Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Pletcher, Cox, Mott pick up new winners

January 2nd, 2023

Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning trainers Todd Pletcher, Brad Cox, and Bill Mott all picked up possible 2023 Derby players when they sent out two-year-olds to win maiden races on New Year’s Eve.

The most notable winner was arguably Pletcher’s Shesterkin, a $330,000 two-year-old-in-training acquisition who debuted in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park. Overlooked as the third choice in an eight-horse field, Shesterkin nevertheless dashed to the front through splits of :22.54, :45.30, and 1:10.95 before edging clear in the final furlong to score by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:24.18.

A son of CashCall Futurity (G1) winner Violence out of the stakes-winning Street Cry mare Freedom Star, Shesterkin has the pedigree to stretch out around two turns, stamping the Robert V. LaPenta colorbearer as a colt worth watching this winter.

Also at Gulfstream, Mott sent out Jungfrau to nab a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight. Fourth in his first two starts on the New York circuit, Jungfrau evidently enjoyed the change in scenery in Florida, tracking splits of :24.36, :47.67, and 1:12.09 before battling on down the homestretch to finish a nose behind Expect More. But Expect More ducked out and interfered with Jungfrau at the top of the stretch, and the stewards ultimately awarded Jungfrau first prize.

Both Jungfrau and Expect More were tiring down the homestretch, with the fourth quarter-mile elapsing in :27.18 and the last sixteenth in :07.06 for a final time of 1:46.33. But Jungrau is a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate out of a mare by three-time leading sire Tapit, so the gray colt is bred to improve with maturity. There’s a good chance we haven’t yet seen the best from this Juddmonte homebred.

Mott also sent out a winner at Aqueduct, saddling first-time starter Kid Billy to nab a seven-furlong maiden special weight for New York-bred juveniles. The son of Flatter was never more than 1 1/2 lengths behind splits of :23.24 and :46.87 before wearing down the pacesetter to prevail by half a length in 1:26.14.

Meanwhile, Cox was in action at Oaklawn Park, where Eyeing Clover impressed on debut. Sent off at 7-1 in a six-furlong maiden special weight, the son of two-time champion Lookin At Lucky got out in front through splits of :21.97 and :45.80 before edging clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:11.09.

The dam side of Eyeing Clover’s pedigree is all about speed—half-sister Heavenhasmynikki won the 6 1/2-furlong Vagrancy H. (G3)—but Lookin At Lucky is a source of stamina and the sire of 2019 Kentucky Derby winner Country House, so there’s a chance Eyeing Clover will handle longer trips just fine.

We’ll wrap up this week’s Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch with a mention of Sun Thunder. A promising third in his debut sprinting at Churchill Downs, the Kenny McPeek trainee improved sharply when stretching out for a one-mile maiden special weight at Oaklawn, overcoming early trouble to unleash an outside rally and obliterate his rivals by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:39.42.

Sun Thunder is a beautifully bred son of Into Mischief out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, and the progress he made second-time out hints a foray on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is in his future.