Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Geaux Rocket Ride romps for Mandella

January 30th, 2023

Trainers Richard Mandella, Mike Maker, Gustavo Delgado, Norm Casse, Juan Avila, and Rodolphe Brisset have yet to win the Kentucky Derby (G1). But they all saddled notable three-year-old maiden special weight winners last weekend, and it’s not a stretch to think one or more could wind up in the Derby.

Arguably the most impressive winner was Mandella’s Geaux Rocket Ride, who trounced his Sunday debut sprinting six furlongs at Santa Anita. Carving out quick fractions of :22.00 and :44.62 did nothing to tire the well-bred son of Candy Ride, who dashed the final quarter-mile in :24.90 to draw off and score by 5 3/4 lengths in a snappy 1:09.52.

Mandella’s win rate with first-time starters stands at 11% since 2000, meaningfully lower than his 17% lifetime win rate, so the fact Geaux Rocket Ride dominated on debut is noteworthy. The bay colt sold for $350,000 as a yearling and might be something special.

Across the country at Aqueduct, Maker’s Candy delivered a flashy victory for Mike Maker. Fourth in his debut dashing seven furlongs on New Year’s Eve, Maker’s Candy relished stretching out over one mile for a Saturday contest against New York-bred rivals, tracking early splits of :23.80 and :47.71 before seizing command around the turn and pulling clear to win by 6 3/4 lengths. Over a slow surface, Maker’s Candy’s final time of 1:39.05 was impressive.

Also on the Saturday card at Aqueduct, Mr. Swagger nabbed his debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs against non-state-restricted competition. The Juan Avila trainee tracked fractions of :23.67 and :47.95 before wearing down the pacesetter to prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:19.35. Sire Maclean’s Music is responsible for 2017 Preakness (G1) winner Cloud Computing, while dam sire Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont (G1), so Mr. Swagger has the potential to excel over classic distances.

At Gulfstream Park, Mage caught eyes with a flashy debut victory sprinting seven furlongs on Saturday. The son of Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic set solid fractions of :22.78 and :45.88 before finishing up strongly (final three furlongs in :36.66) to prevail by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:22.54. Trainer Gustavo Delgado hasn’t won a graded stakes since Bodexpress took the 2020 Clark (G1), but Mage may be capable of changing that.

We’ll wrap up by highlighting a pair of maiden heats from Oaklawn Park. Easy Action ran well in his first three starts while competing against tough rivals like Loggins and Eyeing Clover, so it wasn’t surprising to see him break through while favored at 7-10 in a six-furlong sprint on Saturday. The Norm Casse trainee pressed quick fractions of :21.75 and :45.60 before edging away to win by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:10.36. The son of champion sprinter Speightstown is bred for speed at first glance, though Speightstown has sired numerous Grade 1 winners over 1 1/4 miles, so stretching out in trip isn’t out of the question for Easy Action.

Similar to Easy Action, Talladega was beaten in his first three starts before graduating in a 1 1/16-mile maiden contest on Saturday at Oaklawn. The son of Into Mischief got to the lead through controlled fractions of :23.32, :47.07, and 1:12.50 before battling on with tenacity to deny midfield closer King Russell by half a length in 1:45.16, giving trainer Rodolphe Brisset a possible player for the Kentucky Derby trail.