Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Bishops Bay, Heroic Move impress for Cox

February 20th, 2023

On Feb. 18, 2018, an exciting colt named Justify dominated his debut in a fast time. Just 2 1/2 months later, he won the Kentucky Derby (G1) on his way to sweeping the Triple Crown.

Five years later to the day, Bishops Bay debuted with similar promise in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Fair Grounds. Winning the Kentucky Derby (much less the Triple Crown) off a February debut isn’t easy, but Bishops Bay may have the talent to take a shot.

Conditioned by Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Brad Cox, Bishops Bay is a son of champion juvenile and successful sire Uncle Mo, already the sire of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and Belmont (G1) hero Mo Donegal.  Bishops Bay’s dam is Catch My Drift, a Grade 1-placed daughter of Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile. The latter stallion achieved renown as the sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

This is a pedigree geared strongly toward success in the spring classics, so it was noteworthy to see Bishops Bay fire a winning shot sprinting six furlongs. The bay colt was always prominent under hot jockey Florent Geroux, pressing fractions of :22.14 and :45.63 before dashing his final quarter-mile in about :24.42 to edge his promising stablemate First Mission by three-quarters of a length.

Bishops Bay reached the finish line in a quick 1:10.07, and First Mission pulled 5 1/4 lengths clear of the rest, so all signs suggest Bishops Bay is a genuine talent with an exciting future. It’s no wonder why he’s nominated to the Triple Crown.

Bishops Bay wasn’t the only Cox-trained Triple Crown nominee to post a flashy debut victory last Saturday. Heroic Move emulated the feat with a hard-fought score in a one-mile maiden special weight at Oaklawn Park.

Like Bishops Bay, Heroic Move is bred for success running long on dirt. His sire, Quality Road, won four Grade 1 races over distances from one mile to 1 1/8 miles and has proven successful at stud, siring noteworthy names like Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner City of Light, Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Abel Tasman, and champions Corniche and Caledonia Road. Heroic Move’s dam is Indiana Oaks (G2) and Iowa Oaks (G3) winner Family Tree, a daughter of stamina influence and noted classics sire Smart Strike.

This elite pedigree surely played a role in Heroic Move’s maiden triumph. After settling midfield early on, Heroic Move steadily advanced into contention and unleashed a strong finish (running his final quarter-mile in about :25.16) to win by half a length in 1:38.17. Heroic Move should only improve from here, so a Kentucky Derby run isn’t out of the question for this Gary and Mary West homebred.

Before wrapping up, we’ll also highlight a trio of recent maiden winners who aren’t currently Triple Crown nominated:

  • Runner-up in his first two starts sprinting at Aqueduct, Register relished stretching out for a one-mile maiden special weight over the same track last Saturday, dueling essentially from start to finish with Asmodeus to win by a nose. Register reached the finish line in a quick 1:36.69, and Asmodeus pulled 10 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher, so Register (a son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver) looks like a promising runner for trainer David Donk.
  • Down at Oaklawn, Nautical Star shrugged off his fourth-place debut to win a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday. The son of Dixie Chatter raced off the pace through fractions of :21.88 and :45.67, then launched a sharp outside rally to take command and hold off deep closer Mullikin by a nose in 1:10.71. Nathaniel Quinonez conditions the Oklahoma-bred colt.
  • Baseline Beater lost his first four starts, but turned things around with a confident victory in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Saturday at Fair Grounds. Content to settle in 10th place behind fractions of :24.00, :48.44, and 1:13.94, the gelded son of Flatter had 7 3/4 lengths to gain with five-sixteenths of a mile remaining, but overcame traffic to rally boldly and score by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:46.19. Baseline Beater is progressing in the right direction for trainer Neil Pessin and may still have upside.