Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Antiquarian scores for Pletcher

February 19th, 2024

On Feb. 18, 2018, Justify won his debut in eye-catching fashion. Less than four months later he was a Triple Crown winner, proving late February isn’t too late for a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner to break his maiden.

That’s good news for a handful of three-year-olds who secured their first victories at Fair Grounds, Aqueduct, and Gulfstream Park last week. Should their connections choose to pursue the Kentucky Derby, they have a path—the Justify path—to guide the way.

Antiquarian, a Triple Crown nominee trained by Todd Pletcher, is perhaps the most likely to target the Run for the Roses. He debuted on Jan. 13 in a one-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park, finishing second by half a length after pressing the early pace. He then moved forward nicely in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Saturday at Fair Grounds, pressing splits of :24.90 and :49.34 over a sloppy track before taking over and turning back all challengers to prevail by one length in 1:45.73.

About one hour earlier, Drip impressed when debuting in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Fair Grounds. The son of 2018 Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic led all the way through fractions of :21.73 and :45.10 to score by 2 1/4 lengths in the sharp time of 1:09.77. Trained by D. Whitworth Beckman, Drip isn’t currently nominated to the Triple Crown, but his talent is clear and he still has time to make a run at the Derby if his connections so desire.

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown has Risen Star (G2) winner Sierra Leone as his top hopeful for the 2024 Kentucky Derby, but he also sent out two noteworthy maiden winners last weekend. The first was Top Conor, who debuted with a victory in a one-mile maiden special weight on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The Triple Crown-nominated son of Twirling Candy settled behind the leaders through splits of :23.32, :45.61, and 1:10.98, then launched a determined rally to draw clear and win by two lengths in 1:38.22.

Brown’s Unique Insight wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown after finishing seventh, seventh, and fifth in three starts as a juvenile, but he fared much better in his three-year-old debut. In his first try racing two turns on dirt, Unique Insight pressed fractions of :25.04, :50.44, and 1:15.83 in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight on Sunday at Aqueduct before kicking clear to dominate by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:55.68.

Unique Insight’s winning time is slow at first glance, but so was the Aqueduct main track on Sunday. Three-year-old fillies required 1:58.14 to complete a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight on the same card, so by comparison Unique Insight’s time is respectable. Perhaps Brown will make the well-bred son of Gun Runner a late Triple Crown nominee and target the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.