Derby Report – Stakes debuters continue to strike in Davis, Withers; Risen Star gets big field

February 16th, 2023

Hit Show and Litigate became the latest first-time stakes performers to win a qualifier, jumping on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with respective wins in the Withers (G3) and Sam F. Davis (G3) on Feb. 11. Stakes experience has lacked relevance over the first six weeks in 2023, as seven of the 10 Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifiers have been captured by horses making their stakes debut.

Brad Cox, who led all trainers with 10 horses in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager last weekend, elected to send Hit Show to the 1 1/8-mile Withers at Aqueduct, which was delayed a week due to extreme cold, and the gray Candy Ride colt delivered an eye-catching performance to win going away, registering a career-best 96 Brisnet Speed rating for the 5 1/2-length decision. Manny Franco picked up the assignment.

A confirmed closer in his first four starts, once-beaten Hit Show has something going for him following the encouraging performance. However, the Withers competition didn’t appear much. Arctic Arrogance ran well in December’s 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) over a sloppy track, but the New York-bred colt regressed in the Withers, giving way readily after setting the pace on the fast oval. The pacesetter held second because the rest of the field had nothing to offer.

Hit Show will look to enhance his Kentucky Derby credentials against deeper competition in the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct on April 8.

After opening his career in a pair of one-turn races, Litigate thrived on the stretch out to two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Davis, recording a 1 1/4-length score. The Blame colt was hustled from the starting gate by Luis Saez, stalking a few lengths off the pace before launching his move into the stretch. Todd Pletcher has options for Litigate’s final Kentucky Derby prep race, and the bay colt’s pedigree and physical stature appear tailor-built for Triple Crown distances, but Litigate did not come home quickly.

Litigate registered only an 87 Speed rating, the slowest from 10 qualifiers this year, and a discouraging 76 Late Pace number. We’ll see if he can run faster next time. Groveland offered a solid run up the inside for second, and he appears to be progressing for Godolphin and Eoin Harty. The race looked like a toss for Remsen winner and 2-1 favorite Dubyuhnell, who never recovered after being checked hard on the first turn. He’ll look to rebound from the eighth-place finish next time.

The 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby on Golden Gate Fields’ Tapeta track completed a triumvirate of Kentucky Derby qualifiers on Feb. 11, and Chase the Chaos broke through with his initial stakes victory, rallying dramatically in the stretch to get up late by a 1 1/2-length margin. Second and third in a pair of juvenile stakes attempts at longer distances, the Pennsylvania-bred gelded son of Astern has come on as a three-year-old for Ed Moger Jr., recording a convincing allowance win in advance of the El Camino Real, but Chase the Chaos will need to be nominated to the Triple Crown to claim the 10-point prize.

U.A.E., Tampa winners

After dropping his first four starts in California last year, Tall Boy shipped to Dubai this winter and opened his sophomore campaign with a nice win in the UAE Two Thousand Guineas (G3) on Feb. 11. Doug O’Neill trains the Lookin at Lucky colt for Calumet Farm, and Tall Boy rallied powerfully to overhaul pacesetter and last-out maiden scorer Shirl's Bee by a length. Tall Boy will try to earn a Kentucky Derby berth in the March 25 UAE Derby (G2), a major qualifier awarding points on a 100-40-30-20-10 scale to the top five finishers.

Kingsbarns will head to a Kentucky Derby qualifier following a 7 3/4-length romp in a two-turn allowance at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 12. A smart debut maiden winner at Gulfstream on Jan. 14, the $800,000 two-year-old purchase has raced close to the pace before offering a formidable turn of foot in both starts. Todd Pletcher trains the up-and-coming son of Uncle Mo.


Only six were entered for the Lecomte (G3) on Jan. 21, which was won by 6-5 favorite Instant Coffee, but a deep and challenging field of 14 is set for Saturday’s Risen Star. The 1 1/8-mile race serves as the second of three Kentucky Derby qualifiers at Fair Grounds this year, offering points on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis, and I rate Victory Formation, Two Phil’s, and Crupi as the main contenders.

Victory Formation exits a three-length triumph in the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn Park, and the Cox-trained colt will show speed from post 13 with Flavien Prat. Two Phil’s, a 5 1/4-length winner of October’s Street Sense S. in his juvenile finale, is a candidate to improve upon a runner-up in the Lecomte. Crupi has yet to win, placing in all five starts, but the Pletcher-trained colt merits respect after easily netting a field-best Speed rating (98) last out, finishing a head second to highly rated maiden winner Slip Mahoney. Crupi is listed at an attractive 15-1 on the Risen Star morning line.

Others to consider include Grade 3 winner and Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) runner-up Curly Jack, who will open his three-year-old campaign for Tom Amoss; Determinedly and Tapit’s Conquest, the 1-2 finishers in a Fair Grounds allowance on the Lecomte undercard; and last-out Santa Anita maiden scorer Harlocap, who will make his first start for trainer Steve Asmussen.