Kentucky Derby Context: Like the King

April 16th, 2021 horse racing analyst James Scully attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1981. Along with a brief profile of this year’s contenders, he is providing some historical context.

Winner of the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), Like the King captured two of three starts on the Tapeta track at Turfway Park this winter.

He broke his maiden on Belterra Park’s turf course last September, and Like the King has never finished out of the money from six career starts (3-2-1 record).

The Wesley Ward-trained chestnut will bring improving form to the Kentucky Derby, but Like the King faces a significant class hike. And after failing to be a serious factor in a pair of dirt starts at Belterra Park and Keeneland last year, his affinity for the main track is a concern, as well.

Like the King registered a career-best 94 Brisnet Speed rating in the March 27 Jeff Ruby.

Like the King is by Palace Malice, who entered the 2013 Kentucky Derby after a runner-up finish in the Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland. Trainer Todd Pletcher added blinkers in an attempt to keep the colt more focused, but the experiment backfired miserably.

“He just was too aggressive. Those blinkers,” jockey Mike Smith said afterward. “He just wanted to go and I didn’t have much choice.”

From the first crop of Curlin, Palace Malice broke prominently and sped clear entering the first turn at Churchill Downs, whipping through early fractions in :22.57, :45.33, and 1:09.80 before weakening to 12th. Pletcher removed blinkers in the Belmont S. (G1) five weeks later, and Palace Malice romped by 3 1/4 lengths in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

“The key to the win was blinkers off,” an understated Smith said in the Belmont winner’s circle.

Like the King will try to provide a positive Kentucky Derby memory for Palace Malice as a sire.