in the slop at Churchill as he was beaten a shade over three lengths, and he’s manifestly better than that.

If the advance forecast holds, Improbable stands to get a fast surface at Pimlico, and we could well see him back to his best. The City Zip colt remains capable of the brute power he showed in last fall’s Street Sense and Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).

War of Will would like a word with Maximum Security after the fracas on the Derby far turn, but until he gets that opportunity, the Mark Casse trainee at least deserves a clean trip in the Preakness. While we’ll never know exactly how much the interference cost him, War of Will maintained his contending position for a long way before fading to eighth (elevated to seventh). And the immediate postrace quotes suggested he just got tired. Casse relayed what jockey Tyler Gaffalione had told him: “if he could have gotten him to relax a little he thought he would finish a little better.”

Indeed, War of Will had every right to feel it that last furlong even if he hadn’t been hampered or raced too keenly in the early going. Remember his awkward steps at the beginning of the Louisiana Derby (G2), where he lost his action and never factored in ninth? He got virtually nothing out of his final Kentucky Derby prep, six weeks ahead of the first Saturday in May. So War of Will had not had a proper race since his Risen Star (G2) victory back on…February 16.

Thus War of Will’s pattern of races – but not his overall profile – reminds me of Bravazo last year. Bravazo also won the Risen Star, got nothing out of a bizarre trip in the Louisiana Derby, ran a sneakily-good sixth behind Justify in the Churchill slop, moved forward a light year at Pimlico, and almost upset the Triple Crown winner. War of Will has the same entitlement to improve off the Derby, along with the advantage of being a naturally more brilliant performer than Bravazo.

The other two exiting the Derby are Win Win Win and Bodexpress. Win Win Win, who brought exotics appeal in the wake of a troubled but hard-charging second in the Blue Grass (G2), raced far back early at Churchill and got no closer than 10th (officially placed ninth). The Mike Trombetta pupil is eligible to return to his prior form, but still needs to step up to become a win threat. Bodexpress, part of the collateral damage on the Derby far turn, is still a maiden albeit one with a respectable level of form for Gustavo Delgado. Runner-up to Maximum Security in the Florida Derby (G1) two back, the Bodemeister colt aims to become the first to break his maiden in the Preakness since Refund (1888).

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The historical trends strongly favor Derby alumni winning the Preakness, but the 2019 Triple Crown trail hasn’t exactly gone according to script. This is just the type of year for a new shooter to defy the stats.

The most logical place to look is among the “bubble” horses who might have been a tad unlucky not to make the Derby field, and Bourbon War is Exhibit A. Trained by Mark Hennig, the Tapit blueblood brings the rich vein of Florida form that stood up well in the Derby. Bourbon War was a closing second to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and fourth in the Florida Derby, where he had no chance given the race shape benefitting the front runners. (Saturday’s Peter Pan [G3] is an additional data point, with Fountain of Youth alum Global Campaign prevailing.)

Sometimes my penchant for counterfactuals can lead me astray, but just as a thought experiment, what if Bourbon War had been in the Wood Memorial (G2) instead of the Florida Derby? Isn’t there a reasonable chance he gets more points at Aqueduct than at Gulfstream (all he needed was a third in the Wood)? And gets in the Derby? In that alternate universe, Bourbon War might have brought a stronger resume into Baltimore. At a minimum, the talented colt is adding blinkers for the Preakness and figures to get an honest pace.

The “what-if” game applies to Marylander Alwaysmining in a slightly different way. He’s compiled a six-race winning spree capped by the Federico Tesio – a Preakness “Win and You’re In” – without venturing into Derby scoring races. Yet he’s turned in Brisnet Speed figures in the high 90s of late, implying that he would have been competitive had connections attempted Derby preps. Trainer Kelly Rubley’s patient game might prove wisest in the end, as Alwaysmining enters the biggest test of his life riding a wave of confidence. And he’s not without some collateral form, having beaten Win Win Win in the Heft last December. His defeat of Gray Magician, the future UAE Derby runner-up, in the Miracle Wood is less compelling but still noteworthy. A front runner in the first five races of his current skein, Alwaysmining proved he could stalk and pounce in his 11-length demolition job in the Tesio.

Bubble list veteran Signalman has perhaps the most gnawing what-might-have-been for his connections. Had they entered as an also-eligible, he would have drawn into Derby 145 upon the scratch of Haikal. Signalman had scored his signature win in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in similarly sloppy conditions at Churchill, following a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) over the same track. The same points don’t promise to carry over to Pimlico. Moreover, Signalman has yet to perform up to his 2018 form, most recently finishing third in the Blue Grass. He’ll have to move forward markedly third start off the layoff for Ken McPeek.

Owendale has the look of a rapid improver after capturing the Lexington (G3) with a monster circling move. The proverbial light bulb came on one start too late, unfortunately, to make the Derby. The Brad Cox trainee had made no impact in his stakes debut in the Risen Star, winding up eighth behind War of Will and promoted Kentucky Derby winner Country House. Although not as gaudy as the Gulfstream form, the Risen Star has its own graduate success stories, with Plus Que Parfait going on to take the UAE Derby (G2) and Mr. Money garnering the Pat Day Mile (G3). In hindsight, there was no disgrace to being unplaced in the Risen Star, and Owendale’s dynamic breakthrough at Keeneland came at the expense of several Derby trail veterans.

Chief among them is “bubble” horse Anothertwistafate. After dominating the El Camino Real Derby – the first “Win and You’re In” for the Preakness – on his home Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields, Anothertwistafate met with disadvantageous trips in his ensuing Derby points races on dirt. In the Sunland Park Derby (G3), Cutting Humor was already launching his winning move by the time Anothertwistafate could angle out, and his rally fell a neck short. Nevertheless, Cutting Humor had been summarily dismissed by Bourbon War in a Gulfstream allowance, so on a literal reading of form, Anothertwistafate has a gap to close with him.

Anothertwistafate’s gap with Owendale isn’t merely hypothetical, but actual, from his 1 3/4-length defeat in the Lexington. Although Anothertwistafate was temporarily in traffic, he did cut the corner into the stretch once clear, and it would be rash to claim he’d have outfinished Owendale. That said, Anothertwistafate didn’t have an ideal scenario on the turnaround. Marooned at Sunland when he couldn’t return to Golden Gate due to an EHV-1 positive back home, the Blaine Wright trainee actually worked in New Mexico before shipping again to Keeneland. Now Anothertwistafate not only has better spacing between races going into the Preakness, but he’s also been training in the friendly confines of Golden Gate. The son of Scat Daddy (sire of Justify) can put a better foot forward at Pimlico.

Like Anothertwistafate and Alwaysmining, Laughing Fox prevailed in a Preakness “Win and You’re In,” in his case the inaugural Oaklawn Invitational. But unlike them, Laughing Fox also competed in a major Derby prep, the Arkansas Derby, and finished a creditable fourth. Although Omaha Beach and Improbable were in a race of their own that day, Laughing Fox was only a length off the third-placer – Country House.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the flashy Union Rags colt had a productive meet in Hot Springs. Laughing Fox won two straight, including a Presidents’ Day allowance in a time comparable to the Southwest (G3) later on the card, before a troubled seventh in the Omaha Beach/Game Winner division of the Rebel (G2). Then he resumed his upward curve, and last out rallied stoutly to beat some useful sorts in the nine-furlong Oaklawn Invitational. The broad parallel is with Owendale, if without quite the same panache.

Oaklawn has produced two more Preakness contenders, both longshots. Warrior’s Charge, a stablemate of Owendale from the Cox barn, came to hand too late for a Triple Crown nomination. So Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stables must stump up $150,000 to supplement the Munnings colt, who will make an audacious stakes debut off maiden and entry-level allowance romps. Warrior’s Charge promises to contribute to the pace after both wire jobs in solid time.

Hall of Fame trainer and six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas pitched Market King onto the list Sunday. A distant third in Omaha Beach’s Rebel, he retreated to 11th after a wide trip in the Blue Grass. If you’re trawling for positive talking points, he’s a Niarchos Family-bred blueblood (like War of Will), bred on a similar cross to Owendale (Into Mischief over A.P. Indy), and training forwardly.

Preakness Starting Gate (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

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2019 Kentucky Derby Field with odds

145TH KENTUCKY DERBY

PP HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY ODDS
1 War of Will Mark Casse Tyler Gaffalione 20-1
2 Tax Danny Gargan Junior Alvarado 20-1
3 By My Standards Bret Calhoun Gabriel Saez 20-1
4 Gray Magician Peter Miller Drayden Van Dyke 50-1
5 Improbable Bob Baffert Irad Ortiz Jr. 6-1
6 Vekoma George Weaver Javier Castellano 20-1
7 Maximum Security Jason Servis Luis Saez 10-1
8 Tacitus Bill Mott Jose Ortiz 10-1
9 Plus Que Parfait Brendan Walsh Ricardo Santana Jr. 30-1
10 Cutting Humor Todd Pletcher Corey Lanerie 30-1
11 Haikal Kiaran McLaughlin Rajiv Maragh 30-1
12 Omaha Beach Richard Mandella Mike Smith 4-1
13 Code of Honor Shug McGaughey John Velazquez 15-1
14 Win Win Win Michael Trombetta Julian Pimentel 15-1
15 Master Fencer Koichi Tsunoda Julien Leparoux 50-1
16 Game Winner Bob Baffert Joel Rosario 5-1
17 Roadster Bob Baffert Florent Geroux 6-1
18 Long Range Toddy Steve Asmussen Jon Court 30-1
19 Spinoff Todd Pletcher Manuel Franco 30-1
20 Country House Bill Mott Flavien Prat 30-1
AE Bodexpress Gustavo Delgado Chris Landeros 30-1

PHOTO: Rain sprinkled roses on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs (c) Horsephotos.com/Rickelle Nelson

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Final Kentucky Derby works round-up: notes and quotes from coast to coast

With the exception of Japan Road invitee Master Fencer, who continued his routine exercise at Keeneland, the other 19 Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders turned in workouts between last Thursday and Monday.

MONDAY, APRIL 29

At Palm Meadows, unbeaten Florida Derby (G1) winner Maximum Security was credited with a half-mile move in :53.80. In trainer Jason Servis’ methodology, however, that was simply the finale to a gallop.

“He went a mile in 1:58 and came home, I want to say, in 25 (seconds) for the last quarter,” Servis said. “He galloped out a mile and an eighth in 2:12 and cooled out good. All systems are, ‘Go.’”

Servis commented on how the Palm Meadows clocker timed the move.

“They’re getting the last (half-mile) when the horse is breezing a slow mile,” Servis said. “That’s something that probably needs to be addressed at some point.

“I think it was after his second race that I took him off the rail, so to speak, and started doing the open miles. It’s just a maintaining thing, trying to avoid injuries that would set us back. Maybe in a fast breeze there is more risk than what I’m doing.”

At Churchill Downs, Long Range Toddy, victorious in the first Rebel (G2) division before a sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1), breezed a half-mile in :47.80. The Steve Asmussen pupil was caught in fractions of :12.60, :24.20, and :35.80, and proceeded to gallop out five furlongs in 1:01.20 and six in 1:12.40.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a fast track like we had (Monday) morning,” the Hall of Fame trainer said, unlike the sloppy going in the Arkansas Derby. “He worked beautifully this morning. At this time of the year, the three-year-olds have to step up. He stepped up big time in the Rebel and hopefully can continue to improve. He’ll need to put up the race of a lifetime in the Derby.”

SUNDAY, APRIL 28

Churchill’s Sunday worktab was busier with six Derby hopefuls out for major moves.

Bill Mott’s duo of Wood Memorial (G2) hero Tacitus and Country House commenced a five-eighths drill in company, bursting through to the inside of Maryland shipper Win Win Win and his workmate as they tooled along. But Win Win Win sailed past the Mott duo in deep stretch in his half-mile work. Tacitus and Country House caught back up with Win Win Win entering the clubhouse turn as they matched strides until Win Win Win eased to the outside with his task accomplished.

Country House on the rail, and Tacitus flanking him, clocked five furlongs in 1:00. The tandem posted fractions of :12.20, :24.20, :35.80, and :48, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80, seven furlongs in 1:26, and a mile in 1:39.80.

“My team was ready to break off,” Mott said, “and they (Win Win Win and workmate) probably didn’t know we were going to work. All the riders did a really good job and I really have to commend all of them. It’s not going to hurt them and they better get used to (traffic) if they’re not already or they’ll get a surprise on Derby Day. It’s pretty crowded out there.

“We have a week to go until the Derby and we look like we’re in good shape. They finished up right together. They may have been a head apart. I told them if they could work together, that would help each other during the work. Both of my horses have pretty laid-back dispositions and they probably needed their company to encourage each other. For me, it worked out perfectly.”

Win Win Win, who dusted his company in :47.60, was caught in splits of :24.20 and :36. The Mike Trombetta trainee galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.20.

“That was a little different, but it worked out well,” jockey Julian Pimentel said of the work that unfolded unexpectedly when the Mott pair barreled through on the inside, when Win Win Win surged by, and when they all re-engaged. “He went about his business and he wanted to go get them.”

Louisiana Derby (G2) winner By My Standards continued to tout himself in the mornings with a strong half in :48.40. After initial fractions of :12.40, :24, and :36.40, the Bret Calhoun pupil galloped out with good energy, covering five furlongs in 1:00.60, six in 1:12.80, and polishing off seven in 1:26.60.

“Well, that couldn’t have gone any better,” Calhoun said. “It’s just a blessing how well he’s doing entering the Derby. He’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do and just moves so effortlessly around the racetrack.”

Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) hero Improbable, runner-up in the Arkansas Derby, rolled through five furlongs in company in 1:00.60. A touch overeager early as he dragged Florent Geroux up to, and past, his workmate, the Bob Baffert runner recorded splits of :11.80, :23.60, and :36.40. He kept motoring six furlongs in 1:13 and galloped out seven, in hand, in 1:25.60.

“He loves this track,” Baffert said. “I just love the way he kept on galloping out today.”

“I don’t think he was rank,” said Geroux, who will ride stablemate Roadster in the Derby as Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up Improbable. “He was just maybe a little bit keen and feeling good. He’s very easy (to ride) actually. Down the lane he was responding exactly to what I was asking him to. I could have gone faster if I wanted to. I could have gone a touch slower if I wanted to. He was just very cooperative.”

Fountain of Youth (G2) victor Code of Honor, third in the Florida Derby, zipped four furlongs in :46.80 to post the second fastest of 76 on the day. The Shug McGaughey pupil reeled off splits of :11.80, :23.20, :35.20, and galloped out five in :59.40 and six furlongs in 1:13.20.

“I told (exercise rider Brian Duggan) to go in :48,” the Hall of Famer said, “but the track was pretty good this morning.”

SATURDAY, APRIL 27

Arkansas Derby star Omaha Beach likely solidified Kentucky Derby favoritism by working five-eighths at Churchill in :59. The second best of 43 at the distance, eclipsed only by four-year-old multiple Grade 1 winner McKinzie’s :58.60, Omaha Beach showed push-button tractability as he rated off workmate Kowboy Karma before dismissing him rapidly.

“He felt good, very good,” said Julien Leparoux, who was subbing for Derby rider Mike Smith after the work was postponed to the weekend for better weather. “When I asked him, he went.”

Omaha Beach recorded fractions of :12, :23.60, and :35.40, and capped the move with a six-furlong gallop-out in 1:12.80.

Hall of Fame horseman Richard Mandella, looking for his first Derby victory, was delighted.

“I just wanted him to have one more good work; that’s all he needed,” Mandella said. “He got it today. They were supposed to go off together, but it all worked out fine. He went and got him. I really liked that he settled right down after the work. He acts like a professional racehorse. I don’t think this work took much out of him at all. It couldn’t have gone better. It’s all working out just right.

“I’ve never had a three-year-old doing this well this early. He’s just special. Since (capturing the second division of the) Rebel (G2) he’s filled out and just gotten better. He’s pure class. And he’s a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.”

Trainer Mark Casse was likewise happy with War of Will’s bullet half in :47.60, joint-fastest of 79 on the day. His company no more than a target, the Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3) hero was caught in :12, :24 and :36.20 with jockey Tyler Gaffalione aboard. War of Will opened up at will as he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00 and six furlongs in 1:13.60.

“What you got to see this morning, if you weren’t impressed with him this morning, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” Casse said.

UAE Derby (G2) winner Plus Que Parfait also bested his company in a five-furlong move in 1:02.00. Trainer Brendan Walsh was satisfied that after opening splits of :12, :23.60, and :36.20, he settled down to clock a half in :49.40 and stayed on steadily to gallop out six furlongs in 1:15.60.

“He has become more aggressive now than how he used to be, which I think is a good thing to see,” Walsh said. “He went a little faster than we wanted early on and the last thing I wanted to do was do too much with him right now. Then, when he left the lead horse, he lazed a little bit and it was fine. I wanted 1:02 and out in 1:15 and that’s exactly how he went.

UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician, tuning up at trainer Peter Miller’s San Luis Rey base, worked five-eighths in 1:00.40. With Derby rider Drayden Van Dyke up, he overtook his workmate and drew off.

“He worked super and came home really well,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be happier with how he did it. He came home (his final quarter-mile) in :23 1/5 and that was very good. He galloped out another eighth (to get six furlongs) in 1:12 2/5. This is a fast race track here, but it was the way he did it.

“Drayden came and worked him and the horse really did it on his own. He just shook the reins at him once and he opened up on his workmate. He started out about three lengths behind him and finished about 12 lengths ahead.”

FRIDAY, APRIL 26

At Santa Anita, Baffert’s one-two from the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Roadster and Game Winner, pulled away from their respective workmates in a pair of stiff drills beneath Martin Garcia. Each was positioned on the inside and set the pace themselves on the deep surface.

“I had them inside just to keep the pressure on,” Baffert said.

Roadster went out first, after the 6:45 a.m. (PDT) renovation break, and covered six furlongs in 1:13.80.

“I loved the way he went,” Baffert said. “Martin said he felt great and didn’t take a deep breath. That’s one thing about this horse – he’ll go a mile and a quarter. We just don’t know how fast. He handles a deep track, and the really good ones will do that.

“He’ll be fit when he leaves here, because I think the Santa Anita Derby got him pretty fit. After that, I could see a big change in him. He really needed that race.

“As soon as I told him to pick it up, he took off. He was controlling the work and just cruising along…if the horse is good enough, he’s ready.”

File photo of Game Winner working at Santa Anita April 20

Game Winner, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion at Churchill, took to the Santa Anita track after the 7:45 a.m. break and strode relentlessly through seven furlongs in 1:27.

“Game Winner looked awesome; it was perfect,” Baffert said, significantly for a horse who’s not the flashiest worker.

Friday’s other three Derby works came at Palm Beach Downs.

Blue Grass (G2) winner Vekoma breezed a bullet five furlongs in :59.95 in company with fellow George Weaver trainee Majestic Dunhill, who shared the bullet. Derby jockey Javier Castellano was astride for the joint-best of eight moves on the day.

Todd Pletcher’s duo of Cutting Humor and Spinoff also geared up at their winter base.

Sunland Park Derby (G3) winner Cutting Humor blitzed a half-mile in a bullet :48.01, fastest of 15 at the distance. Posting fractions of :13 and :24.80, he galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.80.

Louisiana Derby runner-up Spinoff tied workmate Last Judgment when clocking five-eighths in 1:00.77. Splits were reported in :13, :25, and :37, followed by gallop-out times of 1:13.60 for six furlongs and seven in 1:27.

THURSDAY, APRIL 25

Belmont Park hosted both Derby workers, Tax and Haikal, the respective second and third from the Wood.

Tax, the Withers (G3) winner, sped a half in :47.80 on the training track while blowing by his workmate. His time was the fourth-best of 79 on the day.

“I thought he worked really tremendous,” trainer Danny Gargan said. “We put a target in front of him because he likes to run at something and :47 and change is fast today. I worked a few horses earlier today and no one worked that fast. Divine Miss Grey went :48 and change and she’s a good work horse. The gallop-out was impressive and he’s training really well.”

On the main oval, Gotham (G3) hero Haikal negotiated five furlongs in company in 1:01.21, matching strides with Taamer before edging clear.

“I loved what I saw this morning,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He kept going out and finished strong. It was an excellent work.

“He went a little fast last week (bullet half in :47.59 on April 19), but it was probably the track. This week was really nice. The way he galloped out and the way he worked he looked really good. In hand. I really like this work better this week.”

Top photo of Omaha Beach in routine exercise April 22 (c) Rickelle Nelson/Horsephotos.com

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Kentucky Derby Pedigree Profile: Win Win Win

Live Oak’s homebred Win Win Win earned his way into the Kentucky Derby (G1) field with his third-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and most recently, a runner-up performance in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. The Florida-bred has 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, which has him in 16th place on the Leaderboard.

Win Win Win is by the Japanese-bred champion sprinter Hat Trick, who was a multiple Group 1 winner and came out on top in the 2005 Hong Kong Mile (G1). Hat Trick has sired at least 34 stakes winners and two champions from nine crops to date. His top progeny have been most successful in South America, though he has had some success in North America, as well.

Hat Trick is by Horse of the Year Sunday Silence, winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). As good as the son of Halo was during his racing days, the impact Sunday Silence has made in the Japanese breeding shed has been remarkable. He was Japan’s leading sire from 1995 -2007, and he has also been mightily successful as a sire of sires and as a broodmare sire.

The first dam of Win Win Win is the winning Smarty Jones mare Miss Smarty Pants, who counts herself a half-sister to Grade 3 queen Unbridled Humor. Smarty Jones, winner of the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, has not been as productive in the breeding shed as he was on the racetrack, however. The champion son of Elusive Quality is the broodmare sire of nine stakes winners to date, with overall earnings in excess of $5.9 million.

Win Win Win is an interesting sort in that his maternal and paternal grandsires found glory in each of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The colt was full of run in the latter stages of the Bluegrass Stakes in his first attempt going 1 1/8 miles, and his female line has stamina influences through the likes of Unbridled, Caveat and Northern Jove.

The talented Kentucky Derby prospect has had trouble overcoming poor starts in a few races this campaign, which could be his undoing in a 20-horse field on May 4.

PHOTO: Win Win Win captures the Pasco Stakes under jockey Julien Pimentel at Tampa Bay Downs on January 19, 2019 (c) SV Photography

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Don’t rely on Dosage for Kentucky Derby handicapping

While no longer as much in the spotlight, the modern Dosage system of pedigree shorthand still gets trotted out in the build-up to the Kentucky Derby (G1). It’s understandable that horseplayers, and fans uninitiated into the mysteries of Thoroughbred bloodlines, want to latch onto a figure that points to a horse’s ability to handle 1 1/4 miles on Derby Day. But please don’t.

Before explaining why, a preamble: I’m limiting this discussion to the Dosage Index (DI) as developed by Dr. Steven Roman, and applied as a handicapping tool for the American classics since the 1980s. Although the deeper history of Dosage goes well beyond the scope of a blog post, it’s vital to know that Roman was modifying a theory pioneered in Europe by Lt. Col. J.J. Vuillier and further adapted by Franco Varola. (If you’re interested in a simplified historical background, and Roman’s approach, see the postscript.)

As a pedigree enthusiast, my immediate problems with Dosage as a Derby prognosticator are the stallions who count (or not) and the deliberate exclusion of any mares from the equation. Its fundamental problem is a mechanistic approach that fails to reflect the complexities of inheritance. Since that scientific critique’s best left to pedigree professionals and geneticists, I’m concentrating on the first two. These observations are hardly new or unique, but worth highlighting as we look to the 2019 classics.

Dosage is supposed to recognize the most statistically influential sires in a pedigree, but Roman ceased to update this list of chefs-de-race upon which his formulas depend. Indeed, three of the last four Derby winners have had Dosage Indices in excess of the magic 4.0 cutoff – Triple Crown champion American Pharoah (4.33), Nyquist (7.00), and Always Dreaming (5.0). The old sires are fading beyond the fourth generation, the limit of Roman’s calculations, without new faces to keep the chefs-de-race current.

But based on Roman’s curious methodology, the list has been problematic for quite a while. He already didn’t see fit to include titans like Storm Cat or Danehill (based on rather forced reasoning) while adding a few sires of lesser merit that haven’t stood the test of time. Among the significant omissions are Sunday Silence, Distorted Humor, Seeking the Gold, Deputy Minister, Unbridled’s Song…I could go on.

So as you can see, the Dosage Index is based on an aged selection of sires that excludes some of the leading progenitors of recent years – the very ones we’d look to for classicity.

Yet even if it were being continuously updated, the very fact that stallions would arise on the scene to become chefs-de-race shows the limits of Dosage as a predictive tool for handicapping. The numbers were always going to be subject to revision based upon new data. A Dosage that’s “too high” one day can be within the parameters the next.

A memorable case in point is 1991 Derby winner Strike the Gold: he entered the starting gate with a 9.0 Dosage Index. But his sire was Alydar, the near-misser to Affirmed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Roman fixed that by making Alydar a “Classic” chef-de-race, bringing Strike the Gold’s DI down retroactively to 2.60.

Still, Strike the Gold’s broodmare sire, Hatchet Man, never counted at all. Not that he has claims to be a chef-de-race, but Hatchet Man figured to add stoutness if you’re just trying to gauge the distance capacity of an individual runner. A slavish adherence to Dosage, however, would hack Hatchet Man right out of the equation because he’s not elite enough to have a statistically determinable influence.

And mares don’t count at all as progenitors, based upon their limited number of offspring compared to stallions. But again, it’s unwise to airbrush half of the ancestry out.

One glaring example is Crème Fraiche, whose Dosage Index was astronomical when he won the 1985 Belmont (G1). Roman’s questionable solution was to make his paternal grandsire Crème dela Crème a “Classic/Solid” chef-de-race to bring the numbers into line. I’d rather look to Crème Fraiche’s dam, the prolific racemare Likely Exchange, winner of the 1979 Delaware H. (G1). (Her own broodmare sire, Swaps, doesn’t count in Dosage either.). Horses don’t automatically produce offspring who can stay at least as far as they do on the racetrack, but Likely Exchange descends from the potent female line of Escutcheon, ancestress of Shuvee among others. That matrilineal factor simply isn’t accounted for in Dosage, yet it’s arguably why both Likely Exchange and Crème Fraiche emerged from otherwise forgettable sires.

Real Quiet (DI 5.33), who came within an eyelash of the 1998 Triple Crown, is another whose family must be mentioned in any discussion of his classic performances. His second dam was a full sister to 1969 Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince. That actually rendered his Dosage higher because the mare’s sire Raise a Native and broodmare sire *Royal Charger count as speed influences in the “Brilliant” category.

Similar issues must be borne in mind when considering the Dosage Indices for the 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders.

Win Win Win (DI of 4.50) summarizes the problems inherent in a Dosage calculation where Lost Code (?!) counts as a chef-de-race and Sunday Silence doesn’t. Moreover, ancestor Unbridled is credited under the “Brilliant/Intermediate” categories – not Classic – as if he were pushing the dial more in the direction of speed. That strikes me as inherently illogical for a stallion of his import on the American classic scene. Unbridled’s classification is also contributing to the over-the-threshold DIs of Long Range Toddy (4.33) and Gray Magician (5.0) (both of whom descend from the uncounted Unbridled’s Song).

Also exceeding the theoretical limit is Improbable (4.23), despite being out of an A.P. Indy mare. Even if you don’t want to give Improbable’s sire, City Zip, credit for getting Collected and Dayatthespa, I’d invoke his deep female line. Improbable hails from the immediate family of Hard Spun, and tracing further back, his maternal relatives include Darby Dan’s dual classic heroes Chateaugay and Little Current. That’s not to deny the influence of their sires, but a female line so productive over the long haul can’t be discounted.

Finally, notice that horses of such divergent pedigree profiles as By My Standards and Maximum Security have the same DI of 3.0. By conventional standards of pedigree analysis, By My Standards would have more questions to answer at the Derby distance. Even viewed through the prism of Dosage itself, his entire Index leans on a threadbare three chefs-de-race while Maximum Security at least has a few more classic-oriented ancestors on the list.

Reading the pedigree tea leaves is never easy, especially with the overall trend toward more speed, and less redoubtable stamina influences than in the past. Still, relying on a questionably derived number isn’t the solution.

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Postscript on the history of Dosage

In the early 20th century, Vuillier undertook laborious work on the pedigrees of classic winners in Europe, discovered the elite stallions (chefs-de-race) who factored repeatedly back to the 12th generation, and quantified their standard amount of representation. His calculations made clear if a stallion or mare’s pedigree lacked the right amounts of certain chefs-de-race, and accordingly helped identify mates who could redress the balance. Vuillier also heeded the extraordinary influence of the 19th-century mare Pocahontas and included her as a key ancestor – unlike the subsequent spinoffs from his theory. Vuillier’s novel Dosage system was put into great effect by the Aga Khan (grandfather of the present one).

The next step came courtesy of Varola, who built upon Vuillier’s concept of chefs-de-race. Instead of just updating the list of prepotent sires, Varola had the inspiration to classify them according to the essential quality transmitted to their offspring, their aptitudes. He began with five groups – Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Stout, and Professional – then realized the need to refine further. Not only did some sires warrant placing in two categories, but Varola also began to split up categories to reflect variations even within the same aptitudinal group.

Roman picked up on Varola’s five groups, and in an extreme modification of Vuillier’s method, assigned points to chefs-de-race in a pedigree going back only four generations. He used a sliding scale to allocate the highest points for a first-generation chef-de-race and the fewest for the fourth. The points were arranged in a linear Dosage Profile, spanning the Brilliant through Professional categories (roughly, speed through stamina spectrum), and Roman created accompanying formulas – the Dosage Index (DI) and Center of Distribution (CD) – to sum up whether the pedigree was tilted toward speed or stamina. More details on Roman’s method are available in the old Brisnet library.

For Derby handicapping purposes, a DI of 4.0 was the cutoff, with anything above that believed to be lacking in stamina for the classic distance. Roman’s twist effectively popularized Dosage into a barometer of staying capacity, a direct contradiction of Varola’s intent.

Roman’s adaptation gained currency through the columns of the late Leon Rasmussen in Daily Racing Form. But note that Rasmussen had long been involved in Dosage pre-Roman, having helped Varola in assessing American sires, as Sid Fernando has described in his eponymous blog.

Nyquist wins the 2016 Kentucky Derby (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Kentucky Derby Trophy

Kentucky Derby works round-up for April 21

The general rule for many horsemen training toward a big race is that the last timed workout isn’t the most important. The big work often comes the week before, while the final breeze serves as more of a tune-up.

With that in mind, the weekend’s works for Kentucky Derby contenders around the country were notable.

The only timed Derby work at Churchill Downs (although expected favorite Omaha Beach, off his victory in the Arkansas Derby [G1] galloped over the Churchill main track Sunday) this weekend came from a horse who would need help to get into the field – Blue Grass Stakes (G2) third Signalman. The General Quarters colt trained by Kenny McPeek needs two defections from the current field of 20 to get in, but logged at bullet :59 3/5 five-furlong drill Saturday. Sunday morning, UAE Derby (G2) winner Plus Que Parfait breezed a half-mile, but the fog prevented clockers from ascertaining a time.

Seventy miles or so down the road at Keeneland, Code of Honor logged his second work since his third in the Florida Derby (G1) with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 Saturday. A day before, War of Will flashed some nice speed at the same distance in Lexington and went on the worktab at 1:00 1/5.

Out West the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Game Winner and Roadster put in stiff drills at Santa Anita Park on Saturday. Roadster, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner, logged six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 from the gate, while 2018’s champion 2-year-old male Game Winner covered five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. Farther south, UAE Derby runner-up Gray Magician put in a half-mile work in :48 2/5 at San Luis Rey Training Center for trainer Peter Miller.

On the East Coast on Friday, Wood Memorial (G2) third and Gotham (G3) winner Haikal put in a half-mile breeze in :47.59 at Belmont Park, and Blue Grass second Win Win Win covered five furlongs in 1:01 on the synthetic track at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland on Sunday, but the lion’s share of workouts took place in Florida.

Palm Beach Downs hosted Blue Grass winner Vekoma (four furlongs in :50.17 Thursday), Sunland Derby (G3) victor Cutting Humor (five furlongs in :59.58 Friday), and Louisiana Derby (G2) second Spinoff (five furlongs in :59.99 Friday), while claimer turned Florida Derby winner Maximum Security galloped his way to a :42 clocking for three furlongs at Palm Meadows Training Center on Sunday.

 

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Sizing up major preps for 2019 Kentucky Derby

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

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Hanson: Thoughts on the Kentucky Derby Top 25

The 2019 Road to the Kentucky Derby series is now complete and the field is somewhat set. Now comes the wait for final works and possible defections, among other things. Here are general thoughts on each of the Top 25 point qualifiers.

Tacitus

Has lived up to his regal pedigree with back-to-back wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2), the latter a roughly-run affair which may serve him well in a congested field of 20 at Churchill. Juddmonte Farm and Bill Mott overdue for Kentucky Derby success for as much as they’ve put into the game.

Omaha Beach

Although subject to change, currently #1 on my personal Top 10 list following his win in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Far from a standout in this spot, but appreciate ability to make his own luck by finding favorable position early in a race and talent at turning back stretch challenges. Like Tacitus, owner-trainer (Rick Porter and Richard Mandella) well deserving of a chance to be in the Derby winner’s circle.

Vekoma

A proven winner though not really battle-tested enough in the Blue Grass (G2) on a day when being on or near the lead was highly favorable. Blue Grass also emphasized his strange way of running. Looks a cut below the top players.

Plus Que Parfait

Success in the UAE Derby (G2), a race no Kentucky Derby winner has ever prepped in, hardly erases disappointing runs in the Risen Star (G2) and Lecomte (G3). One of those I’m willing to let beat me.

Roadster

Earned belated revenge on stablemate Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) after being dealt a loss by that one when favored in last fall’s Del Mar Futurity (G1). Patience being rewarded after giving this colt time to recoup from throat surgery. Still plenty of room for improvement.

By My Standards

Certainly blossoming at the right time for trainer Bret Calhoun, whose optimism was rewarded with a 22-1 upset in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Fair Grounds’ signature event historically hasn’t been the most productive Kentucky Derby prep, but price will be right for those thinking recent trends in that regard can be bucked.

Maximum Security

Underestimated by his own connections given career started in a $16,000 maiden claimer followed by two starter allowance appearances. After dominating those three, was left alone on the lead in the Florida Derby (G1). Clearly one of the fastest individuals in the field, but would be surprised if he got that same trip at Churchill.

Game Winner

Reigning juvenile champion has narrowly lost his two prep runs this year while getting less favorable trips than Omaha Beach and Roadster, respectively. Would still like to have seen evidence of a real step forward off his two-year-old form. At this point, inclined to try and beat him if he’s first or second choice in the wagering.

Code of Honor

Had plenty of pace to run at to succeed in the Fountain of Youth (G2), far less when a well-beaten third in the Florida Derby. Will Farish winning a Derby 47 years after his only classic win in the Preakness (G1) would be very popular in local circles and beyond, but trip-dependent colt will need help.

Haikal

Did not experience the trouble others did in the Wood Memorial, yet still finished four lengths third after dropping back 14 lengths off the pace. Has talent, but has the look of being more effective around one turn than two.

Improbable

Unruly prior to the start of the Arkansas Derby and broke from a less favorable part of the track before getting out into the open down the backside. Seemingly did not care for the sloppy track either, but might very well have been rebuffed by Omaha Beach on a fast track as well. I like him, but below Omaha Beach at present.

War of Will

Talented colt with impressive cruising speed had little real opposition in the Lecomte and Risen Star, then unluckily injured himself leaving the gate in the Louisiana Derby in which he was heavily favored. Any hiccup of that sort, even six weeks before the Derby, is something you don’t like to see. Would need a career effort to bounce back.

Long Range Toddy

Perhaps didn’t fancy wet conditions in the Arkansas Derby when a well-beaten sixth. Didn’t need a huge effort as he had already cemented a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate when edging Improbable in a Rebel (G2) division, but still would have preferred something more aesthetically appealing. Suspicions remain about his relative class.

Tax

Easily one of the best claims of recent years with a victory in the Withers (G3) and placings in the Wood Memorial and Remsen (G2) after being haltered for $50,000 last fall. Enjoyed a decent trip in the Wood after some early trouble and was simply second best to Tacitus. Hard-trier looks like a longshot to use in the lower rungs of the exotics.

Cutting Humor

Just lasted in a swiftly-run Sunland Park Derby (G3), but previously showed not to be first team among Pletcher-trained three-year-olds. Doubt a 10th furlong is what he really wants.

Win Win Win

Placed in both the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass but no significant win threat either time, even when considering some of the trouble in running at Keeneland. Not fast enough at present.

Country House

Show some immaturity when second in the Risen Star, closers like him were not all that effective in the Louisiana Derby, and never threatened Omaha Beach and Improbable in the Arkansas Derby while getting himself qualified. Mott’s best chance in this race is obviously with Tacitus.

Gray Magician

Like Plus Que Parfait, qualified in the UAE Derby after displaying inferior form in prior U.S. preps. Would be a big surprise.

Spinoff

Lightly-raced son of 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun was a solid second in the Louisiana Derby in his two-turn stakes debut for Todd Pletcher, but as mentioned earlier the infrequency at which the Fair Grounds feature has a bearing on the Kentucky Derby result is a slight concern. Eligible to improve, though, and he’ll be a price.

Master Fencer

The Japanese entry in this year’s Derby would be a monster surprise given he can’t be considered the leading dirt-based three-year-old in his own country.

Bodexpress

Chased Maximum Security all the way around the track in the Florida Derby, which was run at a slow tempo early. Perhaps better than your average maiden contender in this race if he gets to run, and Dad ran second here in 2012. However, no one of his ilk has worn the roses since Broker’s Tip in 1933.

Signalman

Likes Churchill Downs well enough with a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) to his credit, but has yet to produce a breakout performance. Looks too slow to be considered a win contender, though a possible Superfecta kicker if he gets to run.

Anothertwistafate

Needed a victory in the Lexington (G3) to assure his participation in the Kentucky Derby, but fell short of that goal. Waters will be much deeper if he lucks into running with the help of several defections.

Sueno

Consistent check-getter placed in all four Derby preps he tried this year, albeit most were weaker tune-ups. Not classy enough.

Bourbon War

Was expected to secure enough qualifying points in the Florida Derby when well-backed, but hindered by the slow pace set by Maximum Security. Connections reportedly philosophical that he didn’t come to hand early enough to make noise on the first Saturday in May. A potentially competitive colt for the summer, though.

Click here for FREE Brisnet Past Performances of the prospective Kentucky Derby field

 

Tacitus photo (c) SV Photography

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Anothertwistafate wins the El Camino Real Derby

State of 2019 Kentucky Derby leaderboard and horses on the bubble

After a Kentucky Derby Championship Series of preps that propelled a few under-the-radar types into the spotlight, the cutoff to make the Derby 145 field currently stands at 40 points – the highest threshold since the inception of the scoring system six years ago.

Other than the constant possibility of defections from injury or illness, just about all of those already in the top 20 are expected to line up at Churchill Downs. (Note that those with the same points are ranked in keeping with the tiebreak, non-restricted stakes earnings.)

The first seven on the leaderboard captured a prep worth 100 points to the winner: Tacitus (150 points), Omaha Beach (137.5), Vekoma (110), Plus Que Parfait (104), Roadster (100), By My Standards (100), and Maximum Security (100).

Next come winners of other scoring races (most of whom placed in others too): Game Winner (85 points), Code of Honor (74), Haikal (70), Improbable (65), War of Will (60), Long Range Toddy (53.5), Tax (52), and Cutting Humor (50).

Of those, the one whose status might have been uncertain was War of Will, thanks to his miscue in the opening strides of the Louisiana Derby (G2). But now that the Mark Casse trainee has come back with a pair of solid works at Keeneland, he appears past that blip.

Two others – Code of Honor and Haikal – represent conservative connections not susceptible to Derby fever. But given how pleased Shug McGaughey’s been with Code of Honor since his shift from Florida to Kentucky, the Will Farish homebred is likely to get the green light that he deserves. Haikal, a homebred for Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stable, has similarly warranted his inclusion.

Long Range Toddy was a subpar sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1), his first try on the slop. Barring something coming to light, his prior upset of Improbable and fairly consistent performances are entitled to lead owner/breeder Willis Horton to give him his chance in Derby 145.

Numbers 16-20 have all made it by hitting the board in points races: Win Win Win (50 points), Country House (50), Gray Magician (41), and Spinoff (40), rounded out by the Japan Road invitee, Master Fencer, who likewise accrued enough despite not winning a designated prep. The European Road did not produce a contender interested in rolling the dice, so that leaves 19 spots for the domestic hopefuls.

Might there be a defection from this lowest tier? The whole point of Country House’s wheeling back for the Arkansas Derby was to try to score a few more to make the cut. Now that he did so in third, I’d expect his owners (Mrs. Joseph Shields, Guinness McFadden, and LNJ Foxwoods) to take the hard-earned opportunity, unless Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott (who has a premier contender in Tacitus) sees it differently.

Gray Magician’s camp initially indicated that the Derby wasn’t in the mix after his runner-up effort to Plus Que Parfait in the UAE Derby (G2), only to reverse themselves. Could owners Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Gary Barber (who owns War of Will), and trainer Peter Miller, have a change of heart again?

Spinoff ran a terrific second to By My Standards in the Louisiana Derby, so much so that I wonder if their respective post positions were decisive. By My Standards saved ground all the way from post 5, while Spinoff covered extra yardage throughout from post 10. If the trips were reversed, does Spinoff win the Louisiana Derby? For that reason, I’d be happy to have Spinoff try his luck at Churchill. International owner/breeders Alain and Gerard Wertheimer would presumably let the decision up to Todd Pletcher.

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So with that overview of how things stand on the leaderboard, those currently on the outside looking in will need some unexpected decisions or setbacks to the top 20.

At number 21, in the on-deck circle, is the maiden Bodexpress who earned 40 points for chasing Maximum Security in second at every call in the Florida Derby (G1). His non-restricted stakes earnings ($188,000) are less than Spinoff’s ($224,000), leaving him just below the cutoff. Considering that the Gustavo Delgado trainee was beaten in four maiden special weights around one turn before his improbable Florida Derby effort at 71-1, he figures to be in over his head if he draws into the Derby.

Signalman, 22nd on the list at 38 points, won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over Plus Que Parfait and placed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to Game Winner, the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and most recently the Blue Grass (G2) to Vekoma. While he’s not set the world alight, the Ken McPeek pupil has factored in six of seven career starts and obviously likes Churchill.

Number 23, Anothertwistafate, is arguably the unluckiest to find himself on the bubble after less than ideal trips when second in the Sunland Park Derby (G3) and Lexington (G3). The well-bred son of Scat Daddy looked like he was going places with a tour de force in the El Camino Real Derby, admittedly on the Golden Gate Fields Tapeta. He’s since proven his dirt aptitude for trainer Blaine Wright, and his tactical speed would make him intriguing. Anothertwistafate has 38 points but is behind Signalman according to the tiebreak ($268,960 versus $496,840 in non-restricted stakes earnings).

Sueno sits in 24th following a quartet of placings in the Sham (G3), Southwest (G3), Louisiana Derby, and Lexington that netted him 32 points. As that resume implies, he’s a good servant for trainer Keith Desormeaux if not quite in the upper echelon of his generation.

The Mark Hennig-trained Bourbon War (25th) might be the best Derby prospect on the bubble, stuck with a total of 31 points. The Tapit blueblood split Code of Honor and Vekoma when rallying for second in the Fountain of Youth, earlier beat Cutting Humor (the Sunland Derby winner) in an allowance, and most recently closed for fourth in a Florida Derby that did not set up for him at all.

Instagrand (26th with 30 points) remains a serious talent after two fine efforts in defeat, although his unorthodox holiday in the second half of his juvenile campaign may have contributed to his lower place on the leaderboard. Mucho Gusto’s (27th with 24 points) Derby ambitions have been questionable since he skipped the Lexington, and his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is well-stocked with Roadster, Game Winner, and Improbable. Rounding out the list is a trio with 20 points – the off-form Knicks Go (28th), Lexington winner Owendale (29th), and Pletcher’s Outshine (30th), a strong second to Tacitus in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) but a remote 10th to the same rival in a messy Wood Memorial (G2).

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Some historical perspective on the points cutoff:

In 2013, it took a mere 10 points to scrape in at number 20 (that was Giant Finish, who wound up 10th behind Orb). The prerequisite doubled to 20 points in 2014, and Commanding Curve, the runner-up to California Chrome, was the last one to make the cut. He got in by the tiebreak by a margin of only $2,000 from the also-eligible Pablo Del Monte. In 2015, American Pharoah’s year, Keen Ice sneaked in with 22 points and finished seventh.

More points have been required the past three years. In 2016, Mo Tom needed 32 points, plus the tiebreak (over Laoban) to rank number 20, and he checked in eighth. The tiebreak was trotted out again in 2017 to separate Sonneteer (who ultimately ran 16th) and also-eligible Royal Mo, both scoring 30 points. In 2018, Instilled Regard got in with 29 points and finished fourth to Justify.

Anothertwistafate, a “bubble horse” at number 23 on the leaderboard, shown winning the El Camino Real Derby (c) Vassar Photography/Shane Micheli

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