Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Skinner, Arthur's Ride impress

February 13th, 2023

You might assume February is too late for a future Kentucky Derby (G1) winner to be scoring their maiden victory. That’s true most of the time, but not always; 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify didn’t even debut until Feb. 18, less than three months before the Run for the Roses.

So there’s at least a glimmer of hope for February maiden winners to visit the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May. That’s good news for the numerous three-year-olds who scored flashy maiden victories across the country last weekend.

Arguably the most impressive was Skinner, a beautifully bred son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of the Malibu Moon mare Winding Way. Curlin has sired Preakness (G1) winner Exaggerator and Belmont (G1) hero Palace Malice, while Malibu Moon is responsible for Kentucky Derby winner Orb, so it’s safe to say Skinner is bred for success in the spring classics.

Skinner started three times as a juvenile and accumulated Grade 1 experience along the way, finishing third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and sixth in the American Pharoah (G1) while still a maiden. Taking four months off evidently worked wonders for the John Shirreffs trainee, as he kicked off his sophomore season with a powerful performance in a one-mile maiden special weight on Sunday at Santa Anita.

Skinner wasn’t in any hurry to get going, settling off the pace through splits of :22.97, :47.15, and 1:11.29. But down the homestretch he was much the best, taking command and edging clear through a sharp final furlong in :12.62 to score by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:36.78. A Triple Crown nominee, Skinner looks capable of developing into a viable contender for the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and—by extension—the Kentucky Derby.

Another eye-catching weekend winner was Gold Magic, who debuted in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The son of champion juvenile and hot young sire Good Magic tracked quick fractions of :21.91 and :45.58 from third place before drawing clear in the final furlong to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:10.35. The Canadian-bred colt finished fast (running his final quarter-mile in about :24.77) and looks like a talented prospect for trainer Kevin Attard. He’s not currently nominated to the Triple Crown nominee, but the King’s Plate in Canada could be a viable goal.

Perhaps more likely to turn up in the Kentucky Derby is Arthur’s Ride, a Triple Crown nominee who shrugged off a five-month layoff to break his maiden racing one mile on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The son of three-time leading sire Tapit finished second in two starts at Saratoga last summer, along the way defeating future Remsen (G2) winner Dubyuhnell and Holy Bull (G3) hero Rocket Can, so it’s clear he has talent.

That talent was readily apparent at Gulfstream. Arthur’s Ride was always prominent, dueling for the lead through quick fractions of :23.48, :45.76, and 1:09.97 before edging away in the homestretch to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:36.28. With this excellent comeback effort under his belt, look for Arthur’s Ride to develop in exciting directions under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

At Aqueduct, Toxic Gray displayed tenacity in a six-furlong Saturday maiden special weight. Runner-up when debuting in a $40,000 maiden claimer at Tampa Bay Downs last December, Toxic Gray settled three lengths behind an opening quarter-mile in :22.81, advanced to lead through half a mile in :47.51, and then battled on tenaciously to beat odds-on favorite Everso Mischievous by a head in 1:12.55. Everso Mischievous pulled 12 1/2 lengths clear of the rest, so it’s safe to say Toxic Gray improved significantly off his first start. Michael Miceli conditions the son of Verrazano, who isn’t nominated to the Triple Crown.

Suerte isn’t a Triple Crown nominee either, but we can’t wrap up this week’s Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch without giving him a mention. The son of brilliant Metropolitan H. (G1) winner Frosted was produced by Stage Luck, a half-sister to Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Drosselmeyer.

Suerte was beaten in his first four starts but turned things around in a Saturday maiden special weight at Tampa Bay Downs, leading all the way through splits of :24.04, :47.57, and 1:12.29 to win the one-mile and 40-yard contest by three lengths in 1:40.51. The Godolphin homebred is progressing in the right direction for trainer Eoin Harty and has the pedigree to keep improving with maturity.