Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Asmussen duo shine

March 27th, 2023

Six weeks out from the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1), time is running out for up-and-coming three-year-olds to break their maidens and join the Derby trail.

But a handful of noteworthy youngsters delivered sharp performances to break their maidens last week, so even if Derby qualification proves insurmountable, races like the Preakness (G1) or Belmont (G1) could still be viable goals if these maiden winners progress quickly during the coming weeks.

Visually speaking, the most impressive winner was Engineer Empire, a son of Belmont winner Empire Maker trained by Christophe Clement. Fifth in his debut racing a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, Engineer Empire thrived when stretching out around two turns for a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight against New York-breds on Sunday.

Engineer Empire wasn’t thrilled with being restrained in a tracking position through slow fractions of :25.02, :50.08, and 1:15.76, tossing his head around the first turn. But Engineer Empire eventually settled down, and once jockey Manny Franco let him roll, the bay colt was tons the best. By sprinting his final furlong in a respectable :12.83, Engineer Empire surged clear to win by 8 3/4 lengths in 1:54.38.

Also at Aqueduct, Asmodeus nabbed a one-mile maiden special weight on Saturday. Coming off a nose defeat over the same track, distance, and class level on Feb. 18, Asmodeus tracked fractions of :23.56, :47.88, and 1:14.32 before wearing down pacesetter First Money and holding off a late charge from Ride Up to prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:41.07.

Down south at Oaklawn Park, Black Powder surprised with a debut victory in a one-mile maiden special weight on Thursday. The son of Gun Runner dashed to the lead through steady splits of :24.38, :48.46, and 1:12.47, then finished up nicely (final two furlongs in :12.82 and :12.79) to win by two lengths at odds of 11-1.

Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Black Powder stopped the clock in 1:38.08. Asmussen isn’t a frequent winner with horses debuting over one mile or farther, so Black Powder’s victory is noteworthy and a sign of talent and potential.

Asmussen also saddled King’s Glory to a maiden victory, this time sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds. Unraced since finishing fourth in his debut at Saratoga last summer, King’s Glory shrugged off the long layoff with aplomb, setting quick fractions of :21.79 and :45.05 before finishing up in :12.34 and :12.74 to prevail by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:10.13.

A son of champion sprinter Speightstown, King’s Glory has yet to run long and is probably too far behind schedule to compete in the Triple Crown. But keep an eye on this chestnut colt down the road; he might develop into a stakes star during the summer.