Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Be You breaks through

March 4th, 2024

You might assume March is too late for a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner to break his maiden. Surely any horse securing his first victory two months before the Run for the Roses is giving up too much racing experience to shine on Derby day?

That might be true for some horses, but it shouldn’t be an issue for Be You, who dominated a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park last Saturday. The Triple Crown nominee debuted at Saratoga last summer and has started half a dozen times overall, even placing third in the 1 1/16-mile American Pharoah (G1) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. There’s no reason to think Be You lacks enough experience to pursue the Kentucky Derby, should trainer Todd Pletcher choose to place him back on the Derby trail.

Be You actually started twice against Grade 1 competition last year; prior to the American Pharoah, he finished fourth in a quality renewal of the Hopeful (G1). But his form slipped following those Grade 1 contests, and a pair of fifth-place finishes in maiden special weight routes prompted a cutback to seven furlongs at Gulfstream. The result was eye-catching, as Be You settled behind fractions of :22.62 and :45.35 before pouncing to victory by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:22.31.

Perhaps Be You’s rebound can be attributed to cutting back in distance; maybe he’s better sprinting than running long. But as a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who is a strong source of stamina at stud, Be You may warrant another try in a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier.

On the other end of the experience spectrum, we find Big to Do, who debuted in an off-the-turf 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Friday at Fair Grounds. The Brad Cox trainee proved much the best, leading all the way through splits of :24.07, :48.12, and 1:13.70 to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:45.62.

The question is, will Big to Do join the Road to the Kentucky Derby? He could wheel back three weeks from now for the March 23 Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds, or he could wait a bit longer for a race like the March 30 Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park or even the April 6 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland.

But Big to Do isn’t currently nominated to the Triple Crown, and you have to go back to Leonatus in 1883 to find the last Kentucky Derby winner who entered with only two starts under his belt. Big to Do clearly has talent, but it won’t be surprising if his connections take a conservative approach and pass on the Derby to give Big to Do more time to develop.