Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Kingsbarns, Cuvier, Clubhouse win for Pletcher

January 16th, 2023

Two-time Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning trainer Todd Pletcher knows how to prepare a January maiden winner for success on the first Saturday in May. In 2017, Pletcher won the Derby with Always Dreaming, who broke his maiden less than four months earlier on Jan. 25.

Can Kingsbarn, Cuvier, or Clubhouse follow suit? These three Pletcher trainees all posted maiden victories last Saturday, so they’ve visited the winner’s circle 11 days sooner than Always Dreaming and can’t be dismissed as potential Kentucky Derby contenders.

The first to strike was Cuvier, a 9-1 longshot debuting in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park. His stablemate Sgt. Pepper was the heavy favorite after selling for $1.6 million at auction, and the two colts wound up dueling for the lead through an opening quarter-mile in :22.88.

However, the duel didn’t last long. Sgt. Pepper was back to fourth position as Cuvier carved out half a mile in :47.09, and down the lane Sgt. Pepper retreated to finish sixth as Cuvier battled on to prevail by half a length in 1:13.44. A son of Pacific Classic (G1) winner Collected, Cuvier has the pedigree to improve with maturity and is worth watching this winter.

Around the same time Cuvier was crossing the finish line at Gulfstream, Clubhouse was breaking from the gate for a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Aqueduct. After pressing and setting fractions of :24.15 and :48.94, Clubhouse kicked away powerfully and led by as many as eight lengths before easing up to score by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:27.05. The son of Speightstown went 0-for-5 as a juvenile, but Saturday’s heat marked his first start running long on dirt, suggesting Clubhouse may have finally found his ideal conditions.

Later in the afternoon, Kingsbarns debuted in a one-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream and came away with a comfortable victory. Tracking fractions of :23.16, :46.17, and 1:12.35 from fourth place positioned Kingsbarns for success, and he edged clear down the homestretch to beat a large field by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:39.18. As a son of Uncle Mo out of a Tapit mare, Kingsbarns is bred to thrive over classic distances and likely has upside for improvement.

Two other weekend maiden winners warrant mentioning. At Oaklawn Park on Saturday, Shopper’s Revenge impressed in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight, leading all the way to smash his rivals by 5 1/4 lengths in 1:45.07. The Steve Asmussen trainee improved sharply off his rallying second-place finish on debut at Churchill Downs and is bred top and bottom to shine running long, considering he’s a son of Tapit out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) heroine Stopchargingmaria.

Lastly, the Sunday card at Santa Anita saw Hejazi secure a breakthrough maiden victory. Third in the American Pharoah (G1) as a juvenile, Hejazi relished returning to the maiden ranks, carving out fast fractions of :21.97, :44.28, and 1:08.41 in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint before hanging on to score by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:14.58. The $3.55 million auction acquisition is bred to run long, though it should be noted Hejazi is trained by Bob Baffert, who is suspended from starting horses in the 2023 Kentucky Derby. As a result, Hejazi is currently ineligible to earn Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points.