Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Phileas Fogg, Z Resurrection impress at Fair Grounds

December 12th, 2022

What do Country House, Mandaloun, and Rich Strike have in common? They’ve all won the Kentucky Derby (G1) since 2019, and they all did so after competing at Fair Grounds during the winter.

Fair Grounds is steadily rising in prominence as a winter home for Kentucky Derby contenders, so it pays to keep an eye on daily racing at the Louisiana oval. Case in point? Unless you were watching Fair Grounds on a quiet afternoon last Thursday, you probably missed the eye-catching debut from Phileas Fogg, a two-year-old with potential Kentucky Derby aspirations.

A Godolphin homebred trained by Michael Stidham, Phileas Fogg is a son of the Australian Golden Rose (G1) winner Astern out of an unraced More Than Ready mare. This is a pedigree geared strongly toward turf success at first glance, though dig a little deeper and you can find the dirt influences that Phileas Fogg has evidently inherited.

Phileas Fogg debuted in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight and left no doubt about his superiority. He didn’t receive a challenging trip, escaping with an uncontested lead through slow fractions of :24.73, :49.49, and 1:14.94, but he was full of run down the homestretch, rocketing the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.43 to draw off and win by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:45.37.

Finishing fast over 1 1/16 miles can be difficult for juveniles regardless of how slow they run early on, so Phileas Fogg’s strong closing fractions are noteworthy. Don’t be surprised if this Kentucky-bred colt turns up on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this winter.

Also at Fair Grounds, Z Resurrection trounced a six-furlong maiden special weight for Louisiana-bred juveniles on Saturday. Dashing to the front through fractions of :22.49 and :46.47, the James Hodges trainee kicked away sharply down the homestretch (running the final quarter-mile in :24.80) to dominate by six lengths in 1:11.27. It was a nice step forward off his runner-up finish when debuting over the same track and class level last month.

Up at Aqueduct on Saturday, second-time starter What’s Up Bro rebounded from a fifth-place finish on debut to crush a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for New York-breds. Pressing solid fractions of :22.88 and :46.74 did nothing to tire the son of Florida Derby (G1) winner Dialed In, who drew off down the lane to win by eight lengths in 1:18.65. Robert Klesaris conditions the up-and-coming colt.

The race meet at Oaklawn Park began last week, and one of the most notable two-year-old maiden winners was Winters Lion on Saturday. Fifth, third, and second in his first three starts at Churchill Downs, the Oklahoma-bred evidently relished the change in scenery, setting fractions of :23.41, :48.90, and 1:14.65 in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight before pulling away to win by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:47.38.

Winters Lion’s time appears modest at first glance, but the track was sloppy and times were rather unremarkable across the board. In any case, Winters Lion is a son of late-maturing Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Accelerate, so this Joe Sharp trainee has potential for long-term improvement.

Another Saturday winner at Oaklawn was Spurrier, a Florida-bred juvenile who successfully debuted in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight. The Ron Moquett trainee showed speed from the start, tracking solid splits of :22.25 and :46.65 before edging clear to beat the deep-closing The Bookkeeper by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:06.60.

Of course, it’s worth noting December maiden winners rarely (if ever?) visit the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. Churchill Downs has compiled stats dating back to 1930 indicating the dates Derby winners broke their maidens, and not a single December winner can be found.

But hey, in 2022 Rich Strike became the first Churchill Downs maiden winner to come back and win the Kentucky Derby since Bubbling Over in 1926, so even century-old stats can fall if the right horse comes along. Perhaps one of the colts we’ve outlined will defy history and prevail on the first Saturday in May.