Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Litigate, Classic Catch prevail for Pletcher

November 21st, 2022

The two Kentucky Derby (G1) winners conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher employed vastly different routes to reach the Derby.

Super Saver (2010) was an early-maturing type who won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November of his juvenile year, while Always Dreaming (2017) was a slow developer who didn’t break his maiden until Jan. 25 of his sophomore season.

It appears Pletcher’s Litigate will try to split the difference. A stoutly bred son of Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Blame out of a mare by 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, Litigate debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Aqueduct last Saturday and outran his pedigree to emerge victorious.

Litigate definitely isn’t bred to excel sprinting as a juvenile, but the $370,000 yearling acquisition nevertheless rallied from a couple lengths behind fractions of :22.61 and :46.73 to prevail by three-quarters of a length. His final time of 1:19.15 wasn’t fast, but Litigate figures to improve by leaps and bounds with distance and maturity, stamping the Centennial Farms colorbearer as one to watch on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Pletcher picked up another juvenile winner over the weekend when Classic Catch claimed a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight on Sunday at Aqueduct. Coming off a third-place finish in his sprint debut, Classic Catch trailed the leaders by five lengths at the three-eighths pole, but rallied sharply once shifted outside and ultimately trounced his pursuers by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:55.21. A Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race like the 1 1/8-mile Withers (G3) at Aqueduct could be a viable winter target for this son of Classic Empire.

Pletcher wasn’t the only Derby-winning trainer to saddle a noteworthy juvenile winner last Saturday. Brad Cox, who nabbed the 2021 Kentucky Derby with Mandaloun via disqualification, sent out Corona Bolt to post a flashy victory in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs.

A son of hot young sire and 2018 Kentucky Derby starter Bolt d’Oro, Corona Bolt was always prominent, tracking an opening quarter-mile in :22.57 before racing up to take command through half a mile in :45.67. From there, Corona Bolt finished up nicely (final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.77) to beat the pace-tracking Communication Memo by one length in 1:16.44. Add this Florida-bred Stonestreet Stables runner to your Kentucky Derby watch lists.

Corona Bolt’s winning time was meaningfully faster than the 1:17.11 required by Bromley to win an identical 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on the same afternoon at Churchill. The $450,000 yearling acquisition was overlooked at odds of 23-1 in his first start for trainer Paulo Lobo, but tracked quick fractions of :22.21 and :45.08 on his way to victory by 1 1/2 lengths. Bromley’s winning time may have been modest, but the son of Mastery is eligible to improve over longer trips and warrants watching.

Earlier in the week at Churchill, Recker Point broke through with a convincing victory in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight. Beaten in his first three starts racing one mile or farther, Recker Point moved forward nicely in his fourth try, pouncing from midfield behind splits of :24.24, :49.07, and 1:14.78 to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas conditions the son of Kantharos, who completed his maiden win in 1:46.84.

Fair Grounds has been a productive proving ground for recent Kentucky Derby winners, with Country House (2019), Mandaloun (2021), and Rich Strike (2022) all competing over the Louisiana oval during the winter. The 2022-23 Fair Grounds meet started last Friday, and one of the most noteworthy winners on opening day was the two-year-old Motivating.

A Godolphin homebred beaten in his first two starts for trainer Michael Stidham, Motivating found the third time to be the charm, rallying sharply from midfield to win a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:05.39. Sire Into Mischief is already responsible for two Kentucky Derby winners, and dam sire Tapit has sired four winners of the Belmont (G1), so Motivating’s pedigree is geared toward success in the classics.

We’ll also take a moment to highlight Lord Miles, a debut winner from the barn of Saffie Joseph. Bet down to 27-10 in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Lord Miles settled in fifth place behind splits of :22.67 and :47.08 before sweeping past rivals in the final furlong to dominate by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:13.06. The bay colt is a son of Curlin, who is best known for siring classic types, so don’t be surprised if Lord Miles improves when stretching out in distance.