Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Five graduate at Churchill

November 27th, 2023

Possible contenders for the 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) were out in abundance during Thanksgiving week at Churchill Downs.

A bevy of maiden special weights open to two-year-old colts and geldings took place at the Louisville oval, including three on Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” program. Let’s look back through the roster of winners:

  • The third time was the charm for the Steve Asmussen trainee Track Phantom. Third and second in his first two starts while facing future graded stakes-placed rivals Stronghold and Real Men Violin, Track Phantom broke through in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Saturday, leading almost all the way to win by 4 3/4 lengths. His final time of 1:44.72 wasn’t far off the 1:44.31 clocking required by Honor Marie to win the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) later in the afternoon.
  • Coming off a fifth-place finish in his debut, Legalize improved significantly when making his second start in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday, setting fractions of :22.60 and :45.63 on his way to victory by 1 1/2 lengths. He changed back to his left lead in deep stretch, but still reached the finish line in 1:23.05. Cherie DeVaux trains the chestnut colt.
  • Raguel was beaten in his first two starts on turf, but got the job done when switching to dirt for an off-the-turf 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight on Saturday. The Brendan Walsh trainee grew a bit leg-weary after setting fractions of :23.68, :47.91, and 1:12.57, but nevertheless edged clear through decelerating closing fractions (final furlong in :13.87) to win by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:52.31.
  • Third in his debut at Horseshoe Indianapolis, Wind Rider improved significantly when tackling a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday, sticking close to splits of :22.98 and :46.32 before taking over to win by two lengths in 1:24.03. Rusty Arnold trains the Calumet Farm homebred, who started as one of the longest shots in the field at 38-1.
  • Former claimer Wecallemfuncoupons sprung a mild surprise in a six-furlong maiden special weight for horses who brought a final bid of $50,000 or less at their most recent auction. Sent off at 6-1 in the Wednesday contest, the Jeffrey Englehart trainee led through an opening quarter-mile in :21.52, dropped back to third through half a mile in :45.49, and then re-rallied to win by a neck in 1:11.78.

Meanwhile at Fair Grounds, Del Mar Futurity (G1) third-place finisher Next Level dropped in class for a six-furlong maiden special weight last Thursday and fought back after being passed to win by one length for trainer Keith Desormeaux. Setting slow fractions of :24.40, :49.91, and 1:14.75 aided the son of Vino Rosso, but he also finished up strongly, running his final five-sixteenths of a mile in :31.01.

Also at Fair Grounds, former claimer Googol Joke battled to victory in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Friday. Making his second start for trainer Ignacio Correas IV, Googol Joke settled four lengths off the early tempo before rallying gamely to win by a nose in 1:10.57.

At Del Mar, Moonlit Sonata proved much the best in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday. The Tim Yakteen trainee was making his debut and started as the longest shot in the field at 33-1, but despite breaking slowly and settling in eighth place early on, the son of Malibu Moon swept past rivals in the homestretch to score by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:16.55.

We’ll wrap with a mention of Otello, a stoutly bred son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of multiple graded stakes winner Isabella Sings. Trainer Christophe Clement chose to debut the chestnut colt in a one-mile maiden special weight on Friday at Aqueduct, and the result was Otello rallying from 2 1/2 lengths behind splits of :23.42 and :46.81 to win by a neck in the respectable time of 1:37.18.