Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Knightsbridge impresses

November 6th, 2023

While most racing fans were watching the Breeders’ Cup, a trio of Saturday maiden special weights at tracks around the U.S. produced eye-catching winners with possible 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirations.

Certainly Knightsbridge has positive Derby credentials in his corner. For starters, he’s a son of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. For another, he achieved his maiden victory on debut at Churchill Downs, the Derby’s host track.

And for good measure, Knightsbridge is fast. Very fast, much like his half-brother Speaker’s Corner, winner of the Carter H. (G1) sprinting seven furlongs. Speaker’s Corner was a Godolphin homebred conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, and so too is Knightsbridge.

Saturday’s contest was a seven-furlong maiden special weight in which Knightsbridge started as the second choice at just over 5-2. He should have been favored. Knightsbridge had to steady partway through while racing behind fractions of :22.94 and :46.27, but once he found racing room he surged past the leaders and powered clear to dominate by 10 1/2 lengths. A strong final furlong in :12.30 carried him to the finish line in a quick 1:22.96, suggesting Knightsbridge has serious talent and a bright future.

Similarly impressive was Merit, a homebred racing for Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds and trainer Saffie Joseph. Debuting in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park, Merit showed speed tracking fractions of :23.88 and :47.85 before taking over and sprinting away to crush his competition by 10 1/4 lengths in 1:25.21. The son of unbeaten Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) winner Mastery could be bound for Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers in Florida if he builds on his eye-catching debut.

Rounding out the noteworthy Saturday maiden winners was Sierra Leone, a son of 2017 Horse of the Year and hot sire Gun Runner out of Alcibiades (G1) winner Heavenly Love. Purchased for $2.3 million as a yearling, Sierra Leone debuted in a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct and rated toward the back of the field before rallying his final quarter-mile in approximately :24.72 to get up and win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:36.94.

Owned by the partnership of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Rocket Ship Racing, and Peter M. Brant, Sierra Leone is conditioned by four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. Brown has been known to debut quality horses over the Aqueduct dirt, including Preakness (G1) winners Cloud Computing and Early Voting, and Sierra Leone is eligible to follow suit with success at a high level.