Racing Roundtable: Takeaways from Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Fantasy and more

April 2nd, 2024

The Racing Roundtable reconvenes to discuss their Florida Derby (G1) and Arkansas Derby (G1) takeaways, the legitimacy of Thorpedo Anna and Power Squeeze as Kentucky Oaks (G1) contenders, and their thoughts on Dubai World Cup Night.

What were your takeaways from the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby?

James Scully: Fierceness likely assumed the favorite’s mantle in the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1), generating a 106 Brisnet Speed rating for his 13 1/2-length win. That’s the top number from 20 Kentucky Derby qualifiers this year, and Fierceness will bring serious speed to Churchill Downs. Granted, he did have everything his own way on the front end after Hades missed the break and his other main rival, Conquest Warrior, couldn’t even crack the top three from off the pace, so it was an easy prep and circumstances will be different in the Kentucky Derby.

Inconsistency has been an issue – Fierceness has yet to string together wins in a five-race career – and he must get out of the gate at Churchill Downs, but Fierceness remains a talented individual who is a threat to lead all the way in the Kentucky Derby.

Muth will point to the Preakness (G1) off a sharp win in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Just Steel improved significantly upon recent efforts while stretching out in distance, recording a fine second, and four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas has had three-year-olds suddenly turn things around in the final prep and carry their form forward in the Kentucky Derby (Charismatic). I will use Just Steel in my vertical exotic wagers.

Mystik Dan got up belatedly for third, taking a step back from his impressive win over a muddy track in the Southwest (G3). Timberlake received an odd trip, settling in third before forcing his way between rivals to take a short lead into the backstretch. Off as the 11-10 favorite, Timberlake was beat by the top of the stretch, eventually weakening to fourth, but the juvenile Grade 1 winner probably will still head to the Kentucky Derby.

Vance Hanson: Fierceness figures to be a Kentucky Derby favorite many bettors will want to try and beat after having things pretty much his own way in the Florida Derby, although his performance was still rather impressive with a record-setting margin of victory and the third triple-digit Brisnet speed rating of his career. There's no question he's the fastest horse in the crop on his best day, but I think he needed a stiffer challenge here to answer lingering questions regarding his ability to overcome adversity.

Muth, Fierceness' closest pursuer in the Breeders' Cup last fall, continued to flatter the form of that race with a solid win in the Arkansas Derby following a layoff of nearly three months. Ineligible for the Kentucky Derby, this served as good prep toward a possible start in the Preakness. I can't say the horses behind him -- Just Steel, Mystik Dan, and Timberlake -- enhanced their Derby credentials. Indeed, I'm not overly keen on those that ran behind either Fierceness or Muth in next month's Kentucky Derby, unless the track were to come up sloppy. Then horses like Timberlake and Mystik Dan might require reevaluation.

Ashley Anderson: Both Florida Derby victor Fierceness and post-time Arkansas Derby favorite Timberlake have displayed defined patterns, in which both colts have a tendency to lose their next start following a win. For Fierceness, he was coming off a disappointing third in the Holy Bull (G3) in his three-year-old debut and rebounded in style with a 13 1/2-length win in the Florida Derby.

But based on his pattern, one has to be cautious of him showing up on the first Saturday in May. When Fierceness runs his race, he's by far the best horse in the field but he has broken poorly in both the Champagne (G1) and Holy Bull following large victories, and a poor start in the Derby will be too tough to overcome for the frontrunner.

Timberlake, meanwhile, has demonstrated a similar pattern and came up short in the Arkansas Derby, fading to fourth to Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up Muth.

Fierceness interestingly opened as the 7-2 morning line favorite in Pool 6 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) following Saturday's prep action, while Timberlake was listed as a 30-1 choice. If I were to play Fierceness on Derby Day, I'd include him on top in a small exotics ticket, but realistically I cannot feel confident in him giving his best off such a dominant performance when he has failed to string together two victories thus far in his career.

Are Thorpedo Anna and Power Squeeze legitimate Kentucky Oaks contenders?

JS: Friday’s Ashland (G1) may change the landscape, but Power Squeeze and Thorpedo Anna look like legitimate Kentucky Oaks contenders off their wins in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and Fantasy (G2). 

Power Squeeze stretched her win streak to four, and captured her second straight Oaks qualifier, when rallying to overhaul odds-on favorite Ways and Means by a length in the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks. Since breaking her maiden the third time out at Delaware Park last fall, Power Squeeze has progressed steadily for Jorge Delgado and her 95 Brisnet Speed rating is one of the top numbers for an Oaks qualifier this year. The Union Rags filly is bred to relish the added ground in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks and promises to be running late.

Making her first start since November, and second two-turn attempt, Thorpedo Anna returned with a dominant victory in the Fantasy. The Kenny McPeek-trained filly owns good positional speed and may continue to show more off the encouraging comebacker.

VH: Both fillies looked really good winning and are logical contenders. Gulfstream Park Oaks runner-up Ways and Means is also likely to attract some Kentucky Oaks support as she endured a difficult trip in what was a race she likely needed for fitness purposes.

I'd lean toward Power Squeeze being the more effective of the two in the Oaks, given her stouter pedigree and greater activity this year, but then again Thorpedo Anna has had only one bump on her race record and clearly loves Churchill Downs. She'd also been working well in company with Derby contender Mystik Dan, which isn't a bad thing for a filly.

I'd also mention Thorpedo Anna's victory came amidst a hot streak on Saturday for trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez. Can she recreate that success on the first Friday in May if connections happen to not be firing on all cylinders?

AA: Thorpedo Anna is the stronger Oaks contender at the moment, despite ranking third in points behind Tarifa and Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) heroine Power Squeeze. Thorpedo Anna went off as the second choice at post time and stalked the early pacesetter before gaining advantage in the lane and drawing clear to win by four lengths over nine rivals that included Silverbulletday victress West Omaha, Honeybee (G3) winner Lemon Muffin, and multiple stakes scorer My Mane Squeeze, the post-time favorite.

Power Squeeze extended her win streak to four with her one-length victory over heavy favorite Ways and Means. The Jorge Delgado pupil has raced mainly in Florida or on the East Coast, whereas Thorpedo Anna has two starts under her belt at Churchill, including a nine-length win in an allowance optional claimer last season.

Power Squeeze is still one to include underneath in exotics as she displayed a powerful closing kick to rally and win the Gulfstream Park Oaks. Her 95 Brisnet Speed figure also came back four points higher than Thorpedo Anna's 91.

What were your thoughts on Dubai World Cup Night?

JS: Forever Young took the overland route and remained unbeaten recording a two-length win in the UAE Derby (G2). Closely related on the female side to Kentucky Derby contender Sierra Leone, Forever Young possesses a terrific turn of foot and an affinity for longer distances, and he provides Japan with their best chance yet to win the Kentucky Derby.

One concern surrounds kickback, international horses are coming to Churchill Downs to compete in a 20-horse field and must deal with kickback if they don’t have the speed to avoid it. Forever Young utilizes stalking tactics – he doesn’t project to be in the clear racing on or very close to the lead in the early stages – and regular rider Ryusei Sakai has intentionally kept Forever Young widest of all in both starts this year, avoiding the kickback at all costs.

I respect Forever Young but am not keen to take a shorter price in the Kentucky Derby. Derma Sotogake was bet down to 7-1 last year, and given Forever Young’s reputation and perfect record, I expect the Japanese superstar to be a shorter price this year.

VH: Laurel River's win in the Dubai World Cup was obviously the standout performance of the evening, one that few who saw him compete in the U.S. would have expected to see from him traveling 1 1/4 miles. He's essentially being put away until next year's Saudi Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup, so there's little to get excited about him for the rest of the season.

Japan has had more successful Dubai World Cup nights, but I still thought they enjoyed an incredible evening. In addition to Forever Young's win in the UAE Derby, Japan also had Ushba Tesoro as second best in the World Cup and longshot runners-up in the Golden Shaheen (G1), Dubai Turf (G1), and Sheema Classic (G1). This is a fixture they'll continue to target in the years ahead and bettors would be wise to use most of their entrants in some fashion, regardless of how relatively overmatched they might appear on paper.

AA: I'll echo James' sentiments on Forever Young. Unbeaten from five starts, the great-grandson of Sunday Silence appears Japan's best chance at a Kentucky Derby title thus far, but Forever Young is up against history. Japanese runners are 0-for-6 in the Kentucky Derby, and UAE Derby starters who raced in the Run for the Roses are 0-for-19 as well. The best we've seen from Japanese runners is a sixth-place finish by both Derma Sotogake and Master Fencer, who was elevated to sixth via the DQ of Maximum Security. I'm not sold on Forever Young winning on the first Saturday in May, but I think he'll get closer than any Japanese runner we've seen before and expect him to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby.