Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Parnelli breaks through impressively at Del Mar

November 30th, 2020

Back in 2005, trainer John Shirreffs sprang a 50-1 Kentucky Derby upset with the slow-maturing Giacomo. It’s too early to know if Shirreffs’ promising 2-year-old Parnelli will achieve similar fame, but the talented bay colt certainly made an encouraging impression breaking his maiden at Del Mar on Saturday.

Let’s review a pair of recent maiden winners poised to join the Road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby:


After finishing second in his first three starts—including a couple of close beats against the Grade 1-placed runners Hot Rod Charlie and Spielberg—Parnelli finally broke through in his fourth start. Favored at 3-10 with Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle, Parnelli tracked the early tempo through fast splits of :22.72 and :46.82, then pounced to the front and drew away under a hand ride to win by 5 3/4 lengths.

Although Parnelli’s winning time was a modest 1:38.58 for one mile, it’s unlikely we’ve seen his best yet—as a son of Quality Road produced by a Bernardini mare, Parnelli is bred to improve with distance and maturity. Now that he’s secured a confidence-boosting maiden win, there’s a chance Parnelli will improve by leaps and bounds during the winter, stamping the C R K Stable colorbearer as an exciting colt to watch.


Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Swiftsure was certainly a swift and sure winner of his debut dashing 6 furlongs at Fair Grounds on Friday. Favored at 11-10, the son of Uncle Mo overcame a bump at the break to duel for the lead through fractions of :22.13 and :45.68. After turning back his pace rival at the top of the stretch, Swiftsure edged clear under a drive from jockey Shaun Bridgmohan to score by 3 1/4 lengths in a quick 1:10.15.

Produced by the Speightstown mare Island Saint, Swiftsure has the breeding to handle at least a mile, so expect to see the Siena Farms and runner join the Road to the Kentucky Derby later this winter. A race like the Jan. 16 Lecomte (G3) or the Feb. 13 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds could be a logical goal for Swiftsure.