Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Flashy winners close out 2023

January 1st, 2024

During the closing days of 2023, a bevy of potential Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders posted flashy maiden victories from coast to coast.

Debut winners were among the most impressive. On Saturday at Fair Grounds, Doncho emerged in a six-furlong maiden special weight and left no doubt about his superiority, setting fractions of :22.23 and :45.72 on his way to victory by five lengths in 1:09.99. The gelded son of Mo Town started as a 21-1 longshot, but hit the finish line as a budding Road to the Kentucky Derby contender for trainer Michelle Lovell.

Down at Gulfstream Park, bettors were far less surprised to see Todd Pletcher’s Born Noble debut victorious in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday. Starting as the 13-10 favorite, the son of Florida Derby (G1) winner Constitution tracked splits of :22.52 and :45.83 from second place before taking over to dominate by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:24.27.

Similarly sharp was Time for Truth in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday at Oaklawn Park. Racing for the first time, the son of first-crop sire Omaha Beach dueled for command through fractions of :22.00 and :45.55 before putting away his pace rivals to prevail by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:10.52. The bay colt looks like a good one for trainer Ron Moquett.

Experienced juveniles also made noise during the final days of 2023. Second-time starter Lambeth appreciated stretching out from seven furlongs to one mile for a Sunday maiden special weight at Aqueduct, launching a wide rally from seventh place to score by a nose in 1:37.48. A Juddmonte homebred trained by Bill Mott, Lambeth is a stoutly bred son of Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate out of the Tapit mare South Bank, so he has the pedigree to shine over classic distances.

The second time was likewise the charm for Imperial Gun on Sunday at Oaklawn. Fourth in his debut racing one mile, the beautifully bred son of Gun Runner out of an Empire Maker mare improved in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight, tracking an opening quarter-mile in :23.44 before seizing command through splits of :47.83 and 1:13.74 to ultimately draw off and win by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:45.96. Expect to see this Steve Asmussen trainee on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this winter.

We’ll wrap up with a mention of Colorado Cruiser, who bounced back from three straight defeats to win a six-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita last Monday. After leading through an opening quarter-mile in :21.86, Colorado Cruiser lost his advantage through half a mile in :44.19 and trailed the leader by two lengths at the eighth pole. But down the homestretch, the son of Catalina Cruiser re-rallied resiliently to prevail by a nose in 1:09.91. Colorado Cruiser clearly has some fight, and now that he’s secured a maiden victory, the Luis Mendez trainee is worth keeping an eye on.